Building Trust with Your Funders: Bold Conversations

Building trust is THE relationship priority and the global pandemic has created some new opportunities for important conversations with donors. Put up your hand if you’ve noticed an increased commitment from funders to give either more dollars, unrestricted dollars, or both in response to issues ranging from pandemic support to equity and redressing power imbalances. Yup, I thought so!

image by steve harvey via unbounce

I’m seeing a new interest and openness from funders to discuss some of the thorny big-picture issues around philanthropy and I think having these conversations can result in even stronger donor relationships. Here’s some “trust-based” conversations you could initiate with your long-time donors (especially foundations) and related resources to help you along.

Whether funding has to be restricted

This is normally an untouchable topic for fundraisers but the Ford Foundation and others now support the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project. It encourages big funders to reduce reporting requirements and restrictions on how funds should be used. Ask your favourite funder if they have heard of the project and how their board feels about its purpose. If they say they agree with some of the recommendations, follow up to find out how that might be applied to your next grant request.

How foundation funders feel about disbursement minimums

Just like politics at an awkward family dinner, this topic is usually off limits. But since the pandemic, many charities and foundations have questioned whether we should raise the minimum disbursement requirement. One initiative sparked by the pandemic is Give 5 who advocate for raising the Canadian foundation disbursement to 5% from the current 3.5 (it’s already 5% for US foundations).

Even a tiny increase would mean big bucks, given that Canada’s public and private foundations hold $84.4 billion in endowed assets! Again, why not ask your favourite funder if they have discussed this issue at the staff or board level, what their current percentage is (many give more than the minimum now), and whether they would consider increasing it.

How they’re approaching equity, diversity, inclusion and reconciliation

Groups like Philanthropic Foundations Canada are finally getting serious about EDIR issues, triggered in part by #BlackLivesMatter. “Approaches such as participatory grant making, ‘listening for good’ and inclusive governance are drawing attention. The philanthropy world in the U.S. and in other countries is becoming more aware of the general demand in society for more inclusion and for a breaking down of barriers between funders and their community partners.”

What does the board makeup of your top funders look like through an EDIR lens? Your own charity is actively engaging on these issues (I hope) so how about sharing resources with your funders, asking them what they are doing, and perhaps even creating new funding opportunities to address issues together?

Whether funders consider issues such as reparation regarding the origins of their funds

This one makes conversations around things like “green-washing” feel like a walk in the park! There’s nothing quite like taking a cheque with one hand and reminding your funder that their endowment may have been built on the back of slavery. But many foundations are already having this conversation and I think it provides an opportunity for increased understanding and perhaps even an opportunity for charities to help funders do the right thing and correct past wrongs.  

Good luck, go forward and be bold!

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Fundraising During a Pandemic: What You Should Start, Increase & Stop

These are tricky times and there’s no one-size solution for non-profits who are facing multiple threats right now. Luckily, some great fundraisers are sharing tips on what to do, many of them informed by having worked through the global recession in 2008.

I read some of their amazing advice here (thanks to the Agitator for compiling!) and came up with a short podcast summarizing current thinking around what fundraisers should start doing, what we should ramp up, and what we should avoid. Hope you enjoy it.




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Why is the Nonprofit Sector Allergic to Flex Time?


With my recruiter and fundraiser hats on I can see this issue from both sides, and it burns my toast!




I talk to charities every day complaining that they can’t find or keep good fundraisers, but who treat candidates who are looking for a 4-day work week, or some work-from-home options, like they are escaped convicts.

So why won’t you let your Nonprofiteers flex? Innovative companies do it, but conservative charities are chicken. And what exactly are they afraid of? That getting more done by working from home will show up everyone else? That cutting useless meetings to allow for a shorter work week will keep us from curing cancer?

We know the facts already, but we ignore them wholly: Open office spaces are the most common set-up and tend to kill creativity and performance. Flex time is one of the most sought-after benefits to keep and retain talent. And people who work from home are often more productive.

Beyond working from home, what about the tantalizing four-day work week? I have seen this work very well at a couple of successful charities and wish more would try it. It’s not that hard to keep almost the same number of working hours over four days: Just dump some wasteful meetings, take a time management course to control your tasks and inbox, add half an hour to each of the remaining four days, and there you are!

Even more maddening is that flexibility related perks are free and they benefit our charities in the long run by increasing productivity and staff retention. The time to get these perks for yourself is when you’re starting a new job and negotiating your salary. If you’re already employed, you’ll have to push the leadership from within to read the research and consider testing some flex options.

I hope this helps you on your road to flex! Don’t forget to check the links for research and stats to take to your organization’s leadership.

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Boss Quiz: Are You a Talent Manager or a Talent Muncher?


Find out if you are a Talent Manager, a Talent Muncher, or something in between with this nearly scientific quiz. Write down your answers and compare to the key below!

