The Mikuska Group  

Ah, summer…time to thank your donors

Summer in Winnipeg means many people go to the lake, go camping or otherwise take time to enjoy our beautiful city and province.

It’s also a great time to thank donors.

You and your board members can tell donors how much they’re appreciated in a number of ways:

  • Take a stack of note cards to the lake and write a few every day. Handwritten cards are personal and thoughtful.
  • Invite donors for a tour to see how they are making a difference in the world.
  • Make thank you calls.
  • Ask if you can visit a donor if she’s not able to come for a tour.
  • Send a video with clients or participants saying thank you for making a difference in their lives.

Above all, be sincere and authentic, and give them concrete examples of how they are changing lives. They will remember that you made them feel good.

Julie Mikuska.



I received an appeal from a large organization this week. Notwithstanding how awful the appeal was, what struck me first was the fact that they sent it to my former address. I haven’t lived there for almost 3 years.

People move all the time. Many of your donors are among them. If you expect to maintain a relationship with them, you must make an effort to make sure you’re sending your appeal to their current address. There are ways to do this:

  • Annual donor surveys – ask donors if the information you have on file is correct. Also ask how and when they would like to hear from you.
  • Canada Post has a National Change of Address (NCOA) Mover Data Service. Use it to check your database to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.
  • Direct mail companies will also use the NCOA database when you contract them to do your direct mail.

By not making an effort to check contact information, not only do you lose money on mailing costs, you also risk losing the donor.

That’s why I’m moving on.

Laura Mikuska


Are your appeals appealing?

Another year end come and gone, and with it some hits and misses in appeals and thank yous…

First, the face palms:

1. A weak call to action.

  • “We hope you will consider a renewed gift.” (What, exactly is a renewed gift? Nah, won’t consider it.)
  • “We hope you will join us in our mission…” (how exciting…)
  • “As we approach the end of the year, I am writing to ask you to consider making a 2015 donation…” (just because it’s the year end isn’t a compelling reason to give)
  • “I hope you will help us to achieve the same amount this year.” (Whether you achieve a certain goal with no talk of impact is meaningless.)

These were taken from the first three randomly chosen letters in the pile of appeals! (And yes, one letter contributed two of these…)

2. Not paying attention to good customer service or donor preferences.

  • Sending a double-sided letter in French and English. (How about finding out which language we prefer?)
  • Sending an appeal that references a time I spent overseas with an organization, when in fact I participated in their Canadian program.
  • No personalization, just a brochure and pledge card to an existing donor (Gee, I feel special…)
  • Not receiving a thank you letter for gifts made on (A receipt is just a transaction, not a thank you.)

 3. Not talking about real impact.

  • Bragging about the organization. (So what?)
  • Presenting a solved problem (You don’t need my donation? Ok.)
  • Slaying me with statistics. (How will my $50 help 3 million refugees?)

And now the high fives:

 1. Making the donor the hero.

  • “You make me proud.” (Ok, you’ve got my attention!)
  • “People like you understand the power of good food.” (I’m nodding my head yes!)
  • “For us to continue to be the “keeper of your memories” we need your help now.” (Yes, I want you to continue to keep my memories.)
  • “Because of you, young people get to experience the power of live theatre, and begin to see it from the inside…” (I did that? I’m awesome!)
  • “You did this.” (Yes I did…from Justin Trudeau!)

 2. Using stories to show impact.

  • “Sometimes I’m worried about everything here,” says one gardner. “We are new here and have to think about how to do everything. But here, I can just garden.” (Food Matters Manitoba, talking about newcomers to Canada.)
  • “It was two weeks before Christmas – a time when most people are thinking about last-minute shopping, gift wrapping, and family gatherings. But at that time three years ago, all I could think about was staying alive.” (St. Boniface Hospital Foundation heart patient.)
  • “I learned that I can’t let anyone hold me back,” says Haydee. “I need to go this way for the babies’ sake, for my own sake, because this is how I want to live.” (‘M’ Program participant, Career Trek.)

 3. Sincere thank yous

  • Two thank you calls received from board chairs of two arts and culture organizations – much appreciated.
  • Personalized thank you letter from an executive director, including a handwritten note.

 4. Clear calls to action.

  • “Please make your most generous donation today – $50, $75, $100 or whatever you can make by going online at (website) and click on the Donate Now button.” (No guessing there, I know just what to do.)
  • “Please join me and donate. Everything helps, $50, $100, $200 or whatever you can give.” (From a letter written by a board chair.)

Communication really matters, whether it’s good or bad. And with the Fundraising Effectiveness Report telling us that for every 100 donors gained in 2014, 103 were lost through attrition, good communication is key.

