Start the New Year Off with Solid Stewardship


Congratulations! You worked diligently to secure calendar year-end donations for your charitable organization and ended the year with increased support in terms of both donors and dollars. Take your team to lunch to celebrate, and then get ready to develop and implement a stewardship plan. 

Stewardship is a critical element in the lifecycle of donor acquisition and retention, yet often we neglect to create a thoughtful stewardship plan. Stewardship makes donors feel valued and appreciated, and it is critical to retaining donors and increasing their financial support.

Follow these six key strategies to ensure your stewardship plan is the best it can be in the year ahead:

  1. Just like annual giving plans, a stewardship plan should be designed around a nonprofit’s fiscal year. Begin your stewardship planning by reviewing your schedule for fundraising and special events for the fiscal year—consider opportunities to use events and meetings already on the docket to emphasize stewarding your donors. For example, higher education institutions frequently host a luncheon or reception for donors who have created scholarships to meet their scholarship recipients. Or an environmental protection organization can take a donor out on the land or water to make a personal appeal, as opposed to sitting down for coffee. There is magic in this for donors! Who doesn’t want to meet an enthusiastic student they are helping or experience the beauty of the natural resources they are protecting?
  1. Ensure your organization has a well-documented stewardship matrix in place, or take this time to re-evaluate and improve your current matrix. Giving your team clarity on when and how they should be engaging each of your donor segments provides both focus and accountability for you and your team. This invaluable reference will solidify exactly how you should be stewarding donors at various gift levels throughout the year.
  1. Design one stewardship activity per month for your top-level donors and consider involving others outside of the development team. For example, ask board members to make thank-you calls to new donors. Create a simple script and ask each board member to call five donors. Donors appreciate hearing from board members, and remember—you can never thank your donors enough!
  1. Create or improve upon a plan to steward your emerging donors. For donors who may not be major donors yet, but are showing more interest in your organization, moving in a good trajectory professionally, etc., we recommend stewarding them as if they were already established major donors.
  1. Eliminate spending money on “giveaway items” for stewardship. In fact, most donors don’t want nonprofits using their financial resources on these giveaway items. Properly thanking your donors will be more effective.
  1. Pull together an ad hoc committee of donors to seek their input on what events and outreach would be most meaningful to them as you plan your stewardship. People love to provide advice and suggestions. These donors will feel valued by the mere act of you asking for their input. They may even be more likely to increase their donation as a result of feeling like they are part of your team by contributing to your strategy.

As you celebrate your fundraising success in 2022, remember the importance of retaining your donors through thoughtful stewardship planning. This planning will help guarantee you can build upon this success in 2023 and beyond.

About the Author

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Kimberley Hammer, Esq. – Managing Director

With over 28 years of fundraising experience and executive leadership within the nonprofit sector, Kimberley (Kim) Hammer, Esq., is a thoughtful, collaborative professional who builds strong, productive relationships and focuses on results. Kim most recently served as Vice President for Advancement and Special Assistant to the President at Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach. Her experience also includes holding senior-level positions at Carlow University, Robert Morris University, The Pittsburgh Promise, UPMC Children’s Hospital Foundation, and The Pittsburgh Foundation. Read more about Kim here.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. Co-founded by Bob Carter and Steve Higgins in 2011, Carter gathered a select team of the nation’s most respected nonprofit professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide in the areas of fundraising, governance and organizational planning. Each Carter consultant brings decades of executive-level development experience to serve as an extension of your team and help you maximize your organization’s potential and better serve your cause. For more information, visit

How to Increase Your Grant Funding

Grant Funding Relationships

Whether you’re just starting your grant funding strategy or have created a well-oiled grant funding machine, you still are likely asking the same questions to ensure efficiency: “Which grants should we apply for? Which grant funders should we be focusing on? Who is most likely to support our cause?”

These are questions I am asked every week, from small grassroots organizations to large-scale NGOs, and I have roughly the same conversation with every client. While it is a complex topic and one that requires a clear understanding of your organization’s capacity, position in the nonprofit sector, and budgetary needs, the root of my answer is the same: choose funders with whom you have relationships or with whom you can create relationships.

Relationship-Building with Foundations

Let’s start with funding from foundations (independent, family and corporate). You can write the most compelling proposal to a foundation, but if they’ve never heard of you, your mission, and the population(s) you serve, then it’s like sending the proposal into the wind. Yes, a foundation’s purpose is to distribute grant money, but more importantly, their purpose is to distribute grant money to organizations that meet their funding priorities, have the capacity in terms of staffing and systems that support the management of grant funds, and can prove that their program outcomes will bring about meaningful change within the community. Relationships with foundations are pivotal to proving your merit in these areas.

In an ideal world, you will have a board member or volunteer within your ranks who already has a relationship with a foundation and can make an introduction on behalf of your organization. If you don’t have an internal connection, take the time to contact the foundation and ask to meet with them to share what you do and who you serve (you may also want to invite a board member to the meeting who can speak to the importance of your mission), or invite them to events happening at your organization to see your work first-hand.

Before meeting with the foundation, review their website and recent 990 Forms to get a feel for who they have funded and the amounts funded. While bold asks are often encouraged in fundraising, with grants, I recommend being reasonable with your budget. Don’t ask for more than the foundation’s average request unless they have given you an indication that they will consider a larger ask. Be consistent, but also be patient. Establishing relationships with foundations takes time.

Relationship-Building with Government Agencies

For government agencies (federal, state and local), relationship-building is much less intimate. Government agencies don’t normally take meetings with nonprofit organizations, nor do they come to see your organization in action. For government funding, make sure you can show at least three years of audited financial statements. Very rarely do government agencies want to drop hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on small or new nonprofits that can’t show expertise in managing large amounts of money.

It’s important to still work to make a connection with someone who can be an advocate for you and your organization. There is a lot of competition behind the scenes in government grants – everyone needs funding, and everyone has a great idea and a beautiful vision to fix a heartbreaking societal issue. To build relationships in this arena, you can participate in federal/state RFP webinars, reach out to the assigned federal/state agency contact person with pertinent questions about a particular funding opportunity, and charge your government relations staff with scoping out government grant opportunities that might be on the horizon.

You can also reach out to your local legislator to make these inquiries on your behalf or ask your board and volunteers if they have any connections to legislators. As taxpayer-funded legislators, this is part of their role; they are in office to serve the public. I have seen many cases in which legislators have acted as great champions for an organization’s cause.

The Bottom Line: Make Connections

So, what do you need in order to increase your grant funding? A compelling case and a personal connection. I’m not saying that if you have a relationship, you can slack on the proposal. Your proposal must be excellent. But you won’t increase grant funding with exceptional proposals alone; you also need to do your research and make connections. Relationships are essential in securing grant funds!

