Category Archives: People

People who make fundraising come alive!

Home Sweet Veterans Home

Honor VeteransIn 2010, we visited the Veterans Home of Yountville in the heart of scenic Napa Valley at the request of the California Veterans Support Foundation. This was our first exposure to a state veterans home and we were impressed. We learned that disabled and elderly California veterans could live at the home and receive the medical, social, and therapeutic services they need in a community that supports and honors veterans. The grounds were breathtaking. The foundation was considering a fundraising campaign for the veterans home. One of their priorities was to fund programs for returning women veterans.

A year later our father, Colonel B. Shaw, was no longer able to live independently. We were referred to the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Humboldt. “The Colonel” spent the last two years of his life supported by a top-notch medical and support team: we couldn’t recommend a better facility or better caregivers.

Earlier this year we met a group of dedicated volunteers who want to ensure that veterans from the Memphis, TN area have access to the services of a veterans home that is close to their family, friends and community. They founded The West Tennessee Veterans Home, Inc., and have set out to secure the money and land required to build a state veterans home to serve the 75,000 local veterans.

We mention these three experiences to encourage you to support the veterans in your family and your community. If your spouse or family member needs specialized medical care talk with your nearest state veterans home. These homes know how to care for veterans with devastating injuries and disabilities. They also support older veterans who need nursing home care. Veterans who are cared for at a state veterans home receive $97.07 per day towards the cost of their care. This benefit is awarded to them for their service and cannot be used at a private nursing home. This means that veterans who need full time, year-round care save $35,000 when cared for at a state veterans home. Learning about the Tennessee State Veterans Home was a god-send for our family: it could be the answer your family is seeking.

If your community is not served by a state veterans home, enlist the support of veterans and community leaders to explore the feasibility of raising funds and securing the land required to build one. The federal government will provide 65% of the building costs when a local community secures 25 acres of land and 35% of the cost to build.

Finally, if your community has a state veterans home, visit your veterans. Talk with those who work at the home to find out if they need additional funds to increase the quality of care provided. If funds are needed, encourage your community to raise the money.

Learn more about state veterans homes and their locations across the country at the National Association of State Veterans Homes.

You can make a difference!

Photo Credit: Lester Public Library

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.



Encouraged and optimistic: If you build it they will come … good business model?

Part three of a three part series

Grace Stanislaus

Photo credit: Rodger Allen.

The African American and African Diaspora museums and cultural institutions that have emerged across the United States are a testimony to perseverance.  At the same time they, like many other cultural institutions, face many challenges. Nonprofit CEO, capacity building consultant, master strategist and cultural arts worker Grace C. Stanislaus recently shared her perspectives on African American and African Diaspora giving, philanthropy, and the role of cultural and arts institutions.

“Our present level of giving to social justice, civil rights, poverty, health, education, and other social and political causes, and to the arts, is truly remarkable. Our giving to the arts is especially remarkable given the systematic denigration of our contributions to American and world culture, and decades of exclusion from art history books and from mainstream museums.”

“Yet coupled with our remarkable progress are challenges,” Stanislaus continued. “One challenge is the dramatic scale up in the size of the architectural edifices we’ve built in the past several decades to house our art and to tell our stories.  We’re suffering from the disparity between the increase in the economy of scale and the economic reality of what’s required to operate and sustain these multimillion dollar facilities.  The “if you build it they will come” approach as a business model doesn’t work without strong financial and operational foundations such as endowments or reserves.  It certainly doesn’t work when marketing funds are inadequate to nonexistent, and development departments are inadequately staffed.”

“In general our institutions experience a lack of diversity of funding sources and an over-reliance on a small and over tapped community of funders,” she continued. “We need to focus on building high performing boards that in their makeup represents the diversity of our society and whose members deeply understand their role in bringing the right balance of wealth, wisdom and work to the equation.”

“More time and resources have to be put into cultivating the philanthropic/giving culture among members of our African American and African Diaspora communities, old and young.  We need to recognize the changing climate of philanthropy in general, and find new and entrepreneurial approaches to sustaining and growing these valuable institutions.”

She ended the interview with a focus on the future, saying, “I’m encouraged when our museums establish young professional affiliate groups.  While we continue to aggressively cultivate and expand our current donor base, and to establish planned giving programs, we must prepare a future generation of members, patrons, board members, angel investors, impassioned volunteers and ambassadors to take stewardship of our museums.  The Studio Museum in Harlem has its Contemporary Friends program, MoAD has its dynamic MoAD Vanguard, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture is ahead of the curve in establishing its Ambassadors program. We have fought for our institutions; we now need to strategically ensure their survival and growth.”

