Home for the Holidays: The Best Time to Book Donor Visits

Don't forget to visit!

Don’t forget to visit!

I have worked at a bunch of NGOs that didn’t know this simple trick: Summer and Winter holiday seasons are an excellent time to snag a visit with hard-to-reach donors.

The time frame? December up to Christmas, late July and the month of August.

Christmas is a typical lost opportunity for visits. We’re in a mad rush to get the gifts in and are usually circling the mail carrier or our broker’s office in search of the year-end gifts we have been confirming throughout the fall. But wait – don’t mug that postal worker! Put down your spreadsheet, book some face-to-face visits and head out the door!

Don’t listen to your boss if she protests that people are “spending time with their families” or are “too busy to meet.” People are sometimes trying to AVOID the Christmas rush and lunatic relatives and are more than happy to make some time to talk about their philanthropy. Bonus points if you reach out to donors that do not celebrate Christmas and are probably waiting for the whole thing to just blow over.

Late summer’s great too. I had a key volunteer who used to fight me on this one, even though she herself was a community leader who stayed in town for most of June/July/August.

To prove her wrong, I grabbed my favourite door-opener and met with 10 new prospects between August 1st and Labour Day. Same story: prominent and busy major gift donor types are chained to their desks pretty much all the time. You don’t get to the top of your game by taking three months of vacation – just ask Warren Buffet. Only the super-elite, semi-retired ones are out of reach, golfing in Cabo. The rest are actually experiencing some catch-up time as their offices slow down to accommodate vacations.

Try it and see if it works for you too. Thanks for reading!

Siobhan : )

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A User’s Guide to Working With Fundraising Volunteers

Be the Hammer!

Be the Hammer!

I was once referred to by a volunteer as “The Velvet Hammer” in reference to the fundraising visits we had done together while I worked for United Way. We laughed pretty hard at that choice description and there was no mistaking the compliment he intended.

If your volunteer relationships sound like this, stop reading and go get a Snickers bar. If your relationships could use some work, read on.

I specialize in major gifts and I need high-profile corporate and community leaders on visits where I’m asking for five- and six-figure donations. But we all know that high-profile volunteers can also be high-maintenance. Managing their schedules, getting them to book visits and briefing them for the meetings can sometimes seem like too much trouble – until we remember that people are more likely to give when asked by their peers (not by a pesky but well-meaning fundraiser).

So try these tips to manage that awesome CEO who said she’d help you “open some doors.”

1.  Connect with your volunteer on LinkedIn to explore potential prospects. Book her for a meeting to discuss them and get her to think of others. Bring her a list of any people you’ve been trying to connect with to see if she knows them. Tip: NEVER do this with a group (like your board). People like to brag about who they know and you’ll find the follow-through is weak as a result.

2.  Select three top prospects from the meeting based on linkage, ability and interest and email these back to your volunteer. Include any history they may have with your organization. Script an email she can send to each, telling them she’s volunteering to spread the word about the organization’s mission, and asking for a brief meeting. Tip: Enter these prospects on the volunteer’s profile in your database.

3.  Nag her again in two weeks, because I have only known two volunteers in my 15 years of fundraising who did their calls without being gently nagged. Tip: Task the nagging in Outlook, along with the names of the prospects, for easy reference.

4.  Get your volunteer to loop you in to book the meeting once the prospect agrees. You’ll attend with your volunteer, ideally at the prospect’s office. Tip: No office? Do a café. The meeting isn’t confidential and you are not asking for a gift on this “first date.”

5.  One week prior to the meeting, send a briefing note to your volunteer (1 page max, she’s busy!). Tip: Include current info on your prospect and his company, giving history and volunteer work.

6.  At the meeting, allow the volunteer and prospect to have some small talk, then ask him if he’s heard about your charity. Don’t do a big presentation. Start a conversation with a few words about what your organization does. Ask the prospect what kinds of community initiatives he’s involved with. He’ll tell you everything you want to know. Tip: Don’t bring any materials. They’re a distracting crutch and you’re supposed to be having an informal meeting. If he wants to see the annual report or something else, then that gives you a nice little follow up!

7.  Thank both parties by email afterwards. Be sure to let the volunteer know what happens as the relationship progresses with the new prospect. Tip: If the prospect is older or well-known in the community, do a hand-written thank you instead.

Always be positive, organized and confident with your volunteers and their trust – and willingness to prospect – will grow steadily. It’s simple once you get in the swing of it. Good luck!




