The Psychology of No: How it affects your determination

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, fundraising for the arts, theatre fundraising, Lion King, Russell Brown, Saad&Shaw

Russell Brown

You’re trying to raise money. You know who could provide the funds. You set personal appointments, talk with people in person. You know you have a good project that will make an impact. And all you hear is “no.” When do you give up? Russell Joel Brown heard no 75 times before he got to “yes.”

He could have given up earlier, but he didn’t. It’s just not who he is. A singer, dancer, and actor he didn’t give up when auditioning for Disney’s “The Lion King.” Russell auditioned 10 times over ten years. The “yes” was elusive. He toured the United States, Europe, Mexico, and Japan with “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “Ain’t Misbehavin.’” But each time he auditioned for “The Lion King” the producers couldn’t figure out how to cast him.

A member of the Brown family from Augusta GA Russell is also committed to his parents and siblings. When it came time to care for his father and then his mother he took a break from touring and became a caretaker. He also continued to perform, this time in local productions, fundraisers and cabarets. His unstoppable creativity expressed itself in “From Mozart to Motown” the one-man show he developed in 2002 in Augusta.

It’s one thing to create a show, it’s another thing to secure the resources required to produce it. That’s where Brown’s vision and determined optimism made a difference. After getting his 75th “no” he didn’t give up. Number 76 was Peter Knox, IV, the owner of D Timms Jazz Cafe. Knox said yes, but not as an investor or underwriter. He wanted his cafe to be the sponsor. And so D. Timm’s and Comcast proudly present From Mozart to Motown – An Evening with Russell Joel Brown sold out the Imperial Theatre in Augusta, bringing an integrated audience to Brown’s one-man revue.

Brown is committed to the arts and to ensuring young people can grow their talents. When on the road he takes the time to bring his Project Inspire program to schools and arts organizations. He shares videos from the Lion King, tells his story, and encourages children and youth to focus on their talents. He offers guidance in the business side of life as an actor, talking with them about preparation, reputation and how to negotiate.

Brown is a Morehouse man, and while in college was a member of the Morehouse College Glee Club and Morehouse Quartet. Before that he began his dance training as a young child at the Augusta Ballet School, following in the footsteps of his sister Karen Brown who went on to become the principal ballerina for Dance Theatre of Harlem from 1973 – 1995. His life is committed to theatre and the next generation.

You can reach Brown at .

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Professional development pays dividends

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, training, professional development, nonprofit staff developmentWe were reviewing a proposal for a client this week and noticed in the funder’s guidelines a request for information about the organization’s ongoing training and professional development activities, and the budget for these. Needless to say there was silence in the room. Having worked with organizations for a long time we know that nonprofits are often overwhelmed by the information funders want to see in a proposal. We could feel their pain, and almost read their minds, “What??##@@?!??”

And yet we thought it was an important question: funders want to know the extent to which an organization invests in its people, and builds the capacity to address community needs in an ever-changing environment. People are at the core of the nonprofit sector, and investments in people are a sign of organizational health. Exposing employees and volunteers to best practices encourages each to grow to their highest level.

Don’t let training and professional development be seen as a “cost” by those who seek to keep budgets lean. There’s a flip side: the people you serve, your board members and local stakeholders will all eventually know whether you care about your employees and volunteers or if you don’t. It shows in your strategies, services, and technology. Are you “just getting by” or is your organization thriving. It’s expensive to “save” on training and professional development. The nonprofit “revolving door” is often attributed to employees not feeling valued, not having the tools to be successful, and not having access to training and best practices.

But where does the money come from? It is clear to us that so many organizations – especially those that are grassroots or emerging – often have a difficult time securing funds for operations, let alone professional development. But it must be done. And done with accountability and an eye to being fiscally savvy. Training doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are a few suggestions.

First, invest in webinars. High quality webinars provide opportunities for team members, volunteers and board members to learn together. They reduce travel costs and travel time. For fundraising training consider

Second, determine how the information will be shared prior to investing in online or in-person professional development. How will employees share what they have learned with others? How will a manager or executive know the information was of value, or is being put to use? Decide these things in advance and refine to ensure relevancy.

Remember this: your volunteer leadership can assess whether or not your institution invests in its people. They know because many are also working with other nonprofits, and can make comparisons. When they realize you don’t have the right people in position to do the nonprofit’s work, their attention will drift to other organizations where attention is paid to grooming and growing personnel.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

First time fundraising effort raises $75,000

Todd Robinson, Carnegie Hall, fundraising

Dr. Todd Robinson

Dr. Todd Robinson is a navy pilot and flight surgeon, author, film producer, medical school faculty member, and a practicing physician. He is an MD and a PhD. But until now there was one area in which he had no experience: fundraising.

