Concerns about the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) underscore the nonprofit sector’s vital leadership role in the welfare of our communities. At CCS Fundraising, our primary concern lies with the health and safety of our people, our nonprofit partners, and those in our communities at greatest risk.

We understand that many nonprofit organizations are seeking guidance on how to proceed during this time of uncertainty. CCS has extensive experience over the past 70 years in times of crisis, economic stress, and natural disasters. There are several lessons we have garnered through these experiences.

These lessons focus on the importance of continuous communication and engagement with stakeholders, prudent adjustments to short-term fundraising activities, and a focused commitment to staying the course of an organization’s overall fundraising plans. Strong leadership and resilience have helped charitable organizations persevere through challenging times. Nonprofit organizations have achieved success through flexibility, creativity, and resolve.

In light of the current and rapidly evolving circumstances, CCS offers the following general principles and specific guidelines around fundraising efforts:

  • Increase communication: Keep your stakeholders fully informed and deeply engaged. Donors and stakeholders are interested in how organizations are affected by the current situation, and what actions are being taken.
  • Avoid wholesale cancellation of fundraising plans: Adhere to your overall fundraising plans and strategies, with reasonable adjustments to your day-to-day meetings, events, and activities, depending on your local circumstances.
  • Reaffirm your mission and impact: Reaffirm your organization’s mission and continuously remind donors of the impact of your work. If you have a special role to play in the current public health issue, explain it.
  • Develop a short-term action plan: Develop a plan of action, including a communications plan over the next several weeks, featuring an outreach initiative of personal calls and emails to key donors and friends.
  • Leverage technology: Find ways to more effectively incorporate video conferencing, podcasts, or virtual briefings that make meetings more dynamic and create more personal experiences regardless of distance. Consider how social media or other virtual platforms can serve as temporary alternatives to in-person convenings.
  • Motivate: Redouble efforts to help motivate development staff, administrative leadership, and trustees by reminding them of the resilience of philanthropy in difficult times. Donors who feel engaged and connected will continue to support their beloved institutions, especially in times of crisis.
  • Share philanthropic information: Share the latest philanthropic information to both motivate leadership and temper expectations.
  • Consider special briefings: Consider hosting a series of teleconference briefings with stakeholders on issues pertinent to the current situation. Donors and constituents are interested in knowing how a nonprofit is responding to the current situation: whether classes, events, services, or performances are being altered or canceled; how employees are being cared-for; how operations are affected; if any new services or programs are being initiated in response to current circumstances.
  • Show empathy and concern for your stakeholders: We have all been impacted by COVID-19 in some way. Giving is a two-way street and donors want to know that you value them and are concerned about their welfare. Offer any resources that might be helpful to your stakeholders.

In challenging times, those nonprofit organizations that stay the course and engage extensively with their stakeholders emerge successfully. These situations offer an important time for nonprofits to demonstrate their relevance and cement their relationships with their donors and friends. Donors look to these organizations as vital resources. In the past, those donors who stopped supporting specific nonprofits during or after a crisis did so primarily because they no longer felt connected to them.

The last point is particularly important, as it may feel like now is a moment to pause or delay your activity. It is very important to note that in previous downturns, those who continued to push forward in their efforts ultimately succeeded, and those who took a step back lost ground.

Thank you for all that you do to strengthen our communities and improve our world. We hope these principles, gleaned through many years of experience and periods of uncertainty, are helpful as you carefully navigate your development and fundraising efforts in the coming months.

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During this challenging time, we are continuing to offer our perspectives and lessons learned from over seven decades of nonprofit advisory leadership. Click here to access our Strategies During COVID-19 page. Here you will find resources that provide best practices and optimal strategies to help your organization build a path through this crisis and beyond.

For more up-to-date information, visit

To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

Engaged and good leadership is essential to the success of a parish campaign. Leadership in a parish campaign starts with the Rector. If the Rector is supportive and involved in the fundraising plan, the likelihood of parishioner participation will increase and there is a higher chance the campaign will be successful.

Leadership is a core pillar of a successful capital campaign. The confidence inspired by a leader and their advocacy is infectious. This is not just some cliché; the importance of leadership in any organization is supported by research. A 2016 Harvard Business Review article titled, “The Trickle-Down Effect of Good (and Bad) Leadership,” demonstrated that “good leadership is contagious…and so is bad leadership.”

A Rector’s positive attitude and engagement trickles down to the vestry and trickles even further to the community. Parishioners look up to the Rector for leadership, spiritual guidance, and support. Simply stated – when the Rector is involved, others will want to be involved too. The inverse can be true of negative attitudes and lack of engagement.

However, it is not enough to show up to campaign meetings and announce you have made a gift. Leadership engagement in a campaign, and behaviors that are contagious, are inspired by something much deeper spiritually in the parish community. The two examples that follow focus on the positive influence of good, thoughtful, and mission-driven leadership on the success of capital campaigns.

Establish Early Momentum

The For All the Saints capital campaign was the first major fundraising effort for St. John’s Episcopal Church (Tallahassee, FL) since transitions in leadership and membership at the parish a decade earlier. The campaign focused on both preservation of historic buildings and construction of new facilities. During the campaign feasibility and planning study, the transitions were the top reason participants suggested a campaign could be challenging. This led to a low score for the study compared to other Episcopal parishes in terms of parishioners’ willingness to personally support the campaign. Parishioners identified a challenge and it made them hesitant to participate financially.

