Fall is almost officially here, so your organization’s year-end fundraising campaign will soon be underway.

Year-end giving is critical to engage and motivate your supporters as they reflect on the past and anticipate the future. When putting together your fundraising strategy, do not forget to include the planned giving vehicles. Gift planning can play a pivotal role in shaping the success of your year-end campaign and advancing your mission over the long term. Additionally, year-end fundraising campaigns are an opportunity to provide donors with every possible option to support your organization’s mission.

Most organizations see the majority of their funds raised in the last three months of the calendar year. That’s because donors are often motivated by the spirit of generosity and to take advantage of potential tax breaks. Nonprofits have a unique opportunity to capitalize on these factors, realizing the short-term goals of cash while prioritizing assets donated that are considered future cash.

Planned giving methods

Various planned giving vehicles are available to implement during your year-end fundraising campaign, enabling your donors to make thoughtful and structured contributions. Beyond the immediate traditional cash donations, individuals can integrate their long-term philanthropy goals into their overall financial and estate planning.

Here are a few planned giving vehicles to consider in the context of year-end fundraising campaigns:

Retirement Accounts

You can uncover plenty of hidden opportunities when you communicate with your donors about donating their retirement accounts, such as IRAs or 401(k), which grew to $39 trillion in 2021. 


A bequest is a gift made through a will or a trust that designates a portion of the donor’s estate to your nonprofit. This popular and straightforward method allows donors to make significant contributions without impacting their financial situation.

Charitable Gift Annuities (CGAs)

A CGA involves a donor making a gift of cash or other assets to your organization in exchange for a fixed annual income for themselves or a loved one. This gift provides donors with a dependable income stream while supporting your mission. If you are unsure if your organization is capable of providing this type of planned giving vehicle, the American Council on Gift Annuities provides helpful information about CGAs.

Charitable Remainder Trusts

Donors can establish charitable remainder trusts that allow them to transfer assets into a trust that provides income to beneficiaries for a specific period. After the trust term concludes, the remaining assets come to your organization.

Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs)

DAFs allow individuals to contribute assets to a fund managed by a charitable organization. Donors receive an immediate tax benefit and can recommend how funds are distributed to your organization over time. You can leverage the DAF ecosystem to drive philanthropic revenue at your organization.

Life Insurance Policies

Donors can designate your organization as a life insurance policy beneficiary. Donors can leverage existing policies or buy new ones, which could mean substantial future cash for your organization.

Planned Giving Allows for Deeper Donor Relationships

Adding planned giving vehicles into your year-end campaign allows donors to build deeper, more meaningful connections with your nonprofit. By educating your donors about your impact, you also provide an invitation to support in other meaningful ways.

Immediate cash will always remain essential, but you should also plan for future cash.

Implementation is the key, and here are some ideas:

  • Segment your donors who are 70 years old and older and email them about the opportunity to give from their IRAs. Those 72 and older must satisfy the required minimum distribution from these financial assets.
  • Ask your donors to name your organization in their will, trust, or DAFs.
  • Send a survey asking your donors if they have designated your organization in their will, trust, or DAF.

The only way to ensure you receive future cash gifts is to announce that donors can give these types of gifts.

Looking for help to get started?

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Independent School Fundraising: What Now, if No Campaign?

August 14, 2023

If conditions are not yet optimal for a campaign, consider these tactics to advance your school’s fundraising efforts.

Your board has determined the need for a fundraising campaign, and you are responsible for elevating this activity. How do you know if your organization is ready to implement a successful campaign?

Your first step in determining campaign readiness is confidently answering “yes” to the following questions:

  1. Do you have defined goals that require funding?
  2. Is your data in an implementable status and do you know who your prospects are?
  3. Do you have a compelling story to tell?
  4. Does your staff have the bandwidth to effectively implement a campaign?
  5. Is your Board ready to lead a campaign?
  6. Have you defined an adequate philanthropic goal and timeline to complete?
  7. Do you have a well-defined volunteer structure?
  8. Are your volunteers ready to serve on a committee or request funds from others?

Four previous CCS client partners, who each developed the successful foundations for their campaigns, provide their advice from the field — sharing their perspective and recommendations for any organization considering embarking on a campaign.

The Feasibility and Planning Study

All successful campaigns begin with an informed roadmap. To provide your organization with this information and confidence, implementing a feasibility and planning study is the first step in building your campaign foundation. A study will inform the following areas:

  • Prospects’ relationships to your organization and their perception of your progress
  • Reactions to your initial case for support and areas of need
  • Advice on success directly from your prospects and supporters
  • Individuals’ willingness to engage in your proposed campaign
  • Overall view of the philanthropic climate and economy

Determining an Informed Campaign Goal

Your study provides a wealth of knowledge and guides your organization to understand the preliminary potential of your campaign. For many organizations, campaigns are developed out of financial necessity. The reality is that many organizational financial goals may not align with a philanthropic goal feasible from their network of prospects. A planning study provides qualitative feedback directly from your constituents around their willingness and initial interest in the project. This valuable information helps ensure you set a preliminary ambitious, yet achievable, fundraising goal.

Julie Lucas, Chief Advancement Officer | Darlington School | Rome, GA | Campaign Quiet Phase 2023

Case for Support Development

The next phase of campaign readiness ensures your organization can effectively define and articulate your case for support or organizational need. Your case explains “why” your organization exists and serves as a physical document that articulates all that your organization does and the impact it has in your community. To fully define your fundraising case, you must answer the following questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do in the community?
  • How do you create positive change?
  • Why do you need support?
  • How much do you need?
  • When do you need it?
  • How will your campaign make an impact on your organization and those you serve?

Preparing your case for support prior to launching your campaign ensures that your organization and recruited volunteers feel confident in sharing the message and inviting others’ support. Clear direction and confident communication are essential to any successful campaign.

Recruiting Strong Volunteers

Volunteers are the lifeblood of any organization in both carrying out your mission and supporting it in the early campaign stages. Identifying and engaging the best volunteers is an essential step in determining if your organization is ready to take on a campaign.

Passionate volunteerism begins with your board and disseminates through your entire organizational community. It is important to identify and recruit volunteers who are:

  • Engaged in the mission and willing to work
  • Leading by example
  • Enthusiastic and positive
  • Attending meetings and making themselves available
  • Active participants in your work and respond in a timely manner
  • Offering practical and supportive advice on prospects and strategy

Msgr. John J. Enzler, Retired CEO Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington | Washington, DC | Completed $100,000,000 Campaign | 2021

Analyzing Your Data

A foundational element of any successful campaign includes the development of a strategic and well-informed prospect pipeline. Utilizing data analytics tools to understand your database provides the first step in developing a pipeline that will drive your campaign activity.

