The Problem With Special Events

Nonprofits LOVE special events. And why not? They’re exciting and bring in revenue. But there’s a huge problem with them. In this video, I tell you what that is and suggest a better approach.

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6 Year-End Fundraising Tips


Hello fellow fundraisers! I have an important message for you.

We’re now entering our most important time of the year. A time when all our financial dreams come true. Right? Right?

I’m sure all of this is true at your nonprofit:

  • Your hard copy solicitations are printed and stuffed, each with a gracious handwritten note from your Executive Director.
  • All of your fundraising emails are perfectly formatted and waiting patiently in the cloud for you to press send. Each email will land at the top of your donor’s inboxes who just happen to already have their credit cards out.
  • Your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts are pre-loaded and have videos and hashtags that will surely go viral within 20 minutes of them going online.

To paraphrase Oprah, each of us dream that every November and December we will be living our best fundraising life.

However, let’s be honest. year-end fundraising never looks that perfect.

It reminds me of something that happened to one of our clients last year. Every year, this client sends out lovely holiday cards with personal notes written by their Executive Director. Donors and VIPs love them. It’s a great way to send a personal thank you and it makes a demonstrable difference in donations.

But last year, the cards were ordered on thick glossy paper. They looked beautiful. But there was a problem.

The cards were too glossy to write on! So much for personal notes.

Now, this client had planned a lot of their year-end fundraising strategy early enough to rebound. But what if you’re still trying to decide what to do?

Maybe you only started at your job recently.

Perhaps a staff member quit and now you are picking up the slack.

Or it could be that you are the only fundraiser and it has been impossible to get ready for year-end while also handling all of your normal fundraising responsibilities.

Trust me, I get it. It happens.

As fundraisers, we are nothing if not flexible. We always rise to the challenge.

For you, I have a last minute plan to help you get it done.Continue Reading

What Really Matters

what matters

This is not a typical post for me. But yesterday was not a typical day. Not for America and not in my family.

I’d like to talk about the intersections of those things and maybe help you to think about your own loved ones, your life, your community, and the lives you touch in a way that puts yesterday’s election results in perspective.

My mother is a feisty, irascible 89 year old – sharp as a tack. Tough as nails. <insert hackneyed phrase here>

She went in for surgery to contend with a pacemaker that needed to be removed and placed elsewhere.

My mom survived but whatever else could go wrong did. As I write this, she is on a respirator in the ICU at a great hospital and in the best of care.

This is not what she would want. She had a DNR and every imaginable document to keep from prolonging her life but no document could keep doctors from doing what they do best – save lives. We are now going to take it day by day.

I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m writing for perspective.Continue Reading

Feeling Overwhelmed? Try This…

feeling overwhelmed

Oh boy do I get it. Trust me.

The #1 reason people burn out in any job is because they’re constantly feeling overwhelmed. It’s the source of so much that’s negative in our day-to-day lives.

And for those of us in the nonprofit sector? The level of intensity and sense of urgency is just different. It’s more.

You know how it goes.

Every email feels urgent…

Everyone has a question that will take “just a second…”

You’ve got a high-maintenance donor who wants something you can’t give her. And somebody you need to apologize to….

Probably both.

In the episode of my podcast called, “A Day in the Life of an Executive Director” my friend Marea Chaveco spoke about having a plan and watching it go to (as my mother would say) “hell in a handbasket” the minute she walked through the door.

Even Marea, who is an AWESOME leader, admitted that even though she walked into work prepared to control her day, often her day controlled her. Talk about feeling overwhelmed! It’s really easy to do.

So today I want to offer you a quick win — three easy things you can do. Right now. Today. This week.

If you’re really feeling overwhelmed, be really proud of yourself if you do 2 out of 3.Continue Reading

It’s Time For a Nonprofit Reality TV Show

nonprofit reality tv give

Earlier this year, my friend Vu Le suggested on his hilarious (yet pointed) blog Nonprofit With Balls that we need a nonprofit-themed reality TV show.

He suggested titles like:

  • Dancing with Program Officers
  • Hell’s Charity
  • So You Think You Can Run a Nonprofit
  • America’s Funniest Fundraising Videos

I think Vu was serious. And I had some ideas of my own…

Maybe a drama such as CSI — an organization like the ACLU takes on a new case each week.

Or better yet, a nonprofit version of The Office that illustrates the absurdity of high-maintenance donors, board meetings where conversation goes in circles, and so on.

How great would that be?

My secret wish (not anymore) was for a show like Scandal and that central casting would come a-calling and knock on my door. After all, people have called me the Olivia Pope of the nonprofit space (sans the scandals) – “the nonprofit fixer.”

So I have some great news for Vu and everybody else in the nonprofit community.


