You are viewing the "Blog" Archives

Advanced Cultivation Strategies: The Whisper in the Ear

Section: Blog

By Guest Blogger Peter Heller of Heller Fundraising Group


The biggest and best gifts come from direct personal conversations built on strong relationships. But how do those relationships start? The people you hope to have as your donors are not always easily accessible. As major gift fundraisers, we need to be on the lookout for opportunities to connect with our prospects. Here’s one of my favorite strategies. I call it “The Whisper in the Ear.” It is both simple and elegant because it provides vital forward momentum in the cultivation process that otherwise might not happen.

Who is The Whisper in the Ear good for? This strategy is for prospects who are already in your organization’s orbit to some degree, but you have not yet gotten close enough to have an easy dialogue, phone or email relationship. They are not total strangers nor pie-in-the-sky prospects (like Bill Gates); they are also not usually your closest friends, though there are occasional exceptions to this when you can’t get your friend’s attention.

When would you use the strategy? Use it primarily at events of any size or meetings that your prospect is attending. The event or meeting has a purpose that does NOT allow time for lengthy, focused attention between you and the prospect, and even if it did, discussing your organization’s fundraising agenda and their giving would just not be appropriate in this context.

How does it work? I said it was simple, and it is. At your event or meeting, you commit to at least a few moments of polite, engaging conversation with your prospect. During the conversation, you say The Whisper: “I am hoping I could call your office next week to schedule a time to meet so that I can…”

You might complete The Whisper with:

  • “…get to know you and your nonprofit interests.”
  • “…learn what excites you about our work.”
  • “…follow up on Sue’s letter regarding our campaign. Your views will help us shape our next steps.”

When you have The Whisper — you might:

  • Be introducing yourself for the first time;
  • Already know the prospect somewhat or even pretty darn well, but you just haven’t been able to get that vital first meeting;
  • Not even be doing the whispering yourself but coaching your Executive Director or Board member to do the deed.

The Whisper in the Ear strategy rarely gets a negative reply and has started many long-lasting nonprofit relationships that couldn’t otherwise get off the ground. Give it a try!


Peter runs the Heller Fundraising Group located in NYC with clients everywhere. They focus on helping nonprofits build Capital Campaigns and Major Gift Programs, and they would love to hear from you: [email protected]


Planning your First Gala?

Section: Blog

Whether it’s your organization’s first gala, or simply your first time planning a gala, proper planning goes a along way. Sharnell Bryan of The Chronicle of Philanthropy shares advice from people who have run special events to help make your first gala a success:

Form a committee: Form a committee early (9 months to a year prior to event) and be sure to include people who have large networks of friends and professional associates, as well as experience in planning events. Mix trustees with staff members and rank-and-file volunteers who have a true passion for your mission.

Choose event wisely: Plan an event that is related to your organization’s mission. A charity’s locale and its ties to community groups play a big role in what sorts of fundraising events will be successful, in terms of attendance, sponsorships and fundraising potential.

Estimate potential return on investment: Research is important when choosing a fundraising event to determine an event’s costs, feasibility and likely success. Events that honor a prominent local leader generally make money, as long as expenses stay lean.

Budget carefully: Experts suggest establishing a budget for the event before doing anything else. Start with the biggest expenses, such as food, beverages, catering, location and marketing.

Reserve a location well in advance: Space should be secured up to a year in advance — as soon as the organization has established a firm date.

Delegate intelligently: Some tasks are ideal for volunteers, such as stuffing envelopes, checking arriving guests into an event, selling raffle tickets, and preparing gift bags. Staff members are best suited for responsibilities requiring greater accountability, like managing the charity’s donor information.

Seek sponsorships: Corporate sponsors can help defray the cost of the event. Nonprofit groups have to make it clear what benefits the sponsor will receive, as they will expect meaningful of recognition in return for their donation.

Spread the word: What good is an event, if people don’t know about it? Charities can get free publicity by persuading local newspapers and websites to post announcements. Post information about the event on an event page or website. Send out email blasts and post about the event on social media, and encourage others to post socially, as well.

