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

When Should You Hire Your First Development Director?

hire first development director

Life is filled with big important questions.

Why are we here?

Why doesn’t MTV play music videos anymore?

Can I get through a weekday without spilling coffee on myself? This one is a biggie for me.

But if you are an Executive Director of a relatively young organization there is likely one truly big important question that has been keeping you up at night.

When should I hire my first paid development staffer?

OK, maybe it’s not keeping you up at night. But this actually is one of the questions that Joan and I are most often asked, and I can see why. Hiring your first development director is a big jump forward.

Nonprofits simply can’t meet their missions without generating revenue and unless your organization has a fee for service component, fundraising is how you get dollars in the door. While many organizations can go without a development staff early on, a professional fundraising operation is crucial for long-term sustainability.

But what if you hire someone too early in your organization’s lifespan? Would it be a waste of your organization’s resources to hire someone now? On the other hand, what if you wait too long?

While making any hire is often as much art as science there are three easy questions you can ask yourself to tell if it’s time to bring some professional muscle to your team.

Here is my three-question checklist to decide if it’s time to hire your first development director.Continue Reading

How to Make Your Donors Feel Like a Million Bucks

Donor Love

When people give to causes that are deeply meaningful to them, they feel like a million bucks.

Understanding this — truly, deeply understanding this — is so important I’m going to repeat it in bold and italics.

When people give to causes that are deeply meaningful to them, they feel like a million bucks.

This is the key to successful fundraising. It’s how you create “donor love.” You might already get that. I hope you do. But probably not everyone involved in your nonprofit does.

Do you have board members, for example, that seem completely intimidated by the prospect of fundraising? They’re just not sure how to go about it?

I’m writing this post because I want people to share this with their boards so that they can understand that it makes people feel like a million bucks when they give to causes that are deeply meaningful to them. There, I repeated it a third time.

So what does a fundraising program look like that helps donors feel like a million bucks?

Today rather than tell, I’m going to show.

Here are two scenarios in which I have stood with my wife as a donor. I want to demonstrate what meaningful giving looks like… and what it doesn’t.Continue Reading

What Development Directors Should Say In An Interview

Development Director Interview AnswersThere are just three components to hiring a great Development Director:

1) Get a good candidate pool.

2) Ask the right questions.

3) Recognize the right answers.

For the moment, I’m going to assume you know how to get a good candidate pool.

I addressed the second item, asking the right questions, in my earlier post, Great Interview Questions for Development Directors.

But even though I said I’d address the third item (recognizing the right answers during the Development Director interview) the following week, it didn’t happen.

I wrote, It’s one thing to know what to ask. It’s another to know what answers you should be hearing from an exceptional fundraiser. And that’s exactly what I’m going to cover next week.” But then the next week came and I wrote about something else entirely.

Since then, I’ve been asked many times, “What are the right answers?” I’m finally getting to it.

So let’s get right to it… Development Director interview. 10 Questions. 10 Answers. Ready?Continue Reading

An Easy Way to Build Your Email List

nonprofit list building

What could you do with a bigger email list?

More donations? Volunteers? Capacity? Impact? Probably all of the above.

After all, according to a recent M&R Benchmarks report:

  • In 2015, on average, nonprofits received $44 in donations for every 1,000 fundraising emails sent.
  • Nonprofit email revenue grew by 25%, faster than the overall rate of online revenue growth
  • Among the nonprofits with the largest year-over-year growth in total dollars raised online, 34% of all online revenue can be tracked directly to email campaigns.

So it’s clear that nonprofit list building is very important. It drives donations, scales communications, and provides real-time feedback about what constituents truly care about.

So how do you get more people onto your list?

Today I’m going to show you how some of the top nonprofits are doing it, the big mistake they’re making, and how you can do it better.Continue Reading

Why Nonprofits Never Have Enough Money

budgeting for nonprofits

How did the board meeting go?

Great,” says my client. “Actually, I was so relieved! The budget passed in like 15 minutes. There were 2 or 3 minor questions, but nothing substantive.”

Um, I’ve got some bad news. This is not what I consider a great budget discussion.

Executive Directors like my client are afraid of two key things:

  1. The board will micromanage the process and the numbers. They’ll walk among the trees and forget they are supposed to be forest people.
  2. The board will believe the revenue numbers are too aggressive or too conservative and never once mention its own responsibility in where those numbers will wind up.

