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A great story makes all the difference in getting big fundraising gifts

Telling Stories in Fundraising - Sandy Rees, fundraising coach

Each month, members of the Get Fully Funded Club are treated to a webinar lead by an expert in fundraising resource development.  Our club webinar this month was so good I wanted to share a few takeaways with you.

Our presenter was Lori Jacobwith of Lori is a master storyteller and she shared some of her storytelling genius with us.

Stories move us. Stories create unforgettable, deep emotional connection. Fundraising is based on emotion, so it makes sense that telling a story is a great way to engage a donor or prospect emotionally. If you’ve been reading this blog very long, you know I’m a huge advocate for telling stories about the people whose lives have been changed by the work your organization does.

Can you tell a bad story? You sure can.  Make it boring, make it too long, and add enough jargon and you’ll love people. What makes a story work? Short enough to be interesting and long enough to include the pertinent points. 

Telling Your Story As a Fundraising Tool

The secret to telling stories, according to Lori, is this: convey your impact through real people.  Tell a story that people can relate to. Add enough details that the listener or reader can see a picture in their mind of the person you’re describing.  Tell about the results and the transformation. Talk about how that person’s life is different now.

People give because they want to make a difference, be a part of something bigger, and feel good about their decision to make a gift.  What they get in return for their gift is a tax receipt, added to mailing list, and maybe some information about what the organization has done.  Look at the disconnect!  No wonder our biggest problem is donor retention!

It’s our job as Fundraising staff to go find the stories. Don’t expect your co-workers to bring them to you on a silver platter.  And don’t expect to get great stories if you ask for stories from co-workers.  They don’t necessarily know what you want or need.  Invest the time to ask good questions and you’ll get juicy story material.

Lori shared a great quote with us, and I’ll share it here with you:

People will forget what you said, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.

You can get Lori’s step-by-step guide to storytelling for free at I highly recommend you grab it, so you can get started telling great stories!

Oh, and if you’d like to know how you can join the Get Fully Funded club, go to

Motivational Monday: Get the Best Out of Others

Have you ever noticed that when you are working hard and doing your best that you inspire the same in others around you?

Isn’t that what leadership is about? Being your best so that others have permission to be their best.



Saying goodbye to a fundraising event

Saying Goodbye to a fundraising event - Sandy Rees Fundraising CoachSpecial events have their place in a well-rounded fundraising program. They can generate buzz about your organization, help you gain exposure to new audiences, and give you a break from other fundraising activities.

But sometimes an event starts to lose its luster. And you have to stop doing it.

It can be a tough decision to make, but the time comes when you must decide to stop hosting a particular event.

Here are some signs that the time has come:

  • Revenue from the event is slipping.
  • Fewer people are attending.
  • It is becoming more difficult to get Board members and volunteers excited about the event.
  • Media sponsors aren’t interested anymore.
  • Corporate sponsors aren’t interested either.
  • If you included labor cost in your financial summary, you would definitely be losing money on the event.

Unless the event is accomplishing something specific that you aren’t getting through any other channel (awareness or friend-raising), it’s time to shut it down.


I remember working at the Food Bank and the time came to stop doing a 5K race that we had done for several years. We just weren’t raising enough money to justify doing it, and we had several other events during the year that were satisfying our need for publicity.

It was a tough decision, but we made it, and stopped holding that event. It was very freeing actually. And we had time and energy to put into other things.

What else could you be doing if you spent that time, money and energy on other fundraising efforts?

Maybe, just maybe, it is time to say goodbye to that special event and hello to a new way of raising money.

The Nonprofit Secret: The Six Principles of Successful Board/CEO Partnerships

The Nonprofit Secret: The Six Principles of Successful Board/CEO PartnershipsI bought this book after hearing author Jonathan Schick speak at a conference in Dallas, and I was delighted.  It’s a quick read, and full of nuggets of wisdom.

If you’re trying to figure out how your Board and Executive Director should be working together, this book will give you a good idea.  Interwoven with the “how to” is an engaging story of a fictitious organization and the leadership issues they face.

 Here are the 6 principles Jonathan presents:

  1. The Board focuses on governance, not management.
  2. The Board has one employee: the CEO.
  3. The CEO has only one employer: the Board as a whole.
  4. The Board creates committees to help accomplish its own job, not the CEO’s.
  5. The Board evaluates its CEO through an Executive Support and Appraisal Team (ESAT)
  6. The Board conducts its own self-appraisal.

