3 keys to solid proposals

When writing proposals for a foundation, corporation, or individual prospective donor, three critical elements will make your submission strong and compelling:

1. A well-defined need. Using data and evidence, illustrate the problem and then explain why your nonprofit organization is so well-suited to help solve it. If your goal is to reduce illiteracy in your community, for example, provide demographics and statistics on the seriousness of this issue--and then explain your nonprofit's strengths and experience in alleviating it.

2. A specific request. Make it obvious what you're asking for as early as possible in the proposal. Don't wait until the last paragraph to indicate your request amount and what the money will be used for. In the introduction, clearly state how much you need, over how many years, and briefly explain why. Then later in the proposal, expand upon "the why:" What various activities and projects will the funding enable? Side note: Make sure your ask amount is right-sized to the funder's capacity! Don't ask a $100 donor to give $100K, and vice versa. Do your homework through solid prospect research.

3. A sense of urgency. Why should the donor care today? Is the demand for your nonprofit's services outpacing available resources? Has something in your community shifted that significantly increases the importance of what you do? Are you innovating in your field? Importantly, never cite debt or unstable finances to create urgency. Donors give to healthy, successful organizations--not uncertain ones. Keep it positive and exciting! 

What additional components do you utilize to create strong funding proposals? Let us know in the comments!

5 tips to strike out on your own: Part Three

As I progress along in this interesting, challenging, and fun world of solopreneurship, I enjoy sharing whatever I learn along the way. To celebrate year one of Sarah J Consulting, I posted the first 10 tips here for striking out on your own. I added 10 more here at SJC's second anniversary.

Now that 2.5 years is upon us, I thought I'd split the difference and share an additional five tips for striking out on your own!  Hopefully these new musings will help you in your own business--be it nonprofit fundraising or an entirely different field. These principles may be applied to any number of industries. 

1. Sleep when the baby is sleeping. When you've spent the majority of your career at a desk from 9 to 5, it's tempting to do the same in self-employment land. One of the hardest lessons to learn is that there will be slow times (even if those times are infrequent!). Since the busy periods can be all-consuming, I encourage you to take advantage of the lulls. Replenish your mental space. Go to a museum at 1pm on a Tuesday. Take a nature walk. Plan a day trip...to an amusement park! Whatever boosts your spirits and clears your mind, do it without guilt. 

2. Stay current with trends. Clients expect you to know your stuff and understand, at least generally, the latest developments in your field. Subscribe to free e-newsletters, websites, Twitter feeds, etc., to read up daily or weekly on what's going on. Also, don't hesitate to subscribe to paid resources such as magazines/trade publications that are either specific to your field or that will keep you sharp as a solopreneur (for the latter, I suggest Entrepreneur, Inc., and Fast Company). 

3. Keep renewing your professional memberships. I confess: I belong to two fundraising-related associations and one local Chamber of Commerce, yet I hardly attend any of their workshops or social gatherings. Shame on me. BUT, I do religiously read the information they send my way, and I network among members on occasion. These professional memberships help keep me connected to the larger fundraising and business community. For that, they are worth every penny.

4. Even if there's a task you can do on your own, ask yourself whether you should do it. I am decent at Quickbooks--and by that, I mean I know how to enter stuff into the database and run canned reports. But accounting and finance are not at all my strong suit. So, after two years of Quickbooking myself into a tizzy, I finally hired a bookkeeper to help me with my invoicing, expense tracking, and reconciliation. This will save me several hours per month--hours that I can spend instead on billable work and expanding my client base!

5. Help others. I belong to a wonderful online nonprofit consultants network. Recently, a member of that group asked how often we consultants should be willing to accept coffee/lunch invitations or other kinds of "pick-your-brain" requests from colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. The overwhelming response from the group was almost always. Certainly, time is valuable and it's important not to "yes" yourself into a breakdown, but the philosophy here is that helping others is not only good, it is also a wonderful way for you to network--and you never know where this good karma may lead!

3 tips for building a successful fundraising campaign: Guest blog!

Cheryl Crounse
When it comes to talented colleagues, I've got an embarrassment of riches. I've had the good fortune to work with and befriend some of Boston's very best fundraising professionals over the past 12 years.

Several of these superstars have graciously agreed to participate in a new series of Fundraise Well guest blogs that will offer tips, tricks, and case studies directly from the front lines of Development!

I could not be more pleased that Cheryl Crounse has shared 3 tips for building a successful fundraising campaign. As assistant vice president and campaign manager of the 10,000 Reasons Campaign at Salem State University, she is more than qualified to offer this advice! Here is her post:

There are many strategies that a nonprofit can employ to achieve success in a campaign--enough to fill volumes of books. But here are just a few simple thoughts on how you can organize a campaign for fundraising success.

1. Build a good case with your internal and external leadership, and with input from your major donors and prospects. A case is a story that clearly communicates your mission and vision for the future. It conveys a consistent and unique brand to your organization. Know your strengths and where you want to go in the future through strategic planning. Convey your organization's need, and how you’ll use the funds to further your mission in the future. Use this plan to share your story with your audience and see the dollars follow.