So the way it ends up working most of the time is this:

  1. The staff has some tough conversations.
  2. They present a neat and tidy budget to the Finance Committee (you do have one, don’t you?)
  3. The Finance Committee asks a few good questions, typically about the revenue assumptions.
  4. The program side asks a question or two – cost of benefits, or sometimes the totally dreaded questions about whether someone is overpaid.

Guess what? This isn’t how it should look at all. What should budgeting for nonprofits look like? I’ll tell you.

But more importantly, I have an idea — a “budgeting for nonprofits” process — that could in fact engage and inspire your board to raise even more money than you were planning to budget for in the first place.Continue Reading

Fundraising Career Advice: What I Wish I Knew Then

fundraising career advice

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

When you were in first grade, I bet you didn’t say, “I want to be a fundraiser!”

Me? I wanted to be Matlock.

For so many of us a fundraising career is something we fell into, or perhaps as a “second act” after our first career didn’t work out exactly as we planned.

That’s exactly what happened to me. After law school and three years as a litigator, I knew that I needed to make a change. With that in mind, I replied to a job listing I found in a paper copy of the New York Times (now I’m really dating myself) and sent my cover letter and resume to the Planned Giving department at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

A few interviews later and voila, I was a fundraiser. How did that happen?

And even after you get your first fundraising job, the path forward can be a little fuzzy. While the field of fundraising has been around a very long time, the career track for a fundraiser is nowhere near as established as with other professions.

Recently, I was asked this question:

“If you could give one piece of advice to your younger fundraising self, what would it be?”

I thought a lot about that. I came up with a whole lot of specific advice – how to best craft pitch letters – stuff like that (thankfully my earliest pitch letters are in a version of Word that no longer exists.)

But then I decided the most important advice I could give my younger self isn’t so low level. Rather, it’s about how to shape a fundraising career.

So without further ado, I hope you’ll join me as I make like Marty McFly, jump in my DeLorean, and flux capacitate to the past with the advice I wish I had back in the day.Continue Reading

Increase Online Donations In Four Steps

increase online donations

Most nonprofit websites aren’t as effective as they could be.

But there’s a good reason.

As Joan likes to say, nonprofits are messy. It’s in the DNA.

Frankly, when you have too many a lot of very passionate cooks in the kitchen; when you’re working on something very important with unmovable timelines; when every dollar you spend on a website is a dollar that doesn’t go directly to your programs… well… that leads to messy.

Add in the fact that few nonprofits have serious in-house digital expertise, and that mess translates to your website. Which impacts its effectiveness. Which means fewer donations, less advocacy, fewer people helped, less influence.

So how do you pull yourself out of this catch-22?

Here are four improvements your nonprofit can make to its website (along with examples) that, combined with a smart digital marketing plan, almost guarantee you better online results and an increase in online donations.Continue Reading

No Board Development Committee? No Problem!

no board development committee

All too often in fundraising, there’s the dream, and then there’s reality.

For example, every fundraiser dreams of a high functioning board development committee with enthusiastic co-chairs that make your job not just a breeze, but a pleasure.

You fantasize about a board development committee that “gets it,” acts as a collaborator, brings fundraising success to new heights, and just makes development so much more enjoyable. (OK, maybe this is just what I fantasize about?)

But sometimes the reality of your board development situation is less than ideal and you have to play the cards you have right now while you build to something better.

Maybe your board is in transition, you had a well-functional development committee, but it’s fallen off its game. This is the situation for one of our current clients.

Or maybe you’ve never had a development committee and you are struggling to bring one to life.

Or perhaps your nonprofit is so new (or small) that you just don’t have a development committee yet.


Whatever the reason there are times when Executive Directors and Directors of Development must manage with no board development committee. Or sometimes without even one single fundraising champion on the board.

Without a plan, this can be a difficult experience. I’ve been there. My organization was going through an extreme transition. The board had a ton on its plate and fundraising wasn’t the top priority (I know… amazing!) And all this while planning a major gala.

The key thing I learned? When a board development committee is distracted, the Director of Development can rely on what worked in the past.

So here’s my advice to Development Directors and other fundraisers who don’t have a board development committee to work with. It’s a three-step approach that will help you raise more money (and improve your sanity!)Continue Reading