Contact Grace C. Stanislaus at

Part One: Encouraged and optimistic: African American philanthropy and museums

Part Two: Encouraged and optimistic: Pressing Questions, limited resources and support of the arts

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 @saadshaw.

Encouraged and optimistic: Pressing Questions, Limited Resources and Support of the Arts

Part two of a three part series

Grace Stanislaus

Photo credit: Rodger Allen.

“While our museums face many challenges, there are as many opportunities.   Collectively we need to determine what steps we’re prepared to take and how aggressive we’re prepared to be to ensure the current and future relevancy and sustainability of our museums.”

That’s how Grace C. Stanislaus, former Executive Director of the Museum of the African Diaspora and former President and CEO of the Romare Bearden Foundation, sums up the future of African American museums and cultural institutions.

Knowing that foundations, corporations and philanthropists often want to see support from those directly impacted before making an investment, we asked Stanislaus if she finds that African American communities support local and national museums.

“In general, yes.  Members of the African American and the African Diaspora communities have supported and continue to support our museums.  The many regional and national museums and cultural centers that have been established over the past decades attest to it.  And the impressive support that continues to move the long held dream of a National Museum of African American History and Culture to fruition affirms it.  But, it’s a qualified yes.  It requires that we broaden the definition of support beyond merely financial and that we include in our considerations the many socio-political and economic factors that impact charitable giving among African Americans.

“Statistically African Americans make more charitable donations of their income per year than whites despite the fact that over the past several decades the wealth gap between blacks and whites has become a nearly unbridgeable chasm.  This is the case even between middle income white households and high income African Americans – the result of many factors, but primarily of ongoing discrimination and unfair practices.”

“The pressing questions are: Where does support for the arts fall on the list of priorities as the wealth disparity gap widens and as African Americans fall behind in wealth and legacy building and move ahead in debt accumulation?   At what juncture does support for museums and other cultural institutions enter into the dialogue as critical decisions are made about saving for college education, weathering a prolonged period of unemployment, paying for health insurance and care giving, planning for retirement, and supporting extended family members and unemployed friends?

Today many of our nonprofit cultural organizations, museums, cultural centers and theaters across the nation are facing financial challenges because the level of support needed to assure their long term financial, operational and programmatic sustainability is simply not in place.  Many if not most have no to nominal endowments and not enough cash reserve to operate without distress.  While this is not specific to African American museums, it’s particularly impactful on our organizations when coupled with other social and economic challenges facing our communities.”

Part One: Encouraged and optimistic: African American philanthropy and museums

Next week: Encouraged and optimistic: If you build it they will come…good business model

Photo credit: Rodger Allen

Contact Grace C. Stanislaus 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 @saadshaw.

Nonprofit success: more than “feel good”

Part two of a two part interview…View part one here

Mike Bruns www.fundraisingggodtimes.comSuccess in business is not enough. In fact, nonprofit involvement –and giving – can be a greater “buzz” than continued business growth. “After becoming reasonably able to share, a person realizes that the buzz you get from sharing can be greater than the buzz you get from daily life in business. Ten percent growth year-after-year doesn’t always equal the buzz of giving ten percent to the community.” That’s the experience of Mike Bruns, founder of Comtrak Logistics, a national transportation and logistics company headquartered in Memphis.

“The true donor misses the boat if they don’t get just as much back in their heart, meeting people and making friends,” Bruns continued.  “Involvement brings satisfaction – it makes the donor feel good.  I was chair of Youth Villages for so many years, and they did as much for me as I could ever do for the organization.”

Youth Villages, also headquartered in Memphis, is a leading national nonprofit dedicated to providing the most effective local solutions to help emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families live successfully.

“Youth Villages grew as a result of a wonderful culture, incredible leadership team, and a management team that knew this was a business. Nonprofit is more than a feel-good. Many stall out because the person who started the organization didn’t surround themselves with good business people. At Youth Villages the leadership surrounded themselves with business people who helped them run the organization like a business, but not at the expense of their passion. They serve 60,000 young people and they measure everything.  ‘Feel good’ doesn’t last long if the business model doesn’t work.”

That goes for the board as well. The biggest challenges Bruns has experienced arise when board members don’t know what is expected of them. “That has to be done on the front end. You can’t read a board manual to people. You need to explain their job description, financial expectations, and share with them why they were recruited. They have to become involved with the organization and passionate about it. Board members who are engaged and feel a part of something come to meetings. This solves the problem some boards have where they spend almost half their time worrying about the best time to get attendance. As board chair I focused on getting engagement. So many boards operate without engagement.”

