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


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.

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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.





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How can our nonprofit leverage the social media networks of volunteers?

Brittany Alba

By Brittany Alba

The word “exponential” sure gets tossed around a lot these days. It seems to have become a favorite catchword of companies and businesses looking to generate excitement around a particular product or growth opportunity, regardless of whether the math actually checks out.

On social media, there’s no denying the exponential potential for nonprofits to grow their support base. And that’s because every volunteer plugged into social media has the ability to introduce dozens, even hundreds of their own followers to your organization with the click of a mouse. The only question is, how to make it happen?

Best practices are a bit of a mix between old and new techniques. One golden rule certainly holds true: “People give to people, not to organizations.” But networks like Facebook and Twitter advance this one step further: People give even more to people they know.

One of the best tactics a nonprofit can use on social media is to promote a story or blog post about a volunteer in their organization. Dunleavy client Angel Flight East, a nonprofit that provides free flights for those who need distant medical treatments, has done this to great effect. The organization’s Facebook page is full of posts about its volunteer pilots and constituents, and the unique relationships they share.

While such volunteer spotlights have long been a staple of nonprofit print communications, posting them on social media offers the unique benefit of tagging the individuals involved, so that they can easily share the story with their network. Privacy should be respected wherever necessary — especially in cases involving medical issues — but a nonprofit’s communications manager can help volunteers feel more at ease taking the spotlight by prompting them to follow the organization’s social media accounts well before ever asking them to be featured on it.

Social media also opens the door to new, creative ways to highlight the work of volunteers. A great example of this occurred at Community Partnership School, a nonprofit school with a mission to provide high-quality education to low-income families in North Philadelphia. A longtime classroom volunteer overheard a Pre-K teacher remark about how she wished she had more booster seats, so that more children could participate in field trips.

Amazingly, the volunteer went right out and bought twelve new booster seats for the teacher, and a short Facebook post documenting the act performed incredibly well on Facebook. This was a perfect example of how a single photo and a few words about one individual introduced hundreds of new people to the good work of the school and its volunteers. And it doesn’t just have to be volunteers: A brief introduction of a new board member can quickly circulate around that individual’s well-connected circle.

Even if your organization’s social media pages are still fledgling, you should not be deterred in implementing new social media efforts. By spotlighting volunteers or even constituents, you can rapidly introduce the people in their networks to your organization and grow your following.

This was recently the case after our firm helped bolster the social media efforts of CORA Services, a nonprofit that helps youth and families overcome a variety of life challenges. By posting several times a week and tagging volunteers, the page’s following grew nearly 25 percent in just a few months. And while that’s not quite exponential growth just yet, it’s certainly a meaningful advance toward the organization’s full potential reach.

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.


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Stewardship strategies for turning volunteers into donors

Debi Hoxter

By Debi Hoxter

Stewarding your nonprofit’s volunteers with the intention of eventually converting them into donors can be an intimidating responsibility. You may have a collection of people who are giving hours, even days out of their busy lives for your organization’s cause, and then you’re tasked with also asking them to make a monetary donation. As a result, some nonprofits tend to shy away from approaching this important group of stakeholders altogether.

Fortunately, the process isn’t nearly as ominous as it may seem. And that’s because when done properly, stewardship is an organic and even inviting process that turns a somewhat uncomfortable situation into a winning one for both the nonprofit and the individual.

Facilitating such a relationship starts at the very beginning, when the individual first becomes a volunteer. At that point, it’s important to roll out the red carpet and make sure the volunteer immediately feels valued within your organization.

One way to make your volunteer feel welcome is to plan a tour of your nonprofit’s headquarters. But make sure it’s well-planned and intentional: Introduce the volunteer to your organization’s executive director, staff, or constituents, and have personalized materials prepared, such as a press kit or annual report. Having these items ready will show the volunteer you went out of your way to plan for their visit.

Be sure to also conduct research into the individual ahead of time to determine his or her capacity. Having knowledge upfront about your volunteer’s ability to give or solicit others allows you to steer the relationship in that direction from the beginning.

Once the volunteer feels like a valued part of your organization, make sure he or she stays that way. The key here remains personalization. The more you make an individual feel personally valued by the organization, the more he or she will be compelled to give.

For volunteers who came for a single day of service or who worked on a particular project, write a personalized thank you note and ask to put him or her on the mailing list. For individuals who volunteer on a regular basis, check in from time to time, reminding them how much you appreciate their time and asking how they feel about their experience.

Personalization is a critical component for a successful appeal. Just as you would with a non-volunteer donor, take the time to include a letter to individual volunteers, thanking them for their efforts and asking if they would consider financially supporting the organization.

