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

Bob’s Crystal Ball: Bob Carter’s Predictions for the World and the World of Philanthropy in 2022

2022 Predictions

In this post, Bob Carter, Chairman of Carter, shares his predictions for the year ahead based on his life experience, decades-long and prominent career in the fundraising consulting business, and extensive service on the boards of highly successful nonprofits.

It can be the best of years; it can be the worst of years, but 2022 is our year. What happens in the next 12 months is up to us to deal with and overcome, and hopefully, we will celebrate the hand we are dealt. Without further ado, please enjoy my (foggy) crystal ball view of 2022.

Predictions for the world in 2022:

  • We will see fewer streaming options and media platforms due to consolidation. In my conversations with people in the media industry, I have heard some discussion on how consolidation may come about for all the streaming options we have. The myriad of options has become overwhelming and confusing. Where can I find X show or movie? What’s part of what? There should be consolidation and clarity coming out in the next year.
  • C-SPAN will emerge as a media platform for truth in news reporting. When you watch a live feed of Congress in action on C-SPAN, there is no commentary (though you may be shouting your own commentary). You hear and see for yourself, and you make your own decision. Today’s climate has created a thirst in the world for an unbiased and unfiltered news platform like C-SPAN can offer.
  • China will not invade Taiwan. I am just putting that on the record!
  • Vaccine saturation will continue to lag in fragile countries. There will always be parts of the world that fall behind in dealing with these kinds of health crises. Because of this, there will likely be travel restrictions on these parts of the world for the next 12 to 18 months, perhaps longer.
  • The pandemic will be defeated and reclassified as a daily life threat. With the help of boosters, Covid should fade this year. It will be seen as just another virus floating around the world.
  • As a result of the pandemic, there will be a new understanding of the impact of global health on U.S. health. Americans have seen firsthand that our country’s health is directly affected by global health. This understanding will foster stronger support and interest in helping more fragile countries improve their health systems and access to healthcare.
  • The equities market will adjust and restart in 2023 with inflation as the root cause. There will be a 1,000-to-2,000-point bump in the market this year. Frankly, this is nothing to panic over. We have enough brakes on the system. It will shut off, shut down, and even out in 2023.

What happens in the world has always had a direct impact on the nonprofit sector. Taking it all into account, in 2022, I predict the following for the philanthropic sector:

  • At least one of the federal houses will shift in power, possibly impacting philanthropy. We will see a political shift that we, especially those of us in the field of philanthropy, must watch. Our country is just one vote away from eliminating the federal tax deduction, which, as many of you know, was closely defeated in 2010 when a Senate ad hoc committee proposed using it as a strategy to reduce the deficit. That committee ultimately voted 18 to 11 against bringing the motion to the Senate floor. Although I have not heard talk of reviving the idea, as the country looks for ways to redistribute wealth and correct the economy, the idea will likely resurface. Anyone who cares about philanthropy should pay close attention to the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ public policy update newsletter – the best resource for staying informed. If the United States ditches the charitable tax deduction, the action will snowball across the globe with other countries following suit and the impact will erode philanthropic activity worldwide. All it will take is a simple shift in political power.
  • The current threat via public policies to philanthropies will balance with aging millennials’ political power. As millennials age, they will likely tend to be a little more financially conservative and preserve federal tax deductions.
  • Higher education will scramble to reposition itself. Higher education has come under attack for many reasons, not the least of which are related to issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) intensity and preferences of donors and students. Tuition has been inflated beyond the increases of wages, etc. There is pressure from donors and students for their higher education institution to be a leader in DEI. All of this will converge in 2022 and create a need for higher education to forge a link between being an educational and humanitarian institution.
  • Office-first company models will continue to erode. Remote-first structures will evolve and become accepted as the expansion of global talent available becomes a focus. The radius of a building no longer drives the employee pool. Big corporations and nonprofits are finding that as they invite their employees back into the office, many employees are refusing to return or have moved away from headquarters. When you have talented staff, you find a way to make this work.
  • New and shifting work models will require intentional, adaptive leadership. “Work” is being redefined in the post-pandemic world, as evidenced in nearly all industries, from service companies to manufacturing. Good leaders will be ready to navigate these changes while remaining focused on organizational goals.
  • Social investments may grow alongside of philanthropy. We may see a shift away from purely philanthropic giving and an increase in social investments. Those interested in social investments will be putting money up, but they will expect a return even though they know it will be less than a commercial return. This is what all philanthropy looks like in many parts of the world.
  • A mix of in-person and online volunteering will increase. When will it be that people are comfortable volunteering in person again? We’ve discovered that we can create volunteer roles for people online. I believe this will continue to be used and be part of the creative strategy in the upcoming year.
  • Human behavior will continue to drive sound strategies. The main driving forces behind human behavior are fear, hope, having a mission or values, the need to help, and the need to act or stay in motion. Attention to these natural impulses will gain the best results. I recommend reading “The Psychology of Philanthropy: The Science Behind Giving” by Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang if you haven’t already. The book answers the question of “what compels people to give?”
  • Strategies developed out of fear will fail and bold strategies will prevail. Fewer people made bold decisions during Covid than any other period I have ever seen, including the 2008-2009 recession. Fear-based decision making is not only a difficult habit to break, but it is also the least likely strategy for garnering widespread support (people rarely follow a fearful leader). With so many organizations operating from a position of scarcity over the past few years, in 2022, leaders who can articulate an aspirational, yet reasonable, vision and strategy will stand out as unique. Those who stick with the safest approach should start preparing to fold their tent – because that day will likely come soon. Meaningful change will always require the ability to tolerate a certain level of risk. In 2022, successful leaders will think big, act boldly, and will have confidence that will help others feel safe to join the journey.

