Strategic development consulting for the nonprofit community

Guest Post: Giving in an Age of Tax Reform

December 16th, 2017

Republished with permission from Duke University’s Blueprints Blog

Six Considerations for Giving in an Age of Tax Reform:
How the current tax reform climate may impact charitable giving

by Jeremy Arkin
Assistant Vice President of Gift Planning, Duke University

In recent weeks, both houses of Congress have passed major tax reform bills. While the House and Senate plans differ in many respects, they share several provisions in common that are likely to become law later this year with the signature of President Trump, and some of those provisions would have an impact on the tax benefits of charitable giving.

Some of our donors have asked whether they should make gifts in this calendar year, under the current tax law, that they had planned on making in future years. If you have similar questions, perhaps these thoughts will be helpful to you.

Six considerations for charitable giving in preparation for tax reform:

1. Don’t panic!  Let’s see what Congress actually passes and President Trump signs into law.

2. Consult your financial advisor. If you’re working with a CPA or financial advisor, give that person a call to discuss how potential tax changes might affect your personal decision-making. Remember that the devil is in the details.

3. Consider making a charitable gift before 2017 ends. Both houses of Congress have proposed increasing the standard tax deduction to be as high as $24,000. If that change becomes law, many taxpayers will no longer itemize their deductions, losing the chance to deduct charitable gifts. If you think you’ll be in that camp, consider accelerating gifts into 2017 to take advantage of the itemized deduction this year.

4. Start thinking about your philanthropic priorities. If it turns out that accelerating gifts into 2017 makes sense for you, be ready with some ideas about the charitable gifts you’d like to make.

5. Explore a donor-advised fund. If you are considering accelerating significant gifts into 2017 for tax reasons, you may want to establish a donor advised fund at your local community foundation or with a national financial institution such as Fidelity or Vanguard.  A donor advised fund would allow you to make tax-deductible gifts in one year, and put off the decision about which nonprofits will benefit from your gifts until a later year.

6. If you are age 70½ years or older, remember the charitable IRA rollover gift option. This provision has not been a major point of discussion in the tax reform debate, but it bears noting here nonetheless! This technique allows a taxpayer to direct up to $100,000 each year from an IRA to a charity. This transfer satisfies the taxpayer’s required minimum distribution and the amount rolled-over will not be included in the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income for the year (potentially lowering Medicare premiums and making other tax-breaks more available).

Happy Holidays from moss+ross

December 15th, 2017

Treat your donors like family … and they will keep coming back
by Susan Ross

I had 20 at my house for Christmas dinner.  As always, the family meal marked the passage of time, with a core group of regulars bookended by loved ones missing and by promising new relationships.

Why do we value these celebrations so much?  It’s not my food, my decorations, or my presents.  I’d say it is because people find joy in spending their time where they are welcome and where they would be missed if they didn’t show up.

Perhaps our donors feel the same way.

Donor retention is a hot button in fundraising these days, because new studies have shown that we are losing donors in far greater numbers than in the past. Has our preoccupation with major gifts led to a falloff in our rank-and-file donor feeling valued and needed? If so, how can development professionals stem this tide?

My cousin is a busy professional who lives out of town, but she will always be at Christmas dinner, because she knows she is integral to the celebration and that we are all counting on her.  Plus, she knows that she’ll have fun.

Do your donors feel that way about you? Let’s break it down:

Do they think you would be fine without them?  If you only have a direct mail relationship, look for ways to make it more personal.  One of our clients asks every member of the staff (from top to bottom) to call five donors every week, just to check in.  We are great believers that simple phone calls are an under-used tool in fundraising today.

Do they believe you are counting on them? Tell them how important their gift is to your success, not just in a mailer but in ways that feel authentic and targeted to who they are.  A quick personal email checking in at the time of year when a donor usually gives will show that you do indeed notice them, and that this $100 gift matters to you. You can copy/paste a lot of these in an hour, and each one will feel like one-to-one communication.

Do they get pleasure out of the dollars and hours they share with you?  We all make time for things that bring us joy, so help your donors get that feel-good experience from their interactions with your nonprofit. UNC donor and campaign co-chair John Townsend talked about the “transcendent joy of philanthropy” when announcing his fabulous gift this fall.  Donors who are experiencing that kind of happiness by their association with you will never be donor retention problems.  What can you do to be sure they love being part of your great work?

New Senior Associate Wes Brown

December 15th, 2017
Welcome moss+ross Senior Associate Wes BrownWes Brown
We are pleased to welcome Wes Brown to the moss+ross team, following his retirement from Duke University. Wes spent 36 years in fundraising at Duke Divinity School, holding positions from director to associate dean, and is a veteran of three comprehensive Duke campaigns. His first engagement with m+r is with a campaign for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cary. You can read Wes’s full bio by clicking here.

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.


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.

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