Expect the unexpected: Even after all the planning is done, don’t get complacent on the day of the event. Even the best-laid plans can still go awry. Be flexible and expect some glitches.

Remember the mission: Taking time to remind attendees about the charity’s mission will make the occasion more meaningful. Attendees should know why they’re there and the positive effect their support will have.

Give thanks: Let donors, staff members, and volunteers know that their support is appreciated. The follow-up after the event is the most important part. It’s the most fertile period for cultivating those who attended and thanking the people who helped put the event on.

To read this article in its entirety, click here.

Treating Event Sponsors as Major Gifts Prospects

Section: Blog

Do you treat event sponsors like one night stands? Many organizations are guilty of this practice and it can make an individual or business feel used, undervalued and less than invested in your organization’s success. Icema Gibbs, Director or Corporate Social Responsibility at JetBlue, said at a recent AFP event, “I gave a large donation to an organization for its event and I thought we were dating.  But when the phone call never came, I realized I was just one of many.”

Instead of taking an event-centric approach, focus on cultivating long-term relationships with event sponsors. Give them the same level of respect and the same mindset you bring to prospects for major gifts.

Kristin Steele of Swaim Strategies said in a recent webcast, “If we can create emotional resonance between our organizations and our donors, we’re going to evolve out of the transactional relationship that we have with them. When people feel they’re treated like a checkbook, eventually they’re going to move on to someplace they’re seen as people taking action to change the world.” Steele continues, “The event is an opportunity. When people walk into a room and the event wraps its arms around them and brings them into the organization, they feel like they’re a part of something.”

Here are some tips to help you change up your event approach:

1) Research and Target Prospects
Too often, event sponsorships are solicited via a onetime letter and a follow up call. Instead of using this “shotgun” method of reaching out to a large number of unsubstantiated prospects, selectively target a “Top 10” list of prospects and dig in.

Find these prospects by talking to people who already support your mission: board members, community supporters and even existing sponsors. Who else do they know for you to approach? Remember, you’re just asking for recommendations. By offering to do the heavy lifting, aka “the ask,” you make it more likely they’ll participate with suggestions.

Do your research of that person’s or company’s past community giving and see if you can identify any patterns. Utilize a Donor Search firm to help your organization pinpoint your most likely prospects for long-term engagement. Look for “signs”, such as previous donations to your organization or a similar nonprofit and review personal information, such volunteering history and membership on boards. (Learn more about prospect screening.)

Add these prospects to your newsletter lists, mailings and holiday appeal letters and then communicate with them regularly. This will foster familiarity and will ensure they’ll have some awareness of the work you do by the time you reach out and ask for a substantive contribution.

2) Talk to Potential Sponsors
In Major Gifts, “asks” are personalized and done in person. To acquire major corporate sponsors for your event, follow suit by asking for an appointment. Remember, your contact at the sponsor is a “real person” and people give to people, most often for emotional versus logical reasons. Be prepared to illustrate what your organization is doing and invite your prospective sponsors, as individuals, to participate. Getting prospects personally involved will directly affect their company’s involvement.

Build a compelling case as to why this potential sponsor should be invested in your organization’s mission. When you meet, know your statistics and the impact of your mission’s work on their own employee base. For example, if you work in a mental health agency, you might cite the statistic that up to one third of Americans report they’ve struggled with mental health issues. Then, break this down to the number of people in the company who may be affected and possibly helped by your agency. Make the case that your agency helps their company be more stable by providing a valuable service to the community.

Ask questions to determine their “sweet spots” and motivations:

  • Do they have any direct connections to your work?
  • What do they look to gain from supporting your organization?
  • What can you offer to make supporting you more appealing?
  • Is it in their interest to engage their employees to volunteer for your agency?
  • Can you plan a day on site to discuss your work and rally employees behind the mission?
  • Would they be interested in spending time getting to know your nonprofit personally?