The Carter team is committed to being a strategic partner in your approach to funding. If you are looking to enhance your organization’s integrated fundraising program or campaign through improved grant services or looking to accelerate organizational capacity through a strategic grant funding approach, we are here to help.

About the Author

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Maureen Ryan, MBA – Director - Grants

As a service-oriented and seasoned grant professional with over 30 years of combined experience in grant strategy, grant development, writing and administration, Maureen serves as Carter’s Director – Grants, helping nonprofit organizations realize their missions through grant funding. In her career, Maureen has helped raise over $100 million in grants for organizations across the country. Learn more about Maureen here.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit

Year-End Giving Doesn’t Have to Be Scary: 4 Steps to Maximize Donations

Year End Giving Doesn't Have To Be Scary

As a nonprofit professional, Halloween may only be scary because it means you have a lot of prepping on your plate for year-end giving. (Calendar year-end is never a surprise, but it still surprises a lot of organizations! You’re not alone!) This year, don’t let year-end giving scare you. Instead, let’s use the latest giving data and apply universal truths of fundraising with these four steps to maximize your time, effort and, ultimately, donations.

1. Focus your efforts on certain donors.

New data released this month in the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) Second Quarter Fundraising Report offers insight into where you can direct your efforts to get the most out of year-end giving. Donor counts fell steeply in Q2 of 2022 (-7%), but the amount donated increased (+6.2%), thanks to increased giving by major donors and a jump in donor recapture rates, measuring those who donated in the past but not last year. (AFP Global)

With this data in mind, focus your time and effort on your current major donors and on re-engaging past donors in your year-end campaigns.

 2. Get away from transactional giving.

To maximize your year-end gifts from these donors, drop out of any practices that make giving feel transactional. Invest your time and efforts in thoroughly preparing for each ask you make.

  • Review your portfolio donor-by-donor, asking what tools and information you need to make a successful ask of each donor.
  • Know what connects each donor to your mission and anticipate the information and answers your donor will need in order to make their best gift.
      • With the equities market being down this year, it will be especially important for you to be well-versed in appreciated and depreciated securities gifts. These gifts can boost your donor’s overall tax advantages for the 2022 fiscal year and may increase their best gift to your organization. (You don’t need to get into the nitty gritty, but be knowledgeable about these types of gifts, be ready to accept them, and always suggest that your donor discuss this type of gift with their accountant first.)
  • Partner with the right solicitor for each donor.

3. Hone your case for support.

Your case for support should be emotional and compelling, and it must convey the urgency of the need. If you already have a strong case, you don’t need to change it or re-write it at year-end. But it should answer the question: why should a donor give to your organization now?

Write your case with major donors in mind – big vision equals big gifts. Major donors are often entrepreneurial visionaries. They have found financial success by creating a bold plan and following through on it. Show them that your organization is on the same path to success.

Prepare yourself to clearly communicate your organization’s bold plan and briefly state your track record of success and concrete ways you’re working toward accomplishing your big vision. Your organization and your team are not just visionaries; you are doers, just like your major donors. Share easy-to-digest plans and financial figures that show how you will accomplish your goal and lay out the measurable impact the donor’s investment will have.

4. Connect donors to your mission. Properly steward your donor relationships.

Effective stewardship is the key to keeping donors, and it is built on the time and care you take to understand the motivations of each donor. When you know what’s important to the donor, you can connect them to your mission in more meaningful ways. Where it’s appropriate, invite your donors to visit your facility to see their gifts in action. Engage your program team in thanking donors with specific information about the program they support. Give beneficiaries of your work appropriate opportunities to share the impact of your organization on their lives.

One of the most meaningful gifts I’ve made stays with me not because of the size (it was relatively small) but because of the response I received. I received a handwritten note from a mother whose child benefitted from my gift. Her child was likely the same age as mine. It wasn’t more than three or four sentences, but it was sincere and made a direct connection with me as a mom. This simple act wasn’t expensive or complicated, but it had a meaningful impact on me and my perception of the organization. I won’t soon forget that kind and lovely note.

Could you use a partner in making year-end gifts and major giving less scary? The Carter team of 40+ senior-level nonprofit professionals in locations across North America has been in your shoes and has you covered. You know where to find us!

About the Author

Michelle Hamilton cfre

Michelle Hamilton, CFRE - Managing Director

In three decades as a nonprofit executive, Michelle Hamilton, CFRE, has developed and successfully executed strategies in annual funds, major gifts, capital campaigns, governance and leadership development. Most recently, Michelle served as Vice President of Development for the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra from 2013 to 2021, where she also served as Interim President & CEO from 2019 to 2020. During her tenure, the orchestra’s endowment grew by $4 million, and individual giving increased by more than 25%. Learn more about Michelle here.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit

How to Re-Engage Your Board for the Busy Season in One Meeting

Re-Engage Your Board

The nonprofit busy season is upon us! With fall usually serving as the most advantageous season for soliciting gifts and a popular time for hosting events, as a nonprofit professional, you likely already have your ducks in a row to take advantage of the fundraising opportunities in the months ahead. But the task of preparing for the busy season isn’t just on you and your staff. Your board should be gearing up, too, to help you solicit major donors, host awareness events and more.

If your board has met more sporadically in the summer months, or perhaps only half of your board is fully engaged, or you’re noticing some fatigue amongst board members in the midst of a campaign, now is the time to re-engage and re-invigorate your board to prepare for a successful season!

So, where do you start? It’s easy – at a regularly scheduled board meeting.

Step One: Reconnect your board to your mission.

The first step in re-engaging your board is to remind them of the importance of and reconnect them emotionally to your work, mission and vision. Your board members have a myriad of options for serving and supporting different organizations. Remind them of why they are on this board for this organization. To accomplish this, I recommend hosting an early season board meeting that focuses on the big picture and feel-good factor of your organization. Here are some examples:

  • Get your “program people” in front of your board. Ask a staff member and/or volunteer or two running your programs to craft a presentation on the work they’ve done in the past year and the exciting projects on the horizon. Again, think “big picture.” Ask them to focus on the importance and impact of their work and how the community/region/world could be helped further if they were able to do X, Y and Z. This may be a sit-down presentation, or this may be an onsite tour of facilities, grounds, a new building, campus, etc.
  • Host a presentation led by someone your organization is serving or has served. Work with this individual or group to help them tell the story of how your organization changed their life. A few ideas: simply ask them to share their story, host an interview-style presentation, conduct a panel discussion and possibly include your “program people,” or even pre-record a video, though an in-person appearance is always more powerful.
  • Start a conversation with your board about your three philanthropic priorities for the year ahead. What are the three most important things your organization will accomplish this year? Go around the room and ask for everyone’s opinions and participation. You can write the responses on a whiteboard or large post-it pads and work as a group to draw out and agree on the top priorities and their impact.
  • Break out into small groups and ask everyone to share why they are serving on this board and why this organization is so important to them personally. This conversation will not only emotionally connect your board members to your organization and mission, but it will connect them to each other. (But wait, there’s more – this is a three-for-one deal! This also serves as a great solicitation training exercise.)
  • Invite a well-known and respected person in the community, a celebrity, or a significant foundation to express thanks and appreciation to your board members for their work. If the speaker has been affected by your organization or if they’ve contributed to your organization and they’re comfortable sharing that information to help inspire your board, even better!