Here’s the background: Getting ready for the world premier of renowned composer Earnestine Rodgers Robinson’s oratorio “Exodus” required fundraising. Dr. Robinson (Mrs. Robinson eldest son), and family members needed to raise $140,000 to $170,000 to bring 200 diverse choir members to New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The family organized supporters as Chicago Voices United. But, surprisingly, not as an independent 501c3 organization.

“One of the FUNdraising Good Times! articles talked about being creative in looking for funding sources as it pertained to nonprofits. This was very encouraging as we struggled in the early phases. Initially, we used personal funds and a loan as start-up capital for Chicago Voices United. But we quickly realized that we needed the nonprofit status to be more attractive for donations,” Dr. Robinson shared.

Instead of becoming a 501c3 organization, Dr. Robinson asked an existing nonprofit if Chicago Voices United could become a “sponsored project” of that nonprofit. The answer was yes, and months of paperwork and filing fees were saved, allowing the group to focus on their goal: fundraising for choir members.

They launched a website (, attempted crowdsource funding, website marketing, and social media but found each to be “extremely ineffective.”

“We decided to go a different approach. Like the article I read and resonated with, we had to get creative with our fundraising,” Dr. Robinson shared.  “As a result, we decided to pursue industries/companies directly involved in our fundraising needs: hotels and airlines based in Chicago. We figured it would easier for a company to donate their time or services to a home-grown project instead of just forking over cash.”

The results? “Requesting donations in the way of services, we quickly landed a sponsorship from Hyatt who made a donation in the form of “discounted” room prices; and in the world of expensive hotel rates of downtown Manhattan, this was a big win. Now, the price of lodging during the concert event was more within reasonable reach for our average choir member,” Dr. Robinson continued.  “This also made it easier for us to recruit choir members. Recently, United Airlines has expressed interest in making a donation of its services.”

A January “sneak preview” of Exodus in Chicago was well-received, and part of the Robinsons’ fundraising strategy: potential donors and influencers had the opportunity to experience the oratorio and become inspired. Follow up meetings are in progress as we go to press.

Dr. Robinson’s advice: “Constantly monitor your efforts with a critical eye; be adaptive and flexible enough to quickly change directions if needed; and think creative.”

You can donate at or by calling Dr. Robinson at 901-414-3366. Contact him by email at

Read Part One: The “Carnegie Hall or Bust” Fundraiser

Visit for more information about the life and work of Earnestine Rodgers Robinson.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

The “Carnegie Hall or Bust” Fundraiser

Earnestine Robinson, Carnegie Hall, Fundraising

Earnestine Rodgers Robinson, Composer

We were recently caught off guard when Dr. Todd Robinson, a FUNdraising Good Times! reader, shared with us that he raised over $75,000 using information from this column. We had to learn more so we could share his story with you and inspire you to achieve your fundraising goals. We asked Robinson a few questions and with this two part series we share his story with you.

But first, a little background. Dr. Robinson is the son of Earnestine Rodgers Robinson, the renowned, barrier-breaking, classical composer. She has created her third oratorio “Exodus” which will have its world premier at Carnegie Hall in New York City on February 16th. An oratorio, is a large-scale musical work for orchestra and voices, usually based on scripture such as Handel’s Messiah.

The Exodus premier will include 200 choir members from across the country. And so the fundraising question arose: how will the choir members afford the travel and accommodations that accompany this great honor?

We asked Dr. Robinson to share his fundraising needs and goals.

“This started out as a “one-time” project. We needed to raise funds to underwrite the costs of bringing together a 200-member adult and children chorus from around the country for a performance at Carnegie Hall. The members of the choir were being recruited from schools, churches and community choirs. Since the recruitment was primarily “grassroots” in nature (and not some established symphonic choir), all those participating would be responsible for covering all of their costs without the benefit of corporate sponsorship. This meant that each individual would pay a required fee to the Carnegie Hall production company, plus airline travel and the expensive cost of living charges of Manhattan (taxis, food, hotel, etc). Of course, there were other costs outside of the chorus that we needed to cover.”

“Being ‘grassroots’ in nature, we knew that many choir members were dealing with modest budgets,” Robinson continued.  “As a result, the dream of performing on the famed stage would be out of reach for most, especially the children. However, we wanted a multi-cultural choir with members with diverse, varied backgrounds. Therefore, it was our mission that we wanted to make this incredible opportunity a reality for every person who wanted to participate no matter their financial standing.”

