Activating Activists Around Your Cause

Everybody Counts. This little activist lives with me.

by Ellisha Caplan

There’s no shortage of outrage and activism these days. Take one look on Facebook,Twitter or the front page of your favorite news outlet, and chances are you’ll find one or two or ten immediate reasons to call your State Senator, write a letter to a government agency, or march in solidarity with a group in peril. High profile nonprofits like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood have capitalized on Americans’ desire to do something about the threats to the constituencies they represent to the tune of record-breaking fundraising numbers and volunteers asking to be involved. Your smaller nonprofit can and should benefit from the extended goodwill of the public for the work of nonprofits right now, and there are a couple of ways that being small can be a strength during times like these:
Calling All Interested Activists….

Is your nonprofit’s mission at risk because of upcoming legislation at the state or national level? This is just the type of issue to engage your constituents around and mobilize them to help advocate on behalf of your organization! Invite concerned supporters to make phone calls, provide them with some sample language, give them the appropriate phone numbers to call, and keep them informed about what happens with it. If their activism results in a positive change, they’ll feel great about the way they were able to help. If their activism was not enough to change the tide, you will need their support all the more, and you’ll already know which folks you can tap for their help. While nonprofits of all sizes benefit from this kind of activism, I’d argue that the impact may be even greater for smaller organizations without lobbyists already in Washington or strong connections to state legislators. Your calling campaign could get your organization and your issue on the radar of important people who didn’t know you existed before.

Small Organizations = Less Bureaucracy and More Flexibility 

A few months ago, a friend of mine posted an image on Facebook that really resonated with me, and she said that she was going to make it into yard signs that she would sell to support a large advocacy organization. The signs were very popular, and people outside of her Wisconsin town wanted to buy them too (including me!). Together with several other friends, I created an Etsy page and we were able to raise several thousand dollars (at $5 a pop) in just one month. The Etsy page was making so much money that we decided we needed to remove ourselves as the “middle man” for the fundraising effort, and offered the national organization the image for free to sell on their own merchandise page. Because the organization was huge, with many strict rules about how they could sell merchandise, they had to turn down our offer. Instead, we offered the image to a small state-wide nonprofit. They were able to accept our gift, and after we redirected folks to their website, they’ve raised another $22,000 through merchandise sales using our image in just two months. Definitely a case of a smaller organization being able to move on and benefit from one-off opportunities in a way that larger, slower-moving and more bureaucratic organizations simply cannot.

Now, not everybody has graphic designers and nonprofit consultant friends who are beating down their doors to create just the right graphic to go viral and sell all over the country from their little nonprofit’s website. Maybe you have a songwriter who wants to make a recording, or a slogan that could go on a t-shirt, or a beautiful and evocative photograph — my point is, if you are ready and able to move on the generosity and ingenuity of your supporters, you never know what opportunities you might come across!

Shoestring Solutions for Nonprofits is passionate about helping small nonprofits meet their mission.  Our All Laced Up Blog posts are just a taste of how we can help you gain traction with your constituents, raise funds, and make the most impact with limited resources.  Questions?  Contact us:

All the News That’s Fit to Print: Creating Great Newsletters


by Jennifer Steinberg

Whether it’s an e-newsletter or an old school mailed version, sending regular updates to your supporters is a critical part of any organization’s communications strategy. Sitting down to create or redo a newsletter can feel like a daunting task but if you keep the following in mind, you’ll see how quickly an update can come together.

Great newsletters have:

Set publication dates
And the best part is, no one other than your organization needs to news-530220_1920know when they are! Monthly, quarterly, twice a year – just make sure that when you’re fiscal year starts, the dates you want to publish your newsletter get added to the calendar. This will give you the ability to plan ahead to consistently update your supporters. Once you start consistently updating your supporters, they’ll come to expect those updates, strengthening their relationship with your organization.

Consistent content from issue to issue
Keeping the content consistent from issue to issue makes generating that content easier. If you know that you are including a letter from your executive director or board president in each newsletter, then make sure you are communicating deadlines and word-count with those individuals ahead of time (this goes back to publication dates). Event updates, a list of donors, media coverage? Decide what is important to communicate to your supporters and then make sure that information is included in every newsletter.

