FundRaiser Blog

The FundRaiser Software Blog is an excellent resource for nonprofit organizations looking to learn more about fundraising, donor management, membership management, and much more.

Kim Klein's blog on Steps for Raising $20,000 is a great article to use to show exactly how FundRaiser can simplify donor management.  If you look at the steps suggested to the student in order to raise funds for their trip to Costa Rica, you'll see how each step can be simplified and tracked using FundRaiser.

Database programs are for storing and using information, and we suggest using FundRaiser to store as much information as you need to have for all the aspects of your fundraising efforts. It's not just about donors, although that's certainly a big part, but look at the other aspects to this particular effort.

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In June, I tried my hand at my first fundraising campaign. I started with a basic mailing to loyal donors. You can read about my beginning efforts in my blog post here.   

After I sent the letters out, I didn’t have to wait long before our first donations came in. Loyal donors replied rapidly, and it was great fun to open the envelopes and see their notes and checks. 

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Monday is Happiness Happens Day, and FundRaiser has a long tradition of celebrating the day, established by the company founders. In anticipation of the day, staff spent a little time contemplating happiness - what makes them happy on the job, off the job... and their favorite recommendations for increasing your level of happiness. Here's their list in honor of the day of... 

 
FundRaiser staff, left to right: Autumn Shirley, Jonathan Smith, Joshua Shirley, Sasha Daucus, & Lee Johnson. Photo by Mary Lenker. 

10 Ways to Find, Enjoy or Spread a Little Happiness:

  1. Writing a thank you note
  2. Doing a Random Act of Kindness, like paying for the hamburger of the person in the car behind you at the drive-through window. 
  3. Going out to a rock, or other safe, beautiful place, and meditating.
  4. Exercising
  5. Taking a  walk and keeping an eye out for the things that are really interesting to you, even just little details.  
  6. Calling a friend and noticing the things you most like and admire about them. 
  7. Hanging out with kitties 
  8. Have a good honest talk with someone about what it really going on with you.  
  9. Getting some fresh air
  10. Taking some time off, even if it feels like you have a lot to do! 

What Makes Us Happy on the Job

On the job, staff find enjoyment in the pleasure of working with people we admire and appreciate; and we find enjoyment in the challenges of the job. "I love the people I work with and like helping people do good works," says Jonathan Smith, support technician. His teammate, Lee Johnson loves the opportunity to solve problems.

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Don’t be afraid to compose your fundraising letters in the FundRaiser word processor. It has many of the same features, such as bold, italics, or bullet points, as other word processing programs like Microsoft Word.

Using it will make letter merging easier than if you write your letter in another program and paste it into the FundRaiser word processor. This is  because there is often hidden code in other word processors that will affect how your letter will look. This is especially true with bullet points and paragraph formatting. When you write letters directly in the FundRaiser word processor, they will appear true to the formatting that you apply.

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My family is big on writing letters, and I think there’s no more powerful form of written communication than a letter in the mail. It shows that someone took the time to write, print, sign, and mail a letter. The organization (or the individual) cared enough to use a stamp and make sure the letter got to the carrier or the post office. It’s a personal way to communicate.

FundRaiser has many features for helping you with this fine mode of communication. One feature that I'd like to highlight here is that of being able to mark letters active or inactive as necessary. This comes in very handy for events which occur on a regular basis. How does this work?

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Memorial giving reminder on flap of reply envelope
Example of reply envelope text. This is the First Witness reply envelope, and the text is on the back under the flap. It has generated much of their memorial gift donations.

Memorial giving feels good. A donor is able to give to an organization they or a loved one values, and at the same time express a positive connection to someone important to them. Because of the all-around 'feel good' of memorial giving, organizations who successfully promote this kind of donation reap the benefits not only of the gifts, but also the extra good feelings associated with the gifts.

Letting your donors know that they can give to your organization in honor of someone can be very simple and straightforward. Becky Lindberg of First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center and a FundRaiser Select user says, "it is such an easy painless way to keep people connected to your program."

