Fundraising Before, During, and After Disaster

Board meeting
Beverly Brooks Thompson headshot

Beverly Brooks Thompson, PhD, CFRE

Managing Director


As we face the most active hurricane season in recent history, I’ve come to learn that as leaders, being proactive is our best way to contribute. Make no mistake, I am not a disaster management specialist. I am, unfortunately, a disaster fundraising expert. I have been on the fundraising frontlines of several of our nation’s largest disasters, from hurricanes, to campus shootings, to the 1,000-year flood. While I pray you never experience such crises, I share these tips with you in hopes that if you are faced with such an event, you will be armed with the information needed to effectively mobilize your fund development team, lessen the anxiety in your community, and best leverage your talents to help those in need.

The only nation is humanity.  ~ author unknown


As organizational leaders, we must have an executable emergency plan in place for our development team. While the disasters we encounter are seldom the ones we plan for, we can still be prepared.

  • Assemble a team of your top decision makers for communications, fundraising, data management, security, and implementation. Devise a crisis management plan and agree to meet monthly to review it and make adjustments as needed.
  • Identify your essential personnel and create a contact list with names, phone numbers, addresses, etc. Think creatively about your contact methods; during a disaster you could very well lose access to typical communication channels (e.g., cell towers go down or are overloaded). One way to address this is to establish a physical reporting protocol. Identify a meeting location where everyone can convene in the event communication lines are compromised.
  • Establish a chain of command with contingencies. Everyone should know who initiates the crisis plan; essential personnel must know how to identify when their services are needed; and all employees should know who to contact in regards to their safety, location, and personal status. There’s always a possibility that someone on your team may be directly affected by the crisis, so ensure you establish contingencies within your chain of command.  
  • Create detailed lists of property and critical sites that need to be secured. For example, does your faculty have research that needs to stay frozen or does your hospital have blood centers that need stable temperatures? Identify who is responsible for these tasks and be sure you are keeping supplies on hand for such occurrences (e.g., dry ice, generators).
  • Establish a communication plan executable when you are without electricity.  Sometimes you may not have electricity but your constituents do, so consider contingencies such as generators; pop-up call centers; pre-established partnerships with your local media outlets; and contracts with off-site IT consultants who can remotely support your website, social media, email, phone messaging, and text messaging systems. It is vital to have an emergency communication protocol that enables your team to get messages out, but don’t underestimate the power of social media as it can become the tool in which your constituents communicate and interact with you.
  • Outline a strategy for volunteer coordination and designate a leadership team for this effort. In a crisis, people want to help, so planning for how you will manage that help is important. Identify who will organize volunteers, a check in time and place for volunteers to assemble, how you will communicate, a protocol for how decisions will be made, etc.
  • Verify your donor database contacts annually or biannually. Some disasters may lead to a large number of your donors being displaced or relocated. Create a system that enables your donors to easily update their contact information with you year-round, but especially during the crisis.  
  • Prepare a microsite that can be launched remotely at any time. Include things such as preparation checklists; instructions for securing things outdoors, securing windows, etc.; contact information for police, fire, electricity, water, sewage companies; evacuation, closure, and shelter information; and volunteer coordination details. Remember that this may be the first time your clients are experiencing this type of disaster. For example, if you are in a university setting, it may be an out-of-state student’s first hurricane, so don’t assume they are familiar with what your local students might consider common knowledge in terms of preparedness.
  • Encourage everyone to always keep their communication devices charged. In the event you lose power, but still have cell connectivity, you want everyone to have a fully charged devices. Consider investing in car chargers with proper adapters for all your devices, especially for essential personnel.  
  • Make hard copies of your plans and require essential personnel to keep them accessible at all times. When we need this information most, we will likely not have computer access or may be away from the office.


