The Mikuska Group  

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.


Volunteers strengthen your organization

Volunteers can strengthen your organization if you’re able to define your needs and how they can be filled by them. You have to have a plan to oversee the volunteers, and to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of your volunteer program.

Your volunteers must be an integral part of your organization, not just “those people in your boardroom stuffing envelopes”. While that is a worthwhile endeavour, chances are people willing to give their time have some talent that you can tap into to help even more.

Some examples:

  • offer training in researching potential donors for a major gifts program. Curious people who love research appreciate this type of opportunity. They can even do it at home, on their time.
  • many professionals are willing to help on a short-term or project basis in areas such as:
    • communications and marketing
    • mentoring staff and board
    • graphic design
    • human resources or legal advice
    • technology and social media
    • strategic and management planning
  • relationship management – make the most of your database by using volunteers to record your ongoing relationship with your donors and friends. Training on not only how to enter data, but how to produce reports will help you better manage your fundraising program.
  • ambassadors – the volunteers you have most certainly talk about your organization outside of their volunteer hours. Make sure you equip them with the key messages you want to convey and empower them to use them!

How can you use volunteers in your organization?

Laura Mikuska


Silos hold grain, not donors

Have you encountered these scenarios?

  • You want to get a receipt to a donor within a couple of days, but your finance department batches receipts and sends them out once a month.
  • You want to create a donor-focused newsletter but the communications staff insist on making it a marketing piece instead.
  • Your donor wants a meeting with program staff and when you try to set it up, staff are suspicious of the donor’s motives and say no.

In all of these cases, staff are working in silos. They are protecting their turf because they don’t see how it’s in their interest to open their processes and departments to be donor-focused.

What can you do to knock down the silo walls?

  • Talk about why and how donors are so important to your organization – revenue and engagement.
  • Help staff learn about why donors give, why they give again and why they don’t.
  • Tell staff why their actions or inactions affect donor loyalty.
  • Share the 7 Principles of Donor Love. (with thanks to Agents of Good.)

And don’t keep your donors in your own silo. Share stories of joyful giving with others to show them that donors care.

Julie Mikuska.


Ask how to communicate with donors

I recently made a donation in memoriam to honour a friend who had passed away. I made it to an organization that I wouldn’t ordinarily support as I have little interest in their mission, but because the family had asked for donations for that organization, I honoured their wishes.

Imagine my surprise when the very next day, I received their email newsletter! I haven’t even received a receipt, yet they feel they know me sufficiently to further communicate with me. Plus the e-news has three separate asks to give, give and give again.

This organization made the mistake of assuming it knows how a donor wants to receive communications. They didn’t ask me, and I believe they have a default setting that automatically sends their e-news to anyone with an email address. I would have been pleased to be offered a choice about how they could keep in touch with me, or not.

Perhaps you’re scratching your head about how many of your donors don’t give again. Making one small change to how you engage with your donors will make them feel appreciated and part of the organizational family.

Ask. You may be surprised at the response.

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.


Stop trying to educate donors

I’ve seen it too often. An earnest letter from an executive director trying to educate me into giving.

It’s not working. The more information you shovel at me, the more distant I become. It’s usually full of jargon, too, which puts me off at the first acronym or org-speak. What you, the organization, knows does not “convince” me.

Examples of meaningless jargon (at least to me): barriers to employment, food insecurity, creating opportunities, changing social conditions, culturally focused service model, community economic development. Abstract words without context are not convincing.

I encourage story-telling. But only tell me success stories where I have had a hand in that success. Me, through my donation. Don’t tell stories just for the sake of a story – you need conflict and the means of resolving the problem – me!

What donors need is the pull of emotion – anger, despair, love, joy. Put away your organizational binders and write a heartfelt appeal to your donor.

You’ll be glad you did.

Julie Mikuska.


More than storytelling

I’ve talked a lot about storytelling as essential to show donors the impact of your organizations’ activities. But stories alone don’t involve the donor.

You musn’t let a story merely infer that you’re asking for a donor to give. You must have a strong call to action for a donor to know that a) there’s a problem and b) she can help solve it.