The Robinson’s made a pledge to raise the $140,000 to $170,000 needed to make the dream a reality. This became both their mission and their challenge. And then Robinson recalled a FUNdraising Good Times! column that included a discussion of fundraising and creativity.

Next week: More about Dr. Robinson and how he raised $75,000+ without starting a nonprofit.

Visit for more information about the life and work of Earnestine Rodgers Robinson.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

How to determine nonprofit software costs

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, nonprofit technology, nonprofit software, donor software, software evaluation, SaaS, software pricingSoftware is at the heart of so many nonprofit functions. You can’t afford down time. And you don’t want to find out your new system won’t talk to an existing one after its up and running. What’s a nonprofit leader to do? In search of guidance we talked with Janna Finch of Software Advice an online firm that reviews nonprofit technology.

Here’s her suggestion. “Many vendors have developed their products to integrate well with commonly used third-party software—especially accounting programs—so look for a list on their website or ask a sales rep. The vendor’s developers should also know which products integrate well, which integrate with some work and which don’t integrate at all. If the product you’re evaluating doesn’t work with the programs you need, you can choose to operate them independently, evaluate different software, or replace the software you’re currently using with something you know will work with the new software.”

It’s one thing to purchase software, it’s another to manage it. Finch reminded us that the type of person a nonprofit needs to manage their technology “depends on the complexity of the system, your organization’s needs and whether or not the software is hosted on- or off-site. Usually, the larger the organization, the more complex its IT requirements.”

Yet with hosted services such as software as a service (SaaS) smaller organizations don’t have to worry about updates and keeping the system up and running. They now have access to high quality software without the maintenance responsibilities.

But there are still costs, and these are impacted by the pricing model you choose. According to Finch, “Both perpetual license and subscription pricing models have upfront costs, typically set-up and data migration fees. Sometimes new equipment, such as credit card readers, is necessary and that’s also an upfront cost. With regard to the perpetual license model, the license fee is also considered an upfront cost.”

“Beyond upfront costs,” she continued, “you’ll have recurring costs to cover support and upgrades, or, in the case of subscription software, the monthly or annual subscription fee itself.”

There are also annual costs which Finch points out vary wildly depending on a nonprofit’s size and the complexity of its software. Here’s some benchmark information. “The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) determined that the average nonprofit spends 3.2 percent of their budget on technology. The smallest nonprofits can expect to pay, at minimum, about $500 (one-time) for a fundraising and donor management program installed on one computer, or as little as $30 per month for hosted software. Factor in an additional 15 to 20 percent of the annual license cost toward training, support and other costs.”

Take the time to make an informed decision. You can compare software systems and learn more at

Have you read: Three ways to evaluate nonprofit technology

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Three ways to evaluate nonprofit technology

Part one of a two part series

Janna Finch, fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, nonprofit technology, nonprofit software, donor software, software evaluation, Software Advice“The main reason nonprofits look to update or implement technology is to acquire additional functionality that will automate more tasks, which they hope will free up time to work on more strategic projects.” – Janna Finch

Technology plays a critical role in the life of nonprofits, large and small. Accounting, fundraising, social media, admissions, recruitment, ticket sales, and human resources are only a few of the areas that depend on technology solutions. To help you navigate the maze of software solutions we interviewed nonprofit market researcher Janna Finch. She works with Software Advice, a donor management and fundraising tech resource for nonprofits.

Here are Finch’s three suggestions for software evaluation.

  1. “Most importantly, write down what you and the people who will use the software need it to do. Be specific. “Automatically generate 3,000 annual giving statements and email them to recipients,” “support recurring donations,” “integrate with our current fund accounting software,” and “allow 11 staff members and volunteers to access the system at the same time” are examples of how specific you should get.”
  2. “Learn about the types of pricing models offered by software vendors and calculate the total cost of ownership (TCO). The two most common pricing models are perpetual license and subscription. With a perpetual license, you typically pay a larger amount upfront to cover the license and set-up fees, then a smaller amount (around 20 percent of the license cost) annually for periodic upgrades and support. With subscription pricing, those same costs are spread out and paid for in smaller amounts monthly or annually for as long as you use the software. Subscriptions often start around $50 a month, but can scale much higher.”
  3. “Finally, you need to make sure that everyone who will use software can use it. To do this, take advantage of vendors’ demos and free trials to give the software a test-drive before committing. It may look like the perfect solution on paper, but hands-on experience may uncover that it has a learning curve greater than expected. If that’s the case, look at different software or add training costs to your budget.”