  • Finding your people should always be your first priority. Use your pre-established calling trees to locate your employees, staff, students, clients, etc. As a leader, you must first manage your organizational family before you can support your surrounding community.
  • Communicate early, clearly, and continuously during and after a crisis. Send updates often; your people want to hear from you and frequent communication can help keep misinformation at bay. Distribute information from the CEO or President so people know your top leadership is directly involved in managing the crisis.
  • Be consistent in your messaging. Having a singular media spokesperson is ideal but not always feasible in the event of large-scale crises. Preplanning to ensure you know who the single point of contact is for messaging and establishing a team of spokespeople can help your team communicate accurately and consistently, internally and externally. Consider all the areas in which you might need communication leads and pre-plan accordingly (e.g., academics, athletics, medical, facilities).
  • Leverage your own mass messaging systems to deliver voice, texting, and email messages to your constituents. Having these automated systems in place prior to a crisis will enable you to quickly and easily distribute consistent messages.
  • Keep your microsite updated so those not on your mass mailing list can access information from your microsite. This becomes the central repository for all your communications.
  • Proactively manage media personnel who ascend on your organization. When the media is on your doorstep or is demanding information, provide them with a specific site to do business, credential them, and give them a timeline of when to expect updates from you. Appoint a designee for requests and clearly communicate this protocol. Provide access to information and affected areas in a controlled manner. You have the ability and responsibility to manage all public messages and photographs, and to protect the privacy of your constituents.  
  • Communicate even if there is no new information. People want to know that you are always on top of things. This is particularly important for those who are concerned about loved ones connected to your organization but watching from afar, such as parents of your students or families of your employees. Remember to always time and date stamp updates.
  • Open your call center to the public to effectively manage information. Before disaster strikes, your IT team should have a plan in place for executing a public call center on behalf of your organization. Be sure your communications team is involved in the planning so they can spearhead the organizing of personnel to manage the center. During a crisis, actively publicize the number for your call center and establish yourself as a public resource. At the end of each day, have your call center team compile a list of frequently asked questions and post these to your website.
  • Establish a web portal for sharing to support your community. When you have a pre-established crisis microsite, these become easy to implement. Think of this as a CraigsList-type of resource for your community. It could invite postings and shares for things such as residential or commercial real estate rentals, housing/room-sharing, carpooling, resource sharing, etc.
  • Designate a documentation team in advance of a crisis. This should be team members who are not needed on the frontlines and can focus solely on capturing photos and videos of your organization’s response to the disaster. Chronicling your efforts will be helpful as you begin telling your story post-crisis, and as you begin debriefs and pre-plan for future events.  
  • Plan for post-disaster responsibilities. As things settle down, you will want to host informational meetings, town halls, debriefs, and other gatherings. Organizations that assume leadership roles often remain in crisis mode long after the disaster has passed.


  • Be ready to offer a disaster relief fund for donors. Having your microsite prepared in advance will enable you to quickly and easily activate online giving. Be prepared to take online credit card payments and text messaging giving. Donations are greatest during and immediately after the event, while it is still headline news. Use this time to share your message.
  • Keep your disaster fund purpose broad so that you have the flexibility to meet the unexpected needs that will arise. For example, you might need to use the funds for support students and their families, address damages to facilities, or provide supplies to crisis support staff.
  • Do not cease normal fundraising efforts unless safety is a concern. If you have events scheduled related to your core mission, make them happen. Stay focused, stick to what you do, and avoid mission creep. Do what you do best and fundraise for it through the height of the crisis.
  • Keep talking about the great work your organization does despite the disaster. You will exist long after the crisis ceases so be sure people think about the everyday things you do, not just the current event. The unfortunate nature of disasters leave you with a unique platform to share your story; seize the opportunity.
  • Keep disaster donations separate from your normal operations when at all possible. Code them differently and separate them from any campaign counting, operational expenses, etc. You should document and justify disaster donations and expenses, so tracking these dollars separately is important. Also, do not be afraid to seek out state, federal, and private disaster relief grants on behalf of your organization.
  • Stay in touch with your supporters throughout the disaster. There is a natural connection between donors and the organizations they have previously supported. You will find past, current, and new donors who want to give, so ensure you are ready to receive their contributions.
  • Establish a system for managing supply donations. During a disaster, people and businesses often want to send supplies and other goods. Identify a coordinator to interface with these donors and coordinate shipping/receiving efforts. Be very specific regarding what you will and will not accept. These items could be as large as truckloads of generators and mattresses, and as small as cases of bottled water and clothing. When you begin to receive supply donations in volume, storage space can be a challenge. Having a donation team in place to manage these activities is invaluable. Your donation team can also be your frontline team that works in collaboration with other community relief agencies such as the Red Cross.
  • Take care to understand the need before distributing funds. There is a delicate balance between getting resources to those in need quickly, and taking the time needed to assess the need. Having a team responsible for assessing the need will help expedite your response time, particularly when it comes to large cash funds.