3) Propose a Multi-Year Commitment
Let the company know that the problems you tackle are not a “quick fix.” Ask for a 3-5 year commitment of annual sponsorship dollars or donations. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And any good business person should understand that successful ventures are not realized without a multi-year investment. This is good business and a “major gifts” strategy that has been proven to work.

Your long term donors are people and organizations that you are able to move along your cultivation cycle because they’re known donors. They feel valued and validated in their generosity and in supporting your organization.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The “Godmother” of Rock’n’Roll

Section: Blog

You’ve heard of Elvis Presley. And we’re going to guess you’ve also heard of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. So why is it you’re not familiar with the person credited for inspiring these legendary performers?

She’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a gifted guitarist and the undisputed godmother of rock’n’roll. Her list of musical disciples reads like a who’s-who of legendary ‘50s and ‘60s figures. Tharpe’s unique guitar style blended urban blues with traditional folk music and incorporated a pulsating swing sound that is one of the first clear precursors of rock and roll. All this in the 1930s and ’40s — way before anyone had even coined a term for this kind of music.

She was born Rosetta Nubin in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas to parents who were both performers. Her mother was a singer, preacher and mandolin player for the Church of God In Christ, who encouraged her daughter’s participation in music. Young Rosetta quickly became a musical prodigy. After a move to Chicago, Tharpe became prominent in that city’s gospel music scene. In 1934 at 19 years old, she married a minister named Thomas Thorpe, but they divorced shortly thereafter. Rosetta kept his last name, slightly altering it to “Tharpe.”

Upon signing with Decca Records in 1938, Tharpe issued singles that were instant smashes. Tharpe dared to play guitar aggressively at a time when female guitarists of any discipline were rare. This eventually lead to her falling out of favor in the gospel world, as she crossed over into more mainstream music.

In the spring of 1964, Tharpe toured Europe as part of the Blues and Gospel Caravan. A concert, in the rain, was recorded at an old railway station in Manchester, England. The band performed on one platform while the audience was seated on the opposite platform. View this legendary performance here, and keep your ears open for some amazing guitar solos. Tharpe enjoyed several late-career highlights, including a 1967 performance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

Her health quickly deteriorated in the early 1970s. Tharpe passed away in Philadelphia in 1973 as a result of complications from multiple strokes. Learn more about Sister Rosetta Tharpe in a biography by Gayle Wald.


iPads Bring e-Journal Back to the Table

Section: Blog

Have you contemplated taking your ad journal digital, but faced push-back from stakeholders who insist the journal belongs ON the table? Well, here is the solution. Your e-journal can be showcased in elegant tabletop iPad displays for easy viewing from every seat!

iPads can be synced to play in unison for a dramatic “wow” factor — guests simply watch the e-journal “pages” turn. For a more casual event, iPads can be set to interactive mode, allowing guests to flip through ads and take selfies to post to social media, complete with your event hashtag. The display frames can be customized with thematic artwork or with the logo of a major underwriter for an extra level of recognition.

iPads can be used in conjunction with or in lieu of large presentation screens. Now, with Event Journal, the choice is yours. If you would like to learn more about this elegant event technology, click here.

Unveiling Event Journal’s sexy, new platform

Section: Blog

Event Journal’s new EJ:17 platform has launched and, yes, we said sexy! Think of it as Event Journal’s same great product — with an extreme makeover. While EJ:17 will officially roll out in the new year, just like a new car, it’s being pre-released for December events.  Some of its new features include:

  • Sleek, responsive design
  • Improved social media interaction
  • Full screen splash page
  • Customizable “Enter Site” button
  • Top and left Navigation options
  • Upgraded settings for sponsor recognition tiles
  • Enhanced ad gallery featuring larger ads
  • Expanded photo gallery and sharing features
  • New font varieties

We know clients and supporters alike will love the new framework, especially when viewing the websites on mobile devices. Take a look!  View sample website

6 facts you should learn about your fundraising event attendees

Section: Blog

Guest Blogger Sarah Tedesco, Executive VP, DonorSearch

Maybe the big day of your fundraising event is just around the corner. Maybe it just wrapped up and you’re cleaning up decorations. Maybe you just formed a committee and are months away.