Despite this, the annual stewardship and planned giving programs were healthy, demonstrating that parishioners were committed to St. John’s financial wellbeing. Regardless, the Rector, the Reverend Dave Killeen, knew he had to address these hesitations. In partnership with the Rev. Killeen and the Campaign Chair, CCS developed a plan to not only reassure the parish it would be successful, but also demonstrate early success to establish momentum, raise giving sights, and validate the case for support.

The Rev. Killeen and the Campaign Chair led with conviction. At the first campaign leadership meeting two weeks into the campaign, the Rev. Killeen announced the campaign had already secured close to 25% of the goal. The campaign leaders were impressed – audible gasps and applause echoed throughout the room. They reflected on how that progress made the campaign goal feel attainable.

Volunteers were clearly inspired by the Rev. Killeen’s commitment to their success; it was contagious. They heard his stories and saw results. St. John’s went on to secure 301 gifts totaling $4,803,090, or 160% of their original $3,000,000 goal, with the engagement of 64 parish volunteers.

The plan worked. The Rev. Killeen and the Campaign Chair demonstrated the viability of the campaign. The Rev. Killeen not only attended most of the volunteer meetings, he participated in 66 requests visits. He established his expertise, reflected openly on his successes and setbacks, and demonstrated trust in the gift request process. These are leadership traits that are essential to the success of any nonprofit organization.

Be Intentional

The Built with Purpose campaign at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (Houston, TX) was focused on retiring the debt incurred from renovations of their sanctuary. The case was compelling, not just because of the before and after pictures showcasing the impact, but because it was clear that if the debt was retired sooner, they could invest more in mission priorities. No one needed convincing.

However, the feasibility and planning study revealed that the willingness of parishioners to volunteer was lower than most Episcopal churches and the study indicated that lack of engagement could be the greatest challenge. Since parishioner-to-parishioner gift requests are a hallmark of successful parish campaigns, the Rector, the Reverend Patrick Miller, knew this had to be addressed, both for the campaign and the long-term vitality of St. Mark’s.

The Rev. Miller chose to be intentional, and engaged parishioners as volunteers who represented the diversity of his growing parish. He realized early on that this campaign would nourish and grow parish life for years to come. For example, when identifying potential volunteers, he went beyond the people who volunteer for everything. He leveraged the campaign to get new people involved and ensure multiple generations were represented. He even had a plan to engage the children and youth. In looking back, everyone was a candidate, because the Rev. Miller believed in his parish and saw this campaign as an opportunity to cement the connectedness of his community.

Another unique aspect of this campaign was that the Rev. Miller “engineered” volunteers’ success. He helped by pairing volunteers with gift requests that he knew would be successful. Specifically, he knew to match people who knew each other, but were not so close it would be uncomfortable to ask each other for money. He matched peers to peers. Volunteers were more confident when he said, “I know this request will be successful if you are involved.” The Rev. Miller understood that if each volunteer had at least one successful gift request, they would be more likely to remain engaged.

The Rev. Miller’s leadership style was intentional and built on a strong belief in the parish’s potential. He personally requested and secured just over $2,000,000 of the total funds secured. Over 40 volunteers accelerated the campaign past their goal and secured 141 gifts totaling $3,102,665. Not only could they pay off the debt early, they could fund essential mission priorities sooner than anyone had imagined.

Ensure Success

Leadership is a necessity for a successful campaign. As my colleague, Vann Ellen Mitchell, said in a recent article, leadership “engagement will make or break the campaign.” The intentionality and awareness that the Rev. Dave Killeen and the Rev. Patrick Miller demonstrated in the planning for their campaigns ensured the success, not just for the campaigns, but for their parish.

As you begin to plan your next campaign, consider these takeaways:

  1. Conduct a feasibility and planning study: Both parishes had completed strategic planning, but the feasibility and planning study assessed the viability of the capital campaign with the parishioners who would ultimately make an investment. The study not only validated the case and plan, but revealed challenges and opportunities that could be directly addressed early.
  2. Build a systematic plan focused on leadership: The campaign plan should focus on a phased approach for organization and efficiency purposes as well as creating a volunteer engagement environment that is manageable and built on the momentum of early success.
  3. Most importantly, ensure your Rector is deeply engaged. It is the Rector’s role to ensure the success of the campaign. Their involvement in the planning, recruitment, and gift request process is essential. Parishioners naturally look to the Rector for leadership, guidance, and support, and during a capital campaign their engagement could not be more important.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

We are pleased to present the third edition of Perspectives on Catholic Fundraising, a magazine for executives, development officers, and anyone navigating the current Catholic philanthropic terrain.

In this publication, our experts from the field report on pressing high-level challenges facing Catholic institutions today. These pieces will provide practical tools and actionable solutions to help bolster development programs of any size.

Within the magazine, you will find an infographic detailing the Catholic giving landscape, an accompanying analysis, case studies from some of our partner institutions, and the following articles:

5 Easy Steps Before Planning a Parish Campaign

Taking on a parish campaign of any size requires careful planning. Campaigns rarely fail in the middle or at the end. Success typically hinges on proper preparation prior to launching a major fundraising initiative.

How Adopting Technology Can Help Personalize Outreach

Technology is not meant to supplant personal encounters; it is meant to facilitate them. By incorporating technology into your communications and fundraising plans, you can reach out to a large audience of parishioners in ways that are both faster and more personal than previously imagined.

