Part Two: Making the Case for an Annual Case Statement

Great, so you’re on board.  You’ve read Part One of this article and are now convinced that you need an annual case statement STAT.  That’s terrific!  Now the trick is writing the thing.  Below are some tips on how to create a compelling case statement.

Frist, this document doesn’t need to be fancy.  While capital campaign documents are often (and rightfully so) given the graphic design treatment, a case statement for your annual fundraising does not need to be highly stylized or expensive to produce.  In fact, often donors say they would prefer that the organization not spend too much money on communication pieces.  While it doesn’t need to cost a small fortune to produce, it should, however, contain the following elements: 

·      Start with the mission, vision and history of the organization.  You don’t want to assume that the donor knows everything about the organization.  It’s important to state, at the beginning of the document, who you are, what you do and how long you’ve been in existence.  You don’t need to go into great detail on the history of the organization, but do provide enough to demonstrate that you’re stable and credible.

·      Include context.  Where does your organization fit in the broader issue?  What do you do better than anyone else?  Third party research, statements from experts and endorsements from partner organizations can be helpful here.

·      Write a clear statement of the need.  What are you trying to accomplish?  What will it cost?  What is the timeframe?  Financial projections and true costs are extremely valuable here.  You want to demonstrate that you’ve done the research and are certain about the amount of money that is needed and by when it’s necessary to have the funds in hand. If, for example, you want grow your operating budget of a period of years, show the increments and timeframe in which you hope to grow it.

·      Add a compelling story or some other element that showcases your work and supports your goal.  Photos, infographics and testimonials can be useful here.

·      Be sure to have a clear statement of where the donor fits in.  Also known as a call to action, you need to spell out exactly what it is that you want the donor to do.

·      Don’t forget the list of organizational leaders and their contact information.  Ideally, you’ll be reviewing the case in 1:1 conversations with your donors and leaving it with them.  As they consider your request, they’ll likely peruse the case statement again.  It will be beneficial for them to have a list of board members and senior staff.  Include contact information for the organization because they may have follow-up questions, and it’s critical that they can easily get in touch.  This contact information should include your web address as well as any other social media handles.  The donor may want to reach out to a board member that he or she knows to get their insight on the request, so you may want to consider adding contact information for board members as well. 

Second, after you’ve written a strong draft, consider sharing it with a focus group of select donors.  By doing so, you’ll discover whether or not you’re on the right track.  For example, their feedback could tell you that there’s already a great deal of support for what you want to accomplish; They’ve just been waiting to be asked.  On the other hand, you might discover that what seems strongly compelling to program staff is too wonky or not as interesting to donors.  This external feedback will also help you root out jargon or other insider lingo that can create conversation barriers between you and your target audience. 

As I prepared to write this piece, I asked a former client what she found beneficial during the case statement process.  She said that their final case statement was radically different from the original draft they shared with a test audience – and that it was all because of the feedback that was given during a donor focus group. If you want this document to be an effective communication tool, you’d benefit from testing it before sharing it far and wide.

The process for writing a case statement for your annual fundraising needs can be as valuable as the finished product.  This is because the process helps your organization identify and refine its fundraising priorities.  Writing the document forces you to articulate your needs in a concise, cogent, and direct way.  Quantifying your services and pinning down your financial needs will help show you and your donors precisely how their support will be used. 

Sharing it internally will help your program staff understand how fundraising directly impacts the work they do.  Additionally, testing it externally will bring donors into the process with you while also ensuring that you’re on the right track.  These steps leads to a polished, professional document you can be proud to share with your supporters.

Happy Writing!

PS:  Do you need to prompts to get you started?  Get my case statement worksheet here.

Part One: Making the Case for an Annual Case Statement

True story:  My very first fundraising job (more than 20 years ago!) was for a university.  On the first day of my new job, I sat in a meeting where my colleagues were talking about a capital campaign to renovate the athletic building.  They discussed the purpose of the building, the various elements to the design, and the capital campaign goal.  Eventually, the conversation shifted and the Vice President of Advancement said, “We just need to start building the case.”  There were several subsequent statements made about the case.  Being very, very new to all this, I tried to put two and two together, but eventually, had to ask:  “Why is the case so important to the building?”  Someone answered, “Because it will show the donors how worthwhile the project is.”  I was still stymied.  I couldn’t figure out why a case full of athletic trophies would make or break the campaign.  And so I asked, “Why is a case full of trophies so important to raising that much money?  Is it because the donors were the trophy winners at one point?”  The Vice President did a spit take.

