impact stories blog


“Distance means so little, when life means so much.”

-Amit Kalantri






Don’t Go Dark on Your Donors

We are all in uncharted territory. To be fair, the decisions are coming at a rapid pace for many organizations.

But we do know this . . . you MUST keep in touch with your donors. If we do this right, it’s possible to not only use this moment to maintain relationships, but actually deepen them. People are opening their hearts in new ways. They are looking for ways to define who they are and how they can help. They are connecting with their deepest values.

Donors are looking to trusted organizations for a way to make sense of this, to find their footing and to express their values in the world. So, please don’t go dark on your donors now. Here are five ways to stay in touch that will pay dividends later:

  1. Continue sending stewardship materials. People—at least those without small children home from school—have more time to fully read your newsletters or impact reports right now. Sharing your organization’s stories and updates gives your donors something to read other than the increasingly frightening news. And, they get to see how they’re making a difference, even at this difficult time.
  2. If your major gift officers have been grounded from travel, start making phone calls to donors to just check in on them. This is also a great time to try texting your donors using Hustle or another platform. Everyone is home and this is a great time to connect and say, “thank you,” “how are you?” and “our ability to respond during this crisis is thanks to you.” Check on them as if they are a family member, because they are!
  3. Increase your presence on social media. Provide updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and all your social platforms on an accelerated schedule. Make sure team members who are working at home are geared up to engage and be responsive to all social media and blog posts. Create opportunities for donors to engage with you by taking an action, filling out a survey, or sending a message to others in need.
  4. Add a mention of donor advised fund gifts in all communications. Consider adding a buckslip about DAFs to your mailings. Some donors may be feeling nervous about money (though we shouldn’t assume that), but many people already have funds in a DAF that are designated for charity. Now is the time for donors to use them!
  5. Form a development contingency planning task force. Look ahead to all fundraising and stewardship efforts for the next six months, and ask, how can we make this stronger? Perhaps add an extra appeal to your very best donors? Or an additional stewardship touch? More emails? A homepage shadow box takeover? It’s time to get creative.

YOU have the power to help your donors fulfill their hopes and dreams for humanity at this very difficult time. Don’t deprive them of that. And, remember, we are all in this together. If you want to discuss anything about your fundraising program, reach out to us by email and we can schedule a time to talk, free of charge. The work you do is important and we are here to help.

-By Kathy Swayze


“With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts”.

-Eleanor Roosevelt






Have You Recession-Proofed Your Fundraising?

The blog post originally appeared last October but the words are especially relevant RIGHT NOW. So as we all hunker down at home, here are some thoughts to help weather the storm.

The pundits are beginning to use the dreaded “R” word—recession. If you haven’t started thinking about how your organization will weather the next recession, now is the time.

The last recession, dubbed the Great Recession, officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. But nonprofit organizations continued to feel the effects for years afterward. Here are three ways to begin preparing now:

 1.  Anticipate increased need for your services.

When people are struggling financially, they turn to our nonprofit sector for help.

In 2011, the Nonprofit Finance Fundsurveyed 1,935 U.S. nonprofits. Most of the organizations saw an increased demand for their services in 2008, 2009, and 2010—with 77% reporting an increased demand by 2010. Throughout the recession, organizations reported being unable to keep up with growing need.

Especially if you’re a direct service organization, your community is counting on you—and they’ll turn to you even more during a financial crisis. Begin planning now for a spike in demand. How will you increase your staff or volunteer capacity to accommodate more clients? What financial resources and reserves are available? Are there other organizations you can partner with to scale up during a crisis?

  1. Fight for continued investment in fundraising.

 Having to cut budgets and reduce program expenses is always painful. During the last recession, many groups made across the board cuts to all parts of the budget—including fundraising expenses.

That’s the wrong approach. Spending less on fundraising precisely when fundraising just got a whole lot harder is misguided. It creates a downward spiral that ultimately creates even more of a crisis and further cuts to your programmatic work.