Step Two: Invite your board’s participation immediately.

Now that you’ve reignited your board’s passion for your organization, invite their participation in fundraising activities and give them an opportunity to make a real difference. If possible, this invitation should be presented in the same meeting while the renewed excitement for your mission and cause is fresh!  

Here are a few ways you can extend an invitation to participate:

  • Have a board member lead a group conversation asking the board, “How do you want to help? What can you do that will have a meaningful impact on this organization?” The leader of this conversation should give three options: accompany staff on solicitation visits, host an awareness event, make introductions to potential major donors, etc. Then each board member has the chance to choose how they want to engage, and you have a much better chance of getting them involved.
  • Provide an annual board participation evaluation. I recommend this to all organizations I work with. This can be an online or written survey that asks your board members how they would like to be involved in the next 12 months. Include anything you have on your to-do list that would benefit from your board’s involvement. Having this in writing – physically or digitally – will help ensure follow-through and accountability.
  • Recognize the efforts or contributions of individual board members. A public “thank you” (for those who allow it) shows your appreciation but can also inspire your board members to be more involved or give more. For example, you can give a special thanks to those who donated over $X to your organization/campaign or recognize their time and effort. Other board members may think, “maybe I should be doing a little bit more,” or “wow, this organization is worthy of that kind of gift or time,” without you having to provide an explanation or even ask. (Bonus: this is also a great short segment to include at your major fundraising event for the year.)

The Carter team wishes you, your board and your organization a highly successful busy season ahead (you’ve got this!), and we hope that if you have any questions, you won’t hesitate to give us a call or send us an email. Our team of senior-level nonprofit professionals has been in your shoes, and we are here to serve as a resource to you as you help make our world a better place!

About the Author

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Arthur Scully - Managing Director

With over 30 years of experience, Arthur Scully is well known for his ability to cultivate strategic thinking and creative partnerships that result in exceptional philanthropic experiences. Over the course of his career, and in partnership with colleagues, trustees and volunteers, he has successfully led development programs, established supporting organizations, and facilitated mergers to increase organizational impact. Prior to joining Carter, Arthur most recently served as Vice President of Development & Communications for Magee-Womens Research Institute and Foundation, where he helped grow annual revenue from $250,000 to $13.5 million. Learn more about Arthur here.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit

Fundraising in a Recession Webinar: The Top 10 Takeaways

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In response to dozens of inquiries from our partners and colleagues, last month, Bob Carter, CFRE, Chairman, was interviewed by Steve Higgins, CFRE, President & CEO of Carter, in a webinar conversation detailing how to successfully fundraise in a recession based on both of their decades-long careers in the nonprofit sector and experience fundraising throughout multiple recessions.

In case you missed the webinar, here is the full video:


In this month’s blog post, we’re highlighting the top 10 takeaways from the conversation – though we highly recommend giving it a watch or listen, too – it is packed with helpful information and inspiring stories!

1. Philanthropy is resilient and endures, thanks to the human heart.

As shown in the graph below, philanthropic giving remains relatively stable when compared to the Dow Jones average. Total giving as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) also remains very stable in good and bad times, hovering around 2% of GDP.

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During the 2008-2009 recession, philanthropic giving only dipped slightly when compared to the Dow Jones average. In 2010, Giving USA and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy reported a less than 4% dip in philanthropic giving from 2008 to 2009 (the graph above shows figures from their 2022 report’s adjusted data). That’s incredible when compared to the overall market, especially the real estate market, in which home values were down by 50% or more in some cases. In fact, the amount of money raised for the human services sector actually rose by 10%. How can that be? That’s the human heart.

I (Bob) got to know Carlton Ketchum a little bit before he passed away. One day, I was talking with Carlton about tax laws, and I’ll never forget when he said, “Bob, the only law we have to worry about changing is the law of human nature. When that changes, we have a problem. All the rest we’ll get through because the hearts of people are so good.”

2. There has never been a recession without recovery.

There is always recovery, and we must prepare for that recovery. You have 30 minutes to wring your hands; then, you need to focus on recovery.

Our equities market is driven by two human behaviors – fear and greed – and with the enormous assets our country holds, even during a recession, there will always be someone waiting for the market to hit bottom, buy back in and, in turn, they help restore the market and economy. Greed wins over fear.

3. Be confident.

As a leader, you must convey stability – have a steady hand at the wheel. Calm and collected confidence will make all the difference to your board, staff and donors. You’ve been here before, and you will make it through.

During difficult times, your work is often more important and needed more urgently. Be confident that even if the pie has shrunken, your organization deserves a fair share of that pie. Weaker agencies will drop out of the marketplace, and stronger agencies will stay in, giving them even more of an advantage. Take your piece of the pie and your important place in the philanthropic sector.

4. Communication is KEY.

Internal Communication:

With your board and staff, you should be having proactive and honest conversations about the difficulties you’re facing and invite their input into solutions. Remember, convey stability; you will get through this, and invite their input into how you will get through it.

This is known as “inclusiveness,” and it is one of the essential principles of adaptive leadership. (If you haven’t read the article on adaptive leadership from Harvard Business Review, we highly recommend it.) When you are an inclusive leader, you are using all the resources at your disposal.

In fostering inclusivity, it’s also important to be communicating with colleagues and others outside of the philanthropic sector. So many creative strategies come from outside of our “bubbles.”

External Communication:

It is vital to have transparent yet confident and calm communications with your major donors. Start these conversations on a personal level. “How can we help you during this period? Are you okay? Is your family okay?” Care and compassion will deepen your relationship and engagement with your donors.

Major donors supporting, say, 10 organizations in good times may only prioritize four or five organizations during a recession. However, they often give more to those four or five. You want to be one of those organizations. This is a relationship that’s developed outside of recessionary times, but it’s never too late to start.

For your broader external messaging, keep direct mail and digital ads going, and stick with what works. The same behavior often sees the same results. However, it’s important that your messaging is personalized, and it may need to be more sensitive, compassionate and accepting of the circumstances your donors are facing. You should also focus less on fear and negativity and more on hope and positivity.

5. Act – don’t get paralyzed.

There are three types of organizations: those who make things happen, those who expect things to happen and those who wonder “what just happened?” – be the one who makes things happen.

