All Posts By

Jeffrey Byrne

Do Your Homework, Sit Still and LISTEN

By | All Posts, Donor Cultivation, Fundraising, Major Gift Solicitation, News You Can Use, Organizational + Personal Development, Prospect Research, Volunteers | No Comments

Jeffrey D. Byrne, President + CEO

We know to do our homework on prospective donors. You’ve heard me say time and again “Don’t commit fundraising malpractice!” (See my blog piece on the benefits of prospect research here.)That means do your research – because it reveals information about the wealth and capacity of prospects as well as information about philanthropic giving history, community involvement, natural partners and connections. And your donor database should contain important notes about your prospects and interactions with them. Prepare for your visit.

Sitting still tells your audience you really care about what they should say. Don’t shuffle your papers. Don’t check your phone. Don’t fidget. Sitting still lets you hear what your prospective donor should tell you about their life story and experiences – maybe even how a single instance changed their life. You can learn why they are passionate about your organization and its mission.

I believe in order to be a great fundraiser, you have to be a good – if not great – listener. Human nature might urge you to fill quiet moments with a remark or an anecdote. Of course you are nervous, and anxious to impress. You certainly want to make a connection you can build upon later. But it is in those quiet moments that you, as a volunteer or professional, can learn the most.  Waiting for the prospective donor to share might result in hearing firsthand how your healthcare institution saved their life. You might learn a relative was a long-time volunteer. You might learn how an agency similar to yours provided their mother with safety and refuge from domestic violence.  Resist the urge to talk about yourself.  Ask prospective donors about themselves…and then listen to what they say. Some good lead-ins might include:

  • “Tell me more about that …”
  • “What did she/he say about that…?”
  • “What happened next …?”
  • “What made you decide to …?”

You get the idea. You can think up your own list of “conversation engagers” that will help you get to know your prospective donor and involve them in the meeting. The bottom line is this: regardless of with whom you are meeting, when you get your prospective donors talking about themselves – when you ask about them – your prospective donor will come away from the visit feeling much more satisfied and positive about you and your organization than if you had used the time trying to tell them the 50 wonderful things you are doing to make a difference.

However, all of this doesn’t mean you should not educate your listeners about your organization and your mission. I’d suggest you use the 80/20 rule. Inform 20 percent of the time and LISTEN the other 80 percent.

In training staff and volunteers to make major gift solicitations, we place considerable emphasis on setting the appointment, sharing the vision and asking for the gift. Think about all the times we practice the script for the call or role-play the visit.  But how often do we practice listening? If you have volunteers who are reluctant to go on solicitation calls, think about how can coaching them on listening style can help them overcome their jitters about making the “ask.”

And finally, care about what’s being said and commit it to memory. Make notes when you leave if you need to capture details. This kind of active listening and remembering stems from truly caring about the donor. Don’t let the lure of a gift keep you from truly caring and listening to the prospective donor’s words. If you are listening and caring (and, of course, remembering to ask for the gift,) the gift will come.

Don’t Commit Fundraising Malpractice

By | All Posts, Campaign Planning + Management, Database Management, Donor Cultivation, Major Gift Solicitation, News You Can Use, Prospect Research, Technology | No Comments

Jeffery ByrneJeffrey D. Byrne, President + CEO

I truly believe it is “fundraising malpractice” when nonprofits do not do their “homework” about prospective donors.  Much more than learning about the estimated wealth and capacity of a prospect, research can reveal information about philanthropic giving history and involvement as well as natural partners and connections. Then add the “human touch” of the prospect review committee process, and the result is powerful quantitative and qualitative data to help inform strategy development for prospective donors.

I am a big proponent of using philanthropic and wealth screenings in campaign planning. They offer a valuable data, help you determine when/if more in-depth individualized research is necessary and provide information beneficial beyond the campaign, that can help with strategies for planned giving and annual fund.

Here’s my simple and universal process for utilizing philanthropic and wealth screenings to strengthen campaigns:

