Fundraising for Nonprofits

Inspiring Gifts that Transform

Sunday, April 06, 2008

So the Pope emailed me asking for help raising money

Last month I received a very flattering email from a Vatican fundraiser inviting me out to lunch. Said he was being relocated from Rome to San Francisco. Wondered if I could provide him “fundraising advice for seeking major gift donors and capacity building for several agencies in the Bay Area and West Coast,” as well as “explore mutual areas of opportunity.”

Wow, talk about the power of online branding. First, I received a call from a Noble Prize nominee and now the Pope! Who could be next? Bono?

To say I was surprised is a huge understatement! Most groups I work with have budgets of a few million dollars, not the billions under the purview of his Italian employers.

I consider myself a spiritual person, and am grateful to have worked with groups of different faiths in the past, and hope to do so again in the future. However, as someone who identifies as queer and a feminist, I make a distinction between working with organizations that are supportive or neutral on issues of LGBT equality and women’s rights, and those that oppose them. Therefore, I thought there might be others who might be a better match with his needs and values. So rather than meet with him in person, I provided him referrals to several other skilled Bay Area professionals.

In retrospect, I wish I had responded differently. For it was not like he was asking to “get married,” it was only a request for a “first date.” Rather than immediately declining his invitation, I wish I had simply disclosed my identity and beliefs, and let him decide if he would still like to share a meal. Because while I might not ultimately be the best person to provide him advice, I would like to hope that we could still be colleagues. More importantly, I missed the opportunity to learn more about him and the Catholic Church -- and myself as well.

When practiced mindfully, fundraising can teach us to move through the world with more grace. Points of resistance can often be our greatest teacher. For example, exploring why volunteer solicitors often do not follow through on their commitments can begin to help release them from their own internal fears of money, power and privilege.

In this case, after some reflection I realized two important points. One, I still have some lingering fears about being judged by others. I’m not Catholic, but there was something about a prospective meeting with the Pope’s proxy that I found intimidating. Simply stating this without judgment is the first step toward removing this barrier.

Secondly, my values are important guideposts. However, they become roadblocks when they become inflexible and absolute. If the role of a development professional is to cultivate relationships between individuals and institutions based on shared values, than we must be the first to seek common ground with others.

I have no illusions that if I had acted differently my efforts would have changed the Church’s positions on important issues that I value. However, is not breaking bread together the first step toward creating peaceful change in the world? If we are to ask others to change on our behalf, must we also be willing to do so ourselves?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Please join me for lunch this Monday, March 31, at the AFP convention

Would you perhaps be attending next week's Association of Fundraising Professional annual convention in San Diego? If so, I'd love to connect up with you for lunch this Monday, March 31.

According to Yelp San Diego, the best fish tacos in town are only a few blocks away at the Tin Fish Gaslamp cafe, which has a full lunch menu and offers plenty of outdoor seating as well. If that sounds tasty to you, let's plan to meet-up at the Convention Center's main entrance at 11:20 am. Please drop me an email at gayle[at] to confirm, and include your cell phone number, so I can give you a call on Sunday to coordinate the exact meet-up location.

Hope to see you soon!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

How to become a top ranked expert on LinkedIn, without really trying

I'm rather shocked to tell you that out of LinkedIn's current 15 million users, I am now ranked among the top 15 Charity and Nonprofit experts on the site. This after joining just a couple of months ago. If you wish, you too can quickly become one of the top experts on the Internet's leading business networking site. The secret is to take advantage of LinkedIn's powerful Answers features.

Search and Share Answers
LinkedIn’s Answers is somewhat like a modern day oracle. Do you have a question -- any question -- that you need answered quickly? Post it online and within hours dozens of people will have shared with you their thoughts and opinions. Some are wise -- some are not so -- but collectively you will have received pretty good advice. Odds are somebody has asked your question already, so often you do not even need to post a new query to get find a good answer. The site archives hundreds of thousands of previous responses that you can easily search.

LinkedIn Answers offers a “share this” link that appears at the lower right hand corner under each question. Click on the link to e-mail the question to a LinkedIn personal connection, add it to or digg, or grab a permalink to highlight it on your blog or other social networking service like Facebook. This is a great way to strengthen your network by helping your friends get their questions answered quickly, or letting them shine by answering a question within their subject expertise.