Data analytics tools, including predictive modeling, Monte Carlo simulations, or RFM analysis, provide organizations the opportunity to understand those prospects most likely to become major donors, those individuals with potential to engage in a campaign, and those who should be researched further. Your campaign pipeline should be developed with a top 75-100 prospect list and a robust list of additional prospects, providing a runway for campaign success.

David Sears, Vice President of Institutional Advancement | McDaniel College | Westminster, MD | Campaign Readiness Phase 2023

Developing Your Campaign Plan

The final step to your campaign readiness is to ensure you have a campaign plan prepared prior to the launch of your campaign efforts. A successful campaign plan will include:

  • Timeline
  • Phasing
  • Organizational structure
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Table of gifts
  • Marketing and communications plan
  • Goals and benchmarks
  • Budget
  • Calendar
  • Donor recognition plan
  • Gift acceptance policies

A strategic and robust campaign plan provides organizations the opportunity to drive activity in your campaign and ensures effective implementation.

Norm Wedderburn, President/CEO | Make-A-Wish Southern Florida | Completed $20,000,000 Campaign | 2021

Preparing for your next campaign is no small task. Addressing the foundational principles of your case, leadership, prospects, and plan are essential to developing your campaign and providing your organization with the confidence to move forward successfully.

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The last few years have undeniably changed the way people work. Remote work flexibility has advanced from a desirable benefit to an expectation, and returning to the traditional office environment continues to be debated. How does fundraising evolve as a relationship-based business to meet stakeholder needs, including employees, volunteers and donors? How do we best respond to the continuing need for a thriving nonprofit culture to drive performance versus the need to use technology to facilitate work and allow for enhanced work-life balance for employees?

The answer, we believe, lies in finding the right intersection of leadership, culture, and people at your nonprofit.

Venn diagram with the words

Ensure Leadership Sets the (Right) Tone

Thriving in today’s organizational environment requires thoughtful and deliberate leadership, generally understood to directly correlate to organizational performance. Poor leaders often leave money on the table, while effective leaders know how to make a profit and keep the needs of their key stakeholders at the forefront of their decision-making.

The most extraordinary leaders help establish norms for how individuals carry out their organization’s work, align that work to mission, and build an organizational culture that meets the needs of all stakeholders.

Acknowledge and Understand Culture Complexities

Culture defines what an organization encourages, discourages, accepts, or rejects and is anchored in unspoken behaviors, mindsets, and social patterns. While leadership must directionally set an effective culture, organizations must simultaneously recognize culture’s multi-faceted and multi-layered intricacies.

Factors That Anchor and Alter an Organization’s Cultural Trajectory

  • Mission/services: An independent school may have a particular organizational culture based on its history; a faith-based institution will have a specific culture based on its denominational beliefs, etc. (CCS tailors our Catholic services for this very reason).
  • Nonprofit sector: A hospital with significant earned income (e.g., clinical care) will likely have a different set of cultural norms than a human services organization largely or entirely dependent on philanthropic support and volunteer contributions.
  • Organizational size: A large organization, like a University, will likely have a different culture than a five-person nonprofit.
  • Geography: An organization on the West Coast will have a different set of community norms than one in the South or the Northeast.
  • Development infrastructure: A hospital foundation may have its own culture separate from its supported hospital; a centralized university advancement department may have one culture, while a decentralized one may have many separate cultures; a federated networked nonprofit may have a different set of cultures through each of its local chapters, etc.

Leadership is responsible for recognizing and understanding the various external and internal characteristics influencing its organizational culture and reconciling that with its vision for a cultural ideal state.

Build a Great Team by Putting People First

As important as leadership and planning are to organizational culture, change is fully co-dependent on adoption and implementation by the people working within the culture. Each team member can add to, complement, or detract from leadership’s cultural planning and intentions. The people themselves must buy in to the cultural design, execution, and accountability to enable the strongest likelihood of success for collective cultural change.

Unfortunately, the people needed to create a thriving culture are often the same ones embattled with troubling workplace dynamics.

  • Nearly half of fundraisers will switch jobs within the next two years according to research published in 2022.
  • Almost a third of fundraisers will leave the fundraising field altogether according to survey data shared by the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2019.
  • Workers are feeling burned out.
  • The vast majority feel tremendous pressure to succeed in their role.
  • People do not use their vacation time or they work while on vacation.
  • More than half feel unappreciated for their work.
  • Workers are hesitant to discuss personal challenges with supervisors.

Remote Work Can Lead to Burnout

Workers and managers often view remote work as the modern solution to these challenges, and most job seekers now look for remote-only jobs. Yet this flexibility often creates additional unanticipated challenges requiring attention. Most remote workers state that the flexibility results in longer hours and burnout, with no clear start or finish to their workday. Putting your people first will address these issues, add to your culture, and aid recruitment and retention efforts.

Focus on Performance AND People

Fundraising outcomes are ultimately the most important development performance measurements. An organization with the best leadership and culture cannot maintain its culture or keep its people if it cannot raise money. A similar outcome will befall an organization that only focuses on fundraising performance at the expense of its people. An organization that deploys an intentional leadership-driven cultural strategy with a people-first approach is most likely to see success in today’s workplace environment. St. Joseph Catholic Church, for example, was able to raise its sights, engage prospects, and secure major gifts when CCS leveraged their strong clergy leadership for fundraising.

Becoming people-first requires setting and codifying expectations of leaders and managers, and the remainder of the team, concerning work logistics, core behaviors, and professional growth, among other things.

Steps to Build a THRIVING NONPROFIT Culture

Work logistics must be defined and consistently applied to adapt to the organization’s particular culture and its team members.

Consider the Optimal Environment for Your Team’s Work

Thriving organizations often utilize a hybrid approach (e.g., 3 days in the office and 2 days remote). If you adopt this approach, consider how best to address mentorship and professional development.

Be Flexible

Recognize that your team members have lives outside of work and offer flexibility for personal circumstances. Thriving cultures recognize their people’s personal lives, offering support and flexibility in times of personal need.

Bring Your Team Together Occasionally

Consider some mandatory in-person meetings. Thriving cultures often require in-person meetings for team meetings, one-on-one check-ins with a supervisor, or team retreats. To avoid burnout, consider small steps, such as confining email to certain hours of the day, limiting evening communication and work when feasible, and considering email or meeting-free afternoons. An employee’s greatest barrier to effectively contributing to cultural development is often the unconstrained measures leadership creates through specific actions or standards.

Provide the Resources Necessary for Success

Invest in the tools needed for people to be successful. Thriving cultures anticipate and provide workplace tools and technology to support the modern workplace.