  • Some people will disappoint you while others will amaze you. Understand that everyone reacts to disaster differently. Meet people where they are when they want to help, and if they aren’t interested in helping, move on.
  • No disaster is ever just like another. Be prepared to break rules and create new ones, and be sure to document justifications throughout the process.
  • Keep your head clear and remain certain. You might not always make the right decisions in the height of a crisis, but make the best decisions you can with the information and training that you have available. Change direction if you need to without apology, only explanation.
  • Remain open to coordinating with many large agencies such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, Pan American Health Organization, FEMA, FBI, and so on. Respect their protocols and jurisdiction, but do not be afraid to ask questions, demand answers, or stand your ground when necessary.
  • Document everything. Hold daily morning and evening briefing meetings with key constituents. Designate a recorder to document briefing conversations, questions, decisions made, and events that transpire. Keep all incoming and outgoing communications, including emails. All of this will be critical in dissecting your response post-disaster and helping you plan for the next crisis.
  • Prepare yourself to address donor fatigue (everyone is approaching them for help) and compassion fatigue (we’re overwhelmed with so many sad stories). Have a list of care professionals including social workers, counselors, etc. for your team members.
  • You might be back to work, but not back to normal. Provide stress relief opportunities and post-traumatic stress counseling within your organization. Make space for grieving and recovery.
  • Volunteers will begin to disappear despite the fact that you still need them well after the disaster. They are tired too and are trying to get back to their normal schedule, so think about how you might continue to engage volunteers while also offering them relief.

I don’t wish disaster on anyone, but I do encourage everyone to plan for it. Thoughtful preparedness can keep you at your best when you are faced with the worst. We understand fundraising is challenging, and know firsthand that it can be even more so during times of crisis. I hope our experiences help you in your planning processes, and please know that regardless of what comes your way, you are never alone.


Disaster Supplies List

If you would like to donate supplies, consider placing items in specific PACKS for distribution 60-quart containers with lids. See Supply Lists for Cleaning Supply Packs, Baby Item Packs, and School Supply Packs below. In addition, there is a list of items that will be needed for people to gut homes.

When donating, make sure to have an identified location that has been notified and is prepared to receive your donation.

Cleaning Supply Pack
Container size: 60-quart
Rubber Gloves
Heavy Duty Trash Bags
N95 Masks
Water Nozzle / Spray Bottle
Measuring Tape
Flashlights and Headlamp /Batteries for flash light
Utility Knife
Chalk Line
First Aid Kits
Insect Repellent
Sun Screen

Baby Item Pack
Container size: 60-quart
Wipes Baby Lotions
Baby Soap and Shampoo
Baby Cereal
Insect Repellent for babies

School Supply Pack
Container size: 60-quart
Insect Repellent
Sun Screen

For Cleanup:
Flat-blade shovels
Street push brooms
Safety goggles
Work gloves
Latex/rubber gloves
Dust masks
Crowbars (large and small)
Pry bars
Claw hammers
Utility knives/drywall saws (lots of blades!)
Portable sump pumps and hoses
Chain saws (with chain oil, extra chains, etc.)
Gas-powered generators
Flashlights and headlamps
Large Box Fans
Wet / Dry Vacs
Extension Cords
Trash bags (Industrial)
Storage bins
Dumpster bags

For Moving Debris:
Plastic snow/ice sleds
Five-gallon plastic buckets w/ Lids
Shovels (wide, round, snow!)

How a Philanthropy Plan Can Help You Give Smarter During Global Uncertainty

Beverly Brooks Thompson headshot

Beverly Brooks Thompson, PhD, CFRE

Managing Director

As a consultant focused on philanthropic leadership, I talk to people nearly every day who say they want to give generously to important organizations in their community, but they don’t know where to start. That paralysis of indecision often leads to an ungratifying giving experience, potential donors giving less, or not giving at all.

I also regularly hear from leaders of large organizations who say they’d like their companies to give smarter and more strategically but don’t want to look or feel bad when they refuse requests for donations. They want to give to places that make sense for them as individuals and as a company.

The root of both problems is often that the person or organization doing the giving doesn’t have a clear understanding of what their values and interests are and how those align with their philanthropic goals.

In this unique time in history, facing a global pandemic and abrupt economic downturn, it is even more important for donors to become laser focused and intentional in supporting organizations and causes they care about.

Although the times have changed, the way in which we approach funding has not. The solution is simple: develop a philanthropy plan! Whether you’re a high net-worth individual with an extensive philanthropic portfolio, an executive guiding a large organization’s giving program or just part of an normal American household that cares about giving back to the community, a detailed philanthropy plan can help you give in a more strategic and more satisfying way.

The transformation can be profound. Typically, individuals and organizations report higher satisfaction levels about their philanthropy when they carefully plan charitable giving to ensure its close alignment with their values. In these uncertain times for nonprofit organizations, it can also lift the gratification of giving, knowing that your dollars are supporting causes that are important to you in meaningful ways.