Ask Questions
Posting a question is an excellent way to quickly survey the community. You can post your question privately and forwarded to just a few of your select contacts; or you can choose to make it public and have it available to be answered by anyone of the site's millions of registered users. It will also then show up on the home pages of all your network connections. This means if even I am the only person you are connected to and you ask a question, it will show up on the home page of over 15,700 people. (If you answer one of my questions, the answer will be linked to the home page of over 1,245,000 people!)

When asking a question, just be careful or you can come off looking rather silly. For example, avoid asking something that has been posted before or could be answered through a simple Google search. Remember good grammar and spelling still count. Don't post just to fish for new clients; people can always tell. Most importantly, be clear about what you are asking and why it is important to you. If you receive permission and give credit, answers make great source content for republication to a blog or elsewhere.

Answer Questions
You can become a ranked expert like me by consistently providing useful answers to other's questions. LinkedIn uses a rating system to award expertise points. If you follow the above posting advice for asking questions, your reputation will strengthen when responding to others as well. By answering questions, I have made connections with individuals as far away as Australia, India and Israel.

Do you have a favorite category in which you would like to become a recognized expert? My suggestion is that you subscribe to its RSS feeds. Simply use the "Browse" module in the left hand column of the Answer module to navigate to the category you are interested in subscribing to, where you can find link to that category’s feed. This is one way I'm strategically keeping up to date with the pulse in the Charity and Nonprofit sector. Many of my answers have ended up inspiring recent posts here on this blog.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

5 steps to create a “B-R-A-N-D New U” online

Last summer I received a phone call from an influential Washington D.C. figure, who had recently been nominated for the 2007 Noble Peace Prize. You might even know his name. He was looking for fundraising advice. However, before I share with you details of that conversation, I’d like to talk to you about why he called me of all people.

Let’s face it, we live in an interconnected, intermediated and Internet world. If perception equals reality, than what people learn about you online can influence your career success, whether you are an independent consultant or a long-time staff fundraiser. Tom Peters got it right ten years ago when he developed the concept of personal branding. “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”

Today more than anything else, one thing determines the strength of your personal brand: your Google rankings. What are the total numbers of personal responses returned, how high are your results, and how relevant are they to what you would like to be known about? If you don't have an online presence, in the eyes of a growing number of people, you simply don't exist. For a more comprehensive analysis, visit the Online Identity Calculator today.

If after evaluating your online identity, you are serious about developing a stronger online brand, I have a turn around strategy for you. Here are my five recommended steps to create a “B-R-A-N-D New U” online.

Start a blog focused in a niche subject area that you would like to become well known. Set yourself a goal of at least 3 posts a week for 6 months. Wordpress and Blogger are just 2 of the many free services available. Google rankings are heavily determined by how many links in and out, as well as how fresh is the content of your site. Regular blogging is the easiest and fastest way for an individual to actively increase their rankings. Want to get real serious about blogging? Than subscribe to Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger.

Responding to posts on other blogs is the best tip I can give you to becoming an effective blogger, because it forces you to become a blog reader. You will quickly learn what are the most current topics of under discussion in your field. Use Technorati to locate the top 10-15 authoritative blogs in your niche. Subscribe to their RSS feeds using Google Reader. Read their posts daily and set yourself a of leaving at least 3 comments a week. Truly contribute to the dialogue, and you will soon find the favor returned.

Assume everything you post online will be accessiable forever and will eventually be linked back to you, including those nasty anonymous comments on a Hollywood gossip blog. Are you sure all the personal information you are posting on Facebook is something you’d like to share with strangers ten years from now? Many think public advocacy only means criticizing those in power, but have you ever been impressed with someone who complains all the time without providing solutions? Keep it clean and constructive.

The further you progress in your career, the more you understand we are all only as strong as our relationships. The number one rule in networking is that if you want to succeed, help others succeed first. One of the added benefits of using a professional business networking service like LinkedIn, is that Google ranks LinkedIn profiles very highly in its search results. It takes less than an hour to set-up a free profile and invite your friends to join you. In just a couple of months, my business network there contains 350 people who can help me reach over 1 million professional users on the site.

D)o It
We all start as beginners and learn by doing. If as young children we never tried to walk because we were afraid of falling, we’d all still be crawling around on all fours. When I’ve described this B-R-A-N-D New U strategy to others, a common reaction is, “What will I write about?” The great thing is that you don’t need to know, it will come to you. These recommended five steps will not only develop your personal brand, but your personal growth. Today’s thought leaders are bloggers, and by pursuing this strategy you can become one too.

