Preparing for our third year of an online community Giving Challenge supported by six foundations, we are looking forward to witnessing another outpouring of support for the causes near and dear to Southwest Florida.

The first year we embarked on this adventure together, a few participating nonprofits expressed some concern about the competitive nature of the Giving Challenge. The Leaderboard listing the names of all participating organizations and the total amount of dollars and gifts each raises can make the event feel a bit competitive.  Indeed, this lighthearted competition is what drives some people to give in the spirit of supporting their favorite nonprofit “team.”

Responding to the ideas of our nonprofit colleagues, last year we tried something new. A grant incentive of $5,000 was offered to the nonprofits that demonstrated the best nonprofit partnership. The outcome of this mini-contest within the Giving Challenge was determined by an independent panel of judges.

We did not know what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised with the diverse examples of collaboration. Twenty of the 287 nonprofits participating in the Giving Challenge chose to work with another organization.

In the 2014 Giving Challenge, we are once again encouraging nonprofits to find creative ways to partner. We hope an expanded group will pair up and work together, based on clear goals they co-create for mutual benefit.  Other than the potential to receive a $5,000 grant, why might two nonprofits collaborate in a community-wide giving event?

Here are a few reasons:

  • Extend the reach of an existing program.
    Fuzion Dance Artists partnered with New Gate School in the 2013 Giving Challenge, teaching students modern dance by preparing them for a fun flash mob performance outside of Lakewood Ranch Cinemas to spread the word about their giving campaign. New Gate students had never received modern dance instruction, and Fuzion was able to extend the reach of its fine dancers to a student population.

  • Broaden understanding of your services to target audiences.
    SCOPE and Goodwill Manasota partnered in an unusual pairing led by canine ambassador Stella, a miniature dachshund who traveled all over town with organization representatives visiting with community leaders. The four-legged ball of happiness was leveraged as an opportunity to share information about the services of both organizations in a casual visit—a little pet therapy with a new purpose!

  • Fund a specific project that is mutually beneficial for each organization.
    Realize Bradenton and Manatee Players partnered in last year’s campaign to raise the funds for a curtain to dress the stage of the newly opening performing arts center. The success of the theatre has a direct relationship to the mission of Realize Bradenton, tasked with creating a vibrant downtown Bradenton.

As our judges look to this year’s potential winners, they will look at the strategy behind the partnerships: why two nonprofits decided to work together, how their partnership helps them achieve more success than they could on their own, and whether the partnership and its results carry promise for future possibilities–beyond the Giving Challenge.

Consider giving up the fear of “losing” your donors and imagine what might be possible through an unconventional approach, fundraising in collaboration with another nonprofit.  Our hope is that you will create a synergy expanding far beyond the walls of the Giving Challenge.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County



creativity2When was the last time you thought about your nonprofit’s work and said, “If we only had more [fill in the blank], we could [fill in the blank].”

Some of us run that script through our subconscious minds throughout the day.

As we talk with local nonprofit executives and board members, we hear a lot of this:

  • We don’t have the budget.
  • We don’t have the volunteers.
  • We don’t have the staff.
  • We don’t have the technology.
  • We don’t have the space.
  • We don’t have the time.

Oh yes, the list goes on!  It is natural to feel constrained by the limitations of our tiny budgets and the time available to us, especially in the face of the complex issues our nonprofit organizations are tackling.

What might be possible for your organization if you started viewing your limitations differently?

In your work addressing homelessness, mental illness, feral cats, seniors without heath care, Parkinson’s Disease–whatever it might be–consider the role of creativity. Einstein said that the problems existing in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.

I recently read a Forbes article, “Creativity: How Constraints Drive Genius” by David Sturt, executive VP of O.C. Tanner. The firm analyzed data from award-winning professionals in companies and found that constraints are actually a consistent driver of creativity.

Here’s what David said about creative thinkers who were motivated by obstacles:

“They solved problems. They overcame hurdles. And, they made a difference that someone loved. Constraints give us a starting point and some building blocks to work with—a problem to solve, an innovative twist to be revealed, or a person to please. And, it doesn’t matter how tightly constrained we feel. The world is filled with amazing possibilities derived from limited resources and elements.”

Those ideas resonate with me as I consider all of the possibilities before us in the Giving Challenge.

Let’s take the limitations we face and put them to work for us, following the lead of others who have innovated out of need.  For example, if your organization is feeling inadequate in the staffing arena, consider how you can use the Giving Challenge as a tool to build and engage a volunteer force that becomes supercharged on Facebook, ready to share messages and advocate for you.

How can you use your resources–however small–to engage beyond what you thought was originally possible?

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Philanthropic giving is not a transactional event completed with a “click here” or “donate now” button. It does not begin or end with the Giving Challenge. The Giving Challenge is a tool to engage the community in informed giving, to bring your supporters together as ambassadors for your cause, and to showcase the opportunity for everyone to be a philanthropist.

We loved this recent post from Jennifer Vigne’s blog since it encompasses so much of the development process. We wanted to share it with you this week as you are thinking about your Giving Challenge campaign within the context of your fundraising efforts as a whole.

flowerDaylight Savings has begun and with that Spring’s arrival is just days away.  It is during this time of year when many of us take a closer look at our yards and gardens and begin planting seeds and watching flowers bloom.

