The Mikuska Group  

Flourishing Gardens

We’re excited to announce that our client, Gardens on Tenth in Altona, has officially opened their brand-new residence for seniors in their community.

An excerpt from the official opening program:

The Gardens” – FIVE years from visioning to reality! Five years ago 50 individuals and organizations in our community got together to visualize the needs and challenges for Seniors of today AND tomorrow!

TODAY we are celebrating the results of that visioning day…The Gardens…a 66 suite facility providing independent living with services for Seniors in our community and area, allowing them to age in place, with dignity, self-respect and privacy.”

They approached us in 2012 with their dream – to raise $3 million to support affordable housing for everyone in the community as part of the overall $18 million project. They knew that their dream needed expertise to make it happen, and we were engaged as campaign counsel for the project.

The Campaign Cabinet, chaired by David Wiebe, was supported by two staff members of the organization. The rest of the team, including Campaign Director Menno H. Friesen, were all volunteers – over 75 in total. At the official opening, David described what their biggest learning curve was during the campaign:

“We had some, no, let’s be honest and say a great deal of reluctance to believe that you have to have “the right person to ask the right person at the right time for the right amount in the right way”. . .but believe me it worked!”.

They clearly applied this principle to the rest of the campaign, ensuring they had the right people in place at the right time to carry it out. They have raised $2.7 million of their goal, and expect to raise the rest in the coming months.

We are proud of our contribution to the accomplishment of this determined group – congratulations!

Julie and Laura Mikuska


Pick up the phone!

You’ve identified a pool of major gift prospects from your database. You spend the next two weeks amassing research to find out all you can about them. You give the results of your research to your Development Director or Executive Director and they send it back with a request for more information. You spend more time and effort to eke out a few more details and return it to them. You follow up in a few days and find out they haven’t acted on the information.

Is this a familiar scenario in your organization?

Many people hide behind research as a way of avoiding contact with their donors. It’s a scary prospect to pick up the phone and talk to someone you don’t know. Few realize that the donor is the best source of information! People love to talk about themselves, especially if it’s in the context of a cause near and dear to their heart. Engaging with donors makes them part of a two-way conversation and they in turn feel valued.

Next time you identify a major gift prospect – pick up the phone!

Laura Mikuska


Everyone knows our story, don’t they?

What’s the image of your organization? Can you tell me in a few sentences? Will your board members tell me something different than the staff will? Are marketing materials saying one thing, fundraising materials another?

If your board, staff and volunteers aren’t all singing from the same song sheet, it’s hard for anyone to figure out what your story is and why they should support you. Develop four to five key messages and give them to everyone. Make sure they’re understood, and put them on small cards that board members and staff can have for handy reference.

Key messages form the basis of all your communications, from letters to speeches to website copy. You may think it’s repetitious, but it’s really reinforcement of your story. Everyone will know your story only if you tell it in simple and consistent terms.

Julie Mikuska



What did you just agree to?

Imagine these scenarios:

  • The CEO of your non-profit has accepted a major gift for your capital campaign from a local business. She and the president of the company shook hands on it, agreed that the donor’s name would go on the new facility, and the company issued the cheque. Just before the name is to be put on the building in time for the official opening, the CEO learns that the company has been convicted of fraudulent business practices. The board decides to reject the name for the building. However, the company’s president insists on the non-profit keeping its promise, saying the handshake agreement was the only agreement and the board had no policy on rejecting gifts. A judge sides with the company.
  • A university accepts a gift for one of its faculties to help build new space, and enters into an agreement to name a particular room after the donor. The donor is recognized with a plaque outside the room. Several years later, the dean of the faculty decides to redevelop the space, and raises new capital from donors who are recognized by naming the new space after them. When the original donor discovers his name has been removed from the space, he sues the university and demands his gift back, producing the original gift agreement that called for consultation with him should the space be redeveloped.

In both of these cases, those accepting the gifts didn’t pay enough attention to written agreements and policies.

In the first case, without a signed gift agreement that included a morals or ethics clause, the non-profit doesn’t have the right to reject the gift or the naming. So it’s critical to have gift agreements that say something like: “The Donor understands that the reputation of the (organization) cannot be associated with any immoral or unethical activities, or activities which display a lack of integrity.”

In the second case, the dean and the university didn’t abide by the signed gift agreement, and the donor was well within his rights to demand his gift back.

In the absence of a signed gift agreement, it’s important that a robust gift acceptance policy be in place, which will protect the organization and be transparent to prospective donors. Have the policy and any gift agreements reviewed by legal counsel. It’s worth the investment.

So what did you just agree to?

Julie Mikuska


Don’t lie to me

Today I opened an appeal from an organization in Winnipeg that I was sure I had no ties to. It was addressed to me and my husband, with my sister’s address on it. It was the second time I’d received a mailing like this from them. ┬áIf that wasn’t annoying enough, the opening line of the letter inside thanked me for my previous gift to their campaign.