I recently received an appeal letter that told the story of another donor and how great she was, how her philanthropic nature was learned from her parents. This passive example of generosity was likely meant to move me to give but “so what?” was my response. It also had no call to action, only a “Thank you for your kind support.”

Another recent appeal was written from the perspective of a CEO who shared a story of a young man helped by her organization. She also shared that she, too, had gone through some of the same life experiences as the young man, as had a relative of hers. But she didn’t connect the problem to be solved with me, the donor. She said only, “I hope you give generously.”

Donors need to understand what you want them to do. They need to know you can’t do it without them and because of them someone’s life changed. Say Because of you and Thanks to you.

Be direct:

  • Give $25, $50 or $75 today to make sure Jenny can stay in school.
  • Go to our website now to make your gift online.
  • Join me and sign up for monthly giving.

Tell stories, yes. But also tell the donor what the problem is and how she is going to be part of the solution.

Julie Mikuska.



Taking choice away from your donors

Are you taking choice away from your donors or potential donors by not asking them to give? Are you assuming they can’t or won’t give and so you don’t ask?

We’ve heard it often.

“Oh, we can’t ask that person. They have kids in university so they will have no money for us.”

“Our patrons are low-income. They don’t have any money to donate.”

“We can’t ask her! She just gave us a big gift.”

All of these excuses are based on what you assume about people. By not asking, you are taking away their opportunity to make a difference in the world through your organization. Remember – it’s not about the money. It’s about the donor feeling good about the effect she can have on people who need her help.

Think about it:

  • The people with kids in university might have a very keen interest in your cause.
  • Your low-income patrons will likely feel good about being asked to give and they may well give what they can.
  • And the one who just gave a big gift? She’s clearly already invested in what you do, so if there’s a project you think she might be interested in, ask!

Ask yourself why you’re not asking.

Julie Mikuska.



Ethical fundraising is not like sales

It’s amazing how often we’re asked if we take a percentage of funds raised, and how astonished prospective clients are when we say no, that happens to be unethical. Up until that moment, they have equated fundraising with sales, where the seller seeks to maximize profit.

Ethical fundraising is multi-faceted. It seeks to engage donors in long-term relationships that benefit both the donor and the organization. It is not focused on the “bottom line”. It is transparent and honest. It does not look at donors as “low-hanging fruit.” It is respectful.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has a Code of Ethical Principles and Standards that all members must annually sign. It has 25 ethical standards that members must meet. Laura and I are members, and we urge everyone who is in development to join.

But a commitment to ethics goes well beyond the development staff. In a culture of engagement and philanthropy, the CEO/executive director, board members, staff and volunteers must all learn about ethical fundraising and how it will, in fact, make it easier to engage donors.

So what does ethical fundraising look like?

  • You look at potential donors as givers rather than a source of dollars. You focus on the person and their relationship to your mission.
  • You make a personal gift before you ask others for theirs.
  • You have excellent policies on privacy and confidentiality and you communicate them widely to staff and volunteers and to donors. You have regular training for anyone with access to personal information to prevent inadvertent breaches of privacy.
  • You pay fundraisers a salary based on their qualifications and experience. You do not pay a percentage of funds raised as this leads to staff working in their own best interest (i.e. to maximize their profit) rather than that of the donor or your organization.
  • Your development staff (in fact, all your staff and volunteers) maintain a professional relationship with donors, and do not accept more than token gifts from donors (e.g. a meal).
  • You do exactly what you’ve agreed to do with donors’ gifts. If the original purpose of the gift is no longer relevant, you go back to the donor or their designate to change the use of the gift. If they disagree, be prepared to return the gift.
  • Your board members, staff and volunteers disclose conflicts of interest. A conflict is not necessarily bad, but it is important to be open so that decisions are made on all the information.
  • You give accurate information about the tax implications of donations and planned gifts, but you also advise donors to seek their own financial advisor’s advice.
  • You have a clear policy on gift acceptance that is understood by board, staff and volunteers and is available on your website. That way, you don’t accept gifts that would have a negative impact on your organization’s mission and image.
  • You are honest and transparent about why you are soliciting funds and how it relates to your mission. You make sure all communications about fundraising are accurate and clear.

If you live and breathe ethical fundraising, your donors will thank you. And you can turn around and thank them.

Julie Mikuska.


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