Philanthropy is no different from your garden.  Plant some seeds and with the right type of cultivation and stewardship, you too will see the fruits of your labor take shape.

Many non-profit organizations express their fervent desire to create a culture of philanthropy. This idea often takes root when non-profit organizations recognize their need to raise more money and they choose to use this term as an outward expression of their fundraising goals.

But, a culture of philanthropy is much more than just raising money.

It’s about building, nurturing, and stewarding relationships. It’s understanding the mission of an organization and being able to connect donors in ways that bring both donors and non-profits joy. It is a movement away from a transactional focus and instead allows transformational gifts to flourish. It is an environment in which all internal stakeholders enthusiastically commit to strengthen this culture. Above all else, it is an acceptance that everyone – donors, staff, board members, and all – know that they alone can make a difference!

I would contend that creating a culture of philanthropy is similar to that of a farmer harvesting his fields. Knowledge, strategy, patience, and nourishment are all needed to harvest a fruitful field, and don’t we want to harvest fruitful philanthropy?

If so, follow the steps below that have been shared by experienced farmers and discover how your organization can indeed have a fruitful garden of donors that results in a philanthropic harvest:

  1. Plan your garden: develop a fundraising strategy.  How many organizations just simply ignore this critical, first step?
  2. Grow varieties: utilize a moves management system and include the various constituents you serve.  Donors do indeed come in all different shapes and sizes!
  3. Obtain good seed, plants, equipment and supplies: use your resources and have a budget.  By planning ahead, costly mistakes can be avoided.
  4. Prepare for the soil properly: clearly and persuasively communicate your organization’s mission and vision.  Do you know the “So what” factor? What impact is your organization making?
  5. Plant your seeds: build relationships with donors and prospects.  Be authentic, sincere, and considerate. Get to know what’s important to them (not just what’s important to us).
  6. Irrigate with care: take care of your donors and prospects; pay attention to the details.  Thoughtfulness sometimes take time – plan accordingly!
  7. Cultivate and mulch – control the weeds: stay connected on a consistent basis; raise their sights.  Timely and consistent “touches” keeps the donor engaged.
  8. Be prepared for pests and problems: be proactive and take the time to listen; show genuine care and concern.  Does your entire organization “buy-in” and endorse a culture of philanthropy? If not, pest control may be needed!
  9. Harvest at peak quality: solicit the gift at the right time for the donor; impatience could bring in smaller gifts than anticipated.  Know when the time is right.
  10. Enjoy the fruits of your harvest: begin the cycle again remembering to always keep your donor’s best interest at heart. Their involvement will help get others involved. Do the right thing and you will reap the benefits!

Jennifer Vigne is the major gifts officer at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL.  You can follow her blog here.

carpentersOn March 7 last year, many of us were exhausted and elated at the same time, overwhelmed by the 17,625 online gifts made in that short but lively 36-hour period just before. The Giving Challenge leaderboard displayed $2.78 million in donations and foundation support for 287 participating nonprofits.

The big event was over to some, but the staff and board members who took full advantage of the Challenge may have been humming one of the best post-event songs of all time, “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters.

There is no doubt that the Giving Challenge excitement happens during the marathon online fundraising event itself, as the Leaderboard updates gifts and giving totals every 60 seconds, but the magic happens afterwards.

Enterprising organizations will use the opportunity to connect and build stronger relationships with their donors.

In your pre-Giving Challenge planning, don’t forget to strategize your gratitude. A prompt and heartfelt thank you sent to each of the donors who chooses to support you—one organization among 400 participating nonprofits—is the most important aspect of a successful campaign.

What should you plan to do in your post-Giving Challenge Gratitude Fest?

Penelope Burke developed a fabulous list of 20 things that make a thank you letter superior. Here are some of them:

  • A real letter, handwritten if possible
  • Personally addressed
  • Personal salutation (no “dear friend”)
  • Personally signed by someone from the highest ranks of the organization
  • Makes specific reference to the intended use of funds
  • Includes contact info for a staff person the donor can contact at any time
  • Does not ask for another gift or continue to “sell”
  • Acknowledges the donor’s past giving
  • Communicates gratitude and inner warmth
  • Grabs the reader’s attention in the opening sentence
  • No more than two short paragraphs long
  • Received by the donor promptly

Always consider acknowledgement of the generous donors, funders and businesses who support you as your number one priority.

Read Penelope’s full post, “Donor-Centered Thank You Letters,” here.

Enjoy your weekend, and thank YOU for the good work you are doing.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

saturdaynitefeverThe culture of giving at your nonprofit organization starts in one place—with your board of directors.

It is the job of all individual board members to make personal monetary contributions each year that are meaningful to them–ideally without having to be asked.

Further, participating in fundraising activities is paramount. Inviting colleagues to your events or purchasing seats, introducing your organization to prospective donors, making personal calls to thank major donors for their gifts, signing acknowledgement letters, and recruiting support from local businesses are all ways board members can participate in fundraising.

