photoIf you’re a social media maven, just plug your ears and move on. You definitely know all of this.

If you’re still finding your way through any of the great social media tools available to us these days, take just a few minutes to digest this.

Is social media the most effective fundraising medium?  No. Not at all.

Can social media be an effective tool for informing and engaging your existing stakeholders and possibly attracting new interest to your cause?  Yes. Absolutely.

Many of the organizations that fared the best during last year’s Giving Challenge used social media to the max. That doesn’t mean they went online and asked friends, fans and followers for money every second. It means they kept their constituents engaged and interested. Here are some tips for how to do that:

  • Help them get to know you. If people give to people (and they do), showcase your team members.
  • Put them in touch with your mission. Share short stories or photos of who will be helped by the funds being raised. How about a quote from someone who will benefit from your nonprofit’s services?
  • Capture your Giving Challenge moments. What is it like to be at your office during the Challenge? Share photos of your team as they are working and celebrating each donor’s gift. Grab a screen shot of your organization’s name on the Leaderboard. Post a photo of your board member calling a donor to thank him for his gift.
  • If you ask, make it easy and feel-good. It’s okay to make an appeal for donations every once in a while. If you want people to give, play on emotion and make it easy. Share the link you want them to use. Be direct but grateful.
  • Thank your donors. If you have permission to share names, go for it. “Special shout-out to Janis Martin for bringing us closer to our goal of $10,000” is a nice touch.

Whatever you do on the social spectrum, we recommend building your online fan base now.

During the Challenge, don’t be afraid to tap into some social media ambassadors, asking your biggest fans to post for and about your organization on their own Facebook and Twitter accounts. When your supporters share, the messages are more authentic and more likely to reach people inside of their circles and outside of yours.  Third party credibility rules.

Great social media resources for nonprofits are plentiful online. E-mail us and we’ll share some of our favorites with you!

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County


In just a few moments, the tightrope walker we’ve all come to know and love, Nik Wallenda, will walk on a wire 200 feet over one of the busiest roads in Sarasota without a safety harness.
Are you holding your breath?

Naturally, we have to use every opportunity to draw links between exciting events in the world and our upcoming 36-Hour Giving Challenge, so here you go. Let’s look at what Nik can teach us as we get ready to embark on a community-wide giving campaign:

  1. For whatever reason, we’re all enchanted by risk-taking.
    The 36-Hour Giving Challenge is just that—a Challenge. We’re not distributing equal grant checks to participating organizations; we’re asking each organization to use the resources at its disposal—volunteers, social networking, donor engagement, creativity, and above all else, strategy—to go for it. By nature, people will be excited by the fact that you’re participating. So make the most of it. Whatever organizational goal you have set for yourself—whether it’s small or large—put your all into getting there.
  2.  People like “live.”
    Though many of us working people will be watching the walk on rewind during the evening news, the most coveted way to view it is down at the site itself or on the live webcam. Think about how you will bring your audience to you during the Giving Challenge. On your website, through social media or expressed in appreciative calls to donors, give us a little taste of what it’s like to be at the “mission control” of your organization. Share photos of your team up at the crack of dawn, late at night, standing by the leaderboard, working with clients that day, etc. Bring people into your moment and make them part of it.
  3. Our community loves to see Southwest Florida basking in the national spotlight.
    People visit and winter in our community from all over the world, and our community has an identity we’re proud of. We like the Universe to know who we are, and where we are on the green and blue sphere of our globe. We have a thriving arts community. We have the world’s best beach. And we have some people, like you, who are 150% committed to making their causes shine in the biggest way possible. Let’s take this opportunity to do it.

I’ll feel better once Nik has made it safely across. Similarly, after the Giving Challenge is over, I know we’ll all sit back and admire the results. In both cases, what’s more exciting, though? Reflection after the fact, or enjoying the thrilling journey across? Something to think about…


-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Anyone who has experienced success in fundraising–and the profound responsibility of stewarding generous donors–knows that gratitude is everything.