  1. Determine your “end use”
    You cannot simply import the results back into your database, never look at them again and expect magic to happen. Be disciplined in defining how you are going to use the results to empower your fundraising activities. Do you need help in determining target ask amounts? Do you need to know more about giving histories, to determine if prospects might have an affinity for your mission?  Do you need to better understand the prospects’ peer networks to help you develop appropriate ways to connect with them? Before you select a screening vendor and before you select the screening product(s) to purchase, carefully think through how you need to use the data.
  1. “Screen” your vendor and product options
    Wealth and philanthropic screenings are investments – of both time and money – that merit a careful selection process. There are several vendor options, so do your homework. What is their methodology? What are their deliverables? Is education/training included? Do they verify their results? How long will the screening process take? Can the data be easily imported/integrated into your database? Do they support that process?  Ask for references. Then call them. And don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish.  Screenings are also opportunities to clean up your database. There are valuable services available that will assess and address the accuracy and completeness of the contact information in your records (such as address verification and email, phone and address appends.)
  1. Select records to screen
    It may not be cost effective – or necessary – to screen your whole database. The flip side is that you don’t know what you don’t know – screenings often uncover wealth you never knew you had in your database. Your consultant or screening vendor can and should help you select the records you want to run. And it is imperative to provide all the fields the screening vendor requires in their upload template.  (Garbage in typically means garbage out.)
  1. Interpret the results
    A lot of information comes back in a screening, so you’ll want to make sure you are able to understand it, digest it and use it the way you need. A good screening vendor will help you do just that – and will be accessible to you beyond a 30-minute webinar or 30-page guide. You not only need to be able to interpret the data yourself, but you’ll need to interpret it for other members of your organization – both staff and volunteers. You’ll also need to determine what is appropriate to share and how.
  1. Integrate the data results
    Again, this doesn’t mean just importing the results into your database. You have to make the data work for you. Integrating the screening results means synthesizing the information and incorporating it into your donor development efforts through the steps below.
  1. Prospect review committee
    A small and select group of volunteers and staff, the prospect review committee is a most effective – and personal – way to rate prospects, as a complement to screenings and in-depth research profiles. Composed of those “in the know” in your organization’s community, this highly-confidential group works early on in the campaign planning process to rank capacity and potential interest (not just for giving but for volunteering as well.) The committee works in sessions over several days or a couple of weeks, but the process is fast-paced and highly-facilitated (typically by staff or a consultant.) The end result is a prospect list that is “categorically” ranked/prioritized and supported by anecdotal information.
  1. In-depth research profiles
    Some prospects merit additional, in-depth research. These profiles contain expanded details about a prospect’s education, employer, professional career, family, hobbies/personal interests and civic/community activities. The information gathered should only be information that affects a person’s ability or inclination to give: relevant and publicly available. 
  1. Appraisals/Solicitation Amounts
    Determining appropriate ask amounts is a combination of several factors:  the capacity recommendations/target ask amounts provided in the screening results, the anecdotal and ranking information provided by the prospect committee review, the prospect’s relationship with your organization and last but certainly not least, good judgement.
  1. Strategies
    Now you’ve got a solid foundation for developing personalized and customized plans for prospect cultivation and solicitation.  A “good ask” is more than just an amount. Knowing through whom, how and when to approach a prospect makes for more effective relationship-building.  Strategy is about encouraging and empowering the prospect to become an important part of your organization’s mission.

The resources and methods for prospect research may feel endless, overwhelming and even cost prohibitive. But it does not have to be that way.  If you use research information appropriately, there can and should be a very valuable return on your investment.

Top 5 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Giving USA

By | All Posts, Commentary, Current Events/News, Fundraising, Giving USA, Insights | No Comments

Jeffery ByrneJeffrey D. Byrne, President + CEO

Every year, I truly enjoy pouring over the data in Giving USA.  But I also realize Giving USA is so much more than the annual report on philanthropy – it’s a valuable tool to help improve philanthropy.   Nonprofit organizations can use Giving USA to help identify trends in their sector as well as successes and opportunities for improvement in resource development.

Here are my top 5 ways to “own the numbers” and use Giving USA to improve your nonprofit fundraising efforts:

5.  Identify the factors impacting philanthropy in general and in your subsector; benchmark your fundraising performance against national averages and adjust fundraising strategies accordingly

4.  Understand the correlations between giving and other economic factors, such as the stock market, personal disposable income and GDP — these are trends closely monitored by even those working “outside” the philanthropy sector; educate Board members, constituencies and prospective donors about these factor that influence giving

3.  Confirm or dispel myths about giving; help manage expectations about giving and set realistic and achievable goals

2.  Educate Board members, volunteers, donors and staff about the broad context of philanthropic giving; help them better understand your organization’s funding patterns and potential

1.  Become familiar with the reported motivations behind household charitable giving; tailor conversations and appeals to match the interests of donors

And remember…

Be flexible: nonprofit fundraising must evolve as philanthropy evolves.  We are seeing an increase in the popularity of non-traditional giving vehicles and donors want more evidence of the impact of their gifts.

Be cognizant of the “individual giving effect”:  an estimated 88% of total giving in 2015 came from individuals, bequests and family foundations.  This drives home the importance of developing and maintaining meaningful relationships.

Strengthen your case for support:  the best cases are realistic, relevant and compelling while being supported by the facts and clearly communicating the purpose, programs and financial needs of your organization.