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3 Games to Teach Your Board About Fundraising

imagesEAN1FISXRead this if:

• Your board, staff or volunteers don’t like, understand or believe in fundraising.

• They get it, but they’re a bit afraid or maybe even nauseated by it.

• They get it, but don’t think anyone else gets it.

• They like games.



This game is great for de-bunking misconceptions in a non-confrontational way and will get your team talking, guaranteed!

1. Read them a list of questions on the fundraising and non-profit sector one by one and make them write down their answers (see below for my top picks). Tell them that no-one will know all the answers, but in the spirit of this game they MUST make a guess for every question.

2. Once you’ve gone through all the questions, read them again and ask participants to shout out their answers. Using numeric answers keeps this quick and easy. Note the range of numbers, then move on to the next question.

3. Wait until you’ve got a good bunch of guesses written down for each question before you reveal the Real Answers.


This game will get your team to understand the importance of talking about philanthropy and will de-bunk the myth that only rich people are generous donors.

1. Make them write down (anonymously) the most they’ve ever given to charity in a single year. It needs to be cash, not things or services. It can include giving money to homeless people and other unreceiptable gifts. Don’t worry about absolute accuracy, just get them to make their best guess about their most generous year of giving. If it’s $0, then write $0.

2. Make sure there are no names on the papers and pass them to someone to add up the total. Don’t let them reveal the number yet.

3. Ask the room to think about what everyone else’s number might be. Then ask them to guess at what the total for the whole group would add up to. You’ll get a wide range of numbers for this, so best to write them all on a whiteboard like in the previous game.

4. Do the reveal and wait for the reaction! I have done this game dozens of times and there were only two occasions where the group over-estimated their total giving.

I love the reaction and conversation that this game inspires. Typically, the team ends up with a much better appreciation of how generous we really are. It’s fun to talk about WHY we think we aren’t as generous as we are. Is it cultural? Politeness? Shyness? Discuss!


A classic game show adds fun to sobering statistics about the challenges of fundraising. They need to know what we’re up against and why we need their buy-in and help.

1. Cut your group into two teams and give them a “buzzer” to use, Jeopardy style.

2. Create a slide deck with one question per slide, alternating with the answers. Questions could include the number of competing charities in your area, percentage of donor churn, number of appeals the average person sees – get them thinking!

3. Play Jeopardy!

My favourite questions for Game #1

1. What’s the value of the charitable sector in your country?

2. What’s the percentage of the population who volunteer annually?

3. The percentage who make a donation?

4. How many people are employed by the charitable sector?

5. How many charities do you think there are in the country?

In Canada, you can find these kinds of statistics here: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-649-x/2011001/tbl-eng.htm

Thanks for reading and I hope you have fun with some of these! Siobhan

P.S. If you’d like the Canadian answers to game 1, just email me at siobhanaspinall@gmail.com

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Stewarding Donors with Your Programs Staff


Increase Your Impact!

Involving non-fundraising staff in donor stewardship is peachy. So let’s think about who to take on that next donor visit and how to make them successful!

In the past, I was guilty of defaulting to the chiefs. I’d automatically bring along a board member, maybe even the chair or my CEO.

But if donor stewardship is about showing people the impact of their gift, then why not go straight to the source and bring along a person who actually delivers your programs? They might not be as polished as the CEO, but I bet they’ll be more interesting – mainly because they are so much closer to the work. They can likely talk about your mission from a first-hand-delivery point of view, with more passion than fundraising or management staff would have.

Don’t get me wrong – I know this can backfire. I have taken intelligent, amazing and personable programs staff to donor meetings and then watched as they unleashed a torrent of verbal diarrhea. After seeing this happen a couple of times, I realized they were reacting to the pressure of being “on stage” and felt they had to talk talk talk.

Here’s how to prep your program colleagues for success.

  1. Book them for an informal briefing a couple of days before the donor meeting.
  2. Tell them about the donor: how much they’ve given, what their interests are, and above all, what kind of personality they have.
  3. Emphasize more than once that the visit is informal and that we’re not going to ask for money.
  4. Do a bit of a role play. The fundraiser should start, as she has the relationship. Then let the donor talk, then cue up the program person.
  5. Have a signal for your colleague to let them know when they’ve said enough on a given topic. Let them know this is necessary because it is SO important to let the donor talk too. (I had a system with one scientist where I’d put my pen down on the table. He stopped so abruptly the first time we did it, it was like someone had punched him in the neck. We improved over time.)
  6. Figure out a “leave.” What’s the follow up we will offer when we close the meeting? An advance look at a pending report? A promise to send along an event invitation? Make sure it’s never just “goodbye.”
  7. Write a thank you for your program colleague to send from her email address (she can cc you) encouraging the donor to get in touch directly with any questions or comments. This creates a nice value add where you’re giving your best supporters exclusive access to the change-makers of the organization.