Well, I thought, maybe I did give them a gift and forgot about it. So I went through our tax returns for the past couple of years and no, we hadn’t given. So I called the organization and asked them to look up our record and let me know about the previous gift. The woman on the phone found the record, but there was no evidence we had given any amount. To her credit, she said, “Maybe I should just remove you from our list.” I agreed!

This leads me to believe that we were added to their database without our knowledge or permission. It was a deliberate act, and not from the phone book records. We have no relationship with the organization, and now, more than ever, have no plans to.

Organizations do themselves no favours by adding people without their permission. It violates the spirit and the letter of privacy legislation, and if it annoys the recipient, nothing is gained and much is lost.

Julie Mikuska


Feasibility Study – why consultants are your best option

In a recent AFP Webinar, “The Feasibility Study…Start to Finish” Jill Pranger, ACFRE told participants that while some organizations are tempted to do the study in-house, the best option is to hire outside consultants to do it.

Hiring fundraising consultants will offer several advantages, including objectivity, no prior beliefs about your organization and more objective recommendations in the final report. She said that interview participants (both internal and external) are generally more open and frank in answering questions with a consultant than with a board or staff member. Once they are informed that their comments will not be attributed to them in the report, they feel free to offer constructive opinions. This results in a better study result.

Another reason to work with a fundraising consultant is to tap into their expertise in designing questions, doing the interviews and other research, and interpreting the results. The community at large will expect that you have done your background work before going into a campaign. Being able to demonstrate that an objective study has been done is a key component in showing that you’ve done this.

Laura Mikuska


Prospect research: a fundraiser’s best friend

I can just hear the groaning and imagine the eye-rolling from fundraisers now – why do I have to do research? Can’t I just go out and ask for money? Research is boring – I’m a “people person”!

Well, why is it a good idea to do research?

Research assists in the development of relationships and fundraising is a relationship business. It allows you to:

  • make effective and informed decisions about your prospects and donors
  • target only those prospects with an interest in your organization
  • develop a cultivation and solicitation strategy to make an ask appropriate to the prospect’s ability to give

Most donors are pretty savvy these days, and will expect you to have done your homework. Prepare yourself and you will be pleasantly surprised at your next donor meeting.

A word of caution – don’t get paralyzed by the notion of finding out “everything” about a donor before picking up the phone. Once you’ve gathered enough to make some decisions, call and set a time to meet, or invite them down to see what impact you’re having on the community. Then use your “people skills” and build the relationship.

Laura Mikuska


Watch your language

Have you ever heard the expression, “Let’s pick the low-hanging fruit!” when talking about prospective donors? Have you ever opined that someone was “loaded” and you should “hit them up for money” because they “owe” you?

How did reading those words make you feel? How do you think a donor would feel if he or she knew you talked about them in those terms?

It’s time to get rid of this type of language and start to be respectful in our everyday thoughts and communications with and about donors. Remember, they’re not buying a car, they’re making a gift. They do it because they believe in the mission and vision of your organization and are parting with their hard-earned money because you’ve built a strong relationship and show them their investment makes a difference.

Challenge the people in your organization use language that’s gracious, thoughtful and courteous. You’ll reap the benefits.

Laura Mikuska


Know before you go – the feasibility study

We often hear from organizations that are thinking of running a capital campaign, “We need $X million for our project.” My first question to them is always, “Do you know you can raise $X million?” This is usually met with a blank stare.

Many organizations embark on a major capital campaign without having an answer to that crucial question. Just because you need $X million, doesn’t mean the community support is there. How can you find out? By conducting a feasibility study!

You can test various things in the study, including your case for support, your organization’s reputation and recognition in the community and your campaign components and goal as well as your campaign readiness. The results of the study may surprise you.

Know before you go ahead with a major campaign – your chances of success will increase if you test your assumptions and plan accordingly.

Laura Mikuska


Have you considered a career in fundraising?

With a chronic shortage of experienced fundraising professionals, it’s time to reach out to those who may never have considered a career in fundraising. What does it take to be a good fundraiser? Here are the qualities:





Note that I didn’t list organizational skills, verbal and written communication skills, people management, Certified Fundraising Executive status, or financial or time management skills. Not that these skills and competencies won’t stand you in good stead as a fundraiser, but possessing the right qualities enables you to be an authentic, effective fundraiser. The rest can be learned or obtained through a supportive environment.

With these qualities, you can form genuine relationships with donors and potential donors who share a passion for your organization’s cause. It means you will likely choose to work at an organization not just based on the most competitive salary, but on your passion for the mission. And that’s a recipe for a very rewarding career.

Julie Mikuska


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