As our friend Mal Warwick said in an excellent piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “If the choice arises between cutting back slightly on programs or slashing the fundraising budget, you may shoot yourself in the foot if you opt for the latter. It doesn’t take long to destroy an effective fundraising operation— and then where will your programs be?”

Fight for your fundraising dollars. As a development professional, you provide the fuel that makes your entire organization work. And an investment in your efforts pays dividends for everyone.

  1. Don’t lose sight of how generous your donors are.

 We all know that philanthropic giving took a big hit during the last recession. According to a study out of Stanford:

“Total giving in 2008 fell by 7 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, from $326.6 billion to $303.8 billion. In 2009, matters worsened, with charitable giving dropping another 6.2 percent to approximately $284.9 billion.”

Ouch. But here’s the other part of the story: when the recession hit, everyday donors saved the day.  Even as Americans tightened their belts financially, most kept giving to help others and some gave more.  That same Stanford study reported that giving to food banks in 40 cities rose by 31.9% from 2008 to 2009.”

 So, when recession hits, remember how generous your donors are. Reach out to major donors with specific requests to help you close gaps; add an additional appeal and tell donors you need them to dig deep in hard times. This is the precisely the reason you have donors. They will be there for you when you need them. Don’t be afraid to ask them to do more.

We’d love to hear from you about how your organization weathered the last recession. Just drop us a line, or post in the comments below.


Photo credit: Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license 



10 Tips for Communicating with Donors During a Crisis

As fellow humans, our hearts go out to all people around the world whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic and the volatile economy. As fundraisers, our thoughts turn to our clients and other charitable organizations who depend on fundraising dollars to keep their doors open and their missions moving forward.

For all nonprofits, it is wise to expect some impact to your bottom line—and plan accordingly. So, what can you do NOW to strengthen donor relationships and minimize the impact on your campaigns? Here are 10 tips to follow in the days and weeks ahead:

  1. Conduct a regular, short communications meeting that includes people, across multiple departments, who communicate with your donors and the public. This might be daily or two times a week. Especially now, it’s important for your messaging to be consistent from all departments.
  2. Don’t try to connect the disaster to your mission unless there is a genuine connection. It will feel forced and false.
  3. Make sure that the fundraising messages you are sending deliver a clear and compelling description of YOUR urgent need for funds. If donors are forced to support fewer charities, make sure they understand why your organization should stay on the top of their list.
  4. Consider adding an additional “urgent” appeal or email campaign to your best donor segments. Loyal donors can be counted on to fill the gap in tough times. In this case, you can reference the crisis and any shortfall that has resulted.
  5. Provide information on your website home page about how your organization is responding to the crisis. For example, if you are cancelling programs or working remotely, make it easy for people to find this information.
  6. Consider an email from your CEO or President to your major and mid-level donors, simply letting them know you are thinking of them during this challenging time. Do not ask for anything. And provide them with a phone number for someone on your staff to reach out to.
  7. Consider adding some follow up phone calls to key segments of your donor base to boost response to letters and email campaigns.
  8. Be prepared. Even with your best efforts, this year’s campaigns might be a bit soft. Begin planning now for ways to augment any shortfalls in your campaigns.
  9. Don’t forget internal communications. Keeping your staff well informed about organizational decisions during a crisis can reduce stress and help people keep their “eyes on the prize” in terms of their work.
  10. Finally, keep your own community strong by donating generously to the front line organizations that are assisting your most vulnerable neighbors during the crisis.

Photo credit: eGuide Travel Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0) license

What To Do With Handraisers?

I know I am not the only planned gift officer who has been frustrated by this: you have an excellent response to some marketing effort, but when you try to call the donors who responded to further develop the relationship, they never answer the phone or email. Or, worse yet, they assume you are a telemarketer and hang up the phone.

In 15 years as a planned giving officer, this was one of my biggest frustrations. I mean, why even bother telling me you are interested if you won’t take my call to follow up?!?! Am I right?

Well…simply put…no. No, I am wrong.

See, we didn’t just ask the donors if they were interested in a planned gift. We unknowingly also asked the donors if they were interested in communicating with us by mail. And then we assumed that they would also like to get phone calls from us.