Continually Focus on Culture

Keep culture top of mind. Thriving cultures often create leadership-sponsored, staff-driven committees focusing on culture, interpersonal relationships, and overall workplace well-being, manifested through weekly newsletters, incorporation into staff retreats, internal clubs, and education opportunities.

What a THRIVING NONPROFIT Culture Looks Like

Core behaviors must also be articulated and modeled to effectively permeate into organizational culture. As leaders, team members, and colleagues, thriving cultures tend to:

  • Show compassion in their interactions with one another.
  • Monitor themselves and colleagues for burnout and other signs of need.
  • Encourage collaboration and connectivity in their interactions.
  • Check in regularly with their team and manager.
  • Create space to talk about workplace challenges.
  • Focus on relationships rather than simply tasks.

Regardless of work logistics and core behaviors, a people-first approach requires an emphasis on retaining the best people through professional growth opportunities and competitive compensation:

  • Provide stretch assignments and leadership development for all staff levels.
  • Be creative with job responsibilities and upward mobility.
  • Consider leadership exposure opportunities like executive coaching and the ability for people to join higher-level meetings.
  • Show professional pathways and growth opportunities regularly.
  • Encourage and provide time for employees to participate in community-building activities.

Modern Challenges Require Modern Leadership

As the workplace environment evolves, today’s “new normal” will quickly become outdated. Yet the strategies to support a thriving nonprofit culture in today’s “new normal” are fundamental building blocks that will likely support a thriving team in the “next normal” and beyond. An intentional people-first cultural strategy, led by and defined through exemplary leadership, will create the optimal opportunity to address modern workplace challenges.

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Featuring essential philanthropic research from all major sources in the industry, this exclusive report examines key themes in American philanthropy and the latest data on giving by US individuals, foundations, and corporations.


Independent School Fundraising: What Now, if No Campaign?

August 14, 2023

If conditions are not yet optimal for a campaign, consider these tactics to advance your school’s fundraising efforts.

Capital campaigns at independent schools are often seen as the primary fundraising strategy to drive strategic change. The potential impact of campaigns is high; however, the conditions of your school’s culture of philanthropy, development infrastructure, and donor readiness must be ripe for a campaign to be highly successful. Your examination of these standards may reveal that conditions are not yet optimal for a campaign. Understanding these barriers can reveal a campaign readiness blueprint with areas of opportunity.

Concentrated efforts to bolster your internal fundraising infrastructure and capacity and to connect with key prospects will drive momentum toward a future campaign and enrich your current fundraising success. These efforts could include strengthening your culture of philanthropy, establishing a major gifts initiative, top prospect cultivation, concentrated donor stewardship, or further developing your annual giving or planned giving programs.

Strengthen your culture of philanthropy

A primary consideration for every independent school’s fundraising is defining a culture of philanthropy within your school. Philanthropy is the lifeblood of the independent school model, influencing every aspect of the student and family experience. From faculty to programs and experiences, philanthropy propels every independent school. Welcoming each family within your school’s community into a culture of giving will provide everyone the opportunity to contribute to a legacy that will endure for generations.

Introduce philanthropy early in a prospective family’s journey by partnering with the admissions team to incorporate specific talking points during their tour of the school. Discuss philanthropy’s impact on the school during conversations about parental involvement opportunities. Further, leverage new parent events to make connections with the development team and introduce the director of development early on. Upholding and celebrating the role of philanthropy at your independent school through communications, programs, and individual relationships will maintain the importance of fundraising in the minds of families representing current and future donors.

Establish a major gifts initiative

A major gifts initiative that supports distinct one-off capital or programmatic projects that align with the strategic vision of the school can be a step in securing transformational gifts for specific goals. These special projects can draw attention to a unique need and further develop a culture of philanthropy within the school to achieve aspirational goals and highlight the significant impact that philanthropy has on a school culture and experience. Addressing one or two projects through a major gift initiative can create momentum within the school community and identify philanthropic champions for a future campaign. It’s rare that a donor’s largest gift is their first or even second gift, making a major gift initiative the perfect opportunity to solicit gifts for transformational impact while also identifying and cultivating lead gift prospects for a future campaign.

Start by prioritizing engaged donors with identified capacity who would be interested in making a major gift to support a special initiative. Stewarding these donors to bring them closer to the school and showcasing the impact of their giving will begin the process of cultivation for a major gift to a future campaign and secure them as a philanthropic champion of the school. Once secured, marketing major gift successes to the rest of your donor base and family community will celebrate achievements and establish trust in the school’s ability to secure major gift support from parents, alumni, grandparents, and others. Use the tangible results of generosity to demonstrate the footprint philanthropy can have on shaping the school experience.

Cultivate and brief top prospects

Cultivation tours or briefing blitzes can offer meaningful chances to advance relationships with your school’s top donors and prospects. Through these types of opportunities, your head of school can engage in personal conversations with top prospects about the school’s strategic vision and priorities. Those touchpoints will help deepen prospects’ connection to the school and their relationship with key school leaders. Additionally, they will help your head of school learn more about top prospects’ philanthropic interests and motivations and explore areas of overlap – important pre-campaign cultivation activities.

Key data points about your top prospects’ philanthropic activity, such as philanthropic motivations, top philanthropic causes, and board involvement will be assets in understanding whether your donor base will be receptive to supporting a future campaign.

Target your donor stewardship

Deepen relationships to the school and position the school to communicate a vision for engagement and giving by engaging your unique donor communities, such as alumni, through special giving societies. Effectively recognizing donors for their level of affinity for the school can build on their existing values and experiences to cultivate their connection and cement an understanding of the impact of their giving. Giving societies build a sense of community which in turn drives donors’ giving and cements their philanthropic commitment.

Refocus annual giving efforts

Drive donor participation through unrestricted giving by focusing on your school’s annual giving program and educating families about the importance of philanthropy. Annual giving appeals are a direct way to lay out your school’s fundraising priorities and establish a clear and cohesive vision of how fundraising impacts outcomes each year. In addition to written and electronic appeals, utilize giving days, mini-campaigns, and other annual giving efforts to foster school pride and a sense of community, and celebrate reaching collective goals. Finally, annual giving programs can be effective training for the development team, the development committee, school leadership, and the board in fundraising best practices, which will translate into future campaign success.

Consider bolstering gift planning

By establishing strong giving habits within your alumni base now, you set the stage for them to be planned giving prospects in the future. Each class’s graduation offers a window for engaging new alumni and launching their future engagement as lifelong donors. Establishing an immediate relationship with each new alumni class will significantly increase the likelihood of their philanthropic participation throughout their lifetime. Develop a post-graduation engagement plan to thoughtfully engage graduating classes and cement a lifelong affinity for giving back.