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 Dear Kim,

I am new to development and I have heard several contradictory things about the kinds of acknowledgements I should be sending to donors. Someone said we are required by law to send a thank you for every gift and someone else said you have to subtract the value of anything you send to the donor. Then someone else said that you only have to thank people who give over $250 and someone else said you are not allowed to thank people unless they request it and on and on. I know you say, “Thank before you bank” but that doesn’t sound like a law as much as a good habit.

~Help!  

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This month is the celebration of independence for the USA, and it seems appropriate to try revolutionizing your thinking about creating targeted mailings using FundRaiser. This is done by creating segments of your database, or Groupings, and, hopefully, turn an otherwise onerous task into one that gives you more freedom and choice. Groupings help you to pull out a sampling of people (or organizations) from your full database in order to treat them as a separate group. Why would you even want to do that? Well, the most common answer is to “target” an audience with a specific message from your organization, whether for an appeal letter, an invitation to an event, or a special “thank you” newsletter at the end of a particularly successful campaign.

By becoming  comfortable with creating Groupings, this will become an enjoyable task. And I’m going to give you some hints to ease you into creating exactly the groups of records you need. There is a trick to it all and it doesn’t even involve the software. Here it is, in a nutshell:

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At FundRaiser Software, staff members are experts in helping nonprofit organizations use our software. We have learned a lot about the how-to's of fundraising from our customers... but very few of us do it ourselves. For me, over the years, I've become eager to try my own hand at it. Yesterday, my wish came true as I mailed out my own first fundraising campaign. The experience was both fun and humbling, giving me a new and deeper appreciation of the work that our customers do daily! 

Let me say at the start, that the organization I volunteer for has done well for more than 35 years tracking donors by spreadsheet and memory. It's understandable that when I suggested using a FundRaiser program they were wary. This year, however, the other volunteers at the organization agreed to let me have a go at it... as long as I was the one working with FundRaiser.   

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Track Campaigns more easily 

All the FundRaiser programs can help you track your campaign activity.  FundRaiser Professional has a special "Campaign Management" component to help do it even more completely, but any version will allow you to do the following tips. Any of these tips will help you gather together donors and/or donations specific to any of your campaigns. 

1.  Code those gifts !!!

Most campaigns are made up of fundraising events.  Some are physical gatherings, like walkathons, parties, etc., to encourage immediate donations. Some are awareness events, such as mailings, advertising, and so forth, which will bring donations over a period of time.  In any of those cases, when gifts are received and recorded, it just makes sense to use the Motivation Code to indicate why that person gave at that event.  Normally it will be a code that reflects the event during which they were asked to give, whether a mailing or a gathering.  If you do this consistently, you'll be able to create Groupings, based on donations made to these codes during a particular period of time.  Groupings can be used with almost all reports, so you can focus on a particular event, or on all the events within a campaign.

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Dear Kim:

I am the first development director for a full-service humane society that has been operating for 125 years, and I have been on the job less than a year. We have a $1. 5 million budget ($500,000 coming from a county contract). We have always operated in the black, but unfortunately, not much analysis and goal setting have ever been done. There is no strategic plan in place, and we are heading into a capital campaign to build a new shelter and have many needs on the horizon. To top it off, the Executive Director is also new, and we are both working fast and furiously to evaluate as much as we can and to get a plan in place. I have been working on an overall development plan and the article, “Creating a Budget for Fundraising” is very helpful. However, do you know if there are specific percentages or guidelines as to how much the development office should raise in relation to the overall budget? For instance, when I worked in fundraising at an independent school, I raised 6-7 percent of the total budget. That was fairly average at that time. Because there has been little tracking and overall analysis, I realize that we are going to need to look at each direct mail piece, each special event to create budgets and to determine overall purpose. Any help you can give is appreciated!

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Campaign Assessment and Review

The campaign is finished. The thank-yous have been said and the money counted. However, before closing the book on a campaign for good, you should take one last look at it. The days immediately following a campaign are the time to analyze what went wrong and what went right, which fixes worked and which didn’t.

You should assess and review every fund-raising campaign, and you should make a record of what you find.

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Tracking Gifts and Collecting the Money

(read part 1 and part 2 of this series.