 You can see where this is going, right?  They were talking about the case for support, not a trophy case!  After everyone had a good laugh at the new girl’s expense, I got a quick and dirty tutorial on case statements.

 I’ve written countless case statements since that day and can attest to the fact that case statements are very important in showing donors the worthiness of a project.

 Recently, there’s been an uptick in the number of case statements I’ve written for capital campaigns. The process is rewarding and effective because after collecting stories, data and financial information, the clients ends up with a concise and compelling document that helps the organization articulate its goals and intentions.  This document provides a gateway for donors, showing them how they can be involved in the organization’s efforts.   When its finished, the case becomes the guiding resource for all your campaign donor conversations.  Also and more broadly, the case can contain the kernels of all your most important campaign talking points,- those messages you want to share on all your various communication channels such as your website, newsletter, Instagram or Facebook at the appropriate time.

 Given how powerful a case statement is during a capital campaign, I’ve begun to encourage my clients to create them for their annual fundraising efforts as well.  Here’s why:

·      Writing a case statement forces you to get focused and organized.  Since a case statement is usually only 5-8 pages long,* it can’t contain everything and the kitchen sink.  Instead, the case should only contain your top 1-3 funding priorities and the justification for why donors should support those priorities.  Writing the document forces the organization to gain clarity on which funding needs are more important or more urgent than others. 

·      A case statement requires financial information.  In order to write a compelling case statement, it is important to include accurate and factual information on your organization’s funding structure and its financial goals, including the cost of the effort for which you are currently fundraising.  How will this fundraising effort impact the overall financial picture of the organization?  What will happen if these funds aren’t raised?

Many organizations I’ve worked with have a good idea of how much money is needed each year, but they have a much clearer picture after they’ve spent time developing financial projections that are included a case for support.  Often, developing financial projections can be an eye-opening exercise.

·      A case statement articulates the context in which your organization is working.  Donors want to know where your organization fits in the greater scheme of things.  And, they want to know what you differently or better than anyone else.  What’s your niche?  How does that niche help to address the bigger issue or advance the greater mission?  Articulating where your organization fits in context to others is a useful reminder that you are not operating in a vacuum.  Writing out the context in which you work for a case statement can help the organization remember the bigger picture.

·      A case statement gives direction to donor conversations.  Does meeting with donors to secure their annual gifts ever feel stale or rote to you?  I bet it does.  I bet it begins to feel the same way for your donors.  Afterall, how many different ways can you says, “Will you give XXX to our annual fund this year?”  Now imagine that conversation with a fresh document that outlines the priorities for the year, tells exactly how you’ll use their donations and measure their impact.  Imagine reviewing the case with the donors, stopping to highlight the story and photo you’ve included of a client, or explaining the infographic that showcases the number of people you’ve served over time.  Wouldn’t a tool like that make annual donor conversations feel more lively and engaging?

Well-written case statements can enliven and direct your conversations with donors.

·      A annual case statement can help your program staff better understand how fundraising goals connect directly to their jobs.  When they see the breakdown in the document for how the funds will be used, they begin to realize that fundraising isn’t an abstract endeavor.  Instead, they learn that the money raised is for them and the work they do.

I’ve written case statements to help an organization and raise money for a new development hire.  I’ve written a case statement to help an organization secure six months of emergency expenses.  I’ve written case statements to help donors understand that when they give to the annual fund, they ARE giving to programs.  None of those case statements were for capital campaigns, but each were successful in their purpose because they educated the donor on the effort and  gave her the kind of information she needed to support the organization in the way that was being requested. 

I encourage you, if you aren’t already doing so, to consider writing a case statement for your annual fundraising efforts.  I believe you’ll see an improvement in the quality of the conversations you have with your donors when you use the document as a guide in your discussion.

In part two of this article, I’ll share the necessary elements to a case statement and outline a process for making sure your case is as effective as you want it to be.

Beam Consulting is now a B Corp™

I’m so pleased to announce that Beam Consulting is now a Certified B Corporation®!

In late spring, I started working with ASSETS through their Measure What Matters program to become a Certified B Corporation ®.  I had witnessed other firms I respect and admire go through the process but wrongly assumed that since my business was so small, that I didn't qualify. 

Once I realized that any company with a commitment to use their business as a force for good, no matter how large or small, could go through the B Corp™ assessment, I quickly began the process.  

I wanted to be a B Corp™ because I value the structure and accountability the certification provides.  Happily, I was already paying attention to my social and environmental impact, so the process simply helped me to fill some gaps in my policies and practices.  It also encouraged me to up my game in certain areas. 