Bruns closed with his perspective on board members’ reluctance to fundraise. “When a board member is not prepared, and is not personally passionate, the gifts he solicits become a ‘trap’ wherein he now ‘owes’ an equal gift to the donor’s nonprofit of choice.” The solution: “Be prepared and sell the nonprofit on its merits; then people give to the organization and not to you. You then are free to make your gifts based on merit too.”

You can’t sell what you don’t know

Part one of a two part interview with Mike Bruns

Mike Bruns www.fundraisingggodtimes.comMike Bruns possesses the characteristics of an ideal board member: deeply engaged with the organizations he supports, generous as a donor, and he treats his nonprofit involvement with the same seriousness he applies to business ventures. He has a great sense of humor, a kind heart and a warm smile. He’s also the founder of Comtrak Logistics, a national transportation and logistics company headquartered in Memphis, and chairman emeritus of Youth Villages, a national nonprofit. We recently talked with Bruns to learn the secrets to his success as a nonprofit volunteer leader.

We asked what he looks for in a nonprofit when deciding whether or not to become involved. His response was straight-forward, “I do not want to be a part of an organization that is a fixer-upper, or is trying to make payroll by Friday. I want to support organizations who want to grow to the next level. The ‘heart tug’ is always trumped by an organization that is well run. With a well run organization I can work with other board members to help grow it to the next level.”

It’s not that he is opposed to the “heart tug.” In fact, Bruns is passionate about the organizations he is involved with. “I truly believe in the organizations I become a part of. And I expect that of fellow board members. There’s nothing worse than leadership that is begrudging or ‘resume building.’ The secret to success lies in the passion of the leadership.”

Equally straight-forward were his comments regarding expectations of fellow board members in the area of fundraising. He cited the lack of board giving as the number one obstacle to fundraising success. “There’s nothing worse than a board member soliciting money and they haven’t made a meaningful gift. It doesn’t always have to be all money – it can be meaningful giving of time. But they have to believe in the organization and be engaged.”

Comparing fundraising to sales, Bruns was critical of board members who are not qualified to “sell the product.” For that he places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of leadership, “What is the orientation? Without proper training, orientation, knowledge, feeling and involvement a board member can’t ‘sell’ the nonprofit to potential donors. You can’t sell what you don’t know or believe in.”

Next week: Nonprofit success: more than “feel good”

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 @saadshaw.

Donor Research

Start by asking “why?”

Part three of three part series on transformational giving

Warren BuffetDo major gifts to nonprofits fall from the sky, or are they more typically the result of deep commitment, relationships, and the ability to use the tools and data available to nonprofits? We asked Barbara Pierce, founder of Transformative Giving, about how donor research supports transformational giving.

“Since a transformational gift is one that can move the nonprofit to a different level of operating, it will be a large gift by necessity,” she began.  “Donor research will identify those donors capable of such a gift so you can focus your cultivation efforts with an aim toward deepening relationships with a small number of top donors.  We are all limited by time so you need to prioritize.  Donor research allows you to make these choices based on data.”

We closed our interview with Pierce asking her to reflect on her experience and share what she has found to be the factors that influence major donor’s largest gifts.

“There is so much talk around evaluation and donors do want to know you have a method of determining progress.  Beyond these basics, donors making their largest gifts based on advancing the causes that mean the most to them personally and that express their most deeply held values.  They are not choosing the organization based solely on their metrics,” Pierce commented.

“The desire to leave a legacy beyond their financial success is what I have found influences donors the most. They have more money than they need according to their own standards and they want to make an impact on something bigger than themselves.  While it can be a planned gift, transformational gifts are often while the person is alive—the transformation goes both ways in that the donor is changed also through the process.”

She shared an experience of visiting with a very prominent venture capitalist who was known to be rather hard-edged.  She was armed with reams of data in anticipation of his questions.    “I was surprised he was taking the time to see us and I asked why he cared about this environmental cause.  He turned to a photo of his children and said, ‘all of this doesn’t matter if my children can’t enjoy the same beauty that I have been so lucky to know.’  If I hadn’t asked ‘why,’ we would’ve missed out on an opportunity to understand what drives him to make transformational gifts.”

This led to Pierce’s closing remarks and the topic of working with people who can give at the highest levels: “You need to start with the most basic question of ‘why?’  Otherwise, you may be making a lot of assumptions about what they care about most and gearing your pitch based on your thinking versus theirs.”

Visit Barbara Pierce 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 @saadshaw.