Considering an Increased Offertory Program for a Sustainable Future

If circumstances currently prevent your parish from conducting a large or extensive campaign, it would be wise to consider an alternative approach: conducting a campaign to increase weekly collections.

Three Keys to Implementing a Successful Giving Day Strategy

Executing a giving day strategy can be a useful tool to raise awareness and funds, as long as you make the right preparations and have reasonable and achievable goals.

Effective Leadership: Maximizing the Impact of Your Campaign Chairs

As a crucial leadership position, the campaign chair should be open to maximizing relationships to assist with major gift prospect visits.

To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

So you’ve identified a family who has the potential to make a transformational gift. They’ve made a moderate gift to your annual fund and are showing interest in deepening their engagement. But how do you move them from a transactional annual fund supporter to a transformational investor in your school’s vision? In this article, we explore the specific steps you can take to prepare your prospective major donors for a big ask.

The Growing Power of Independent School Philanthropy

In the spring of 2019, Blackbaud Institute reported that among its sample of over 9,000 nonprofits, K-12 schools saw the highest average gift size of all giving to any sector. In fact, over the past five years, average annualized growth of giving to the education subsector has outpaced the average growth rate for total giving.

The types of gifts across all sectors also looks to be changing. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project reported that 2018 gains in giving across all sectors were driven exclusively by gifts over $1,000 and that new donors making gifts over $1,000 increased by more than 37 percent.

It is undeniable that major gifts are a vital source of support that can transform the ways in which schools are able to advance their mission and impact students.

Unique Opportunities and Challenges

No other type of nonprofit has the frequency of interaction and proximity to their donors as day schools, where parents are often, if not daily, picking up and dropping off their children, attending meetings, and volunteering in various capacities. This provides independent schools myriad opportunities to build deeper relationships with their prospective donors and demonstrate the impact of their mission. The nature of independent school missions also fosters deeply held sentiments of gratitude from parents and alumni – which in turn provide a deep pipeline of potential ambassadors to draw from.

Alternatively, we also recognize the challenges that come with raising funds with this audience. Parents of primary, middle, and upper school students may be younger in age and less experienced in flexing their philanthropic muscles. This fledgling stage of philanthropy may often mean prospective donors require more education to understand why they are being asked to give to various funding priorities at their school (i.e. annual fund, benefit, or capital campaign), all the while they may also be experiencing solicitations from many different nonprofits simultaneously.

Steps to Get You There

Independent schools have a tremendous opportunity to leverage a highly engaged prospective donor pool to secure significant philanthropic support. Therefore, what steps can independent schools take to foster a relationship that will allow for a transformational gift request to take place? We focus on the act of making a request because there is never a guarantee that a prospective donor will give a transformational gift. But if we take the necessary steps to cultivate and steward a donor properly before a request is made, the likelihood of securing a meaningful investment will be much higher.

1) A Vision that Matters

Before donor outreach begins, it is imperative to outline the collective vision that will advance a school’s mission. A strategic plan is an excellent place to begin this discussion. What were the major takeaways from those discussions with stakeholders and what are the priorities that need to be funded in order to move the school forward? These goals should be at the heart of your discussion with donors. By focusing on the high-level vision, you can reflect on past generations of parents who have created the school you are today and the need for current parents to carry on that legacy of excellence. Always remember that aspirational goals are required to secure aspirational gifts.

2) The Art of Cultivation

Cultivation is not the ask. This work is about building trust with your donors. Create intentional events and interactions that help school leadership, faculty, and advocates share the school’s impact and vision for the future, and provide space for a dialogue that will deepen prospective donor engagement and create buy-in. Some tactics to keep in mind as you develop cultivation events:

  • Enlist your top donors and strongest proponents to serve as ambassadors. Their testimonies build a culture of pride for philanthropy and peer-to-peer education is often the most effective form of advocacy.
  • Create opportunities that educate donors about your objectives. Have a capital project? Bring in an architect or expert to talk about the impact of educational spaces on student performance. If a campaign priority has to do with programs or curriculum, i.e. STEM or performing arts, enlist an expert in the field to help showcase the professional landscape that students need to be prepared for.
  • Be very clear about event objectives. If it is an event to thank donors for their support – keep the program clear of requests. If it a fundraising event or meeting – make sure this is clearly stated in the invitation.

3) Executing Donor Moves Management

It is vitally important to track the interactions that help deepen your relationships with donors and to create space where a request can be made. Listed below is a typical donor cycle:

  • Cultivation – building a relationship with Head, Board Chair, Director of Advancement, Peers, etc.
  • Brief – meeting to specifically talk about the campaign or fundraising initiative(s).
  • Pre-Request – narrowing down donors’ interest and setting the stage for the request, i.e. asking permission to present a proposal for support.
  • Request – presenting a formal proposal for support and making the ask.
  • Steward – timely, accurate, and consistent appreciation for generosity and reporting of impact.

What often happens is a donor continues to be cultivated and briefed, but there isn’t a distinct step that allows your school to make an ask. Setting clear expectations for meetings, asking donors specific questions regarding how they would like to proceed, and allowing them to share their level of comfort with giving is extremely helpful. Some sample language to move a donor from cultivation and brief stage into an ask include:

  • Invitation to a Brief: “The school we are today is in thanks to the families who came before us who invested in our continued excellence. My hope is that you can be one of those leaders in our community. Can we meet to talk about how you can be an integral part of advancing our important work?”
  • Articulating a Clear Plan: “Can we meet to talk about my vision for the school’s future and how you can be a leader in supporting our campaign?”
  • Setting the Stage for an Ask Meeting: “Can we sit down in a month so that I can present a formal proposal of support that aligns with your passions for the school and what we talked about today?”