But, how do you know when to migrate to another platform? Here’s what Finch has learned from working with buyers. “There are a few situations when you should consider scrapping what you’ve got for a new vendor or product. The most obvious time is when a vendor goes out of business or stops supporting the product you’re using. Another is when your operations have outgrown the software’s capabilities and your options for customizing it are limited or cost prohibitive. Nonprofit professionals I talk to sometimes mention that unhelpful or unpleasant customer support is the reason they’re considering a switch.”

Next week: how to determine nonprofit software costs

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Recommit to fundraising

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, commitment, fundraising commitment formIs fundraising at the top of your to-do list for 2015? Are you ready to recommit to help ensure the vitality of your nonprofit or college? Will you sign your fundraising commitment form again? What?!? Your organization doesn’t use one? Now is the time to change that. Here are three suggestions for how you can make a difference in your organization’s fundraising.

If you are a fundraising or development professional: Review the commitment forms that board members completed last year. Set up a time to meet with each member to review and plan for 2015. Meeting in person is ideal, but a phone or video meeting could work well too. Ask each to rate their fundraising participation for the prior year. Ask what worked well, and what didn’t. Inquire about training that could help increase their involvement. Let each know you are available to partner and support their efforts. Ask each to recommit for 2015. If your board doesn’t use a fundraising commitment form, now is the time to introduce this. Most likely there will be resistance. That is a good thing: you want to grow into a board where members are proud to give and fundraise. Introducing a formal commitment form can start a catalytic conversation.

If you are the chair of the board development committee: Meet with members to assess your commitment as a committee, and to assess the board’s commitment to fundraising. What is working? What strategies or activities were most successful? Are there problem areas that impede fundraising? What needs to be addressed in the new year for the board to take on a larger role in fundraising? Is there a specific project or fundraising priority the board can take on? If the board is not yet a “fundraising board” what activity can be introduced in 2015 to move in that direction? Don’t be afraid to set a specific amount as a goal. A defined goal (with a timeframe) allows you to measure progress. Be sure to measure!

If you are the CEO of a nonprofit or the president of a college: Commit to your role as the chief fundraising officer. You may have a development director or even an advancement department, but at the end of the day you are the person responsible for the organization’s or institution’s bottom line. Review your calendar and make time for cultivation and solicitation activities with potential major donors and supporters. Schedule time to meet with your top fundraising/development person. Ask “what do you need to be successful,” listen to the response, and work together towards success. Set your own fundraising goal: determine how much you will personally raise in the coming year and secure the involvement of those who can help you reach that goal.

Your commitment will show up on the bottom line!

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Five ways to attract media attention

Gaining Media Attention, fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, media relations Will 2015 be the year your nonprofit is highlighted in news stories and feature pieces? Will those who could benefit from the work of your organization read about you in the newspaper, see a story on TV, or listen to an interview on the radio? The media could “somehow” find out about your organization and decide to cover it. Or you could dedicate time and resources to cultivating media. Here are four things to consider when engaging the media in 2015

  1. Meet with the editorial board of your local paper. If you are looking for TV or radio exposure, meet with the station’s management. To secure this meeting, call the editor or station manager and request a time to meet. If your organization has a marketing person on staff, he or she should secure the meeting. If you don’t, ask a member of the board who has marketing experience or a relationship with the media to make the call. If you are without this resource, the executive director should request the meeting.
  2. During the meeting make the case for your organization, share your impact, and your plans for the coming year. Ask about their guidelines for how to share news about your nonprofit. Request assistance in creating awareness for your organization, its programs and events. Ask for their criteria when covering an organization such as yours. Who should you contact? How much lead time is required? What constitutes a good news story and what types of feature stories are they looking for? Be prepared to honestly answer questions they may ask of you, especially those that may be uncomfortable.
  3. Bring your media kit. Your kit should contain your case for support, annual report, program highlights, testimonials, and an annotated board list. It should also include a calendar of upcoming events such as fundraisers, lecture series, performances, receptions, and visits by people of note. As appropriate, include a list of the businesses and organizations you partner with, and any honors and awards.
  4. Be prepared. The executive director, board chair, top development person and top marketing person should attend the meeting. All should be prepared. Create an agenda and determine what role each person will play.
  5. Follow up. Keep your media contacts apprised of key staff changes and promotions, new board members and upcoming events. If you have expertise on a topic in the news, let them know you are available as a resource. Invite reporters to visit your organization to learn more.