If your historic giving has been through a donor advised fund, you might be better positioned to maximize your giving than at any other time in history. It is estimated that over $120 billion dollars is being held in donor advised funds in the United States, awaiting direction. This is a terrific time to maximize giving from these funds in support of causes that align with your personal or corporate values. In addition, due to the very unusual economic climate, you might also consider options to maximize giving through depreciated assets – an unusual opportunity my Carter colleague, Ted Sudol describe in a LinkedIn post last month.

These four steps will help you begin developing a philanthropy plan that will put you or your company on a path to giving smarter.

Identify Your Interests and Values

A philanthropy plan should always begin with an important, reflective questions: how would I like to invest my influence, my time, my resources, and/or my money in a way that is meaningful? Specifically, what issues are important to you? Your interests, for example, could be as varied as wanting to support your college alma mater, breast cancer research, eliminating poverty, or supporting animal welfare. People can often identify their current interests more clearly by making a list of those places where they are spending their time and have donated before. Pivotal life moments can also help pinpoint where passions may lie, such as youth mission trip that changed your perspective on privilege or the death of a loved one caused by a disease. Putting these on paper is a key first step in crafting an effective philanthropy plan. Looking at what you value includes assessing what missions, beliefs, values, you have that guide your giving. For example, do you value leadership development, faith, democracy, or preservation? Do you value local issues over global or national issues?

Forcing yourself to identify your interests and values will help you focus your planning in a productive way. In the wake of COVID-19 and civil unrest, organizations and causes are still providing critical services to impact the causes you care about most. – Even if they are not directly addressing pandemic-related issues, every organization is doing their part to solve the needs of their constituents in new ways.

Choose Your Top 3 Categories

Once you’ve broadly defined your focus areas, it’s time to narrow them down. I recommend identifying the top three categories that align with both your values and interests — for example, if you want to support local leadership development programs and youth sports, the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs might be organizations that align with your goals. If you prefer to stay away from organizations that are religiously or politically affiliated, you can eliminate those from your plan. There is no shortage of organizations and causes to support. Having a plan that encompasses your values and interests assists you narrowing your focus in a meaningful way.

If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the annual report of the Giving USA Foundation, which details how the $427 billion in U.S. charitable giving was distributed in 2018. The report breaks up philanthropic giving into nine categories: religion; education; human services; giving to foundations; health; public-society benefit; arts, culture and humanities; international affairs; and environment and animals.

As you’ll see, narrowing your philanthropic focus down to three areas doesn’t necessarily preclude you from giving to other causes. It will, however, help you prioritize your giving to the causes and organizations that matter the most to you.

Establish a Budget

Having a budget for your philanthropic giving is a must-have component of an effective plan. A budget assists you by giving you a framework in which to establish your giving plan. It also gives you a method of tracking your donations throughout the year. Start by determining what percentage of your income you’re comfortable with setting aside for charitable causes. Next, start thinking about how you’d like to divide that up among the top three categories you identified earlier in the planning process.

Whatever percentage you choose needs to be a comfortable fit within your overall budget for life expenses. When coming up with a figure, keep in mind that philanthropy doesn’t necessarily have to be all about money. Non-monetary contributions such as your time and influence can also be valuable commodities for organizations and should be included as part of your plan. This could include the occasional volunteer opportunity or significant board service. Time, influence and service can be very valuable and meaningful ways to engage with an organization and get to know them better.

There is a fourth component to the budget that should not be overlooked. Something is going to happen at some point during the year that you won’t anticipate — a natural disaster or a family member in need, for example. Therefore, include a contingency — usually 25 percent or less of the total amount you’ve set aside for the year — to cover unexpected philanthropic interests you may develop during the year. If you don’t spend the contingency, you can always reallocate it at the end of the year to one of your three priorities.

Select and Vet Organizations to Support

Once you’ve identified the areas where you want to focus and have determined how much money and time you plan to dedicate, it’s time to start choosing individual organizations to support through your giving throughout the year.

Your local community foundation may have resources to help identify specific nonprofits that are impacting lives in the area where you live. Vet each organization by examining financial statements or asking friends or professional colleagues for information about the work and leadership of those groups. The easiest way to explore an organization is to visit and download the financial reports for nonprofit groups across the country or simply read the annual reporting documents that organization has listed online.

If you have a life partner or spouse, you may want to think through the questions above together and develop a joint plan. This can also be an excellent project to do with children, as the whole family learns what is important to them, including them in the decision-making process. You can also do this with your employees. Creating a plan and a budget can help you and your loved ones or organization be more effective in meeting your philanthropic goals and create a positive, meaningful impact. If you’re overwhelmed by options, a professional can help you focus your values and interests and put you on the path to giving in a smarter, more strategic, and ultimately a more satisfying way.

