It’s a technological twister, SEOhmy!

Pixels, impressions, interactions, CPC, SEOh my!   

In the whirlwind of information and connection that results from living in the age of the internet, your donors are not JUST in Kansas anymore (even if they are, indeed, in Kansas). The web and social media platforms have made it easier to reach donors, but have also necessitated a shift in nonprofit communication strategies.

The terms that we used to open up this post should be common language at your organization, despite the fact that ten years ago many of them didn’t  exist. Change comes quickly in the social media world, and organizations need to prioritize digital market research to stay on top of trends and discover how best to appeal to your audience “screen to face”. Even if you are an organization that relies on donors who give regularly upon receiving their annual newsletter or appeal, hard mailings aren’t going to cut it for the future generations.  Appeals need to be bolstered by high quality digital content targeted towards your specific donors.

Consider how much information you take in a day. It is possible (and can sometimes be easy) to do too much in the way of social media campaigns. The key is to make very engaging, memorable content that people actually want to see, not necessarily because they love your organization but because it is funny, trendy, or intriguing. If you can consistently draw in donors in this manner, you build the relationship.

Bridging the Generational Divide

Okay, so maybe you understand the value of social media in your role within the organization. But what about the executive director, who may happen to be a bit older?

First off, you’re not alone. One of our clients kicked off construction of a new building, so naturally a Hammer-time-themed meme made its way onto our content calendar. Upon reviewing posts for the week, the client asked us to “take that Hammer guy off.”

A “stop, hammer time” pun isn’t for everyone and maybe it won’t resonate with the 60+ crowd. But this misses the larger point: trendy, topical and fun content may not resonate with you personally, but it is an effective means of engaging with a future generation who may eventually become your major donors.

It is critical to advocate for the effective use of social media, and we have found the best way to do this is by demonstrating what content engages the largest number of people (get on those facebook/twitter results & google analytics, people!) If you can show your manager/ED/etc. the proven success of fun content, they stand a better chance of understanding that a social media feed shouldn’t be a listing of organization events or donation requests and definitely should not be longer than two sentences.

As anyone curating their content post by post on Instagram to develop a following will tell you, social media is an investment. The payoff is not an immediate influx of dollars, but it is building of brand on a platform on which to make customers (or donors, in this case) feel important. This sense of connection to the organization is what eventually allows you to gain traction and retain donors.

Questions? Anecdotes? Need to vent about the under-appreciation of social media? Email us!

let the ball do the work

Let the ball do the work

In any ball game (soccer, basketball, volleyball) there’s a common saying; let the ball do the work. Translated to the business world, you get “work smarter, not harder.” The concept of working strategically in order to conserve time and energy for “the big plays” can be seen in any soccer match, and can also be observed in any successful company.

Thoughtful use of time and systems, if embraced in the nonprofit sector, can reduce cost and free up valuable staff time. Too frequently people keep repeating variations of the same task, in large part because “that’s the way it’s always been done,” instead of increasing productivity.

Stop running the same play over and over again

One common theme is recording an excess of information in multiple places. Organizations we know spend valuable hours duplicating entries in Quickbooks (QB) in addition to their fundraising database. Instead of batch-entering donations into one income account, they enter each check separately to denote the name, check number and sometimes donor information.

QB has made accounting and bookkeeping much simpler in the last 20 or so years, but it is not a donor database and does not have the functionality you need to track donors over the long term in an efficient and effective way. In this case, the time wasted on data entry in QB is disproportionate to the number of times you will realistically assess that data in QB rather than in your database.

Stay ahead of the game

A great example of a strategic implementation that saves time and money is the transition to digital acknowledgements for online donations. Through a customized embedded giving platform, donors can enter their info and then receive an email acknowledgement immediately after that serves as their tax-deductible receipt- no printing, no stamps, no cost to the organization, it’s all taken care of right then and there (this is something we can help set up!). Added bonus: requiring email addresses to send the acknowledgement builds up your email list.