And don’t forget to tell your colleagues why this is so important. At the end of it all, we are looking to secure more funds for their work!

No organization can boast 100% retention and we all know that the competition is just as busy trying to catch our donors’ attention as we are. Including your programs people in the stewardship process is great for business and, if you prep them well, they’ll have a blast.

Thanks for reading!

Siobhan : )

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Bullsh*t Bingo – Part 6

Only Jean Luc should use this word!

Only Jean Luc should use this word!

Another list of words and phrases to AVOID in your grants, proposals and donor communications. You’re very welcome!



As in, “we need a new narrative for our mission.”

Bleck! Don’t yuck-up a concept as simple as representing what you do with a good story. When I hear “narrative,” it sounds like tobacco lobbyists looking for a new way to market cigarettes. Speak plainly people. What we mean here is more like “telling the story of what we do.”



Please email me immediately if you know what this word means, because most people don’t have a clue. Try to avoid words that Try Too Hard. I know funders who would burn your grant application if they saw this kind of vocab.



I know what you’re thinking – this one’s not toooo bad. But come on. How often do you (un-ironically) use this word in your everyday speech? Exactly.

This is the schmoopy NGO word used when you want to talk about building relationships and involving people in what you do.

Alien example: “This event will help us engage our stakeholders.”

Human translation: “This event will help us build relationships with our supporters and community.”


Wondering what other words made the list? Take a trip through the archives!






Siobhan : )

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Donor Stewardship through Involvement


A gift is just the start!

You have probably heard the term “ladder of engagement” before. It is a very sophisticated way to steward major donors. I often experience thinking in the real world that runs against the idea of getting a donor more involved. Some charity managers worry about “bothering” donors too much. Some prefer to lay low and not rock the boat, so as not to jeopardize the gift in any way. Then they come blazing back a year later with a re-ask, after months of almost no contact. If your charity is guilty of this, try your best to talk them out of it!

It may seem counter-intuitive to continue to ask the donor to do things after she’s already made a big gift, but in fact it works to solidify her commitment to your organization. Google “ladder of engagement” and you’ll get a million samples. One I found on Forbes.com uses the following terms, described here in ascending order of awesomeness.

“Spreaders” – This is the stage where the donor really starts trusting your organization. You’ve probably done some great stewardship of her gift(s) and won her trust and loyalty. At this point, you might ask her to introduce you to other generous, like-minded people she knows that may be prospects for your organization. Maybe the donor is doing this already! It makes for an excellent conversational topic at your next meeting.

“Evangelists” – The evangelist stage is where the donor may begin to make asks on your behalf. She may become an integral part of the development team or just an occasional participant in key meetings. She is probably already talking you up to friends and colleagues and has turned into an informal ambassador for your organization and its mission. Yay!

“Instigators” – You’re probably getting the hang of the ladder now. This stage is really the point when the donor is so connected that she may become involved in operational initiatives. She may suggest and lead a special campaign. She may work as a leadership volunteer or even join the board as a director or member of a committee.

Not every donor will get all the way to the top of the ladder, and we’re not just talking about major gift donors here either! However, it should be the fundraiser’s goal to at least explore the possibility that they may want to move past the “money” stage. In this way, I hope you can see that there’s much more potential to stewarding a donor than just sending an annual report each year.

Stanley Weinstein says it well in his book “The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management.”

“The greatest donor benefit is being asked to serve. Donors feel honoured and privileged to be asked to play a leadership role in the organization. Not everyone can be asked to serve on the board, but most major donors can be offered an appropriate volunteer opportunity. They may say no, but they will be flattered.”




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How to Find New Donor Prospects with LinkedIn

Have a closer look at LinkedIn

Have a closer look at LinkedIn

Yes, I’m on a bit of a tear for using social media to fluff up your fundraising efforts…and I can barely figure out my i-phone! All I’m saying is, this stuff is not nuclear physics. Trust me and give it a whirl.

So there are lots of ways to look for new prospects, but they can vary from the really daft (let’s find the list of our city’s richest people!) to the really expensive (let’s subscribe to a batch of research databases at $2K each a year!). LinkedIn is free and is a great source for finding corporate and foundation prospects in particular.