 And here are some of the passages I highlighted in the book:

  •  When a person’s qualities and abilities are being used to the hilt, they will be most happy to engage in a mission they believe in. I totally agree! When Board members start to miss meetings, it’s a sign they are becoming disengaged. You have to act quickly to get them re-engaged or you’ll lost them.
  • Board committees are created to support the work of the board, not the work of the CEO or the staff.  Love this!  This could make a huge difference in the work of hundreds of boards across the world.
  • Know your role before you know your goal.  One of the biggest problems with nonprofit boards is that too many people are sitting on them who don’t know the first thing about being a good board member.  I think there’s a critical need for training for Board members, and this phrase points it out – know your role as a Board member before you engage in setting goals for the organization.


You can find The Nonprofit Secret on Amazon by clicking this link: The-Nonprofit-Secret-Principles-Partnerships.



Can your organization be Great?

I read “Good to Great and the Social Sectors” recently. I’m a big reader of all things nonprofit and there are a couple of things in this short book that really resonate with me.

The first thing in the book that struck me was the importance of leadership for a nonprofit. We all know that already, right? You’ve got to have a good Executive Director in place to keep the organization moving forward. The book talks about leaders being “ambitious first and foremost for the cause, the movement, the mission, the work – not themselves – and they have the will to do whatever it takes to make good on that ambition.” It goes on to talk about this leader having a combination of personal humility and professionalism. What a wonderful combination! Sounds like a “servant leader” to me. When I read it again, I think it applies to fundraisers as well – being committed to the cause and not themselves.

Another point in the book that really hit home for me is to get the right people on board. When I was responsible for hiring, I knew this to be true! The book suggests “getting and hanging on to the right people in the first place – those who are productively neurotic, those who are self-motivated and self-disciplined, those who wake up every day, compulsively driven to do the best they can because it is simply part of their DNA.”

You can’t teach someone how to always strive to be better. You have to hire that talent. But what about people who are already working for your organization who are stuck in the status quo? From the top leadership, you can shift the culture of your organization to encourage staff to reach for more. Be warned it can be like steering a cruise ship – direction can be moved only a little bit at a time.

Jim Collins, the author, writes, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”

How will you choose to be Great today?

4 Keys to Raising the Money of Your Dreams

Raising money can be easy or it can be hard – it’s your choice.

There are two things that make fundraising easy:  knowing (and doing) what works, and believing you can be successful. If you’re using tried and true fundraising and marketing strategies, you will raise money.  More importantly, if you believe in your cause and you’re passionate about the work your nonprofit is doing, you will raise BIG money.

Successful fundraising can be boiled down to 4 key components: Mindset, Mission, Marketing, and Money

Mindset is about what you think and what you believe.  It’s about getting (and keeping) your head in the game.  When you focus on the abundant possibilities you have for raising money, you’ll find fundraising to be simple and easy.  When you start thinking that your nonprofit is too small or the economy is bad, you’ll find fundraising to be difficult.  You see, what you think about is what you bring about.  Focus on the positive and you’ll have a positive experience.  Your mindset is 90% of your success or failure.


Successful fundraising = BIG money

Your Mission is what your nonprofit is here to accomplish, but too many times it’s expressed in verbiage that’s way too complicated for the average person to understand.  Consider creating and using a Mission Message.  A Mission Message is a simplified version of your mission that is easily shared and remembered.  It’s so easy to understand that even a small child could get it. 

Marketing is about finding those people who are likely to care about your nonprofit’s work and then giving them the chance to give.  Unfortunately, not everyone will care about your cause or want to support it.  So, to get the most return from your efforts, you must get clear about who you want to target and what you want to say.  Good marketing boils down to saying the right thing to the right people in the right way at the right time.

Money is something that every nonprofit needs yet most don’t have enough of.  In order to raise the money of your dreams, you must first know how much money you need.  You must be specific about the dollar amount you set as your goal. Then, you must overcome any negative beliefs you have about money.

What do you think about money?  Your beliefs will affect your behavior and results. Many people are uncomfortable with fundraising.  They’re scared to ask for money.  They hide behind a computer, writing grants and appeals, and they never get face-to-face with their donors.  And it’s too bad, because face-to-face is where the big money is.  To avoid discomfort, they use excuses, like “people won’t give because of the economy” or “we don’t have any rich donors” or “our Board won’t help with fundraising.”  Excuses lead to mediocrity. 

If you think fundraising is hard or that rich people are greedy, sleazy, or snobs, then you WILL have trouble raising money. If you’re afraid of things like rejection, failure, the unknown, humiliation, criticism, etc., you’re going to have trouble raising money.

To combat it, you must have passion in your cause, belief in yourself, hope, faith, and positive expectation.  You must be willing to do whatever it takes to raise money. You must adopt a “No Excuses” approach.  You must be so committed to your mission that you’re trying to work yourself out of a job.

