Photo by Lina Trochez on Unsplash

Revisiting Helpful Facts and Fiction about Fundraising

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

Here’s a reboot of “Fundraising: fact or fiction?” that may help you and your favorite nonprofit. 

Fact: Calling donors to thank them for their gift significantly increases donor retention. Research from Bloomerang confirms the value of thanking donors by phone. In a study, donors who received one phone call within 90 days of making their first gift gave again 42% of the time and 58% if more than one call is made within 90 days.

Multiple calls also resulted in a second gift being made less than two months after the first gift. 

Fiction: Direct mail is dead. Direct mail is a highly effective fundraising method, especially when combined with email and online giving as part of an overall campaign. Using this fundraising method effectively requires knowledge of the science of direct mail. Lisa Sargent, a brilliant copywriter, and direct mail guru, recommends using uncoated paper, tabbed paragraphs, 14-point font, incomplete sentences, unresolved stories, repetition, emotion, plenty of white space, thanking, asking, and asking again.

I suggest adding a thoughtful post-script and signature from a leadership volunteer, grateful recipient of the nonprofit’s services, or external stakeholder. Here’s why this list matters: happier donors and more donations. Every one of these items is researched based and proven to work. 

Fact: Titles matter in fundraising. During my career I’ve held numerous titles including Director of Development, Fund Development Director and Director of Development and Donor Services. A new title I’ve heard is Distinguished Gifts Manager. I like it because every gift is distinguished in the heart and mind of the person who gives it. And, for that matter, so is every giver. Including ‘distinguished’ or ‘philanthropy’ in a fundraising job title sends a message to donors that ‘we respect you’ and will appreciate you for the philanthropist you are regardless of how much you give.

Fiction: Raising money through planned giving means talking to donors about death. Nope. Planned giving is about leaving a legacy. Helping donors support their favorite cause, often in perpetuity, is a privilege not a solicitation.  

Fact: People who die give more to charity every year than corporations. [Source: Giving USA] This isn’t to diminish corporate support or living donors but rather a reminder of the impact of bequests and other deferred gifts. Over 80% of all planned gifts are bequests which is the best way to start a planned giving program. Start asking in a simple, straightforward and consistent way, “Have you considered, or would you consider including [name of organization] in your will or estate plan?” 

Fact: Giving is personal. I attended a recognition ceremony where a donor made a special gift to a nonprofit in memory of her mother. She brought a photo of her mother and told a story about how her mom taught her to give back quietly, without any fanfare, because it was the right thing to do. Even though her mother would not have wanted the attention, her daughter decided it was important to honor her mother’s legacy.  It doesn’t get much more personal than that. 

Fiction: Asking high profile people and celebrities to give is an easy, highly effective way to raise money. At a fundraising committee meeting someone suggests, “let’s go ask fill-in-the-blank celebrity or well-known person for a big gift.”  This is despite the fact the person may have no knowledge, interest, or connection to the nonprofit, its mission, or leaders.

I’ve spoken with many high-profile people who have told me about being asked for five, six and seven figure gifts without knowing the cause or people involved. The best way to ask for a gift, especially a big one, is to spend time getting to know the people who already support your mission, show them what their gifts make possible, understand what matters to them and why they give, and earn the right to ask them again.  

Fact: Baby boomers give the most to charity of any generation. In fact, half of every charitable gift made in the US is given by someone whose average age is 64.  Baby boomers, especially women, are the most charitably inclined, have more money to give, and give to an average of four charities a year.  To learn more about generational differences, read “The Next Generation of American Giving: The Charitable Habits of Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Matures” at  

Fact: Nonprofits have the board they cultivate. I have this sentence on a sticky note near my computer as a reminder to share this concept with my clients. Staff who become experts in nonprofit governance are in the best position to help board members be high performing and boards achieve their goals. 

Join on Facebook

Join Alyce Lee and Felina Martin for Notes on Nonprofits Live on Facebook at noon Tuesday, March 8. Our guest will be Sabeen Perwaiz, CEO of the Florida Nonprofit Alliance, to talk about advocacy, legislative issues affecting nonprofits, and answers to your questions. 

Notes on Nonprofits is a column in the Tallahassee Democrat produced by Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and includes resources, responses to reader questions, guest columns, and timeless topics. This column first appeared on Sunday, March 6, 2022. Please send your comments and questions to

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