2. Define and secure what a leadership commitment looks like for your own organization. Does it mean $500, $1,000, $10,000, or $100,000 or more? Leadership commitments should be uniquely defined by your organization, but often the current top 5% of your contributors are your leadership supporters. Go to them to share your case, and ask them to consider a lead donation at whatever value you deem “leadership,” to build momentum toward your fundraising goal and ask for their involvement going forward your campaign.

3. Involve and collaborate with all your key stakeholders in the planning process so they are invested in the success of your efforts and see their role in achieving the organization’s goal. Volunteer leadership, whether they are our existing boards, staff members for your organization, or group focused on raising the dollars, often referred to as a campaign steering committee, will ultimately be able to help open doors, make peer-to-peer asks, and help leverage your campaign to new heights.

Cheryl Crounse serves as the assistant vice president and campaign manager at Salem State University, where she oversees the $25-million 10,000 Reasons Campaign, the university’s largest-ever fundraising effort and first-ever comprehensive campaign. In name and in spirit, it celebrates the individual voices of our students, faculty, alumni, and friends as well as the community we build together. To learn more, visit the campaign website or find #SSUReasons on Twitter.



Cheryl has over 16 years of fundraising experience and a passion for high impact work. She thrives on seeing her results make a difference. Cheryl previously served at Emerson College, where she helped to lead a culture shift in major donor fundraising, branding and growing the annual fund by 119 percent, and launching the dean’s advisory council for the School of Communication. Cheryl also spent eight years shaping and successfully growing annual fund programs at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Reading Rainbow finds its pot of gold: 3 C's of fundraising well

If you're a child of the 80s like me, "Butterfly in the sky, I can go twice as high!" constitutes the most memorable opening lyrics of a song from that decade. Reading Rainbow exposed me to cultures, neighborhoods, and ways of life that I did not get to experience in my own hometown. It prompted umpteen visits to the library, where I'd search for the latest LeVar Burton book recommendations. And it was really fun! I felt sad when each episode ended. I could have watched RR all afternoon.

Thousands of people like me with the warm fuzzies over Reading Rainbow have pledged more than $3.8 million to date toward its new $5-million Kickstarter goal, making it one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever. The organization blew its $1 million goal out of the water in just one day (they thought it would take 35!), largely because of the gratitude, nostalgia, and value that the decades of RR fans feel toward the RR brand; namely, LeVar and the show itself.

I've been particularly impressed by what RR has done since raising its first million dollars -- and that's what I'd like to highlight today. They've masterfully inspired thousands of individuals to believe in and donate to their new $5 million goal, which is no easy feat when you've already put a very public $1 million stake in the ground. We nonprofit professionals and fundraising officers have a lot to learn from their efforts!* Here are three ways that RR's staff have absolutely NAILED their fundraising over the past few weeks. I call it the three C's of fundraising well:

1. COMMUNITY  - Making supporters feel invested in and integral to Reading Rainbow's success. Since the beginning, the messaging from this campaign has been focused on the concept of "us." For example, "Together, we can change the lives of millions of children." "We can’t do it without you." And Kickstarter reward packages with names like "I CAN HELP." Powerful stuff. How does your messaging help people to feel like they're an important member of your nonprofit's community?  

2. CORE MISSION - Regrouping quickly around the core mission. RR did an exceptional job of pivoting as soon as they saw that their original $1M goal had been met in one day. They responded openly and quickly to feedback from the general public; they set a new, much more ambitious goal that was easy to understand (see #3!); and they maintained a positive and proactive tone. How were they able to do this? I believe it's because the RR staff has such a crystal-clear sense of their mission and vision. Without that guiding them, they would have flailed around for awhile, unable to revise their goals and messaging as rapidly as they did. Does your nonprofit have a very clear, easy to articulate mission and goal?


3. COMMUNICATION - Specifying how funds will be used. From their simple, colorful infographics to LeVar's timely videotaped Kickstarter updates, RR is absolutely knocking it out of the park with clear donor communication. It's easy to grasp the concept they are proposing, which is that more money equals RR provided for free to many more schools and on many more platforms. Are you able to articulate exactly how donor funds will be used, and why these donations are so critical to fulfilling your nonprofit's work?


You don't have to take my word for it! :) How can you incorporate the three C's into your nonprofit's work? 

*I recognize that Reading Rainbow is not a nonprofit organization. Nonetheless, their mission is service-oriented and their fundraising practices are stellar! 


8 building blocks to fundraising success

Are you a nonprofit board member, executive director, first-time Development officer, or simply curious about the fundraising field? Do you have friends, family members, or colleagues in these positions? 

If so, please register or share the link for my first-ever webinar! 

Wednesday, June 4 at 1:00 pm EDT 

In this FREE 45-minute webinar, we will cover elements such as:

  • The solicitation cycle
  • Clear mission and vision statements
  • Fundraising plans
  • Prospect research
  • Funding diversification
  • Board and volunteer engagement
  • And more!
We'll also have time for Q&A.

I'm excited to test drive this new form of training and education, and I hope you will join me for an engaging, informative session.

There are only 25 slots for this webinar, so please register today--and/or share the link with your networks! Thanks so much. :)