The Mikuska Group  

Create your community

Create your community, and invite your donors to be a part of it.

That sounds better than asking for money, doesn’t it?

This message came through loud and clear at a recent panel discussion held by the AFP Manitoba Chapter. Panellists Beth Proven, CFRE (Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba), Christina Barwinsky, CFRE (St. John’s Ravenscourt School) and Leslie Weir, MA, CFRE, ACFRE (The Winnipeg Foundation) told stories about how donors respond to a community where they can feel a sense of purpose and belonging.

Appeal to their desire for connection, their innate curiosity and willingness to engage, and you’re on your way to creating a community. Beth cited the Isbister Society at the University of Manitoba as a successful community of donors who had left a gift to the U of M in their will. It has grown substantially since its inception, due to the outings it offers to its members. Many are older donors who still connect with their former classmates, and many found their spouses on campus as well.

Christina urged us to show our donors our love for what we do, and our organizations – first impressions count! She cited her love for SJR – as a graduate, she already has a sense of belonging to the community, and works hard to make sure she brings new parents and students into the fold, and graduates maintain their connection to the community.

Leslie reminded us that what worked in one organization may not work in your current one. She advised us to provide an open, welcoming community and to be natural and genuine in your relationships with donors. Be nice to people!

Welcome people into your community – they’ll be more likely to invest in it. Can you see yourself doing this?

Laura Mikuska


Experiences matter

You can tell donors about impact and about their central role in transforming lives – a letter, newsletter or even in person. They’ll appreciate it and use that information to decide whether to give or give again.

But when they see it for themselves it becomes a part of them. The experience stays with them for life. Especially if it’s authentic.

Think about what experiences you can offer one person or many people. For example:

  • A theatre company takes donors on a “behind the scenes” tour, explaining at each stop what goes into putting on a production – thanks to the donors.
  • An organization dedicated to good food for everyone invites donors to a cooking class offered in a neighbourhood where newcomers are taught about cooking and nutrition.
  • A health clinic invites donors to see the power of their gifts in action at the clinic, meeting the staff and hearing about their work with clients.

Make sure your board members are invited and encouraged to engage with donors. That way, the board members get to thank the donors in person, and listen to why donors are committed to your organization.

Julie Mikuska.


Low overhead is a race to the bottom

Are you still talking to your donors about overhead? Does your board operate on the premise of aiming for low overhead? Do you squeeze your budget to get the lowest possible percentage of overhead?

If so, stop right now.

Overhead is not an indication of impact. Low overhead is not a badge of honour. And by not educating donors about how an investment of their funds includes keeping the lights on, you’re doing them a disservice.

Whenever we hear a donor say they want 100% of their gift to go to “programs,” and not to “overhead,” it means they don’t understand that most of an organization’s budget is for people. Those people run the programs! Or they raise funds to run the programs. Or they keep the books for the programs. And so on. And they deserve to be adequately compensated, and not work for peanuts just because they’re working at a non-profit.

Concentrating on overhead is a race to the bottom. The less you invest in your organization, the harder it will be to do the work you’ve set out in your mission. Non-profit doesn’t mean “to starve an organization.” It means the “profits” are for the community’s benefit, not shareholders. So making sure the organization is on sound financial footing is very important.

We all want what’s best for the community, and that requires investment for impact. So talk to your donors about how you’re making an impact by providing solutions to problems. Then ask them to join you in making a difference.

– from our May e-newsletter – subscribe here.

Julie Mikuska.


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