The B Corp assessment process measures a company’s performance in five categories: suppliers, workers, customers, community, and the environment.

B Corp Certification is a highly selective status. Companies must document their positive impact to qualify and undergo verification every three years to maintain their Certification.

The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. 

For example, this means that Beam Consulting has policies and practices in place that make sure that it's giving back to the communities where I work, offsetting carbon emissions from travel, and carefully chooses suppliers, workers and customers with whom I share values.

I'm proud to be using my business as a force for good™.  And, I'm grateful to ASSETS for helping me get certified!      


Give Collaborative Fundraising A Try

I'm a big fan of nonprofits joining together to make a bigger impact.  Often, nonprofits collaborate with one another on projects or programs but draw the line at joint fundraising efforts.  The old belief is that it's wrong, or dangerous to share donor information with one another.  What if the donors don't want their names to be shared?  What if another nonprofit poaches your donors?

Gradually, that mindset is changing and organizations are bravely working together, trusting each other with their valuable resources. Giving days like Extra Give in Lancaster, PA and Give Local in York, PA are proving that magical, enormous things happen when communities join together in their fundraising efforts.  Additionally, I've had the privilege of working with a number of nonprofits in the past several years, helping them facilitate collective impact processes, including shared campaign fundraising on capital projects.  I've seen the results first-hand.  

But don't just take my word for it.  Read this terrific case study on collaborative fundraising from Blue Avocado. It's worth your time because the author shares her initial misgivings but then talks about how she took a leap of faith -- with great results.

Check it out!

Watch Out for Shady Characters

Hello dear colleagues,

This is just a quick post to share some crucial information with you. Did you know that fundraising consultants have ethical guidelines they should be following?  Or that the State of Pennsylvania actually regulates how we perform our services?

It's true.  These regulations exist to protect you from those who would be inclined to charge usurious, percentage based rates that would take too much of the funds you worked so hard to raise.  Additionally, these regulations help to protect nonprofits and their donors from coercive fundraising practices.

Fundraising consultants who don't adhere to these regulations are not only engaging in unethical practices, they could also incur hefty state fines for being in violation of them.  

There are two documents you should know about that address this issue. The first, Association of Fundraising Professional's Code Ethical Standards sets the guidelines for all fundraising professionals across the nation. 

The second document is specific to Pennsylvania and sets the requirements for how fundraising consultants are allowed to operate in PA, the content their contracts must include to meet PA's regulations and the process by which they must submit those contracts to the state for approval.  While it's not riveting reading, it is important that you understand what's required of firms like mine that do business with you.  

Please familiarize yourself with the documents I've linked to.  And, be thorough in your research on consultants you're considering.  Unfortunately, like in every other industry, there are some shady characters out there! 


Beam Consulting is registered with the State of PA and authorized to provide fundraising counsel. All my contracts contain the required language.  please contact me for more information.

Get 'Er Done!

Get 'Er Done!

That seems to be the theme for the new edition of Northwest Nonprofit Notes.  The authors of each of the articles cut through the noise in each of their respective topics, giving you fresh, clear instruction for how to take action.

Want to better organize and track your fundraising goals for the year?  Heidi Thomson-Daly shares her fundraising dashboard with you because "what gets tracked, gets done."

Jennifer Weber demystifies engagement strategies by giving you a step-by-step process for creating your own.  She goes one step further by providing some creative examples from previous clients that go well beyond the stale coffee meeting.

Julie Edsforth shows you how to fundraise from your friends even though it's hard.  The first step in solving a problem is admitting there is one.  In this case, Julie does an artful and compassionate job of admitting that friend-fundraising is hard, and then shows you how to do it anyway.

How often do you wish you had more time to learn something new or receive more professional development?  Sara Lawson coaches you on how to better embed learning in your organizational culture so that you and your team are constantly sharing new ideas and gaining fresh instruction.

Last, the group article gives some best ever ideas for board recruitment that will help your candidates feel valued, connected and inspired to join your board.  Strong recruitment leads to strong board participation.  And what organization doesn't want more of that?

Before tackling all your 2018 to-do items, take a few minutes to read through these helpful and instructional articles.  I promise, if you do, the information in each of them will help make your job easier.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

Keep On Keeping On, You Fantastic People

In November, I asked this community to share stories and inspirational messages that give you that second, third or fourth wind that keeps you motivated.   And boy, did you respond!

Not only did you provide moving stories and stirring messages, you shared why these words were motivational to you.  And that, dear colleagues, was the most inspirational aspect of this exercise.