4) Making the Ask

Take the guessing game out of this process by being very clear about the intentions of the meeting and make sure to ask your prospective donor for a specific gift. At this point, you have done the groundwork and your donor knows they will be asked for a gift. Even if you overshoot the gift amount, they know it is well-intentioned and it is rare that donors will be offended by an aspirational ask. And just as important as the ask is your follow-up. The right ask amount will likely necessitate that your donor take some time to deliberate about their gift level. It is extremely important that you continue following up with the donor so that when they have made their decision, you are prepared to accept and show gratitude. A great question to ask when following up with donors is, “What do you need to make your decision on my request for your leadership gift?”

5) Meaningful Stewardship

Well executed stewardship fosters loyal and sustaining support. Our three rules to stewardship include:

  • Accurate: Make sure your school’s processes are in place. This includes accurate data entry and maintenance. Nothing will hurt stewardship more than mistakes in donor names, student names, etc. Accurate giving history is also crucial to building effective fundraising strategies.
  • Timely and Consistent: Donors should receive a thank you in a consistent and timely manner. Determine what stewardship touch points each giving level should receive and stick to the plan. The same applies to stewardship events. Establish annual stewardship gatherings that celebrate cohorts of donors. This will help create a feeling of excitement around giving at certain levels and can help inspire donors to elevate their giving to join a higher tier.
  • Authentic: Create opportunities to steward donors that are commensurate with the level of generosity and make them as personal as possible. Don’t underestimate the power of a phone call, voice message, and/or handwritten note.

Where to Start

A good way to approach this process is to focus on the things you can control:

  • Audit your stewardship process: A well-oiled thank you process is imperative to sustaining fundraising success. Sit down with your team to make sure everyone understands the stewardship process.
  • Review the accuracy of your donor information: Is your team inputting information correctly and consistently? Everything from donor information to gift details needs to be entered properly to ensure credible reporting, data review, and development of future strategy.
  • Identify your top 10 prospects: Determine which of your donors meet the golden trifecta: strong past giving, current affinity to your organization, and accessibility to a member of your fundraising leadership team. Those who meet these three criteria are your most promising donors.
  • Make an individual plan for each of your top 10: Each donor has unique characteristics and needs. Create a plan for each donor which reflects their place in your donor pipeline and map out how you will get them to a gift request. Honoring where donors are in your pipeline will allow you to have an authentic and honest conversation about how they want to be cultivated and how realistic their potential support will be.

At the heart of fundraising is the ability to keep these structures in mind as you create personalized approaches for each of your donors. Knowing your vision and remaining committed to seeing your goals to their completion is vitally important to fundraising success, but so is your ability to be flexible and resilient as you navigate the infinite complexities of donor needs. Always remember the most compelling cases for support clearly demonstrate how your aspirational funding priorities will advance your mission and deepen impact.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

In recent years, many leaders in the nonprofit landscape have taken important steps to incorporate diversity and inclusion into their organizations’ missions and practices. As nonprofits work with an increasingly diverse and globalized set of clients, beneficiaries, partners, and employees, many have engaged in thoughtful self-examination and made changes to ensure they engage effectively and communicate respectfully across any number of cultural barriers. Universities and independent schools may have offices or deans of multicultural education to advance the diversity and inclusivity of their student and faculty bodies. Many hospitals provide initiatives to help doctors better care for a wide cultural spectrum of patients and their families.

Yet how frequently are similar cultural considerations made in nonprofit fundraising? The landscape of philanthropy is also quickly diversifying , and many CCS clients work with constituents from a broad range of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds: from multiethnic Catholic parishes, to hospitals serving predominantly immigrant communities, to museums that increasingly partner with art collectors from mainland China and Hong Kong.

Developing cultural competence is essential to building trust and effective engagement with an increasingly diverse community of donors. It goes beyond making simple generalizations about people of different backgrounds; rather, it challenges professionals to deeply understand their donors’ mindsets and adapt their practices accordingly. Doing so will allow nonprofit fundraisers to build better relationships, expand their organizations’ reach, and more effectively and respectfully engage with philanthropists and donors from varied walks of life on their own terms.

What is Cultural Competence?

In order to fundraise effectively through a multicultural lens, it’s helpful for nonprofits to first understand the multiplicity of cultures that their supporters may identify with. When we hear the word “culture,” we may jump to considering national origin or ethnicity. These are certainly important cultural elements, but they aren’t the only ones. Culture – what social psychologist Geert Hofstede calls “the programming of the mind” – can account for how many different groups of people act, think and communicate. Age, socioeconomic status, religion, race, sexual orientation, nationality, and gender are all cultural factors to consider in fundraising, and (to complicate matters further) each person has several intersecting cultural identities. Families from Germany and China might approach giving to nonprofits very differently, but so might 35-year-old donors and 70-year-old donors, or Orthodox or Secular Jewish philanthropists. Before developing donor strategies, it’s critical for nonprofits to understand any significant groups within their supporter base that share a similar culture or identity.