Although we are big proponents of double-checking, repeating work does an injustice to your staff’s time and to organizational growth. As nonprofit professionals we often have a long, broad list of tasks so we need to make sure we are productive with the limited time we have. Streamlining processes instead of duplicating efforts and data keeps the ball rolling and gets you closer to your overall organizational goals.


Staff picks: Our faves from 2016

As we close the doors on an eventful year of 2016 the DSA staff looks back on some of our favorite blog posts from the year.  We unabashedly admit that we think all the 2016 posts are great and if you have time you should take advantage of this free resource for your organization.

Ted’s Pick

How to save on donor processing fees 

One of the biggest revelations for me this year was how easy it is to recoup the processing fees you spend and depending on the size of your organization, how donors paying for these fees can be a new significant source of income.  My biggest takeaway is that customers/donors now have the mindset that fees are a cost of doing business and they assume the end user rather than the organization is responsible for payment of these fees.

Kate’s pick

No if, ands, or buts;nonprofits need to follow best practices

Kate here. This decision was tough for me. My tendency is to default to social media posts as my faves because of their relevance & importance. Reading through old posts, however, I had to go a different route and travel the best practices path. Best practices are what make a nonprofit successful, period. Doing things correctly saves organizations time, money, and makes you reputable. Bonus: learn how to avoid making excuses for ignoring best practices & use these same tactics to stick to your NYE resolutions.

Richelle’s Pick

When to give a board member the boot

This post touches upon an issue that I have seen to be reoccurring  in the nonprofit field. Working with different nonprofits at school and with DSA, it is very clear that an organization does not run smoothly when there are issues with board members. When there are board members stuck in the past it makes it challenging for an organization to grow and expand. I have seen this occur with a lot of nonprofits serving youth. Having a board that is willing to step outside the box and try something new is key to success.  

Michelle’s Pick

Join the Club:  How Friendship Raises $ 

I love, love, love this post because I think relationship building is the foundation for everything, and by everything that certainly includes donor relations but extends to communication efforts, employee relations, etc.  I think to really succeed as an organization your staff, constituents and contributors need to feel engaged and cared about.   Part of our responsibility as managers inside these organizations is to figure out how to best do that and come up with a strategic plan as a result.   So coming into 2017 ask yourself how you are doing on that front and let your actions follow from there.   


Join the club: how friendships raise $

There are good ships and wood ships, and ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships, may they always be!

Irish proverbs may seem an unlikely place to look for fundraising advice, but alas! An integral part of fundraising is developing relationships and perhaps even friendships with donors. As the Fundraising Authority explains, relationships matter.

How much more likely are you to give to a friend raising money to support a charity that helped their mom during her fight against breast cancer than to a stranger with a clipboard representing a cancer research organization? The closer relationship you have with a donor, the more likely they are to support your organization. There are plenty of peer-to-peer fundraising success stories that lend credit to relationship-based fundraising. Connections formed by an Executive Director (ED) are no different.

Donors want to be involved; they want to feel like an integral part of something bigger. They are linking their identity to the organization they support. There’s a difference between the anonymity of “I donated to cancer research” and the inclusiveness of pointing at your yellow wristband. Everyone wants to be part of the club, and it is your job as an ED to make them feel as if they are. 

Having an ED who knows this and acts on it can be a powerful strength for smaller nonprofits who may have the capacity to connect with the majority of their individual donors. One of our clients is an ED of a medium-sized nonprofit. At the annual major donor dinner he goes around the room and tells the story of how he met each individual. This very powerful tribute to the close connections that have developed between the ED (i.e. the organization) and the donors allows each individual to recognize their meaningful role in the organization.

Even at larger events, this same ED uses personal relationships to make an impactful ask for support. Donors will give not because they have to, but because they are being asked by a friend, a confidante, someone who has been there for them in tough times, has shared meals with them and asks how their kids’ baptism or bat mitzvah went.

Connection is important for donors big and small. Genuine interest in your supporters sustains big donors and pushes up smaller donors. Using best practices and treating all donors like they matter equally is a way to build a sustainable fundraising base.


Grow your own individual donors!

We are here to chime in on everyone’s favorite topic over this past month: POLITICS.