As for the man who called me for fundraising advise? No, it wasn’t Al Gore. It was another good man with a good cause, whose board wasn’t engaged in fundraising, was the sole fundraiser for his agency, and needed help developing back office systems and procedures. Sound familiar? All around the world, our needs are not very different.

Finally, why did he call me? The answer is simple, because of my strong online personal brand.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Where do you find your next fundraising superstar?

These days, there are few things more difficult than hiring a new fundraiser. There simply are not enough people to fill the ever growing number of development jobs. Recruiting more individuals into this field should be of critical importance for all of us.

The first step of creating a powerful job description is not only a helpful recruitment tool, but essential long-term planning guide and evaluation benchmark. Please take a some time to reflect on your goals and expectations for this position. Are you looking for a staff person, consultant or a volunteer? Full-time, part-time or temporary? What is the life stage of your organization? What gift markets do you want to develop? What is your hiring, as well as long-term support budget?

If you are having a hard time answering these and other questions, call up a similar nonprofit and ask to conduct an information interview with the head of their development efforts. I’ve found that fundraisers are, by and large, very generous with their expertise.

Ultimately, successful fundraising is a team effort, whether you are an all volunteer group or a large institution. The traditional model is a small, well-trained professional staff supporting a large group of volunteers, with occasional outside consulting assistance. The answers you get to the above questions, as well as which team member you are recruiting, will of course shape your recruitment strategy. However, you can’t go wrong with 1) looking to promote from within, 2) leveraging your personal and institutional network, 3) accessing professional trade associations or special interest groups, and 4) paid advertising.

Perhaps you have an intern who is ready to step into an associate position, or a manager who might be ready to take on a new director role with a little bit of coaching? Other options include forwarding your job announcement to contacts in your address book or asking your Board to do the same, attending a meeting of the your local fundraising association, or even advertising. If this is a high level position, you would be well served by putting together a staff/board search committee or even hiring outside professional experts.

With so many people making mid-career moves into the field, you may want to also try reaching out to local for-profit MarComm and Publicity groups for people with similar skills. There are a growing number of MBA graduates entering the nonprofit field. More colleges and universities have nonprofit management programs that you can approach. Many cities have nonprofit management support organizations or volunteer centers that act as information hubs.

Finally, don’t forget to ask your current funders. Experienced donors often already know the best fundraisers in your community.

These days -- and into the foreseeable future -- it is a job seeker’s market when it comes to fundraising. It is not uncommon for it to take six months or longer to fill an open position. Interim staff or consultants are temporarily filling many jobs. Because of these factors, do understand the salary scale for development jobs is higher than in any other nonprofit department. In fact, some Development Directors earn more than their Executive Directors.

One last piece of advice. When looking for your new superstar don’t just sell the position, sell your mission. That’s what’s going to attract someone to your organization with passion for the work, who can successfully raise funds for your good cause.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Humble lessons from an early morning blogger

When I started this blog, a little over a year ago, I thought of it originally as a marketing device. However, over time I have come to think of it more as a personal development tool. Writing forces me to think more clearly about my work and what I believe, while learning from other bloggers in order to stay relevant.

Today’s Thought Leaders are bloggers. Most of my fundraising peers, because of the daily demands of jobs and lives, are unaware of the fundamental changes happening in our industry. Without more intentional engagement and professional training, I fear in ten years the world will have passed many of us by. Posting on this blog, and more importantly, reading other blogs and commenting on them, is one way I keep current.

One side effect of viewing blogging as a personal development tool is that over time it has actually become an effective marketing device. Last week I used the Online Identity Calculator to see how I ranked. It gave me a 10 out of a 10 for effectiveness!

A Google search on my name brings up nearly 5,000 hits. Amazingly, the first 3 are actually about me, with 2 links to my website and 1 to my LinkedIn profile. Fifteen of the top thirty are also about me, and each listings is about my professional career as a fundraiser. Nearly all are blog posts, either one’s I wrote or one’s other bloggers wrote about me. This makes sense. Blogs are regularly updated and contain a lot of in- and out-links, so Google loves them. Clearly, writing a blog is one of the best things you can do to manage your online identity.

Not everyone needs a blog, just as not everyone needs a website. However, if you’re going to build a website, today there is no reason it shouldn’t include a blog, or better yet, be primarily a blog. There are many online services -- such as Blogger, WordPress or Weebly -- that are free and easy to use. If you haven’t started a blog, but are tempted, my best advice would be to first become a reader of other blogs. Google Reader is a good tool to use.