You don’t have to have a perfect plan, but you need to have a plan and act on it. You can adjust as needed, as activity often leads to what we call a “pop-up solution.” It’s amazing how much smarter we become when we put our minds and actions into working on a solution.

A webinar attendee added the perfect quote for this into the chat box, “Whatever you do, don’t do nothing!” We strongly advise against “hunkering down.” Boards often struggle with this and think the organization needs to lay low or plan on being a smaller operation. We encourage you to challenge your board on this – ask them if they would do this with their business. Would they consciously reduce their business, or would they work aggressively on the top line and take care of the bottom line as needed?

6. Encourage creativity and think creatively!

In hard times, you must be nimble and flexible as things will happen you can’t control. But incredible, creative solutions come from facing adversity, as we’ve seen during Covid. For example, one of our partners, Roundup River Ranch, a camp for seriously ill children, pivoted to providing the camp experience online during Covid. Through this, they learned they could include children in hospitals. Now they are going back to an in-person camp experience, but they are never getting rid of the online camp option for those who need it. It’s a whole new business model for them and a new way to reach more children who truly benefit from their organization and services.

You can also take a creative look at potential partners in your sector or area to collaborate with. Are there organizations you could partner with to ride this out and perhaps make everyone stronger?

7. Learn from and use your data.

Dig into your data and get a clear picture of the effect the recession is having on your programs, finances, etc. Until you get those facts and do the analysis, you’re guessing as to how this is affecting you. You may also identify areas/programs that are more likely to be part of your solution for getting through the recession or ones that may be eliminated without having the largest impact on your organization (this should be done annually – not just during a recession).

However, if the data allows you to keep your programs going, do so. Even if you see reduced revenue, it’s better than none, and trying to resurrect a program is very difficult.

8. Consider accepting different types of donations.

Don’t miss the opportunity to invite depreciated securities. When the market is down, your donors’ portfolios may have a loss, and in their tax bracket, it may be beneficial for them to give away a depreciated security. You can remind them to discuss this with their advisor. Here is a link to a Carter blog post from 2020 by Managing Director Ted Sudol, J.D., with helpful information about depreciated securities.

Workplace giving may also be of interest. More people are working now than ever – payroll deductions are a tool you can consider for engaging a different part of your demographic.

9. Planning for a capital campaign during a recession? The fundamentals still apply.

When is the best time to launch a capital campaign? When you’re ready.

Of course, there’s a lot to unpack and discuss there, and you can give us a call to break it down, but the fundamentals still apply. Ensure your board is completely behind the vision for the organization; the board must own the campaign. Make sure you have a compelling case for support that is tested with the right people, and they’re behind it. Make sure you have the resources in place to take on a campaign.

The campaigns we worked on in the 2008-2009 recession were still very successful. They took longer (you may need to consider extending pledge deadlines), but the organizations that stayed focused on campaigns were getting a disproportionate amount of dollars coming out of that recession without question. Their big vision “against all odds” helped inspire donors to make a philanthropic investment versus just a charitable gift. Well-planned and executed campaigns raise awareness and sharpen an organization in any economy.

10. Advocate for the freedom of philanthropy in our country.

In 2010, the deficit reduction committee proposed doing away with the federal charitable tax deduction entirely to the senate finance committee. It was voted down 18 to 11, but that was a wake-up call that we could lose what the world considers to be the gold standard for encouraging people to support ideas and values they believe in. During recessionary times, in particular, talk to your representatives and keep an eye on this issue. Ask them to support the freedom of philanthropy. With all due respect to the public sector, philanthropy exists because it can solve problems they cannot.


If you have any follow-up questions, we hope you will reach out to our team. We will always make ourselves available as a resource to you as you advance your mission and philanthropy. If you don’t already have a direct contact at Carter, please email, and we’ll put you in touch with a senior-level consultant specific to your needs.

About the Authors

Bob Carter Afp Cover

Bob Carter, CFRE - Chairman

Bob Carter, CFRE, Chairman of Carter, is one of the world’s most revered, experienced, and recognized experts in the areas of institutional strategy and philanthropy. During the past four decades, Bob has helped strengthen a variety of organizations throughout the world by helping them overcome challenges and capitalize on opportunities to be successful. Bob and his colleagues concentrate on building dynamic teams to deliver specific services that meet the unique needs of charities and donors. His service as a member and chair of numerous nonprofit boards lends firsthand experience to his governance counsel. Read more about Bob here.


Steve Higgins, CFRE - President & CEO

Steve Higgins, CFRE, President & CEO of Carter, is one of the most respected and seasoned nonprofit consultants in the profession. He works with organizations’ development staff, executive leaders, trustees, and volunteers, providing counsel in fundraising, governance, and strategic planning. With over 25 years of combined consulting and nonprofit experience, his fundraising counsel focuses on major and mega gift strategies, leadership coaching, campaign counsel and readiness, capacity building, and organizational assessment. Read more about Steve here.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit

A Guide and Checklist for Building a Campaign Brand: It’s Not Just a Logo

Campaign Branding

As fundraising professionals, we are well aware of the transformational potential of a major campaign. It can galvanize your constituents, significantly advance your organization and even bring entire communities together.

An often overlooked and undercooked component of a campaign is its branding. A campaign’s brand is not just a brochure, video, website or logo. These are tools we use to convey a brand – they are not “the” brand, and they are not the places to start when you need to create a brand.

In this month’s blog post, Carter’s Managing Director Beverly Brooks Thompson, Ph.D., CFRE, and Marketing & Communications Director Becky Brandt offer a step-by-step guide that you can use to create the most effective campaign brand possible and help you determine if you even need a campaign brand. Plus, we’ve included Carter’s downloadable campaign brand vehicle checklist (download here) to make sure you’re spreading your message as far and wide as possible!


Do you need a specific campaign brand?

Use the following questions to determine if your current organizational branding is enough or if your campaign requires its own brand. If you find that you do not need a specific campaign brand, these questions can also help you position your organizational brand for your campaign.

Regarding your organizational brand:

  1. Does your organizational brand reinforce your story?
  2. Does it make people want to hear more about you?
  3. Is the organizational brand appropriate for the specific audience(s) you are trying to reach: donors, alumni, friends, faculty, grateful patients, etc.?
  4. Does the brand form an emotional attachment and incite action?

If the organizational brand does not accomplish these goals, consider a specific brand for your fundraising campaign.

Regarding your campaign:

  1. Does this campaign address a specific need outside of the normal order of business?
  2. Does the campaign have a definite beginning and end date?
  3. Does the campaign have a definite goal?
  4. Are these goals in addition to normal fundraising efforts?
  5. Do you need to link multiple fundraising entities together with a singular vision?