The talk of the town has been Pence’s war on Planned Parenthood (and the subsequent retaliation by donors giving in his name) but what does an administration change mean for other nonprofit organizations?

Every administration change in the United States issues in a change in the type and amount of government grants that are dispersed. The priorities of the Federal government change with each administration, as we see quite clearly contrasting the Obama and upcoming Trump administrations. Of money spent on social issues, one-third is funded by the federal government.

It may seem counter intuitive, but very swift changes of administration occasionally mean more business for us at DSA. Most of this comes as requests for grantwriting services.  One such example was the transition between Clinton and G.W. Bush. Federal funds for AIDS treatment and women’s issues were diminished and organizations needed to find new sources of income, fast. Although we were able to help many of these organizations, expecting a grantwriter to make up your loss in incoming and raise $50,000 in two months is unrealistic.

The key to staying afloat: rely on your individual donors.

If there is ever a time to get your individual donors on board, it is now. They are your best bet to compensate for government cuts or defunding. As we have seen with Rage donations, individual donors will rise to the challenge of fundraising for organizations they truly care about, especially when the current administration does not. Use this election cycle as a catalyst to shift your fundraising strategies; grants won’t always be there, but the people you serve and your supporters will.

How to grow your very own individual donors:

Individual donors are a great resource and should be nurtured. Organizations that take care of their donors:

  • Sow the seeds: Make your ask at an appropriate time, and using appropriate media
  • Provide nutrients: Keep donors abreast of your organizational happenings
  • Get them out of the weeds: Make it easy for donors to give online with visible donate buttons & sites optimized for mobile giving
  • Encourage them to grow: Focus on donor stewardship for donors at all levels

Organizations are usually rewarded for these efforts with a consistent stream of income that is less prone to a fluctuating economy. These donors will become your lifeblood and as we will see in next week’s post, they may also become your friends!

Need help cultivating individual donors? Ask us!

Consultants are people too!

Fall issues in the changing of leaves, the smell of PSLs permeate the Starbucks air, and so too the nonprofit conference season begins.

I embark on the journey through a long, seemingly endless corridor of ED’s, development directors, and program people to make my way to my first session of the day. Doing my best to dodge conversation with vendors on my third lap around while nabbing a pen, I finally make it my allotted room.

I sit down and we quickly launch into introductions. A room full of smiles state their names, titles, and organizations with a brief description. My turn comes: Hi, I’m Kate! I’m a Digital Strategy Director at DSA. We are a nonprofit consulting firm, we can take care of pretty much any nonprofit need.” Polite nods are accompanied by a slight twitch of the upper lip. Could it be my imagination?

Consultants. It’s a word that even we struggle with because personally, I don’t feel it accurately describes how ingrained we are in the nonprofit world. Being a for-profit fish in a nonprofit pond can often make me feel like an outsider in the nonprofit world. What I’d like those lip-twitchers to understand is that we are humans too; we have worked for/volunteered for/donated to nonprofits before becoming consultants, and we care immensely about a wide range of issues.

Working to support two, three or six organizations at once doesn’t mean I care less about any of their individual missions. Caring about animal welfare, for example, in no way means I am less passionate about reproductive rights. I actually LIKE my job as a consultant, because it allows me to work on and positively impact many different issues as opposed to narrowing it down to one.  

Too often, we have seen negative reactions to the idea of working with a consultant as opposed to hiring a full-time, on-site staff. I get it, I really do. You want someone whom you can meet with face-to-face every day, someone to discuss weather with over the modern-day water bubbler, the Keurig.

The reality of the situation, however, is that you get what you pay for with full-time staff and often nonprofits don’t have the money to shell out for highly qualified candidates. A “shallow pool” of senior staff is another struggle that organizations face now and can expect to continue in the future.

This is the niche we fill as consultants. We have a stockpile of expertise that most often costs a lot less than a full-time highly skilled candidate. An added bonus is expertise with fewer strings attached; no additional cost for benefits, no long-term commitment. Let’s be honest; how many interoffice emails do you send? Like your in-house staff, we too are just a phone call or an email away.

