Our latest infographic provides a review of CCS’s recent activities by the numbers.

If you have any questions about this publication or about CCS in general, please contact info@ccsfundraising.com.

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One Year Later, CCS’s Re-affirmed Commitment to DEI & Racial Justice

One year ago, CCS purposefully affirmed our commitment to racial justice and our efforts to foster a more inclusive and equitable world. Today, we remain dedicated and steadfast in pushing this commitment forward.

June 4, 2021
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Everyday Donors of Color: Uncovering the Latest Research

CCS is proud to partner with the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy on the release of the Everyday Donors of Color report, funded by the Gates Foundation.

August 27, 2021

On Ash Wednesday, Catholics worldwide will embark on a 40-day Lenten journey. This period of prayer, reflection, and fasting is also considered a time of almsgiving—a moment to reflect on one’s blessings and share one’s gifts and talents with the broader community.

Many parishes across the country have served as a lifeline to their local communities by spiritually nurturing parishioners and offering care and support services to those most in need. As the faithful answer God’s call to service and prepare for the mysteries of Holy Week, parishes will need to calibrate this year’s approach to fundraising to meet ongoing budgetary needs and thoughtfully prepare for the coming of Easter. This four-week plan will serve to help drive parish revenue, strengthen digital communities, and streamline your Holy Week communications strategy.

WEEK 1 – EVALUATION PERIOD

As many parishes navigate a hybrid virtual and in-person fundraising approach, it is essential to evaluate your modes of communication and develop a viable timeline in advance of Easter. Consider asking yourself the below questions to determine how you will disseminate information in the weeks ahead.

Parish Checklist:

  • Does our parish offer electronic and in-person giving?
  • Were we satisfied with our e-giving provider last year?
  • Is our electronic giving link clearly visible on our parish website?
  • How can we develop a standardized parishioner experience for those in person and those who are joining us virtually?
  • Can e-blasts and/or automated calls be administered weekly informing parishioners of relevant Lenten updates?
  • Is our parish actively gathering contact information for outreach? Are we engaging with ministries to create a more robust email list?
  • Does our parish’s Easter mailing feature our electronic and in-person giving information?
  • Are the messages and visuals standardized between online and in-person giving?

To help drive parish revenue, make sure electronic giving links are prominent on your parish website. Can you find your e-giving link in 10 seconds or less? For parishioners that continue to use envelopes, provide clear mailing and drop off instructions on your parish website that align with your current safety protocols.

WEEK 2 – DEVELOP YOUR CASE

The pandemic has presented many costs for parishes as they continue to invest in technology to remain connected, pay the salaries of devoted personnel, and prioritize the sanitization of church property. It has also reinvigorated many spiritual communities and increased demand for parish programs. Consider developing a case for support to clearly articulate your parish’s financial needs during Lent and beyond.

  • Highlight the support services that you continue to provide to your local community.
  • Include important facts and figures to reinforce the need for financial support. Consider listing the required monthly expenses to maintain the parish and actual offertory figures. Remember, many parishioners are unaware of the associated costs to maintain their spiritual home. Use this time to educate and inform them. This call to action will certainly garner one-time gifts but can also incite sustained financial support.
  • Please remember to thank lay leaders, parish staff, and parishioners in your communication channels for their unwavering support and leadership.
  • Communicate beyond words; images can be very helpful in quickly communicating your impact. Ensure that you include standardized images in your in-person bulletin as well as on your parish’s donation page.

WEEK 3 – SHARE YOUR MESSAGE

Now that you have ensured your giving link is clearly displayed on your website and that your needs have been vetted and thoughtfully outlined, begin articulating your needs to the parish community through all relevant communication streams.

  • Reinforce principles of stewardship by posting Lenten reflections on social media.
  • Share your Holy Week Mass schedule through email blasts, social media handles, automated calls, and bulletin inserts.
  • Remember the Rule of Seven, a marketing principle that purports people need to hear a message seven times before acting. Always include your electronic giving information in written and digital communication to encourage participation.
  • Encourage parishioners to invite friends and family to “like” or join your parish’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter page as you begin to share relevant updates and information.

Make giving easy for parishioners! Tips to consider:

  • Written communication: Make sure all mailed or printed communication includes a QR code that links directly to your electronic giving platform or parish website.
  • Livestream: For parishes who continue to livestream Mass, make sure your e-giving link is clearly displayed in the message portion of your post. Consider including a quick note in each livestream and/or social media post.
  • Verbalize your offertory request during the livestream of Mass! After the Gospel and Prayers of the Faithful, invite parishioners and viewers to participate in the offertory collection or make their Easter gift by using your parish’s secure electronic giving link.
  • If using Facebook to stream Mass, consider identifying an administrator or lay leader that can act as a “digital usher.” By logging in on your parish Facebook account, the user can post comments to remind viewers to participate virtually in the offertory process.
  • If you are celebrating Mass in-person, simply make an ask either prior to the offertory or during the announcements.