Having said that, I will humbly offer two caveats. First, blogging can become a black hole on your time. Set definite time limits and structure it into your activities like any other regular weekly task.

Second, this is still a secondary marketing strategy. Like advertising or public relations, it is hard to focus. Traditional off-line networking activities -- such as keeping in touch with past clients, cultivating relationships with other consultants and joining local associations -- is still the best marketing strategy for an independent consultant like myself.

Today my blog subscriber and readership base is still relatively small. Currently I have 141 subscribers, and daily visitors are measured in the dozens. However, I feel so lucky that each one of you has taken the time away from your busy schedule to read my words. Some of you are even from the other side of the world! For example, Francesco, Ioana and Daniele are three Italian fundraisers doing great work. Our recent connection may never result in a gig, but my life is much richer for it.

In fact, the presence of each of you reading this post today is a gift. Thank you so much for all you bring into the world.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Getting to know LinkedIn

Turned down an interview last week to lead up a $45 million capital campaign for one of San Francisco’s leading nonprofits. The inquiry came because of my profile on LinkedIn, the Internet's leading professional business networking website. Figuring that 12 million users couldn’t be wrong, I had only created my free account on the service less than a month ago.

Though LinkedIn has a reputation for being dominated by the tech industry, I think perhaps those of us working in nonprofit fundraising can also benefit from its use. One of the core principles of successful fundraising is “you already know everybody you need to know to raise money.” Amongst my colleagues the common joke is you know your campaign is headed for trouble when your Board President suggests soliciting Bill Gates, but hasn’t yet asked any of her friends for support.

But the truth is, if you are a skilled networker, you can actually reach Bill Gates -- or anybody else you want to -- because network theory states that we are all only six degrees of separation from anyone on the planet. The trick is to start from where you are and with whom you know and, and then work you’re way out. Used wisely, LinkedIn can be a practical tool for building these connections. For example, in less than one month, I now have 202 first degree connections, over 4,000 second degree connections, and over 250,000 third degree connections on LinkedIn.

To use LinkedIn to build your own business network, here are a couple of recommended first steps:
  1. Be proactive: Sign up for a free account
    Paid accounts allow subscribers to ask for introductions and send emails to users more widely throughout the LinkedIn community. Yet with a free subscription you have access to the vast majority of the sites networking tools, and is what I recommend. You can always upgrade at a later date.

  2. Invest in learning: Take the tour
    LinkedIn has a lot of depth and features, which can be intimidating at first. Review the site FAQs. A quick Google search for LinkedIn tips can be helpful too; one of my favorites is this short video.

  3. Promote yourself: Keep an up to date profile
    I can’t stress this enough. The more detail you provide the greater number of ways you can be discovered, linked to and receive recommendations. Include not only current and past employment, but also your volunteer and education history. Be sure to include company or personal website or blog URL. Update the provided public profile URL to include your full name to increase search results. Stress your accomplishments and skills in the summary description. Expand your interest area to include searchable key words. Don’t forget to add a formal or informal group affiliations, honors and awards. Think of your LinkedIn page as your online, dynamic resume. My listing now comes up as the third result under a Google search of my name.

  4. Build your network: Invite your friends to join LinkedIn
    The site offers several easy tools for importing your current address book into their system. Basic networking theory would suggest you invite everyone you’ve ever come in contact with, but in a world of increasing email spam, a little grace goes a long way. So my advice would be to certainly extend an invitation to all current users of the system whom you know. Then segment the rest of your address book, sending invitations to join to those to whom you are close or who have demonstrated an interested in business networking. After you’ve built up your personal network and have something more to offer, then send out personalized invitations to others describing the benefits of joining the service.

  5. Spread the love: Give it all away
    Every successful networker knows that if you want to succeed in life, the best way to go about that is by helping others succeed first. Like fundraising, it should be a practice of giving without keeping score. On LinkedIn one of the easiest ways to get started is to recommend your connections. No one wants to receive insincere flattery, but being the recipient of honest, specific praise makes life worth living. For more such tips, read Tim Sanders' Love is the Killer App.

  6. Keep connected: Tell me what you think
    If you’ve been on LinkedIn for a while, I’d love to get your feedback in the comments below; and if you’re a reader of this blog, I’d love to keep connected to you. You can send me an invitation through LinkedIn at gayle[at]gayleroberts[dot]com.

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