Don’t Go Dark: Stay Connected with Constituents During the Summer Months

megan-lepore-h By Megan Lepore

Ah, summer. Warmer weather, vacations, and memories with family and friends.

And over two months of potential radio silence from an organization’s constituents as they “go off the grid” for fun in the sun.

But, alas, this doesn’t have to be the experience of all nonprofits. The secret to success is strategizing and preparing several meaningful touch points including communication and fundraising that allow you to stay in front of your constituents and for them to remain engaged in your work.

It’s true that once the calendar turns to June, donors are counting the days until school is out and packing bags for vacation. Meanwhile, many nonprofits are preparing for the end of their fiscal year and looking ahead to the next.

Not too far behind is July – representing the beginning of the third quarter and what can typically be a “slow month” relative to donations and activities.

However, there are ways to make sure your supporters don’t forget the sunscreen or your organization. Here are a few ideas to pack away:

Go where your donors are. The summertime can be a great time to plan a grassroots fundraiser with your constituent base at the beach. A small event may be the perfect platform for a more laid back event (beach attire vs. formal attire), such as a happy hour, reunion or family fun event. Depending on the format of the event, the goal may be to host a fundraiser and/or a “friendraiser”. Either way, organizations can raise awareness and engage constituents at a time when they may not have otherwise.

Give your constituents some beach reading. Consider mailing out a quick “end of fiscal year” infographic with a letter highlighting accomplishments – essentially a precursor to an annual report to be mailed at a later date. This can also be sent in electronic form to your donor base for those who just can’t seem to truly disconnect from it all while on vacation.

Know the alternative addresses for your donors. As an organization gets to know its donor base, more personal information tends to be shared. This includes any seasonal change of address for donors who are snowbirds and spend off seasons in the Florida Keys or those who have summer homes. Knowing this information will help to ensure that your message reaches the right audience in a timely manner. In addition, take advantage of the “down time” and work with a mail house to conduct a NCOA (National Change of Address) update to your mailing list (best practice is at least once per year). This is an investment in the integrity of your database, and your postage budget!

Save the Dates for upcoming events. Though we don’t want to ever rush through the delight of summer, there is always planning to be done for upcoming events. Don’t forget to remind constituents of events and opportunities to be engaged that are on the horizon. If at all possible, offer early registration rates for events to begin to build your guest count. Determine if printed or electronic pieces are the best option for your organization.

Conversational Communication. Take a cue from the season and adjust the tone of your communication with constituents. Enjoy the opportunity to be more relaxed in your messages, and even have a little fun with them. For example, posts on social media can be converted to more activity based links than consistent programmatic updates. Share information about community events hosted by your partners, or offer timely tips related to water safety, educational opportunities, child safety, family friendly activities, etc. While making new memories, don’t hesitate to share a few throwback photos.

However you decide to communicate with your constituents during the summer months, continue to be purposeful in your approach. There are always opportunities to engage new supporters and steward current ones.

Happy summer!

About the author: Megan Lepore is a Senior Project Manager at Dunleavy & Associates and has more than 12 years of development experience in the fields of healthcare, education and human services. She holds a Master of Science in Communication Management from Temple University, where she has also taught undergraduate courses in speech communication, public relations and news writing. Building strategic communication plans, corporate sponsorship, grant writing, foundation relations and event planning round out her professional expertise.

What can be done to get our nonprofit board focused on fundraising?

Nancy Dunleavy

By Nancy Dunleavy

In a perfect nonprofit world, all of your board members would be fundraising champions. They’d flip their rolodex from back to front to back again, seeking donations from friends and colleagues, and even reach deep into their own wallets to ensure the financial stability of the organization they’ve committed to support.

While such boardroom all-stars do exist, it’s rare that an organization is fortunate enough to have an entire roster of them. It’s actually a more common problem for a nonprofit to struggle with board members who are disengaged or reluctant to participate in the fundraising process. So what can be done to drum up the support that your nonprofit needs?

Really, it comes down to inspiration trumping hesitation. Many board members are not accustomed to the relationship cultivation and solicitation that is required to land major donations, and are fearful because they don’t know how to do it. It’s the job of a nonprofit’s leadership to work with such board members to help them feel both passionate about the cause and confident in the fundraising process.

Board members will often gravitate toward special-event fundraising such as selling tickets to a cocktail party or a golf outing, because it’s an easy way to solicit support without having to make the case in person. However, leadership should help board members realize that people typically only give major donations to other people, not to paper. Even the most inspiring newsletter can’t match the emotional connection of a face-to-face appeal.

Board members are best equipped to make these appeals when they’re passionate about what they’re “selling.” Leadership should help board members identify which services speak most to them, and make them the heart of each person’s appeal. For example, as chairwoman of the Gwynedd Mercy University Board of Trustees, I have gravitated toward supporting internship programs for students because I believe in the power of real world experience.

