Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thank You, for Reading; Best Wishes to You In the New Year ; and I Wish Successes to the Nonprofits That Assist You and to Those That You Support

Dark skies in Joshua Tree National Park. | Photo: Ross Manges/Flickr/Creative Commons License
Thank you.

Thank you for reading, commenting, critiquing, and supporting  Seeking Grant Money Today

I began this blog in 2004 solely to share the professional nonprofit best practices information and expertise I amassed because nonprofits (from organizations aged start up to decades old) must maximize and protect all of their resources and assets.  In good and bad economies, nonprofits have little resources to spend and a free, professional, reputable resource can make the difference between making or breaking fundraising, operational, oversight, and other organizational goals.

All of these years later, thanks to your readership and to your willingness to let me know when and how this blog and its resources have helped, I know that this blog has indeed assisted nonprofits.  I hope that you and I each continue to do the same.

I am pleased and humbled to have accomplished my goal.  I am also grateful for all of your efforts in the nonprofit sector.  Thank you.

I wish you, the nonprofits that you benefit from and support, and also the good you aspire to do the very best and much success in the new year.

The past exists for us to remember; the future offers itself as an opportunity; and right now we have, in the present moment, a gift.

Thank you for the work you do for your community. 

I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Read My Corrections Of A Poor Annual Appeal Letter I Received So Your Nonprofit Crafts Professional and Sucessful Donation Requests That Retain Past Donors and Create New Ones

It is the time of year that nonprofits send out annual appeal solicitations in order to get ahead of donors planning to give.  Nonprofits solicit during the final quarter every year so that they might be one of the organizations a donor chooses to give to.

If your organization is about to ask previous and potential new donors for support be sure to learn how to do so effectively.   You want your appeal to successfully raises money.  The author of this letter, I can tell, has not learned how to craft a successful nonprofit solicitation letter yet.  I do hope that they take the time to learn. 

The following is easily one of the worst nonprofit appeals I've received this year.

I provide it, here, not to chastise or insult anyone.  Rather, I provide it to assist you, my reader, in the hopes that after reading this post you come to understand how to craft a professional and successful appeal letter for your nonprofit.

I altered the letter, below, so the organization and author are not evident.  The entire letter is here in green font to set it off clearly from the blog post.

"Dear DONOR,

"Whenever NONPROFIT makes an appeal for funds, I am always reminded of my UNCLE who throughout his life was heavily involved with many worthy causes, and who truly believed in " giving back.” Part of this work required him to engage in fundraising - something he did enthusiastically and successfully.

"To be honest, fundraising makes me uncomfortable. When I was younger, I once asked my UNCLE how he was able to be respectful of the donor while simultaneously stressing the importance of the cause he was collecting for. I have never forgotten his answer, and I would like to share it with you.

"My UNCLE explained that each time he requested funds for an organization, he would tell the potential donor: “ I feel extremely fortunate that no one is collecting for me, and you should feel fortunate that no one is collecting for you!”

"With this in mind, my UNCLE not only became a successful fundraiser for a host of worthy organizations, but he also reminded himself, and the donors he engaged, how truly lucky they both were.

"I hope that by reading about my UNCLE’s perspective on fundraising, you might take a moment to consider just how worthy and important NONPROFIT has become to thousands of people throughout the world .

"Our past was rich.  By helping NONPROFIT you make sure that our future will be as rich as our past.

"RIGHT NOW, we need YOUR help. Whether it's $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000 or more – your donation will help us preserve our history for future generations.

"At this point, we are less than $XX,000 away from our October fundraising goal. This gives us a little more than 3 days.

"Please help NONPROFIT reach this important goal.

"We are hoping that 200 people can donate $75, or more, by 11:59 pm on October 31. ( Gifts of $100 or more qualify for Value Added Services). Each night, we will send an update to let you know how we are doing.

"There are four easy ways to donate now:
"1)  Click here to donate via our secure website.

"2) Via PayPal by  clicking here.