As we look forward to 2022, we should remember the skills we learned in the past two years and continue to implement them in the year ahead. The pandemic has taught us that it is more important than ever to plan, be persistent, have patience, know when to push, embrace innovation as a critical strategy, and be adaptive. Many people, companies, and organizations that made these goals a habit during the pandemic will find success in our new year.

About the Author

Bob Carter

Bob Carter, CFRE, Chairman

Bob Carter, Chairman of Carter, is one of the world’s most respected, 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 member and chair of numerous not-for-profit boards lends firsthand experience to his governance counsel. (Read more about Bob 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 500 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

When are impact reports impactful?

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Recently I have been reflecting and refreshing my perspective on Penelope Burk’s ongoing research dedicated to evidence-based approaches to donor retention and raising more money to support missions of nonprofit organizations throughout the world.

This has been on my mind partially because I am a long-time champion of Burk’s pragmatic, qualitative and quantitative data and many nonprofits with a mid-year fiscal year-end are developing impact reports for donors and key stakeholders. Impact reports are valuable engagement tools appreciated by many donors and funders. Plus, these stories of change and accountability can lead donors to actively consider giving again and, many times, more!

Burk conducted follow-up conversations with donors several years ago leading to a second edition of her seminal book, Donor-Centered Fundraising, in 2018. Here are a few of the responses cited around impact reports:

I would definitely make larger gifts if … those solutions were backed up by better impact information.

I’ve narrowed my giving down to organizations that issue informative and concise reports about what they are achieving with donors’ contributions …

An update on what they are accomplishing with the gifts that I and other donors have already made is actually more effective than another appeal. The updates themselves make you want to give again.

Campaign Monitor and Qgiv looked at nonprofit marketing strategies that are both effective and efficient use of resources from the perspective of more than 1,000 donors. They found there is power in hearing from real people, about real people, and the results a donation is creating. In fact, 61.1% of donors want to hear stories about organizations’ impact and how their services are helping. 

Consider when you make a gift to your local food bank, health clinic, early education center as well as your church and alma mater. Are you interested in receiving the free lapel pin, plaque, or month-at-a-glance calendar? Or would you prefer a brief, personalized communication highlighting the difference your investment made in the lives of people … many of whom you probably will never meet? Personally, I do not need another swag bag. I value understanding and seeing the results of my giving and welcome the opportunity to learn more through the eyes of those whose lives have been changed, transformed, strengthened, or enhanced.

