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Over Goal! What You Must Know to Excel at Fundraising Today

Kay Sprinkel Grace


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Acclaim for Over Goal

“Kay Sprinkel Grace has written the new bible for fundraising. Over Goal! is packed with invaluable information, easy to read, and a must for development professionals at every level.”

- Craig Hamilton, Executive Director of Development, WHYY

“Over Goal! demonstrates yet again why Kay Sprinkel Grace has no peer as a fundraising author and consultant. Clear, cogent, and comprehensive, it is the new ‘go to’ book in the field."

- Stephen Peeps, President and CEO, Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health

“Just a Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson’s The One Minute Manager became a standard in management development, so will Over Goal! become a standard in the fundraising arena.”

- Jerry W. Mapp, President and CEO, California Pacific Medical Center Foundation

“Over Goal! is a superior work that’s chock full of useful information and inspiring ideas.”

- Claire Axelrad, Director of Development and Marketing Jewish Family and Children’s Services

“Over Goal! is filled with timely and relevant information. If you can buy only one book on fundraising this year, be sure it’s this one.”

- Myrna Hall, Vice President of Development, University of Colorado at Boulder

“Over Goal! is a treasury of practical information, inspiration, creative thinking, and sound strategies.”

- Maurice J. Sevigny, Dean, The College of Fine Arts, The University of Arizona


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This article is excerpted from Kay Sprinkel Grace's Over Goal! ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019 or email kbrennan@emersonandchurch.com.

What You Should ALWAYS Communicate to Your Donors

We all know how important it is to communicate with our donors. It is the basis of stewardship. It is how we create donor involvement and loyalty. But knowing what to communicate is as important as knowing that we need to communicate. 

As donor expectations for transparency, accountability, and measurable impact increase, we find ourselves presented with new challenges and new opportunities.

Internet technology has increased our ability to communicate quickly and to tailor our messages to a specific portion of our constituency. The decreasing cost of reproducing videos and DVDs provides an inexpensive visual way to communicate our impact. And, increased involvement of well-coached volunteers in than-you calling adds a personal touch to our outreach to donor investors. 

Whatever vehicle you choose for your donor communications, here are some things you should always communicate to your donors.

of related interest

OF RELATED INTEREST: Of the hundreds of fundraising books on the market, the federal agency, AmeriCorps Vista, singled out David Lansdowne’s book, The Relentlessly Practical Guide to Raising Serious Money, as the very best.

Whatever your message, frame it in gratitude.

You can never thank people enough. Preface every communication with continued thanks to the donor for their investment in your work. Sincere gratitude is easily distinguished from gratuitous thanks or empty praise – make sure your appreciation is specific to their gift and its impact. 

And, try to tie it into the personal motivation for their giving. “Your interest in our children’s art program, which you’ve supported with generous gifts over the past five years, has made a huge difference in our ability to reach increasing numbers of children … We wanted to share with you a letter from a child in the 4th grade class at Longfellow School, one of the schools helped by your recent gift.” 

Reading that, or hearing it from a thank-you caller, the donor will have no doubt you know who she is and what her interests are. 

Mirror the donor’s values in your messages.

Remember that all philanthropy is motivated by values. People give to you because they share your values and it’s important to continue mirroring these in your messages.

If the continuum of compassionate care is one of your key values, make sure you tell that story in your communications, with words and images. The patient with a nurturing doctor or nurse; the post-operative child surrounded by loving volunteers.

If independence for the elderly is at the heart of your mission, show your seniors in their homes with people helping them do things for themselves.
Reinforce your values through your messages, and your donors will be reminded of the values they share with you.

Convey progress towards a shared vision.

Along with shared values, shared vision is a major motivator for our investors. A program in New Orleans, created to reach children not served by Head Start, conveys its vision in this way: “Our vision is that every child in the greater New Orleans area will be ready when it is time to start school.” The power of this vision is that it’s about the community, not the organization. Furthermore, it is measurable.

If the baseline readiness percentage is (e.g.) 83 percent of children showing acceptable readiness, then you could communicate to your donors over time that the percentage of children who are ready is now up to (e.g.) 85 or 89 or 93 percent.  

The donor will feel like a participant in this success. More importantly, his or her vision of better prepared children entering school will be ignited again and will very likely lead to further investment in your program.

Communicate good news, even if out of cycle with regular communications.