Whether or not your donors crave public recognition for their gifts, donors deserve simple but heartfelt appreciation from your organization and confirmation of the difference their gift will make.

Years ago, Kim Klein, founder of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, came to town. One of my favorite Kleinisms was her quote, “If you don’t have time to thank your donors, you don’t have time for donors.”

I’d like to add the need for urgency in thanking donors–expressing appreciation REALLY soon after they make the gift.

And I have a hunch that Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation, might like to add the importance of thanking your donors in many different ways–perhaps even eight different ways.

Let’s talk about the Giving Challenge for a moment and how you might say thanks.

You can start by assigning someone on your team to be responsible for e-mailing your donors immediately after they give to thank them for their support.  Heck, you could even call each one to say thanks.  I’m guessing that the delight of hearing an enthusiastic, friendly and appreciative voice on the other end of the phone will offer an unexpected reason to feel great about their decision to give.

If your donor is okay with being publicly recognized, you could thank him/her on Facebook, in your next newsletter (print or e-news), in your next event program, in a special thank you tour of your organization.

Don’t forget that all-important hand-written thank you note. Ask your board members to help you with them. There’s nothing like being appreciated by an organization’s board, and it directly involves your volunteer leaders in the fundraising process without them asking for money.

How many other ways can you think of to say thanks?  We have given you seven!

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

P.S. Remember, giving your donors goods or services in exchange for their gifts is not permissible since the gift is 100% tax-deductible.

thank you2

Message House workshop“We’re all in the business of communications.”

It’s the number one message Marc Fest drove home at the packed Message House workshop at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County on Friday.

Our team enjoyed seeing nearly 100 executive directors, program staff, fundraisers and communications professionals who gathered to learn the simple and effective Message House tool—in preparation for the Giving Challenge and for more focused and consistent messages shaping any project, initiative, event, or concept.

Marc stayed to spend some time with the Foundation staff after the workshop to share the tool and brainstorm with us.

Here are five important takeaways from both sessions:

  • Always have a seat for communications at the decision-making table, not as an afterthought.
  • Good messages are simple.
  • Develop messaging with others to help build your team, reach alignment about simple and effective communications, and increase the likelihood that your team will use the messages that are co-created.
  • There are two distinct sides of human nature we can appeal to in our messaging.
    1. The altruistic side, which looks for the “big picture message” about why your project or appeal makes a difference in the larger scheme of things. This is your emotional, “goose bumps” message.
    2. The selfish side, which looks for an answer to “What’s in it for me?” This utility message speaks to the personal gain one can experience from giving money, volunteering, or whatever action you are asking your specific audience to take.
  • Despite all of our good work and every good intention, there is likely a chief criticism we will have for the initiative or communication we are addressing. Anticipate that from the beginning and pre-empt the criticism with a positive message.

The Giving Challenge is a fertile ground for practicing the Message House concept: inviting communications to the table, appealing to both sides of human nature, developing messaging with others on your team, addressing the critic’s message, and simplifying it all for your audience with a no-brainer action item.

Download the free Message House template here.

Thanks, Marc. Come back to Sarasota soon, and bring Zeus with you next time. So many dog lovers here…

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

Our community saw a spectacular display of creativity during last year’s 36-Hour Giving Challenge, a real testament to the inventiveness and resourcefulness of nonprofits here in Southwest Florida.

This investment made the giving event exciting to watch online, and it made our community stand out around the country and the world. (Remember, gifts were made from all 50 states and from 24 countries.)

One of the most talked-about promotional pieces was the “Inspector Gadget” video, an offering from Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, and his accomplice Brittany Norwood, communications manager.

If you haven’t seen it, please dive in. If you have seen it, we know you will want to watch it again.

