Strategic development consulting for the nonprofit community

Creating Urgency for Your Giving Programs

July 28th, 2017

Creating Urgency for Your Giving Programs Remarks from partner and co-founder Susan Ross

Like many of you, I celebrated June 30th again this year.

It has been many years since I was Director of the Duke Annual Fund, but I am still tuned in to the importance of this particular day on the calendar, and the hard work with LYBUNTs that leads up to it.  I’d bet anyone whose resume includes annual giving shares my feeling.

Of course, our donors may or may not be attuned to the fiscal year-end importance of a random day in mid-summer, focused as they are on the IRS-provided December 31 timeframe.  But we development folks know it is about more than just a budget.

There is value in giving donors a deadline.

People need a reason to make a decision in a timely fashion, and good development officers can help close gifts by tuning in to opportunities. Donors are certainly in control of the timing of their gifts, but we can influence it by how we handle the solicitation.

Here are a few ways to inspire your donors through deadlines:

Teamwork: Many of our clients use June 30th not just for Annual Funds, but to encourage donors of all kinds to book their commitments.  At UNC, this year-end flurry of activity with major gifts led to a record-setting year across campus.

Campaign Stages: Stepping up as a donor in the “lead phase” because you are a board member/leader is an important motivator. Jumping in quickly when a campaign is launched can also work in your favor. And the closing days of a campaign offer a very real deadline that we all respect.

Challenges:  Nonprofits across our area have inspired donors to act through Stewards Fund and other very real challenges.  Deadlines matter, especially when the donor understands they are serious.  Challenges can come at any point during a campaign from kick-off to capstone.

Construction Timelines:  Capital projects usually have detailed external calendars, and you can cite architects, construction, and financing deadlines as valid reasons for needing to close a gift.  Remember that the best time for raising money is before the grand opening.

Tributes: When a leader or founder retires, a longtime volunteer steps down, or a beloved supporter has a major birthday or anniversary, offer their friends and family a logical way to celebrate their work through a gift. Don’t be shy about actively positioning your nonprofit for memorial gifts – this will raise more money and – when done well – is a valuable service for the family.

Special opportunities: If something happens that makes your donors proud of their association with you, give them a way to show it. Maybe a national basketball championship???

Six Questions to Consider in Hiring a Nonprofit Consultant

April 25th, 2017

Six Questions to Consider in Hiring a Nonprofit Consultant

Advice from Senior Associate Kate Hearne

1. Do we need a consultant? Look at your strategic plan or annual fundraising plan. What are your goals and how do you plan to move the needle toward those goals? Will you just work longer and harder? Maybe. Or maybe some of those goals would benefit from the outside perspective, strategy, and accountability that a consultant can bring.

2. How can a consultant help?  If you are meeting your fundraising and operational goals, a consultant can help you reach goals above and beyond the day-to-day responsibilities like a capital campaign or launching a major gifts program. If you’re not reaching your targets, a consultant can recommend new strategies and give an unbiased assessment of how you can strengthen your program. The benefit of a consultant is the additional support, creative thinking and extensive experience that will add value to the good work you’re already doing.

3. What do we need help with? Consultants need to know what the work will entail. Think through the specifics of your project. What are your desired outcomes? What is the scope of work? How often will you want to meet with the consultant? What are your deadlines? Where do you need the extra support that a consultant can bring? Is it manpower? Is it strategy? Is it training or research? Defining your needs will drive the type of consultant you choose and help you get proposals you can compare.

Senior Associate Kate Hearne

4. What do we look for in a consultant? Look for a consultant with proven experience in projects like yours. Ask for a detailed scope of work and timeline for that work. Ask for references and check them. Ask to see samples of a similar deliverable. At moss+ross, our final reports (and other deliverables) are highly customized to a particular client and considered proprietary to that client; however, many times, we can share a similar deliverable in person.

5. Which consultant is right for our organization? Fundraising is about relationships, and that same sense of relationship should be considered when choosing a consultant. As much as possible, get to know your prospective consultant during the RFP process. Select a consultant with whom you feel comfortable and one with whom you enjoy working. Any consultant can deliver plans and processes but you want one who fits your office/nonprofit culture and encourages a working relationship of trust and honest feedback.

