Engage the Funder: The Good, The Bad and The Believe it or Not…

Effective communication with funders (and major donors) is integral to a robust, viable fund development program and creating sustainable relationships with funders.  Just like everything else, communication with funders requires an ongoing commitment at the highest level of the organization.  It is a commitment of organizational resources, strategic capital and accountability. 

Does your respective organization have a commitment to a funder communications plan at the executive level?   Is it effectively operationalized?  

If the answer is yes, bravo!  The organization is on the right track.   If it hasn’t been done so recently, it would be a good idea to perform a diagnostic, an assessment - a reality check of sorts to evaluate the process and the efficacy of the plan. 

If the answer is no, then now is the time to make that commitment and develop a funder communications plan that the leadership team can effectively execute.   Keep it simple and practical but most importantly – get started.  Sending the message to funders that they are valued relationships and not just last minute deadlines will help position the organization for greater funding success.  It makes it worth taking the time to develop a plan. 

 In either case, here are a few ideas to help get started: 

  1. Convene the team including the Executive Director/ CEO, Fund Development leadership, Accounting/Finance, programmatic leadership, a line manager on the front lines doing service delivery,  IT, (if your organization tracks impact via technology), and Marketing & Communications.  (The team will vary depending on the size of the organization and the org chart)    
  2. Review the list of current, potential (pipeline) and past funders – generate the list based on  the past three to five funding cycles or fiscal years and answer some of these key questions – Are we communicating with funders? If yes, is our funder communications plan working with each individual funder? Overall?   How do we know?  Are we maximizing the opportunities to build relationships with funders?  Could we do better and where specifically is there room for improvement?
  3. Grade Your Performance as a peer or self evaluation exercise that measures what works and what doesn’t.  Start by creating a grid of key performance indicators based on the salient points of the review discussion.  Each team member should assign a grade to each key indicator.  This can be done on a per funder basis and/or overall.   Keep it simple but meaningful and measurable.   Here are some examples: 
  •    Master Mailing List – i.e.  Is the funder on the mailing list so that the program officer received an invitation to the grand opening of a new site?
  •   Communication Tools and Frequency- how, when, who and how often did we “touch” the funder  
  •   Compliance – did we comply with their standard reporting requirements of the grant?
  •   Financial Data:  Overspend?  Underspend?  Why?  Were we fiscally responsible with their funds?  Did we share pertinent financials even if they didn’t ask for them?  Did we contact them if we had budget questions or any changes we needed to make during the funding cycle?
  •   Outcomes:  How did we communicate what we did with their funding?  Did we “show” them impact i.e. Invite them to a 6 month site visit, or email them a video link showing results of the program they funded.  The organization may not have solved homelessness in the city yet but, telling a program officer what has been accomplished in three key zip codes is worth picking up the phone and then sending a follow up summary email.    

4.  Final Assessment - compile the key performance indicators grading and review the results within the group.  What do the results tell you? Is your organization’s funder communications strategy fully operationalized?  Is it working?  What is not working?  Why? 

Proactive always trumps reactive but, it is rarely simple and not always easy to be in a proactive mode.  Unless they specifically tell you, the majority of funders do want to hear from you and not just at proposal or report deadline time.  They want to hear the good, the bad and the “you may not believe this but…” Communicating will involve them and that is really what they want, to be involved and to know how their support is making a difference.  Engage the funder or the donor – you will be glad you did. 




It's Not Just True in Car Sales

The Women Give 2012 report from the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.  The results were published about 10 days ago.  In my opinion, this is required reading for every Fund Development professional. 

  • The study surveyed 1,109 male and female single-headed households in 2003, 2005 and 2007
  • Respondents were born in 1964 or earlier
  • Either single, divorced or widows or widowers
  • 8 different giving levels from 0 to 3 percent and above
  • Survey accounts for a longer life expectancy for women when figuring their permanent income levels

Here’s what jumped out:  The bottom line more women make the giving decisions. 

  • Boomer and older women give 89 percent more of their total income to charity than their male counterparts when education, income, race, number of children and other factors affecting giving are equal

Why?  According to Debra J. Mesch, institute director, “it has to do with women being socialized to be the caregivers of their families and communities,” says Mesch.   Women and men have different motivations for giving. In previous institute studies, she said, “women score much higher on traits such as empathy and caring, which affect giving to charity.” 