I hope you enjoy these submissions and use them to energize and galvanize you during the busy holiday season.

Happy Holidays!


“In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

Tony Schweiter writes, "Not exactly motivational but it helps me not get discouraged too much when things seem kablooie."

“Wherever you go, there you are.” –Jon Kabat-Zinn.

It helps remind me to stay in the present moment, says Josh McManness

Alice Yoder explains, "I am always aware that no matter how many times things seem tough personal or professional, my life is a piece of cake compared to others. I also like the Community Volunteers in Medicine Vision Statement:" 

May we have eyes to see those who are rendered invisible and excluded;

Open arms and hearts to reach out and include them;

Healing hands to touch their lives with love;

And in the process heal ourselves.

I am blessed to volunteer with The Children’s Dyslexia Center of Lancaster.  My inspiration comes from the students we serve. One of the BEST speeches I have EVER heard was given by a 6th grade student we had helped. Here it is in it’s entirety: “I used to be called stupid and slow, now I’m on the honor roll. Thank you very much.”  I try to keep that (and the thought that ‘good beginnings never end’) ever before me. Our students are inspiring! - Joy Linton

Here's a powerful that motivates and inspires Bobbi Anne DeLeo:

(Originally submitted by Catherine Cunningham in April 2017)

Currently my life is simple. I work an average minimum wage job.  I always try my best at whatever I put my mind to.  Now I am working hard to reach my goal of becoming a dental assistant.  In two years from now I hope to use my new career to participate in missions trips and travel to countries where families cannot afford proper dental care. 

If it wasn’t for the Literacy Council my tutor, I would still be nowhere close to getting my GED.  I have enrolled at YTI and will start classes in July.  I look forward to the wonderful opportunities I now have because of the Literacy Council.

(Follow-up with Catherine since getting her diploma – submitted  September 2017)

Throughout my childhood I struggled with learning. I went to kindergarten in a private school and that year I failed.  The school told my parents I would never learn to read. My parents were determined to help me learn and they always gave me the best opportunity they could afford. They ended up removing me from the school and my mother devoted all her time to homeschooling me.

My parents took me to multiple doctors until I was finally diagnosed with ADHD and Dyslexia.  They always wanted the best for me, so when I was 7, my mother found this one education center that helped me learn to read and pronounce words. Within 6 months, I had jumped from a 1st-grade reading level all the way to 9th-grade! Reading became my favorite subject after that.

I never really struggled with History or Science because those subjects fascinated me as a child but when It came to math I would get so frustrated with it because I could not understand it. I pretty much struggled with math until I dropped out of high school/homeschooling in the 10th-grade due to a curriculum wanting me to repeat two full years of high school all over again.

For a year or so I basically worked, moved to Buffalo, NY for a couple months. I then decided to return home to achieve my GED.  I asked around at some colleges and they informed me that the York Literacy council existed and that the organization could help me get my GED and even offered tutoring. I didn't waste much time getting in contact with the council and before I knew it I was in there getting evaluated. My assumptions were correct when they informed me I could pass the English, Social Studies and Science on the first try. But mathematics was still my worst subject at the time so the council got me a private tutor to help me with my mathematics.

My tutors name was Alexis. She was a very kind and wonderful woman. She worked with me twice a week for what I think was 9 months. She had the patience to teach me even when I got frustrated and wasn't able to fully comprehend the math. By the end of her tutoring, I not only received a GED but I also obtained a lifelong friendship.

Within a couple months of having my GED, I signed up for the YTI Career Institute dental assisting program. I am currently two months down on a nine-month program. I'm currently averaging a "B" for most of my classes. I love what the field has to offer.  The hands-on work is perfect for me.

There are so many different jobs I could have from general practice to teaching and everything in between.  I forever will be appreciative of the opportunity that the York Literacy Council has provided me, and the support Alexis gave me.

Susan Schaffer writes: "I have a passion to educate the community without disabilities and empower individuals with disabilities. I have done this on and off here and there for a long time. I still keep at it for the following reason. There will come a time when I will meet the right person who will have that connection to the people who need my help and will share my knowledge with others. It is my passion and I do not have it in me to give up on the plan / dream."

Vulnerability Makes Us Stronger Together

Vulnerability - The Key to Successful Collective Impact

Who Knew Appearing Weak Could Produce So Much Strength?

Have I mentioned lately how much I love what I do?  Not only is it a privilege and honor to partner with amazing people doing remarkable things, but I also love how our work can call us to higher versions of ourselves and the organizations we serve.  