6. Can we afford a consultant? While most nonprofits could benefit from a consultant, not all nonprofits are financially ready to bear that expense. Carefully consider what you will gain from allocating resources to a consultant. If hiring a consultant means that you will end up with a more effective fundraising program, then maybe that expense is worth it. Just be careful not to view a consultant as a magic bullet. A consultant can organize your program, prepare materials, and train volunteers, but you and your Board must be ready and willing to implement a consultant’s recommendations. By having Board and staff own the implementation for a consultant’s recommendations, the organization will be stronger both in process and engagement.

Building a Successful Major Gifts Program

September 21st, 2017

Moving Your Donors to Major Gifts

All fundraisers know they need more major gifts. In a packed room at our recent presentation at the 2017 North Carolina Philanthropy Conference, moss+ross offered a variety of tools to support fundraisers to get those major gifts.

The handouts from that session (linked below) offer guidance about creating a major gifts program and step-by-step strategies for soliciting major gifts and managing a program. We hope you will be able to use this “toolkit” to enhance donor meetings in every stage of the solicitation process.

We’re grateful to the individuals who shared their positive feedback about the conference presentation:

“I loved your presentation. It was so entertaining and informative.”

“The session was very helpful as a refresher to train others.”

“My colleague and I were both in there [for the presentation]. She just started and is overwhelmed. But we can do this. Thank you.”

Moving Your Donors to Major Gifts, presented at the 2017 North Carolina Philanthropy Conference in Durham, NC

moss+ross Promotions

July 28th, 2017

Congrats to our new Senior Associates!

Partners Mary Moss and Susan Ross are pleased to announce that four members of the consulting team have been named Senior Associates with the firm.

Kate Hearne has been with moss+ross from the beginning, staying engaged through moves to Boston and Atlanta, where she now lives.  She is responsible for new inquiries, proposals and client management for the firm.

Elizabeth Hopkins is in her third year with the firm, specializing in providing major gifts management and coaching following more than 21 years of demonstrated fundraising success at Duke with both the university and medical center.

Brooke Jenkins, J.D., came to moss+ross in 2014, where her work managing campaigns for many of our clients utilizes her non-profit development and marketing experience with healthcare systems and other non-profits in the southeast.

Jeanne Murray has led our marketing, branding and communications work for four years after three decades in global marketing, information technology, and online community engagement with IBM.

They join Kim Glenn, Fred Stang, Chuck Fyfe, and Allison Haltom as the firm’s lead associates. moss+ross has 18 experienced associates working actively with our Triangle area clients.


Communicating the Message

February 13th, 2017

Communicating the message. moss+ross partner and co-founder Susan Ross shares her perspective on how to communicate your nonprofit’s message.

I am a communicator as well as a fundraiser – two very important aspects of our profession. Telling stories of how the work you do changes people’s lives, and how your donors’ gifts make a difference, helps your fundraising. Once you have painted a picture of what could happen if donors invest with you, the solicitation part is much easier (and more likely to be successful).

Susan Ross explores nonprofit messageMy father was a career public relations professional.  One of his favorite definitions of the field was: DO A GOOD JOB AND GET CREDIT FOR IT.  That is sound advice for those of us trying to effect change in our corner of the world. As a proud graduate of the UNC School of Media and Journalism, I take very seriously the fundamentals of good communications: clear messaging, accuracy, audience awareness, and correct grammar.

moss+ross has always included communications in our development and campaign assessments for one simple reason: you need to wave your flag and be noticed or no one is going to support your good work.  Getting credit puts your nonprofit on the map, raises awareness of the problems you are trying to solve, and shows that you have the answers – you just need the money.

One of the advantages of our firm’s regional focus is that everyone at moss+ross is deeply engaged in the Triangle. We understand that good fundraising has its roots in the community’s awareness, engagement, and ownership of your mission. Our clients expect us to give them good advice regarding something in the news or what we have heard around town.  We become an additional set of eyes and ears, as well as an extra mouthpiece for sharing the great work being done.

Great messaging is inextricably tied to strong fundraising. Communicating clearly and boldly with your donors and with the unlimited number of prospective donors is essential!

Three Steps to Great Messaging

February 13th, 2017

Three steps to great messaging shared by Senior Associate Jeanne Murray.

Your organization communicates purpose and inspires support through your messaging. While a good starting point is crafting a great mission statement, the day-in/day-out communication of your organization’s message doesn’t end with a declaration of mission. Continual messaging conveys the impact, energy, and needs of your organization – and, importantly, supports your development efforts.