A brand
Whether it’s a snappy masthead or a branded subject line, title your newsletter in a way that reflects your organization’s brand and mission. It’s a one-line way of reminding supporters what you do.

Organized content
Whether you use an email template or lay it out for print, make sure the topmost panel includes an overview of what information will follow as well as any calls to action. If your newsletter is sent by email, keep in mind that you will want the most important information to be up top before anyone has to scroll down.

Images, not just text
Whether it’s a linked “Donate Now” or “Sign-up Here” button in an email newsletter or a graphic depicting where your organization is in terms of fundraising for the year in a mailed newsletter, making information visual is a great way to engage your supporters. Concise content is key because it’s important to grab supporter’s attention and that will get them thinking and acting on behalf of the organization.

“Office-keeping” Tips for the New Year: Making a Resolution to Get Organized


With the holidays over and the December rush becoming a distant memory, I find January to be a great month for not only making resolutions but for also doing some “house cleaning”. I try to organize my files, gather paperwork for taxes, sort through clothes, toys and books and put aside ones to donate.

That same “house cleaning” can be very useful for Development and Communications officers at nonprofits. Set aside time this January to do some “office-keeping” and get things in order for a prosperous 2017. Here are some tips:

1) De-Clutter your Image Library

Review the photos and images you keep on file. Those photos that are three years old now? Archive them. Outdated logos or old invitation files cluttering up your folder? Move them to the archive as well. Once you clear out the “photo clutter”, make a list of images you think will powerfully capture your organization and its mission for publications, website and social media. Take photos and then add them to your library.

2) Website Review

Set aside an afternoon, tune into your favorite Pandora station and start reviewing each page of your website. Outdated events? Delete them. Old photos lingering about? Update them. Make sure content is fresh and reflective of your organization’s current goals. Write new content if necessary. Schedule a quarterly review of your site.

3) Tackle Returned Mail

Do you have a pile of address changes growing higher by the minute in your office? Is your email inbox stuffed with e-mails that bounced back? Buckle down and update your database to make sure you are able to reach all your organization’s members and friends.

4)Year in Review

The start of the new year is a great time to share your organization’s activities and achievements of the prior year with individual donors, foundations and corporate supporters. You can produce an annual report—or if your budget does not permit, create an information sheet outlining your successes. Share with stakeholders.

5) Schedule and Goals

Seize the month of January to map out plans. Set your goals and make a schedule of how you will achieve them. Use a calendar, word doc, excel sheet or google doc—anything to capture your plan for the year and timeframe for achieving it.

A little “office-cleaning” can really help get you organized and off to a good start!

From Social Media to Memory

28011015990_8ff191ee0f_mFirst the unfortunate news, as a small nonprofit, the chances of going “viral” in the traditional sense are unlikely. The good news is that there are lessons to take away from the most successful social media campaigns that can help your organization use social media to lead your supporters to action.

Looking at lists of the most influential social media campaigns of 2015, viral hits like #SquattyPotty, GoPro’s Skateboarding Cat and Buzzfeed Tasty made several appearances. So, what lessons can a smaller nonprofit take from these memorable campaigns?

#SquattyPotty was a brilliant and hilariously memorable marketing video. It took an issue that is not usually spoken out-loud and turned it mainstream. Is there an issue that your organization addresses that is difficult to explain or difficult to discuss? Consider engaging board members in creating short videos where they explain the issue the best they know how as the stars of that video. Once the video is made and posted, those board members are more likely to share it with their friends because they were the stars – which means more exposure for your organization.

GoPro’s Skateboarding Cat capitalized on the fact that cats are really popular right now but the takeaway for your organization doesn’t necessarily have to do anything with cats. At its core, GoPro’s Skateboarding Cat took something popular and paired it with user-generated content. Think emojis, think selfies, think guacamole, think pop culture and then help board members and supporters create user-generated content promoting your organization’s latest initiative.

Buzzfeed Tasty has us all wanting to make nacho monkey bread for sure, but the fact that we all WANT to make nacho monkey bread is what made this a powerful campaign. Very short videos like these recipe hacks suit the attention span of social media frequenters. Your organization could use this concept to create videos or quick slideshows of the day to day goings on behind the scenes or of an event. Clocking in at under one minute, content like this is a way to connect with your audience and share what you do.