Each of these opportunities to tighten fundraising efforts can drive your independent school forward in near- and long-term development goals. Consider segmenting constituents by initiative to ensure the most direct strategy to connect with alumni, alumni families, parents, grandparents, or new graduates. Your donors and prospects should always come first in developing a plan to drive their engagement forward. Though your school may not be immediately prepared for a campaign, understanding and investing in opportunities for improvement will ensure short- and long-term successful outcomes.

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Enhance Your Year-End Fundraising With Gift Planning

August 31, 2023

Year-end fundraising campaigns are an opportunity to provide donors with every possible option to support your mission.


Campaign Readiness: Is Your Organization Prepared?

August 30, 2023

Wondering what to prepare as you embark on a campaign? From volunteer leadership to data analytics, this article offers key considerations and advice from four former CCS client partners on how to get started.

Over the past several years, foundation giving has grown as a share of total giving across the U.S. CCS Fundraising’s 2022 Snapshot of the Philanthropic Landscape revealed that foundations have increased overall funding and expanded grantmaking strategies to include unrestricted funding. In fact, giving by foundations experienced a 39% increase from 2019 to 2022, and in 2022, foundation giving accounted for 21% of all charitable contributions.

As foundation support steadily increases, nonprofits should understand the differences between the various foundation-based entities and how grantmaking engagement differs across each. Many nonprofits try to engage grantmaking foundations by sending standard letters of inquiry without taking the time to strategize the best approach for each foundation type. This one-size-fits-all process is rarely successful in securing funding, and it does nothing to build enduring relationships between grantors and your organization.

When approaching an institution, fundraising best practices still apply — people give to people. While foundations vary from large operating to smaller private foundations, each plays a role in the ecosystem. Understanding the subtleties enables organizations to stand out among other applicants. 

What is a foundation?

A foundation is a nongovernmental nonprofit organization with its own funds or endowments, managed by trustees or directors, and typically created to benefit educational, charitable, social, religious, or other activities serving the common good. The US Federal Government is technically the nation’s largest grant maker. 

The many foundation types include the following:

Public Foundations

This foundation type receives at least 1/3 of its annual income from the public, including government agencies and other foundations, and may make grants or engage in charitable activities. The IRS recognizes public foundations, along with community foundations, as public charities. Their primary focus is grant making, although they may provide direct charitable services to the public like other nonprofits.

Private Foundations

This type is a nongovernmental nonprofit organization with funds (usually from a single source, such as an individual, family, or corporation) and programs managed by trustees or directors to maintain or aid social, educational, religious, or other charitable activities serving the common welfare, primarily through grantmaking. US private foundations are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and IRS, classified as a private foundation as defined in the code. These entities are additionally required to submit a 990-PF each year.

Corporate Foundations

This type derives grantmaking funds primarily from a profitable business’s contributions. The company-sponsored foundation often maintains close ties with the donor company. Still, it is legally separate, sometimes with its own endowment, and subject to the same rules and regulations as other foundations.

Over 2,000 corporate foundations in the US hold some $11 billion in assets. Also known as a company-sponsored foundation, corporate foundation funds differ from corporate giving programs that often allocate funds through marketing, event sponsorships, employee volunteering programs, and other initiatives.

Government Grantors

A government grantor provides financial support to nonprofits through local, state, or federal grant funding and typically has specific objectives and funding priorities. Nonprofit organizations can apply for government grants to support various programs and initiatives, such as community development, healthcare, education, and environmental conservation.

Government grantors are crucial in supporting nonprofit work, helping organizations expand their reach, enhance impact, and address pressing societal needs. Additionally, government grants often have reporting and accountability requirements to ensure public funds transparency and responsible use. For example, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HRSA’s Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program are government grants.

Note that the Federal Government will often use pass-through organizations to sub-grant out dollars; for instance, a city’s health department or housing department may receive a grant, disperse funding, and oversee the grantee’s performance.

Operating Foundations

An operating foundation is endowed and private, using most of its income to provide charitable services or run charitable programs, such as a school or summer camp. Operating foundations make few, if any, grants to outside organizations and must follow specific and applicable private foundation rules to qualify as an operating foundation. For example, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the J. Paul Getty Trust are operating foundations. This foundation type is also called a private operating foundation.

Other Foundation Types

  • A Limited Purpose Foundation restricts giving to one or very few areas of interest, such as higher education or medical care.
  • A Special Purpose Foundation is private with focused grantmaking activities on one or a few interest areas instead of a general-purpose foundation.
  • A Virtual Foundation has transitioned from grantmaking by mail and face-to-face meetings to grantmaking by email and internet transfers. It exists only on the internet and is able to transfer money from philanthropists to organizations globally.

Guide to successful foundation engagement

We know that people are philanthropically generous and give to other people, so while foundation entities differ in support strategies and funding, remember that people run these grantmaking organizations. Building rapport and relationships with foundation leaders and liaisons better positions your organization for success.

So how do you get your foot in the door?


Foundation engagement starts with research. You should first investigate the foundation’s focus areas, funding priorities, geography, and past grant recipients to understand how their projects and goals align with foundation interests. This research will allow your organization to tailor proposals, which can increase the chances of receiving funding. Additionally, understanding the foundation’s values, criteria, and application process will help save time and effort by prioritizing the submission of proposals to only the most relevant and compatible funders. 

Other than filing a 990-PF, foundations are not required to have a website or social media presence, so finding information on some grantmaking entities may be challenging. However, researching a foundation allows you to know that you have made the best effort to make informed decisions, maximize your chances of success, and set your organization up to build a strong partnership with an aligned foundation for the long term.

Event Attendance

Next, if the foundation aligns with your organization’s work, consider attending its informational sessions or webinars to gain insights into the application process and funding requirements. Not all foundations offer these opportunities, but regularly attending events and webinars will help you understand your sector’s philanthropic landscape. This will also demonstrate your interest and allow you to meet and get to know funders.

You should also contact the foundation’s program officers or staff to introduce your organization and project and to ask questions. Introductory conversations should focus on listening rather than pitching; learn the foundation’s values and priorities before offering a generic pitch. Building relationships and networking within the foundation can provide valuable guidance and increase your chances of success.

Letter of Inquiry

Once you fully understand the foundation and how its priorities align with your organization’s work, consider submitting a brief, customized letter of inquiry (LOI) or concept paper to gauge the foundation’s interest and receive feedback before investing significant time and effort into a full grant proposal. Some foundations have a formal process and an online portal, while others may only provide a mailing address.