How do you know good messaging from the kind that needs improvement? Good messaging communicates value, encourages consistency, and identifies clear action.
jeanne murray writes about messaging

Good messaging communicates value. Messaging that communicates value is less about what you do, and more about what gets done with donor support. Words and images that bring impact to life tell donors that your organization is a worthy investment of time, money, and attention. Do your communications identify a donor’s role in achieving the mission? For example, I’m on the board of a Durham nonprofit whose mission clearly states the role the community plays in achieving the mission:

Families Moving Forward offers a temporary home to families with children in the crisis of homelessness. Working together, we create a path to stability and self-sufficiency through personalized services and ongoing community support.

Many organizations rely heavily on the written word to communicate value, and consider visuals as support for a story. Be more intentional about telling your story by showing interaction, engagement, and impact through photos, graphics, video, and other visual imagery.

Good messaging encourages consistency. Can everyone involved with your organization tell a consistent story? Note that this isn’t the same as a one-size-fits-all story. Good messaging tells stories of your mission in ways that a target audience can best hear them. For one of our clients at UNC Chapel Hill, moss+ross led a workshop to develop audience segments and associated personas, and identify how the core mission of service and opportunity could play out differently depending who is listening: a longtime supporter, an out-of-state family, or a group with a particular scholarly interest. Target your messaging to the intended audiences, and help people make your stories their own.

Good messaging identifies action. Your great mission and message should compel donors to ask, “How can I help?” Good messaging places action into the target audience’s hands. The action that all organizations want and need to promote – “to give” – is of great importance, of course! But many other actions lead to engagement that leads to giving. We recently worked with a community outreach ministry in Raleigh to incorporate more concrete calls to action. Many of their communications were geared to learning about the organization, and, while valid, this purpose can be offered in combination with more tangible actions. For example, “learn and sign up for the e-newsletter,” or “learn and respond to a survey,” or “learn and volunteer.”  Evaluate your communications to determine whether the messages include clear calls to action.

Your ultimate goal is to enlist help in spreading your message – from your board, volunteers, staff, and donors. Consistent messaging about value and action will equip all involved to share the news.


Dream Big, Plan Well, Execute to Perfection

December 12th, 2016

Dream Big, Plan Well, Execute to Perfection

Those are three phrases that I use to guide many facets of my personal and professional life.  I did not grow up knowing how to do any of these things with respect to advancement (or much of anything else).  It is through 35 years of practice that I have become more seasoned in these areas.

Susan Ross and Mary MossWith respect to planning (i.e., the focus of this issue), in my very first development position, I was asked to write a plan on how to increase totals aggressively in a relatively new phonathon program.  Terrified does not even begin to describe what 25-year old me felt. I had no clue what the vice president of this university wanted to see or how to begin or why I had to do it.  My first step was to ask my peers what they thought should be in my section of the plan.

Lesson #1:  Peer guidance is essential.  Asking your colleagues up and down the line takes the “scare” out of how to write a plan and spurs creative and aspirational thinking.  Do not attempt to write your plan in a silo; build buy-in along the way by asking questions.  If your office is small, reach out to counterparts in other organizations. They will value the opportunity for discussion as much as you.  I did this routinely in smaller shops later in my career to create annual action plans.

Lesson #2:  Set ambitious goals.  Doing what you did last year in the same way is likely to yield the same results.  You have to dream big in order to attain big results.

Lesson #3:  Be specific in how you set goals (dollar, donor, communication, number of prospect visits, etc.).  How will you ever know if you are successful if you are not specific in setting your goals?  Force yourself to be accountable:  execute the plan.

In the end if you dream big, plan well, and execute to perfection, your program will grow and so will you as a professional.

~Mary Moss

Annual Planning: The Importance of Creating an Annual Development Plan

December 12th, 2016

Annual Planning: The Importance of Creating an Annual Development Plan

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Wise words from Yogi Berra that remind us good planning is essential to success on many levels, and in the case of fundraising, can be critical to your organization’s long-term sustainability.

Why? Because good development planning will not only help sustain your mission, but it’s also a proven tool for growing and transforming your organization.

Kim Glenn

Kim Glenn, Senior Associate

Development planning starts with an understanding of where your organization wants to go and setting annual fundraising goals that will help get you there. Adding stretch goals that go above and beyond your annual funding needs is important, especially when your Executive Director or Board has plans to expand the organization’s impact. If you’ve ever heard discussion about the need to increase the number of clients served, add new programs, or expand in new geographic locations, you can bet that more fundraising dollars will be needed.