  1. You have an open door policy for your team…
    1. Always
    2. Sometimes, but I give them criteria for when they can interrupt
    3. In hell.
  1. Your staff share personal problems with you…
    1. They hold nothing back, it’s play-by-play
    2. Only surgeries, pet deaths, things that will keep them from work
    3. Upon pain of death.
  1. You encourage your staff to take on new responsibilities such as
    1. Tackling every opportunity that comes up
    2. Learning new skills that will help them in their next role
    3. Doing the tasks you hate.
  1. Your main focus in performance reviews is
    1. How you could serve them better
    2. What they need to succeed in the future
    3. A list of pet peeves you’ve been saving up all year.
  1. You keep up with their work by
    1. Getting itemized to-do lists from them every week
    2. Setting goals for activity and results and removing roadblocks
    3. Checking what time they arrive and leave work and what’s on their computer screens.
  1. Your idea of an appropriate holiday or birthday gift is
    1. A basket of your home-made baking
    2. A handwritten card and some time off
    3. A framed picture of you for their desk.


How did you do?

  • If you had 4 or more “A’s” then you may be more of a best buddy than an effective boss. Get your business etiquette on and set some boundaries.
  • If you had 4 or more “C’s” then you are likely the boss from hell. Do you even have a team anymore? Get some coaching Talent Muncher!
  • If you had 4 or more “B’s” then you are a good Talent Manager. Go forward and coach your fellow bosses!
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Top 3 Interview Blunders That Could Cost You the Job

eye contactWhat’s going on out there? I sit in on tonnes of job interviews, and get feedback on many more from friends and colleagues. These blunders are happening more often, but are so easy to fix. Don’t be the earnest applicant who commits these job interview crimes.

  1. Wearing perfume and cologne. Okay, you probably won’t lose the job over this, but come on! I’m blown away by how many people douse themselves for their interviews. You know what happens next? We all get to sit together in a stuffy boardroom for the interview and the smell takes over the space (and my mental state). Since nearly every workplace is scent-free these days, this also tells me that you don’t understand office etiquette and/or that you are inexperienced. Cork that bottle next time!
  1. Forgetting to research the organization and the panel. Finding out who’s interviewing you and reading up on them on LinkedIn is smart, but very few applicants do it. It only takes a few minutes and will set you apart from the rest. On the other hand, educating yourself about the organization is mandatory. You will get grilled on what they do, and simply memorizing the mission statement does not cut it these days. All their info is online, so there’s no excuse! Want to take your research next-level? Check this post.
  1. Not making eye contact. It’s easy to get nervous and focus on one interviewer, or forget to make eye contact at all. This one will cost you the job. Eye contact = human skills. Don’t overlook people in the panel just because they might not be asking you questions. They will notice. This is also really important with the increasing amount of interviews via video-conference. Figure out that camera angle before you dial in!

That’s it for now. I’m off to practice my hand-shake!

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How To Engage Younger Donors

Our donors are all getting older! How do we engage the next generation of philanthropists before it all goes sideways?!

I hear this panicked question a LOT. And I usually give some unexpected advice: don’t bother! Yes, that’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but think about it a bit more. You should get young people involved with your charity where appropriate, but the fundraising team will typically get the best results from focusing on their older donors. If your organization has infinite staff and money, you can do both of course…and then jump on your unicorn and ride to the moon.

Have a listen here for more!

baby inside white bathtub with water

Not a top giver yet!

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3 MORE Things Your Org Needs to Succeed at Fundraising


Ready for more after reading part one? I thought so!

Here are 3 MORE top-down approaches to improving your charity’s fundraising efforts.

Like my first list, you’ll notice that these do not directly involve the fundraising team. Here we go.


1. Increase senior management presence in the community. Fundraisers can only do so much. Your charity’s community presence should be deliberate, not ad hoc. Recommendation: Send your board, CEO and senior management to board of trade meetings, Rotary and other service clubs, and events run by other charities. Approach community relations from a fundraising angle in the same way you might do government relations.

2. Align communications team to fundraising goals. Comms and fundraising are very often two distinct teams with separate goals and this can rob a charity of money-making opportunities. Recommendation: As I said in my last post, the mission is #1. However, communications should start from the position of supporting the development team. Every part of the donor cycle – acquisition, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship – should form the basis of any charity’s communications plan.

3. Get rid of your old-school human resources approach. Competition for fundraisers keeps growing and many of us experience the endless hamster wheel of poaching and being poached (along with its negative impact on donor relationships). So why are we so stingy with perks? Maybe you can’t afford raises but try one-off bonuses instead when times are good. Get on the flex-time Try a 9-day-fortnight program. Let non-essential staff go home between Christmas and New Year’s. Have a good look at your professional development budget. Figure out how people can work from home effectively. Note that 4/6 of those ideas are basically cost-free!

Easy to implement? Not always! But if you’re looking for more fundraising revenue, it’s worth the effort. Thanks for reading!


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3 Things Your Org Needs to Succeed at Fundraising (spoiler: none of them involve fundraisers)


Hi there! Ever wonder what more you can do or say when your organization is looking for more fundraising revenue?

The majority of established mid- to large-size charities look to major gifts from individuals to secure sustainable funding, and donor trends prove this is a smart way to go. But is your organization holding its fundraisers back from success? Probably.