Are you communicating in a way that donors say yes?

Julie Mikuska.

P.S. For opinions from a donor on her experience donating to various charities, follow The Whiny Donor on Twitter @thewhinydonor.

(This article originally appeared in our January 2016 e-newletter. Subscribe here.)


“I’m not a fundraiser!” … yet

In a recent post I encouraged fundraisers to feel proud of what they do, because they impact lives and enable change in the community. Now I’m going to tell you how and why all staff, board and volunteers can do the same.

But you’re thinking, “I’m not a fundraiser!” because you’re program staff, or the CEO or a data entry volunteer. And you’re certainly not a fundraiser if you’re on the board – that’s not what you signed up for. Your palms are feeling sweaty at the mere suggestion that you should be…

If we break down what fundraising really is, we discover that it’s about creating and maintaining relationships by offering the opportunity to have a positive impact in the community. What? No mention of asking for money?

You’re involved with the organization because you have a passion for the mission, and can see firsthand how your clients are helped by what you offer. (Note – “clients” include furry ones too.) Program staff, board members and volunteers have the opportunity to tell the heartwarming stories of tragedy and triumph, of struggle and success. Don’t keep them to yourself! Ask if you can share with the development staff, so they can share with donors. It doesn’t have to be complicated – a quick email or note will do. Don’t worry about perfect grammar either – just get the story out. There, that doesn’t sound so scary after all, does it?

Storytelling is the best way to tell donors that they are heroes – by doing so, you’ve just become a fundraiser.

Laura Mikuska


What’s your story?

If you are a volunteer or on the staff of a non-profit organization or a charity, you likely have personal reasons why you are involved in the particular cause. Learn to talk about those reasons and you’ll have the ability to tell others about your personal involvement story.

What’s powerful about your story? It’s emotional. And we know people are moved to action with their hearts. Instead of trying to sell someone on why your organization is great, you can tell them why you’re involved, and ask them to join you. It’s a much more comfortable place.

Christopher Davenport of, offers some questions to help you craft your story:

  1. When were you first aware of the organization?
  2. What one thing stood out to you at first?
  3. What was the impact the organization had in the community that made you want to give your time, talent and money?
  4. Why do you personally feel compelled to give?
  5. How did you first get involved (as a volunteer, donor, board member, staff member)?
  6. Is there a special person or reason you continue to support the organization?
  7. Why do you think it’s a worthy cause?

When you’re writing your story, remember it’s not really about you. It’s about donors who are the heroes who make it possible for your organization to have impact on individuals.

What’s your story?

Julie Mikuska.


Food security vs. good food

How you talk about issues is just as important as the issues themselves if you are to be heard.

One of the biggest walls in communication is jargon. It exists in every domain, every organization. It comes from what Chip Heath and Dan Heath call “the curse of knowledge.” In their must-have book, Made to Stick:Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Diethey say:

“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”

 A prime example of jargon exists in the world of “food security.” In our work with Food Matters Manitoba, we have helped them to overcome the jargon of food security with the goal of talking about “good food for all.” In their recently published Gratitude Report, they say:

“Thanks to you, local gardens are now nourishing people in Brochet. This year, under the leadership of Trina Halkett, a community-built greenhouse significantly extended the short growing season. And two young people were hired to help tend the garden and teach others. Malcolm, a student in grade nine, was one of them.

In Brochet, where a ten pound bag of potatoes costs $30, fresh produce is highly valued. In early September Malcolm harvested potatoes, onions, cabbage and turnips. After the harvest he visited more than 30 Elders to deliver bags of vegetables.”

In contrast, today’s Winnipeg Free Press has an article entitled Food security off the table in election. Clearly the authors are experts in this area, but much of the article is a hard slog, because it’s written in an academic style filled with jargon. For example:

“Providing sustainable funding for community food co-ordinators in all northern communities is a first step toward inclusive and community-based solutions. There also needs to be a complete overhaul of Nutrition North that includes financial support for hunting and gathering and own-food production, as well as federal regulation of the prices for food and other necessary goods and services. A basic income floor adjusted to reflect northern costs would go a long way to alleviating poverty more broadly.”

What does this really mean? What will it look like on the ground, talking about real people?

Unfortunately, we all suffer from the curse of knowledge. But once you recognize you’re speaking and writing in jargon, take steps to make your communication concrete and simple. That’s when your message will become more clearly understood. 

Julie Mikuska.


Storytelling trumps statistics, every time

When you’re reaching out to donors, be it in direct mail, on websites, in newsletters or gratitude reports, resist the temptation to haul out the stats to wow them with the magnitude of a problem. They mostly don’t care. That’s because they give with their heart and no amounts of large numbers and percentages will convince them to give.