Lately, I've been thinking about this a lot because I'm conducting several strategic planning projects with organizations who are using the collective impact model to make real, lasting, systemic change in their communities.  Collective impact is hard work and it's heart work.  

Collective impact requires sacrificing personal or organizational agendas, trusting wholeheartedly and communicating transparently in order to build connections.  It is all about the risk we’re willing to take on our partners in the sector so that we can come together to solve serious problems.  Collective impact is about making ourselves or our organizations more vulnerable so that we can join with others who share our vision.  Brene Brown's research on vulnerability  has a lot to say about this stuff.  While most of her research focuses on the individual, I think her findings are applicable to organizational collaborations, too.
Vulnerability is critical to successful collective impact endeavors.   
As more and more organizations desire collaborations with one another it’s important to keep in mind that in order for there to be true collaborations, organizations and the people running them need to be vulnerable with one another. 
That means fessing up if you’re financially struggling and hoping that a grant will provide sufficient funds to not only grow a program, but also help solve some cash flow problems.  That means pulling back the curtain and letting others see that you have some flaws or insufficiencies in how you measure outcomes.  That means admitting when you’re at the end of your tether, either in terms of expertise or bandwidth, and unable to deal with the latest round of significant challenges facing your organization.
This can be extremely can be extremely challenging and uncomfortable! - Especially if you've been burned in the past. We've all had experiences where our trust has been abused.  Or, when, someone or something has taken advantage of us in our moments of vulnerability.  

Yet, are previous bad experiences a good enough reason to stop trying?  Happily, the organizations with which I'm working have emphatically said, "NO!"  And things are changing for the better in their communities because of it. 

The same can be true for you. I bet if you're willing to risk it, more often than not, your peers will give you the empathy, guidance and support you need to take the next step. They'll join your in your efforts to make a difference.  
Even though it’s hard work, doesn't your heart sing  a little when you think of how closer connections and deeper relationships – resulting from our willingness to be vulnerable with one another – will lead to the transformation we seek?  After all, that’s what true collaboration, true collective impact is all about.  


PS – I recommend the book 'The Impossible Will Take A Little While' if you’re looking for some inspiration and motivation.  It’s chock full of poetry, stories and essays about good people, working together and doing brave things to change the world even when times get tough. Or, if you want some truly profound examples of people setting aside past hurts to transform their communities, 'Solving Tough Problems' tells the story of the peace and reconciliation work of Adam Kahane and his team in places like South Africa, during the dismantling of apartheid and Columbia during the civil war.  


Customer Service – The New Super Power!

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

I admit it.  When it comes to customer service, I’m a stickler.  And when I experience poor customer service?  Let’s just say I can get a little testy. It’s because customer service is so critical to the donor or consumer experience.  When sectors are so crowded with options from which to choose, excellent customer service can power boost your relationships with your donors and clients.  Alternatively, few things can tank a relationship and destroy trust quicker than really poor customer service (Hi airlines!).  Let me give you a few examples from my personal experience to illustrate what I mean.

First, there was the time I went so far as to demand a formal, written apology from a car salesman who called me a b—h and hung up on me after I confronted him on the fact that he slipped into a sales agreement additional fees that I had already declined.  That time, I spent days going all the way up the company’s corporate ladder until I got the response I wanted. And since I’m telling you this story a decade from when it occurred, I clearly held on to this memory – and have made subsequent car buying decisions based on it.

But, the reverse is also true. I also remember great customer service experiences and become a loyal follower and champion of brands that serve me well. I recently had a fantastic customer service experience that illustrates how providing excellent customer service is crucial to keeping your customers or constituents engaged and happy – and will keep them from going anywhere else.

Here’s what happened....

Read more here!

Engaging Donors Part 2 - Or rather, How NOT to Engage Someone

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we miss the mark when we try to engage one of our supporters. I recently had that happen to me. You can read what happened in the link below, as well has find some tips on how to avoid making the same mistakes. How NOT to Engage Someone: Common Mistakes Organizations Make with Potential Supporters

Engaging Donors Part 1

I've been getting a lot of questions lately about how to better engage donors. I've actually spend a lot of time thinking about the topic. In the video below, produced for the Lancaster County Community Foundation's Tech Talks series, I give you a few tips on how to better engage your donors. I hope you find this helpful!

Dani Beam, professional fundraising consultant of DC Beam Consulting shares her insights on building a donor engagement strategy, and outlines some proven tips for cultivating successful fundraising campaigns. For more info and ExtraGive Tech Talks visit!