  •  Always be looking for what works in your organization.  If it doesn’t work, either fix it or stop doing it.  Remember, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.
  •  Be persistent.  Don’t give up if one grant is declined or one ask doesn’t bear fruit.  Keep learning and improving your skills, and keep your eye on your goals.  Remember, when you do your job well, people will be helped and lives will be changed.
  •  Act as if it were impossible to fail.  It’s amazing what happens when you shift your thinking!  Just imagine what you could accomplish if you adopted this one belief.

 Working on your fundraising skills and your mindset is like bathing – you must do it regularly for it to work.


Sandy Rees, founder of, helps nonprofit leaders raise the money of their dreams and strengthen their Boards.  You can reach her at

What if no one wants to help the people you are helping?

What happens when the people you want to help aren’t seen as worthy of help? 

Jamaican Palm

Palm with Jamaican Pride overlooking the bay

This summer, I had the privilege of travelling to Montego Bay, Jamaica to lead a Board retreat for the Jamaican Christian School for the Deaf and Servant’s Heart Jamaica.  Both are amazing nonprofit organizations doing mighty work.

The country is beautiful (what tropical island isn’t?) but I was struck by the sheer poverty that most people faced. My guide told me that I probably saw more of the true island that 90% of the people who visit Jamaica. Apparently, when you stay inside the walls of the resorts, it’s a different experience than when you visit downtown.

I marveled at the way the staff of the Deaf School did so much with so little. Sophia, the school’s Director is fiercely dedicated to the children. She has personally adopted a couple of kids and she has dedicated her life to doing everything she can for the others.

One of the cultural differences that was a bit shocking to me was the lack of accommodations for people with disabilities in Jamaica.  No wheelchair accessibility, no Braille, etc.  In some of the stories I heard about the kids at the school, it sounded like their families viewed them as a burden and they were considered ‘throwaway.’ Still other stories indicated that not all the children were born deaf – some suffered untreated ear infections as babies that cost them their hearing.

So much sadness.  And yet these kids and their teachers were so happy to be at the Deaf School.  I couldn’t help but fall in love with it all!

Jamaican Christian School for the Deaf

Jamaican Christian School for the Deaf

I returned home with a renewed sense of how much STUFF we have as Americans and how much access to stuff we have.  If you want a box of nails, you have 5 or 6 choices of stores within a short distance, and each store has many choices.  Not so in Jamaica.  With most everything being imported to the island, choices are limited and prices are high.  Couple that with the limited job opportunities, and the high poverty becomes understandable.

The hardest thing for me was to hear that the Deaf School is experiencing a hardship.  Support has been down recently, and they are operating with a deficit.  I saw a note from Sophia recently where she said there is literally no food in the cupboards and the teachers haven’t been paid.

Their monthly budget is just under $14,000 per month.  Can you imagine running a school for 45 kids, with teachers, staff, vehicles, facilities costs, and more on that small amount?  I’m telling you, they are excellent at managing money!


I want to try to help them increase their monthly support, so I’m asking for your help. If you’d like to join me in changing the future for a throwaway child by giving the gift of education, please go to and designate your gift to Jamaican Christian School for the Deaf. 

For about $10 a day, you can provide the gift of a bright future to a child who desperately needs it. Won’t you join me in making a change?

Big Themes for Fundraising Success

Last weekend I had the privilege of speaking at the Ohio Habitat for Humanity conference. I work with lots of Habitat affiliates across the country and this was a treat to be at an event with hundreds of them!

I presented several sessions, and there were definitely some themes among the info I shared. Here are a few of the important ones.

First, you must be passionate about your work. If donors and potential donors don’t see you as excited about the work your nonprofit does, how do you expect them to get excited? Share your enthusiasm for your cause.

Next, accept that if your organization is doing something worthwhile, it’s worthy of receiving donations. Lots of donations. BIG donations. I’m astounded at the number of people who view their organization as “just a little nonprofit” and don’t see it as equal to other nonprofits. They say things like “Our mission isn’t sexy like _______.” “We don’t have major donors like _______ does.” “We can’t get the media’s attention like _______ does.” Do you see the stinkin’ thinkin’ here? When you think like this, you are actually setting the course for the future. You’re dooming your nonprofit to remain small. Here’s the truth: your nonprofit is just as worthy as any other nonprofit out there. So start acting like it.

Finally, you must believe that no matter what you hear on the news about the economy, there are people out there who want to support your cause and are willing to make a gift. (If you need to, read that sentence again and again.) It’s true. I heard from a client just the other day, that they reached their campaign goal already this year (and it’s just barely November!) and are in great shape to start 2012. Another client started 2011 with a cash surplus because they did so well last year during the holidays. I’m here to tell you that you are no different. You can do this too.