As you’re digging around, remember this fundraising basic – we need prospects with Linkage, Ability and Interest. That is: Can we reach them? Are they wealthy and generous? And are they into our mission?

First: Check your own LinkedIn connections with a fundraiser’s eye 

Scan your connections for the following:

  1. Good-sized companies that are likely to have enough money to give away (or that at least have some sort of community engagement or CSR activity).
  2. People at those companies with the fancy titles. Skip contractors as they usually lack the influence needed to get you in the door.
  3. Foundations. Although really, if you were connected to a foundation you’d already have a relationship in play, right?

Do a bit of research on the people and organizations that you find to make sure they’re Givers. Look up their websites and search their names along with keywords like “donation.” Discard the cheapos and send a message to the selected ones asking for a brief meeting to discuss your charity. Or, better still, ask your board members (or any well-placed volunteers) if they know the prospect and could make a real-world connection.

Second: Check your board members and senior volunteers for their connections

You need to connect to your volunteers first, and then you’ll have access to see all their connections. Do the same scan detailed above. The good news here is that you already have your volunteer in place to open the door to the prospect. Keep in mind that the volunteer might not be comfortable reaching out to everyone you identify. Give them a list and ALWAYS limit them to a short list of prospects – maybe three at a time max – or they’ll feel overloaded and never get the job done. (Personal experience here people!)

Third: Research your offline prospects 

You probably have some Dream Prospects on a list somewhere. Maybe you gathered them at an event, off someone else’s donor wall, or even off one of those “richest people” lists I warned you about. Often, the easiest part of prospecting is finding people who are wealthy and interested in your cause. The tricky bit is finding someone to make that connection.

Grab your Dream Prospects list and run each name or organization through LinkedIn. Check the little visual on their page that shows which people you have in common. Bingo! Once you spot someone in common, talk to the potential connector offline about getting you in touch with the prospect. Yes, you can click a button and request an introduction on LinkedIn, but you’re drifting into a schmoopy way of contacting people that is easily ignored. Pick up the phone instead.

This is one of the simplest ways to give your board members a delicious, pain-free fundraising role. Some of them won’t be on LinkedIn yet of course, but encourage them to do so and to proudly list your organization and their board service in their bios.

Need help? If you’re planning your next board retreat in the Greater Vancouver area, I do fun and interactive workshops on prospecting and other ways to get boards joyously involved in fundraising.

Get in touch for more info or a quote: siobhanaspinall@gmail.com

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Non-profit Sector Q&A with CiTR’s Ethan Clow

There are just two things in this world I love: listening to CiTR radio and talking about fundraising.


Tune in! CiTR101.9FM

So when the two objects of my affection came together through a podcast with Ethan Clow of “The Sector” I felt like I had been handed a grilled cheese sandwich. The kind with at least THREE kinds of cheese.

Take your time with this – Ethan starts with an overview of the charitable world, then gets into some targeted questions with me. Topics include competition between charities, who you should take money from, trends in giving, and tonnes more.



(The podcast originally aired on April 4, 2014 on CiTR 101.9FM, citr.ca)

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How to Use Social Media for Donor Stewardship

Tweet some love today.

Tweet some love today.

This post is going to butter your toast with easy ways to add to your stewardship activities using social media. Yes all you Gen Xers and Boomers, even if you’re Just Not That Into Social Media, there is something for you in the depths below.

I’m going to assume that your organization is already following corporate and foundation supporters on Facebook and Twitter. (You ARE doing that, right??) Okay, now grab your passwords and develop a more interactive stewardship approach with these tips.

Good stewardship: Quick and dirty moves from your org’s social media home base. For all those Twitter Quitters out there.

Facebook – Write a little thank you post for them on your page. Tag them so that they see the love. So simple, right? And don’t miss the opportunity to couch the thank you in a story demonstrating the impact of their gift, just like you would with other stewardship touch points.

Twitter – Same idea as above, but you don’t have much room for that story, so why not a picture and caption instead? Or a link to a news release about their gift? Use their twitter handle (“@Joedonor”) so they get a ping.

LinkedIn – Again, post from your page and include their name (linked with “@”). For this channel, you’re using your most business-y voice and related content. News releases, stories, announcements and events are all okay here.

Great stewardship: Get off your site and make a trip to theirs – so worth it!