If you’ve answered yes to these questions, consider a specific brand for your fundraising campaign.


Creating Your Campaign Brand

Fundraising campaigns need an identity that is easily recognizable and ties into the ideals and emotions of the audience. A campaign is a vision for the future — the brand is how that vision will spread and an invitation to others to join in making that vision a reality.

A brand is a way of representing your campaign’s persona through the stories you tell. When you sit down to build out your campaign brand, answer the following questions:

  1. How will this campaign make an impact?
  2. How are you changing lives?
  3. How will things be different when your campaign reaches its goal?
  4. How do you want donors to feel when they’ve made a contribution to the campaign?
  5. Your campaign brand should align with the personality of your fundraising prospects. Who are they? Caregivers? Heroes? Creators? Explorers? Innovators? If you know the personality of your prospects, you can tailor your storytelling to help them forge a deeper connection with your organization and campaign.
  6. What makes your organization unique, and what are your constituents already connecting to within your organization? This is an attention game, so emphasize what already stands out and what the audience already feels. A great place to find these hooks is in your organization’s history: in the lives of people affected, traditions, customs, unique phrases, heroes, legends, stories told, songs written, etc.

The answers to these questions are collectively your campaign brand, and you can use this information to create your marketing materials.


What’s next?

Now, it’s time to develop a plan to implement your brand and let everyone know what you want and why. Work with a marketing professional – either internally or externally – to write stories and create your supporting pieces: a campaign tagline, brochures, social media hashtags, a campaign website or microsite, videos, impact infographics, etc. The brand should be woven into every message and every method of communication.

Make sure you’re covering all of your bases and reaching as many potential donors as possible with Carter’s campaign brand vehicle checklist.

Click Here to Download Carter’s Campaign Brand Vehicle Checklist

Another helpful strategy at this stage can be referencing a brand archetype guide to find your organization’s archetype match. Brand archetypes can help you refine your messaging and create marketing materials that your prospects will naturally gravitate toward.

Remember to keep your brand and marketing succinct and simple, and don’t veer off from your organization’s current branding. Your audience (hopefully) already has an emotional connection to your organization, so your campaign brand should play off what is familiar and what brought them to your organization in the first place.

If you succeed in creating an effective campaign brand, you will connect with your donors, and your donors will know they are invaluable players in your work and part of something bigger than themselves.

About the Authors

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Beverly Brooks Thompson, Ph.D., CFRE - Managing Director

Beverly Brooks Thompson, Ph.D., CFRE, Managing Director of Carter, is a published academic and practitioner in the field of philanthropic leadership. She holds a Doctorate in Human Resource Development, specializing in Organizational Leadership, with more than 25 years of fundraising campaign experience. Her fundraising counsel focuses on major and mega gift strategies, leadership coaching, campaign counsel and readiness, capacity building, and organizational assessment. Beverly currently resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Read more about Beverly here.

Becky Brandt Picture

Becky Brandt - Marketing & Communications Director

Becky Brandt, Marketing & Communications Director of Carter, has worked in the communications and fundraising fields throughout her career. She’s held positions in health care, human service, youth and higher education organizations. In 1999, along with her business partner, Laurie Nicholl, Becky formed Nicholl Brandt Communications Inc. Throughout her career, Becky has also worked as a consultant and freelancer. Her projects have included writing, graphic design, website development, communications and strategic planning, among others. Becky currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Read more about Becky here.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit

The Top 15 Campaign Calamities: How to Avoid Them and Ensure Your Major Campaign is Positioned for Success

The Top 15 Campaign Calamities: How to Avoid Them and Ensure Your Major Campaign is Positioned for Success

Embarking on a major campaign can be intimidating. It is a huge, often multi-year endeavor, and you have just one chance to execute it properly. But there are tried and true methods to perfecting campaigns, and if your organization has not started a capital or endowment campaign recently, now is the time to seriously consider it. The campaign marketplace is ripe due to today’s philanthropic trends.

Preparing for and completing a major campaign requires great planning and execution. With our partners, we emphasize the five campaign essentials to ensure success: leadership, the case for support, adequate internal resources, a great plan and access to contributable dollars.

In my 25-year career as a nonprofit professional and consultant working with hundreds of organizations across the world, these are the top 15 “campaign calamities” I’ve seen compromise a campaign’s results within each of the five campaign essentials, and ways you can avoid them and ensure your campaign’s success. 


One: Leadership
The success of your campaign will hinge on leadership! In most cases, the available dollars for success are present within your constituency. The key to your success will be enlisting the best and strongest possible leaders to be actively involved in your fundraising efforts. While we may not always be able to get the perfect leader enlisted in the perfect role, we must get all of the perfect leaders involved to position ourselves for success.

Leadership Calamities

  1. The invisible board. The board has the ultimate authority over the campaign and must take complete ownership of it.
  2. Enlisting campaign leaders too early. Do not begin enlisting campaign chairs or leaders until they have already made an investment that illustrates that your campaign is one of their top two philanthropic priorities at this time. Instead, get them involved in the early planning process first. Involvement invites investment.
  3. Soliciting the board too early. Optimizing your board gifts will set the pace for the rest of your campaign. Be sure to develop a process for rating each board member’s capacity. It is then important to develop the appropriate sequence and strategy for all board solicitations.


Two: The Case for Support
The needs that are articulated in your case for support must be extremely compelling, urgent and emotional. The case must also clearly demonstrate that a campaign is absolutely necessary to ensure that the needs of your organization are met. Constituents will take your campaign seriously when they are convinced that there is an immediate, life-changing need.

The Case for Support Calamities

  1. Thinking small and focusing on your organization’s needs rather than your community’s needs. It is important to develop a BIG, BOLD VISION for the future. After all, BIG VISION leads to BIG GIFTS! If money were no object, how much money would you need to fulfill your ultimate vision for the future? Be sure to illustrate the impact that your campaign will have on your wider community rather than simply…your organization. Share how your community will be transformed by your campaign. Test your BIG VISION for your community during a planning study. This will help you yield a more positive response by raising sights among your key leaders and donor prospects.
  2. No connection to a strategic plan. People will invest at higher levels if they see that your campaign plans have been informed by a thoughtful and diligent strategic planning process.
  3. All facts, no emotion. Philanthropy is 86% emotional. Eighty-six percent of all philanthropic dollars come from individuals who make their investments based on emotion. Emotion leads to action. Be sure to share emotional stories and testimonials that highlight the impact you are having on specific people.
  4. Waiting for the perfect brochure. Brochures don’t raise money. People do. During the early stages of a campaign, the campaign materials should be “living documents” that can easily be customized and enhanced. When testing your case early on with key stakeholders, including a “draft” watermark on your documents isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It lets them know that they are part of your team and “under the tent.” Thus, giving them greater ownership in your campaign.