WEEK 4 – REITERATE MESSAGE

Offertory support is critical to funding vitally important parish programs, the upkeep of facilities, costs associated with technology, and other ongoing expenses. Remember to reinforce this call to action during Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday. By implementing these best practices, you can achieve your fundraising goals and enrich your Easter celebration!

In the fundraising world, we all sit on mountains of data. We rely on that data to develop donor engagement strategies and measure our success; but having the data and communicating the data are two very different things. Synthesizing and sharing fundraising data can stimulate discussions about fundraising can elevate an organization’s culture of philanthropy and inspire prospect and donor engagement.

Here we share six key steps to communicate donor and fundraising data more effectively to inspire action:

  1. Understand the story you wish to convey and state it clearly.
  2. Identify your audience.
  3. Articulate a call to action.
  4. Isolate the data you need.
  5. Develop a visualization that presents the relevant data.
  6. Anticipate questions or areas of confusion.

1. UNDERSTAND THE STORY YOU WISH TO CONVEY

It may surprise you to learn that the first step is to start with a story rather than a data set. Data visualization can help fundraisers tell stories about their work more effectively. But what is the story you wish to tell? Maybe you are trying to illustrate that alumni engagement programs have helped to increase alumni giving for millennial graduates. Perhaps you want to illustrate that your major gifts program has helped to increase the average size of donations at your organization. Or you might hope to convey that your nonprofit is ready to embark on a campaign planning study to test an ambitious fundraising goal.

Before you begin to crunch numbers or design a presentation, give yourself time to identify and summarize the story you wish to tell or the question your story will answer.

2. IDENTIFY YOUR AUDIENCE

Think about who you will be telling this story to. Is it the organization’s CEO? Or the Chair of the Board of Trustees? Perhaps it is the Development Committee. Ask yourself, “What do I want this person or group to learn? How do they best understand and digest information? What do I want them to do with the information that I share?”

As you prepare to share information and data with your audience, keep in mind that different audiences will receive information in different ways. Too much detail may confuse certain audiences. Meanwhile, too little data can create more questions than answers. Keep in mind that both qualitative and quantitative data can successfully engage your audience.

3. ARTICULATE A CALL TO ACTION

A call to action will help your audience understand what is expected of them. Are you sharing this story because you need your CEO to change a policy or program? Or does your story help your Board decide how to allocate additional resources? Has an initiative not produced the return on investment your executive director was expecting, and you need to consider changing course? Or are you asking your Trustees to invest in a project that can widen your nonprofits circle of support?  

If you spend time clearly expressing the specific action you want your audience to consider, you will have a much easier time engaging your audience and ensuring they focus on the most important priorities. Data can be a powerful voice and persuasive communication tool that should support and emphasize your story and call to action.

4. ISOLATE THE DATA YOU NEED

These days, nonprofits are swimming in both qualitative and quantitative fundraising data. This can make it hard to sift through the numbers and isolate the metrics required to tell a specific story to a specific audience. But when we take the time to isolate the data set that is essential to conveying your story, your audience will experience more clarity and less confusion.

For example, imagine that you are trying to convey to the president of a college that increasing the number of front-line fundraisers at your organization has improved fundraising outcomes. You are asking the president to sustain current staffing levels, despite the need for budget cuts at the institution. Although it may be tempting to share a wide variety of metrics, the president will be better able to absorb the story and call to action with simple, clear information. Consider using only a few key pieces of data, such as average gift size over time.

5. DEVELOP A VISUALIZATION

Whether the data visualization is a chart, graph, diagram, or illustration, we recommend that your first step in creating a visualization is to sketch possible visuals that could tell the story you wish to share. You don’t need to be an artist! Studies suggest that handwriting and drawing engages the brain more than typing on a keyboard or moving a mouse, so using a pencil and paper as a jumping off place can help you develop a visual that you wouldn’t have necessarily considered when sitting in front of a screen.[1] [2]

4 Tips for Developing a Visualization:

  • Sketch First | Always begin by sketching ideas on paper before creating on the computer
  • Consistency is Key | Watch for consistency in colors, patterns, symbols, scales, units, labels
  • Title Matters | Consider the title carefully, making sure it articulates the story told by the data or reflects your call to action
  • Simple is Best | Strive for simplicity and avoid effects that don’t contribute to your audiences’ understanding of the concept

After sketching some ideas, recreate them using the tools available to you. Many of us can access Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint or Google Charts. Free tools also include RAWGraphs, Datawrapper, and Lyra. With some practice and exploration, all these tools offer the ability to take simple data and transform it into a powerful visualization.