Whatever stage of fundraising event coordination you’re in, it’s never the wrong time to think about the role prospect screening can play.

What’s prospect screening? Prospect screening, or research, is the process through which an organization studies data on its donors and potential donors to gauge their giving capacity.

Throughout this process, nonprofits learn main facts that help them determine a prospect’s:

  • Warmth toward their organization
  • Ability to give a gift

Both of which are the key to understanding what makes a donor tick. Once a nonprofit has that information, they can leverage it to design the most effective solicitation strategy possible.

Since your fundraising event attendees are all either established donors or prospective hopefuls, it’s critical that your team finds the time to screen your guest lists.

No matter the timing, as you begin your research, there are some important facts to look out for in your search. They include the following categories:

1. Contact Information and Basic Personal Details
2. Past Giving History
3. Philanthropic Involvement
4. Professional Connections
5. Predicted Giving Level
6. Wealth Markers

From these knowledge categories, you’ll be able to build out robust donor profiles and solicit donations from your event attendees in no time.

Just like donor engagement should occur before during and after an event, prospect research can have a role in all three phases:

  • Before: To decide whom to invite.
  • During: To decide which attendees warrant extra attention.
  • After: To decide the best plans for follow up and stewardship.

To learn more, please click HERE to order your FREE 8-page white paper, written by Sarah Tedesco, Executive Vice President of DonorSearch. It is filled with useful information to help you get the most out of your organization’s next event.


What to Do Now to Ward off Fraudulent Donations

Section: Blog

Guest Columnist: Marc W. Halpert, egiving

Online donations are designed to be easy for donors to use. Unfortunately they can be easy targets for thieves too, seeking a testing place for stolen credit card data to make false donations, hundreds of them in a flash. There is an upswing in nonprofits being attacked online. When you discover your donation site has been compromised, you feel vulnerable, lacking full control, and worst of all, have to explain to your management and Board why this happened.

Here’s what can happen:

The thief purchased thousands of stolen credit card records on the internet and blasted that data at your website donation page, hoping some would succeed. Then knowing which few credit cards actually did work, he goes off to another website and uses them again, for a higher amount, perhaps this time for electronics or other items. The game is over when the cardholder’s bank notices the card has been used irregularly and cancels it. Thieves seem to start with small dollar donations at nonprofits, under bank radar screens for meaningful fraud transactions. They are hoping nonprofits are not as aware of their bank account activity and cash flow as are for-profits. Wrong assumption, but this is the mentality.

In retrospect, when you are tested with fraudulent donations, your online donation mechanism functioned fine; you didn’t set the controls on your gateway and donation page tightly enough. (A gateway is the online service that links a donation page to the merchant accounts. It’s also the place where the current day and historic donation data is stored for bank account reconciliation and statistical purposes.)

Before this happens to your organization, consider procedures to prevent and control future abuse (easily accomplished with the assistance of your merchant account and/or gateway vendors).  Give careful forethought to implement some, if not all, of these:

