The Mikuska Group  

Why are we doing this event?

“Let’s do an event – we need to raise more money!”

Board members and/or staff come up with this idea often, with the notion that businesses will be on board with sponsorship, friends, family and acquaintances will buy tickets and loads of donated goods will be auctioned off, resulting in a healthy bottom line.

But does it?

There are reasons for holding an event, but typically raising money isn’t one of them. When you stop to examine the actual return on investment, what are you measuring? You need to be clear on your objective for holding an event before you can measure its ROI.

If your objective is to raise awareness, does your event align with your mission and perceived brand? Will people associate the event with your organization and support it because they believe in your mission? Or are they buying a ticket because they want a fun time out and won’t ever think that they’re supporting your good work?

If you are hoping to raise money, take every cost into consideration, including staff time. Many organizations claim to have raised a tidy sum without revealing that it actually raised half or less when the time taken by staff is factored in. You must also consider what is not being done while your fundraising staff is picking out menus and napkin colours and running around begging for donations for the auction table. With all that busy work, there’s no time to talk to your donors!

So ask yourself first, “Why are we doing this event?”

Laura Mikuska


What’s the cost of a lost opportunity?

We often hear people talk about the return on investment related to particular fundraising activities. (We often hear people never talking about ROI, but that’s for a different post!). But how many consider the opportunity costs of their decisions?

In other words, what are you not able to do if you do something else? Consider:

  • Spending time at board meetings reading routine reports means lost opportunities to talk about board members’ roles in connecting with donors. (Hint: use a consent agenda.)
  • Planning events that bring in little money means you’re not out building relationships with donors that may lead to larger gifts over a long period of time.
  • Spending your time on internal reports means less time meeting with donors.
  • Not sending a donor newsletter means you’re losing out on the revenue generated from that mailing.

Maximize your time and opportunities to meet donors, thank donors and ask people for gifts. Measure your activities against opportunity costs. Always ask yourself: do you need to do something or is it time to move on to a different activity with higher potential?

Julie Mikuska.


It pays to keep your donors

We hear all the time from organizations about getting new donors. Yes, it’s important to bring new donors in, but it’s even more important to keep the donors you have.

The 2017 edition of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project results was recently published. Here are some of the sobering findings from 10,829 non-profit organizations:

  • Every $100 gained in 2016 was offset by $95 in losses.
  • Every 100 donors gained in 2016 was offset by 99 donors not giving again.
  • The greatest gains were in new donors.
  • The greatest losses were in new donors not giving again.
  • The average donor retention rate was 45%.
  • The average dollar retention rate was 48%.

(Gains are gifts by new donors + recaptured lapsed donors + increases in gift amounts. Losses are decreases in gift amounts + lost gifts by lapsed new and lapsed repeat donors.)

What does this tell us? Organizations do a poor job at keeping their donors, and as a result, they are continually chasing new donors, at great expense.

It’s much more cost-effective to keep the donors you have than to continually chase new donors.

The results vary by size of organization. Smaller organizations fare much poorly that larger organizations, which means resources dedicated to retaining donors make a difference.

The FEP site has tools to help you analyze your data so you can make decisions on where to put your time and money in keeping your donors engaged. It’s not just about the bottom line of how much comes in. You need to know who your donors are.

Don’t treat all your donors the same. Heap more love on your loyal donors and ask them to give more. But do make sure new donors know they are valued and welcome, and chances are some will give again and again.

Julie Mikuska.


Fundraising vs philanthropy

Fundraising is an activity. Philanthropy is an attitude.

Take, for example, the attitude of a board member who only participates in fundraising by buying tickets to the gala. He may not even attend the gala but in his mind he has done his part.

Contrast that with another board member who organizes a table at the gala, asking friends and colleagues to attend and find out more about why she is so involved and passionate about the organization. She makes sure to introduce everyone at the table to the executive director and other staff and volunteers who, in turn, bring stories about individuals whose lives have changed because of donors. Some of the friends at the table participate in the auction at the gala; they are all asked to give in the fall appeal.

In the first example it’s all about the transaction. It’s impersonal. No new people are invited to change the world through the organization and the opportunity has been lost. But it was considered fundraising.