6. ANTICIPATE QUESTIONS OR AREAS OF CONFUSION

Once you have created a visual that seems to clearly tell your story and articulate a call to action for your audience, take a deep breath. You are almost done! We suggest that you print out your visual, put it in a folder, and set it aside for 24 hours. When you look at it with fresh eyes the next day, imagine that you are the audience and think of some questions they might ask. This isn’t easy! In fact, you may want to find a trusted advisor or colleague to do this with you. Ask them to share their reactions, questions, or areas of misunderstanding. This feedback will help you refine your data visualization and approach your audience with more confidence.

To create clear and concise visuals, we recommended you follow the six key steps outlined above. These strategies will help you to share fundraising data that helps your nonprofit’s decision-makers understand the story you are trying to tell, engages them in constructive conversations, and inspires action to fulfill your mission.


[1] Ose Askvik et al. (2020). The Importance of Cursive Handwriting Over Typewriting for Learning in the Classroom: A High-Density EEG Study of 12-Year-Old Children and Young Adults, Frontiers in Psychology.

[2] Nancy Olson (2016). Three Ways That Handwriting With a Pen Positively Affects Your Brain, Forbes.

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3 Key Considerations for Elevating Your Membership Program

The philanthropic landscape is ripe with opportunity for cultural membership programs. Use the guiding questions below to bolster your organization’s development strategy.

August 2, 2022
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CCS Fundraising Welcomes New Data Science & Analytics Practice Lead

Ashutosh Nandeshwar, leading expert on data analytics solutions for fundraising, joins CCS as SVP of Data Science & Analytics

July 26, 2022

Looking to make a move, but unsure if now is the right time? That was me in 2021. With a little faith and a lot of strategy, you can be successful in making a career move during the pandemic.

Like most other sectors, the nonprofit sector has experienced its ups and downs since the onset of the pandemic as we all become adjusted to this new normal. But nonprofits are resilient, forward-thinking, and live out their missions to the people they serve no matter what. That is what makes them special and is also the reason why, even amid a pandemic, 2020 was a record year for philanthropy to nonprofits.

Below, I offer six tips for young professionals who are seeking new roles to advance their careers.

1) Be reflective

One of the greatest advantages you can give yourself during your job search is to understand what inspires and motivates you. Can you answer this question, “what animates you”? Taking the time at the beginning of your search to reflect on this will save you time, money, and will focus your job search on roles you actually want to pursue. Ask yourself “if I had to do the tasks in the job description for the next 3-5 years, could I?” and “what about the roles I am seeking sounds the most interesting?” Furthermore, ask “what are my strengths and what type of projects do I enjoy?” At the end of the day, you do your best work when you believe in the work you are doing, so take the time to think about what that might be when you begin your job search journey.  

2) Think about your foundation

Building a career is like building a house. You have likely started drafting blueprints for your career and now it is time to decide the layout and lay the foundation of your professional future. A strong, sturdy foundation is the backbone of any house, and without it, the walls would collapse in on themselves; the decisions you make in your early career are no different. You want to make sure you are setting yourself up for success for when it is time to build the roof or build that additional wing ten years from now. Ask yourself “what skills do I have? Where are my opportunities to grow? Will this job that I am considering help me build my foundation or grow my toolbox?”

3) Reach out

Young professionals often make the mistake of trying to “go it alone” during the job search. Make it known to your friends, family, and most importantly your academic and professional network that you are searching. You want people to think of you when they see an opportunity cross their desk. Be as specific as possible with your network. For example, “I am seeking roles in the X sector of nonprofits, and looking for X, Y, Z positions, which are entry- to mid-level career roles, in X, Y, Z cities. Could you keep me in mind? Could you think of any current openings that describe this? Would you be on the lookout for me?” The last part is the most important part—ask them to help you!

Finally, nonprofits are built on relationships. You’d be surprised at how successful you might be reaching out to folks in the positions you are applying for or other staff in the organization. Reach out to them, be honest with your intention, and ask them to provide you with details about the day-to-day at the organization or describe what kind of work is done in the role you seek.