You can see that these themes apply to everyone, not just Habitat for Humanity. The success in fundraising happens when you use best practice fundraising techniques with a positive outlook, and you expect good things to happen.

Once you learn how to recognize and speak the truth, I bet you’ll find it incredibly freeing, and you’ll find fundraising to be easier and more fruitful.

In nonprofit fundraising, marketing is key to success

Marketing is something that many people think they understand, yet few really do. In nonprofit fundraising, marketing is key to success.

Fundraising marketing at its simplest is about finding the those people who are likely to care about your cause and giving them the chance to support you. It’s not necessarily about sales, although that’s one part. And it’s not just about advertising.

Marketing can be complicated for the nonprofit.

I just finished reading Robin Hood Marketing by Katya Andresen and I recommend it for every nonprofit.

Katya has a gift for making marketing concepts easily understandable. In this book, she identifies the basic marketing principles used by many corporations and shows nonprofits how to use them.

Here’s one of my favorite lines from the book:

“The key to marketing is to focus on our audience and not ourselves.”

If you simply focused on that and applied it to everything you do, you’d be well on your way to raising awareness and money for your organization.

Another of my favorites is

“Go beyond the big-picture mission and focus on getting people to take specific action.”

Everything you do should have a call to action. Otherwise it’s a waste of time. And don’t assume that people will know what to do. Spell it out for them. Make it easy for them to know exactly what you want them to do like sign up to volunteer, make a gift, come for a visit, etc.

Robin Hood Marketing is easy to read, with case studies and interviews sprinkled in.

One interviewee says “Know your audience and how they experience life. Then ask them to do something small.” Great advice! Small steps are easier to understand and easier to take than big ones.

You’ll find great information about creating partnerships, telling stories, crafting a message, working with the media, and more.

Already read it? I’d love to hear what you think!

Read more from Katya as she blogs at

Crowdfunding and how can you succeed

Many of my blog readers are on the lookout for something new and different in fundraising. Here’s a guest article on Crowdfunding from Sandip Sekhon at Go Get Funding. This may not be a fit for you, but it’s good to know what’s out there.

What is crowdfunding and how can you succeed?

Crowdfunding has been rapidly growing in popularity. From the far corners of the Internet, crowdfunding now regularly attracts mass media attention.

A quick lookup for the phrase ‘crowdfunding’ on Google Trends gives a tangible insight into the heightened interest as search volumes rocket.

But what is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding has all the basic principles of traditional fundraising but with a few distinct traits:

  • Crowdfunding efforts are usually conducted online
  • Fundraisers often entice pledges by offering non-financial rewards
  • Donations are typically quite small but benefits arise from the power of the crowd and collective involvement
  • Crowdfunding websites make it easy to browse through different types of projects and they create a community feel

The increased use of social media has been a huge driving force behind the success of this new type of online fundraising. Great projects, ideas and causes can now spread a lot faster than was previously possible.

How can you take advantage of crowdfunding?

If you need to need to raise money for something, at least some of your fundraising efforts should be conducted online. And it’s essential that you pick the crowdfunding platform that best meets your specific needs.

The two key differences between most crowdfunding websites are:

  1. How and when you are paid out. Some require you to reach your funding target whereas others pay you everything you raise immediately.
  2. What your fundraiser is about. Certain websites are restricted to a specific type of project whereas others are more flexible.

We at Go Get Funding allow all types of fundraisers. From creative projects to medical fundraisers and everything in between. On our site, you’re paid when your project hits its target and our funding flexibility allows you to change all aspects of your campaign even when it’s live.

How can I succeed at crowdfunding?

Here are our essential tips for creating a crowdfunding project that succeeds:

  • Include a thorough description. Talk about yourself, explain what you’re doing, how you’ll use the money and what rewards are on offer.
  • Add a video to your fundraiser – it’s proven to hugely increase the success of projects. It doesn’t need to be anything snazzy – a casual 2-minute video of you talking through your project will do.
  • Offer great rewards that would make you part with your money. Rewards could be a anything from a personal thank you on your website to a home-cooked meal or backstage passes to a special gig.
  • Promote your fundraiser to your own network of contacts and get the ball rolling. All too many people think donations will immediately pour in from the public but unfortunately this isn’t always the case.
  • Go beyond your personal network and connect with other people and communities that you think may be interested in your cause.

Succeeding at crowdfunding requires many of the same skills as traditional fundraising with the greater upside of getting donations from total strangers. If you put in enough effort, pledges will come.

So next time you need to run a fundraiser, take a crowdfunding approach!

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