Here is a round robin of fundraising questions and answers that may be helpful to you and your favorite nonprofit. 

Q. Is the anniversary of our organization’s founding a good opportunity to raise funds?

A. For example, should we ask for $20 or $200 in celebration of 20 years of service in 2020?  While it may be tempting to hang your fundraising hat on the anniversary theme, it is not likely to motivate donors to give. Mission matters most so focus fundraising requests on meeting the needs of people being served. Longevity is important because it reflects staying power and financial sustainability. Be sure to toot your horn about this as a marketing strategy. 

Q. Why is it important to tell donors how their gift was used?

A. “Reporting back on a gift isn’t something funders have to do, but rather something they get to do,” says my colleague and consultant T. Clay Buck, CFRE. He calls this “closing the circle of joy.” I really like his description because it highlights the importance and feel-good factor of stewardship. Donor research also confirms reporting results increases the likelihood donors will give again by 86% and give more by 70%. 

Q. Given all the current challenges, what should be the focus of our year-end solicitation letter?

A. “Without a problem, there’s nothing for donors to do,” says Tom Ahern, author, and copywriting expert. And I agree. Your request needs to focus on an unmet need. If the request is only about what is working, donors may be inclined to support other causes that appear more urgent.  

Q. How much money should be raised in the quiet phase of a capital campaign before going public with the fundraising effort?

A. I recommend 70% and absolutely no less than 50% of the goal. By raising most of the funds through larger leadership gifts, the campaign is more likely to succeed within the desired time frame. Starting with smaller gifts will take longer to reach the goal which makes it much more difficult to sustain donor and volunteer interest.  

Q. Should we buy a list of addresses by ZIP code to send our year-end fundraising letter?

A. The answer is no. Knowing someone has the financial ability to give does not mean they are philanthropic or has any interest in the mission. Interest drives giving so send the letter to current and recent donors, volunteers, members, current and former board members, and others who know, like, and trust the organization and value its mission. 

Q. Who should make the ask at our virtual fundraising event?

A. Fundraising consultant Cherian Koshy published a simple but brilliant diagram of ideal askers. In the center of the circle, and most ideal asker, is a beneficiary, someone with the most direct connection to the mission who can make a personal, emotional ask. Second is a donor, someone who has given and is asking someone else to join them. Third is a volunteer who brings credibility and can make a strong appeal. Fourth is a board member who is typically also a donor and volunteer. Last is a staff member. Depending on the length and format of the event, consider asking more than once and using a combination of ideal askers to boost results. 

Q. Should we be sending thank you letters to donors who give less than $100?

A. The answer is yes.  Donors who send a check by mail should receive a written letter in the mail. Honor generational differences and think of the letter as the first opportunity to show genuine appreciation for the gift. If a donor gives online, it is okay to acknowledge online.  They may also be delighted to receive a hand-written note in addition to an online receipt. Do not underestimate the value of regular mail in this time of COVID-19.  

Q. How can we show donors how much their gift made a difference?

A. Given the restrictions caused by COVID-19, now is an ideal time to virtually connect donors with the people working behind the scenes to deliver services. This could include a case worker, classroom teacher, program director, researcher, musician, artist, curator, or anyone directly involved in delivering services who can share first-hand knowledge of how donor gifts help make it possible. 

Q. How can we improve our fundraising results?

A. One excellent resource is affordable and coming up soon. The Institute for Nonprofit Innovation and Excellence is hosting the Big B.E.N.D. Summit, Building Enterprising Nonprofit Development on Oct. 1-2 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sessions will focus on sponsorships, grants, donor retention, board involvement and much more. Keynote speaker is consultant Gail Perry, author of “Fired Up Fundraising,” who will discuss asking for major gifts.  Cost is $49 for INIE members and $99 for non-members. Register or learn more at  

Notes on Nonprofits is produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting and Kelly Otte, MPA, who is on sabbatical. Send your questions and comments to [email protected] 

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