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.


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.


Marcy Heim interviews the twins

In June, Marcy Heim interviewed Julie and Laura as part of her Major Gift Success Club. We had a great conversation on a number of topics including:

  • educating board members to talk about impact rather than overhead
  • why concentrating on low overhead is a race to the bottom
  • the most common mistakes we make when talking to donors
  • the importance of life-long learning for fundraisers
  • why you may be able to ditch your fundraising events

Marcy has generously provided us with the audio of the conversation – have a listen.

Marcy presented at the AFP Manitoba 2013 National Philanthropy Day professional development session. She is a coach and frequent speaker on asking for major gifts among other topics. She is the author of the book Empower Your Board to Serve As Effective Development Ambassadors. Check out her website!

Laura and Julie Mikuska.


Tis the season

It’s easy at this time of the year to get caught up in the frenzy that is the holiday season, and to become cynical about all the hoopla that surrounds it. Today I remembered there’s an antidote for that.

As co-chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Program, I get notice of, and have the opportunity to attend, Ribbon-Cutting ceremonies for Chamber members. It’s a great way to invite the wider community to celebrate a grand opening, an open house or other occasions.

Today Chamber member Living Real Estate celebrated two years in business and a grand opening of their new office. We listened to owners Jason Coward and Lynne Heintz talk about how they built community support and philanthropy into their business model. They held some fundraising events, and then invited representatives from three local charities, Agape Table, Children’s Wish and the Cheer Board, to attend the ceremonies today. Each was presented with a generous donation from the proceeds.

I also heard from Agape Table that the entire office had been “angels”, quietly showing up to volunteer one day when there was a shortage of people to help. One agent explained that even though they were helping out, their act of kindness was really for themselves. That is the definition of a joyful gift.

So therein lies the antidote for cynicism and frenzy. Go and help others, generate some “warm and fuzzies” and do some good in your community.

We’ll all be better for it.

Laura Mikuska


It IS about the money

I had the privilege of attending the Winnipeg Harvest Empty Bowl Celebrity Auction and dinner on October 14 at the Delta Winnipeg.

It was a great event! And do you know what made it so great? Everyone in the room knew why they were there – to raise money! No, there was no doubt about it. And not by nickels and dimes. No passive messages. No “hoping” you’d contribute.

The celebrity bowls were numerous and humorous. Or thought-provoking. Or just lovely. And some created a real war on bidding in the silent auction, as well as in the live auction.

The dinner itself was simple. Soup and bread (well, with a side of beef tenderloin, but it was delicious). Red velvet cupcakes at each place. Candles atop cans of soup. And a money jar to stuff bills into on each table – with each dollar being matched by sponsor Scotiabank.

Volunteers sold tickets for a chance on a trip for two to Paris on Air Canada, business class (which, unfortunately went to another dinner guest…!). They also distributed the auctioned bowls to the successful bidders.

The organizers did a superb job with sponsorships, and that, along with the silent and live auctions brought in an announced $340,000 for Winnipeg Harvest!

Food for thought – can you be bold enough to ask for money?

Julie Mikuska


Overhead vs. investment

The charitable sector is often critiqued on a scale that measures how much of their budget goes to “overhead” as opposed to the “cause.” The reasoning is that those who direct the most money to the cause are benefiting the most people. Low overhead = good charity. High overhead = bad charity.

Charities and other not-for-profit organizations are especially criticized for spending money to raise funds, including hiring professional fundraisers and support staff, developing the infrastructure to support philanthropy and engagement, and communications. The spending is seen as an expense, rather than an investment. And as a result, organizations find it hard to grow, which makes it hard to achieve their missions.

In his recent book, Charity Case, and  TED Talk, Dan Pallotta makes the case for a new way of thinking about charities, one that makes it possible for the whole sector to grow.

He says in the talk that nonprofit organizations labour under a belief system that keeps them from increasing their value, and therefore “keeps them tiny.” There are two sets of rules, he says, that discriminate against the nonprofit sector in five ways:

  • Compensation – the idea of paying people well to help others is abhorrent
  • Advertising and marketing – donors don’t want their funds to go to advertising even if advertising can bring in more money
  • Risk-taking to pursue new ideas for generating revenue – society expects instant profit to the nonprofit, and there’s low tolerance for new ideas that may fail
  • Time – there’s no appetite for nonprofits to take time to build
  • Profit – nonprofits can’t pay people profit to access their capital, so they are shut out of the capital markets

Pallotta argues that rather than overhead taking away from the cause, it actually is part of it, especially if it’s used for growth. He says that rather than looking at what portion of the pie is overhead and the rest for the cause, why not look at increasing the size of the pie?

