A Revolutionary Way to Influence Year-End Philanthropy

"Should I or shouldn't I?" donor tango

How well do you dance the “Should I give or shouldn’t I?” donor tango?


You asked a bunch of folks to give a year ago. Some did. You thanked them. Once. Maybe twice. Now you want to ask them to give again this year.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Too often nonprofits ask once; then assume folks who’ve made the decision to give will continue to do so. This is similar to retailers thinking that once someone has bought from them they’ll automatically do so again. Not true in either case.Continue Reading

9 Amazing Secrets You Need to Get a Major Donor Meeting

girl milking cow

If you want to milk a cow, sit by its side.” Get the visit to get the gift!

Did you know you’re 85 percent on your way to securing a gift if you can get your prospect to agree to a visit? So says veteran major gifts fundraiser Jerold Panas in his iconic book, Asking. He also says, “If you want to milk a cow, sit by its side.”

But … how do you get the cow to cooperate? Ay, there’s the rub.

Why is it so hard to get a visit with a prospect?

It just is. People screen phone calls. They don’t answer emails. They’re busy. And, let’s face it, they know what this is about. Once you get in the room with them, you have your chance to win them over. But how to get there?Continue Reading

Do You Want to Double Your Donations? Seize Matching Gifts!!!

Your matching donations will melt away -- unless you seize them!

Your matching donations will melt away — unless you seize them!

Children crave sugar, cars want gasoline, and nonprofits need money to operate at full capacity. While moms bake their children cookies and drivers give their cars all the fuel they need, nonprofits have donors to keep them running. Nonprofits need all the dollars they can get, which is why increasing fundraising from matching gifts is such a crucial endeavor.Continue Reading

The Big Secret – One Word – to Transform Donor Loyalty

What ONE principle can change your donor relationships from sort- to long-term?

What ONE principle can change your donor relationships from short- to long-term?

In a recent post about building donor loyalty I promised to reveal my personal #1 SECRET the one principle that makes the greatest difference to long-term, sustainable fundraising success.

I’m going to share that principle here; then I’m going to turn this principle into a word – actually three variations of the same word – that you can use to transform the way you’ve been doing business.

Are you ready?Continue Reading

7 Little-Known Secrets That Will Get You a Visit with Your Donor

girl milking cow

If you want to milk a cow, sit by its side.

Why is it so hard to set up a time for a visit with a prospect?

It just is.  People screen their phone calls.  They don’t answer your emails.  They’re busy. And, let’s face it, they know what this is about.  Some folks will avoid the ask because they’re thinking about it in terms of ‘money’ rather than ‘impact.’  Once you get in the room with them, you’ll be able to change this perspective.  But… how to get there?Continue Reading

4 Secrets to Inspiring Philanthropy through Storytelling

People. Purpose. Passion. Plan

People. Purpose. Passion. Plan

Philanthropy; Not Fundraising

People. Purpose. Passion. Plan.  Four “P”s in a row. I know… you’re thinking, cute. Yawn. But wait. Before your eyes glaze over, stop a moment and think about these 4 “P”s.

They’re  central to your success in inspiring philanthropy.  Because even though I’ve written, and truly believe, that there are fundamental ways fundraising has changed significantly over the past five years, there are also things that haven’t changed at all. You simply must translate these fundamentals to the digital world:

  1. People love a good story.
  2. One with a purpose. 
  3. One told with passion. 
  4. One that has an order or plan. 

It’s human nature to love to listen to – and tell – a story.  So let’s figure out how to make that happen for your organization – and for your donors.Continue Reading

How to Overcome the Money Taboo and Succeed with Fundraising

image of letters spelling out M O N E Y hanging on laundry line
We think asking for money is like hanging our dirty laundry
My last post explored the reasons board members fear fundraising . Most fear of fundraising boils down to two factors: (1) fear of rejection, and (2) fear of looking stupid due to insufficient knowledge/skills. It turns out that these fears are relatively easy to overcome. Seriously. Read the last post.