The point I am trying to make is that consultants, although you may not hear the clack of our keyboard or smell our steeping rooibos tea, are individual people who care about your causes and want to be an integral part of your team. I consider myself a staff member of whatever organizations I am working to support, I care deeply about each issue we address and I often talk to or meet the individuals whose lives we affect.  

If you cast aside the stigma of consultants as “for-profit” people who are intruding upon the nonprofit world, you’ll realize that your issues are (literally) our issues. Our goal at DSA is to use best practices to tackle challenges common to nonprofits working across a variety of issues. We want to be a part of your team that helps you, and allows you to serve more people, because we think what you do is important.

If you’d like to meet the real people behind the curtain (that’s me!) and discover how we fit into your organizational picture, feel free to email us at


The Art of Asking…On Social Media

I can’t say enough about reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking from a fundraising perspective, so we will continue talking about it this week.  

Amanda strikes another nonprofit fundraising chord when she talks about how important your social media presence is in getting your message out to your fans (donors).  Near the dawn of the Twitter era, Palmer sent out a tweet calling people to meet up for a pillow fight on a street corner in Austin.  Expecting ten people to show up, she was overwhelmed when more than 100 people did. After the feathers had flown, Palmer’s amazement continued: she learned how to search mentions on twitter and saw that her feed was flooded with videos, pictures and comments about the battle.

Here is my summary of the power of twitter, per Amanda Palmer’s experience, in 140 characters:

Twitter’s an exchange: you ask for help, people answer. You send appreciation/provide info, supporters identify w you. Twitter connects us.

Realizing the power of social media is the first step and while our sector can be out ahead on many things we are luddites in this realm.  Neither The 2016 Massachusetts Nonprofit Network Conference nor the Association of Fundraising Professionals Massachusetts Conference have a workshop that focuses singularly on effective use of social media for nonprofits.  Avoiding social media is inexcusable in 2016.  The world moves very fast and there are simple things your organization can do to get impactful returns in terms of donations and good-will from SM platforms.

Approach social media like you would fundraising: with a STRATEGY. Like any advertising, it only works if you are targeted and have a goal for the return on investment. Set measurable goals, and then use tracking tools such as insights and Google Analytics to access the data.

If you are a technological snail, sit down with the Millennials in your office and ask them how they use social media, what is currently trending, and what would appeal to them and then use this info to stay relevant. Social media is not one size fits all, and it certainly works differently for different organizations. Some causes may work well on instagram while others may not use instagram at all.

Everything changes rapidly, but talking about the role of social media for your organization and implementing a digital strategy puts you light years ahead of some of the sector.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about DSA’s social media management services, contact Also, stay tuned for the announcement of our second Let’s Get Social! Social Media Workshop that will occur in early December, 2016 at our Arlington, MA office.


The Art of Asking in Fundraising

Up until recently, my interaction with Amanda Palmer was limited to listening to one of her songs on Youtube, being asked by a friend to see her as part of the Dresden Dolls, and watching her Ted Talk. It was after sharing her talk with several of my colleagues that I decided it was due time to buy her book,  The Art of Asking.  

Described on her site as, part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet,” the focus on “cultivating trust” and human connection can easily be brought into the realm of fundraising. (I recommend reading it outside of the earshot of a sleeping baby, so you can really get the full effect by verbalizing the “Aha!” moments.)  

Palmer claims that giving is imprinted in our DNA and people need to get comfortable asking for and receiving assistance. Ask any nonprofit staff member and I would bet my program income they’ll agree; this is a tremendously important lesson for Executive Directors and fundraisers to learn.

Many of us struggle with feeling worthy of receiving money as individuals and I think this mentality rolls over into fundraising.  Having to ask for support while not offering anything immediately tangible makes many EDs uncomfortable which negatively impacts an organization’s’ ability to have a strong ask. I cannot tell you how many people in leadership positions I have run into over the past 25 years who are not knowledgeable in:

  • asking people in an appropriate way,
  • asking people at the appropriate time and
  • making it easy for their donors to give online (preferably on a mobile device)

We need to recognize that an individual’s contribution is an investment in the positive impact of our organization’s work. We need to promote the intangible value that is received from giving.

