Happy Thanksgiving!


Thank you for the work you do!

On behalf of your beneficiaries or cause, you make the generous act of asking donors to help. That’s a gift to who or whatever you serve, to your organization, and to your donors.

Fundraising is often hard, draining work. You have to see and hear so many stories that are tough. Then you have to share them. You have to be other-focused. All of which is wearing.

But there are so many parts of fundraising to be thankful for! For the funds you help raise that make your organization’s work possible. For increasing people’s awareness of what you’re working on and giving those people a chance to do something about it. For the incredible changes made possible by your organization.

You make the world a better place! As Dr. Martin Luther King says, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Thank you for “bending the arc” towards justice – and we at Better Fundraising love getting to be a small part of the great work you do.

Thank you for being a Fundraiser, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

~ Jim & Steven

Ask Before a Need (not after)

The early bird gets the worm

The the third idea I use to help organizations create fundraising plans that raise more money is this:

Ask before a Need.

(You can find the first two ideas here and here.)

Put another way, you’ll raise more money if you appeal for funds right before your donors understand you have a need for funds.

To illustrate the principle, think of the classic “Back To School” appeal in the Education sector. Schools and Education Foundations routinely send “Back To School” appeals in September, after the students have already gone back to school.

We’ve helped maybe fifty schools and Education Foundations raise more money (with basically the same letters and emails!) simply by moving their Back To School appeals from September to late July or August.

Just by making the ask before a need, rather than after, they raise significantly more money. Usually between 1.5x and 2x more.

Here’s why “asking before a need” works so well. When an organization asks donors to help after you’re already helping your beneficiaries, you’re just asking donors to fund work you’re already doing. That’s not particularly exciting to donors.

When an organization asks donors to help before the Need arrives, you’re asking donors to play a powerful role in meeting the need right as it happens. That’s exciting to donors.

Specific Timing

So, if your beneficiaries or your organization experience a Need, schedule your Asks (appeals, e-appeals) before the Need.

In general, send your appeal letter about 6 weeks before the Need begins. If you’re running an email campaign, start it about 2 weeks before the Need begins. If you’re only doing a couple of emails, start them 2 or 3 days before the Need begins.

If you want to have the largest impact, do all three:

  • Direct mail about 6 weeks before the Need begins
  • An email campaign starting about 2 weeks before the Need begins
  • Multiple emails in the 2 or 3 days before the Need begins

Next Year

As you plan your year, here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Identify the “Needs” faced by your beneficiaries
  2. Schedule your Asks before those needs
  3. Ask your donor to send in a gift to help meet the need

This simple shift will help you raise more money with the exact same number of communications you sent the year before.

Never Go Dark

Dark mode.

This is the second idea I use to help organizations create fundraising plans that raise more money:

Never go dark on your donors.

Fundraising is similar to personal friendships. We all have friends who show up, and we all have friends who go dark.

As a nonprofit, don’t be a friend who goes dark. When you go dark, you have a lower chance of remaining their friend.

Don’t let donors go months – or even weeks – without hearing from you.

The more you are a regular part of your donors’ news feed – their mail, their email, their social – the more you are a part of their lives.

Truth: the amount of donor communications you send is one of the things that communicates whether your cause is important or not. Two appeals a year, a few emails and a bunch of social? That communicates that your work must not be that important. Eight appeals, four newsletters, and thirty emails? That communicates that your work is urgent and important.

(This is unfair to organizations with small staffs, but it’s unfortunately still true.)

Like a good friend, when you show up in your donors’ lives, talk about your donors and not about yourself (your organization). Show up and tell donors what’s happening with the beneficiaries or cause that they care about. Show up and “report back” to donors the amazing things their gift has made possible through your organization.

So as you make your annual plan for next year, look for times of the year when you’ll be going dark on your donors. Then find an easy-to-create donor-centered communication to send your donors at that time.

For many small organizations, it will feel awkward to send out so many donor communications. You need to consciously make the generous choice to show up in your donors’ lives early and often.

Your donor are adults. You can’t scare them away with a few more pieces of fundraising.

And imagine how much your beneficiaries will appreciate knowing that you never go dark on their behalf.

What to Plan First in Fundraising Communications


There’s an idea I use to help organizations create fundraising plans that raise more money:

Identify the pieces of fundraising you create that raise money, and put those on your annual plan before anything else.

Then, make sure you can produce and send all those revenue-generating pieces on time before you add anything else to your calendar.

Of course you will have to add other things. We all do.

And of course there’s a place for stewardship.

But there are people in your organization who treat all communications as equal, not realizing that some raise far more than others. And after you make your plan, you are going to be asked to make and send out additional comms that are not on the plan.

That results in real-life, impact-reducing scenarios every year:

  • Organizations send out an e-news (that doesn’t raise any money) instead of sending out that print newsletter (that raises thousands of dollars)
  • Organizations spending another two weeks polishing the annual report (which loses money) instead of sending out an appeal (which raises thousands of dollars).

But this does not happen in organizations that plan for their revenue-generating fundraising communications first and foremost. They don’t plan for as many e-news because they know that the print newsletters take time. Or they choose not to polish the annual report any longer because they know that, if they do, they won’t be able to make their appeal on time.

What you put on your calendar first, matters.

What Small-Shop Fundraisers Should Do at Year-End

What Small-Shop Fundraisers Should Do at Year-End

You Don’t Have Time to Do Everything

Those silly consultants. They give you a list of fifty-four things to do, but you only have time to do four of them.

I get it. (And I am guilty of it at times.)

But if you only have time to do four things … do you know which four are the most important?