The hard part is overcoming our deep-rooted psychological aversion to talking about money.  Most of us were raised to believe this is impolite.We’d rather talk about anything else.

Many scholars argue that money is the number one social taboo in America (see also Krueger, The Last Taboo). Even religion, sex and politics are better discussion topics as far as most of us are concerned.

image of book cover The Last Taboo- psychology of talking about money
The Fundraising Taboo
Where money is concerned, we tend to come from a place of “no.”  And people think fundraising is all about money. Here’s what I mean:  Say the word “fundraising” and look at people’s faces.  Their mouths will pucker up in a grimace.  Their eyes will squinch closed as if in pain.  Their brows will furrow.  I recently tried this with a board of directors, asking them each to give me the first word they thought of when they thought of fundraising. Here are the (all) negatives:

Hang up

When viewed as being about money fundraising, at best, is seen as an onerous chore; a necessary evil.  We’ll put it off for as long as possible – sometimes forever. This is why many organizations find themselves in an endless cycle of cultivation, never getting around to the “ask”.  We even get as far as making solicitation assignments to our volunteers, and they often tell us they are willing.  But they back burner the job.  We call and remind them.  They say “yes, I’m meaning to do that soon.”  They don’t.  We call again.  Nada. Zip. Effectively, we say “no” on behalf of our would-be supporters – never even extending them the courtesy of making their own decision. Before you know it, the year has ended and we’ve effectively avoided doing our chore.

Why do we do this, especially with organizations we love?  When we serve on a board (or as a committed donor) aren’t we making a statement about our values?  And if we truly value something, wouldn’t we want to share our values with others and enable others with similar values to also participate in the wonderful mission of which we’re a part?

This brings me to the word “philanthropy”, which literally means “love of humankind” (from Greek).  When I asked the same board who painted the word “fundraising” with a negative brush to paint the word “philanthropy” for me, here are the (all) positives:

image of coffee mug with text "I Love Philanthropy" with heart


Fundraising is not about money; as a servant to philanthropy it’s really about love. And we mustn’t say “no” to love on behalf of others.  People are perfectly capable of doing this on their own, and they should be able to make their own choices. What makes us feel okay about denying others the opportunity to feel fulfilled?  As one of my fundraising mentors and founder of The Fundraising School, Hank Rosso, said: “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”

Once board members understand their role as noble “philanthropy facilitators” (as teachers rather than ignoble fundraisers) they can shift their brains from a place of “detestable” to a place of “honorable.” Most of us genuinely want to help others.  We want to care about something other than ourselves.  We welcome someone reaching out to touch us… to motivate us… to inspire us to the actions for which we yearn.

I love the definition of philanthropy coined by Bob Payton, professor emeritus at The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, as “voluntary action for the public good.” Every word has impact. Philanthropy is voluntary; not coerced. It’s action; time or money given, and it’s directed towards the public good. In other words, it’s not about money. It’s about helping.

Philanthropy is based in values. Development uncovers folks who share the values your organization enacts. Fundraising matches the donor who shares those values with the organization that enacts them. Presto! We’ve suddenly shown others the path to be the change they want to be in the world. That’s why “fundraisers” are such superstars. Fundraisers are the catalysts that make change happen.

Do you see the difference between fundraising and philanthropy? How would you help your board members to get over the fundraising taboo?


WARNING: Jargon Redux. Why Your Writing is Boring

Last week I wrote about the evils of using jargon.  I got lots of responses. It’s clearly hard for people to get outside of their ‘insider’ mindset. When we use words at work daily, they begin to seem normal (even though we may’ve never used those words before).  Before working at a social service agency, I never regularly used the words “client,” “youth,” “senior,” “programs,” “services,” “underserved,”  or “managed care.”  If you think these words are okay to use in your external communications, they’re really not.  Later in this post I’ll point you to an article by Gail Perry that explains why. These are modern jargon; words that don’t cut it if you want to differentiate yourself, demonstrate impact and inspire investment.

Thanks to all of you who sent me your favorite jargon culprits. For those of you who may wish to avoid these words in your future marketing and fundraising materials, you’ll find a list of these offenders later in this post.