Once fundraisers have identified their supporters’ cultural identities, they can use cultural competence to translate that information into a lens by which to effectively understand and relate to donors. Cultural competence is the ability to think and function effectively across cultures and work effectively with people from different backgrounds.[1] It can encompass awareness of one’s own and others’ “mental programming” and developing practical knowledge of how that programming will translate into everyday situations.

Applying Cultural Competence to Nonprofit Fundraising

Many nonprofit fundraisers already know their supporters’ cultures well and are cognizant of the best way to approach them. Fundraisers for Catholic churches have found that Vietnamese parishioners frequently prefer to give collectively rather than individually; others have noted that many Latino congregations center their fundraising around community-focused events rather than individual solicitations. Yet there are always ways to deepen and broaden one’s cultural awareness. Cultural factors to consider in working with donors can include:

Language. What primary language do your constituents and donor base speak? Would they feel more comfortable speaking or receiving materials in their native language, or are their English-language skills a point of pride?

Religion and spirituality. Religion can heavily impact a donor’s relationship to giving. Many cultures view giving as a religious activity and may prioritize gifts to their church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Fundraisers should be aware of how religion influences a donor’s motivation, but also how religious observances might influence when and how to best discuss a gift. It’s important to be considerate of major holidays like Yom Kippur, when observant Jewish donors may consider it improper to discuss finances, or Ramadan, when Muslim donors may be fatigued or feel uncomfortable attending events with food as they fast. When planning events, fundraisers should also consider dietary restrictions.

Age. Studies of generational giving demonstrate that a donor’s age can influence how, where, when, and why they choose to give. For instance, while 60% of donors over 75 contribute to religious causes, only 32% of Millennials aged 24-42 do the same. Age contributes to what people value in communication with an organization as well. For example, younger donors may gravitate toward online giving not only for its convenience, but also because they value reducing the paper use of traditional appeal and thank-you mailings.

Nationality and ethnicity. Often the most common cultural miscommunications occur between people of different nationalities – people who may have grown up surrounded by norms, values, and unspoken assumptions that create just as much trouble as a language barrier. This can happen with fundraising as well. One independent school fundraiser spent many fruitless attempts to meet with his school’s Korean parent community, only to have them turn down all his meeting requests. He finally learned from a colleague that many parents were actually very interested in supporting the school, but felt uncomfortable because he’d asked to meet with them at home – an extremely intimate setting for Korean nationals. Once he began setting up meetings in bars and restaurants, he found parents were willing and excited to speak with him. Nonprofit fundraisers should make an effort to understand how national culture affects donors’ communication preferences, assumptions around philanthropy, and decision-making processes. In many cultures, the gender of the donor and fundraiser may also play a key role in how (or even if) meetings take place, who becomes involved in “charity work,” and who controls family finances. Yet while these can be deep and important considerations to make, small touches, like remembering to send good wishes to a donor on important cultural holidays, can also make people feel meaningfully seen and appreciated.

Socioeconomic and educational factors. Finally, a donors’ educational and class background can also determine their approach to philanthropy – or even if they consider philanthropy something exclusively for “other people” with traditionally wealthy backgrounds. Written appeals that sound too formal or complex may come off as elitist to some donors, and organizations may need to put extra effort into engaging donors from backgrounds where giving was neither a possibility nor a priority. Nonprofits should reflect on how they conduct donor education and cultivation, and how they can share the impact of gifts of every size.

Developing Cultural Competence

So how can fundraisers build their cultural competence, avoid cross-cultural mishaps, and engage donors from a wide range of backgrounds? It may be tempting to hunt for easy rules of thumb or generalizations, but cultures and identities are incredibly complex and intersecting. Even two donors of the same ethnicity and religion might have wildly different personalities or value sets. Rather than make generalizations (“Latinos always put family first”) or hunt for resources that skim the cultural surface (“10 Tricks for Working with Businesspeople from X!”), fundraisers should look for ways to incorporate a culturally competent mindset into all their work. Cultural scholar Debra Deardorff[2] recommends building this mindset through a three-pillared “Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes” approach:

Developing the first pillar – cultural knowledge – might mean learning a language or developing expertise in a specific regional culture or religion, by spending time abroad, or attending services. Knowledge also implies cultural self-awareness, built by examining one’s own biases and assumptions. This examination often reveals that much of what seems “normal” or “common sense” may actually be determined by one’s own specific upbringing.

Of course, cultural knowledge is only useful if it’s effectively put into practice with other people. To do so, fundraisers need the second pillar of cultural competence – skills of listening and asking questions, thoughtful empathy, and the ability to work through conflicts and miscommunications. All of this should be undergirded with an open mind, a willingness to learn and be flexible, and a sense of comfort in unfamiliar or ambiguous situations where there may not be one clear “right approach.”