Cognitive scientist and author Dr. Carmen Simon said To make memory lead to action, we must offer something that our audiences’ brains consider rewarding. Ultimately, the goal of creating social media content like this is to make people want to do something and for non-profits that can mean giving money, giving time, getting more involved. The choice and direction need to fit your organization’s mission and we’d love to talk to you about finding out what your audience values most and how we can help you turn those values in to action.


Master Class


Among the highlights of my undergraduate and graduate years were the small, focused seminar classes on history that yielded great discussions with professors and classmates. There I also refined my academic focus and learned research methodologies. An added bonus was the friendships that blossomed. These seminars strengthened my studies while building a community of colleagues.

This week I was reminded of those seminars when I attended the Brandywine Chapter Association of Fundraising Professional’s April program led by Susan Detwiler on Strategic Planning. I gained new insights, chatted with colleagues, brainstormed with the group and meet new people. It was rejuvenating and brought me back to those seminars I so loved.

In Delaware, we are fortunate to have access to the Brandywine AFP Chapter, which provides programming and networking opportunities for development professionals. It is enriching to participate in discussions, gain knowledge and make connections in our nonprofit community.

As a consultant, my role has changed somewhat than when I was in-house development staff. But these “out of the office” interactions still expand the scope of my work. It is invigorating to hear issues facing nonprofit and development professionals, from large and small institutions, and to participate in an exchange of ideas—much like my days at university.

Shoestring Solutions for Nonprofits will present the May 18 AFP Program, Putting the Pieces Together: Crafting a Development Plan that Works. Check back for program details.

All Laced Up: Think You’re Cut Out For Fundraising? Take This Quiz

by Ellisha Caplan

Question 1Have you got what it takes to be a great fundraiser? Here are a few questions to help you think it through:

1)      Are you passionate about the cause?
If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track.  Some of the best spokespeople for nonprofits are the people who care about them the most.

2)      Are you ethical?
Donors want to know that they can rely on you to be a good steward of their funds, and holding to a code of ethics, such as the AFP’s Code of Ethics, is helpful in making sure you are living up to the values your donors would expect from you.

3)      Are you willing to stand up for what matters to you?
You don’t need to get on a soapbox to stand up for what matters to you, but you do need to educate yourself about your cause and be willing and able to speak intelligently about it to others when the moment arises!

4)      Are you a good listener?
Good listeners make awesome fundraisers!  They are able to really hear and respond to a donor’s interests and concerns in a way that makes the donor feel good and ultimately strengthens the relationship between the donor and the organization.  (Tip: Taking an improv class is an amazing and fun way to hone your active listening skills!)

5)      Do you give in easily?
Hopefully you answered ‘no’ to this question!  Good fundraisers understand that building relationships with donors and getting to ‘yes’ can take some time.  That means being persistent (and consistent) in your efforts!

6)      Are you flexible?
No bending over backwards necessary, but good fundraisers often find themselves setting meetings and events before or after the ‘normal’ 9 to 5 workday.  (And making time for yoga, or running, or whatever keeps you feeling balanced is important to keeping you happy in this kind of existence!)

Well, how’d you do?  If you answered yes to every question but #5, you’ll be a great fundraiser for your cause! Still want some help?  Well, that’s why Shoestring Solutions for Non-Profits exists!  We’d love to talk to you about how to engage with your donors and the greater community.

Photo credit: Betsy Weber

Shoestring Solutions for Nonprofits is passionate about helping small nonprofits meet their mission.  All Laced Up is just a taste of how we can help you gain traction with your constituents, raise funds, and make the most impact with limited resources.  Questions?  Contact us:

5 Simple Tips

Securing Corporate Support

By Lynn Calder

3575000735_6ba08467d9_mAs a nonprofit, you try and secure a variety of funding from different sources. Sponsorships from corporations and businesses make for a great partnership—with added benefits of marketing exposures from your nonprofit for the sponsor.

Securing sponsorships is no easy task. In every community large corporations and small businesses alike received hundreds of requests for sponsorships or donations.