Receiving and recording gifts is simple to do, but very often poorly done. When donors make a gift or a pledge, solicitors notify their team captain and forward the pledge card or check to the organization’s development office that day. If the deal is struck in the evening, they do it first thing the next morning. The timing and process is where the first mistakes are made. The timing is do it immediately. The process is send the paperwork to the development office. There is no need for checks and pledge cards to go anyplace other than to the organization. These are official documents and should be collected in one central location as soon as they are signed. No solicitor should ever hold a check or pledge card while waiting for others to come in. Stamps and envelopes are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of the bad will created by a lost or slowly processed check or pledge card.

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Mid-Course Corrections and Problem Solving

(read part 1 here)

We track progress in a fund-raising campaign in order to identify problems in time to take corrective actions so that the goal stays within reach. If at any point in the campaign it begins to look as if the ability to achieve the goal is slipping away, then those managing the campaign must stop and take stock of the situation.

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How do you keep a fund-raising campaign on track? By being well organized, constantly monitoring progress, and informing all campaign participants of that progress. The very reason for the pyramidal structure of a campaign committee is to simplify management. In the best of circumstances, the pyramid is constructed so that no person supervises more than five people. (To maintain this limit is why we sometimes add campaign and divisional co-chairs.)

The campaign pyramid

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 In Tony's blog post, Financial vs. Development, he discusses two different possibilities on pledges-- are they a firm commitment, or are they more a promise to make a contribution in the future. This might seem like semantics, but when it comes to financial tracking, you would want to handle them differently. Here's an article from previous FundRaiser lead trainer, Larry Weaver, that helps you decide how you might want to handle these two different situations. 

1.  Divide and Conquer:  Pledge or Promise?

First, it's good to know whether your pledges are better tracked through FundRaiser's Pledge Module (optional in Select, included in Professional) or not.  That will depend on the make-up of the pledge itself.  

If a person (or organization) promises to give you a particular gift in the future, and will be giving it to you in one payment, then you don't need to use the Pledge Module, necessarily.  The determining factor, in this case, might be whether you need to track promised payments as "accounts receivable" for accounting purposes.  If so, you'll probably want to use the Pledge Module, as it makes it easier to do.  If not, then you may just need to use the Gift Type Code "Later - Promise to Pay", to record a pledged amount.  

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Dear Kim:  

A small family foundation run by a friend of our board chair promised us $10,000 at the beginning of the year and they have not yet paid it. Our board chair was recently told by her friend that the foundation probably wasn’t going to be able to pay because the market had wiped out a lot of their assets, but I can’t understand why they didn’t pay sooner.

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Mixing Oil and Water and Making it Work in a Non-Profit Organization 

The receiving and the handling of donations made to non-profit organizations are simple to do, but very often poorly done. When that happens, a vital block is taken out of the foundation we strive to build in an effort to ensure donor loyalty for future gifts. Lost or misplaced checks and other communications from donors, late and erroneous recording of gift/pledge dates and amounts, delayed and otherwise neglected acknowledgments, spelling errors of donors’ names, etc., all lead to lost or upset donors. 

We can all agree that this critically important process must be done right. And it starts with the very first check or pledge from a donor when it arrives in the mail room. But in many non-profit organizations, there is a sharply divided opinion regarding just where those checks, pledges, and other donor communications should go next in order to ensure that all goes right with the receiving, posting, acknowledging, reporting, and banking process of donations. 

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In Kim Klein's article on stopping a subtle decline in donations, she mentions the importance knowing your donor retention and attrition rates. You can figure donor retention (how many you have kept) and atttrition (how many you lost) easily using Fundraiser. 

Both are calculated by taking all the donors you had in the previous calendar year and comparing which of those donors gave in the most current complete calendar year. In other words, which of the people who gave in 2014 also gave in 2015? Expressing that number as a percentage of loss gives you your attrition rate; expressed as a percentage of renewal gives you your retention rate.

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Dear Kim,

I am writing to you as a donor. I give away 10% of my income every year and support about 25 organizations with donations in the $20-$50 range with a few at $100. I live on social security but I don’t have many expenses so I can do this. But I read recently that gifts of $20 and $25 aren’t that useful to organizations because it costs so much to process them. The article said to make fewer gifts of higher amounts. I like giving to a lot of organizations but I don’t want to waste their time (or my money.) You are in fundraising so what do you think?

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