Well said Ms. Mesch.  As a woman and having been in the “field of giving” most of my career/life, my experience is that more women make the giving decisions.  Giving is emotive and women are more emotionally connected and their philanthropy is generally grounded in the organization’s mission.  Women view their gifts as part of a “relationship with a nonprofit”.   Women define themselves differently than men and we tend to focus more on how we can make the world a better place.  Not that men don’t think about that but, it is most likely lower on their list –giving tends to be more of a transaction. 

A factor for serious consideration is economical.  For the most part, women in this age cohort have been in the workforce full force.  I am a boomer.  We earn our own money, we have more resources and we are empowered to make philanthropic decisions.  Giving back is much more on our radar and we set the tone for giving back for the family. 

My advice to non-profits out there – start querying your database and cultivate the women... you will be glad you did! 

Go to





August – The Most Productive Month of the Year

While driving to the beach in Brigantine, NJ, I was listening to a radio interview about how August tends to be the worst month for the stock market.  The trade volume slows down and returns can be sluggish at best. The person reporting the story then made a direct correlation to August being the biggest vacation month of the year and therefore, people were unproductive. 

I look at it differently. Taking time to relax, to re-charge our batteries and re-fill our cup is the most productive thing we can do. 

I once read that maximum productivity is making something happen with as little effort as possible. 

Think about it.  Take time to reflect on what that statement truly means and how it is relevant to you.

What makes this time of year the most productive is the following notion:  when we spend time and energy in leisure mode it helps improve our intellectual capacity.  When you take the time to calm your mind by settling the details and stop running around; your mind will become calm.  If your mind becomes calm, you can think in front of a tiger.  Mencius is credited with saying something like that a very long time ago it must have been in August on the beach when he took time to relax and be productive...

Enjoy August and make it your best month of the year! 


Women & Philanthropy - The Power of the Purse

I recently attended an amazing event.  It was the annual meeting of Impact 100 Philadelphia.  Impact’s mission is:

  • To educate and engage women in philanthropy.  
  • To collectively fund high-impact grants for charitable initiatives
  • To raise the profile of deserving but lesser known NPOs
  • To highlight unmet needs in the Philadelphia region

The “business model” is based on 100 women giving $1,000 annually.  Since 2009, they have grown from 111 women members providing grant funding for one organization to present day giving close to a quarter of a million dollars out to five local organizations.  Wow! 

The World Café Live was the perfect venue for this great event with great food and drink, of course, and networking with lots of really cool women from all walks of life connecting with one another through a common bond – the power of the purse. The competitive grants field was narrowed down to five NPOs and they all presented their case for giving on stage – live.  Their amazing stories were told with incredible passion, emotion and energy.  At the end, members voted and the top two $100K grant recipients were selected that evening.  Congratulations to The Village of the Arts & Humanities to underwrite their new publication - CRED Youth Arts magazine and After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP) for their Debate & Chess:  Philly’s Next Generation of Strategic Thinkers program.  Every organization went home a winner with support for their program and a chance to raise awareness and visibility amongst this attentive, captive audience who cares.   Leave to a room full of women to get that done – and we were out on time – 9 PM on a Monday night in the summer.  Hats off to Charlotte Schutzman and Ellan Bernstein- co-presidents and all others who organized this effort – you ladies rock!  Check it out . 

P.S.  Here it is a month later and I am still thinking and talking about that night and what an impact it had on me.  Count me in! 



Philanthropy is alive and thriving.  Despite these tough unprecedented economic times, the human spirit of giving prevails.  A recent charitable event – an annual Gala at AtlantiCare, the largest health care provider  in Southern New Jersey, SOLD OUT.  They were at maximum capacity – 1100 people.  There was a waiting list of donors and members of the community who wanted to give money to attend.  They far exceeded their fundraising goals.  Every not-for-profit organization, every business, for that matter, can only hope to have SOLD OUT happen to them.   It is a great problem to have!

You reap what you sow.  AtlantiCare has spent the last several years focused on making an investment in the health and well being of the people and families living in the communities they serve.  They stayed on course to be a good corporate citizen and make it an organizational priority.

The success of their Gala proves that the results of their steadfast commitment to good corporate citizenship and their philosophy and mission to make the world a healthier and hence, a better place, can be measured in two words – SOLD OUT!  People want to support their important work and be on their bandwagon.  AtlantiCare is doing something right.  Bravo!