Deardorff’s model demonstrates a holistic approach to cultural competence, and all of these pillars can be incorporated through small changes in our mindset and daily work to have a big impact. Fundraisers can start with an attitude of willingness to learn over the long term, coupled with the humility that it’s not possible to quickly become fully competent in someone else’s culture. From there, they can:

Reflect. Begin by reflecting as a department or organization to understand – what cultures and identities are represented in our donor body? In our staff? What are our own biases and assumptions that might be based on our cultural background? Do fundraising volunteers seem similar to the people they’re speaking with? Are we making decisions because they’re right for all our donors, or because it’s what we’re used to?
Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask the right person to understand a complex or unfamiliar cultural situation. That person may be an organizational colleague, a board member or, in some cases, the donor themselves.
Empathize. Everyone has their own assumptions of what’s normal. In working with donors, consider what actions might seem best from their perspective (which you should have an inkling of, if you’ve reflected and asked the right questions!). Ask, “how might we meet this individual where they are in with their approach and understanding of philanthropy?”
Learn. In addition to reaching out to ask questions, there are many ways to learn about the history and context of the cultures your donors are a part of. Engage in conversation and ask people where and how you might learn more. If you’re interested specifically in developing your professional cultural competence skills in fundraising, the following resources are helpful:

– Lilya Wagner, Diversity and Philanthropy: Expanding the Circle of Giving
– Urvashi Vaid and Ashindi Maxton, The Apparitional Donor: Understanding and Engaging High Net Worth Donors of Color

– Related CCS Fundraising Articles:

Lasting Effects

Adapting a lens of cultural competency in fundraising will promote understanding through respectful intercultural dialogue. Ultimately, fundraisers with cultural competence will also be more empathetic, supportive, and understanding of the people they work with, regardless of background. Donors who feel authentically seen, heard, and understood will be excited to partner with an organization that allows them to do so on their own cultural terms.

[1] Adapted from Leung, K., Ang, S. and Tan, M.L. (2014), ‘Intercultural Competence’, Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behaviour, 1:4889-519.

[2] Deardorff, D. K. (2006), The Identification and Assessment of Intercultural Competence as a Student Outcome of Internationalization at Institutions of Higher Education in the United States, Journal of Studies in International Education 10:241-266.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

More Insights


Developing School-Wide Support for Campaign Strategic Priorities

Whether new or established, Heads of School have a unique opportunity to build a strong strategic plan and case for support for a major campaign as the summer comes to a close.

August 8, 2022

RFM and Wealth Screening for Major Gift Strategy

Learn how to perform an RFM analysis, the simplest tool to start narrowing your prospect list to your most impactful donors. This article contains background information and a video to lead you step-by-step into meaningful engagement.

June 29, 2022

Planning for a major gifts campaign can be a thrilling endeavor. The organizational work that precedes active fundraising is critical to setting a strong foundation for a campaign. This begins with the early, quiet leadership gifts phase to confirm pace-setting and attract momentum-building gifts. The official announcement of a public phase is then made to engage a school’s entire community with the aim of bringing the campaign to or over goal. It is this specific moment – “going public” – that causes many school leaders, board members, and fundraising professionals the most anxiety. However, by focusing on a few key elements of the campaign, beyond the amount of money raised, most campaigns will be prepared and well positioned for a successful public launch.

What Does Going Public Mean?

Formally, we define “going public” as the public announcement of a fundraising campaign and the initiation of gift requests to all parents, alumni, grandparents, and friends. More specifically, “going public” is the moment when a campaign reaches key milestones and benchmarks including exhausting the leadership and major prospective donor pools, building a significant amount of momentum and excitement internally and externally, and knowing that achieving the goal is more reality than conjecture.

Important First Steps

Most schools approach their campaign announcement and public phase primarily focused on the following steps:

1) Raise initial funds

2) Hit a predetermined goal

3) Make the public announcement

4) Raise the additional funds needed to meet the campaign goal

On its face, this strategy is straightforward and logical. A school would only announce its campaign goal if it was absolutely sure it would be successful. The reality, however, is that a campaign needs a strong foundation and infrastructure beyond the funds raised before going public. There are many reasons why a school would want its campaign to have a strong foundation and infrastructure but two stand out as the most critical. A campaign public phase 1) increases the scrutiny and desire for information from school leadership and the community, and 2) is characterized by a large influx of gifts of all sizes, requiring trained staff and a working database for accurate tracking and acknowledgement. Looking beyond the obvious concern of whether a sufficient amount of money has been raised, there are three key components every school should have in place before beginning a campaign’s public phase:

1) A complete case for support

2) An organized volunteer base and structure

3) A communications and marketing strategy

A Complete Case for Support

Having a solid case for support is intuitive but occasionally the case document or the correlating suite of materials is not as complete or robust as needed for a campaign public phase. School leadership must ensure that the campaign collateral – beyond the case statement itself – are ready for publication and dissemination. All campaigns should have:

  • A campaign name or theme
  • Clarity on all campaign projects and initiatives including benefits and associated costs
  • Various iterations of the case for support (long-form narrative; digital)
  • One- and two-page summaries
  • Infographics, video, and other visual elements as determined by the needs of their prospective donors.

Regular meetings and opportunities for the board, campaign leadership, and volunteers to engage with staff on the case for support will help to answer important questions and ensure consistency of message.

Cincinnati Country Day School—a coeducational private school in Ohio—used the creation of its case for support to address a number of important issues. In its most recent campaign case materials, the school acknowledged the importance and impact of gifts to previous capital initiatives. Having satisfied their desire to steward previous campaign donors, school leadership also included examples of how gifts to the current campaign were positively affecting change and benefitting students and faculty. Add to this messaging a simple, powerful campaign theme, a well-designed case statement, and well-detailed campaign initiatives, and Cincinnati Country Day School was more than prepared to announce its campaign with a solid suite of materials.

