The Mikuska Group  

Getting people to give in June

I’ve been annoyed whenever I see social impact organizations asking me on social media or in emails to vote for them to compete for $10,000 (or whatever the amount). They’re not engaging donors this way, and not even raising money.

However, The Great Canadian Giving Challenge has helped organizations use the power of their networks to encourage donors to give. In June – one of the slowest times of the year in fundraising.

In 2016, in its second year, the results were impressive. According to

52,000 Canadians participated, donating more than $8 million to over 8,600 charities, representing a 48% increase in donations compared to June 2014 and a 28% increase compared to 2015. Charities involved in #GivingChallengeCa for 2 years in a row earned 164% more vs. the 28% average increase.

It works like this: During June, donors give either through or Every dollar donated to a registered charitable organization gives one entry into the contest for that organization.  (Minimum donation of $3).

Organizations have access to a toolkit to help them create customized campaigns, with logos and strategies. The hashtag #GivingChallengeCA helps keep people up to date and gives them a chance to share.

The draw for the $10,000 is July 1. Now go work your social media!

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.


In a world where everyone gets enough

Do you have enough? What does having enough mean?

Having enough means you can participate in society with dignity. Those that don’t have enough have to rely on the charity of others. And that can take away their dignity.

Think about those who don’t have enough – they’re panhandling for food, visiting a food bank to pick up a few canned goods, sleeping at the shelter or on the street, and looking for donated clothing and shoes. Their Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) cheques aren’t enough to have enough to eat, find adequate and safe housing or buy warm clothes. And it’s even worse for those that have to provide for their children or those with a disability that prevents them from participating in the workforce. Most are deeply ashamed.

Now let’s think about providing everyone with a basic guaranteed income. Instead of panhandling, they’re going to the grocery store and buying the food their family needs. They’re clothing their family and finding safe and affordable housing. They’re going to school.  All without having to rely on the charity of others. They’re participating in society and contributing to the economy. With dignity.

We need to take care of our citizens, so everyone can realize their hopes and dreams. Canada is a caring country and we’ll all be richer for it.

Laura Mikuska


Thank you never gets old

I recently received a call from the chair of the board of a museum I support, thanking me for my monthly gift and giving me an update on the new executive director.

It was a delightful call and it made my day. I felt appreciated and close to the museum and its people.

A few days later I was invited to attend a fundraising tea for another organization I support, to raise money for a scholarship in memory of the founder’s mother. As I was not going to be able to attend, I sent my regrets and made a gift online through their website.

Almost as soon as I hit “submit,” my phone rang and I got a heartfelt thank you from the development director. Wow! Talk about making me feel good about giving!

It didn’t stop there. After the tea was held, I received a package with two packages of tea (pina colada and African chai!), a handwritten thank you from the founder and a response card for me to send back to wish the scholarship recipient well.

It’s important to say thank you, over and over. It really never gets old.

Julie Mikuska.


The RFP shake-down

Why do charitable organizations think it’s appropriate to ask for a donation or pro-bono work in an RFP?

Not that we have any intention of responding to a request for proposal, but my blood still boils when I read an often used clause that goes something like this:

“X Organization is a registered charity which provides funds for research, programs and other activities which promote and advance the health of all members of the community. Our organization is able to engage the citizens of the province in philanthropy by working with donors and partner suppliers. As such, we ask that you please indicate your company’s interest in supporting our organization through philanthropy or sponsorship: e.g. direct discount, no-charge services, etc.”

I call it the RFP shakedown. Where else do you see the beginning of a business relationship where you’re already being asked to do free work (ok, I know graphic designers get this all the time, too) or give money back?

Consulting work is similar to philanthropy in that both are based on trusted relationships. When you engage a consultant, you’re making an investment in your organization. In turn, we provide guidance based on our experience and expertise, and we are fairly compensated for the value we bring.

If, in the course of our relationship, we are moved to make a donation, we may do so, and we often do. But don’t ask us to make that part of any proposal or contract.

Julie Mikuska.


Donors are not widgets

Donors are not widgets.

They are not interchangeable. You can’t pick up a new lot at the hardware store. And they need maintenance.

Now, I’m sure most people in social impact organizations recognize that donors aren’t widgets, but why then is there a tendency to concentrate on getting new donors and not on keeping the ones you have?

The longer donors stay with you, the longer they stay with you. And that means you don’t have to go out looking for so many new donors, many of whom won’t stay with you. Your loyal donors are the ones who get how important monthly giving is. And they may increase their annual gifts over time. Plus they are great candidates to approach about putting you in their wills.

So concentrate on loving the people who already love you – the donors! Make strategies to get to know them and to let them know how important they are to you. Remember: they’re people, not widgets.

Julie Mikuska


Canada Helps donors more generous – what that means for you

The AFP Foundation for Philanthropy released the results of its biennial survey of Canadian donors in March entitled What Canadian Donors Want.