Building media relationships takes time. You have to build a relationship with the media same as you would with a potential donor or board member. Get organized and integrate media relations into your work plan. Build a partnership that creates awareness and provides accountability.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Nonprofit assessment task force

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, nonprofit assessmentYour 2015 secret to success: an assessment taskforce

We often start the new year with enthusiasm and high expectations, and yet by year-end so many of our great plans are unfulfilled. Will 2015 be another year of doing the same thing and expecting different results, or will this truly be a new year?

Here’s a suggestion for nonprofits who want to focus on different results: create a short-term assessment task force to review your planning processes and the people and resources available to implement your plans.

Your task force should be a small, focused working group comprised of people who are committed to

your organization but not currently involved in its operations. Task force members could include a major donor, past program participant, a new board member, or a local business person or faculty member. What you don’t want is a task force comprised of the executive director, development director, and board chair. You want fresh eyes on the organization. Those who are at “arms length” can ask questions and make suggestions without the knowledge or “baggage” that comes from knowing “we tried that three years ago” or “the board would never approve that” or “we can’t afford that.”

Members will look at your organization with the goal of helping you achieve your goals.

Four steps for task force members.

Step one. Review the organization’s strategic plan; fundraising plan; and marketing, communications and social media plan. Look at program descriptions, goals, objectives, outcomes and impact; and financial reports and fundraising reports. If the nonprofit is an educational institution, review recruitment, enrollment, retention, and graduation reports. Look at demographics of communities served and their identified and emerging needs.

Step two. Create a list of questions that arise during the review. Add to the list as you contemplate the documents holistically. What’s missing? Where are the redundancies? Individual questions should be shared with fellow task force members. What are the common themes that arise?

Step three. Meet individually with the executive director or president, fundraising leadership, program directors, accountants or bookkeepers, board members, clients or students and others who you believe can provide insights and answer questions.

Step four. Create a list of things for the nonprofit to consider. These suggestions can include short and long term suggestions: all should focus on how to help the organization best deliver on its mission and vision. No more than one page.

Two things for nonprofits to remember. First, this is a small, short-term task force so keep the group to no more than seven people, and don’t let the process drag on: the work should be completed in a month if possible. Second, while you don’t have to adopt all or any of the suggestions you will have a new look at what you are doing and how you could be more successful.

Happy New Year!

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.

Nonprofit dating game

fundraising, FUNdraising Good Times, nonprofit partnership, nonprofit collaboration, evaluationThe holiday mistletoe, love songs, and New Year’s Eve parties conjure up the allure – and the drama – of dating. Who are you dating? Who do you want to be dating? Who will you be dating in 2015? And, if you’re married, how will you reaffirm your marriage in 2015?

What does all this have to do with nonprofits and fundraising? Well, we want you to have a happy love life, and we want you to enjoy your nonprofit relationships, especially your partnerships and collaborations. While there is a lot of pressure this time of year to be in a relationship, that isn’t always the right thing for everybody. Healthy relationships are characterized by love and mutual respect. There’s also pressure for nonprofits to partner and collaborate, but as with people, it has to be a right fit.

The end of the year is a good time to reassess, recommit or plan for a mutually agreeable dissolution. Consider the following as you make your assessment: what were the objectives of the relationship when it began? Have the initial expectations been met? Did the relationship help your nonprofit increase revenue? Did it help reduce costs through joint purchasing or shared resources such as facilities, personnel, services, or joint fundraising? Were you able to allocate the time and personnel required for the collaboration to thrive, or did these relationships tax your organization in terms of time and money? Were they more of a distraction than a benefit? Were these relationships like a planned marriage, begun with the encouragement of a foundation or funder? Has a love grown? Or did mutual attraction ignite both parties from the beginning?

While mutually beneficial, well-managed partnerships and collaborations can put your nonprofit at the head of the class, those that are a burden or take your nonprofit off course should be reevaluated. You may not have formed the right relationship. Related to this, it is okay if you are not a part of a partnership or collaboration, especially if such a relationship isn’t in line with your vision or if a prospective partner just isn’t a match. Being in the wrong relationship can be more of a negative than a plus if all parties are not in sync.

Here are our thoughts. Aim for mutual benefit. Question your motives: is the partnership for show, or for real? What is the substance of the relationship? Do your collaborations help your organization meet its goals and bring its mission to life? What about the goals and mission of your collaborators? Has the relationship changed over time? Is the vision that brought you together one that continues to inspire all parties, or are you staying together “for the children” (i.e. for a funder)?

Whether your nonprofit is single, dating or married make the most of the coming year.

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.