An Organized Volunteer Base

By the time a school has reached its public campaign announcement, it is imperative that the volunteer leadership is organized and prepared. Board and campaign leadership should have approved the timing and plans for going public, as well as the broader public phase efforts. Constituency-based volunteer groups – class or division committees, alumni committee, grandparents committee etc. – should be

recruited, convened, and given specific tasks or assignments. Having volunteers ready will help the school capitalize on the excitement generated by the public announcement. Ongoing training and staff support for volunteer outreach efforts will be an important factor in their success. Since the development staff will be supporting all of this activity, they must be prepared as well with clearly defined tasks and responsibilities for the public announcement and fundraising phase.

Communications & Marketing Strategy

The public announcement should be guided by a thoughtful, holistic, coordinated communications and marketing strategy. The strategy can be broken down into three phases: pre-public announcement, the announcement itself, and post-announcement through the campaign closing. The messaging leading up to the public announcement should confirm the goals, projects, initiatives, etc. that have been achieved and the positive effect they have had on students and faculty. The public announcement itself will need to be crafted so that it matches the tone of the launch event. Once the public announcement is made, the campaign must be prepared to act quickly to maximize the post-announcement activity. This means selecting powerful program examples, success stories and donor testimonials in advance to share with the broader school community. Everyone should be hearing regularly about the campaign through various platforms – mailings, social media, direct emails from the headmaster – including the launch of the “donate now” button on the school website or campaign microsite.

With the appropriate time to organize and plan for a major gifts campaign, most schools will initiate their quiet leadership gifts phase with the framework of these three elements – a solid case for support, organized volunteer base, and communications and marketing strategy – in place. As the campaign progresses and gifts are confirmed, the pathway to achieving the goal becomes more clear, and the details of when (and how) to “go public” solidify, school and campaign leadership together with development staff can rest easy in the knowledge that they are truly prepared for the resulting increase of activity and gifts that is indicative of a campaign in its public phase.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

We are pleased to present the first edition of Perspectives on Healthcare Fundraising, a magazine for executives, development officers, and anyone navigating the current healthcare philanthropic terrain.

In this publication, our experts from the field report on pressing high-level challenges facing healthcare organizations today. These pieces will provide practical tools and actionable solutions to help bolster development programs of any size.

Within the magazine, you will find an infographic detailing the healthcare giving landscape, an accompanying analysis, case studies from some of our partner institutions, and the following articles:

5 Steps for Accelerating Your Grateful Patient Fundraising Program

Grateful patient programs allow development teams to build a pipeline of patients and patient families that feel connected to your institution’s goals and aspirations, and give fundraisers an opportunity to structure processes around engagement.

Major Event Planning: Maximizing the ROI

If someone has taken the time to attend your event, it means they have some interest in your institution’s mission. A strategic approach can help turn your event from simply fundraising to creating new major gift potential.

The Importance of Change Management in Systems Projects

The future of healthcare philanthropy will be built on a foundation of data-driven insights. Organizations able to aggregate and analyze their information will emerge as the thought leaders of the sector.

The Campaign is Dead: Long Live the Campaign!

With planning, your organization can mitigate the post-campaign drop in revenue by utilizing alternative fundraising designs.

Using Metrics to Strengthen Your Fundraising Program

In today’s evolving market with a desire for greater accountability, the need for ever-growing levels of support, and an increased competition for donor attention, a healthcare institution’s use of metrics is the key to increasing success.

To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

Taking the time to share your organization’s case for support with your closest stakeholders is crucial to the success of your campaign. But as we know well, it can be difficult to convince your board or your marketing team that the quiet phase is necessary. They want to share the big news. It’s understandable. However, the quiet phase of a campaign is a vital stage prior to a public phase when the majority of fundraising will happen. Quiet phases, when deployed effectively, can create a sense of belonging, build confidence in your project, and promote deep understanding of why your project is worthy of support.

The truth is, when nonprofits launch capital campaigns, one of the first questions we hear is: “When can we announce this publicly?” The easy answer: The public phase should begin when you’ve raised 60%, 80%, perhaps even 100% of your fundraising goal. But it is more than that. Just because you aren’t putting out a press release doesn’t mean you should hold back from talking about your priorities (e.g. capital project, endowment need, etc.). In fact, it’s critical to share the message about the campaign within your community during your quiet phase. The warning here is that issuing a press release and sharing your story before you have personalized the messaging for individuals, foundations, and other partners is a missed opportunity.

Here is why you should think critically about your quiet phase:

Humans crave a sense of belonging

By inviting donors in pre-announcement, you allow them to share their knowledge or skills for the benefit of the project, introduce other interested parties within their networks, and build sustainable relationships that can lead to greater giving in the future. Studies show that our interests, motivations, health, and happiness are all tied to a sense of belonging.

Early gifts build confidence for the subsequent phases

Leading change is not easy. And most often, that’s what you’re doing in a major fundraising campaign. Strong leadership, strategic planning, and a clear value proposition can help, but even in near-perfect circumstances, you may still find opposition. Even in the best circumstances, you still need to convince your closest supporters that this is the right path forward. And that success begets further success – as those early supporters come on board, they create a network effect.

Early feedback helps to create a bulletproof case

When you can’t explain why a change needs to happen, you risk deepening cynicism and fueling resistance. Donors need to see clearly how their gifts will impact the community. Early supporters will always ask questions and encourage a deeper understanding of the change you’re aiming to implement. The tough questions may take time and effort to answer. If you hold true to the principles of the quiet phase, when the time comes to announce your project, your community will have all the answers they need to sign on to supporting your campaign.