Three reasons this piece of Giving Challenge creativity was so loved:

  1. It took some guts, Jim, we have to hand it to you. (We’re pretty sure Brittany was very persuasive.)
  2. It was unexpected, yet appropriate. The “decoding” of the instructions was a wonderful piece of humor that made all of us want to participate.
  3. It was free to produce and easy to share. This video cost nothing to make. Hosted on YouTube, it could easily be shared on Facebook or Twitter, embedded on a website, blog or e-mail.

As a result of the momentum generated by this video and so many other inventive campaigns last year, we are offering a $5,000 grant to the organization with the best overall campaign in this year’s Challenge.

Think about how you can integrate some combination of video, social media, an event, an innovative e-mail, website banner, or any number of other tools into an energizing campaign to help you raise dollars and visibility.

Carrie Rasmussen, marketing manager at the Herald-Tribune Media Group, is putting together a small team to take a look at our contestants and crown the winner. Even if your organization doesn’t “win,” consider how your campaign can inspire new and old supporters and build your messaging strength.

Remember, our “most creative campaign” category isn’t about spending money. It’s about using those juices of creativity innate in all of you…in a way that really speaks to your mission.

Who’s in?

New Car Words

January 22, 2013

PARTNERSBuying a new car is super fun, but it’s an endeavor that requires a little prep.

Before you meet your enthusiastic salesman, you might arrive armed with a set of words describing what you are not willing to compromise on with your purchase.

Automatic. Safe. Fuel efficient. Dark seats to cover up inevitable spills.

Are you just as deliberate about choosing a new nonprofit partner?

Let’s face it, you also want a partnership to be fun. It’s more likely to be that way when you know the “new car words” that are right for your nonprofit before you get too far into the exploration.

The best nonprofit collaborations are carefully crafted with those who share similar values, but clearly, that’s not enough. Mutual trust is also a biggie. Clear expectations can be just as important. And the act of partnering itself should make each player more than it could be alone.

We’re hoping your organization will consider working with a business or another nonprofit to build awareness, funding and capacity during the 36-Hour Giving Challenge.

Discover or revisit your “new car words” and use them. It’s a good discussion to have, and one that will help you make a great decision when others approach you as well.

The Giving Challenge can offer the right circumstance for a test drive with a local business or nonprofit you haven’t worked with in the past. Be intentional and then enjoy a smooth drive down the highway of possibilities! It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C.July 2012

MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C.
July 2012

On Friday, I was fortunate to be part of a webinar in which Steve Suitts, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation, shared the history of Southern philanthropy.

In the South (yes, Florida is part of the South), we still haven’t caught up with the level of social justice funding that originates from other parts of the country, yet it is arguably the most needed in our region.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

Locally, we know that many nonprofits benefit from the incredible generosity of those who care deeply about seniors, children, families and other individuals who need our help.

But is the social sector in our community doing enough to educate donors about the root causes of disparities impacting these populations?

Admittedly, that’s a tough one. We don’t always fully understand these circumstances ourselves. When we do have insights into the tricky web of “what makes philanthropy necessary,” we know that it is bigger than what our organization alone can tackle.  It can be political. It’s hard to communicate to donors and stakeholders. We don’t want to overwhelm donors, and we want them to keep our own organization top of mind.

To MLK’s point, we each have a role in talking to philanthropists about the bigger picture, and in listening to them.  It’s part of our job as stewards of our missions.

I’ve had the honor of meeting some pretty powerful people in our community who are looking beyond the realm of one organization and one population, and through a lens of big change.

Creating an opportunity for deep conversations with donors is a good way to keep them giving and to benefit from their perspectives when we sometimes get caught up in the day-to-day activities we must carry out to keep services flowing.

A focus on the root causes of economic and social injustice, as well as the outcomes we are all hoping to achieve, is hard work. But it’s doable. We have the right tools–intelligence, experience, compassion and willingness–here in Southwest Florida.

Special thanks to the Southeastern Council on Foundations for offering this webinar as part of the Hull Fellows program.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County