Here’s an excerpt from the Shine A Light Campaign (World University Services of Canada):

Why Girls?

  • In refugee camp classes, boys outnumber girls 4:1
  • 62 million girls of primary age are out of school.
  • The gender gap in education is biggest in sub-Saharan Africa, with 23 million girls completely missing out on school.
  • In many African countries, only one in four girls has a chance of receiving a secondary education. At the post-secondary level, there are twice as many male students as female ones.
  • Barriers can be religious or cultural, but are more often simple constraints such as lack of teachers, uniforms, textbooks, or sanitary supplies.

It’s pretty hard to see how anyone could have an impact with their donation with 62 million in need. So most will choose not to give.

But if the campaign could tell the compelling story of one girl, with details about her circumstances, and how the donor can make a difference in her life, it becomes personal, especially if the donor is interested in girls’ education.

Here’s a testimonial from Free the Children:

Meet Nannan

Nannan Ma is very grateful for the work Free The Children has done in her community. Without it, her life might be totally different. The 11-year-old, who lives with her family in Malizhuang, China, started going to school when she was seven. When she was 10, though, she had to leave school to help her parents. They run a small restaurant and, for a whole year, Nannan worked as a waitress to help out.

Then Free The Children built a new school in Malizhuang, with a much larger student capacity, and Nannan got a second chance at an education. “The leader of our community persuaded my parents to send me back to school and to let me finish my primary school education,” she says.

Now Nannan is back in school and learning math, physical education, Mandarin and arts. She likes learning and understands how important it is that she gets an education. “Education can help me and my family to live a better life in the future,” she says.

Nannan hopes to complete her education and become a teacher. As she explains, “I want to… give knowledge to other people.” She is thankful for all that Free The Children has done to help her achieve that dream. “[Free The Children] built a good new school for us and gave us the chance to go to school,” she says, adding, “Without Free The Children, I might not be back at school.”

Statistics don’t have emotion. To connect with donors, you must reach out with stories to reach donors’ hearts. And the story must show how with their help, the world can change for one person.

Julie Mikuska.


Create your community

Create your community, and invite your donors to be a part of it.

That sounds better than asking for money, doesn’t it?

This message came through loud and clear at a recent panel discussion held by the AFP Manitoba Chapter. Panellists Beth Proven, CFRE (Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba), Christina Barwinsky, CFRE (St. John’s Ravenscourt School) and Leslie Weir, MA, CFRE, ACFRE (The Winnipeg Foundation) told stories about how donors respond to a community where they can feel a sense of purpose and belonging.

Appeal to their desire for connection, their innate curiosity and willingness to engage, and you’re on your way to creating a community. Beth cited the Isbister Society at the University of Manitoba as a successful community of donors who had left a gift to the U of M in their will. It has grown substantially since its inception, due to the outings it offers to its members. Many are older donors who still connect with their former classmates, and many found their spouses on campus as well.

Christina urged us to show our donors our love for what we do, and our organizations – first impressions count! She cited her love for SJR – as a graduate, she already has a sense of belonging to the community, and works hard to make sure she brings new parents and students into the fold, and graduates maintain their connection to the community.

Leslie reminded us that what worked in one organization may not work in your current one. She advised us to provide an open, welcoming community and to be natural and genuine in your relationships with donors. Be nice to people!

Welcome people into your community – they’ll be more likely to invest in it. Can you see yourself doing this?

Laura Mikuska


Finding the right consultant

So, how do you go about finding the right consultant?

Do your research. Start by asking around. Get referrals from people you know who have worked with particular consultants.

Understand that fundraising and creative consultants work best with relationships and the value provided. It’s not about methodology and deliverables, it’s about achieving desired outcomes with the help of their expertise.

Consider that working with a consultant is an investment, not an expense. Be prepared to pay for expertise you need to advance your organization.

Let them know your budget. That way they know what kind of proposal to put together.

Consider engaging them in a discovery/needs assessment project (paid) to determine whether you can work together on the larger project or process. Your organization will get a clearer picture of what the real challenges are and get recommendations to address them.

Julie Mikuska


The Gay Sweater: Language matters

A brilliant campaign has just launched by The Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity called The Gay Sweater.

It’s the world’s only 100% gay object. Truly. Watch the video.

It’s cheeky and bit gross, but it makes us think about language and how using the word “gay” to describe objects is hurtful. And that it’s not OK even if “everybody” says it.

Humour + creativity = got my attention. Language matters.

Julie Mikuska



Blog Archives

Articles By Category