Short is Not Sweet

Kelly UpdikeA Fundraiser’s Journey

Kelly Updike for PCNRC

Every January I have to arrive early at fitness class.

This is because I need to stake out my favorite spot – near the back, not in front of the mirrors – because most of the room is filled with ladies who have made New Year’s resolutions.

By February I don’t have to get there early any more.

Ouch. Four short weeks and that resolution went ppfffttt for at least 30 people.

My own resolutions were often as short-lived. Lately, I haven’t even bothered thinking about resolutions, let alone making them.

How to break the cycle? Well, my New Year’s resolution is going to be something that I can actually enjoy and thus want to sustain: I’m going to set 12 appointments, averaging one per month, with someone I don’t know very well and admire greatly for his or her work in the community.

Because I’m a shy person (seriously!) who also is a bit socially awkward (my sense of humor aligns well with 12-year-olds), this is a stretch for me personally. Which qualifies this resolution as a growth opportunity. And because calendars quickly go to awfully full, I will need to exert some discipline to schedule each meeting.

I’m motivated to hear more from folks who are quietly changing our world, from health services to sports and leisure. Let me know if you want to have coffee or have ideas on another great person to meet. And I hope to share with you what I learn about fundraising from these sessions.

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Embassy or the PCNRC.

Let’s Put On A Show

A Fundraiser’s Journey

Kelly Updike for PCNRCKelly Updike

When I was casting about for upcoming blog topics, a staffer suggested I write about what a bad idea it is to have a stage show for a fundraiser. Oh, yeah, everyone around the table agreed, please tell people it’s a bad idea.

OMG, you say, how can people who work at the Embassy say that?

Because it’s true. Many people approach us with their great idea for putting something on stage because they think it’s an easy path to making a lot of money. However, it’s not the backyard simplicity expressed in Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies.

This is true for any fundraising event. There are risks, even after careful planning. Continue reading

Not Feelin’ It

A Fundraiser’s JourneyKelly Updike

Kelly Updike for PCNRC

There very nearly was not an October Fundraiser’s Journey blog post. I’ve had writer’s block before but this was Gibraltar.

Completely out of options, I asked a superb fundraiser if she had some ideas for you. She was totally jazzed by the question and surprised me with her response. She said I knew the answer already because I had just shared it with a group of very tired staffers.

Like Dorothy clicking her ruby-reds, sometimes we need to be reminded that we have the power all along.

First, take a deep breath, stop panicking. You are a very successful person. Reflect on where you are and how you got there. Then pick one thing to do next, just one. Focus on that. You’ve got to take the first step to begin the journey.

Still not feeling it? Take a different turn in the road: Look at your donor list again. There’s at least one interesting person in there. Then get out of the office. Make a visit with that donor. Saying thank-you is fun. Stay out of the office: It’s energizing to talk with your clients or patrons, the people you serve. And grab a coffee with some colleagues; nothing’s better than a group hug.

Now you’re feelin’ it!

[Special shout-out to Nancy Louraine, our very own Glinda.]

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Embassy or the PCNRC.

Engaging Today’s Donors

Kelly picA Fundraiser’s Journey

Kelly Updike for PCNRC

We have this really cool event at the Embassy but it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. It’s called the Embatini, a really terrific name. At the Embatini, we provide a special drink and a classy meal and we have it in an exclusive place – on the Embassy stage. We’ve made it intimate and singular. Guests routinely tell us they love it. We want it to be a very extraordinary fundraiser for the Embassy. But it doesn’t raise a lot of money.

Do you have events like that? Where, despite the hardest of work and the keenest of ideas, it just never takes off as a fundraiser?

There appears to be a disconnect somewhere in our event. How do we better link it to our donors? Perhaps this has something to do with how donors think today about philanthropy and what they are expecting from us as nonprofits.

Remember the truly original Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014 that generated millions of dollars and free publicity for ALS? While hugely successful in many ways, the majority of Challenge donors were one-time givers:

The Ice Bucket Challenge reminds us that the ways people learn about our organizations are evolving. And the ways people give to us are changing. The good news is that the amount of giving is growing.

If there is a silver bullet to excellent fundraising, it is steady, ongoing attention to people, to individual relationships. We still have to find personalized and relevant ways to connect. As for the Embatini, we continue to evaluate it, to figure out how to create a better link to our donors.

For some information on fundraising trends, go to:

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Embassy or the PCNRC.

A Fundraiser’s Journey: Dave Bennett’s Top 10 List for Grant Writers

Kelly Updike for PCNRC, A Fundraiser’s Journey seriesKelly pic

You are in for a special treat as this post is written by David Bennett, executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne. Since its founding in 1956, the foundation has had a mission of serving the Allen County community by improving the quality of life for all of our citizens. In the last 10 years, nearly 7,000 gifts have been received totaling more than $86 million. At the same time, more than 1,100 charitable organizations and hundreds of students have been awarded nearly $80 million in grants and scholarships. You can read more about the foundation at .