Three: Adequate Internal Resources
You must have adequate internal resources to conduct a successful campaign. Resources include people, systems, processes, volunteer support and a campaign budget.

Adequate Internal Resources Calamities

  1. Not investing in your campaign. A major campaign will result in the best return on your investment in the fundraising profession. Be sure you are prepared to invest $.05 to $.12 to raise a dollar.
  2. No campaign budget. Your campaign budget will typically consist of: staff time, campaign materials, donor recognition, awareness event costs, travel for staff and volunteers, analytics, possible outside counsel, etc.
  3. No existing donor systems. Be sure you have strong gift acceptance and stewardship policies and procedures for your campaign. It is also important to develop gift counting policies for deferred gifts and naming policies for named gifts. Lastly, let technology help you! Investing in wealth screening is highly recommended if you do not currently have a screening solution, and a CRM is vital for keeping track of donor engagement.
  4. Lack of access to experienced fundraisers. Before you embark on a campaign, ensure you and your team have access to knowledgeable and experienced professional fundraisers. Whether these professionals are on your staff, serving on your board, hired through outside counsel, or even if you are a longtime fundraiser yourself, two heads are better than one, and nothing beats experience.


Four: A Great Plan
Every campaign has just one opportunity to be executed properly. Far too many organizations rush into a campaign without first creating the proper volunteer leadership structure and internal capacity to sustain long-term fundraising. Therefore, it is imperative that you create the best possible campaign plan to ensure success.

A Great Plan Calamities

  1. Announcing the goal before you have won the campaign on paper. You should always continue to share the financial “need” but avoid using the word “goal” until you are prepared to go public with a stated goal that you know you will reach based on the remainder of your donor pipeline. Using historic yield rates versus ask amounts can be a good way to forecast whether or not you have won the campaign on paper. It is not unusual to raise 80% of your campaign objective before going “public” with a goal.
  2. Lack of campaign planning. If you fail to plan…plan to fail. Campaigns must be effective first and efficient second. Slow and steady will win the “raise.” 😊 You must ensure that you have earned the right to approach a donor with a gift opportunity that will inspire them to give at the high end of their capacity.


Five: Access to Contributable Dollars
Obviously, access to sufficient contributable dollars must be available to achieve success. Therefore, we must be certain that the number of prospects needed to ensure success exists and that the proper proportion of prospects relative to capacity is available.

Access to Contributable Dollars Calamities

  1. Money chasing. If you view your donors as ATMs rather than partners, you will be in for some challenges. Focusing on mission rather than money will allow you to effectively cultivate your donors in a way that will inspire them to invest significantly at the appropriate time. Take your time by listening to your donors and ultimately marrying a future appeal with their own values and interests.
  2. Launching a campaign without a well-informed base of donors. Having access to contributable dollars includes having access to donors who are knowledgeable about your organization’s goals. Campaigns should not be part of your donor acquisition strategy. Campaigns are grounded in existing donors who share the organization’s vision and can be motivated to impact it in bigger ways. Launching a campaign without a well-informed base of donors who have linkage, ability and interest will cause the biggest calamity of all.


Campaigns can be a fun and enriching experience. They have a way of galvanizing people to work together to achieve a common goal that can completely transform lives in so many positive ways. Embrace your BIG, BOLD VISION for the future and always approach your campaign from a place of abundance, not scarcity. Enhancing your mission and fulfilling your vision requires your best efforts. Plan, execute and enjoy!    

About the Author

Steve Higgins

Steve Higgins, CFRE - President & CEO

Steve Higgins, CFRE, President & CEO of Carter, is one of the most respected and seasoned nonprofit consultants in the profession. He works with organizations’ development staff, executive leaders, trustees, and volunteers, providing counsel in fundraising, governance, and strategic planning. With over 25 years of combined consulting and nonprofit experience, his fundraising counsel focuses on major and mega gift strategies, leadership coaching, campaign counsel and readiness, capacity building, and organizational assessment. Steve currently resides in Vero Beach, Florida. Learn more about Steve here.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit

The Best Advice for Development is Mother’s Best Advice

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As we grow older, those of us lucky enough to have thoughtful, kind and loving mothers, grandmothers and mother figures in our lives come to the realization that “mother knows best” isn’t just a silly saying (or a sassy retort from a teenager). A mother’s sage wisdom can help us through overwhelming challenges and shape us as people.

In my career as a development professional and consultant, and as a mother myself, I have found so often that a mother’s best advice is development’s best advice. As moms, we have a little saying for everything to help our children remember the important life lessons we teach them, and many of these sayings work perfectly for adult development professionals looking for counsel or answers.

Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.

Did you know it can often take a mega-donor over 10 years of involvement with an organization before they contribute a mega gift? I have always told people new to the business that it might take three years for a donor to trust you. Take your time and be thoughtful and resourceful with your position and career.

In your daily routine, spend more time planning your next conversation with a donor. Don’t just fire off emails and calls. Take the time to write down what you need to accomplish with each donor. Even if I’m planning a casual conversation, I like to write down a few bullet points of items I want to address or accomplish to keep me on track.

You were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.

Listen. (I bet you knew this one was coming!) We often feel we have to do all the talking, all the teaching, to help a donor or prospect understand the organization, mission or campaign. Yes, make a compelling and succinct case for why you need this gift, but leave plenty of time to listen. Work to understand your donors and prospects. Learn what’s important to them and what motivates them. This information is not only going to be useful, but you will also find you are building a more genuine relationship between you, the donor and your organization.

Know your worth.

Sometimes we are given lofty goals or deadlines, and it’s our job to help manage those expectations. When meeting with your organization’s managers and leaders, demonstrate progress and concrete accomplishments. For your entire list of donors and prospects, you should know exactly where you stand with each one. Keep detailed notes so you can convey your efforts or ask for help to re-think your strategy when needed.

Communication is a two-way street.

Truly understand what it means to take a cultivation step. If you’re just sending out annual report emails, that’s not communication; that’s spam. In development, you need a response from your donor in order to be communicating with them. If most of your communication is personal and authentic, you will move out of the spam category and into a real conversation.

KISS: Keep it simple, silly!

I have found this to be especially helpful in the healthcare sector, where it’s easy to dive too deep into science and details. Focus on the most important parts of the information. How is this project moving in the direction of easing suffering? How will their gift help?

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Donors aren’t “giving units,” and once they make a gift, they have let you know they care about your mission. Continue to foster that relationship. Down the road, it will almost always turn into more support. But if it doesn’t, it’s the right thing to do to make sure that your donor understands their gift was and continues to be appreciated and important.

Remember: Mother will only hold your hand for a little while.