Celebrate your impact: Americans give an average of $1 billion a day to help others.  Giving continues to grow, and there is confidence it will return to or exceed pre-recession levels.  Nonprofits and donors are doing great work.

Giving makes a difference, to both giver and recipient, but there is undoubtedly room to do more.  So spread the word about the good philanthropy has done – and the good it will continue to do.


I’m happy to share the two traditional pie charts illustrating 2015 source contributions and recipients. Click here to download.

What Women Want…In Philanthropy

By | All Posts, Commentary, Current Events/News, Donor Cultivation, Fundraising, Prospect Research | No Comments

Jeffery ByrneEarlier this week, I had the pleasure and privilege of spending time with Dr. Debra Mesch. While I was certainly impressed by her knowledge and awareness of key matters affecting philanthropy today, I was equally moved by why she researches, writes and teaches about gender matters in charitable behavior:  her commitment to improving and increasing philanthropy.

For more than 40 years, charitable giving has remained steady at about 2% of GDP. Few of us would argue that an increase in philanthropy would help in addressing the challenges our world faces today. So what can we do, as leaders in our field, to make this happen?

We can, and should, do many things to this end.  But I feel one of the most important variables in improving philanthropy is education.  We must educate ourselves and then others about research, trends, best practices and issues in charitable giving.

As Dr. Mesch discussed Tuesday, research and empirical evidence reveal gender is clearly a factor that affects philanthropic behavior—and should not be overlooked.

The data from a myriad of studies feels pretty clear-cut:

  • women today have more than $1.5 trillion in assets and are expected to inherit that or more in the intergenerational transfer of wealth
  • women are the primary breadwinners in 40% of households
  • 4% of households jointly make decisions about charitable giving; 16.2% decide separately; females decide in 6.5% of households; men decide in only 3.9% of households
  • Single female-headed households are more likely to give than single men, give higher amounts than men, spread giving across many organizations and are more likely to give across multiple sub-sectors (such as education, social services, health)

Then there are the more complex and seemingly abstract variables to assess:

  • Pinpointing motivations like empathy or altruism versus tax benefits and recognition
  • Results of giving like personal satisfaction and fulfillment
  • How political and philosophical beliefs shape giving
  • The impact organizational involvement like being on a Board or volunteering has on giving
  • Giving spontaneously/reactively versus giving strategically

Substantial data is gathered and tracked on the sources and recipients of giving, but there is still limited data on women as a subset.  Dr. Mesch and The Lilly School of Philanthropy have received a generous second round of funding ($2.1 million) from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to delve further into this subject. We hope additional research will answer questions, such as what factors influence women and men to give more, give more intentionally and give more effectively.

In the meantime, development staff can modify their strategies (at little or no cost) to account for gender differences:

  • Don’t make assumptions; make efforts to listen and learn about your prospects and donors
  • Get rid of any preconceptions or biases you might have about prospects and donors
  • Learn preferences on how couples want to be addressed and recognized; tailor appeals and communications pieces accordingly
  • Extend invitations for tours and personal visits, and be sure to include female donors/prospects
  • Include women in Board and other volunteer opportunities
  • Include personal stories and testimonials in your appeals to help create empathy
  • Provide information about the impact gifts have on those you serve

When we better understand donor motivation and the factors that influence giving, we are more effective determining which donors to solicit, how best to approach them for their support and in building lasting donor relationships.  Ultimately, this will increase and improve philanthropy.

In her remarks, Dr. Mesch mentioned the March 2017 Women’s Philanthropy Institute symposium – DREAM. DARE. DO. Women, Philanthropy and Civil Society.  For more information about this event as it becomes available, add your name to the symposium’s mailing list here.

Be sure to mark your calendars for two more 501 (c) Success National Speaker Series programs later this year:

June 21 — Giving USA 2016 with Dr. Patrick Rooney, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Research at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University
For full details and to register, click here.

September 15 — Asha Curran, Director of the Center for Innovation & Social Impact with the 92nd Street Y in New York, leveraging the power of new and social media, partnerships and collaboration such as #GivingTuesday


Advocacy in the Philanthropic Sector: We Can. We Should.

By | All Posts, Commentary, Legislative + Advocacy, News You Can Use | No Comments

Jeffery ByrneJeffrey D. Byrne
President + CEO

Over a two-year (2015-2016) presidential fundraising cycle, candidates and political committees will raise an estimated $12-$15 billion. During that same time period, Americans will give an estimated $770 Billion to philanthropy!

With the 2016 election process heading into full swing, it reminds me how fortunate we are, as a nation, to enjoy the liberties we do — particularly in selecting and interacting with those who represent us in our government.

It also reminds me how vigilant we need to be about making sure our voices are heard. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian and political writer, is credited with saying “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” I often say “You’re either at the table or on the menu.” Not as eloquent, perhaps, but it makes the point nonetheless.