I invited several colleagues, peers and fellow philanthropy professionals representing diverse sectors and experience to join me for a conversation on the topic of impact reports. I asked them to define an impact report, share how they measure the impact of this communication tool and a key learning for the next generation of impact report creators. What a robust, insightful and super fun conversation! Here are a few of my key takeaways you might also find helpful:

  1. Impact reports are a time to share the why and how of the organization. It’s not just the facts; it’s an opportunity to tie the donor’s gift to the mission.
  2. It answers the question “so what?”. A science-based education institution describes intellectual stimulation, excitiing youth and turning on “light bulbs”.
  3. Changing the behavior of a client through resources, education and opportunities to connect with others is hard to document because its qualitative. We tell stories, show faces, use different technology including video.
  4. These tools also are an opportunity to provide a sneak peek of what’s ahead and sparks curiosity for follow-up conversations.
  5. Donors experience impact; show them personally rather than telling them. Inspire them to feel the importance of the work by inviting them to “wear the shoes” of those the organization serves through a virtual field trip for instance. Be creative!
  6. Impact reports come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe they are regionally specific or as simple as a phone call to share a recent breakthrough. And keep telling the stories in compelling ways that speak to the heart and soul of the organization and its work.

As a nonprofit professional who may or may not have a background in writing but has been charged with creating your organization’s 2020 impact report, where might you start? It can seem like a daunting task but you are well-positioned to ensure the relationships your organization has with its donors and stakeholders are built on a strong values-based foundation of accountability and integrity.

It’s as simple as telling a story!

About the Author

Kerry Bartlett

Kerry A. Bartlett, CFRE, MBA, Managing Director

Kerry has spent more than 25 years in the nonprofit sector as a fund development professional and has particular expertise in annual funds, major gifts, endowment campaigns and legacy giving. Kerry is also known for creating and implementing effective donor-centered stewardship programs that build, maintain and strengthen nonprofits’ relationships.

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 500 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of 36 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning, and governance.

5 Opportunities Fundraising Professionals Can Utilize During Covid-19

Fundraising during Covid

Historically, nothing drives charitable giving like disasters, whether natural or economic. During disasters, both the need for help and the desire to help are amplified. That holds true with the current COVID-19 crisis. However, a global pandemic presents a unique dilemma: the need is global, the timeline is uncertain, the economy is volatile, and the variables are changing daily.

Our profession and work have prepared us for this crisis perhaps more than most. Philanthropy is responding throughout the United States and around the globe faster than we have ever reacted before. As fundraisers, we are uniquely positioned to identify the problems, articulate the immediate and urgent needs, craft emotionally compelling stories, and provides hard data to support the case.

The good news: funders are being more flexible than ever and there are 5 opportunities fundraising professionals can utilize RIGHT NOW to make an impact.

1. CARES Act Tax Benefits

Changes in the tax code for this year make end-of-year giving especially advantageous in 2020. Among these changes – thanks to the CARES Act – is a new opportunity for non-itemizers to claim a tax deduction for their charitable giving this year. Taxpayers who take the standard deduction can claim a charitable deduction of up to $300 for cash donations in 2020. For itemizers, the limit on the charitable contribution deduction has been lifted and individuals can deduct cash gifts in 2020 right up to 100% of their Adjusted Gross Income, rather than the usual cap at 60%.

As for corporations, the CARES Act has increased their deduction limits to 25% for cash contributions this year. Considering the sizeable growth in value experienced by many corporations in recent years, particularly in 2019, this new opportunity should not go unnoticed.

2. Depreciated Securities

Typically, a volatile economic market creates some concern about making donations using stock holdings, and typically securities that have lost value are not thought of as ideal assets for charitable giving. However, 2020 is not a typical year.

In a volatile economic market, there is an opportunity to optimize the value of depreciated securities in funding a charitable contribution. The steps are a bit different when using depreciated securities to make a charitable gift compared with the steps when using appreciated securities – and this difference is how the tax-wise advantage kicks in. The donor would sell the depreciated securities and donate the cash proceeds from the sale. This allows the donor to take a charitable contribution deduction for the cash gift AND a capital loss on the sale of the securities. The loss can be used by the donor to offset any gains that may occur this year on other stock holdings, effectively reducing the donor’s tax liability even more. The bonus? The charitable organization may ultimately receive a much larger gift than if the donor had simply used cash to make the gift.