In the second example the board member is modelling philanthropy. She is engaging her circle of friends and asking them to join her (because of course she has given her gift first as well as buying tickets to the gala). She makes sure her friends know how cherished donors are, and she gives them the opportunity to give. It’s personal and emotional, heartfelt and warm.

Are you a fundraiser or philanthropist?

Julie Mikuska.


When is it time to pack it in?

When is it time for an organization to hang up the cleats? Stop fighting the fight and dissolve or merge?

  • If the mission is no longer relevant i.e. the reasons for founding the organization have become obsolete.
  • If the organization’s mission is similar to others in the community.
  • If the funding has dried up, especially from governments, and there is no natural base of support i.e. donor or member relationships don’t exist or are few in number.
  • If opportunities for earned income are not viable e.g. sales, fees.
  • If the organization exists solely on projects and has no sustainable income.
  • If the mission is supported by only a handful of foundations.
  • If the volunteer base is aging and younger volunteers aren’t filling in, both in client service and on the board.
  • If the board is dysfunctional and relations with staff are sour.

Any one of these reasons may not be what makes an organization decide to dissolve or merge. But for some, it will be a combination.

The Manitoba Society of Seniors was founded in 1979 by volunteers who wanted to give seniors a voice. At the time, seniors needed advocacy around pensions, housing, services and recreation. MSOS also provided services at low or no cost (tax preparation, financial counselling, photocopying), operated bus tours and published the MSOS Journal. It ran the popular 55 Plus Games. Membership, at one time as high as 10,000, provided steady income, and numerous volunteers worked in the office, at the games and served on regional councils.

In 2011, MSOS closed its doors and ceased operations, citing declining membership and revenues. Other organizations work with government to advocate for seniors’ issues, and offer services once offered by MSOS, including the 55 Plus Games. They ceased to be relevant to enough people to support it either as volunteers or as members and donors. Baby Boomers don’t see themselves needing advocacy by a seniors group as they are used to going after and getting what they want.

Deciding to stop operating is not failure if it’s done thoughtfully. If, for example, the need for services still exists in the community but an organization is unable to deliver on its own, a merger with a similar organization can allow for the work to continue. Or any remaining funds at dissolution can be given to an organization with a compatible mission.

If you’re struggling, ask yourselves why. If the conditions aren’t right to go on, then stop.

Laura Mikuska


How and when to thank donors

The time to thank a donor is when you get a gift. That’s all. No mysterious formula.

It’s not when you get enough gifts in to batch receipts. It’s not really about the receipt, although most people would like one eventually. If the process for creating receipts in your organization are making you wait to thank donors, then get the thank you letter out first and send the receipt later – then work on getting the receipt process changed!

How to thank donors is also quite simple.

  • Be authentic, whether on the phone, in a letter or an email.
  • Just thank. Resist the temptation to brag or to ask for another gift.
  • Praise the donor and remind them of their status as a hero in solving problems.
  • Personalize a thank you letter and hand-sign each one.
  • Enlist your board to help thank donors, by making calls or sending hand-written notes.

Donors are much more likely to give again if they are promptly and properly thanked. So make time to do just that.

Julie Mikuska.


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.


“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


Public spaces and sponsorship

I recently attended the Western Sponsorship Congress, which is an annual event put on by The Partnership Group – Sponsorship Specialists. Brent Barootes and his team delivered another great congress full of stories and advice to raise the bar on sponsorship in Canada. As part of their work, they partnered with REPUCOM to produce the 2015 Consumer Sponsorship Rankings, an exclusive Canadian research study on sponsorship.

Among the most interesting statistics from the study were with respect to Municipalities and Sponsorship. 85% of respondents said that companies should be able to sponsor public spaces such as hockey rinks, ball parks and recreational facilities. Clearly there’s an appetite for attracting revenue through corporate sponsorship!

Municipalities often complain there’s not enough revenue to do the things they need to do. With all the assets they own, from parks to bridges, from walking trails to arenas, there is lots to offer corporate sponsors to meet their needs. This is an important revenue stream – is your municipality paying attention?

Laura Mikuska


Blog Archives

Articles By Category