Palmer was one of the first musicians to use Kickstarter to raise a lot of money (over a million bucks), and she did so by recognizing that she was giving her donors something in return: donations were an exchange for the art that she was creating, even if the money didn’t result immediately in a physical copy of the work.

The truth is that every day that we struggle over where, when or whether we can ask our constituents for help, there is some businessperson/fast talker/Harvard MBA out there who has no qualms about making the ask. These individuals will receive the money that we could have used to support the populations we work with, and that may result in those dollars having much less impact. Examples of those who benefit in these situations include:

“Lance Armstrong of the yellow bracelet,” a dishonest individual who raised a lot of money through a charity that was more self-serving than impactful.

Dan Palotta of the AIDS Ride who operated a for-profit organization that, although helping many organizations raise money, had questionable fundraising practices, a sudden increase in overhead expenses, and ethics that were not in line with nonprofit standards.

or Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea fame, who embraces the zeitgeist and rides with it, ethically or not, using funds raised from his donors as a “personal ATM”.

While not all of us can develop and market a bracelet that is quickly bought up by hipsters like Mr. Armstrong, spend millions on advertising our event like Mr. Palotta or get a spot on Oprah’s Book Club like Mr. Mortenson, we can ethically ask in the correct ways in our own realms.  

Palmer’s wisdom in the form of if-you-need-something-ask is a lesson nonprofits should take to heart and put into practice. Asking for support helps the people we help and it helps our ethically-run organization become stronger, more sustainable and able to grow.

If you need help learning how to make your ask effective, contact us at


When to give a board member the boot

I once walked into an organization that hired us and found out that they had multiple board members who had been on the board for longer than some of my friends had been alive. A board being comprised of the same members for 40 some-odd years is a major red flag.  

What that says  is that the organization is stuck in the past.  Digging deeper into what was actually going on confirmed this was true.  But my question was why would a person, let alone multiple people, stay on a board for that long?

I used my best educated guessing (peppered with a significant amount of  experience working with boards):

  • It could be that no one ever asked them to do anything. It’s really easy to maintain a position when the position does not require any work or any time commitment.  
  • It could be that the board did not meet that frequently. What a lovely thing to tell friends and colleagues about your position on a board without ever having to attend a meeting.
  • It could be that the executive director was less than dynamic and really did not engage with the board. Having a board with no teeth as a formality, if you will.
  • Or it could most certainly be that the organization was content and did not want to move forward with new blood/ideas/initiatives/fundraising.

Whatever the reason, what anyone working in nonprofit or on a board needs to realize is that the single most important thing a board member can do is replace themselves with a better board when they leave.  

People are on boards for a variety of reasons including; being asked by a friend, being interested in the cause, wanting to boost their resume, joining because they think it won’t be a lot of work.

Whatever their reason for joining, the majority of people do not know what it takes to be an effective board member.  It is up to those working at the organization to train board leadership to ensure a board is productive rather than stagnant.

If you are trying to energize a board that historically does very little, providing clear expectations for members will go a long way to weed out board members who are/will not pull their weight.  When monetary and time commitments are clearly communicated, often those who are not productive will opt out of the group.

One aspect of professionalizing your board is to take board term limits seriously. Instituting these limits is a safeguard against counter-productive board members who may outstay their welcome. There are all kinds of ways you can set up term limits (check your bylaws first), but an easy method is having 1-2 year staggered limits on all board members to allow the organization to part with that member after a short time frame.

I know of organizations who  simply send a thank you letter after a board member’s term is finished if they do not want to renew them. Occasionally, you may need to have the hard conversation holding the member accountable and outlining why they are being asked to leave. You can also do regular board evaluations . There are many resources on the internet (including ours) to help with this.  

Defining a clear culture of productive board members will go a long way towards the success for your organization.