Whether you are a small one-person development operation, or part of a team of seasoned fundraisers, creating a written annual development plan gives you and others in your organization a blueprint for achieving fiscal-year fundraising and engagement goals – much like a strategic plan creates a blueprint for achieving your mission. An added benefit is that it creates a shared culture of philanthropy and accountability: everyone understands who is doing what, why, and when.  This is especially important when meeting your goals requires a team approach.

A written development plan can be in the form of a narrative document or a spreadsheet, but it should always include the organization’s funding priorities, dollar and donor goals along with specific fundraising strategies, who is responsible, and measurements for success.  Organizing by quarters over a 12-month period will help you work your plan in stages and ensure a manageable workload.

The Rams Club at UNC, a moss+ross client, has taken this strategy to heart.  Each major gift officer has created a written development plan which focuses on the top prospects to be solicited each quarter and includes interest areas, written strategies, anticipated asks, and projected dollars to be raised. It also includes plans for cultivation and engagement of future donors. When individual fundraisers set goals, their projections can help fundraising managers with quarterly benchmarking. This type of planning empowers team members and creates momentum and urgency, and it’s what helped The Rams Club achieve a record-breaking 2016 fundraising year.

Remember that the best development plans are fluid and can be reviewed and adjusted through regular check-ins with your Executive Director, other team members, and your Development Committee.  Don’t have a Development Committee yet? Be sure to add creating one to your new written plan.…

~Kim Glenn, Senior Associate

New moss+ross team member Patrice!

December 12th, 2016

Welcome to new associate Patrice Nelson! Drawing upon over 25 years of  leadership experience within non-profits and communities of faith, most recently as Executive Director of Urban Ministries of Durham, Patrice specializes in leading organizations through periods of transformation to arrive at new heights in excellence and positive community impact.

Patrice Nelson

Associate Patrice Nelson

You can read Patrice’s full bio by clicking here.

Are your major donors ready?

October 27th, 2016

Elizabeth Hopkins

Fundraising is all about relationships.  Whether a donor makes a $25 gift to your cause or a philanthropist makes a $1 million gift, the relationship you established helped motivate the gift. As you prepare for a campaign, nothing is more important than to build and solidify your relationship with each major gift prospect.

Consistent, intentional stewardship and engagement between your organization and the donor are core components of a solid relationship. Personal stewardship ensures that the donor has a positive giving experience and feeds back into the cultivation phase of the new fundraising cycle. A major gift donor who receives good stewardship is likely to become even more involved with your organization and give again when asked.

Major gift donors must receive regular, targeted communication and be aware of your social media channels so they are informed about your work. Of course, you will invite them to special donor events, but also look for hands-on opportunities for them to meet the people impacted by their donations. Phone calls and personal emails are easy and often overlooked ways to update them on projects they have supported and share the impact of their gifts.

As an example, moss+ross client SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals routinely invites donors to tour the facility and learn more about how the House functions and the people it serves. These donors then develop a closer relationship to Family House and gain a better understanding of how their gifts impact the House’s mission.

A campaign should encourage you to deepen the engagement of your most dedicated major donors in the planning process, thus setting the stage for their campaign solicitation later. Discuss their leadership roles early in the campaign, as these donors are often eager to be advocates and ambassadors for your organization. Here are some ways to engage your major donors in campaign readiness:

  • Ask them not just for their financial support, but also for their advice and expertise.
  • Spend time discussing the impact of their last major gift. Did it accomplish what they expected? Explore ways in which your organization can create more impactful and creative stewardship.
  • Share timeline details of the campaign’s quiet and public launch phases with donors and ask for their thoughts.
  • Seek their feedback on preliminary campaign priorities, goals and case for support.   Determine which priorities and what sections or themes resonate.
  • Ask for suggestions of others to involve in the campaign to expand the circle of influence for your organization by identifying and introducing new volunteers and prospects.
  • Ask them to be a member of a campaign leadership team or a campaign committee.
  • Invite major donors to assist with the engagement, cultivation and solicitation of other major gift prospects.
  • Emphasize the importance of their role as lead donors to give the campaign early momentum.

With a campaign on the horizon, take a fresh look at different strategies for engaging major gift donors. This will not only help develop them into prospects for your campaign, but will also result in their life-long support of your organization.