What it all seems to boil down to is communicating for understanding.  Words you can use internally (or with funders, as per their requirements) should perhaps not be used externally.  It takes a lot of awareness — and practice — to avoid falling into the jargon pit. I always ask myself:
1. Is there a more simple word?
2. Is there a word that has more impact?
3. Is there a word that’s more specific?
4. If I took this word out, would the meaning be just as clear? More clear?
5. Does this word unnecessarily (or stereotypically) categorize someone?
Words that bug folks:
attriting  account-managed       actioned   back-end      back of the envelope
bandwidth        benchmark       best practices   capacity building           change agent
community-based         critical         CRM   cultivation         dashboard        development
disseminate       distance travelled          empower          evidence-based            front-end
going forward     groundbreaking     hard outcome       impactful           implement
innovative         leverage            pipeline   proactive          prospect           regular giving   
scoping     soft outcomes     state of-the-art              stewardship      successful
transparent          unique          utilize            vital           values-based          volunteer


For another super list of jargon, check out this nifty Philanthropy Jargon Generator. Besides being a lot of fun, it’s eye opening. It quickly becomes clear that when you use jargon – and it’s worse when you string jargon words together – you leave a lot of folks scratching their heads. If head scratching is the emotional call-to-action you’re going for, then be my guest.
Jargon is not just acronyms and scientific language.  I recommend reading The 3 Most Boring Words in Fundraising Appeals by Gail Perry. She explains why these words (which most of us have used all too often) – underserved; programs, and services — have little or no emotional impact. Modern jargon is anything that is so overused and obtuse as to have become essentially meaningless.
Jargon puts people to sleep.  And, surely, this is not your goal! For some other examples of slumber-inducing prose see Jargon, Jargon We Got Jargon by Kristina LeRoux, which also includes a link to another list of commonly used clichés and jargon. Try to avoid anything that makes people hear/see “blah, blah, blah.
THIS ABOVE ALL: Look for bang for the buck. Can the word stand on its own? Does the word scream for a response? Does the word make the reader feel something? Jargon is not compelling. Good writing should be compelling. Channel Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well. Be brief, succinct and vigorous. Don’t use a word that makes the reader want to ask:  “What do you mean by that?” Avoiding jargon is really another way of saying: Be a good writer.

How do you avoid using jargon? Do you have a system that works? Please share!

Fundraising Writer Alert: 6 Things Modern Jargon Is and Why You Must Avoid Them

No Jargon Sign

Jargon is the opposite of constituent-centered writing.

You must avoid it because it’s not constituent-centered.
I could stop here, but I won’t.  Because most of us use jargon all the time without being aware we’re doing so.  Why?  Because we only know that it’s ‘bad’ and to be avoided.  Yet how can one avoid something without knowing what it is?
Let’s take a look at some different types of jargon; then vow to stop using it.

