Fundraising, Football, Conflict and Keeping Score


As Steven mentioned in yesterday’s email, I’ve been a football coach for a very long time. And for the record, my helmet when I played was not leather. 🙂

I’ve noticed some fun similarities between football and fundraising: 

  • There’s a season for both football and fundraising.  (But the best performers in both arenas practice all year long.)
  • Regardless of whatever the “hot new tactic” is, the fundamentals matter a LOT.  In football it’s blocking and tackling; in fundraising it’s things like your offer and donor segmentation.
  • Both have skills you can learn.
  • Both have teams that include people with different skills and responsibilities.
  • Both use data to measure success.

Fundraising, Football, Conflict & Keeping Score

Finally – but worth spending a moment on – there’s conflict in fundraising and in football.

On the surface, the conflict in football is more physical.  But there’s also conflict over who gets to play and who doesn’t.  There’s conflict between coaches over what plays to run.  (The game is often more draining mentally than physically.)

The same is true in fundraising.  There’s conflict between staff over the content and frequency of fundraising.  In smaller organizations there are often disagreements between Board and staff over fundraising methods.

The reason I bring this up is because football has one clear advantage over fundraising in this arena: keeping score is a lot easier.  When you try something one week, the scoreboard tells you right away whether it worked or not.

“Keeping score” and knowing whether your fundraising worked or not is more difficult – but it’s more important!  The coach in me is constantly encouraging organizations to measure their performance more closely. 

A question I ask all the time is, “What is your retention rate for your major donors?”  Too many organizations don’t know.  They haven’t “kept score” to see whether their fundraising efforts are effective at keeping their major donors around!  (And their Majors are often giving more than 80% of the total revenue an organization receives from individuals!) 

My encouragement to nonprofits goes back to one of the similarities between football and fundraising that I mentioned at the top: keeping score (measuring the performance of your fundraising) is a skill your organization can learn. 

Here are a few of the main metrics we advise nonprofits to track on an ongoing basis:

  • Overall donor retention rate
  • Major donor retention rate
  • # New Donors each year (broken out into New Donors and Reactivated Donors), and the total acquisition costs.  Use those numbers to calculate the Cost Per New Donor.
  • For each piece of direct mail: # Sent, # Gifts, Production & Mailing Cost, Gross Revenue.  Use that info to calculate % Response, Net Revenue and Return on Investment (ROI).  Of those, Net Revenue is the most important (not ROI).
  • For each email: # Sent, # Open, # Clicks, # Gifts, Gross Revenue.  Use that info to calculate % Open, % Clicks, % Conversion and Net Revenue.
  • In addition to tracking the metrics for each impact (email, letter, etc.), we also “roll up” the results for each campaign so we can track campaign efficacy.

That’s just a start, but it’s a good start.  If you learn the skill of tracking your performance and then “basing future decisions off of past performance,” your organization gets better faster at fundraising.  As a result, you’ll have a larger impact! 

Four Ways to Get More from Your Capital Campaign

Get More Money

Many of our clients are already busy planning their next Capital Campaign.

And a common question they’re asking is this: how can they incentivize smaller corporate donors to make a donation to the cause?

Let me give you an example…

One organization I work with is wanting to build an Early Learning Center for underserved kids.  It will include a playground, activity rooms, classrooms, and a host of naming-rights opportunities.  But they’re rightly wanting to reserve these valuable naming opportunities for their mega donors.

So, what about smaller corporate donors?  What can motivate them to give during a capital campaign?

It’s our role as fundraisers simply to do our best job to sweeten the pot.

You see, smaller business owners usually have three pockets:

  • A personal pocket
  • A marketing and promotion pocket
  • A business and philanthropy pocket. 

Capital Campaign incentives for mega donors – like naming rights for a playground or classroom – target the third pocket. 

So, for smaller businesses, we need to focus on the second.  It’s all about how much promotion or recognition they can get for their donation.

As such, we’re forced to think outside the box to get sizeable donations from the marketing and promotion pocket.  Here are four simple ways you can incentivize smaller businesses to support your Capital Campaign:

  1. Provide the prospective business or corporation with an opportunity to display their name/logo on your website for a period of time
  2. Mention them in social media, give them shout-outs, tag them, and share their good work with your followers
  3. Add their name/logo to any email that you send to your community
  4. Include them in a press release to a local media partner, such as a radio station or newspaper

Of course, every campaign and every small business is different.  But I’ve found, more often than not, that finding unique and creative ways to recognize smaller businesses is a sure-fire way to involve them in your Capital Campaign.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Your work as a fundraiser is a very real gift to the organization you serve – and to your cause or beneficiaries.

