The Mikuska Group  

New offering: Donor-focused communications course

We’re pleased to offer in-house training for social impact organizations to learn about effective, donor-focused communications, with the goal of reaching and retaining more donors. The course is for employees with responsibilities in fundraising and communications, or for those wanting to move into those types of positions.

Donors respond better to communications that are focused on them rather than on how great an organization is. The course is designed to learn about how best to talk and write to donors and to put those principles into practice, both for the students and for others in the organization. Students will also learn about the importance of storytelling and will use tools to speak to program staff about gathering stories of impact for donors.

It’s critical to engage donors and earn their loyalty, as it is much more cost-effective to keep donors than to continuous try to acquire new donors. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project through AFP shows that for 2013-14:

  • every $100 gained in 2014 was offset by $95 in losses through gift attrition. That is, 95 percent of gains in giving were offset by losses in giving for a net gain in gifts of 5 percent.
  • every 100 donors gained in 2014 was offset by 103 in lost donors through attrition. That is, 103 percent of the donors gained were offset by lapsed donors for a net loss in donors of -3 percent.
  • The donor retention rate was 43 percent. That is, only 43 percent of donors who gave in 2013 gave again in 2014.
  • The gift retention rate was 47 percent. That is, only 47 percent of 2013 dollars were raised again in 2014.

Employers are eligible to apply for the Canada-Manitoba Jobs Grant that will cover two-thirds of the cost of the course.

Students will learn about donor-focused communications through:

  • Reading assigned text books
  • Seminars
  • Viewing and discussing assigned videos
  • Completing assignments individually or in group work on:
    • Writing the case for support
    • Writing and producing the donor newsletter
    • Writing and producing annual appeal letters
    • Speaking with program staff about the importance of stories in donor communications

Interested? Contact us for more information.



How much is a personally significant gift?

We ask each member of the boards we work with to make a personally significant gift. That often prompts the question of “how much is that?”

It’s what you feel is significant to you. It’s not decided around the board table, it’s decided at the kitchen table. If you have a partner, you decide together.

If you’re on a board, you should make that organization one of your top three giving priorities. After all, if you believe so strongly in the mission and work of that organization that you are giving of your time and expertise, then it also means you should invest your gifts there, too.

It should be a stretch gift – annually. Some find it easier to sign up for monthly giving as you don’t notice a small amount coming out of your account each month.

And, depending on your income, you may decide that $10 is your gift. And you should feel good about that.

Again, it’s not the actual amount that counts. It’s that you give, that it’s meaningful to you, and now you can be in a position to ask others to join you in making an impact in the community.

Now that’s significant.

Julie Mikuska.


The case for support – it’s not about you

Contrary to conventional wisdom, a case for support is not only for capital campaigns. Your case is critical to your annual appeal, planned giving program, and corporate and foundation giving.

Think about it – if you haven’t articulated a persuasive case for support, how can you approach your potential donors? If you don’t know what they need from you so they can say yes, then you’re likely to fail in your request.

One of the gurus of the art and science of the case for support is Tom Ahern. His book, Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes: How to Make a Persuasive Case for Everything from your Annual Drive to your Planned Giving Program to your Capital Campaign, is a must-read and must-follow for making your case.

Who needs the case for support? Everyone in your organization. It allows everyone to sing from the same songsheet, with the same words. It’s your key messages all in one document. It’s your go-to place for media releases, website, direct mail, planned giving, speeches and op-ed pieces.

According to Tom and observed in our own experience, the three most important questions for getting to the essence of your case are:

  1.  Why us? (What are you doing that’s so uniquely wonderful that the world should want more of it and support your mission and vision?)
  2.  Why now? (What’s the big hurry? What changed? Why is this crucial now? Why can’t it wait?)
  3.  Why you, the donor, might care? (Why are donors critical to your mission? Have you made them the heroes? What are your emotional triggers? What is the philanthropic opportunity you have to offer? What part of the world will the donor save or change through you?)

If you just work through the first  question, you haven’t involved the donor. If you leave out the second question, there’s no urgency to respond. And if you don’t answer the third question, you’ll never discover what will motivate your donors and they’ll feel free not to respond.

Working through this process has a profound effect on how you view donors. Because at the heart of it is the realization that it’s just not about you. It’s about the donor, and about what moves them to help you solve problems in the world.

Julie Mikuska.


Redefining the non-profit sector

Your mother, or maybe your grandmother, taught you that if you don’t have anything nice or positive to say, don’t say anything at all. Then why do we have a whole sector that is described with a negative?


It brings up negative connotations by its very nature. It puts the spotlight on financial transactions and that dreaded concept, “Overhead”. Kind of hard to get up in the morning, fired up to be a “NON”.

Yet, we have millions of dedicated people doing just that – going to work at their organizations because they believe in making a difference. Whew. That sounds better, doesn’t it?

Let’s turn the tables on NON-profits and start to talk about what is really going on here. Staff, volunteers and donors are stepping up and having an impact in their communities – turning lives around, inspiring us through art, preserving our heritage, helping puppies and kittens, saving the environment and providing good food and shelter. They’re building community centres, hospitals and schools, not to mention theatres and art galleries. Without this sector, the world would be a grim place indeed.

How does Social Impact sector sound?

A much better place for starting conversations about the work that we do, to talk about investing in social impact rather than overhead and charity. Let’s push for innovation, collaboration and partnership to maximize the good we can do. It’s not us vs. them anymore – we all live in the same community, so let’s work together. And, like mom and grandma, do it in a positive way.

Laura Mikuska and Julie Mikuska



“I’m not a fundraiser!” … yet

In a recent post I encouraged fundraisers to feel proud of what they do, because they impact lives and enable change in the community. Now I’m going to tell you how and why all staff, board and volunteers can do the same.

But you’re thinking, “I’m not a fundraiser!” because you’re program staff, or the CEO or a data entry volunteer. And you’re certainly not a fundraiser if you’re on the board – that’s not what you signed up for. Your palms are feeling sweaty at the mere suggestion that you should be…

If we break down what fundraising really is, we discover that it’s about creating and maintaining relationships by offering the opportunity to have a positive impact in the community. What? No mention of asking for money?

You’re involved with the organization because you have a passion for the mission, and can see firsthand how your clients are helped by what you offer. (Note – “clients” include furry ones too.) Program staff, board members and volunteers have the opportunity to tell the heartwarming stories of tragedy and triumph, of struggle and success. Don’t keep them to yourself! Ask if you can share with the development staff, so they can share with donors. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a quick email or note will do. Don’t worry about perfect grammar either – just get the story out. There, that doesn’t sound so scary after all, does it?

Storytelling is the best way to tell donors that they are heroes – by doing so, you’ve just become a fundraiser.

Laura Mikuska


Are you hard to find?

I’m always amazed (read: exasperated, frustrated) when I look at websites of many social impact organizations and I can’t find a single reference to specific staff members. None. Nada.

What I do find is a generic e-mail address and phone number. Or worse – a form to fill in with the nature of my inquiry. Yeesh.

How open and transparent is that? How can you expect to engage people if there seems to be no people to engage with? Because frankly, if I have to search high and low for someone to talk to, I’m moving on to the next organization.

Look at your website from your audiences’ perspectives, not from your workflow perspective. List staff members with phone, email and social media contacts.

And while you’re at it, publish current board members’ names and positions, and a way to contact them. If board members are  to be ambassadors for your cause, you need to give them some profile.

Julie Mikuska.


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