"3) Call us at 555-232-4433.

"4) Make checks payable to NONPROFIT, and send to:


221B Baker Street
London, England, United Kingdom

"Thank you in advance for your kind consideration.

"How lucky you are that I contacted you today to enable you to support our mission, and how very lucky I am to be able to act as an intermediary!


"Nonprofit Executive Name
Executive Position


"P.S. We need your help to continue our important work. Your support of NONPROFIT will ensure our ability to preserve our history for future generations. Please contribute whatever you are able at this time - it will make an immediate difference."

Now that you have read it, let's go over it.

First, let me be fair.  I know that the author clearly states in their letter, "To be honest, fundraising makes me uncomfortable."  It is not the most natural thing to ask people for money.  I know this.  Too, we are all ignorant when any of us begins a new job or task that we have never done before and that is completely acceptable and normal, of course.  Learning to get over any lack of knowledge or experience is how any of us grow in our careers and goals.  Hopefully the author of the real solicitation reads my post or learns how to properly solicit on behalf of a nonprofit.  More on this point below...

Second, let me say what the author and organization did well. They e-mailed their donors which is great.  It saves the author and organization money, time, and resources (i.e. saving volunteer time folding and stuffing, envelopes and letterhead, and postage costs).  Too, they e-mailed the solicitation on their organization's virtual letterhead which was very professional looking.  In the letter they provide a clear statement as to why they are contacting their donors.  They are requesting a donation. They state what they need.  They need cash donations.  Some organizations request In Kind donation items they are seeking in addition to asking for cash contributions, and still others also request assets, and so on.  They thank the donor in advance.  (They should really just say thank you (without saying 'in advance') because donors should be thanked for previous support.  Just say thank you.  Any new support a donor gives can be thanked through a formal thank you letter/donation receipt after the nonprofit receives it (and donors should be).  They do a very good job at clearly stating different points of contact through which the donor can give to the nonprofit and they provide all contact information clearly.  Finally, this letter is succinct, on point, and laid out clearly.  It does not waste the reader's time and they do not dawdle.  They get to the point and they remain clear.  It is easy to scan, if the reader does not have a lot of time to read a complete letter word for word.  If a recipient only scans this request, instead of reading the entire letter, the recipient/reader would still get the gist of the solicitation and how they might give should they wish to.

Now, I will explain what was done incorrectly in this donation request, why it's 'incorrect', and what would improve it:

__ The punctuation after the solicitation ("Dear DONOR,") is wrong.  Unless the author knows every single recipient of the letter they should not use a comma after the salutation.  I do not know the author of this letter personally so I know he/she does not know every recipient.  The more professional thing is to follow proper punctuation.  A colon (:) should be used after the solicitation.

__ Literally the first half of this appeals letter is an anecdote about the solicitation's author's UNCLE.  Why?!  I am sure they were trying to be charming.  They should not be writing about themselves or a relative in a letter seeking support FOR A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION.  A better use of the space at the beginning of a single page nonprofit donations solicitation letter is to discuss the nonprofit that the donor will potentially give to. You want to provide the organization's name, mission statement, and talk about the beneficiary/ies of the organization.  You explain who or what the beneficiaries are, what their current needs are, how the organization is meeting those needs (ideally better than any other nonprofit) and why the organization is uniquely suited to successfully serve it or them.  These kinds of points should explain why this organization is doing what it's doing and how it's doing that.  As such, you will want to list all of the organization's major programs and services and ideally provide a brief (but truthful and clear) snapshot of the year's service statistics for each program/service.  How many people or forests or schools or whatever the beneficiaries are were served this year?  What was successful this past year?  Did the organization receive any accolades or awards from the community?  These are the kinds of clear, short, and truthful bullet point items that could be easily listed in the first half of the letter allows potential donors to see what their money will do for the organization and the community it serves, how the money is spent, and why the donation and the organization is needed in the community.  This is all compelling information for a potential donor to understand.  Making a compelling case is the finest fundraising that exists.  I wish the author had discussed any or all of these attributes of the nonprofit.  I'd feel like giving rather than feeling like I got to know his/her UNCLE a bit (who literally has no affiliation or tie with the NONPROFIT at all).