Customizing your letter of inquiry and subsequent proposal:

  • Demonstrates a genuine understanding of the foundation’s mission and funding focus
  • Increases your chances of appealing to decision-makers
  • Clearly articulates how your organization’s work aligns with foundation goals
  • Showcases the project’s relevance and impact
  • Proves your commitment and effort, and…
  • Highlights your professionalism and dedication to the cause

Ultimately, crafting a proposal specially written to appeal to one foundation shows respect for the foundation’s individuality and increases the likelihood of securing funding. In many cases, the extra time and effort you take to find the best foundation fit will pay off in the long run. Once you have built a relationship with the foundation’s people and become true partners working toward the same goals and outcomes, your alignment will make applying for renewed funding to continue making a joint impact easier.

Respecting a Foundation’s Guidelines Leads to Greater Success

You may be inclined to access a foundation via its board members, especially if your organization has connections to them. This approach can be risky. While it is often helpful to enlist the help of your well-connected board members to gather information and strategize an approach to a foundation, when it comes to seeking funding, it is always best to adhere to the foundation’s published guidelines. This is especially true of those foundations with staff and an inquiry process included on their website — circumventing the set path and procedures could jeopardize partnership opportunities.

Instead, follow the initial steps in this article to lay the groundwork for a productive and mutually beneficial partnership between your organization and the foundation.

While this article offers a basic overview of the foundation landscape, a strategic approach and tailored messaging is paramount.

Are you seeking to partner with a foundation or funding for your own foundation?

Learn about our work with this sector.

More Insights


Enhance Your Year-End Fundraising With Gift Planning

August 31, 2023

Year-end fundraising campaigns are an opportunity to provide donors with every possible option to support your mission.


Campaign Readiness: Is Your Organization Prepared?

August 30, 2023

Wondering what to prepare as you embark on a campaign? From volunteer leadership to data analytics, this article offers key considerations and advice from four former CCS client partners on how to get started.

SEE ALL IN: Foundations

Current college/university presidents, C-suite leaders, boards, and supporters all have a role in catalyzing the significant leadership reshuffling ahead. This article offers six actionable strategies and steps to maintain strong fundraising efforts during a leadership transition in higher education.

The Challenge—and Opportunity—of Leadership Transition in Higher Education

Many higher education institutions remain pressured to keep students, staff, and supporters engaged while navigating senior leadership transitions and post-pandemic fundraising challenges, adapting to lean staff capacity, facing an enrollment cliff, and addressing the urgent needs of students, research, and faculty. These and other trends converge on the nation’s campuses, presenting leadership challenges like no other moment in recent history.

In an average pre-pandemic year, US higher education saw about 10% of campus leaders retire, 10% move to another institution, and 10% leave academia altogether. Predictions indicate that those numbers will rise, with presidents, deans, and provosts having the highest likelihood of turnover among top-level administrators. Similarly, 2023 survey data from the American Council on Education (ACE) affirms a horizon of change: over half (55%) of presidents indicated that they plan to step down from their current presidency within the next five years. One in four (25%) presidents anticipated stepping down within the next year or two, and 30% intend to do so in the next three to five years.

With this data in mind, it seems clear that many institutions may experience leadership transitions more frequently than in the past. In fact, since 2006, the average presidency has been 2.6 years shorter; academia’s top leaders now remain in their role for an average of just 5.9 years.

In an already stretched sector, a leadership transition can seem overwhelming. However, when navigated wisely, it is a unique opportunity to build new momentum and energy toward primary fundraising efforts. Turnover also presents a significant opportunity for US higher education to improve racial and gender diversity in its leadership ranks, a reality already evidenced by several recent appointments.

1. Assess the Donor Landscape

Before the transition occurs, the advancement department must assess the current state of key donor relationships and fundraising initiatives. This assessment sets the stage for aligned communication and prioritized prospect engagement, ensuring all relationships transition smoothly.

2. Develop a Transition Plan (and Then Collaborate)

A comprehensive transition plan crucially maintains fundraising momentum and minimizes disruptions. A plan should outline action steps for the fundraising department during the transition, prospect engagement plans, and key communications schedule. Each task should include clear timelines and goals. Transitions can be a fluid process, so it’s essential for this plan to be flexible and the team nimble to manage inevitable adjustments. Regularly tracking transition benchmarks and maintaining annual fundraising goals will help identify areas that require additional support or change.

Open and transparent communication is vital during a leadership transition in higher education. An outgoing leader should be engaged regularly for transition planning insights,  to document institutional knowledge, and to keep the team informed.

3. Consider the Message

How will the community react to the news of this transition? How can the team convey stability and a bright future with authenticity? If a leader is well-regarded in the community, a transition can honor an outgoing leader, motivating prospects to consider making a gift to recognize this legacy. Conversely, a new leader can offer a fresh perspective and an opportunity to connect with new donors under a recharged strategy and message. When crafting your message, it will be important to leverage other institutional leaders and those closest to your organization (for example, board members, trustees, and other main insiders). 

A transition like this inevitably becomes an engagement touchpoint with your donors. Ask yourself, “How can we seize this opportunity to convey urgency and momentum for our institution’s needs?”

4. Engage Constituents in a Tiered Fashion

It can seem overwhelming to consider all the layers of communication needed when planning a leadership transition in higher education. A phased approach to communication can make this more manageable. Setting communication tiers determines the who, what, when, and how of donor-personalized communication. It is important to consider who from your donor base, versus a member of the advancement team, should hear directly from leadership before a public announcement. When considering communications with board members and trustees, you can engage them as recipients of crucial communication and partners in strategy, messaging, and even as communicators.

Personalized outreach will show key constituents that they are necessary to your institution’s community and that you value their partnerships and insights during this critical transition. These touchpoints present an opportunity for cultivation and stewardship and act as a starting point in transitioning critical relationships to the advancement team. When personalized outreach is not possible, the team should consider what broader methods or channels are possible ahead of a formal announcement and press release.

During a transition, many engagement opportunities will emerge. Town halls, search committees, and task forces can intentionally involve a diverse group of individuals in the process. As a fundraising leader, you can ensure that this group represents your institution’s many facets, aligns with your goals for donor development, and fosters inclusivity and diversity in your engagement efforts.

5. Involve the Outgoing Leader

The departing leader likely has a significant legacy and a deep connection to the institution. Exploring opportunities to foster a lasting impact through their continued engagement is paramount. One avenue to consider is inviting them to make a legacy gift to honor their contributions to the institution’s advancement. Additionally, exploring ways this leader can remain formally engaged is essential, such as through mentorship or consultancy for the new president. Long-term possibilities could include offering a structured emeritus position, involving them in the Board, or seeking regular support as an advocate in fundraising and at events. Former leaders are pivotal in shaping an institution’s legacy and can be vital champions for a cause.