My List for Small-Shop Fundraisers

If I were doing the fundraising for a small organization with limited resources (and time!) here’s what I’d do, and the order I’d do them in:

  1. Manage your major donors. Don’t just hope that they give a gift before the end of the year, manage them toward doing it! Know who your top donors are. Be in touch with them. Know exactly who hasn’t given a gift yet this year. Ask them to give a gift to help your beneficiaries or your cause (not to give a gift to your organization). Tell them their gift is needed now, and tell them their gift will make a difference.
  2. Write and send your year-end letter. Make sure you send out a great year-end letter that powerfully asks donors to give a special gift before the end of the year.
  3. Write and prep your year-end emails. Be sure to have at least three emails prepped for the last three days of the year. Remember that they can be very similar; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.
  4. Update your website to ask for a year-end gift. It’s been true of every organization I’ve ever worked with: a LOT of people will go to your website in December with the express purpose of making a gift. If the first thing they see on your home page is a clear call-to-action and a large button, you will raise more money than you expect.

That’s it! If you can only do four things, do those four.

Make sure you do a great job on each of those before doing anything else.

If you can only do three things, do the top three.

And so on.

Just remember that year-end is the easiest time of the year to raise more money than you expect. And your donors are wonderful but busy people! So communicate to them as much as you can. You’ll love how much money you raise!

Resource for You

Need help with your year-end letter or emails? We’re having a sale on the year-end fundraising training over at Work Less Raise More. You can have your year-end fundraising letter and emails done in less than a day. Check it out to see if it’s a good fit for you and your organization!

Hello from San Antonio!

BF Team photo.

The team from Better Fundraising and I wanted to say “Hi!” from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference here in San Antonio!

If you’re here, please come and say hello. If you’re not here, I hope you can make plans to come to next year’s conference in San Diego.

If you were expecting a blog today and would still like to read one, here are a couple of posts that can make a real difference in your fundraising:

Your Fundraising IS the Relationship

The Gap and The Gift

I have to run and give a session. Thanks for being a Fundraiser!

Turns Out People Don’t Like to Say Hard Things

It’s hard to think, say and write things like:

If Daniel does not receive the cure in time, his eyes will deteriorate, and he will go blind.

Some marine life is dying, at this very moment, from the millions of pounds of plastics in the ocean today.

If Anitha doesn’t go to school this year, she’s likely to become a child bride.

All of those things are true. You might think they are morbid. Or that they shouldn’t be shared.

But it turns out that sharing those truths in your direct response fundraising will help you raise more, and fund more of your organization’s work.

In other words, if you say the hard things, your organization will be able to do more about those hard things.

Your fundraising should not be all about those hard things. But letting donors know what’s at stake gives them a more complete picture of what’s happening, and they react accordingly.

Even though it’s hard, say the hard things.

Less is Less

Less is Less

Most organizations would agree that “Less is less” when it comes to fundraising.

If you ask less, you’ll raise less.

But the converse is also true: if you ask more, you’ll raise more.

If your organization believes that “less is less,” but doesn’t believe that “more is more,” you’ve placed a boundary around the generosity of your donors.

It’s worth asking how that boundary came to be.

Most organizations (and the people working in them) are afraid of being rejected when asking for money. So they set the boundary out of fear.

But like most boundaries that are placed out of fear, they are pretty limiting. The boundary around your donors’ generosity limits how much they will give to your organization, and how much money you can raise.

If you can remove your boundary – and embrace the truth of “more is more” – you’ll unlock your donors’ generosity and you’ll do more good.

The Fundraising IS the Relationship

Fundraising relationship.

When it comes down to it, fundraising is not that hard.

You treat donors and potential donors with kindness and respect. You try to build relationship with them.

We all “get” the relationship aspect.

But every organization has some donors that you are never going to be in relationship with. These are donors who don’t go to events. They are $25 donors and major donors who you’ve never met and won’t return your calls. They aren’t known by anybody on your staff or board.

But you still want a relationship with them. And believe it or not, it’s possible to have a GREAT relationship with them.

Here’s the secret…

Your Fundraising IS Your Relationship

You’re already in a relationship with them.

The way you communicate with them is you send them fundraising. The way they communicate with you is by giving a gift… or not.

So for your side of the relationship – the fundraising that you send them – the question becomes; “How are you going to show up?”

Take a look at a bunch of standard practices is mass donor fundraising, and think about all of these in the context of relationship:

  • Fundraising that talks mostly about the organization itself, and very little about the donor
  • Only sending out a couple pieces of fundraising a year, and going dark (ghosting) for weeks and months
  • Fundraising that, when sharing success stories made possible by the donor and the organization, focuses almost exclusively on the organization’s role
  • Fundraising that’s written to the organization’s level of expertise, instead of written to the donor’s level of expertise

You’d never put up with those behaviors from another human, would you?

It’s almost like we ignored the basic principles of relationship when we created mass donor fundraising plans and materials, don’t you think?

So is it any surprise those approaches don’t make for effective fundraising?

Your Side of the Relationship

Here’s how to hold up your side of the relationship, how to show up in your donor’s life and be the type of organization that she’d like to be in relationship with:

  • Fundraising that’s mostly about what she cares about (your beneficiaries and what she can do or has done to help), and less about your organization
  • Fundraising that regularly shows up in your donor’s life
  • Fundraising that focuses more on the donor’s role and less on the organization’s role
  • Fundraising that’s written to make it easy for a donor to understand

Follow those principles and you’ll build GREAT relationships with donors you’ve never talked to.

And over time, many of your donors will “upgrade” their relationship with you through attending an event, giving you a major gift, including you in their will, etc.

And it will have happened because you made the generous choice to show up in their lives.

You held up your end of the relationship in a way that made them want to get to know you better.

This post was originally published on October 21, 2021.