4) Your identity and you

It is important that you feel safe, validated, and welcomed as it relates to any aspect of your identity in the workplace, including race, ethnicity, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ability, and other identities. Seek out data about the organization’s values during the interview process. For example, you could ask about the employee resources groups (ERGs) available to staff, or you could ask to see a list of comprehensive benefits. The answers to those questions can reveal information about the culture of an organization. For example, does the organization have robust ERGs? Does the organization offer time off for religious holidays? Does the organization have healthcare plans that are inclusive to trans and gender-nonconforming folks? Does the organization have universal parental leave regardless of a parent’s gender? All these answers can signal how an organization takes care of its people.

5) Challenge yourself

Consider applying even if you don’t meet every single experience requirement to a T. Instead, you should consider positions that will challenge you to grow and develop professionally. If you are applying for jobs where you can achieve all that is required on day one, there is no room to grow. That is why tip one and two are critical to think about when you begin on your job search journey. A manager or direct supervisor shouldn’t expect that you know how to achieve every aspect of the role and should be willing to guide you in the beginning of your work together.

6) Keep going

Finally, and maybe most importantly, keep going. Amid a turbulent employment environment, the marketplace can often feel over-saturated. Plan for this. Create a timeline for yourself with contingencies as it will likely take longer than you think it will. By setting yourself up, whether financially, mentally, or otherwise from the onset, you eliminate (or at least reduce) the stress associated with the “I have to take this job to live” mentality. Know that rejection is part of this process and reflect on how you digest rejection—what time will you need to just take a break from looking or writing another cover letter? There are many nonprofits that are staffing back up, organizing and planning for fundraising campaigns, and making investments in their people—there is a job out there for you.

Being intentional about the decisions you are making as you think about your next move will pay off in dividends. You got this!

SEARCHING FOR A JOB THAT MAKES A SOCIAL IMPACT?

CCS is hiring for numerous roles across departments. Check out our Careers page to learn more!

This article is part of a three-part series to inspire a reinvigorated annual fund.

The independent school financial model is founded on community, generosity, and philanthropy. Parents, alumni, and friends provide essential support for the core aspects of an independent school education, including: creative programming, robust tuition assistance, inspiring faculty development, and innovative capital projects.

The annual fund is the bedrock of all school fundraising. Beyond closing the gap between tuition and the cost to educate each student, the annual fund provides an important vehicle for the community to support the school’s mission. Through their contributions, annual fund donors develop a more meaningful connection with the institution’s goals and priorities.

For development teams and school leaders, a consistent and reliable annual fund creates the financial stability to make strategic decisions about the future. It inspires confidence in the Board and Head of School and creates a strong pipeline of leadership donors. A successful annual fund allows a school to think beyond the day-to-day finances and dream big.

Given the naturally repetitive nature of annual giving, it is essential to think creatively about your school’s annual fund and develop a comprehensive plan. Below are three key elements of a strong annual fund plan to help your planning efforts every year.

Innovative Theme

You can refresh annual fund messaging and connect donors to an engaging story by developing a unique theme each year. Successful annual fund themes connect directly to the school’s mission and strategic priorities—thus creating a meaningful case for support that is specific to your institution.

When developing a theme, consider the following:

  • Collaborate with your communications team: is there a theme in place for the year’s school communications that could inspire an annual fund theme?
  • What differentiating factors set your school apart from its peers?
  • What words or phrases do school leaders, parents, and alumni use to describe your school?
  • Revisit past messaging that has inspired increased donations. How was this messaging different?
  • Are there new and exciting programs to showcase?
  • Engage annual fund volunteers in theme development. What messaging resonates with them?

Synthesize this information into a comprehensive theme. Keep the messaging short and succinct—appeals and initiatives should provide the specifics.

Strategic Engagement Approach

Thinking creatively about your donor engagement strategy will help grow your annual fund. Below are suggestions for enhancing engagement:

  • Segment your donors differently. We know the importance of unique messaging for each constituency: current parents, alumni parents, alumni, and grandparents. Consider diving deeper. Are you approaching new parents differently than returning parents? Do young alumni receive different messaging than those in their 50th reunion year? How do you engage with your donors who are making recurring gifts or those in your loyalty giving society?
  • Develop a leadership prospect strategy. Determine an annual fund leadership giving level and think creatively about your communication strategy. These donors should receive a personalized approach. Remove them from direct mail and email appeals and opt for a gift officer or volunteer phone call. Create meaningful stewardship materials—impact reports, videos, or program updates—to share with them annually.
  • Consider a Giving Day. Developing a specific day of giving for your institution inspires the community to join together in support of your school’s mission. Holding your giving day in the spring offers an opportunity for donors to make a second gift and separates your appeal from Giving Tuesday and December fundraising. Giving days can incorporate matching challenges, peer-to-peer fundraising, prizes, and live updates that inspire increased giving.

