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


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.


What happens when your fundraiser moves on?

There’s been a trend among social impact organizations for some time that sees development staff stay for about 18 months, then move to another organization or leave the profession altogether. For many organizations, this becomes a set-back which may take months or years to make right.

Know that this may happen in your organization, what can you, as leaders, do before and after it does?


Take steps now to understand what’s going on with major donors, where they are in the donor cycle and what the quality of the relationship is with them.

Make sure all contacts with donors are being recorded in your database. Great notes make for a great institutional memory.

Support your staff through professional development, career advancement and great working conditions. (who knows – they may not leave after all…)

Encourage a culture of philanthropy and engagement throughout the organization, so that donors may have relationships outside the development office.


Do not rush to hire an experienced fundraiser, especially one who doesn’t understand your mission, as you may be in the same position in 18 months.

Do consider recruiting someone who has a passion for what you do and the skills to be come a development professional, and invest in a consultant to coach them into a new career.

Examine the reasons they may have left (as they may not be forthcoming about underlying conflicts that caused them not to want to continue working there). For example, did you pile every conceivable type of fund development activity into one job? It’s hard to expect one person to do events, major gift fundraising, direct mail, third-party fundraising, ticket sales, etc. and do any of it well.

If the departure was sudden and you didn’t have time to debrief on donors, call them and explain what the situation is. Don’t just leave them hanging.

Take steps to stop the revolving door. You and your donors will be much better off.

Julie Mikuska


The power of thanks

When was the last time someone sent you a hand-written letter of thanks?

For me, it was a few minutes ago. I was tickled pink. Literally.









I received it from a thoughtful staff member at a social impact organization where I volunteer. She had to have returned to her desk after the function we attended yesterday, written the note and popped it in the mail. That realization alone made me feel really special!

We all know we need to say thanks, and say it often, but how many of us put this into action? I know how this made me feel – warm and fuzzy, appreciated and recognized. It reminded me why I volunteer there, and gave me a renewed sense of loyalty to their mission.

How are you making your volunteers feel?

Laura Mikuska


Invest in your people

Hands up all you fundraisers that rarely, if ever, get to attend a professional development session on fundraising. In this virtual room, my guess is that a lot of you metaphorically raised your hand.

What other sector would place so little emphasis on professional development and continuous learning? A lot of social impact organizations see PD as an expense, and it’s usually the first thing to be chopped in the annual budget cutting exercise. That’s a short-sighted move that is detrimental to the entire organization.

Investing in staff’s professional development is an investment in the organization. Learning new and innovative techniques, hearing about ideas that have worked in other organizations, and networking with other fundraisers can be a huge motivator. And chances are greater that you’ll remain in your position far longer if you aren’t looking around for an organization that’s willing to invest in you.

A recently-released study, Major Gift Fundraising: Unlocking the Potential for Your Nonprofit, also revealed that for every PD opportunity that a fundraising staff attended, there was a strong correlation to fundraising performance. “Each additional form of training/education is associated with an increase of $37,000 (USD) in income.”

That’s astonishing! Now point that out to your ED/CEO and get your training back in the budget.

Laura Mikuska


Poverty mentality: it has to change

Organizations in the social impact sector work to change the world. Every day. Some work with the most marginalized and forgotten people, others save the environment, create life-changing art, take care of our health and save animals. Pretty important stuff.

Why, then, are they expected to constantly beg for their funds? They are having a huge impact in all of our lives every hour of every day – they shouldn’t be forced to shut valuable programs that help society, just because they are defined as charitable. They shouldn’t be forced to pay poverty wages to talented people (only to lose them when they can’t make a living) and have little to no technology to do their jobs.

It’s great to have a corps of volunteers to help deliver on the mission, but (well)paid staff  and resources have to underpin the work of those volunteers. Grant application after grant application all specify that the funds are for “programming”, with little to none of the funding directed towards staff, or keeping the lights on. Why?? And why do funders give limited-time funding for “projects” that will die when the funding runs out?

It’s time that we, as members of our collective society, start to speak out about why we have to change from a poverty mentality to one of abundance in supporting the work of the social impact sector.

We will all be richer for it.

Laura Mikuska


New offering: Donor-focused communications course

We’re pleased to offer in-house training for social impact organizations to learn about effective, donor-focused communications, with the goal of reaching and retaining more donors. The course is for employees with responsibilities in fundraising and communications, or for those wanting to move into those types of positions.

Donors respond better to communications that are focused on them rather than on how great an organization is. The course is designed to learn about how best to talk and write to donors and to put those principles into practice, both for the students and for others in the organization. Students will also learn about the importance of storytelling and will use tools to speak to program staff about gathering stories of impact for donors.