6. Support the Incoming Leader

It is crucial to provide support and resources to the incoming leader while staying flexible and giving space for the inevitable unpredictability of transition. The team should prepare comprehensive onboarding materials, consider internal introductions to the advancement team, and provide ample opportunities for listening and learning. Encouraging a collaborative and inclusive environment will help the incoming leader build rapport quickly and model successful change management during a period of uncertainty for staff.

Leadership transition in higher education poses significant fundraising challenges. However, these challenges can be transformed through precise planning and proactive measures into opportunities for revitalized momentum and meaningful donor engagement.

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Enhance Your Year-End Fundraising With Gift Planning

August 31, 2023

Year-end fundraising campaigns are an opportunity to provide donors with every possible option to support your mission.


Campaign Readiness: Is Your Organization Prepared?

August 30, 2023

Wondering what to prepare as you embark on a campaign? From volunteer leadership to data analytics, this article offers key considerations and advice from four former CCS client partners on how to get started.

The journey to a donor’s first gift to your healthcare institution starts before they ever become a patient. Once a person schedules their first appointment or has an unexpected visit to the hospital, how are you embedding giving and the importance of their support into their overall experience as a patient?

In the 2023 CCS Philanthropy Pulse report, 143 healthcare institutions ranked more than 12 fundraising challenges they face today. Donor acquisition has remained one of the top-ranked challenges of the last few years, but in 2023, more people ranked it than ever before. Why has this remained an issue for several years in a row?

Healthcare’s landscape has evolved at a rapid pace since the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. We have seen growing shifts across multiple dimensions, from community hospitals to health system acquisitions, in-person doctor visits to telehealth appointments, hard copy patient records to digital patient feeds, and innovations in health informatics. Healthcare institutions have the unique benefit of constantly acquiring new patients and communities to serve, all of whom have the potential to become donors. As healthcare evolves, the patient experience adapts— our approach to grateful patient donor acquisition should too.


Just as a prospect research team or gift officer would research a prospect before a meeting, you can maximize engagement strategies and increase the likelihood of reciprocity by leveraging data insights to understand your patient population.  This can be as simple as researching the average household income or home value in your patient’s geographical catchment. Does it vary across counties? How does your patient population vary in age? Gender? How many of your patients are on government assistance? While many of these details are searchable online, building a relationship with your hospital’s marketing or patient experience team will enable you to leverage their expert insights.

Similarly, assessing your current patient donor population and evaluating their past engagement will provide context for what has been most successful in generating a first gift in the past. Was it a particular solicitation? A physician referral? A website or social media post? These insights can ensure that you maximize the strategies that have worked in the past and prioritize opportunities for the patient population you serve.


…Not just with names on buildings, but through the fabric of your hospital’s culture. This does not mean placing signs throughout the lobby that read “MAKE A GIFT!” Rather:

  • Embed ways a patient can say “thank you” in their welcome packets or post-care surveys. Patients frequently want to say, “thank you” and don’t know the best way. Make it easy to know how.
  • Promote stories of impact for gifts of all sizes. Embedding stories of how giving has impacted a patient, a physician or nurse, a hospital program, a breakthrough in science, or more, will set a precedence for the value the organization and patients place on all levels of philanthropic support.
  • Educate hospital professionals on the importance of giving and its role in their work, division, hospital, and the system overall. They serve as the frontline fundraiser before a patient connects with the foundation and can be your strongest partners and champions for giving.


Individuals are more likely to support an organization or cause when they understand its impact on others, including themselves. Before a patient receives a solicitation from the hospital foundation, use your communications to emphasize 1) the role that giving plays in making the services, programs, and breakthroughs possible and 2) the benefits that a donor can experience based on how they give. Illustrate or prove the valuable resource your healthcare organization is to them as an individual and the community at large.


Data shows 5 communications within the first 90 to 120 days post-hospital visit (one direct mail and four emails) increases the likelihood of a gift on the 2nd or 3rd communication (between 30 – 60 days). Most importantly, insights from the Woodmark Summit indicate a patient or patient family is 76% more likely to make a gift if they receive a communication within the first 30 days post-hospital visit or care.

Patient privacy is most important, so it’s essential to work with your hospital staff to ensure any data you receive is HIPAA-compliant.  Access to your hospital’s HIPAA-compliant patient data is an optimal opportunity to implement an automated patient data feed that allows the flexibility to automate and optimize your acquisition communications. This is not the case for all hospitals, in which case you can still leverage communications monthly based on the data you’re able to receive. Without access to patient data, you should plan and collaborate on a strategy forward with your hospital partners, ensuring you are substantively engaging potential donors for future sustainable support.


Whether you’re communicating with recent patients or your catchment population at large, every communication should include an A/B test. It deepens your understanding of your potential donor community by investigating how they interact with your email or direct mail piece. With this test, you can answer questions like: Which links did they click? What call to action or gift string generated a higher gift? What subject line yielded a higher open rate? By regularly evaluating these results, you will be able to enhance future communications and increase the likelihood of a first gift.

A patient’s journey to giving back starts before they step foot in your hospital or doctor’s office. Building a program focusing on the patient journey and donor benefits maximizes the likelihood of their philanthropic investment, enhances overall engagement with your healthcare organization, and optimizes your ability to request and secure major, principal, and planned gifts. A culture of philanthropy that centers the patient-donor and highlights the potential in major gifts of assets, illustrates the extraordinary work you do, and collective impact that is possible when everyone participates!

Part II of our Building a Patient-Centric Journey to Giving series will explore how to implement data-driven communication journeys that lead to donor conversion and maximize your pipeline towards major, principal, and planned giving potential. Stay tuned!

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Enhance Your Year-End Fundraising With Gift Planning

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Year-end fundraising campaigns are an opportunity to provide donors with every possible option to support your mission.


Campaign Readiness: Is Your Organization Prepared?

August 30, 2023

Wondering what to prepare as you embark on a campaign? From volunteer leadership to data analytics, this article offers key considerations and advice from four former CCS client partners on how to get started.

Some campaigns manifest success right from inception. However, sometimes an organization has a strategic campaign vision but requires assistance with its execution and to build momentum. In this article, we share an example of how a Catholic institution partnered with us at CCS Fundraising to reinvigorate their campaign. Ultimately, they surpassed their initial goal of $70 million by an impressive $20 million.