Creative Partnerships Across Campus

Collaborating with your colleagues in other departments will enhance your annual fund. Connect with faculty members to hear about exciting classroom stories and innovative student projects. Reach out to admissions officers for highlights from prospective family tours and common questions they receive. Attend performances, art shows, athletic games, and debates to gain greater insight into the student experience. Ask the head of school and division heads for their goals and priorities for the year. This insight can be incorporated into your annual fund case for support and collateral materials. It will also allow you to develop timely and cohesive messaging that connects to school events and activities, which will create a more compelling appeal for your community.

These three considerations will help strengthen your annual fund as you close out this year’s fundraising and begin planning for FY23. Stay tuned for two more articles in this three-part series on reinvigorating your school’s annual fund.

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3 Key Considerations for Elevating Your Membership Program

The philanthropic landscape is ripe with opportunity for cultural membership programs. Use the guiding questions below to bolster your organization’s development strategy.

August 2, 2022
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CCS Fundraising Welcomes New Data Science & Analytics Practice Lead

Ashutosh Nandeshwar, leading expert on data analytics solutions for fundraising, joins CCS as SVP of Data Science & Analytics

July 26, 2022
CCS Philanthropy Pulse 2022 Report Cover

In an ever-evolving philanthropic landscape, CCS is committed to understanding how nonprofits approach development today and how organizations can find fundraising success in the current environment.

It is CCS’s hope that this report provides nonprofit leaders and fundraisers with helpful data to navigate the year ahead.

SECTOR SPOTLIGHT REPORTS

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Philanthropic Landscape Report, 11th Edition

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

July 20, 2021
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Philanthropic Climate Survey Report, 4th Edition

CCS’s fourth-edition Philanthropic Climate Survey report provides a snapshot of how more than 1,000 respondents from across the nonprofit community are persevering amid challenges, evolving their fundraising tactics, and planning for 2021 and beyond.

January 14, 2021

How can we help you?

Our unique, customized approach can provide your organization with of-the-moment, sustainable solutions.

From local natural disasters to national market fluctuations, every community experiences unexpected crises. As many organizations (re)start campaigns, parishes and dioceses are developing plans now to stay agile and maintain fundraising momentum during future emergencies.

Previous crises served as valuable context for how best to navigate philanthropic activity. During the 2008 recession, CCS saw that organizations that proceeded with their campaigns and long-term plans found success, out-hustled competition for the philanthropic dollar, and were better positioned to thrive afterward. From a 2007-2009 study of 254 campaigns, the 119 that CCS managed (that started or kept up their efforts during that time) raised $6.7 billion, with 86% exceeding their fundraising goals.

COVID-19 was an unprecedented event with many unknowns, but there are some lessons from the past that hold true in today’s context:

  • Organizations who stop fundraising activities altogether get left behind
  • Donors and stakeholders understand the circumstances; they are willing to adjust with the organization
  • Donors drop causes when they no longer feel connected to the cause or the organization; this emphasizes the need for over-communicating during this time
  • This can be an opportunity to strengthen bonds with stakeholders (donors, pastors, parish staff)

Case Study

In 2019, the Catholic Community Foundation of the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio embarked on an 18-month, $30 million campaign effort designed to support capital projects and an endowment. The campaign was off to a strong start with $13.7 million committed by the time churches closed in early March 2020. It was clear that without adaptation and flexibility, the campaign could not continue. Three key questions emerged in the early days of the pandemic:

  • In what ways should the campaign model shift to address parish needs?
  • What are the key considerations around a modified campaign timeline?
  • What assistance is needed for parishes to be sustained financially?

Keeping the lessons of previous crises top of mind, the Catholic Community Foundation chose to focus on what they knew they could control in the weeks ahead:

  • Increase communication with key audiences: donors, campaign leaders, and parishes
  • Plan a series of steady communications with each stakeholder group over the next several weeks
  • Develop an action plan that addresses local needs and reinforces the needs of the campaign
  • Display empathy and concern for donors and the most vulnerable members of the community

These tenets shaped what came to be known as the SECURE program, which was a partnership between the Diocese, CCS Fundraising, and each parish in the Diocese of Cleveland to assist with connecting parishioners with their parish during and beyond COVID-19, as well as opening channels for virtual and alternative offertory giving. The SECURE program is a focused effort to provide real-time support in parallel with other Diocesan recovery efforts taking place at the time, including a Universal Offertory Program, a COVID-19 Emergency Fund, and Increased Offertory Programs offered through the Diocese.