Facebook – Head to their page and like, comment on, and share their posts. Not everything, just the ones that have some kind of connection to what you do. Don’t worry if it’s not an exact mission fit, just keep your eyes open.

Twitter – Go to their Twitter feed and make like Facebook. Re-tweet and reply to the tweets that represent what you have in common with them. For example, if you do mentorship for youth and they post information about upcoming scholarship opportunities, you’ll want to re-tweet that to your followers.

LinkedIn – Again, go to their company page and comment/share information that matches what you do. Remember to connect to individual donors (especially business people) in addition to their company’s page.

And don’t be shy about linking to people directly. Unlike sending a friend request on Facebook (a no-no for donors unless you are truly drinking buddies!) you are linking to them because you have done business together. This allows you to celebrate their work milestones and keep an eye out for job changes that might impact the relationship.

Awesome stewardship: This is where we start a real conversation with some content marketing! You will look and feel 10 years younger and your donors will fall in love all over again.

Facebook – Post information on their timeline that would interest them. Include a thank you whenever it makes sense. For instance, you might have nominated them for a community award for their support of your ground-breaking research on leukemia. Do you see the two-way props there? Then they can like or share your post without looking like they’re bragging.

Twitter – Tweet to them from their site, using their handle, with something they’d see as valuable to their followers. Maybe you’re a health charity and they funded your nutrition outreach. Tweet them a link to healthy eating tips, thanking them for letting you do this important work. They’ll share it out to their people as a public service that just happens to acknowledge their corporate social responsibility. At this point, you are practically the Bill Gates of online stewardship.

LinkedIn – Remember, you are in the Awesome Leagues now. Head to their LinkedIn group and post your valuable content that a) relates to what they do and b) allows them to build their professionalism, because that’s what LinkedIn’s all about. Maybe you’ll send them snaps about how their great company volunteers have been serving meals to the homeless. Add a request to share the information with others who may be interested in volunteering and thank them for the support.

This gives their group some public appreciation AND talks about your mission impact AND gets them thinking about building their online profiles with information on their community service (where they’ll likely mention your charity’s name). Is there such a  thing as a win-win-win? There should be.

Start slow and have fun with this. It’s more Art than Dork, I promise.


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How to Increase Your Odds for a Successful Grant

Avoid the Spray & Pray method!

Have you heard that grant-writing is just a numbers game?

Does your organization adopt the Spray and Pray approach – sending out a million generic proposals a week and hoping the money will pour in?

Here’s a better approach to build relationships and increase your chances of getting your application funded.

BEFORE you apply 

  1. Do your homework. Are you applying at the right time in their grant cycle? Do they allow un-invited proposals? Did you read their criteria thoroughly to make sure your specific budget items are allowed?
  2. Call them to talk about your proposal. A good number of foundations encourage you to get in touch first. If you see a phone number or email, call and talk to them about what angle you should take in your proposal. If you’re an environmental group looking for climate change funding, you may find out that they prefer advocacy over research. Tweak your proposal to reflect their interests!
  3. Can’t find information? Not surprising since so many smaller foundations either don’t have a website, or the one they do have isn’t up to date. Get access to a prospect research database to find information on giving levels and interests. These databases can really help you figure out how much to ask for when it isn’t stated (very common). Can’t afford one? Try your local library – chances are they have a subscription you can access for free.
  4. Get a normal person to read the proposal. Not a fundraiser. Not a frontline staffer. Pick someone who doesn’t know your charity well and get them to hunt for flowery or vague wording, undefined acronyms and jargon. Eliminate those things!

WHEN you apply 

  1. Check EXACTLY how they want it submitted. Font size? Length limit? No staples? Emailed? Uploaded to a webpage? Mailed with 10 copies?
  2. Save a copy of your online application before you hit “send.” Many of those automated systems won’t let you back in once you have submitted and you may get a call that they never received it or that they want to go over specific points.
  3. File any proof of receipt you might get. If it’s mailed in, check after a week to make sure they got it. Use that call to thank them for accepting your application. Let them know you’d be happy to discuss it further if they have any questions during their review.

AFTER you apply 

  1. Once the decision date has passed, call the funder to check on the status of your application. Many of them don’t have time to let unsuccessful applicants know they didn’t make it, but are willing to give you advice for future requests. Stay cheerful and thank them just the same! If they sound in the mood to talk, ask them what kinds of projects DID get funded. Be congratulatory, not defensive!
  2. Put it all in your donor database so the next person knows what to do for future approaches to the donor.

So easy, non?


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