How to Speak Fundraiser

Recently, my sister who also happens to be a active board member and has served on multiple boards, reminded me that it can be difficult for new board members to learn the nonprofit lingo. Uh oh, I thought.

I know I've been guilty of having barreled through a training without stoping to translate the fundraising language with which I'm so comfortable, but other are not.

Apologies to all of you who might have been a little confused in one of my sessions as I threw around words like cultivation, stewardship, campaign, major donor, recognition and on and on. I will do better in the future. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy a glossary of standard fundraising terms, which you can find here. After reading this, you too, will be able to speak fundraiser.



Announcing the September edition of Northwest Nonprofit Notes

Like that dense, chewy chocolate chip cookie you savor while eating and remember long after, these five articles hit the spot.

You'll learn five simple steps to make a major gift ask and how inviting donors to be creative with you will build their commitment to your organization.

If you're looking for your next hire, the article on internal searches will remind you that sometimes, the best talent is right under you nose. Then, if that talent happens to be an executive director, the article on conducting ED evaluations will help you develop a useful and effective process.

Finally, we know the readers of Northwest Nonprofit Notes are lifelong learners. The recommended reading list suggests some terrific books to inspire, motivate and make you think.

The contributing writers this time around were Jennifer Weber, CFRE, Emily Anthony, Julie Edsforth, Sara Lawson and myself.

Check it out and contact me if you'd like more information on any of these articles or the fabulous consultants who wrote them.

Happy Reading!


What You Have In Common With Sir Paul McCartney - And announcing the fall series of workshops!

Celebrities! They're Just like us!

Over at Jezebel, you can see a letter Paul McCartney wrote to Prince in the 80's, asking for a donation to the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. As a fundraiser, I love everything about it.

I love how many of our fundraising best practices for major gifts were included, such as the fact that this was peer-to-peer (one rock legend to the other). That the letter, while asking for a donation, was warm and relational ("Dear Princely person" - Ha!) and that how Paul McCartney explained how he came to be personally involved in the project.

I also love how there were some components he missed. For example, he didn't ask for a specific dollar amount. He also didn't mention if he or someone from the school would be following up on the request. - Two very important aspects of any fundraising ask!

Isn't it good to know that there's always more to learn? And that no-one is immune (not even a BEATLE) from the need to recruit their friends when it comes to raising money for worthy causes?

No one is immune from needing to know how to raise money for worthy causes. Not even Paul McCartney. We can learn how to do it better. Together.

Cheers, Dani

The latest edition of Northwest Nonprofit Notes is here!

No one operates in a vacuum. Thank god! But sometimes, in the nonprofit sector it can feel that way. Often the work, while rewarding can also be overwhelming and lonely. That's why I'm such a big fan of peer learning and collegial support.

That's why I'm proud to be a contributor to Northwest Nonprofit Notes, a first-rate online publication full of good advice and thoughtful information. The latest edition's articles address hiring well, succession planning, fundraising events, and real-life board job descriptions. I didn't write an article for this edition, but it doesn't matter. I couldn't be prouder of the publication and of it contributors - smart, sophisticated colleagues I'm also privileged enough to call friends.

Check out the link below if you want to learn from some of the brightest professionals working in nonprofits today. And, contact me if you want more information on the various peer learning opportunities I offer.

Gather Together to Give Big: How Online Giving Days Can Be Made Better By Off-Line Events


This is a story about two very different online giving days in two very different communities, and what I learned from seeing them both in action. Like the Seattle Foundation’s Give Big, the Lancaster County Community Foundation in Lancaster, PA has it’s own online giving day, called Extraordinary Give. The premise is much the same.  For twenty-four hours, the foundation provides a percentage match for online donations to local charities. Since Seattle is a much bigger city with a more affluent and internet savvy population, you’re probably guessing that Give Big would be much more successful than the Lancaster’s Extraordinary Give. But that’s not what happened -- what happened was that a small community raised an enormous sum of money.  How they did it is a story worth telling.

Let me explain.  But first, let me give you a little context.  For starters, you might be wondering why a Northwest publication is even talking about a small town in Pennsylvania.  That’s because eight months ago, I transferred myself and my consulting business across the country.  After ten years in Seattle, a city I love like no other, it was time for me to reconnect with my family and my roots.  (Happily, I maintain a toehold in the Pacific Northwest.  And, Emily and Julie are gracious to let me work out my homesickness for Seattle in these pages.)