SECURE stands for: Support from the Foundation and CCS; Evaluation and triage of parish offertory and capabilities; Connection to parishioners; Utilize Resources, and Engage the parish community.

The goals of the SECURE program were three-fold:

  1. Rapidly connect the Foundation staff to Pastors to better understand parish needs
  2. Develop customized plans for each parish to recover lost offertory as a result of COVID-19
  3. Build a stronger system of online and communication tools to sustain parishes over the long term

In lieu of local parish campaigns, the SECURE program ran for approximately 10 weeks in parallel to an ongoing major gift effort. Of the 50 reporting parishes, weekly offertory from March 8 (pre-crisis) to May 31 (churches re-opening in Ohio) was, on average, eight percent higher than pre-crisis levels and over two times higher than the all-time offertory low on March 22. Parish offertory for the first three weeks in June exceeded the first three weeks in March by approximately 45 percent. Most notably, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has been able to stave off more significant offertory losses in Fiscal Year 2021.

Aside from the financial benefits of the program participants, the pivot to a modified campaign model allowed the Foundation to restart the campaign in Fall 2020 with a cohort of parishes who had a positive financial outlook, stronger technical capability, and a sense of earned trust in the Foundation to remain flexible and responsive to parish needs. The return to parish campaigning post-SECURE program has resulted in more dollars raised and more donors engaged than was previously expected.

Lessons Learned

The remainder of this article will share some specific tips and lessons learned that may be helpful if your organization is considering emergency planning as you (re)start or reconfigure your fundraising efforts:

Embrace Change: A shift in your planning does not mean a break in your fundraising efforts. Embrace learning and adaptation in your campaign model in order to remain responsive to an ever-changing post-pandemic environment.

Build Trust: Explore ways your organization can best support parishes as they navigate a hybrid model of in-person and virtual worship, even if it runs parallel to or in support of your larger fundraising efforts.

Maintain Major Gifts: Continue to engage your major donors meaningfully during this time to ensure they remain closely connected to the work and the mission of your organization.

Bolster Resources: Investigate where and how your organization can strengthen its tools and resources for a post-pandemic environment.

Communicate Success: Maintain consistent communications with your constituents and celebrate the small wins.

CCS offers our congratulations to the Catholic Community Foundation of the Diocese of Cleveland. To date, the campaign has raised $49 million from 11,900 donors—far above the $30 million campaign goal.

Interested in learning more about how CCS works with parishes and dioceses? Contact us today.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” So goes the adage often attributed to management consultant and thought leader Peter Drucker, which succinctly summarizes why data and analytics are critical for any organization. This isn’t to say that only things that can be measured or quantified are valuable, but having a yardstick to measure performance against makes it easier to track progress and ensure success over time.

Benchmarking is a data-driven management tool that can be particularly valuable to nonprofit organizations across sectors. Benchmarking involves comparing a current data set to historical data sets or data from industry peer organizations. Nonprofit organizations can benefit from benchmarking in varied ways, from program evaluation and performance measurement to identifying potentially valuable partnerships and strategic alliances to developing a sustainable funding model. CCS also utilizes benchmarking during feasibility and planning studies to compare participant response rates. An area where benchmarking can be especially useful is when it comes to making decisions concerning the Board of Directors.

Methodology: How to Compile a Board Benchmarking Report

To develop a board benchmarking report, take the following steps:

  • Identify the decisions that will be informed by the benchmarking report: Board benchmarking, and benchmarking in general, will have the greatest impact if it’s done to inform strategic decisions. Figure out which policies or procedures the report will be used to change.
  • Figure out the data you will need to acquire: In order to make those decisions, ask yourself what sort of data you need to find. For example, if your goal is to figure out a reasonable board give/get minimum, you’ll want to find the give/get policies of leading organizations in your sector.
  • Decide which organizations to benchmark against: Think about peer organizations in your sector that provide similar services to your organization, have a comparable budget, have a similar number of staff members, and are located in your geographic area. It’s also important that the organizations you benchmark against are well-regarded and seen as high-performing in the sector. It will be helpful to have a connection to the organization, since some of the data you end up looking for may not be public.
  • Find the data: Some data about the organizations you’re benchmarking against – like total revenue and expenses, contributed revenue, fundraising expenses, size of the endowment, and the number of board members – will be publicly available via the organization’s 990 form and financial statements, annual report, or website. Other data – such as the board giving total, the amount of donations solicited by the board, the board’s give/get policy, and the size and structure of the development department – may require more work to find. You can get access to this type of data by conducting site visits or interviews. You can also simply send the organization a survey to fill out with answers to the questions you need answers to. CCS can be especially helpful in finding this data given our experience working with thousands of nonprofits across philanthropic sectors. It is vital that you get approval from the organization before using this data in the benchmarking report. If the organization is hesitant, you can suggest not using the name of the organization but only their sector and geographic location (for example, a New York-based religious organization).
  • Analyze the data and draw conclusions: Review the data to identify best practices among peers. If peer organizations’ boards are outperforming yours in a certain area, you’ll know that processes need to be improved in that area. For example, if you have a give/get minimum of $500 and peer organizations have a policy of $5,000, your organization may consider raising its give/get minimum.
  • Implement and monitor progress: Follow through on the decisions made as a result of the benchmarking analysis. For example, if you decide to require participation in board giving as a result of the study, make sure this is communicated to board members by the board chair or someone in a good position to make the case to the board. Have each board member sign a letter of intent whereby each member agrees to pledge a certain amount each year. The board chair or chair of the development committee can keep track of contributions and contact board members who have failed to give.