More than likely, you won’t spend your whole career in one place. You will only be holding the hand of and working with your organization for “a little while.” As a steward of your organization, make sure your contacts have a relationship with the organization and its mission, not just specifically with you. Be ready to pass that relationship baton to another “you” who is ready to be the best representative of your organization possible.

There’s no shortcut to success.

If you arrive at your organization with a full contact list, don’t assume they will all support your organization. I have seen many people hired because of who they know in the community. Having contacts can help. But again, development professionals need to connect donors with the mission of the organization. And building a strong development program requires A LOT more than small talk at a cocktail party. It requires effort, determination, intention, and good, old-fashioned hard work. 

I’ll reiterate, on average, it can take a mega-donor over 10 years of being part of an organization before they give a mega gift. Be patient, put in the work, be authentic, focus on the mission, and when in doubt, call a mother. Or better yet, call Carter! 😊

About the Author

Audrey Stone

Audrey Stone, CFRE, Managing Director

Audrey Edmonds Stone, CFRE, has a 30-year advancement career spanning private and public higher education, academic medicine and the arts. Along the way, she has built dynamic development programs, engaged volunteers at all levels, collaborated with institutional leaders, and mentored and managed individual gift officers and support teams. By nurturing mature and existing donor relationships and engaging new prospects, she has raised funds to build endowments and support special projects, operations, new and renovated construction, and academic research. Audrey currently resides in Roanoke, Virginia. Learn more about Audrey here.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit

Create a Culture of Gratitude in Your Organization to Support Your Philanthropy

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We’ve been talking about having a “culture of philanthropy” in the nonprofit world for a very long time. We’re still talking about it. But why? Why is it still so prevalent in the philanthropic conversation? Because we haven’t quite figured it out yet.

Culture Is the Way Things Get Done

Culture permeates all activities in an organization—it’s the attitudes, beliefs, actions and values of the people who make up the organization. It is the unspoken element that often unconsciously drives decision-making and is manifested in the way staff members relate to each other and respond to the circumstances they face. Simply put, culture is the way things get done. And more importantly, culture beats strategy every single time.

What Is a Culture of Gratitude?

In the last few years, studies about the effect of gratitude on health and well-being hit the mainstream. The conversation has shifted from a culture of philanthropy to a culture of gratitude. Patients are grateful. Alums are grateful. Boards and volunteers are grateful. Program recipients are grateful. But, what about the staff that provides the source of that gratitude? Are they grateful? How can philanthropic professionals instill a sense of gratitude internally that will express itself organically to donors?

We have to understand that you can’t have one (philanthropy) without the other (gratitude). It takes time, patience, education and persistence to achieve a culture of gratitude. As if that weren’t challenging enough, you then have to marry it to philanthropy.

We Need a Microwave

I love to re-tell the story I heard of a donor who was being stewarded by a hospital’s philanthropy professionals. They had spent a lot of time understanding this donor’s values and beliefs and figuring out how to match that understanding with the donor’s philanthropic interests. It was a sincere approach to ensuring the donor came first.

Well, this donor was then admitted to this hospital. Thankfully, it was nothing serious, but this was a huge opportunity to show gratitude and hospitality to one of the organization’s best friends. However, the donor’s most intense interactions were with the physicians and, most importantly, the nurses. The donor wanted to thank them for all they did for him and his family, “You’ve all been magnificent. I’m so grateful for everything you’ve done for me. How can I thank you?” The response could have been, “It’s our privilege to care for you. We have so many fabulous programs here that our friends support. May we have someone from our Foundation speak with you about those? We definitely need partnerships to make this level of care possible for everyone.”

Sadly, the actual response was, “Well, we do need a new microwave for our lounge.” Guess what? He donated a microwave. It’s tough to come back from that with a major gift proposal. Without that bigger picture view of philanthropy, outcomes like this are common. It’s up to the development professionals to share funding priorities. Consistent communication is one of the most important ways to build a culture that embraces gratitude manifested in philanthropy.

Understanding Gratitude and Philanthropy

The lesson here is that a culture of gratitude and philanthropy must start with the people in your organization rather than with your grateful and/or potential donors. This is where it gets a little tricky because none of your colleagues signed up to be a “fundraiser,” and they visibly cringe when you mention it. But you can challenge this and help them understand the donor’s perspective. Patients, alums, etc., often wish to express their gratitude in a meaningful way. This expression must be allowed in one way or another, but it’s entirely up to the philanthropic team to determine whether that’s a microwave or a new wing. That’s where a culture of philanthropy comes in. Your organization has to be given the opportunity to understand the philanthropic process—not fundraising, but philanthropy. There’s a very big difference. Fundraising is transactional (e.g., a microwave), while philanthropy is transformational. That’s the deep understanding development professionals should seek to embed in their organizations.

It’s our opportunity and obligation to educate our colleagues about the proven and powerful impact gratitude has on our donors. It’s also important to provide a way for those who directly provide programs to feel comfortable responding to this gratitude. Our colleagues should hear that need and respond by connecting donors to the natural link between their gratitude and the philanthropic possibilities it can unleash.

Living a Culture of Philanthropy

In developing a culture of gratitude based on philanthropy, it’s critical to emphasize a positive experience for your colleagues as well as your donors. Developing mutual trust is vital to ensuring this critically important relationship between the organization and its philanthropic arm is successful.

An example of this in action is found in one of my most memorable and meaningful conversations with a donor couple:

I was leading my team and organization in the biggest campaign of its history. One of my first gift invitation calls was with a wonderful couple who had done some very generous things for the community through our organization. I was sure their gift to our organization’s new medical campus would be huge. I felt pretty confident. My CEO and I sat down with them and went over the project, explaining the positive impact it would have on the community and patients. We asked for a six-figure gift. We waited. And waited.

Then, they finally spoke, “You know we love what you’re doing. It’s important, and we want to help make it happen. But here’s where our hearts are. We had this incident in our family where one of our nephews was burned very badly in a house fire. It was such an awful experience for all of us. It was excruciating. We were hoping the new medical center would have a burn unit. We want to make a difference for kids and families who are going through that painful experience.”

Guess what? We did not have a burn unit. We did not plan to ever have a burn unit. We had nothing that would express this couple’s particular passion. I looked at my CEO, took a deep breath, and said, “We’re just not equipped as an organization to operate a burn unit, but I know of a stellar, highly reputable burn unit that is achieving ground-breaking results. Would you like for me to set up a meeting?”

Yes, of course, they did. I paired them with my colleague and walked away. They gave a very significant gift to my colleague’s organization—larger than the one we had suggested (they also made a smaller gift to our new campus). Was I bummed about not getting this large gift for my organization? You bet. Was I worried about getting fired? A little! Fortunately, my team and I had spent a lot of time working with a supportive leader to create a culture of gratitude through philanthropy. We had painstakingly built a philanthropic program that truly put the donor first and exemplified trust, authenticity, honesty and a love of humanity. We (and I definitely include myself in the royal “we”) can forget this in the day-to-day activity that never seems to end.