The success of these internship programs in helping students to secure jobs, and companies to cultivate promising employees, has given me confidence in asking for donations. It’s much easier for me to solicit donations for the programs when I believe in their purpose and have evidence of their importance.

Leadership can also help assuage the concerns of board members by reassuring them that success rates are higher than they might think. While its unrealistic to expect a 100 percent conversion rate, prospects will more often than not become donors when courted by an honest and enthusiastic board member. Even better, it only takes the landing of one major donor to receive a potentially transformative donation that even the best golf outing could never match.

About the author: Nancy Dunleavy is the President and CEO of Dunleavy & Associates, which she founded in 2001. Chair of Gwynedd Mercy University Board of Trustees, Nancy also serves on the Board of Directors of The Union League of Philadelphia, and is Treasurer of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board.  She is a popular public speaker and has received numerous accolades for her work and leadership, but most prides herself on being an “extraordinary talent scout” in recruiting phenomenal clients, colleagues, and collaborators.

How can nonprofits maintain authentic donor relationships throughout the year?


by Debi Hoxter

Congratulations! You’ve identified, cultivated and solicited your donor and he/she has just made a major gift (the amount of a major gift will vary depending on the size of your organization).

At this point, many nonprofits believe their work is complete, but nothing could be further from the truth, for this is when authentic donor stewardship begins.

What is authentic donor stewardship? It is the stewarding of the individual, not just the gift, and is grounded in the desire to treat donors as partners by honoring their generosity and demonstrating how their gifts make a difference.

Remember, donors have contributed to your nonprofit because they feel a connection to your organization, its mission and the individuals involved. Nurturing donor relationships enables those who give to connect more deeply to your organization and those you serve and, as a result, make future contributions. Follow these steps to keep them connected to your nonprofit and aware their gift is appreciated.

Step One: Learn a prospective donor’s stewardship expectations before the gift is secured – or soon after

Ask the donor prospect what would be the most meaningful way to steward his/her gift, and what that would look like. Importantly, determine his/her preferred means of communication early on and for all outreach going forward, whether it be by phone or email (donors always appreciate being asked). This conversation enables you to learn more about who the donor is and what motivates him/her to give.

Step Two: Place a phone call within 24 hours of receiving the gift

Within 24 hours a phone call should be placed by your organization’s Executive Director/CEO and the person with whom the donor has the closest relationship. There is nothing that can substitute for a gracious and heartfelt “thank you,” and a donor will always remember the personal outreach.

Step Three: Send a personalized acknowledgment letter within two business days of receiving the gift

Ideally, a letter should be sent to acknowledge the donor’s gift within two days of receipt. If a template is used to create the letter, it should be personalized so that it appears to be written specifically for that donor and the donor’s partner should also be acknowledged in the letter. The dollar value of the gift should be listed in the letter and a brief explanation of the gift’s benefit to the organization.

The acknowledgment letter should always include a short, handwritten post-script.

Step Four: Communicate with your donor throughout the year to demonstrate the impact of his or her gift

Oftentimes donors feel that the nonprofit they support communicates with them only when it’s time to solicit another gift. To set your organization apart, it is critical to build your donor relationships throughout the year through authentic, customized stewardship tactics, identifying a plan that is meaningful to each donor.

For example, invite the donor to visit your organization and make introductions to staff and clients who have benefited from their generosity. Similarly, a letter from a staff member or client expressing his thanks to your donor for his gift and its impact is especially meaningful.

Smaller, donor-only events are also an ideal way to express thanks to your donors and build a sense of camaraderie among your donor base. If your nonprofit has just completed a renovation, plan an event to thank donors for their contributions and conduct first-look tours of the new offices. For those who prefer one-on-one interactions, a lunch invitation to update a donor on how his or her gift is impacting your organization would be especially meaningful.

Step Five: Make personal connections/touches throughout the year

Staying in touch on a personal basis throughout the year is certain to build your relationships with donors. Invite your donor to participate in a Career Day if applicable to your organization. Send your donor a note when a child is getting married or if a grandchild is born. These milestones should be in your database of details gathered during the cultivation step. Or, in lieu of the standard holiday card, consider sending a Thanksgiving card that expresses your gratitude.

Most important is creating a stewardship plan for each donor and developing a calendar of “touches” throughout the year. Dunleavy & Associates’ development professionals have the expertise to guide you throughout the donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship process. To learn more, visit our website at


About the author: Debi Hoxter is Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations at Dunleavy & Associates. Pulling from her prior experience as Executive Director, Corporate Underwriting at WHYY, Debi works with clients to build donor and corporate relationships and create strategies for meeting revenue goals. She began her career in advertising, working first at Ted Bates and Grey advertising agencies in New York before serving as Advertising Sales Manager at Philadelphia Magazine.