How to engage major donors

Part two of three part series on transformational giving

Giving Pledge

Photo credit: Fortune Magazine

Why does one nonprofit receive $1,000 from a donor when another receives $1 million? What is the difference between fundraising and the process of securing transformational gifts? To get some answers we talked with Barbara Pierce, founder of Transformative Giving.

Pierce got right to the point: “Transformational gifts come out of a partnership with a donor, built on a common goal that neither the donor nor the organization can accomplish on their own.   Fundraising is about getting gifts to meet a budget; transformative giving is about achieving a vision.  Without fundraising and the financial foundation it provides, you cannot engage in transformative giving.”

She elaborated further, sharing what it means to be “donor focused.” “Usually, nonprofits are driven by their own budget on their own timeline, i.e. fiscal year, solicitation cycle, board meeting schedule,” she began.  “To be donor focused is to focus on the donor’s timeline versus your own.   Most transformative gifts take more than a year to transpire but too many organizations forfeit a larger, more meaningful gift for a smaller, immediate one to fit their own calendar.”

“When you are donor-centric, you don’t think in terms of ‘they should give us X; they are really rich,’ which is something I’ve heard many times.   You also have an attitude of exploring common areas of interest versus believing you have to ‘educate’ donors on all aspects of your organization before they are qualified to play a meaningful role in your discussions.”

“Institutionally, it is an approach that says, ‘we want to understand who our donors are, what drives their decisions and what type of involvement is important to them,’ Pierce continued. “Any successful for-profit company takes a deep interest in understanding who their customers are and how they can be of service to them.  I see this as a critical gap in nonprofits engaging with those donors most able to make a transformative gift.”

Vision, leadership, capacity, stewardship. These are at the core of successful nonprofit fundraising. They are magnified and held to a higher standard when talking with individuals who can give at the highest levels. How donors are perceived and treated can impact if and when they make a meaningful investment.

“I believe one of the biggest factors that impede groups from attracting such gifts is their lack of interest or ability to see donors as partners versus a source of funds, Pierce advised.  “There are a lot of assumptions about ‘rich people’ among many nonprofit staff members, including the idea that a donor will have undue influence on the organization’s mission if they accept a large gift.  People don’t make transformative gifts to organizations that aren’t already embracing a vision they both hold in common.”

Next week: Part Three – Start by asking “why?”

Visit Barbara Pierce 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 @saadshaw.

Transformative Giving

Philanthropy makes front page news with the announcement of large, transformational gifts. Think Bill Gates. Oprah Winfrey. Warren Buffet. With the news comes the question “What would it take for us to receive such a gift?” This three-part series seeks to provide insights that can help nonprofits begin a conversation that may itself be transformational

Barbara Pierce www.fundraisinggoodtimes.comWe recently asked Barbara Pierce, founder of Transformative Giving, to share her experience working with donors who give transformational gifts. Pierce works with local and national nonprofits who want to grow their major gifts programs. She has experience soliciting gifts ranging from $10,000 up to $10 million. Her comments can stimulate conversation and an examination of how your institution or organization approaches fundraising, and those who can make transformational gifts.

We asked Pierce what guidance she would offer to an organization or institution who wants to secure transformational gifts, and she got right to the point. “You need to be able to answer, without hesitation, what you would do if a donor gave you a million dollar gift. It is harder to answer than you might first think. If you don’t have a vision, don’t expect visionary gifts,” she said.

That’s a strong message. And we totally agree with Pierce. Those who can give at the highest levels want to know your vision, how you would deploy a major investment. Pierce continued, “You also need to have the organizational capacity to take advantage of such a large gift. I use the word transformative because such a gift will transform an organization and if you aren’t ready, it can take you off course, possibly in the wrong direction.”

She also highlighted the need to have your financial house in order before focusing on transformational giving. “You have to be financially sustainable before you can take advantage of a transformational gift. This type of gift allows you to move beyond “we’re surviving” to a point where you are thriving. As an organization, you have to demonstrate your capacity to steward a transformational gift. Nonprofits need to have the business knowledge of how to ramp up in terms of institutional capacity and implement a plan for the vision that the donor is funding.”

Transformational donors look closely at your institution’s leadership. “The first things to be satisfied before someone will consider a major investment in your group is a belief in the management of your organization. They want to know and trust your executive director or president and your board. These donors are people who have made smart decisions in earning and investing money. They want to know such a gift will make a lasting impact, and that means it will be well managed.”

Next week: Part Two. Are you interested in donors or their money?