Don’t hold off on good news until time for your regular newsletter. If something momentus happens, let people know right away. An award, early completion of a campaign, other recognition, or simply a story that lets people know good things are happening to the people you serve. 

One organization communicated a breakthrough with a client – a runaway 13-year old the agency had successfully reunited with her family. The email described the joy of the family at having their daughter back, how the counselor they sent with the girl had helped reunite the family, and how grateful the organization was for the investor support that made such programs possible. 

Communicate bad news, too.

While we’re eager to communicate good news, we are reluctant to communicate bad news. However, if we regard donors truly as investors – as part of our network of people who care about what we’re doing in the community – then we’ll also be willing to communicate bad news.

You didn’t get the NEA grant. You didn’t make the matching fund goal (or are in danger of not meeting it). There has been a financial irregularity discovered by the auditors and you want to alert your investors before it becomes public knowledge. 

Burying bad news is something we’ve seen too many corporations and nonprofits do in the past decade: be sure you share yours with your key investors and volunteers. They’ll be much more willing to help if they’re not surprised. Further, it makes them feel more important to be included in the early news, even if it’s bad.

Let them know how they can help.

A donor’s gift is a symbol of their trust in your ability to advance the vision and values they share with you. But it’s not the only thing they can offer. When communicating with investors, offer other opportunities for them to participate so they don’t believe that your sole interest in them revolves around money.

Ask if they’ll participate in a focus group. Send them a survey and ask them to respond. Inquire whether they’d be willing to take a look at your new mission statement or case statement before it goes to print.

They may not be interested in helping, but if they are you’ll be well-rewarded by the heightened sense of involvement they’ll have. And, those who decline to help will still remember that you asked them.

Tell them how important they are.

Your donors are important to you, obviously. And, while all the above techniques will help them feel that way, sometimes it’s good just to tell them how important they are. Directly. 

“As a key supporter of our Home Help Program for the Elderly, you’re instrument to our work. Each time we help an elderly person remain independent, we reflect on how important the support is that you and others provide. Quite simply, we couldn’t do what we do without you, and we just wanted you to know. As one of our seniors at home wrote recently, ‘You have given me the skills and support to stay at home, and my family and I can never thank you enough.’ And we can never thank you enough.”

Let donors know how their support attracted the support of others.

Gifts leverage other gifts. I know from years of experience how big gifts attract other big gifts. But do we remember to let the majority of our donors – the aggregate of whose gifts make a huge difference for us – know that their support has attracted other support? 

Foundations look at the breadth of support as well as the big gifts. Individual donors want to know that their large gift is supported on a platform of many smaller gifts.

Remember to let all your donors know that their gifts are magnets for the increasing numbers of gifts or for recognition by a corporate or foundation funder.

Be sure donors hear from a beneficiary of their giving at least once a year.

Generating a letter or email in-house is quick and relatively simple – and most often comes from a staff member. Be sure that your donors hear at least once a year from a beneficiary of your program. 

The letter and drawing from a child, the phone call from the high school student, the video or DVD that captures the program in action and includes a voiceover from a recipient of the services, the appreciation from a dancer or an oboist or an actor for keeping the lights on and the audiences in their seats – all are memorable and have high impact. 

Investors measure the impact of their investment in many ways, but the anecdotal feedback from people who benefit directly is one of the most powerful avenues.

Let donors know that they are your investors and stakeholders.

Although we convey this implicitly in many of our communications, we need to let donors know explicitly as well. It is parallel to the suggestion above of letting donors know how important they are.

Ultimately, nonprofit sustainability will be assured when our donors move from viewing their giving as an annual transaction to viewing their investment as ongoing opportunity to participate in the transformation of an organization or the community. 

When they think of themselves as investors, they view their responsibility, loyalty, and involvement in a different way. 

Using investor related language (or “donor-investor” if that is better for your organization) opens communication doors that are limited when we think only of our investors as donors or contributors. 

An investor relationship is dynamic; a donor or contributor relationship can be passive. Treat them like investors and stakeholders, and they will be more apt to renew and increase their investment when asked.

Communicating with donor-investors is essential. The new philanthropists are curious, demanding, have high expectations of us, and are eager for involvement. They view their giving as social investment and, because they respond to the issues and values they care about, they expect to receive information that assures them their investment is well spent and having a high impact on the community. 
Be sure that your messages are not only appropriately frequent, but have content that will ensure long term donor-investor loyalty.