Even the best laid plans…

Word has a way of getting around, and you may not always be able to control who hears about your project. In such cases, remember that just because you’re in the quiet phase of a campaign doesn’t mean it needs to be a secret.

Three Steps to Maintain Your Quiet Phase

  1. Build a Campaign Communications Plan with implementation in mind. When you plan a capital project, most organizations can expect to submit plans for review or request permits that will become a matter of public record. Imagine that a local neighborhood association catches wind of your capital project and feels that the project will have a negative impact. With advanced planning and a communication strategy in place, you can turn this target audience into insiders. You can welcome them in for a tour and field questions, integrate feedback into your plans, and clarify misconceptions about the progress. Depending on the community you work in, you might even proactively seek out feedback or conduct a study to assess the potential impact on the community and to ensure questions can be addressed. Knowing when, where and how your information will be shared is critical for your ability to control the message.
  1. Celebrate incremental progress. Positive coverage for your organization is almost always a good thing. Tactical steps can be exciting to celebrate and you can often do so without formally announcing your campaign. Did the city finally approve your building plans? Did the board agree to a major contract with a local company? Take time to think about all the steps in your plan that may be newsworthy and keep your wonderful donors in the know before the press gets wind. Take this situation, for example: A donor made the largest gift ever to a university working with CCS Fundraising on a capital campaign. The organization went ahead to announce the historic gift and impact it would have on the institution, but never mentioning the overall campaign. You should celebrate people and benchmarks and can do so without betraying your quiet phase.
  1. When all else fails, guide the messaging as much as possible. If your organization has the opportunity to offer messaging to a reporter and encourage them to preserve the integrity of your fundraising plans, do it. Remind them that you are in the early planning phase of your fundraising campaign, but you’re thrilled that the project continues to move forward. You patiently tell them this: “Thanks for your interest in our project – it is indeed an exciting announcement for our community. I’d ask that we hold off on formal reporting about the campaign until we’re ready to make the big announcement and set up to take contributions. I will be sure to keep you apprised, since we expect there will be big moments to strategically share along the way.”

By its very nature, your campaign will be newsworthy. It’s perhaps one of those most exciting and transformational moments for your organization. During the quiet phase you will do everything you can to succeed in fundraising and be ready to pivot in an evolving environment. In doing so, you will maintain a positive message, bring your best friends closer, and shape a sustainable fundraising trajectory for your organization.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

We have all been there before: The months of planning, recruiting a committee, selecting the appropriate honoree, repeated outreach to vendors and sponsors, proofreading the program and every last detail down to the seating plan and place settings…

Every year, development professionals devote an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources to executing a large annual special event, such as a gala, which can be a Herculean effort. Hopefully, the evening will have been a success with guests going home happy and significant funds raised for the charity in question…but what happens next?

Though special event fundraising is important, and arguably the most visible annual interaction an individual will have with a charity, the return on investment (ROI) can be low as industry standards point to the cost to raise a dollar not exceeding $0.50. Furthermore, the costs associated with staff time can be even higher. Therefore, one might consider implementing a relatively simple major gift strategy that can set forth a plan to boost the effectiveness and ROI of a special event.

Taking Action

A few years ago, Jan Wood, Chief Development Officer for Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC) in Annapolis Maryland, began to formally assess the effectiveness of the Hospital’s special events. With a relatively small team of Major Gift Officers (two at the time), she began to consider how her department could best use current resources more effectively. “We had the tools, we just needed to adapt,” she said.

Jan and her team took active steps to put the plan in place. The first step came a week before the event. Prospect research was done to screen the guest list and focus attention on both annual donors and non-donor guests with high capacity who had shown the propensity to give to other similar causes. Next, in a special “Moves B Management” meeting, a small number of these screened prospects (3 – 5) would each be assigned to the appropriate Major Gift Officer with the goal of having a meaningful interaction at the event. This was done with a specific and targeted plan which included goals for what the conversation would produce. Following the event, the major gifts team would reconvene to debrief on what was discovered through meaningful interactions with prospects. They would then hit the phones to schedule meetings with their assigned attendees. The focus here was quality over quantity and meaningful interactions.

By implementing a metric-driven major gift approach, Jan’s team was able to see exponential growth in their rate of converting targeted attendees to major donors, thus maximizing the ROI from special events. Ultimately, Jan’s strategy has proven to be successful. In the first two years of implementing this plan, conversion rates rose from 0.5% to nearly 20% for AAMC’s largest annual special event.

5 Tactics to Consider for Your Annual Gala (Pre and Post)

Remember, if someone has taken the time to attend your event, it means they have at least some interest in your institution’s mission. A strategic major gifts approach will help turn your event from simply “fundraising” to hopefully “friend-raising” by capturing new major gift potential. Here are a few things to try right away:

  • Wealth screen your attendee list at least a week prior to the event and prioritize prospects.
  • Set realistic goals for your major gift team and the number of individuals they can make a meaningful connection with at the event.
  • Enlist the help of board members or appropriate friends of the institution.
  • Be strategic in your seating assignments, positioning high-capacity prospects adjacent to individuals that can serve as passionate advocates for the institution.
  • Formulate an appropriate follow-up strategy and hit the phones the following day!

Throughout this process, it is imperative that you track your progress. The most important thing is to start small and track data and lessons learned so you can better prepare for your next event!

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

This article is an update from a previous post published in March, 2017.