If navigating the tax codes and changes this year seems complicated and stressful for a donor, their wealth managers and philanthropic consultants can help.

Although we know tax benefits are not the only reason donors consider charitable giving, it certainly helps when there are opportunities available. Make sure to highlight and communicate these opportunities to your donors!

3. Donor Advised Funds

Unlike in previous times of volatility and economic insecurity more individuals and families than ever are using Donor Advised Funds to manage their charitable giving. Like donors with family foundations, donors who have created Donor Advised Funds may be more readily interested and willing than others to make major gifts this year, since the funds have already been put aside for this very purpose.

Giving USA’s Report on Charitable Giving shows that contributions to Donor Advised Funds are experiencing an annualized growth rate of nearly 20 percent in recent years. At this point, there are an estimated $120 billion held in donor advised funds. This year is the ideal time for these donors to leverage their Donor Advised Funds to support the causes they care about.

4. Renewed Vision: New Markets – New Methods of Delivery – New Partnerships

Indeed, our industry is defined by our vision, and the current crisis does not change that fact; our vision is not merely changed by the current crisis— by seeking new solutions, it can be renewed. Normally, we ask, “Who needs us? What can we do?” and “Who can assist us in that mission?” Whereas now we are asking, “Who needs us now? What can do now?” “Who can we partner with to realize that vision now?”

Your strategic plan for the upcoming year needs to be reviewed monthly, perhaps even weekly, as the situation continues to evolve. In doing so, we can continue to explore new approaches to how we work, whether in new markets, new methods of delivery, or with new partnerships. In times of crisis, it merits a reminder that nonprofit charitable organizations are in the RELATIONSHIP business – in relationships with those they serve – in relationships with those that invest to achieve the organization’s mission – and in relationships with other organizations that have alignment in providing solutions. More than ever before, it is time to actively engage donors, constituents, and potential partners to find new and innovative solutions to realize and renew the vision.

5. Vulnerability is an incredibly valuable tool in your tool belt – USE IT!

For those us in the philanthropy profession, our altruistic nature and inclination for empathy is emotionally exhausting in hard times, yet simultaneously, these feelings drive and inspires us! Compassion fatigue is a reality. And that is okay. In fact, it is great. We are in the compassion business – and vulnerability is a skill set that service-driven, mission-focused development professionals excel in harnessing.

Now more than ever, you get to be vulnerable with your donors and allow them to be vulnerable with you. You can and should be bold. Have those hard conversations with top donors about the state of the organization: Its immediate needs and its renewed vision. Donors are likely feeling the same emotions as you and very likely will embrace opportunities amidst these uncertain times to have a way to experience the great joy of building solutions to very real problems. Again, as fundraisers, we are first and foremost in the relationship business. Now is the time to Be Direct, Be Candid, Be Transparent, and Be Vulnerable – and look for the opportunities!

About the Authors

Beverly Brooks Thompson headshot

Beverly Brooks Thompson, PhD, CFRE, Managing Director

Beverly Brooks Thompson is a published academic and practitioner in the field of philanthropic leadership. With over 20 years of experience, Thompson has served as senior counsel to the most prestigious non-profit organizations and boards in the country with responsibility for campaign development, implementation and management for programs that exceed goals of $500 million. She also advises families, family offices and family foundations on philanthropic planning and corporations in corporate responsibility and employee engagement. Beverly is a Certified Advisor in 21/64 Next Generation Family Wealth and a Master Trainer for the Association of Fundraising Professionals. 

Ted Sudol

Ted Sudal, J.D,. Managing Director

Ted draws on four decades of experience in fundraising, strategic communications, phi anthropic law, and consulting in crafting creative and personalized philanthropic plans. He approaches each engagement with a focus on finding simple solutions for complex matters to achieve optimal outcomes. His expertise is tailored to higher education, healthcare & human services, the arts, and global initiatives.

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 500 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of 36 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning, and governance.

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