But when it comes down to it, never let the work get in the way of the job, which is to inspire joy and gratitude through giving.

About the Author

Penny Cowden

Penny Cowden, CFRE, FAHP, MPA, Managing Director

Penny Cowden, CFRE, FAHP, MPA, a new member of the Carter team as a Managing Director, has over 25 years of combined consulting and nonprofit experience. Penny works with organizations’ development staff, executive leadership and board leadership providing counsel in fundraising, campaign counsel and readiness, leadership coaching, and organizational assessment. She has held leadership positions with PeaceHealth in Washington State, Sisters of Charity in Colorado, Inova Health System in Virginia, Caromont Health in North Carolina and Banner Health in Arizona. Penny currently resides in Gearhart, Oregon.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit

Relationship Development: A Key for Today and a Necessity for Tomorrow

Relationship Development blog post

After four years of dating and precisely 350 days into our marriage, I made the mistake of asking my new bride, “Do we really need to do anything special for Valentine’s Day… now that we’re married?” 

Her response was clear.

“Only if you’d like to stay married…”

Far too often, it can be a comic and tragic reality that we mistake relationships for something we work to cultivate and not something we work to develop and nurture. Nonprofits do not have the luxury of being able to make this mistake.

Initial success can reflect the effectiveness and relatability of an organization’s mission. But long-term success depends on the ability to not just cultivate new relationships but also develop and nurture existing relationships within and throughout the organization.

Like a couple celebrating their first Valentine’s Day, it is no secret that relationships carry the power to spark exponential momentum for new supporters. Word-of-mouth marketing isn’t just the oldest form of advertising in the book; it remains by far the most effective. Generous donations, enthusiastic volunteers and well-groomed staff all often come into our organizations either at the recommendation of a currently engaged supporter or by way of an inspiring impact story from a trusted source. However, employment trends and fundraising data suggest that trust has become as crucial in retention as it has been in acquisition.

A Matter of Trust and Survival 

Donors and volunteers have never had a richer market competing for their attention and resources, and potential supporters are quick to support the organizations they deem most trustworthy. A decline in donor trust has been well-documented, but it would be a mistake to conclude that donor trust is less important. Instead, this demonstrates nonprofit organizations’ opportunities to build stronger and more sustainable relationships. The pandemic and cultural realities have made it more difficult to trust the future and virtually anything else. 

Just like the couple maturing past their first Valentine’s Day (notice a theme here?), the solution is to become more intentional about relationship development. Potential donors have expressed a desire “to ease into relationships with organizations before fully committing to a cause.”

Too many organizations mistake this sentiment for a cultural trend. The reality is the decline in donor retention indicates opportunities that are too often neglected — money left on the table, almost literally — when relationship development is not properly acknowledged. There are three levels of relationship development within your organization that could significantly increase its vitality immediately and in the years to come: donor development, staff development and end-user development.

Donor Development

Amid the ceaseless communications streams that saturate our devices, it is easy to assume that our donors wish not to be bothered. Bob Carter, Chairman of Carter, was quick to remind nonprofit leaders, “hearing about your organization’s work is not a nuisance; it is often an indication of the signs for hope and progress that we are all yearning for.” Not only does your organization’s work become a source of pride, but it also serves as a beacon of “good news” in a time when bad news seems to be getting most of the press.

In addition to sharing good news, your organization can meet a need that has been expressed across the world in the last two years especially, the need to be connected. Although there is no shortage of social mediums to explore and “news” reports to read, most of us feel the consequences of missed gatherings and connections, and we long to re-engage. This presents an opportunity for organizations to reintroduce or ramp up their engagements — gatherings, “fun-raisers,” and the like. In doing so, organizations are likely to find the events that seemed superfluous a few years ago are both meaningful and needed now.

Staff Development

If there is one thing we know by now, it is how difficult it can be to live well while doing good. Those working in the nonprofit sector have in some ways been living through the last couple of years with two major impacts on their lives: they are navigating their own personal distress and absorbing the impact of Covid-19 on the cause they are serving. During the realities of “The Great Resignation,” one thing is certain: attention to corporate culture is imperative to staff retention.

The greatest investment that organizations can make in their staff is taking the time to evaluate past objectives, clarify current needs/expectations, and strategize for future opportunities. Prioritizing staff retreats that make space for these discussions is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Similarly, board members, though less impacted by employment trends, also need the opportunity to connect with their organizations through the formative work of these guided conversations. Although the overwhelming workload most organizations face can make them feel as if there is no time to spare, forgoing these needs often leads to miscommunication, burnout and even conflict in the not-so-distant future.

End-User Development

As time seems to be the resource that is most precious, it becomes essential for organizations to optimize operations while maximizing their potential. The most effective and efficient way to do this is through end-user development. Listen to and involve those who are impacted by your mission and give them a podium to share their success story. Staff and volunteer efforts can only go so far, and an organization’s reach must stretch further than those limits. An organization that can utilize their end-user’s voice most effectively can exponentially compound upon their past successes, which optimizes their organization’s work efficiency and generates increased enthusiasm with their donor base.

When organizations commit to asset-based messaging, they create paths where end-users can become advocates for the mission. Organizations would otherwise have to wait and hope to develop intangibles that are already developed within their end-users, such as passion and institutional history. Thus, exploring and creating opportunities for development amongst your organization’s end-users celebrates your organization’s past and can contribute to future successes. 

Investing Today; Thriving Tomorrow

Taking the time to further develop the relationships already established within an organization can seem too long-term to be urgent.

So can changing the oil in a car engine.

So can maintaining the appliances in a home.

We know these things about relationships:

  • Relationships are not static. At all times, they are either evolving or digressing.
  • Relationships are foundational to philanthropic success.
  • Relationships require time and intentionality.

Taking the time to intentionally nurture your organization’s relationships is a transformative and self-sustaining investment that never stops paying dividends. The fact that it’s also fun and rewarding is a bonus…like a good piece of Valentine’s Day chocolate!

About the Author

Neal Watkins headshot

Neal Watkins, Director, Emerging Opportunities & Special Engagements

Neal Watkins, a new member of the Carter team as Director, Emerging Opportunities & Special Engagements, is a creative and dynamic facilitator and speaker. Neal works with executive leaders, professional staff, trustees and volunteers to strengthen culture and build effective partnerships. His counsel is primarily focused on improving organizational capacity through strategic planning, adaptive programming and special events. Neal is widely recognized for his ability to create authentic engagement and interactive discussions that foster innovation and optimize resources. 

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of over 40 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning and governance. For more information, visit