Of course, it’s especially wonderful if your board members can secure gifts for your organization as well.

An opportunity to step into the fundraising groove may not get as much fun as it will be during the Giving Challenge. When your volunteer leaders showcase their support for your organization, others will follow. Here are a few ways your board can lead the pack with all the right moves.

On May 6 at noon through May 7 at noon, board members of your organization can…

  • Make donations to your organization on the Challenge website.
  • Share the word that your organization is participating in the Challenge and ask their own networks, online and offline, for support.
  • Thank donors who are making gifts to your organization during the Challenge.

Super engaged board members can also…

  • Act as social media ambassadors for your organization, keeping up with your progress on the Leaderboard and posting on their personal Facebook pages.
  • Host gatherings in their homes (or other locations) during the Challenge to share support for your organization and encourage others to give.
  • Serve on a Giving Challenge Task Force with your Giving Challenge Team Leader to help your organization plan and execute its strategy.
  • Engage their businesses in the campaign to support your nonprofit during the Giving Challenge.

So how about it? How will your board step up to support your organization on May 6 and 7?  The floor belongs to them!

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County


Last year, 287 local nonprofits raised $2.78 million dollars in just 36 hours during our community’s second Giving Challenge. Where did all of that money go?

Every organization has its own stories to tell about the good things accomplished through philanthropy, and donors and funders need to hear these stories.

That’s why we loved getting an email from our friends at Habitat for Humanity Sarasota last week sharing news about a Habitat house that will be built with Giving Challenge dollars raised last year.

This communication is just what donors and funders like to hear for a few reasons:

  • We can visualize and understand the real impact of the dollars raised.
  • We can share in the positive emotion generated from the good work we helped to accomplish.
  • We have affirmation that the organization values our relationship, even when they aren’t asking for money.

Donors feel motivated to give again when they can see and feel the results of their gifts in action, when they feel appreciated, and when they have evidence that their gift made a difference—even if it was $25.

No matter how “grassroots” or busy your team may be with the work of programs and services, making time for meaningful and consistent communication with your supporters is essential if you want to inspire donors to give again and to recruit their own networks to join your cause.

Consider the value of communicating using results, real people and reminders as you frame your ongoing messages.

  • Results: What has your organization achieved because of your donors’ past support?
  • Real people: Who are some recipients of your programs and services?
  • Reminders: How can a gift of $25, $100, or $1,000 make a difference now?

Kivi Leroux Miller’s “6 R’s of Messaging” post has some other fabulous “R’s” to consider.

Thanks, Habitat for Humanity Sarasota, for giving us a great example to share.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Picture1If your nonprofit organization serves Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte or Desoto county and has a published profile in The Giving Partner, you have demonstrated your commitment to transparency. And now you have a special opportunity just on the horizon with the 2014 Giving Challenge coming up on May 6 and 7.

You can make it as creative, as fun, and as meaningful as you like for your organization.

So how can you start getting ready for the big day before you attend the March training sessions at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County?

Think strategy.

Putting all of the Challenge details aside about matching dollars, special prizes, and technical workings, your success in motivating stakeholders to support your organization in the Giving Challenge is largely dependent on something very simple: a thoughtful, coordinated approach based on what your nonprofit hopes to accomplish.

Here are six things you can do to get the ball rolling:

  1. Whip your profile in The Giving Partner into shape. If you have important information about your organization to share, do it now. We will not have time to republish your profile as we get closer to May.

  2. Decide on your organizational goal(s) for the Giving Challenge. Is your goal to send an important advocacy message to a new audience? Solidify a partnership with a local business? Engage with 50 lapsed donors? Fund three scholarships for summer camp to kids who would otherwise be at home in front of the television?  Spay and neuter 300 homeless animals? You get the point. Decide what you want to accomplish and make it more specific than “raise money.”

  3. Plan your efforts accordingly based on the goal you have set. What staff, volunteer and board resources will you need? How much time do you plan to invest? How will you measure your success?

  4. Start planning how you will communicate the need to your donors, members and volunteers. See this post for helpful suggestions from Ann Christiano.

  5. Determine if you can inspire donors with matching dollars set aside just for your nonprofit. Ask a donor if he or she would consider matching what your organization is able to raise online during the 24-hour online campaign. Many organizations had great success with this strategy last year.

  6. Start getting your entire board in gear, ready to support your organization during the Challenge. Make a list of the specific action steps you will want them to take.
    -Make a meaningful gift to our organization during the Giving Challenge so that we can boast 100% board participation.
     -Share a link to our donation page on your personal Facebook account during the Giving Challenge.
    - E-mail at least 10 co-workers, colleagues, friends or family members during the Giving Challenge and ask for their support.
    -Be a cheerleader for our efforts.

If you help your organization form a meaningful strategy based on what you hope to gain, the Giving Challenge will be a meaningful experience for your nonprofit and will have a positive impact. Your success will be a team effort. Challenge yourselves and have a good time doing it!

We’re looking forward to sharing more in the March training sessions! Be sure to join us on Facebook as we continue posting helpful content.

Have a great weekend!

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 223 other followers