__ At no point does the author explain where the money raised this month will be spent.  Donors who understand where their money will be spent, why (to what benefit for whom or what) and when feel included and informed.  This information is also compelling and makes the case when soliciting nonprofit support.  In clear succinct phrases answer the following... Are there new programs the nonprofit is launching in the new year?  If so, what are they and why are they being started?  What need will they address?  Is there a new but as yet unmet need the beneficiaries have that your organization is uniquely suited to address successfully and efficiently?  Tell the potential donor.  Tie the donor to the organization's work and successes.

__ How much of every dollar raised is spent on the organization's programs and services?  If an organization spends 20% (or less) of each dollar raised on overhead and 80% (or more) on programs and services this is considered both ethical and professional.  Let the donor know.

__ The benefit of a donor's contribution should not be some general good deed or happy cheer.  The benefit of a donor's contribution is that the contribution they give enables the nonprofit to do the work of its mission statement to better the lives or welfare of the organization's beneficiaries.  If these facts are not laid out for the donor well... you are not making the case in a compelling fashion.

__ Does the organization need volunteers (besides financial support)?  If yes, say so besides requesting donations and explain how those interested in volunteering can do so with your organization.  How might someone needing the organization's assistance, support, or services contact those offices?  What is the organization's federal Tax Identification Number (demonstrates the organization is a legitimate nonprofit 501(c)(3)  and can assist potential donors in further researching your organization's track record and reputation).  What if a potential donor wishes to speak to a fundraiser in the organization's office because they wish to give a very large amount or even a bequest?  That contact information should be provided.  Does your organization have a website?  Provide its domain.

My final two points are philosophical or professionally methodological...

The logic to his/her UNCLE's advice is dated.  It used to go that a nonprofit was a charity seeking a coin someone might drop into the tin can it's fundraisers held out on the street corner, so to speak.  If it works, great.  If not, shake more cans in more locations.  This is not contemporary fundraising.  The fact is, there are far more effective and efficient fundraising methods (for any and all nonprofits - not just the big or well funded ones) and that is what I write this blog for - to share the latest professional nonprofit best practices because they are proven, they cost less than other methods, and they work for any and all nonprofits (from small start ups run by one or two people to well known, mega-million dollar annual operations, hundreds of years old nonprofits).  The fact is, guilting someone has nothing to do with effective or professional fundraising (i.e. you do not  need right now so give to this nonprofit).  The way a nonprofit professionally raises donations today has everything to do with best practices.  It is about determining which people in the general public care about the organization's cause and informing them why your specific nonprofit is effective and worthy of their support.  You make a compelling case.  How?  Could you easily learn some very effective and time and money saving best practices for free on this blog?  Yes!  Read any of the posts on the topic or nonprofit operation you wish to know more about by clicking on it in the "Labels" list below to the right on this blog.  Or, click on the How To label (or click its link, just to the left).  See, too, specific information on how to write a professional effective appeals letter at the end of this blog post, below.

Above, I grant that the letter's author says they are uncomfortable raising funds.  I know that this letter's author has been one of this organization's executives for many years.  Their position's probationary period ended years ago.  Yet, they did not yet feel obligated to learn professional nonprofit best practices (yes, even if he/she is a volunteer) fundraising, at all.  Volunteer service to a nonprofit require no less professional knowledge to do one's job successfully or achieve the organization's goals than a for-profit business job requires.  A job is a job and if an organization needs support then the job should be done in the most effective and efficient manner so that the organization raises funds and uses as little resources doing it.  The only way that we get beyond our jitters over fundraising, or that we that we grow any knowledge is by LEARNING the new skills or tasks that we have been assigned that we do not yet know how to do effectively or professionally.  We do not simply lament our lack of professional knowledge after having held the position for years, and we absolutely do not tell our supporters you do not know a skill you are responsible for knowing.  Admitting you are accepting your ineptness and doing nothing about it does not create much confidence in the organization or its leadership.  Ignorance of a job responsibility or task should only be tolerated by an employer or board of directors for the usual probation period for most jobs - no more than ninety days.  A board should also be certain that each of its executives have been completely trained on how to do every aspect of their assigned responsibilities, including fundraising within ninety days of recruiting or hiring that executive.