Does crowdfunding work for nonprofits?

Brittany Alba

By Brittany Alba

Nobody wants to be the old curmudgeon: the parent who thought The Beatles' hair was too shaggy or the Scooby Doo villain who shakes his fist at all the meddling kids.

But embracing a new way of raising money like crowdfunding can be a risky proposition for nonprofits. It means taking a leap of faith into methods with which your organization has no proven track record for success and it means betting that you’ll be able to do it well.

However, all nonprofits that do make crowdfunding work have one thing in common: They take the leap with both feet.

Too many nonprofits think they understand the concept of crowdfunding, but don't commit the resources to properly execute it. They'll develop an idea for a campaign, but fail to spend the money on an engaging online landing page, or neglect to create a compelling marketing campaign that is essential for success.

While crowdfunding can attract donors of all ages (with last summer's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge being the perfect example), the demographic usually is weighted toward Millenials. And younger donors like their crowdfunding campaigns like the rest of their Internet: with thoughtful, sleek design, use of multimedia, and copy that speaks to them.

If you don't have the capability to generate eye-catching landing pages within your organization, you'll need to commit resources to get outside help to run a successful crowdfunding campaign.

A successful campaign also will need to generate crowdfunding ideas that will connect with the target demographic. This is best done by going to the source: By asking your younger employees or even 20-something family members for ideas they would find compelling or amusing.

There's no way to ensure a campaign will find the audience that San Francisco's Batkid did, for example, but younger audiences are often drawn to stories about their peers. And if your 20-something niece or nephew finds a story or idea compelling, it's a good bet dozens of their friends will, too.

As the Internet continues to grow in influence, and Millenials more significant in nonprofit demographics, crowdfunding will grow in importance as well. Every nonprofit will sooner or later have to take the leap, and enthusiastic and early adopters will find themselves ahead of the curve.

About the author: Brittany Alba is a Project Manager with Dunleavy & Associates, and has worked with clients across the education, human services, and community development sectors. She specializes in media relations, graphic design, market research, and event planning, and has embraced her role helping the firm and its clients find new ways to raise funds in the digital age.


How can a nonprofit make its second appeal work better than its first?

Gloria Pugliese

By Gloria Pugliese

We're two months into 2015 and hopefully you've been happily going about your business, taking it as it comes. It may seem a long way off now, but you know eventually you'll glance at the calendar and have the sudden realization that the end of the year is approaching, and it will soon be that time again.

And no, we're not talking about writing the family holiday card. We're talking about the annual donor appeal for your nonprofit, and unlike your relatives, nobody is obligated to give you a penny. So how can you make this year's appeal better than the last?

The key is to start now. If you wait until sometime in autumn to ask this question, you'll already be too late to answer it effectively. That's because planning an effective donor appeal is a year-round process, based primarily on responding to and analyzing the results of last year's efforts.

Donor appeals are about building momentum, and the only way to keep that momentum going is to keep your donors in the loop. Following an appeal, take the time to creatively thank those who supported your organization. Anything personalized is the gold standard, and it doesn’t need to cost money. We've seen very effective thank you letters that included handwritten notes from students who benefited from donations. A simple phone call works wonders, too.

Don't make the follow-up a one-way form of communication, though. Heed the saying, "If you ask people for money, they'll give you advice. If you ask for advice, they'll give you money." Donors — particularly major ones — love to give their feedback on the appeal and messaging, and by engaging them you'll receive important input on what hit home with prospects.

If your nonprofit has already been doing a great job thanking and garnering feedback from donors, you can start digging into the data from last year's appeal to look for ways to make this year's better. There are countless ways to analyze your results, such as determining what messages, media, demographics and delivery times work best. We've even seen studies showing that appeals featuring dogs instead of cats garnered more donations for an animal rescue nonprofit.

The key here is finding balance. You don't want to exert more time and energy than needed to analyze your appeal. It's easy to become hyper-focused on one approach, and lose donors to whom your new communications don't appeal. You also need to be careful not to make too many changes at once. That will make it difficult to determine what change made the difference in your results.

If your nonprofit doesn't have an expert in this field, consider bringing on a consultant such as Dunleavy & Associates before shelling out money for a robust CRM solution or placing the burden on your staff. You'll get qualified insights into what will work best for your organization, and the expertise to execute analysis if needed.

About the author: Gloria Pugliese is Director, Advancement and Capital Campaigns at Dunleavy & Associates. A Certified Fund Raising Executive with more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit industry, Gloria formerly served as Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for La Salle University and Gwynedd-Mercy College, in addition to Director of Advancement for the Delaware County SPCA. She shares her expertise with clients seeking to improve their communications, capital campaigns and development.