So yeah, I moved to Lancaster, PA, a city of approximately 60,000 people, less than one-tenth the size of Seattle’s 653,000.  The broader county, also called Lancaster, has a population of more than 500,000 people, 30,000 of whom are Amish, a plain sect that historically refrains for religious reasons from using modern technologies, including computers and the internet.  Comparatively, King County has a total population of well over 2 million.*

The point is, Lancaster County and Lancaster City are much, much smaller than Seattle and King County.  And of the people in Lancaster, a good 5% of them don’t even use the internet.

You might expect, therefore, that their online giving day, Extraordinary Give would provide similarly proportionate results.  But that’s not what happened.  Instead, Lancaster County raised a total of $6.2 million from the 500,000 or so people who actually use the internet.   That’s nearly 40% of the $16.2 million that was raised in last year’s Give Big!

So what was the difference? There are a few differences between the two days, such as the fact that most of the matching funds in Lancaster come from local businesses, not individual donors, and that Extraordinary Give takes place at the end of November, instead of in the spring.  But the biggest difference between Extraordinary Give and Give Big is the way in which the local community has rallied around the initiative.


The Lancaster community completely embraced this day of “online giving” by creating face-to-face events and activities throughout the county.  These events prompted people to turn out in support of their favorite nonprofits and hang out with one another.  Making a donation online almost became an afterthought.  Here are just a few examples of the ways the people of Lancaster transformed the simple act of filling out an online donation form into a day of community pride, engagement and philanthropy:

  • Hundreds of nonprofits took advantage of the Lancaster County Community Foundation sponsored series of trainings where non-profit leaders, at very low cost, learned how to use social media to reach bigger audiences and increase support. I provided one of those trainings and you can watch the summary of that training
  • The Lancaster County Community Foundation had a “Giving Mobile” that drove around around town, creating online giving stations and providing help for those folks who are unaccustomed to making online donations.
  • Nonprofits created their own events that tied into the day. For example, a private school put on a talent show, during which they passed iPad through the audience so that gifts could be made.  They provided updates during intermission and at the end of the show.
  • Another nonprofit used the day as an opportunity to host an open house where its new CEO was introduced. Guests were invited to make online donations in honor of the new CEO.
  • Lancaster City businesses partnered with nonprofits by hosting a number of activities throughout the day, including live music, food and drink, and dance parties.
  • One organization recruited their older donors who prefer to write checks to create a matching fund to further match the online donations, thereby making sure all of their donors could participate, regardless of their comfort level with the internet.


Sure, it could be argued that Lancaster is doing it backwards. That instead of embracing the opportunity for individuals to quietly make donations from the privacy and comfort of their own computers, they created a massive amount of extra work in staging hundreds of events and outreach activities throughout the area.  To be honest, I thought that, too.  That was before I saw the plan in action. 

Because what I saw was magical.  I saw a community modify a fundraising tool to fit its unique culture.  I saw a community that likes events, that has an older, tech adverse population and that recognizes the amount of donor overlap between local nonprofits. Together, they created something that embraced those unique aspects of their community.  Of course, there were still donors who made online donations from the privacy and comfort of their own computers.  There were more donors, however, who were hopping from event to event and who were cheering each other on as they navigated the online giving form for the first time.  And yes, there were some nonprofits who kept all of their Extraordinary Give activities online.  There were many others, however, who displayed their programs proudly through public activities and who shared space with one another because they genuinely believed that Extraordinary Give was a day of celebration and support for all the nonprofits in the county. Not just their own.

As you, Seattle, prepare for Give Big, I invite you to take a play from the Lancaster playbook.  Assess what is unique about your group of donors and create something for Give Big that, in addition to all the online promotion at which you already excel, gives your particular giving community the opportunity to celebrate and support you by gathering together.

And then let me know what happens.  I bet it will be big.  I bet it will be extraordinary.

*I got these numbers off the internet, which never lies.  Just in case, however, the internet was having an off day, please use these figures as a frame of reference in comparing the general size of each community, not exact or even accurate numbers.

When Hiring Goes Haywire

Did you ever hire someone only to discover you made a terrible mistake?

This scenario played out with one organization I know.  I want to tell you the story, because the way the organization handled it can provide lessons for all of us. 

This particular organization needed to replace its first and only fundraiser when she moved on to her next challenge.  The Executive Director was confident they could attract a good pool of candidates to fill the position. The organization wanted a candidate with strong annual fund skills, but also knowledge and willingness to build major gift and corporate giving programs.  Just as important, the ideal candidate needed to demonstrate they could fit into a close-knit team. “Cultural fit” with the organization was just as important to them as skills and experience.