Jargon pops up all over the place; it’s more insidious than you think.  Originally, the word applied to trade languages used by people who spoke different native tongues to communicate. Jargon was esoteric, yet it was precisely defined for ease of communication between specialists in a given field (e.g., physics; mathematics; astronomy; computers; medicine; law). This made sense.  And it’s also common sense that we’d want to avoid using technical language when trying to communicate with (or raise funds from) non-technically savvy folks. This would be a simple rule to apply.  But jargon is much more than scientific lingo.
The type of jargon most used today is better described as a buzzword (which often develops from the appropriation of technical jargon, yet is used in a more general way, often inaccurately or inappropriately.) It may be used due to an intentional desire to be vague or, perhaps, to a desire to impress. The key is that the words are used outside of the context where they’ll be easily grasped (click here for a list of common buzzwords in business, and here for a list for nonprofits from trend watcher Lucy Bernholz ).
  1. A “clinical” or “official” or “specialist” word. In the nonprofit world this would extend to words like ‘case management’ (really, who wants to be either a ‘case’ or be ‘managed’?); ‘client’ (this is a broad categorization, even a dehumanization, of a real person who’s a child, parent or grandparent), or ‘youth’ (when is the last time you said “I’m going to pick the youths up at soccer?”). Jargon can simply be words that are used in white papers and grant proposals, but not in conversation (or fundraising appeals).
  1. A term of art.  It may seem to be a perfectly ‘normal’, everyday word to you.  But would your best friend really understand what it means? Another way to think about this is whether the terminology is especially defined in relationship to a specific activity, profession, group, or event. One example is ‘planned giving’ (even those within the profession disagree as to the meaning); others are ‘stakeholder’, ‘dashboard’ and ‘outside-the-box.’ When a term is only widely recognized in your industry, and not easily comprehended by the general public, this is jargon.
  1. A word that’s seldom part of every day usage. George Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language: “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”  What does “microfinance” or “social entrepreneur” mean to the average person on your mailing list?  I recently used the word “bandwidth” in a blog post, and not everyone understood what I meant. Test words out on colleagues if you aren’t sure.
  1. A pompous, “big” word. The original “Mad Man” advertising guru David Ogilvy,  in an internal memo to Ogilvy & Mather employees in 1982, told his staff never to use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally or judgmentally. A whole new definition, corporate jargon, is described as using sometimes-unwieldy elaborations of common English phrases, acting to conceal the real meaning of what is being said. Ogilvy defined jargon words as “hallmarks of a pretentious ass”.
  1. An acronym. Anything using letters can be an acronym.  It’s not just reserved for scientific terms or names of organizations.  It can be something as simple as “E.D.” or “CFRE” or “FTE” or “FY” or “ROI” or “YTD” (and these are acronyms used all the time by nonprofits in their literature).  Acronyms will often stop a reader dead in their tracks if they’re not universally understood.
  1. An over-used phrase.  When phrases pertain so universally as to become essentially meaningless, this is a form of jargon. (The same principle applies to “buzzwords”; while these are not offensive to everyone, you should be aware that some people go ballistic at their very mention).  Examples of over use in the nonprofit world include: “these are trying economic times”; “making a difference”; “tradition of caring”, and “changing the world.” If you don’t believe this can be less than effective, check out this post from the Non-Profit Humour blog (it’s seriously hilarious, and makes its point).
Jargon is bad because it deters understanding.   Jargon can make it take longer for folks to appreciate what you’re trying to say.  Not everyone will stop to do research in order to comprehend your intended meaning. Most, in fact, will simply give up. Others may pretend to understand; then they won’t act because they really had no clear idea what you were talking about. And all your efforts will have gone to waste. Your goal is to communicate, not to confuse, annoy or anger.
Comb your prose for jargon before you publish anything. This includes your next fundraising letter, newsletter, annual report, case statement, blog post or anything intended for distribution via social media. Don’t forget social media! It’s easy to fall into acronym use when you only have 140 characters. Yet, even though the word comes from old French meaning ‘chatter of birds’, I’d suggest keeping it out of your tweets. Especially on social media, people are looking for simple, quickly grasped content to make it easy to form a split-second decision as to whether to share it.

If folks won’t understand it, dump it. If it sounds stuffy, pretentious or stilted, dump it.  If there’s anything in it that only people in your industry would fully appreciate or understand, dump it. If what you’re saying could apply to a hundred other charities and is not uniquely you, dump it. This is another tip from David Ogilvy: “Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it.  Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.

Jargon will fail to differentiate you from your competition. You can’t stand out by using jargon, buzzwords and pablum. Jargon won’t help search engines find you either.  How many others are trying to ‘change the world’?  I’ll tell you: Google says 2,490,000,000. Remember: you have a mission and product or service you’re trying to convey as unique.
What are the worst examples of jargon you’ve heard (or found yourself using)?

Who Else Wants to Feel Successful? The Problem with being Jack of All Trades; Master of None

Multitasking yoga goddess
Why don’t I feel serenity?
Do you feel successful? Think a minute about what you and/or your organization do. Does it feel like enough?  Too much? Does it make you and/or others happy? Fulfilled?  Do you feel successful (or not) based on what other people say and do? Based on how much money you make or how famous you are? Or does fulfillment come from something deep within that defines your purpose? Let’s take a moment to consider the way we define ‘success.’

