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