Dave’s expert advice for fundraisers.

top 10Your executive director comes to you and says, “Say, have you ever written a grant application?” Swallowing hard, you mumble something about a creative writing assignment you vaguely remember from first period English class. “Perfect!” she says.

So what do you do next? Here’s a Top 10 list to get you started.


10. Prepare to write – All writers are different; I need a decent chunk of time, a cup of coffee, and a quiet room. Prepare to write like you would prepare for a picnic. What do you need and what is the setting?

9. Read the requirements carefully. I know politicians say, “Don’t answer the question you are asked; answer the question you want to answer,” but that is a recipe for a grant application rejection. Carefully look at what the application asks and tailor your response to that question.

8. Outline first. Before you write a single sentence, outline what your entire application will say.

7. Brevity – Keep your narrative concise and to the point. I have a well-worn copy of Elements of Style in my den. Every so often, I pull it off the shelf and read a chapter. One of the key insights from the book reads as follows:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell.

Did you take four paragraphs to convey a message that could be told in one paragraph? Remember, the person reading your application likely is reading dozens of applications and probably under a time deadline. Make the job easier by keeping your application concise.

6. Avoid Acronyms. Never use an acronym that you have not defined. In addition, don’t overuse acronyms even if they have been defined. Continue reading

A Fundraiser’s Journey: New Kid on the Block

Kelly Updike for PCNRC, A Fundraiser’s Journey seriesKelly pic

There’s this new thing called a sustained giving program. Several nonprofit colleagues, including PBS39, are offering this to their members and donors. This is when you ask members or regular donors to give a certain amount of money each month, say $5 which is about the same as a Grande Mocha at Starbucks, via credit card auto-pay.

According to Mary Male, PBS39’s director of individual giving, the station began the program in 2012 to increase donor retention. Mary knows her organization’s data, saying only about 12 percent of revenue is retained annually from PBS39 pledge drives. “In contrast,” she said, “the monthly giving program has seen a revenue retention rate of 86 percent from year to year. How has this helped us? Over the past two years, our overall revenue retention rate has increased from 49 percent to 62 percent.”

Mary listed donor benefits to this program:

  • Hassle-free, automatic monthly donations
  • Instead of giving one lump sum every year, a small donation each month eases budget constraints
  • Annual statements provided for seamless tax preparation
  • Flexibility to change or suspend the donation at any time
  • Ongoing membership continues month-to-month and year to year until the donor opts out
  • Satisfaction in continual support without the worry of membership renewal deadlines

And of course there are benefits to PBS39:

  • Increased revenue and donor retention
  • No need to send out appeals to sustaining members to renew their support annually which saves on costs such as printing and postage
  • Steady cash flow

With issues that require ongoing attention, Mary says:

  • “Credit card expiration” – Either use a credit card expiration date update service for a fee or contact the donor, which has proved to be challenging.
  • Closed bank accounts – This happens far less frequently.
  • Donor education – Some donors do not realize that we would like this to be an ongoing monthly donation. Some donors think it is simply a 12-month payment plan. We feel that if we can educate donors better on the front end, they would be less likely to feel they are done after 12 months.”

Many thanks to Mary for sharing this PBS39 success story!

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Embassy or the PCNRC.

A Fundraiser’s Journey: How often to ask

Kelly Updike for PCNRC, A Fundraiser’s Journey seriesKelly pic

According to Giving USA, Americans gave $335.17 billion to charity in 2013. And the biggest group of donors, 72 percent, was individuals. Yup, this means you and me.

The three remaining donor groups were foundations at 15 percent, bequests at 8 percent and corporations at 5 percent.

And, great news: Individual giving continued to steadily increase following the recession’s end in 2009.

Giving USA also reported that the majority of gifts, 31 percent, went to religion, followed by gifts to education at 16 percent, human services with 12 percent and gifts to foundations at 11 percent. See a great visual report at

So what?

Well, all these data are good reminders that we need to keep plugging along in asking individuals to support our good work. Individuals comprise the largest giving group and that means they are responding to our Asks.

And the numbers show that those organizations asking more than once also obtain repeat donations.

Say what?

Religious groups are the largest percentage of gifts at nearly one-third. This is Fort Wayne, City of Churches, so many of you attend church and know that each Sunday an Ask is made. So, 52 times a year you are asked and you respond.

Same thing for education: Colleges usually have large and dedicated fundraisers who are regularly in contact with alumni and regularly asking for donations. You support the U!

How often to ask?

All the time. You will not offend; rather, you will inform and receive support.


The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Embassy or the PCNRC.