What does it matter that a cancer charity has a 40 per cent overhead if is raises multi-million dollars for research? Pallotta says don’t confuse morality with frugality. He likens it to a bake sale that has 5 per cent overhead but only raises $71 for charity.

Watch the TED talk and share it with others in your organization. Start thinking about investing and not about “overhead.”

Julie Mikuska


What the statistics are telling you

Normally people’s eyes glaze over when we throw statistics at them, but this time, you should pay attention. It can affect your bottom line if you apply them to your nonprofit.

First, a few parameters. I’m talking about Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Territories, with results gleaned from the National Survey of Nonprofit and Voluntary Organizations*.

Second, I’m giving you results excluding hospitals, universities and colleges, because although they constitute only 1% of the organizations in the survey, they account for almost half of the revenue (48%). Since this evidence will skew the results for the rest of the categories, we’ll leave it out.

When we talk to our clients and others in the nonprofit sector, there are some assumptions made about where the money comes from to fund their organizations. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Government funding: 32%
  • Earned income: 46%
  • Gifts and donations: 18%
  • Other income: 4%

A further breakdown of the gifts and donations reveals that 13% are from individuals and only 2% come from corporate sponsorships, donations or grants.

If this surprises you, you’re not alone. Many nonprofits think they should be going after the big corporate dollars, but in reality, it’s individuals that are most generous. Where do you spend your time? On chasing corporate sponsorships for your gala or golf tournament? Or on connecting with and engaging individual donors?

The statistics don’t lie. Change your focus and you’ll improve your bottom line.

Laura Mikuska


*This was a four-year research project that built our understanding of the charitable and nonprofit sector in Canada and its needs for capacity building. Research for the NSNVO was conducted by a consortium of organizations with Imagine Canada serving as the project lead. All of the reports based on the survey can be found here.


Engage your donors through experiences

What do you remember most vividly – something you read or heard, or something you experienced? Chances are you remember a feeling you had on a vacation or the aroma of a tantalizing meal. Consider engaging your donors more deeply by inviting them to experience your mission.

For example, a theatre company can offer a “behind the curtain” tour to its major donors, with a chance to meet the artistic director, the actors, and go onstage to imagine being in the latest show.

Perhaps you’re raising money to replace an aging play structure. Ask community members to drop in to “play” on the old structure and consider how their support could help provide a safe and fun physical learning experience for the neighbourhood children.

Universities and colleges can invite donors to existing lectures and events, based on their interests. They can offer a preferential experience, where the donors can meet the speaker and have preferred seating. They may even invite the donor and speaker to share a meal.

Examine your own assets and determine how you can best use them to cultivate and engage your donors. They won’t forget it.

Laura Mikuska



Moving from a one-time experience to a relationship

Many organizations run events to raise awareness of their mission and funds to support it. Many of you will have participated in the latest walk, run or golf tournament because someone asked you to join them or sponsor them in the event. You might even have participated because you wanted to have fun! But what happened after the event?

Did the organization stay in touch beyond issuing your tax receipt? Did they offer to send you news of the impact of your participation? Or did they file your name away, and either contact you when it’s time for next year’s event, or worse – completely ignore you?

Organizations are missing the mark if they don’t engage their donors beyond the event. Participants have already had a positive experience, which makes them more likely to want to accept an invitation for further engagement. Ask permission to remain in contact when they register, and make sure you follow up.

Caring about your donors means moving towards a real relationship.

Laura Mikuska


We Day: The Power of the Few

I had the privilege of attending We Day Manitoba yesterday, put on by Free the Children. It was quite inspiring to be embedded in a crowd of 18,000 young people who had to demonstrate their commitment to community just to get a seat at the event.

The organizers brought a program that was guaranteed to elicit response, and it did – whether it was a rapt crowd listening to Mikhail Gorbachev talk about how he and Ronald Reagan initiated nuclear disarmament or rocking with Craig and Marc Kielburger as they encouraged the students to Be the Change, or climbing step-by-step up Mount Kilimanjaro with Spencer West, who lost his legs at age five.

One of the more powerful images came through a story illustrating The Power of the Few. Craig told the story that his grandfather told to him, and Marc acted it out for the crowd. Craig said that Marc was a strong guy and he could likely break a pencil in half, which he proceeded to do. Craig then said Marc, a former rugby player, could probably break two pencils in half, which he then did. Craig then asked if Marc could break 24 pencils in half – which of course wasn’t possible. Look at the power of only 24, said Craig – the power of the few. A simple story, yet a perfect and lasting example.

Throughout the day, the power of storytelling shone through. The messages were simple, consistent and memorable.

Take lessons from these master storytellers, and you can engage your audiences to act for you.

Julie Mikuska


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