Finally, never give up on a volunteer. Even if an individual is not yet ready or capable of making a donation, don’t be afraid to ask if there is anyone in his or her personal network who is. Perhaps a friend works for a company looking to expand its philanthropy, or a family member might also be interested in volunteering (studies show that households in which more than one individual volunteers for the same cause are also more likely to donate).

If your organization wants to improve its volunteer stewardship strategies, a firm such as Dunleavy & Associates can provide powerful insights and expertise. Our firm works closely with nonprofits to craft customized stewardship plans that help build lasting relationships with volunteers, existing donors, and new prospects alike, resulting in increased revenue for your organization.

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.

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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.

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How can our nonprofit cultivate donors who can make major gifts?

Debi Hoxter

By Debi Hoxter

If only there were an easy answer to the question of how nonprofits can win big donations. Campaign managers would certainly be able to relax a little.

But while there is no easy way to solicit major donations, the answer is actually quite simple: Relationships. Cultivating big donors is all about developing relationships, and while that takes significant time and energy, it pays off in the long run.

The question then becomes, what is the best way to build relationships? Start by reaching out to your board of directors, and ask for their support and guidance. They’re often well connected and may know people in their network who would be a good match for your cause. Ask your board member to make an introduction, preferably in person, but at least by having their connection take your phone call.

If there is a dearth of leads from the board, start looking at your own network and conducting research. Find out who your competitors’ major donors are and see if you have any common connections. Perhaps you have an old colleague who now works at the same company as a donor, or maybe you share a mutual connection with a prospect on LinkedIn.

Once you’ve identified a target prospect and have made a connection, you can begin the four-step courtship process: Qualify, cultivate, solicit and steward.

  • Qualify: Get to know the prospect and see if your organization is of key interest. Determine if he or she has the proper financial capacity by inquiring about and researching other philanthropic activity.
  • Cultivate: Make the prospect feel a part of the organization. Invite him or her to meet your organization’s leadership, visit its facilities and attend its events. Demonstrate why your organization is different from others.
  • Solicit: The actual ask should not come as a major surprise. Like a marriage engagement, both parties should be expecting and comfortable when the question is popped.
  • Steward: After a donation is made, don’t disappear until the next appeal time. Thank the donor repeatedly, and continue the relationship by inviting your donor to activities that are of interest, from volunteer efforts to cocktail parties. Even better if they can bring a friend to an event who might also be willing to donate.

The key through this process is to take your time. The clock should not be ticking for you to land a major donation; rather, expect that it will take time to court the prospect and ask when the time is right. Although cultivating major donors is time-consuming, it will ultimately pay off and build as your network grows and strengthens.

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.

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What is the best way for a nonprofit to launch a capital campaign?

Nancy Dunleavy

By Nancy Dunleavy

If you’re an astronaut, you know you’re ready to launch when NASA announces, “All systems go!”

If you’re Kung Fu fan, you know it is time for the student to launch when he can take a pebble from the hand of Master Kan.

But if you’re a leader in a nonprofit organization, only a feasibility study can tell you when you are ready to launch a capital campaign.

Feasibility studies are designed to determine your organization’s readiness and the probability of achieving the campaign goals. They typically take between three and six months because they involve surveying employees, board members, volunteers, and potential donors.

For a nonprofit planning its first capital campaign, a feasibility study is essential. Among the many potential pitfalls to be identified and addressed are insufficiencies in staffing levels, board support, volunteer capabilities, and donor commitment.

Successfully completing a capital campaign requires an entirely different kind of fundraising than nonprofits use to solicit typical annual donations. In most cases, you’ll be asking for larger sums of money. So you need to determine if your supporters are willing and able to give more. Savvy donors may well ask if a feasibility study has been done before making a large donation.

Having successfully completed a previous capital campaign does not ensure that a new campaign will achieve its goals. You may be more confident in your ability to raise funds because of your past experience, but a new feasibility study will offer current insights that will enable you to better plan for a new set of circumstances. For example, you may learn that the market is not as strong as it was, and it would be best to adjust your aspirations and/or implement the campaign in phases, starting with a smaller goal and increasing it over time.

Communicating with prospective donors during the feasibility study can also garner new ideas for achieving campaign goals. For example, donors who will be asked to support construction of a building, such as a community center, might reveal that they would be more likely to donate if certain facilities were included, such as a basketball court or swimming pool.

Finally, feasibility studies should be conducted by an outside company or consultant, to ensure candid responses. Donors and prospects are unlikely to be completely forthcoming when someone on the staff or board of a nonprofit asks them about their level of commitment. Dunleavy & Associates has performed dozens of feasibility studies that have helped nonprofit organizations launch successful capital campaigns.

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.

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