Our Approach to an Effective Campaign

Launched in 2018, this diocesan campaign aimed to raise $70 million to support Catholic education and formation, clergy and seminarians, evangelization and discipleship, and charity and justice. Despite a well-defined strategic vision, the campaign needed help gaining traction. By the end of its first year, it had only achieved 40% of its multi-year fundraising goal. Recognizing the need for expert support, the organization sought assistance from CCS.

A Comprehensive Assessment

Upon the engagement’s commencement, CCS comprehensively evaluated the campaign’s foundational elements through an intensive two-month rapid assessment. We used our tried-and-true method to enliven a stalling campaign, in which we focus on and analyze five crucial areas:

  1. Assessing the feasibility of the identified goal: CCS diligently examines whether the established goal remains attainable within the prevailing circumstances.
  2. Evaluating the case for support’s reception and articulation: CCS meticulously appraises how the campaign’s rationale resonates with stakeholders and its communication effectiveness. 
  3. Identifying potential opportunities at the lead gift level: CCS explores the potential for substantial contributions at the highest giving tier. This helps to overcome any initial setbacks or limitations.
  4. Gauging engagement levels of organizational, volunteer, and donor leadership: CCS assesses the enthusiasm and commitment of key individuals and groups responsible for driving the campaign forward, determining their willingness to undertake the necessary efforts to achieve the established goals.
  5. Conducting a comprehensive audit and review of campaign methodology: CCS conducts an exhaustive examination of the campaign’s strategies and tactics, aiming to identify any missteps or inefficiencies. Subsequently, we devises a clear plan of support that collaboratively aligns leadership and operational organization.

Unleashing the Power of Clarity

Through strategic interviews and diligent efforts, CCS helped meticulously redesign the case for support. This ensured effective communication of the campaign’s significance, its profound impact on local churches, and the specific areas to benefit from the funds. Refining the message resulted in a newfound clarity. Additionally, it instilled a renewed sense of purpose that resonated deeply with donors and volunteers, igniting their passionate commitment to the cause.

Achieving Operational Excellence

CCS also streamlined campaign operations to achieve success. With meticulous attention to detail, we formulated a comprehensive week-by-week plan encompassing well-defined fundraising benchmarks. Every campaign facet, from strategic considerations to implementation procedures, underwent thorough standardization. Thoughtful reevaluation and redesign of campaign materials ensured clear and concise communication with donors and volunteers. This methodical approach instilled a profound sense of organization and cohesion, fostering confidence and bolstering engagement levels.

Embracing Multiculturalism for Campaign Success

Recognizing the dynamic demographics of the Catholic community in the US, we place great significance on a multicultural approach. Clear and effective communication emerged as a priority in this diocese, where nearly half of the priests were foreign-born. Additional fundraising training resources addressed potential language and cultural barriers. By bridging gaps, fostering trust, and developing campaign materials in multiple languages, we effectively engaged the burgeoning population of Spanish-speaking Catholics and foreign-born priests in the Green Bay area. The result was an elevated level of participation and enthusiastic contributions as fundraisers approached these families for the first time to contribute to a capital campaign.

Captivating Donors With a Compelling Message

In the face of the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we supported remarkable resilience and adaptability across parishes. Recognizing the prevailing circumstances, we urged parishes to perceive the campaign as an opportunity to foster reconnection with their parishioners in the aftermath of the global crisis. Emphasizing the utilization of campaign funds to restore Mass attendance to pre-pandemic levels, we underscored the urgent need and the substantial impact on local communities. This poignant narrative struck a deep chord with parishioners, reigniting their faith and rekindling their commitment. Remarkably, more than twenty parish communities experienced a revitalization in Mass attendance. In turn, this infused renewed vitality into their faith communities and reaffirmed the profound impact of the campaign.

A Winning Campaign Strategy

Revitalizing a challenged campaign necessitated a strategic assessment of its shortcomings, rallying support from parishes, and effective communication with stakeholders. CCS Fundraising’s comprehensive approach, encompassing a range of strategic initiatives, played a pivotal role in the campaign’s resounding success.

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Enhance Your Year-End Fundraising With Gift Planning

August 31, 2023

Year-end fundraising campaigns are an opportunity to provide donors with every possible option to support your mission.


Campaign Readiness: Is Your Organization Prepared?

August 30, 2023

Wondering what to prepare as you embark on a campaign? From volunteer leadership to data analytics, this article offers key considerations and advice from four former CCS client partners on how to get started.

We learned about the applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in fundraising in Revolutionizing Fundraising Part I: Six Ways AI is Transforming the Nonprofit Sector, but what are some real-time insights into how nonprofits use AI to boost donor engagement and drive lasting impact?

AI can create efficiencies, such as making existing processes uncomplicated and faster, reducing chances of errors, getting better data, and helping staff focus on more challenging issues. Here are some examples of nonprofits using AI to help them reach their goals more efficiently.

AI Applications

Natural Language Generation to Create Donor Narratives

Natural Language Generation (NLG) uses machine learning and natural language processing to create human-like texts based on given prompts. NLG can turn donor data, including donation amounts, dates, and impact metrics, into personalized and captivating stories that connect with donors. This technology allows organizations to share the transformative impact of each donation, engaging donors and maintaining a high level of personalization while saving time and resources.

Example: See examples and screenshots of ChatGPT’s use to generate thank-you emails, social media content, announcements, etc.
How to get started: Get a deeper understanding of large-language models (LLMs) with Coursera co-founder and AI expert Andrew Ng’s course series on building applications using LLMs.
Note: Some online tools may use your input as training data for their models. Avoid entering sensitive and confidential information. Since these models are built on text from websites on the internet, the generated language could be biased, non-inclusive, and offensive. Finally, these models and tools often make things up. Always verify the generated text for accuracy and propriety.

Natural Language Processing to Analyze Sentiment

The Natural Language Processing (NLP) toolkit includes tools and techniques to analyze the sentiment of a text, categorizing it as positive, negative, or neutral. These tools can assess donor engagement or feelings about a nonprofit by studying donor emails or gift officer visit reports. In addition, nonprofits can build an organization-level dashboard to monitor their donor population’s sentiments.

Example: Amnesty International built Troll Patrol to detect online abuse using Twitter data.
How to get started: Review Hubspot’s list of sentiment analysis tools to experiment with.

Grateful Patient Data Technology to Reveal Opportunities

Healthcare fundraising often relies on the generosity of grateful patients and their families. However, identifying potential supporters among hundreds or thousands of visits and patients remains challenging. AI-enabled automation offers a new solution for nonprofits to connect with potential donors effectively. This technology automates data extraction and analysis, allowing organizations to identify patients who express gratitude for their care. Using the nonprofit’s criteria, the technology generates lists of qualified prospects based on wealth capacity, prospect information, and machine learning. This significantly reduces the time required for data gathering, analysis, and prospect identification.