Looking for assistance in developing a philanthropy plan? Beverly Brooks Thompson is a Certified Advisor in 21/64 Next Generation Family Wealth. Beverly is also a Managing Director with Carter, an international consulting company working to advance philanthropy worldwide. The Carter team consists of 35 senior-level professionals located throughout North America. For more information visit

Charitable Gifts in 2020 Funded by Depreciated Securities.

wall street sign
Ted Sudol

Ted Sudol, J.D.

Managing Director

Why would a donor consider using depreciated securities to make a charitable contribution this year?  After all, such assets are not typically thought of as a good asset for charitable giving.

But this is not a typical year.

The use of depreciated securities may be just the right idea this year when donors plan for their charitable giving.  In the currently volatile economic market, many investors are experiencing a depreciation in the value of some (if not all) of their stock holdings.  Charitable giving offers a way to optimize the value of depreciated securities.

Here’s why: Unlike gifts of appreciated securities – which create a charitable contribution tax deduction and allow the donor to avoid taxation on the gain in value – gifts of depreciated securities create a capital loss (that can offset capital gains) and the opportunity for a charitable contribution deduction.

Here’s how:

  • The donor sells securities that have been held for more than a year and have lost value since being acquired.
  • The donor then uses the proceeds from the sale to make the charitable contribution.
  • This two-step sequence allows the donor to take a capital loss on the sale of the depreciated securities and a tax deduction on the charitable gift.

While tax considerations may not be the number one reason most donors make charitable gifts, the tax-wise aspects of this strategy can be substantial.  Let’s say the donor bought 1,000 shares of a stock in 2018 at $60 per share.  The stock is now trading at $25.  A sale of the stock yields $25,000 in cash and a $35,000 capital loss.  The $25,000 can be used to fund a charitable contribution.  And, this year, under the Cares Act, the donor can deduct charitable giving up to 100% of Adjusted Gross Income. 

Whether the donor plans to make an Annual Fund gift or a payment on a campaign pledge, the use of depreciated securities may be a strategy to consider in 2020.

“What a year this week has been.”

don't give up sign
Lizz Helmsen

Lizz Helmsen

Managing Director

This is how a friend of mine described the experience of reuniting with his fiancé in Canada and then getting back to the U.S. as travel restrictions were being put into place, and it’s turning into a common phrase in our new Covid-19 era.

Fundraisers are strong, capable, passionate, well-educated, Type A people. But we’re not immune to the stress that is so prevalent today. In fact, being strong, capable, passionate, etc. actually makes us more susceptible to anxiety in many ways, in no small part because we feel responsible for our organizations’ missions.

There are many resources available right now that talk about how to fundraise during difficult times (and about why it’s absolutely crucial for you to keep going!). But we also need to take care of ourselves. A good first step is to remember that we’re not alone. Increasingly, prompted by the World Health Organization and others, the term “physical distancing” is replacing “social distancing”. This is an important distinction, and one fundraisers inherently understand: relationships matter.

We also know the power of storytelling. Lessons that come from stories are particularly powerful. Plus, while experience is the best teacher, you don’t always have to be the one learning the lesson directly. With that in mind, here are some of the stories I remember when I need a boost.

There Are No New Plots – Only New Twists
This comes from my high school drama teacher. Yes, we are facing a global crisis. And the double-whammy of the pandemic and resulting economic stress is one heck of a plot twist. But we have been through crises before, even multifaceted crises including the 1918 flu pandemic that coincided with World War I. We will get through this.

Understanding that there are no new plots can also help when we feel pressure to come up with something super-creative/different/inspiring. No. We don’t have to do something earth-shattering. We just have to be sincere. None of what I’m saying here is revolutionary, but I do hope that I have enough of a new twist to be of use. As an added bonus, when we do have a brilliant idea, we can recognize (and be grateful for) all of the bits and pieces from yesterday’s plots that we combined to move forward.

Panic – Then Get Over It
This comes from a guest professor in college, and it seems counterintuitive. Who in their right mind would actually encourage panic? Especially right now. But I still remember how he walked into class, introduced himself, and then gave us a project that was an order of magnitude larger than anything we had done to date. Before we could hyperventilate, he told us that most people’s advice would be to not panic, but that wasn’t realistic. It’s human nature to panic when faced with something overwhelming, so go ahead. Give yourself a moment to let it out rather than holding it in and letting it fester. Then take a deep breath. Get over it. Start planning. This is the less clinical way of explaining why repression is so damaging to our mental health.