Why Board Benchmarking?

Board benchmarking is just one type of benchmarking that nonprofits can conduct with regard to fundraising, but it can be one of the most important. A qualified, dedicated, and engaged board is crucial for any well-run organization. On top of a board’s traditional roles such as its fiduciary role (e.g. budget approval and financial oversight) and providing governance and strategic oversight, the board plays a central role in development. Ensuring adequate resources and building a culture of philanthropy is a key responsibility of nonprofit boards. Personal donations from board members are important not only to provide a reliable base of critical resources for the organization, but also because major funding sources and potential donors will take the board’s financial contributions into account when making funding decisions, some requiring 100% board participation.

Performance improvement is the ultimate goal of any type of benchmarking. Board benchmarking can help you identify where your board may be lagging behind as a source of motivation for change. If you know that your board members are not personally giving or soliciting donations on behalf of the organization at the level of peer organizations, decisions need to be made to improve outcomes. Board benchmarking can be used to make key decisions regarding board diversity (age, gender, race, professional background, wealth capacity, residence), the give/get policy for board members, board size, board meeting attendance policy, size of the fundraising committee, board term lengths, fundraising return on investment (development expenses as a percentage of total fundraising), and more.

Case From the Field

ADAPT Community Network (formerly called United Cerebral Palsy of NYC), for example, is a leading human service organization providing vital services and programs for people with developmental disabilities. It is one of the largest organizations of its kind. Most of its revenue comes from the New York state government but, partly due to the state budget deficit caused by the pandemic, ADAPT was looking to move towards a model with more of an emphasis on individual donations and philanthropy, starting with the board. CCS identified four organizations in the social and human services sector that were comparable to ADAPT in terms of size and the reach of their programs. One of the organizations also had a similar level of reliance on government funding. CCS looked at data like the size of the development department, fundraising expenses, development expenses as a percentage of fundraising, contributed revenue, contributed revenue as a percentage of total revenue, board giving participation rate, board give/get policies, total board giving, board giving as a percentage of total contributed revenue, and more. This data informed CCS’s customized recommendations and will continue to play an important role as ADAPT reforms its board and makes key board-related strategic decisions regarding its give/get policies, board meeting attendance policy, board size, and diversity.

Benchmarking is a valuable service that CCS, given its expertise and experience serving thousands of nonprofits across sectors, is especially well-positioned to provide. If your organization is interested in internal or external benchmarking or considering board engagement strategy more generally, CCS Fundraising offers a suite of services that can help. For more information, contact CCS today.

As your nonprofit’s #GivingTuesday campaign comes to a close, it’s time to implement an effective follow-up strategy for your audiences. Don’t let too much time pass before considering these simple but powerful principles of post-giving day communication.

1) Say thank you

Acknowledge the people who gave, interacted, shared, or participated (even in the smallest ways) in your #GivingTuesday campaign. It is a best practice that you show genuine appreciation across channels.

2) Aim for future engagement

The goal is to create a long-term relationship out of this giving day. Focus on ways you can continue the conversation with those who participated.

3) Share your results

Your participants will be eager to see how their contribution impacted your overall goal and ultimately how their involvement will impact your mission in the near and long term. As soon as your data is ready to be analyzed and articulated, share the results across platforms and be detailed about every data point. Beyond dollars, what else did your campaign accomplish? Whether it’s new followers, new volunteers, or anecdotal successes, be transparent in your achievements.

4) Provide a long-term plan

With your audience engaged and tuned in from this campaign, what can you share about your organization’s vision for the future? Be clear about what’s next and how donors can continue to participate. Use messaging that details exactly what #GivingTuesday funds will do for those who benefit from your cause, as well as your organizational goals for the future.