For more info or to set up a board orientation/training contact


How to throw a fundraising event that’s not boring

A few years ago I went to an event of an organization with a $10 million budget. While tying my tie I had that giddy feeling only fellow fundraisers can understand; I was ready to nab some best practices from an organization that has a fundraising staff of 15+ to use at my future events! My excitement for an evening full of delicious food and politely timed laughter ran high, and the first hour or so did not disappoint. The venue was an upscale hotel, drinks flowed as champagne bubbles hiccuped into laughter, dinner was very nice and dessert was better.

The evening didn’t include a live or silent auction, but they did have a program. A board member Skyped in to thank the audience (10 minutes), the Executive Director spoke (10 minutes), they played a video (7 minutes). This was all well and good, but then, with those champagne-lit smiles going strong, the real programming began. 

The theme of the evening was mothers and daughters and so they gave each of 4 pairs of mothers and daughters time to tell their stories.  And tell they did… for an average of 20 minutes each.

To be honest, I can’t be completely sure that all speeches went on that long, because after the fifth speaker I, and more importantly, my checkbook, left.  After 90 minutes with no ask, I was out. As I watched the rest of the room trickle by the tens through side doors when they thought no one was looking, all I could see were negative dollar signs. The organization missed out on fundraising dollars because they apparently forgot that some of us: (check all that apply)

  • Have babysitters that have to be home by a certain time
  • Have to work the next day
  • Get bored easily
  • Don’t have a two hour attention span
  • Were there as the guest of someone else
End scene. Next scene opens, one year later on my way to the same event.

So here I am, in the throes of winter a year later, on my way to fancy event round two. A whole year; plenty of time to sit down over a DD’s Box o’ Joe and have some laughs about mismatched shirt/tie combos while evaluating and adjusting the event for the following year. The result? Another absurdly long program and more sneaky exits during the clapping after the third speaker.

What can we take out of these observations to make our events better, or to put it simply, how can I have a fundraiser that is not boring?


The goal of an event should be to  get people in and out seamlessly, make them glad they came and give them a warm, fuzzy feeling about the organization and your awesome work to the extent that they want to give not only on that night but to future appeals.  At any event there are factors that are out of your control, but you need to regulate anything and everything you can, from timing of dinner to speakers to silent auction closing times.


Our max is 30 minutes of programming including videos, guest speakers, staff speakers and auctions. Break-up whatever programming you have throughout dinner, dessert, dancing, etc.  Keep the audience engaged with a slide show about your services that plays during the event when no one is speaking so they can read it at their leisure. If you show a video, the length has to be 3-7 minutes, NO LONGER. If you have an emcee, make sure they are entertaining.  Observe them at another event before you invite them to speak- don’t let a bossy board member say oh I got so-and-so to emcee our event. If you have client(s) speaking give them a firm 3 minute time limit and offer to help them write what they are going to say (or give them an outline of what you want them to say).


Don’t spend a lot of time talking about what you do, because logic says if you invited these individuals they probably already know your organization, yes? Instead, talk about success stories of a very few or one individual who benefited from your services. Less is more when you are trying to tug on people’s heartstrings.  


Have an open bar for at least the cocktail hour.


In 2016, there are many inexpensive ways to set up giving at an event.  Make it easy to give by accepting credit cards, avoiding long lines at checkout, and coming up with creative ways to encourage people to give. At our last big event, after much research we landed on Charity Auction Organizer as a means to take in money for our auction and it worked better than we could have hoped.


If you are going to use volunteers, make sure they are well-versed in your organization’s mission, can answer basic questions about the event, and know the correct staff member to direct people to if they do not have an answer.  Also, make sure that they know the donation software you are using inside and out.  


Do not have a comedian. Really, just don’t do it. (We have NEVER seen an event with a comedian work out well).


Talk to everyone there, especially if you are the ED, and make them feel important.


Have nice goody bags. They don’t have to be expensive, but it’s also a great opportunity to ask donors and vendors to contribute goods/services on a smaller scale. Chocolate works well.


Of all the things people remember good food is near the top of every list.  Make sure your food is something people will salivate over for weeks to come.

No matter how much money you’re spending, an event is what you make it. Your top priorities are to make guests feel connected to your organization, keep them entertained and to make the ask before everyone’s bedtime.

Need help planning an event? Contact