I argue for a top-down approach, starting with the board and senior management (not the fundraisers!). Check your org for the following. Nailing even one of these items will see your fundraising efforts improve.

  1. Mission #1, Fundraising #2. Charities need to think about fundraising in the same way they think about their mission. I’m not one of those who puts fundraising in first place, but it should be the second most important activity at your organization. Not finance, not volunteers, not HR. Recommendation: Create an internal management team (including a couple of key board members) to regularly discuss big-picture opportunities and threats to your fundraising work.
  1. Board recruitment. Your board must include members with philanthropic connections and experience in fundraising. And not just one token wealthy person who’s expected to continually exhaust her friends with requests! Recommendation: Get suggestions from your fundraising team and recruit appropriate directors from your current pool of major gift donors (like those soon-to-get-bored gala organizers for example). Avoid hiving off this work to sub-committees – it needs board-level commitment.
  1. Board & Senior Management Education. Why bother sending your fundraisers to conferences (did I just say that?) if your senior team doesn’t have a clue what’s involved in fundraising? The fundraiser will just end up coming back to face the same blocks they had before. Recommendation: Increase the org’s ownership of fundraising by regularly including training and professional development at senior management and board meetings. 

Yup, these are not easy and I don’t know a charity that’s doing them all perfectly. Try to get your team interested in this approach and see how far you can take it. I’ll publish a “part 2” to this post next month. Thanks for checking in!


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Tracking Donor Relationships: Your Cheat Sheet for Raiser’s Edge


Track the love!


Some relationship fundraisers dread using their customer relationship management system (CRM). Too complicated – too fussy – too many tabs – too many other things to do instead!


Raiser’s Edge is a great example of a very common CRM system that may cause you to break out in hives. Sure, the first tab looks easy with spots for name, address and contact information, but how does a good relationship fundraiser track the donor activity needed to drive dollars? And how do they do it without spending hours in the database that should be spent with donors instead?

Most Raiser’s Edge systems are set up with 13 tabs. 13! Focus on these 3 in your relationship building and major gifts work.


Use this tab for any communications with the person or organization: emails, phone calls, meetings, mail.


  • Decide whether the action belongs to the individual or their organization and enter accordingly.
  • Work with your team to determine what kinds of actions you should be entering. For example, don’t enter every email sent back and forth to set a meeting date. You may just want to enter an initial action for the meeting request, and populate it with significant details later.
  • When completing the action notepad, include detailed info, paste in relevant emails or letter content. For signed letters and more formal or larger documents, use the media tab (see below).
  • You can set an auto-reminder on any action for a follow-up task to pop up on your RE home page, in Outlook or both. (RE prompts you to create these after you save an action unless disabled.)


Use this tab to enter information about the constituent, not to enter interactions you have had with them (that’s an action). Examples: biographical information and other research, articles, awards, donations to other charities, strategy, etc. Related documents can be pasted straight in or attached to the media tab.


Use it to store key scanned documents like proposals, signed gift agreements and photos.

Original documents that are legal in nature (planned gifts like wills, real estate transfers, etc.) should also be stored in locked cabinets in the office.

Did you notice the emphasis on the actions tab? It is SO important to track your moves and be able to pull a list of them to see how your activity is generating donations. And if for some reason the money is coming in slowly, your activity will prove to your boss that you’re doing everything you can.

Interested in learning more? Check my online courses at BCIT:

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Starting Your Planned Giving Program in 3 Steps

star wars

Good things come in 3’s


3 steps? Could anything be easier?? No, not really.





Update your messaging to let donors know you’re open to receiving bequests.

  • On your direct mail reply device: Add a couple of checkboxes with these questions – Have you included our charity in your will? Would you like more information?
  • On your website’s donation page: “Please remember us in your will. Call Susy for more information.” (it’s also smart to list your full legal name, address and charitable number here)
  • In your newsletters: Include a testimonial or interview with any donors you know who have included your charity in their will.


Look for prospective bequest donors in your database and call them to build a relationship.

Typical planned giving donors often come from one or more of these donor groups.

  • Frequent givers, like monthly donors
  • Long-time donors, especially those who have been supporting your charity from the beginning
  • Older donors, especially those born in the 50’s or earlier

Wondering how to approach that call? I like to phone (or email) and ask them if I can interview them at some point. In the interview, I ask why they started giving to our charity, what other causes interest them, whether we are communicating with them in the right way, whether they might like to see our work first-hand, etc.

I also ask them if we might use their story in a publication sometime and let them know that I will follow up when and if the opportunity arises.


Track your actions and follow up! Tag prospective donors in your database so you can keep in touch. Invite them to your charity’s events, send them information during Leave a Legacy Month and try to identify the point where you might ask them “Would you ever consider including our charity in your will?”

Final Thoughts 

Are you wondering why I’m only talking about gifts in wills (bequests) instead of the many other types of planned gifts? Because it’s the one you’re most likely to get and worrying about other planned giving vehicles isn’t worth your time at this point.

Keep up with the three steps because repetition is your friend when it comes to planned giving. Creating or updating a will is something everyone knows they should do, but takes quite a bit of mulling over first.  Good luck!

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