For the first time this year the foundation partnered with CanadaHelps, a national social impact organization that promotes charitable giving in Canada, and provides a portal for charities’ online giving. They surveyed CanadaHelps donors and compared their giving behaviours to the general population.

Some interesting results:

  • 77% of CanadaHelps donors give to six or more causes compared to only 17 percent of the general population.
  • They are more likely than general population donors  to say they are very knowledgeable about the charities they support (38% compared to 22%)
  • Like their peers across Canada, CanadaHelps donors who gave in response to an invitation or post on social media say they gave because the posts came from someone they know.
  • They also are invested in charities that they know to be efficient with donor dollars and effective in their work, but to a much more significant extent.  82% of CanadaHelps donors are motivated by a clear purpose compared to 53% of the general population.
  • The largest proportion of CanadaHelps donors say their most recent contribution was to a place of worship and they are more likely than their counterparts in the general population to have donated to this kind of charity.
  • They are much more likely to take a proactive approach to selecting a charity – 67% vs 33% waiting to be asked.
  • They are also more likely to have given to international charities and to causes advancing the arts, culture, and the environment.

What does mean for your organization?

  • Donors give when it’s easy to do so. If you make it hard to give by not having online giving, you’re turning away donors.
  • Donors are seeking out information – how well are you presenting yours?
  • People give and give again to organizations with a clear purpose, with well-articulated impact.
  • Donors give to multiple charities – don’t assume someone won’t give just because they’re a donor elsewhere.
  • Your brand and network on social media can be a powerful driver of invitations to give – if done well.

The survey results have lots of fascinating details on donors’ actions – I recommend you check them out. There’s also a recorded webinar discussing the results, along with the presentation slides.

Do you know what your donors want?

Julie Mikuska


Finding inspiration

It can be easy to be cynical, to hunker down and be mired in one’s own life. It can be even easier to ignore others’ troubles and pain. What I love most about what we do is that we see everyday heroes who make a difference in their world.

One of our clients has especially inspired me to share my love of good food and cooking with a group of teens. Food Matters Manitoba creates opportunities for kids and new Canadians to learn how to choose and prepare good food to promote healthy eating. I had a chance to chat with their staff before I proposed a cooking class to students in an alternative program in south Winnipeg – their tips were very helpful.

The kids were all enthusiastic about good food! We decided to prepare lasagne and homemade buns. When preparation was underway, one young man declared that this was the first time he had ever cut up a fresh vegetable. Imagine being a teenager and never having had the opportunity to cut up a carrot! He was especially proud of his contribution to the meal. Another said he had eaten lasagna before, but never knew exactly what went into it. He had two helpings.

I’m especially appreciative that they allow me to share this experience with them, to see their delight at what they’ve accomplished. I look forward to our next cooking adventure – this time we’re preparing tourtière and pea soup.

Who has inspired you lately?

Laura Mikuska


Excuses are not an apology

I have been a donor to a local social impact organization for several years, giving money and goods such as coats and socks because I believe they do good work in the community.

In December, I decided to give my year-end gift through Canada Helps, because it’s convenient and I seldom write cheques anymore, let alone mail one. I also decided to practice what I preach and signed up for monthly giving which would increase the overall amount I give yearly.

I received my tax receipt instantly from Canada Helps, of course. But that’s a transaction, not a thank you.

I waited almost seven weeks to receive a thank you from the organization itself. None arrived. So I wrote to the executive director and told him about my experience and said I had yet to receive thanks from him (which were prompt when I mailed or brought in a cheque the previous years).

His response? Not an apology to a faithful donor, but this:

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Acknowledging gifts and thanking donors is something I wish to improve at (the organization) but the challenge I have faced is limited resources and time.”

He goes on to say:

“Thanks to ongoing support such as yours, (the organization) added another staff member last month. (She) will help improve the service of our guests and assist me with the many donation and administration duties so we can better serve everyone associated with (the organization).”

Excuses are not an apology.

He completely missed the point. It’s not about him. His first response should have been to pick up the phone and apologize. But even in an email, the first thing he needed to say was, “I’m so sorry. You are important to us and you should not have had to wait to hear it!”

I know small organizations struggle. But until they realize that we as donors give where we’re appreciated, they will continue to struggle. Because there are many other places I can give to have an impact in the world. And now I will.

Julie Mikuska


Marketing is not fundraising

“We need to do more marketing” – often expressed by staff and board members of social impact organizations. “If we can only educate everyone on the great work we do, people would support us!”

The thing is, there’s no relationship in that notion. You’re just telling people how great you are – that’s a one-way transaction. As for the part about “educating donors” – that has a whiff of treating them like schoolchildren who need to be told.

Here’s what you do instead – start developing relationships with people, invite them to be part of your herd, and show them what impact you’re having on the clients you serve (including non-humans). Ask them to join you in the work that you do because without them, you can’t change the world. And show them, over and over, that because of them, society is changing for the better.

You can’t do that by marketing.

Laura Mikuska


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