Visit Barbara Pierce at

Social Capital

Patricia Brandes“Trusting relationships and reflection/rejuvenation are required for building strong networks and collaborations.” That’s the word from Patricia Brandes, executive director of the Barr Foundation. She didn’t say more funding, more collaboration, lower expenses or greater impact. She focuses on the three R’s – relationships, reflection and rejuvenation.

We had the opportunity to hear Brandes speak recently, and she encouraged the audience to value “being” as well as “doing”, acknowledging that “doing” is our culture’s more highly prized verb. Focusing on “being vs. doing” she asked “which will really move a nonprofit forward? Which really supports relationships? Where and how is trust built?”

While many funders invest in “doing” the Barr Foundation invests in “being.” It offers local nonprofit leaders the opportunity to answer the above questions through a fellows program Brandes launched in 2005. The Barr Fellowship is a leadership network designed to celebrate, connect, and empower diverse leaders across Boston.

The fellows program provides three-month paid sabbaticals for Boston nonprofit leaders. Each “fellow” can experience the 3 R’s: no work for three months. No calling in, no emails…. The one requirement: participate in two week-long group learning journeys to locations such as South Africa and Zimbabwe, Brazil, and Haiti.

Back at the nonprofit, board members and employees have to operate without their known leader. This provides new opportunities for interim leaders and the Barr Foundation helps out here too, providing these leaders with peer support and facilitated learning environments. The foundation has found that employees and board members step up in unexpected ways while their leader is on sabbatical.

This fellows program is an example of what Brandes calls “creative disruption.” A sabbatical is highly prized – but awfully disruptive! No more business as usual for the nonprofit, and even more importantly, for the leader. When on sabbatical leaders confront “being” as their primary experience. This often leads to personal discovery and recommitment to what brought them to work in the nonprofit sector in the first place. The group learning journeys take this change process to another level, bringing leaders together across differences and boundaries. As they share time unstructured time together fellows have the opportunity to “be” together and in that process build trust. These trusting relationships later inform new and deeper levels of partnership and collaboration.

Over time the deep value of this fellowship expresses itself. Boston now has a rich network of diverse leaders who have sustained relationships over the years, built social capital, and remained in the nonprofit sector. The foundation found that five years after their sabbatical, 75% of fellow were still at their organizations, 92% were still active in the civic sector in Boston, and 92% were still active in the civic sector nationally.

The results are radically different from the turnover and burnout experienced within many nonprofits. Investment anyone?

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 @saadshaw.

The Power of Women Fundraisers

 Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art. Fundraising Role Model.

Dr. Johnnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. Fundraising Role Model.

Women are role models in so many sectors of our economy, and the nonprofit sector is no exception. In honor of women’s history month we salute women who step up to the challenge of raising money for nonprofit organizations and institutions they believe in. Their leadership and vision impact the lives of individuals, families, communities, regions and our nation as a whole.

We want to encourage more women to become fundraisers, and to grow their fund development capabilities. We want women to seek fundraising positions at the highest levels, and to inspire their peers to join them.

We share with you the characteristics we have observed amongst successful women fundraisers. The following are by no means definitive, or exclusive: they are simply based on our observations over the years.

First and foremost successful women fundraisers are not afraid to ask. They are fearless in asking for money, resources, guidance, help and time. They are confident in who they are as a person, and are not intimidated by people of power, wealth and influence. They are risk takers who are not afraid to fail. At the same time they always have a “plan b” and a “plan c” in case their original plan falters.

Speaking of plans, they are big on planning. They pay attention to detail, and they excel at follow-through. They are well prepared, and don’t “wing it.” They are collaborators who look for opportunities that will advance their donors, board members and volunteers.

They truly like people and seek to bring people together to advance organizations they believe in. When they bring people together they know how to manage them, how to bring out their best talents and abilities. Their passion is real: it’s not something they are paid to project. Rather, their leadership springs from their belief in the mission and vision of the organizations they are involved with.

Talented fundraisers we have known are listeners. They are willing – and able – to listen more than they talk. On the whole, they live a balanced lifestyle and are energized: they exude an energy you can feel. They attend to their physical and emotional health knowing that doing so gives them an edge. They are big on professional development and growth for themselves and the teams they manage. They are not satisfied with current success.

They have no problem sharing the limelight. They are willing to take a back seat and let others enjoy the limelight, for they know that their success lies in donors and volunteers giving and giving generously. They love the challenges of fundraising, and have no issues talking about money. They understand that they are facilitators and not the focal point. Successful fundraisers are valued and in high demand. They orchestrate leadership teams who secure the money and resources that bring the visions of nonprofits to life. We salute you!

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 @saadshaw.