Don’t assume they are no longer interested in a gift if they don’t return your call. Acknowledge that the donor has expressed a preference for communicating by writing – at least for now. And continue to further the conversation either through a one-to-one letter or a one-to-some letter you produce a few times a year just for these “handraisers” who don’t respond to your personal outreach.

– By Meg Roberts



“I think a potluck is the best metaphor for a diverse democracy…a place where different identities contribute…diversity is not just the identities you like…America is a potluck nation.” -Eboo Patel @EbooPatel #upswell2019






3 Fundraising Listens for My Fellow Podcast Addicts

I’m pretty much your stereotypical podcast addict. (And if you are too, let’s chat about the latest Radiolab, Thirst Aid Kit, or Magnus Archives sometime.) Lately, I’ve been enjoying listening to smart people from the nonprofit world grapple with tough issues and share helpful tips.

Here are three podcasts I have queued up in my feed right now…

  1. Tiny Spark Produced by The Nonprofit Quarterly, Tiny Spark tackles some of the biggest challenges facing the philanthropic world, from the white savior complex to building a more inclusive environmental movement. I found their episode on the ethics of nonprofit storytelling with trauma survivors to be especially thought provoking.
  2. Inside Social Innovation With SSIR The Impact team often turns to Stanford Social Innovation Review for current insights into the social change landscape. Did you know they also have a podcast, featuring case studies and more from leaders in the social impact sector?
  3. First Day Podcast If you’re looking for a quick shot of fundraising education with your morning coffee, the First Day Podcast from Lilly Family School of Philanthropy may be just the thing. Each episode is just about 10 minutes long, and features tips, research, and timely advice from industry experts

 What’s in your podcast queue these days? Please share your favorites!






“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”


-Martin Luther King, Jr.

What We’re Reading (And You Should Too): Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown

adrienne maree brown, an activist, social justice facilitator, healer, and doula as well as author, has been part of many social justice movements in recent years, including Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street. Her book explores what she’s learned from her experiences as an organizational leader — but does not follow the traditional nonfiction narrative format. Instead, brown’s exploration weaves song lyrics, quotes, diagrams, and poetry together with concrete advice and big-picture thinking.

Her core tenets of emergent strategy can go a long way for nonprofits — and their staff! In brown’s words:

  1. The large is a reflection of the small
  2. Change is constant
  3. There is always enough time for the right work.
  4. There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this moment can have. Find it.
  5. Never a failure, always a lesson
  6. Trust the People
  7. Move at the speed of trust
  8. Focus on critical connections more than critical mass—build the resilience by building the relationships
  9. Less prep, more presence
  10. What you pay attention to grows

brown’s work applies concepts from ecology to social justice movements – the work that many of our clients, and other nonprofit organizations, are doing right now. Their book-length exploration of these themes weaves together a patchwork of practical ways to rethink and reshape the work one does, as well as the world around them.

In short, it is a how-to guide for changing the world, and a fun and fascinating read to boot. And who among us can’t benefit from that?

Read three brief excerpts below:

“We are in an imagination battle.

Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and Renisha McBride and so many others are dead because, in some white imagination, they were dangerous. And that imagination is so respected that those who kill, based on an imagined, radicalized fear of Black people, are rarely held accountable.

Imagination has people thinking they can go from being poor to a millionaire as part of a shared American dream. Imagination turns Brown bombers into terrorists and white bombers into mentally ill victims. Imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race as an indicator of ability. I often feel I am trapped inside someone else’s capability. I often feel I am trapped inside someone’ else’s imagination, and I must engage my own imagination in order to break free.”

“We are socialized to see what is wrong, missing, off, to tear down the ideas of others and uplift our own. To a certain degree, our entire future may depend on learning to listen, listen without assumptions or defenses.”

“Science fiction is simply a way to practice the future together. I suspect that is what many of you are up to, practicing futures together, practicing justice together, living into new stories. It is our right and responsibility to create a new world.”


-By Jennifer Clements