Of course, panic doesn’t always hit immediately. Sometimes we’re doing just fine right up until the point where we’re NOT fine. One of the school counselors I know says that week three of a new school year is when she usually starts seeing problems for students because the newness is gone and reality sets in. Personally, I tend to get nervous after I’ve finished something, when the adrenaline wears off and the “If Onlys” start: “If only I’d said/done this differently,” or “I should have done xyz.” Regardless of when anxiety strikes, the answer is still to acknowledge that fear is normal but we don’t have to let it control us. Take a deep breath. Get over it. Start again.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
Yes, I am a Monty Python fan. And while the reference – like much of Monty Python – is irreverent to say the least, it’s good advice. When I heard my son quote Holy Grail during one of his darkest days, that glimpse of humor was something to hold onto. My friend who had the harrowing week that led him back to the U.S.? He and his fiancé got married and are together. Some silver linings are small. My dog has never been happier. Some may have long-term effects that you can’t see yet. Family dinners are, by default, happening more frequently, and studies consistently show that students who have family meals do better academically, have stronger relationships, engage in fewer risky behaviors, and even have greater vocabularies.

One of the great benefits – and true joys – of being a consultant is that I have a front row seat to watch remarkable organizations across the world as they pivot to address the current crisis, stay connected with their constituents, and continue advancing their missions. I say this not to minimize the challenges we face – they are real and daunting – but to acknowledge the awe-inspiring efforts of people who are dedicated to fulfilling their missions regardless of what the world throws at us.

Here are two of my silver linings:

  • A youth orchestra had their much-anticipated trip to Carnegie Hall cancelled, along with all of their live rehearsals and their additional spring performance. This was a huge blow, especially for the high school seniors. But the whole organization stuck together and quickly rallied around three virtual goals: Musical Growth, Staying Connected, and Staying Live with Music. They’re now holding virtual masterclasses once a week, using Acapella app for students to make recordings, and planning for virtual auditions should that be necessary. Parent and student feedback has been tremendous.
  • Another youth organization reached out to one of their lead donors with the authentic purpose of telling him what the organization was doing, how they were pivoting to continue serving children. The Board wanted to keep their staff, knowing that staff is the lifeblood of their mission. The donor asked how much it cost per month to keep everyone employed. Not knowing where the question was leading, the executive director hesitated but chose to respond honestly. The donor said, “How about I cover three months of that expense for you.” What a wonderful, powerful example for all of us: transparency, mutual respect, and a donor jumping at the chance to help!

“Real Strength Has to Do with Helping Others”
Having lived in Pittsburgh for 30 years, I’d be remiss if I didn’t think of Fred Rogers. When I’m feeling cynical, my favorite book is a compilation of famous insults. The old Scottish curse, “May you live in interesting times,” seems particularly apropos at the moment. But Mr. Rogers’ sense of calm and his love are always here for us, and his words are stronger than even the cleverest bit of snark. We are all connected, all neighbors, all capable of giving and worthy of receiving help.

So, as we navigate uncertain waters, remember that you are not alone. You can do it. We will help.

Where are YOU sitting? With a nice girl or on a hot stove?

Oven clock

Albert Einstein once said, “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it’s only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it is two hours.”

These days, I think lots of people are looking for a nice place to sit where they can use their experience and education and find enjoyment.

Fundraisers and philanthropists are no different.

Rather than folding up your fundraising efforts during this pandemic, why not turn it into an opportunity to help others find their strengths, connect with your mission and make a difference. You might learn something about yourself in the process.

It’s a good bet that prior to March, you never heard the phrase shelter at home, let alone thought it would ever apply to you. Now we’re in the middle of this new normal with a target end-date that moves as quickly as COVID-19 seems to spread.

The situation has me thinking about how different shelter at home must be for each of us.

I live in the middle of 12 acres of woods with plenty of room to roam without ever getting close to a neighbor. My friends in larger cities don’t have that same luxury – their lives look entirely different. The definition of “home” is so deeply personal, even people living in the same house might have vastly different images.

In the mid-1990s, I found new context for my definition of “home” while serving as fundraising counsel for Habitat for Humanity International’s first large-scale capital campaign. Now, as I advise my current nonprofit partners in responding to COVID-19, I find myself leaning on those valuable lessons.

First, a simple, decent and safe home makes a world of difference, especially children who need this to thrive. During this crisis, it’s more important than ever that organizations serving the homeless children share their message. Make sure your communities know your services are continuing and are critical for ensuring defenseless children have the same opportunity as the rest of us to safely shelter at home.