Over Goal!
What You Need to Know to Excel at Fundraising Today - 2nd Edition
by Kay Sprinkel Grace, 288 pp., $24.95 (Click here for quantity discount information)

To conserve or to change?

With all due respect to the Prince of Denmark, that is the question … as far as today’s fundraising is concerned.

Do we cling to traditional practices even when their foundation is cracking, or do we forsake “tried and true” ways so as to woo a new generation of donors demanding different approaches?

Clearly the answer, according to Kay Sprinkel Grace, is ... both.  And knowing what to conserve and what to change is the essence of her expanded and revised 2nd Edition of Over Goal! What You Must Know to Excel at Fundraising Today.

In its first incarnation, Over Goal! attained classic status (more than one sage called it “the new bible of fundraising”). But now Grace has taken a scalpel to her original and invigorated it with 12 new chapters while updating trends and figures.

The final product is arguably the most perceptive fundraising book since Harold Seymour’s Designs for Fund Raising.

In 40 comprehensive chapters, Over Goal! ranges over the entire landscape of fundraising and board development. Virtually every subject (e.g. understanding the motivations of major donors, keeping your prospect pipeline full, the dynamics of a solicitation call, the new realities of capital campaigns) is explored, and every technique explained.

And there are surprising topics, too, such as using the Internet for stewardship, soothing disgruntled donors, and what you should always communicate to your donors.

In a smart and deft way, Over Goal! blends “how to” advice with insights into what makes that advice work. As such, the book is infused with Grace’s persona, which includes:

• Impeccable credentials  Grace has served as development officer, fundraising volunteer, and board member many times over and is literally steeped in the experience of what works and what doesn’t.

• A humanist perspective  Regardless of the technique or tactic she espouses, Grace never loses her reverence for the people who make philanthropy possible – namely, the donors.  Her respect for them is immense.

• An edge  Fundraising demands toughness. Often, you’re toe to toe with resolute board members, volunteers who make excuses, and would-be donors who start to drift. Grace is always forceful … yet still polite.

Over Goal! is a big book – big with ideas, big with advice for implementing those ideas, and big with strategies for motivating people to make their best gift ever.

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About the Author

Kay Sprinkel Grace is also the author of the Ultimate Board Member's Book and Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards.

Kay, who writes a regular column for Contributions Magazine, is a prolific writer, creative thinker, inspiring speaker, and reflective practitioner. Her passion for philanthropy and its capacity to transform donors, organizations, and communities is well-known in the U.S. and internationally.

Kay lives in San Francisco and is an enthusiastic photographer, traveler, hiker, and creative writer. When not writing, speaking, or consulting, you can find her with her children and grandchildren who live in San Francisco, upstate New York, and France.

Table of Contents

Part I: Fundraising

  1. Successful nonprofit organizations
  2. Positioning your organization as a solid investment
  3. Creating or revising a mission statement
  4. The role of organizational culture in fundraising
  5. Fundraising communications
  6. Integrating your fundraising and marketing messages
  7. What you should always communicate to your donors
  8. Understanding the motivations of major donors
  9. Keeping your prospect pipeline full
  10. Cultivating your donors
  11. Peer screening and rating
  12. What really motivates a board to raise money
  13. Getting your board to make personal solicitations
  14. The dynamics of a solicitation call
  15. Conducting a capital campaign feasibility study
  16. The new realities of capital campaigns
  17. Recruiting and retaining a capital campaign committee
  18. Transformational gifts
  19. Implementing a year-end fundraising program
  20. Soothing disgruntled donors
  21. Starting a stewardship program
  22. Using the Internet for stewardship
  23. Evaluating your fundraising effectiveness
  24. Hiring development staff
  25. Hiring a development or organizational consultant
  26. If you want to be a consultant
  27. Strategic institutional planning
  28. Be resolute

Part II: Board and Organizational Development

  1. Recruiting and enlisting the best board possible
  2. What to ask every prospective board member
  3. What to ask before joining a board of directors
  4. Recruiting younger people for your board
  5. Working with the new generation of board members
  6. Developing a board of champions
  7. Creating ambassadors among your board
  8. Helping board members become advocates
  9. The dynamics of successful board meetings
  10. Keeping your board and staff partnership in balance
  11. Setting boundaries for board involvement
  12. Organizing a successful board retreat

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