  • Set a minimum dollar threshold on your gateway to preclude small bogus transactions (in recent cases, 7 cents or $1.03) from slipping through.
  • Address verification service (AVS) must be enabled on your gateway. You want the combined house number AND the 5 digit zip code of the cardholder to match the AVS algorithm used by the card brands to successfully process a card.
  • Some well-regarded gateways allow you to block computer IP addresses in selected foreign countries. As an option you can set the gateway to reject all but those in the USA, if appropriate for your donor base.
  • Ask your web developer to identify the thief’s IP address. Set the cart to recognize that IP address in the future and automatically direct him to a government website (like
  • Think about including a CAPTCHA or “I am not a robot” challenge-response test as well. You want a human to make a donation, and these block fraudulent robo-processing.
  • Be sure donations are reported to multiple email boxes so at least one of your fellow staff will notice immediately if a vulnerability occurs. If staffers work outside of the office, be sure transaction notifications buzz on their cellphones. Thieves assume you are not watching and can work their mayhem on weekends and in the middle of the night.
  • Some strong gateways use artificial intelligence and report to you anything that seems awry. They work 24x7x366. Be sure you can heed their warning to multiple staff cellphones at any time.
  • Manually reverse every successful transaction that doesn’t belong to you via the gateway refund function (immediately!). Your fee for a chargeback (when a consumer declines a purchase by starting a documentary process with his bank to reverse the card transaction) is usually $25. Prevent being hit with $25,000 in charge-back fees if you receive 1,000 7-cent fraudulent transactions!
  • If you have a concern, contact your merchant account salesperson immediately so he/she can advise you how to best notify the fraud experts of the online payment vendors you use. There are established fraud protocols that card processors and gateways follow.
  • Finally, review your transactions at least daily. Pay attention to which ones failed, look for patterns of odd transactions and report them immediately by phone, not via an online service ticket, for fastest servicing.

I hope you never need to use these controls, after the fact. Heed this advice to tighten controls now, align with best-in-class service vendors who have your ongoing security top of mind, and ask them to help you become better protected. Nothing is foolproof but you need a procedure in place to be able to react quickly if this does indeed happen to your nonprofit.

For 15 years, Marc W. Halpert has made a point of providing nonprofits the customized design and service for secure online donations, gala ticketing, membership dues payments, event registration and specialized payment technologies that make sense for YOUR organization’s particular needs, with expert attention to detail. For more information or to contact Marc, click here.

Putting Donors to Work Can Help You Raise More

Section: Blog


Does your organization have a major donor who has reached a giving plateau or, even worse, decreased his or her contribution level? Perhaps that’s because you are only asking for money. Investing major donors in your organization — personally, can lead to greater financial investment.

One of the primary mistakes non-profits make is assuming major donors would shy away from volunteering. Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority explains that, given the right opportunity, established donors might be thrilled to pitch in. Hands-on experience will lead to a better understanding of your organization’s mission, yielding a deeper connection. This can translate into a greater financial investment. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, and re-ignite your donor’s passion for your work.

Read this article in its entirety at The Fundraising Authority

Celebrating Amazing Women: Lillian D. Wald, Social Service Pioneer

Section: Blog

What do the NAACP, the Visiting Nurse Association and the Henry Street Settlement all have in common? They were all founded by nurse, author and humanitarian Lillian D. Wald. In 1922, The New York Times named Wald as one of the 12 greatest living Americans. Who was this woman who accomplished so much in her 73 years, and practically invented the blueprint for the modern-day social service agency?

Wald was born in 1867 into a German-Jewish middle-class family in Cincinnati, Ohio and came to New York in 1889 to attend nursing school. In 1893, after witnessing the poverty of Lower East Side immigrants, she founded the Henry Street Settlement. In an era when poor patients were routinely turned away from hospitals, Wald and her team provided free healthcare, often risking their own lives to enter squalid tenements and exposing themselves to illness. The  Visiting Nurse Service of New York broke off as a separate entity in 1944.

Henry Street also provided social services and instruction in everything from the English language to art to music. By 1913, the Settlement had expanded to seven buildings, with 92 nurses making 200,000 visits per year. Today, the Henry Street Settlement remains firmly rooted on Lower East Side of Manhattan, where it continues to service an ethnically-diverse community.

Wald was also an advocate for children, labor, immigrant, civil and women’s rights. She helped institute the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the United States Children’s Bureau, the National Child Labor Committee and the National Women’s Trade Union League.

While we could go on for pages about this leader of extraordinary compassion, there are a variety of books available on Wald and her legacy. You can learn more about the impact of settlement houses, in anecdotal format, in Anita Diamant’s best-selling novel Boston Girl.