In fact, no matter what your organization’s mission, DO NOT STOP fundraising. Be empathetic to what your donors are experiencing while also being clear and concise about your organization’s needs. It’s our job to let people know how they can help, not make the decision for them.

Second, celebrate the fact that you help people when you give them the chance to help, and for some that means making a charitable gift. Habitat for Humanity’s model puts the recipients of philanthropy working alongside the philanthropist. Most of the philanthropists will tell you they feel they received much more from the experience than they contributed, including the lifelong lesson that “giving is at the heart of living.” The opportunity to give lift spirits and gives deeper meaning to the life of the donor. As a fundraiser, you are the conduit that connects people to the causes they care about most.

Third, not everyone can be a nurse who helps the sick, an electrician who wires a house or a plumber who fixes a leaky faucet. But just because you’re good at something, doesn’t mean it brings you joy. As a classic overachiever, there are many things I do well that I simply do not enjoy – paperwork and book-keeping are classic examples!

A few years ago, I was introduced to Marcus Buckingham’s work on “Strength Based Team Development” and it dramatically changed what I consider my strengths. Marcus suggests that what you are good at is an ability, but a strength is something that makes you stronger.

In my experience, this especially applies to fundraising professionals who often wear many hats, some of which are important to raising money and frankly, some that are not.

While sheltering at home, this might be a great time to explore your own strengths.

  1. Make a list of everything you did for your job in the last two weeks. I suspect that the list is different in light of the pandemic.
  2. Next to each activity write whether your loved it or loathed it.
  3. Add to the list other things you would enjoy doing but do not yet have the experience, education or ability to do.
  4. Chart your strengths on a simple four-quadrant graph:

  5. Once your activities are charted, think about actions you could take to allow more time for the activities that you do well and enjoy.
  6. Consider asking your co-workers to complete a similar exercise. You may find that you are doing things that you loath that someone else might enjoy and do better than you.

You could also consider these questions:

  • How would your board members react to charting their activities for your organization? Would they put more activities in the high energy/highly capable or the highly capable/draining quadrants?
  • Do you think your donors would recognize things that they do for your organization as high energy/enjoyment?
  • How about your volunteers and other constituents?

They say necessity is the mother of invention and right now we need leaders who not only understand their own strengths but can help their team members, co-workers, partners, and constituents leverage their strengths during these stressful times.

They’ll be stronger, you’ll be stronger, and our world will be stronger as a result.

Kristina Carlson

Managing Director, Carter Global

For more than 30 years, Kristina Carlson, CFRE has guided nonprofit institutions in their efforts to secure major gifts and other resources necessary to make a significant impact. She is a proven leader, an entrepreneur, an author of the best-selling Essential Principles for Fundraising Success, and an in-demand speaker at national and international conferences and workshops. As Managing Director with Carter, Kristina works to inspire philanthropists, volunteers, nonprofit leaders, and development professionals to do more by defining and focusing on mission-critical activities, creating systems of accountability, and experiencing the joy of philanthropy.


Feeling Unprepared for Your Capital Campaign?

white board

I attended a fundraising conference where a friend and fellow fundraising consultant presented a session on the 15 essentials to launch a capital campaign. The title made my heart skip a beat. Running a thriving fundraising program while trying to orchestrate a multi-million-dollar capital campaign can be so stressful. I had to learn more, so I tracked my colleague down.

After exchanging updates on family and business, I asked how he came up with so many requirements. His response, “They wanted me to talk for three hours, so I came up with 15 to fill the time.”

Funny, I thought, the amount of work needed for a successful campaign depends upon how much time your consultant has to speak?  The idea of 15 essentials is more than enough to instill panic in the minds of busy Development Directors! I imagined participants giving up before they even got started.

Capital campaigns emerged more than 100 years ago in the United States and are growing around the globe. There is no shortage of opinions about what is needed to be successful. A simple Internet search results in any number of essentials, but 15 was the most I’ve ever seen.

Since 1989, I’ve helped lead hundreds of capital campaigns and from experience, I can confidently say the essentials boil down to five. That’s right, I’ve found the following “essentials” at the core of most successful campaigns:

    Both institutional and volunteer leaders who will be actively involved in the campaign are needed to validate and share the campaign’s purpose with others.
    The needs that are articulated in your Case for Support must be extremely compelling and emotional. The Case must clearly demonstrate that a campaign is absolutely necessary to ensure that your organization can realistically achieve something important (change lives, change the world, etc.). Constituents will take your campaign seriously when they are convinced that the need is valid, urgent, and compelling.
    Organizing volunteers, meeting with donors, preparing materials, and guiding a campaign take time. You must have adequate internal resources to conduct a successful campaign. Resources include people, systems, processes, volunteer support, and a campaign budget.
    Every campaign has just one opportunity to be executed properly. Creating the proper leadership structure, a timeline with measurable milestones, and a strategy for early campaign momentum are imperative parts of a great plan.
    Obviously, sufficient contributable dollars must be available to achieve success. Therefore, you 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.