Example: This research paper describes the prediction of patient experience using machine learning. Similar methods apply to any healthcare organization to predict patient satisfaction and turn positive experiences into qualified donor prospects.
How to get started: The CCS Data Analytics team can create a data management, augmentation, transformation, and dissemination solution for your organization. This solution will drastically reduce the time taken from data intake and clean-up to prospect recommendations. It will focus on ensuring that your institution uses this data successfully and strengthen a culture of philanthropy to raise transformational and sustainable support from patients.

Chatbots to Engage Website Visitors 24/7

Nonprofits use AI-powered chatbots on their websites to engage with visitors, answer questions, and facilitate donations. Such chatbots are trained on vast amounts of proprietary data and tailored with if-and-then rules. Chatbots can provide information to visitors and encourage them to donate to the cause. This helps reduce response time to common questions and helps direct donors to programs aligned with their giving priorities.

Example: World Wildlife Fund’s Facebook Messenger assistant
How to get started: Tools like Chatfuel will let you create a chatbot without complicated programming.

Image Recognition to Categorize Media Assets

AI-powered image recognition helps organizations catalog their media assets. The technology allows the nonprofit to easily search and retrieve images for use in fundraising campaigns and other outreach efforts, making the appeals more relevant and compelling while reducing staff time searching for images.

Example: National Geographic Society
How to get started: Amazon Rekognition allows you to automate image recognition.

The Power of AI to Maximize Resources

Nonprofits can benefit significantly from using AI, as seen in these examples. AI can help simplify work, reduce mistakes, gain valuable insights from data, and allow staff to focus on meaningful work. With AI, nonprofits can better engage donors, save time and money, and meet their goals. Taking the first steps to use AI can help nonprofits make strong connections, create lasting impact, and build a bright future for fundraising. Now the question is: What approach will you take to unlock the potential of AI within your organization?

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Data Integrity & Inclusion: Considerations for Intentional Data Collection

June 14, 2023

Our world exists beyond binaries. Learn from CCS Fundraising Systems Director Maz King how to ensure that your data honors your donors through data integrity and inclusion.

I once knew a man named Lauren, a name that was once popular for men but has since “gone out of fashion.” In a previous nonprofit position, I was surprised to find him in our database—and even more surprised to see someone had marked his gender as female and going so far as to add a “Ms.” to his salutation. I quietly corrected the mistake. 

Someone else quietly changed it back. 

Their intentions were good—they wanted to expand our data collection, ensuring that all the Johns and Janes of the world had appropriate gender markers and salutations for future event invites and direct mailings. However, without proper protocols about when and how to update donor records, they contributed to what is known as dirty data.  

The database kept an audit log of all changes, so I found the culprit and explained that, no, this donor is not a woman; can you please leave the record as you found it? This honest mistake could have resulted in a slight to Lauren, someone whom I knew had been on the receiving end of honest data mistakes his whole life and who would appreciate an organization to which he donated a significant sum to correctly address him as “Mr.” 

The world is full of Laurens—donors with unusual names, donors whose data points invite contradictions of how we expect to categorize people. Our world exists beyond binaries, but that’s not always the case for the tools that we use. It’s time to think about how we ensure that our data honors our donors through data integrity and inclusion. Below are some considerations for thoughtful and intentional data collection and application. 

steps toward data inclusivity

Tracking Meaningful Data

We tend to think that the more data we have, the better. However, I often work with organizations with too much data—too many options to choose from upon data entry, data tracked in the wrong field, and data collected in online donation forms that are never used. 

A key data integrity component is tracking the data that will lead your organization to relevant insights and outcomes. In the case of the dirty data culprit mentioned above, they wanted to invite women to events hosted by our organization’s women’s giving circle in the hope that they would become more philanthropically involved. Gender was a meaningful data point to track (though I would argue that gender is rarely relevant outside of specific gender-targeting initiatives like the women’s giving circle). The problem was that the data was not donor-provided—it was employee-assumed.  

Your organization should determine what data is most important to achieving success. Often this starts by asking, “What does success look like for us?” and then working backward to understand what data points will inform your goals. For instance, if you want to expand your direct marketing, you would require addresses and emails on forms that donors and prospects fill out and run queries to check for inaccuracies in either field (such as gmal.com vs. gmail.com). Creating data standards and protocols that outline when and who enters integral data is equally important—these guardrails help organizations keep their data clean and trustworthy. 

Addressing Donors With Respect

I once worked at an organization with around 60 salutation options on their online donation form. Trying to choose a title was one long, seemingly endless scroll. With the approval of the chief development officer, I narrowed the list down to a reasonable number of salutation options to improve the donor experience—and added an option as well.  

Mx. (pronounced “mix”) is a gender-inclusive salutation often used by individuals who are not strictly male or female. Adding this option to the form signaled to donors that our organization valued and made space for donors who live outside the binary of Mr. and Mrs./Ms. As a trans person, it was vitally important to me that our data reflected the diversity of our donors. 

Donors trust organizations to keep their data safe. If someone shares their information with an organization, it’s up to that organization to honor it. Adding gender-inclusive options to data fields allows organizations to accurately and respectfully capture information about their donors. Beyond salutations, organizations should consider tracking pronouns—pronouns are used daily and are critical to referring to someone with dignity. Capturing and using the correct pronouns is another way of valuing donors, and expanding data to account for gender diversity gives organizations helpful markers to aid stewardship. 

Connecting the Donor Dots

With the passing of the Obergefell ruling, nonprofits are seeing an increase in LGBTQ+ philanthropy, as more couples who can legally marry now choose to donate together. Often the spouses do not have the same last name—leading to a data integrity breach. Each person in the relationship receives separate solicitations because they have not been labeled as a single household in a database.  


This challenge is not limited to LGBTQ+ donors—over the years, I’ve seen the use of “Mrs.” decrease as younger donors seem less interested in titles or adopting their husband’s last name. However, it’s important that organizations do their best to link these donors and develop stewardship plans involving both partners. Linking and soft crediting the donors accurately captures their combined donation totals and ensures both partners are involved in their philanthropic giving. Treating spouses who wish to donate together as a single entity demonstrates that your organization respects their union and appreciates their giving—no one should allow poor data practices to get in the way of good donor stewardship. 

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Featuring essential philanthropic research from all major sources in the industry, this exclusive report examines key themes in American philanthropy and the latest data on giving by US individuals, foundations, and corporations.


Revolutionizing Fundraising Part II: 5 Nonprofit Sector AI Application Examples

June 20, 2023

Artificial Intelligence can help nonprofits make strong connections, create lasting impact, and build a bright fundraising future.