A reality show? For real? (Did you just say “uh oh?”)

Well, I’ve already seen two completed episodes (I’ll reveal why below.) Here’s my take…

You need to watch it.

Here’s why…Continue Reading

The 14 Attributes of a Thriving Non-Profit

best non-profit organizations

Non-profits are messy. It’s true even for the best non-profit organizations out there.

Not enough money… Too many cooks… An abundance of passion…

Often on this blog I write about what non-profits are doing wrong and how to fix it. After all, “non-profits are messy” is more than just my tagline — it’s my mantra. And my mission is to help non-profits clean up the mess.

But today, I want to focus on what the best non-profit organizations are doing right. My hope is this will inspire you and set an aspirational vision. Maybe your non-profit does a bunch of these really well (I hope so!), but we all have something to work on.

There are fourteen things the best non-profit organizations do really well.

Here they are…Continue Reading

Joan Garry’s Blog: A Guided Tour

nonprofit leadership blog

As I near my blog-iversary (4 years next month), I find myself gobsmacked by the number of folks who write me each week and the volume of new subscribers who join my tribe.

Mostly humbled. Knowing that I can add some value, insights, levity or all of the above to your week and in so doing, help you to feel more confident, capable, less alone (and less crazy?) gives me such a sense of satisfaction.

Last week, as I tried to answer emails from subscribers, I realized that I can often point someone to a piece already on the site.

So using emails from my subscribers as a guidepost, this week I thought it might be useful to give you a guided tour of the blog by highlighting some of the posts tribe members have found most valuable.

I think there will be something useful for everyone.Continue Reading

5 Ways to Supercharge Your End-of-Year Fundraising

End-of-year fundraising pig

Development professionals love summertime. I know I always did.

Vacations. Warmer weather. Maybe a summer Friday or two.

Most of all, it’s just more relaxed. There’s a slower pace to work. Donors are away.

For the last 2 months, many conversations have ended with, “Let’s tackle that in the fall.”

Well don’t look now… fall has arrived.

How do I know? Last night I had my annual stress dream where I’m taking my high school Spanish final, and before I even answer one question the bell rings and Senor McKenny is taking my test away. You ever have that dream?

So it’s time to dig in and supercharge your end-of-year fundraising. The holiday giving season starts in just two months!

To get back in the swing of things I suggest tackling four things that you have likely been putting off during the past few months, plus one more thing that’s a bit more fun and will help you get through the upcoming grind.Continue Reading

Dear Joan: Can I Ask For Donations at a Ticketed Event?

Once or twice a quarter, Joan responds to readers who send emails asking for nonprofit advice, practical solutions, or just general therapy (Joan tries not to make direct comments on a reader’s psychological state — that’s called practicing without a license.) You can send your questions to Joan by clicking here.

dear joan fire donor need a raise

For Jeopardy fans, consider these question in the Potpourri category. One of them touches a nerve for me (how to hold a consultant accountable) and another seems mundane, but trust me it isn’t (board meeting minutes). Lastly, from the hundreds of emails I am now getting, I picked one I hear a lot – can I ask for money at a ticketed event?

Never hesitate to shoot me an email with questions you have or blog post ideas. I hear often from readers that my posts really connect with them — there’s a simple reason why — ideas from my readers drive most of my content.

Hope you find this helpful and as always, thanks for what you do



Dear Joan: We recently fired our development director and because we have been taking the necessary time to find the right candidate, we hired a fundraising consultant. I’m not impressed and think we may be wasting our money. She hasn’t brought in any new money and it’s been 4 months. A board member says give it time.

– Impatient to Raise Money

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What Brexit Means for US Nonprofits

Brexit Means for US Nonprofits

If you have watched or read any news since the UK voted to exit the European Union last week, it is very likely these words were mentioned in the coverage:




Financial markets have dropped sharply. Nobody is quite sure what will happen.

I don’t know about you, but this certainly put me on edge. It made me wonder:

  • Will corporations slow down their giving?
  • Will individual donors, especially those near or in retirement, be scared to make a gift?
  • Will foundation endowments fall again?

And it doesn’t help that even the world’s best economists don’t know if we are looking at another recession or just a short-term dip.

Should we just put our heads in the sand and hope for the best?

No! Nonprofit folks are the most resilient, smartest people I know.

We are out there working to solve the words toughest problems. We do not let fear and uncertainty overwhelm us.

But hope is not a strategy.

After the recession of 2008 we all learned a lot about what to do in the face of economic uncertainty and the fact that every member of nonprofit leadership plays an important role in getting through a crisis.

So allow me to suggest three steps to make sure you eat the Brexit for breakfast and not the other way around.Continue Reading