Your work is also a gift to your donors!  They can’t do the good they want to do in the world without you!

If you’re willing to be vulnerable enough to ask people to help the less fortunate – or to right a wrong – good on you.

Thank you also for your time and attention this year – that’s a gift too.  It’s an honor to be part of your fundraising journey.

We hope you’re having a blessed, relaxing holiday here at the end of a crazy year.  Tonight we’ll raise a glass to all the good you’ve done!

With gratitude for you and what you do,

Jim, Steven, and the entire Better Fundraising Team

MAJOR DONOR FOCUS: Getting the Gift before Dec. 31

Phone call

I know you’ve worked feverishly to get to this point.  It’s almost the end of the calendar year.  But your work isn’t done.

There’s still time to raise a significant amount of money from your Major Donors. 

Here are two simple things that you can do today, to give yourself the best chance to secure that year-end gift.

  1. Identify any Major Donor who hasn’t given in the last 90 days.  Their last gift may have been in May, June, July, or even August.  These are the people that are most likely to send you another gift as the year comes to a close.  But only if you give each Major Donor a compelling reason to do so. 

  2. Present a compelling offer.  When you ask each Major Donor for their year-end gift, your offer must be compelling.  Ensure it’s urgent, relevant, and needed now.  It might be a funding need or financial shortfall.  Perhaps COVID has added some unexpected expenses to your budget.  Or, a large grant has fallen through. You might even have an initiative for 2021 that needs seed money to grow.  Whatever your offer is, present each Major Donor with a compelling reason to give before December 31.

Once you’ve identified the Majors that didn’t made a gift in the last 90 days, and you have a compelling offer to present, it’s your time to shine.

Pick up the phone, send some emails, schedule a Zoom meeting – leverage all methods of communication.  But do it with urgency, because as we mentioned in this previous blog post, there’s still time, and your Majors haven’t run out of money. 

MAJOR DONOR FOCUS: Better Manage your Majors in the New Year

Hi I'm a Donor

It’s been a challenge for many organizations to secure Major Donor gifts this holiday season.  And while it’s not over just yet, I want to begin to look forward and suggest how you can manage your Major Donors when the new year arrives.

To unpack this further, let’s put our Majors into two simple buckets – those who gave a gift in November or December, and those who didn’t.

Majors Who Gave a Gift

Those that gave a gift in November or December should be treated differently than major donors who held onto their gift.

First and foremost, we want to genuinely thank Majors who made a gift.

Regardless of the amount, The Better Fundraising Company has often talked about the benefit of following a busy holiday and year-end with a month of gratitude.  We call it Thankuary

Thanking your donors, Majors especially, is a great way to help secure future gifts.  So, now is the perfect time to start preparing thank-you notes, cards, emails, and letters to ensure that your most generous donors feel your love and gratitude.

If you’d like to see how to apply Thankuary at your organization, you can download a free cheat sheet, here.

Majors Who Didn’t Give a Gift

There are a variety of reasons why your Majors may not be making a gift in November or December.  Yet whether it’s uncertainty around the economy or the effects of the pandemic, there are a few things you can do in January to help secure a major gift.

Firstly, be ready to present your Majors with a good offer.  It might be an urgent cold-weather need, an opportunity to provide a match, or even a vision for 2021 they can fund or support.  But whatever the offer is, make sure it’s relevant to the donor and the season.

Secondly, start to secure your meetings or Zoom calls now.  Get appointments on the calendar for January.   And when you have those appointments, be bold in your asking, and give your Majors a problem that only they can solve.

To land the plane, if your Majors made a gift in November or December, make sure to thank them well.  But if you’re still waiting for that gift, don’t despair.  Instead, prepare your offer, be patient, and get ready to deliver it early in the new year.

MAJOR DONOR FOCUS: Navigate the pandemic and post-election waters with success

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with a number of organizations who are feeling very concerned about their major gift fundraising. 

During what is normally a prosperous giving season, organizations are noticing that substantial gifts from their Major Donors are down significantly. 