How do you make your nonprofit stand out?

Our five simple tips can help you create a standout package for potential sponsors.

  1. Exposures and Benefits

Look at everything your organization can offer a business in terms of how they can better market themselves to your constituency: signage at events or in your building, logos on apparel, social media exposures, recognition in printed materials, newsletter spotlight, information tables at events and links on your organization’s website. Consider your organization’s tools and opportunities that can present the sponsor to your members and friends.

  1. Create a compelling opportunity

Consider your nonprofit’s events and activities during a calendar year. An annual package for all events may be worthwhile if you have four or less major programs a year. If you have one signature event, break out different aspects of the program for sponsorship opportunities. Then map out your tiered levels of sponsorship and benefits.

  1. “To Go Menu”

Once you determined your sponsorship levels and benefits, it is time to create a compelling piece. Include brief information about your organization’s mission, history and programs. Have a clean and attractive design with images from your events or activities. Make sure you have printed materials that can be handed out to prospects and a PDF that can be emailed and posted on your website. Consider this your “To Go Menu” of sponsor benefits.

  1. Assemble your Dream Team

Personal relationships help secure sponsorships. Cold calling will only get you so far (and probably not far at all). Talk to your board about their recommendations for prospective sponsors and ask if they are willing to reach out to their contacts. Provide them with letters, e-mail scripts and information on the sponsorship opportunities to make “the ask” to their prospects.

  1. Due Diligences

Hooray! Sponsors are secured. What’s next? Be sure that your organization follows through on each of the benefits of sponsorship outlined in your materials. Send sponsors invitations to your programs. E-mail them photos and a thank you after your event. Conscientious follow-up will help ensure that your sponsors return next year.

All Laced Up – Why do you give?

Why Do You Give? Getting to the heart of the matter

By Ellisha Caplan

Volunteers Working PhonesAbout a month ago was the largest fundraising day of the year for the Jewish Federation of Delaware, a cause that is near and dear to my heart.  I went to a phoning session to make calls and ask past supporters to increase their gifts in 2016, and found myself inspired and touched by a question the Director of Development, Wendy Berger included in the talking points she gave all of us.

First, you have to understand that for many of the people who receive calls on this day, it is the one day of the year that an actual human being talks to them about the organization.  Not an ideal situation, but for an organization with a couple of thousand constituents and only two full-time fundraisers, face-to-face conversations just can’t happen the way they might in an ideal world.   When donors pick up the phone, even if they’ve given year after year, it can begin to feel fully transactional.  The caller wants to make the ask, the person on the other end generally wants to get it over with, so will sometimes even urge the caller to stop their spiel about all the good things their donation enabled over the past year, and just send them a bill for the same amount as last year.

This year, Wendy changed things up.  She included the question, “Why do you give to the Federation?” and instead of asking it at the end of the conversation, after a few calls, I started to ask the question before I asked for the gift, to remarkable results.  By asking the people I called to consider why they had been making a donation for 5, 10, 20 years or more, almost all of them had to think for a minute about why they were giving.  For some, it was a feeling of obligation to a family tradition, for others, it was a way of paying forward some helpful thing the organization had done for them in the past, and then there were the people who give because of the person who asks them to each year.  Each time I asked someone why they give before I asked them to make their pledge for the following year, they increased their gift.

In a world where engaging in a meaningful way with donors can be challenging, especially in a non-profit with a small staff, you have to make the most of every opportunity.  Wendy’s question was great in that it elicited heartfelt emotions from the person on the other end of the line, but, at least for me, it also made the callers feel wonderful about the work they are asking people to support.  I could tell my own story about why I care about the organization, and there’s an important place for that in other types of fundraising scenarios, but asking the donors to think about why they already give is a brilliant way to remind them of what inspired their giving in the first place, simultaneously deepening the conversation, and making it much easier to ask for an increase.

(Thanks, Wendy, for inspiring this post!)

Shoestring Solutions for Nonprofits is passionate about helping small nonprofits meet their mission.  All Laced Up is just a taste of how we can help you gain traction with your constituents, raise funds, and make the most impact with limited resources.  Questions?  Contact us:

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