It’s critical to engage donors and earn their loyalty, as it is much more cost-effective to keep donors than to continuous try to acquire new donors. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project through AFP shows that for 2013-14:

  • every $100 gained in 2014 was offset by $95 in losses through gift attrition. That is, 95 percent of gains in giving were offset by losses in giving for a net gain in gifts of 5 percent.
  • every 100 donors gained in 2014 was offset by 103 in lost donors through attrition. That is, 103 percent of the donors gained were offset by lapsed donors for a net loss in donors of -3 percent.
  • The donor retention rate was 43 percent. That is, only 43 percent of donors who gave in 2013 gave again in 2014.
  • The gift retention rate was 47 percent. That is, only 47 percent of 2013 dollars were raised again in 2014.

Employers are eligible to apply for the Canada-Manitoba Jobs Grant that will cover two-thirds of the cost of the course.

Students will learn about donor-focused communications through:

  • Reading assigned text books
  • Seminars
  • Viewing and discussing assigned videos
  • Completing assignments individually or in group work on:
    • Writing the case for support
    • Writing and producing the donor newsletter
    • Writing and producing annual appeal letters
    • Speaking with program staff about the importance of stories in donor communications

Interested? Contact us for more information.



“I’m a fundraiser…”

You’re in a networking situation, or at a family gathering, and the inevitable question arises, “So, what do you do?”.

You steel yourself for this one. “I’m a fundraiser with a nonprofit raising money to ________.” You know the reaction that’s coming in most instances. “Oh! I’d better hang on to my wallet!” or “How hard are you going to twist my arm?”

You politely laugh it off and tell them all the good things your organization is doing in the community, in the hopes that they’ll support you at some point. Then they slink away before you can ask them for money.

Yikes! I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. How does this sound instead: “Actually, as a fundraiser, I impact lives and enable change in the community.” That’s a very different conversation to have!

Fundraising is a noble profession, and you should be proud to be part of it. In fact, a think tank at Plymouth University in the UK has launched a Fundraising Manifesto that you can post in your office and show your pride. Entitled This is a Fundraising Office (based on This is a printing office manifesto), they encourage fundraisers everywhere to download and share it.

Fundraising Manifesto

Now, don’t you feel proud to be a fundraiser?

Laura Mikuska


Viewing donors with suspicion

Do people in your organization view donors with suspicion?

We’ve recently seen instances where staff outside the development office are unwilling to share stories of how donor contributions are making an impact. Some are downright hostile to the notion of donors being involved or interested in their programs. They fear donors and see them as “other.”

What causes this hostility to generous people? Staff may believe that donors have an “agenda” that is counter to their own. They may think donors wish to impose unreasonable expectations or will somehow interfere with their work. They think their clients are being co-opted to raise money.

In truth, the vast majority of donors have no such ideas. They give because they agree with an organization’s mission, like the impact of the work, and because someone asked them to give. Above all, they give because it makes them feel good!

Donors have the right to hear about how their gifts are making a difference – not an unreasonable expectation. Their “agenda” is the same as the staff’s – making an impact in the lives of others. And they respond to stories of individuals being helped by the organization through repeat giving.

So what can the development office or staff do to counter this suspicion? Bringing donors and program staff together is key. Donors want to hear directly how they are helping, and program staff will get to hear why donors are interested in their work. Donors get inspired by stories, and staff can tell powerful stories.

After all, donors are people. Staff are people. And both want to help people. It’s a good place to come together.

Julie Mikuska.


A flourishing garden

Spring – a time of renewal. We’re itching to get outside and work in the garden. We want to watch our plants grow and enjoy the fruits of our labour.

Your organization can also flourish, much like your garden:

  • Start by “weeding” – go through your database and clean it up. Make sure addresses conform to postal standards, you have correctly coded donor preferences (title, frequency and form of contact, receipting, etc.) and weed out the records for people and organizations that should no longer be on your list.
  • Once you’ve done the weeding, you can see what you’ve planted and make plans on how to make your donor relationships grow. Segmenting your donor list into “rows” will help you determine how best to cultivate them – do they need extra sun? more nutrients? more attention? We know that not all plants require the same treatment – donors are the same!
  • Donors, like plants, sustain us in different ways – they nourish our soul and they feed us. You can’t survive without them – let them know they are your heroes and how important they are!
  • Regularly sprinkling your donors with stories of how their support has impact will feed them and sustain them, and keep them growing.

Enjoy a bountiful harvest by paying attention to your donors – their inspiration will feed you for a long time.

Laura Mikuska


Blog Archives

Articles By Category