Rivers that usually run deep have slowed to a trickle.  While majors are still engaged, and they still desire to help, there is a reluctance to make their usual financial commitment.

Perhaps you’re in a similar position?

There are two factors that are impacting the giving confidence of your Major Donors: the federal election and COVID-19.

Let me address each one separately, and offer a few suggestions for how you can navigate Christmas and Year-End with your Major Donors.

Election 2020

When asked why they couldn’t make their annual gift to the organization, one Major Donor said:

  • “There’s a lot of contention and stress politically, right now.  I still want to support you, but I just want to see how that unfolds.”

Four-years ago, the same thing happened.  Also in 2012.  There’s precedent to show that in an election year, Major Donors may often give less, or later than normal. 

We’re seeing a similar trend this year.  Yet history shows that once the transition of power takes effect, the major gifts you would normally see come in November will now likely arrive in December, or perhaps in the new year. 

The good news is that Majors still want to support your mission!

Coronavirus Restrictions 2.0

Here we go again.

A second-wave of COVID-19 restrictions is impacting many states and counties across the country.  Emotionally this is a difficult time, and this tension permeates the economy.  And understandably, those with personal wealth are being a little more cautious than normal.

Your Majors have business interests, investments, and financial portfolios that depend on a healthy economy.  Indeed, when asked why they can’t commit to their usual year-end gift, one donor said:

  • “I want to wait and see how this new round of restrictions impacts my business.”

Navigating Forward

There is good news.

Your Major Donors haven’t run out of money.  The stock market is strong, and it’s getting stronger on news of coronavirus vaccines and progress with political transitions.

What you can do is stay the course, remain positive, and be in front of your donors more often.  Continue to make phone calls, send emails, notes, and cards.  Surprise and delight them. 

Be patient, stay in touch, and when your Majors are ready to give, they’ll give.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Thank you for the work you do! We’re grateful for you.

The work you’re doing makes the world a better place. Not only are you helping your beneficiaries and your organization, you’re helping your donors!

They don’t have the programs your organization has. They don’t have the ability to do good the way your organization can. So you’re giving donors a gift – and chance to make the world a better place – with all of your fundraising communications.

So, thank you! We love getting to be a small part of the great work you do.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

~ Jim & Steven

Why does Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat work?

Ask Thank Report Repeat.

I remember receiving an email from a woman I met at a conference where I spoke. She ended her email to me with this comment:

“Because of your knowledge, I’ve been kickin’ a** in fundraising, and it will only get better as we make more money, add more staff, and implement more of your plan!”

Reading this made me ask myself, “Why does Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat work so well?”

Here are just some of the reasons:

  1. Fundraising is not a talent issue – it’s a knowledge issue. Almost anyone can learn the fundraising fundamentals I teach. The key is that they must have the willingness to learn.
  2. Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat puts the donor at the center of the fundraising conversation. The system honors the donor and their stewardship decisions, and it gives them the credit for making the world a better place because of their donation.
  3. You’ll communicate more often to your donors when using Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat. The system requires you to Ask with clarity, Thank promptly, and Report back emotionally. Doing these things means you’ll communicate to your donors more often, which is an excellent thing for most nonprofits.

As you run fast into the year ahead, I encourage you to consider learning more about Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat. Embracing it will help you leverage the fundraising power behind this simple, donor-centered communication rhythm.

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded webinar and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important donor relationships during this crucial fundraising season.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.

Only a few weeks left to raise more money!


This is the most fruitful fundraising time of the year. And now’s the time to be asking your donors for a generous gift.

Don’t wait!

  • Pick up the phone right now and ask your major donor to make a year-end donation.
  • Send out an email today to your entire email database. The email should be short, to the point, and include multiple hyperlinks to your giving page.
  • Take over the homepage of your website to promote the opportunity for visitors to make a donation.
  • If you have a funding shortfall this time of year, be vulnerable and talk about it! Donors love giving to solve problems.

If you wait to raise money until January, it will be too late. Make it as easy as possible for your donors to make a gift and ask them often – from now until midnight on December 31st!

Want to know more? Get Jim’s recorded webinar and start learning how you can raise more money and steward important donor relationships during this crucial year-end fundraising season.

To help you with your major donor fundraising this year-end, we’re running a series of Jim Shapiro’s most helpful posts.

We hope it provides you with some tips and tactics that skyrocket your major donor revenue during this important fundraising season.