5) Leave the door open for those who didn’t participate

Just because someone didn’t give or participate during this window, it doesn’t mean they aren’t still interested in your cause. Creating language that invites further participation for those who missed out can add the potential for a second wave of support. Language that encourages people to be a part of a growing movement (which you can show through data from this giving day) can inspire new attention, especially if you have exceeded your goal.

Utilizing Your Channels

There are different avenues and proven strategies to implement the five key principles above. Here are a few practical suggestions.

  • Video: Create a short video from a leader at your organization thanking everyone for their generosity and for taking time out of their schedules. These can be recorded easily over platforms like Zoom. The goal is to show sincerity in your appreciation. Remember to keep it brief and engaging.
  • Imagery: Use impactful imagery that shows the people who have benefitted from your cause to accompany your grateful messages. Make sure the images are high resolution and tell an accurate story of your cause at work.
  • Social Media: Just as important as it was to utilize all your social media channels during the ramp up to this giving day, leverage these platforms to thank your followers for their continued support. Once you have results to share, use these platforms to share celebrations (if you hit your target), or other data through visual infographics or motion graphics.
  • Email: Be authentic in your follow-up emails to your database. If time allows, personalized emails to donors of all levels go a long way toward fostering long-term relationships. Keep your subject lines direct, your email wording concise, and your message genuine at all turns.

Furthering Engagement

Create a call-to-action in all of your communications across channels. Whether it’s asking for feedback on what worked and what didn’t during this online campaign, or encouraging people to head to your website to learn more about your cause, don’t let the loop close so easily.

This article was originally published on May 8, 2020 and has been updated to reflect guidance for #GivingTuesday 2021.

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Boost Year-End Giving with CARES Act Tax Incentives

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With Giving Tuesday just a few days away and nearly one-third of annual donations made in December, there’s still time to boost year-end giving to your organization. Tax incentives to encourage charitable donations as part of the CARES Act that are set to expire at the end of 2021 could be one approach.

While receiving an income tax deduction ranks low among reasons why people give, nonprofit leaders and fundraising professionals should be familiar with these changes to leverage them when possible. Please note that this information does not constitute tax advice. Encourage your donors to consult a tax professional to evaluate their personal situation.

What are the tax changes?

The one mentioned most often is the deduction for individuals who don’t itemize their tax returns. For the second year, they can claim a deduction of up to $300 for cash donations to qualified charities. A notable change for the 2021 tax year is that married couples filing jointly can claim up to $600.

Another incentive for 2021 allows individual taxpayers to deduct up to 100% of their adjusted gross income (AGI). That’s right – donors who itemize their taxes may be able to zero out their tax bill for the year! 

One final provision pertains to corporations that make cash contributions to eligible charities. The 2021 deduction limit is 25% of taxable income, up from the usual 10%.

This sounds great! What’s the fine print?

There are a few important things to keep in mind for donors to receive the full benefit.

  • These provisions require cash contributions only.
  • Standard limits still apply for other gift types like noncash donations and appreciated securities.
  • Contributions must be made to qualified organizations – sorry, donor-advised funds don’t count.

What should nonprofit leaders and fundraising professionals do now?

  • Contact your annual fund donors who have not yet renewed this year and remind them to take advantage of this opportunity. Nearly nine out of ten taxpayers use the standard deduction and can take the $300 (individual) or $600 (married couple) above-the-line adjustment.
  • Talk to your largest donors about maximizing annual gifts or accelerating pledge fulfillment. High-income taxpayers predominantly itemize deductions. The 100% AGI deduction provision is a great way to encourage generosity for select donors.
  • Reach out to your corporate partners to make sure they are aware of the 25% deduction and request increased support. For many corporations, 2021 was a very profitable year and they may want to reduce their tax burden.

Is this too good to be true?

For the most part, no. The incentives are straightforward for donors who don’t itemize and for corporations that do. The 100% AGI deduction is a little more nuanced. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should.

With graduated tax brackets, it might not be in a donor’s best interest to take the maximum deduction. The lower their AGI, the lower the tax rate that applies to each additional dollar donated resulting in diminishing returns.

Instead of deducting 100% of AGI this year, donors who carry a portion of their donation forward may end up paying less taxes overall. Even though it might be intoxicating to think about not paying taxes for a year, the total tax paid could end up being more than if one spreads those same donations over multiple years.

What’s the bottom line?

While not everyone can take advantage of these changes, those who do so can make a significant impact for their charity of choice this year. Take steps now to make sure your organization benefits by proactively engaging those who are most likely to donate. If you don’t ask them, someone else will.