With privilege comes responsibility. This holds particularly true for our philanthropic sector. Nonprofit organizations provide critical services to people across the entire socioeconomic spectrum. Yet over the last several years, our sector has come under increasing scrutiny with vocal and vehement calls for reform: ranging from added bureaucracy and oversight to threats to the charitable giving tax deduction.

So What to Do? Advocate.

Advocacy means speaking up. Making sure our government representatives understand the impact nonprofits have on people and communities is crucial. Advocacy also means awareness. Our philanthropic sector should always be in tune with how government – at every level – might affect it.

A surefire way to educate our elected officials is through grassroots activity: local citizens meeting with their local government officials on issues that impact their charitable organizations. Citizens are voting constituents – voices that are heard loud and clear.

It is important that nonprofit Boards of Directors and Staff have the knowledge necessary to take a proactive stance in educating their elected officials about their sector and their organization, and protect the interests of donors, fundraisers and charities related to laws and regulations about giving, volunteering and nonprofit operations. Elected officials need to know what matters to their constituents. If federal, state and local elected officials are not hearing from us on these important issues, then we risk them assuming their constituents are neutral on key issues impacting the nonprofit sector.

Parameters for Advocacy.

Nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations can, and often should, lobby at all levels of government. The 1976 lobbying tax law passed by Congress was followed by the IRS implementing regulations. Taken together, the law and regulations provide wide latitude for 501(c)(3) nonprofits to lobby.

Organizations can advocate in support of a particular issue (such as preserving the charitable deduction)

  • Includes supporting or opposing a specific bill
  • Includes asking colleagues and the general public to support a position
  • Includes meeting with elected officials to share information about your organization and those it serves

But advocacy CANNOT be a substantial part of the organization’s activities.

  • Use the IRS test: a variety of factors such as time devoted (by both compensated and volunteer workers) and the expenditures devoted by the organization to the activity
  • Organizations can spend 20% of the first $500,000 of annual expenditures on lobbying ($100,000), 15% of the next $500,000, and so on, up to $1 million dollars.

Nor can organizations participate in or fiscally support political campaigns for candidates in any public office.

  • Organizations are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
  • Organizations cannot give contributions to political campaign funds or make public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.

Advocacy Is a Lot Like Fundraising
I think fundraisers were born to advocate. Simply act like it’s a donor meeting and do all of the preparation and follow through you would when cultivating and soliciting a donor.

  • Prepare thoroughly and do your homework. Familiarize yourself with your elected officials: their bios, backgrounds, roles on committees and voting records
  • Schedule a meeting with the appropriate elected official to introduce yourself, your nonprofit and the services you provide to your community (aka the elected official’s district). You can find your legislators’ names and contact information here.
  • If legislation is being developed or pending, make a clear request. Carefully frame the need for supporting or opposing the proposed legislation and how it could positively or negatively impact your nonprofit and people who rely on its services.
  • Establish a relationship with the elected official that allows you to serve as a resource on issues related to your mission and the philanthropic sector. Cultivate the relationship. This means making more than one contact. Consider inviting him/her to tour your organization and meet some of your staff, donors, volunteers and those you serve (aka the legislator’s constituents who vote). This also means having the facts and data you will need to support your case at your fingertips.

There are numerous advocacy resources available to help nonprofit Boards, staff and volunteers improve their organizations and better serve their communities. Here are just a few:

  • Independent Sector. Its mission is to advance the common good by leading, strengthening and mobilizing the nonprofit and philanthropic community. A leadership network for nonprofits, foundations and corporations committed to advancing the common good, its nonpartisan coalition’s networks collectively represent tens of thousands of organizations and individuals locally, nationally and globally.
  • Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). AFP represents more than 30,000 members in more than 230 chapters around the world, working to advance philanthropy through advocacy, research, education and certification programs. AFP fosters development and growth of fundraising professionals and promotes high ethical standards in the fundraising profession.
  • National Council of Nonprofits. A network of State Associations and 25,000-plus members, this is the nation’s largest network of nonprofits, serving as a central coordinator and mobilizer to help nonprofits achieve greater collective impact in local communities across the country.
  • GovTrack.US. Tracks the United States Congress and helps Americans understand what is going on in their national legislature. GovTrack publishes the status of federal legislation and information about representatives and senators in Congress and can be used to track bills for updates or to get alerts.

Voices in the philanthropic sector – Board members, volunteers, staff and other professionals – have brought about some recent and very important advocacy victories – the permanency of three charitable giving incentives including the IRA charitable rollover and IRS withdrawal of its proposed rule on charitable gift substantiation. Advocacy works. But it’s up to all of us in the philanthropic sector to make it work.