Effective fundraising does not waste an organization's resources, or waste a potential supporter's time, but instead successfully raises funds now and again later.  It is not trite, condescending, folksy, cutesy, or anecdotal.  In fact, quite to the contrary, it is always all about the organization's beneficiaries - their needs that the nonprofit meets through the work of the mission statement; through the organization's work and its programmatic and service successes; through its potential based on the reputations, credentials, and talent of its volunteers and staff; through its professional and ethical reputation as a well managed and well operated nonprofit; and so forth.  You do not schmooze or guilt donors into giving.  You build a community of donors who understand what their contribution does for whom or what and they give because they care about the cause and believe in the organization, its integrity, and its future potential.  They invest because your organization is a wise investment for the benefit of the community!

A nonprofit that ethically and professionally succeeds at its mission only need explain that they do this to both previous and potential new donors and it retains former supporters and creates new ones.  When a nonprofit informs a donor as to what their contribution did in the community, acknowledges that partnership with each and every donor, and thanks each one - they are developing life long ties with these supporters that enable the organization's beneficiaries.  Take yourself and your uncle out of your requests for nonprofit support.

Here's some help:

Need basic 'how to' information on how to write an effective nonprofit donation solicitation (or appeals) letter?  See Write an Annual Appeal Letter to Raise Relatively Quick Funds

Wish to see yet another actual terrible nonprofit donation solicitation I received and my explanation of what they should have done to get it right?  See Let's Look At A Poor Fundraising Appeal Letter I Received Today And Get It Right

Need fundraising methods that are useful for year of end fundraising specifically?  See A List of Specific Fundraising Methods Particularly Helpful At the End of the Calendar Year

Need some help to get your nonprofit's fundraising into better order for more successes in the coming new year?  See Put Some Shine On Your Nonprofit for the Coming New Year - Helpful Tools To Improve Next Year's Organizational Outcomes, Savings, and Successful Fundraising...

Grants for Communities Innovating in Urban Forestry

From The Foundation Center...

[If you are interested in this grant opportunity, click "Link to Complete RFP" at the end of this blog post for more information]

"TD Bank and Arbor Day Foundation Invites Applications for Urban Forestry Projects in Under-Served Communities

"Deadline: December 20, 2013

"TD Bank and the Arbor Day Foundation are accepting applications to the TD Green Streets grant program, which will offer ten grants of $20,000 each in support of innovative urban forestry initiatives in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.

"Funding is intended to support the purchase of trees, tree planting and maintenance, and educational activities. Up to 50 percent of the proposed funding can be used to purchase new trees.

"To be eligible for a TD Green Streets grant, qualified municipalities must be a current Arbor Day Foundation Tree City USA-designated community within TD Bank's United States footprint. Proposed new trees must be planted in neighborhoods identified as low- to moderate-income. Municipalities are encouraged to apply in partnership with community partners such as nonprofit organizations, schools, businesses, etc.

"Grant applications will be reviewed according to a range of criteria, including a demonstrated understanding of the purpose of the program and designing a program that promotes innovative, sustainable practices; demonstrated ability to involve the community, nonprofit organizations, volunteers, corporate sector, etc., in the program; a commitment to the training and continuing education of community staff and volunteers through workshops, accreditation, conferences, etc.; a maintenance plan to ensure survivability of new trees; and a system in place to evaluate the success of the program.

"Complete program information, list of eligible communities, and the online application are available at the TD Green Streets Web site."

Link to Complete RFP