Is there a ‘secret sauce’ to create success? Recently I watched a YouTube video about mastery from the inimitable cartoonist/philosopher Hugh MacLeod, and I’m persuaded that mastery is the ticket. Not fame. Not fortune. Just doing something really, really well that you love. Hugh talks about seeing a movie called Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  Jiro owns a 10-seat restaurant, underground, in the Tokyo subway.  All he serves is sushi.  He works 365 days/year.  He loves his work. Others love his work.  They wait up to a year in advance to be able to eat there.  They’ll pay $1,000/head.  The tailors of Savile Row in London have a similar model.  They don’t have large overhead.  They aren’t billionaires.  Yet they have a year-long waiting list too.  Sewing buttons, cutting cloth. Sewing buttons, cutting cloth. Over and over.  And they have greater personal satisfaction than folks working on Wall Street for oodles of money. Through mastery. 
Is mastery the secret to fulfillment? Hugh draws all day at his work bench.  He says it’s boring; but he loves it. He, like Jiro and the tailors, does something simple and useful that people value.  The secret sauce?  Mastery. And no one can take this away from you. You take mastery with you wherever you go.
gaping void cartoon by hugh macleod about mastery, autonomy, purpose
Cartoon from Hugh MacLeod, Gaping Void

Mastery is a journey; not a destination. The journey begins whenever we decide to learn a new skill. In the book Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment George Leonard writes about the ways in which mastery leads to greater satisfaction and excellence. He notes that mastery is not reserved for the super-talented.  Anyone can travel this path.

Those on the path to mastery enjoy the practice just for the sake of practice. Even when the work is frustrating, or seemingly not moving forward towards a defined purpose, it’s still enjoyable.  Every step along the way is meaningful, even though the pay-off isn’t quick or easy.

Colored lottery balls
How to win with so many choices?

People who win the lottery don’t feel successful.They feel lucky. And thrilled. But the thrill wears off and they go back to feeling mundane. Sometimes they even feel guilty. It turns out that ‘having it all’ without having found an underlying purpose is not really that satisfying.

The ‘kicker’ is that finding an underlying purpose, and deciding to do something really well, means foregoing other opportunities. You can’t go down all paths simultaneously.  And since the journey towards mastery is long and slow, you can’t go down too many paths sequentially either. So you must choose; then put on blinders to everything else.  Otherwise, you become what Leonard describes as a ‘dabbler’ (yard-long resume filled with 1-year stints) or a ‘hacker’ (passable tennis player, but nothing more) or an ‘obsessive’ (sacrifices enjoyment of the journey for getting to the end result as quickly as possible). In other words, keeping all options open may lead you to become the infamous “Jill of all trades; master of none.

Life in the 21stcentury offers a dazzling array of choices at all times. It’s difficult to decide what to focus on in the next half hour, let alone the next 10 years.  One of the reasons we favor the urgent over the important is it postpones our decision; in our minds we don’t have to give up on anything.  We’re constantly busy and active. Yet we don’t choose to act; the situation chooses us and we react.  And we imagine that this makes us important. Yet does anyone strive to have “Was a part of every email chain” on their gravestone? Choosing not to choose does not lead to fulfillment.
card with slogan if you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed oneFulfillment comes when we accept our limitations.  We cannot do everything. But that does not mean we cannot do something (or several things) meaningful.  There is a famous admonition in Judaism, attributed to Rabbi Tarfon, which states “You are not required to complete the task; neither are you free to desist from it.”
If we choose thoughtfully, there are things we can master.  There are things our organization/business can master.  And there are things our supporters, through us, can master as well. These things will be meaningful because we love them, and because others value them.  By embarking on the journey towards mastery, we will achieve fulfillment and success.
What have you mastered that people value?
What do you do that is outstanding and that no one else does quite the way you do?
What can your supporters master through you? They may not be able to save the entire world, but who canthey save?