They reached out through their professional networks for candidates, but most of the application pool came from postings on two professional job boards.  A committee of one board member and three of their nine staff reviewed applications.  While they had more than 150 applicants, only 20 had the necessary skills and experience.  They narrowed the pool to 10 candidates for phone interviews.  The phone calls produced three candidates for face-to-face interviews. 

The final candidate (we’ll call her “Michelle”) seemed to be a great cultural fit and met all their requirements.  Her three references sung her praises.  Michelle was offered and accepted the position.

What the organization did right: The organization had a good process in place, and they were clear about the skills and experience they wanted.  They had also identified the type of personality needed to fit in with the team.  Resume screening and phone interviews quickly identified top candidates.  Because a mix of staff and board were involved in the hiring process, there were multiple perspectives and group buy-in.  The hiring team had consensus on their top candidate. 



Our story continues: in Michelle’s first week, she and her supervisor met to review the annual fundraising plan, (Side note:  They had an actual Fundraising PLAN for the year!), and to highlight Michelle’s responsibilities in the plan.  Together, they created SMART objectives for Michelle’s first year and identified priority items for Michelle’s first few months.  They then created a recurring, weekly 1:1 meeting to check in with one another.

A job is a reciprocal relationship.  You and your employer have a shared responsibility for your success. In an ideal world, you’re responsible for showing up on time, delivering a quality work product and being a good colleague.  In return, your organization provides  (in addition to salary and benefits) management and coaching to grow your skills, recognition of your contributions, and support in your efforts and with your teammates.   In the case of my client, the organization had a process to facilitate this joint responsibility.  This seems like a pretty good system, right? It worked, too.  But not in the way they had hoped.

Within Michelle’s first 30 days, she stopped following up on action items from their 1:1 meetings.  At first, her supervisor thought that Michelle was simply adjusting to her new job.  And while that adjustment period was taking longer than expected, at first she cut her some slack.  But, in the second month when deliverables were falling behind schedule and impacting her teammates’ work, her supervisor talked to her about it.  Michelle blamed her teammates for her lack of success.  This spelled trouble: not only was Michelle falling behind in her responsibilities, now it seemed that she also wasn’t getting along with her colleagues.

Michelle’s supervisor shared this information with the Executive Director.  When she did so, she learned that the Executive Director had some of her own interactions with Michelle that also seemed off.  A pattern of failed deliverables and poor interactions with teammates surfaced.   Consequently, the two decided it was time for the Executive Director to meet with Michelle as a corrective measure.

What the organization did right: Structured, consistent management of staff, like the model this organization used, is so important because it supports and encourages staff who are exceling or catches employees struggling or failing in the workplace.  In Michelle’s case, the structure this organization employed helped to identify problems very early in her tenure so they could start to address them.



The Executive Director met with Michelle to provide support and accountability so that her performance would improve.  Within a week after that meeting, however, Michelle resigned.  It seemed that she simply couldn’t do the job she was hired to do.

This outcome left the rest of the group reeling.  They needed time to process the experience and waited several months before re-posting the position.  During that time, they reviewed the hiring process and identified ways in which to have a more successful hiring process in the future.  That review led to two key discoveries:

First, they needed to do a better job of asking probing questions of references.  In hindsight, they realized that the references Michelle provided couldn’t speak directly to her skills or expertise.  For example, one reference was a donor who said that the reason they gave to her previous organization was because of their close friendship with Michelle, not a commitment to the organization’s mission or Michelle’s fundraising technique.  This statement could have used some follow up inquiry.  Was the donor too close to Michelle to be objective?  Second, each of the references alluded to a conflict with leadership that caused Michelle to leave her previous position.  Being too willing to give the benefit of the doubt, the hiring committee neglected to probe more deeply into those comments, ignoring a potential red flag in the process. 

Second, the group acknowledged that their emphasis on “culture fit” with their organization as a hiring criteria might have impeded their success.  Yes, it’s important that a new hire be a good fit with the team.  But skills get the job done.  Because they were such a close-knit group, they were more concerned about hiring someone that the group liked than they were about ensuring that the candidate could perform.   This backfired on them.  They pledged to give more weight to skills and experience in future hiring processes.

Bad hires just happen sometimes. But by taking time in the beginning to set up a good process and by being willing to take a hard look when something goes wrong, you’ll be more likely to hire great candidates in the future.  In the case of the organization in this article, after evaluating what went wrong and adjusting their practices around reference checks and cultural fit, they successfully filled the position the second time around.  Their new Annual Fund Manager is kicking fundraising butt and is a valued member of the team.

Have you had a hiring experience go wrong? Do you have tips and techniques that lead to good hires?  Tell us the story!