While I believe in the importance of these five, I have often seen campaigns succeed without strength in each area. Curious to know if my experience mirrors others, I reached out to more than a dozen experienced capital campaign consultants to get their thoughts. Here is what they confirmed:

First, very few organizations start their campaigns with all five essentials in place. Most have to “build the bicycle while they ride it.”

Second, if leadership is not in place at the start of a campaign, it is the most difficult essential to obtain.

Third, as the chart below shows, the experts consider leadership to be the most critical with a compelling Case for Support coming in second. As one noted, “Excellent leadership has the potential to obviate other deficits.”

If you have leadership at the beginning, it indicates that people with passion and capacity believe strongly enough in the need to use their resources to influence others to get involved. The remaining essentials can evolve. For example, the Case may not be articulated perfectly at the beginning but can develop along the way. And, part of a great plan can include how you’ll manage the campaign until “adequate resources” are in place. But if you don’t have great leadership from the start, you will be hard-pressed to get the campaign out of the starting gate.


 None of the experts considered adequate resources to be the most important. As one noted, “So far, every development team I’ve observed has been understaffed and under-budgeted for campaign work.”

How strong of a difference can leadership make? I once worked with an organization that had very little experience with philanthropy and the Executive Director had no interest in the campaign. She just wanted the money to help expand their services. The Board was not a “fundraising board” and very few donors supported the organization outside of buying tickets to events. However, one passionate and generous volunteer so loved the work of this organization that she went “all in” to make it a success. Not only did she make a very generous gift, she also met with at least one, more often two, donors a week throughout the duration of the campaign. As a leader, she almost single-handedly put the campaign over goal, and in the process deepened donor engagement and relationships.

With so much importance placed upon leadership, and knowing that most organizations must focus limited resources on the most critical activities, here is a list of suggested campaign readiness activities:

  • Internal LeadershipBegin educating your organization’s executive team (CEO, CFO, etc.) about campaigns and the importance of a strategic plan and vision. The most successful campaigns are always rooted in a shared vision among the Board and staff, so make sure your internal leadership has spent time on this before campaign discussions begin.

    Consider sharing this blog post with your team so they understand how critical their involvement is. Ask for their help in guiding a process to identify priorities, create a budget, and show the impact of contributed dollars on the organization’s mission. Develop a practice of having monthly meetings to discuss campaign readiness, key donor relationships, and next steps. Help your team become more comfortable with the fund development process by involving them in meetings to thank donors, answer their questions, and share the strategic vision with them.

  • Board LeadershipWork with a Board committee, such as Governance, to evaluate your Board’s current strengths, particularly as it relates to fundraising, and develop a plan for putting in place the strongest possible Board. Engage the committee in regular meetings to discuss leadership identification, recruitment, Board training, and next steps. Ask the committee to make sure every Board member can easily articulate the organization’s mission and why it is personally important to them.
  • Donor LeadershipIdentify three to five people who could make significant gifts to the campaign and who could influence others to give as well. Create a plan for building relationships with these individuals. Note, I did not say create a plan for asking them for a campaign gift (at least not yet). Involve them in discussions about the ideas for the campaign, with a focus on the impact a campaign could have on the lives of individuals, the community, and the world. Share their feedback with your organization’s leaders.

There is always more you could do to prepare for a campaign, but don’t let that paralyze your organization. Prioritize your focus on developing leaders, volunteer and professionals, who are passionate, determined, and have confidence in the unlimited potential of your organization. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, attract leaders who “believe you can, and you are halfway there.”

Kristina Carlson

Managing Director, Carter Global

For more than 30 years, Kristina Carlson, CFRE has guided nonprofit institutions in their efforts to secure major gifts and other resources necessary to make a significant impact. She is a proven leader, an entrepreneur, an author of the best-selling Essential Principles for Fundraising Success, and an in-demand speaker at national and international conferences and workshops. As Managing Director with Carter, Kristina works to inspire philanthropists, volunteers, nonprofit leaders, and development professionals to do more by defining and focusing on mission-critical activities, creating systems of accountability, and experiencing the joy of philanthropy.