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Resolutions to stick to in 2018

Finally, a resolution post that isn’t about cutting out cheese, hitting up the gym or staying hydrated. Here are resolutions or as our optimistic staff like to say, opportunities for growth, that will improve your nonprofit life in 2018!

Trust your team

If there’s one thing nonprofit leaders know, it’s that it can be easy to micromanage. More than a few of us have fallen victim to the “if you want something done right do it yourself” mantra, but if you have faith in your hiring process then you must also have faith in the capability of individuals who come out of it. Your task is not to insert yourself into coworker’s role and hijack their projects, it’s to make sure that your team is equipped and supported to reach their full potential. The added benefit of this new attitude is that focusing less on the work of others mean more time to focus on your own workload.

Cut “That’s how we’ve always done it” from your repertoire

New year, new you, am I right? If you want organizational growth, it’s only natural that you’ll also have to face organizational change. Skip the excuse and become more open to testing out new tactics, especially those backed by best practices.

Let go of your fear of the ask

This applies more heavily to those on the development side. Make 2018 the year you stop wondering if you’ve missed opportunity and start creating it instead. Let go of the hesitation when asking new donors to contribute to your organization and asking returning donors to increase their gift. This is a great goal to prove your efficacy and increase your organization’s fundraising dollars.

Proactively face your fundraising goals

Take a good hard look at retention rates, number of major gifts, and dig into other relevant statistics. Based on these numbers, set realistic goals for organizational growth and come up with an action plan that allows you to achieve them in 2018.

Upgrade to a database

The reliance of smaller nonprofits on Excel is a trend that should have died in the 90’s but continues in 2018. If you’re still working on Excel, an achievable goal is to switch to a dedicated donor database. A database allows you to pull metrics at a touch of the button so you can properly track your results to see if you’re meeting the rest of the 2018 goals!

What are your nonprofit opportunities for growth in 2018?

Giving tips for #GivingTuesday

1. Cover all your bases

The first question to ask yourself is whether you have all the digital content you need to launch a success #GivingTuesday campaign (see our previous blog post for suggestions on that front). Here’s a quick checklist that we’ve found helpful when launching campaigns for our clients:

  • Is your donation platform active?
  • Do you have a social media strategy to push your campaign?
  • Will your campaign be accompanied by one, two, three email blasts?
  • Who will be responsible for any edits, posts or updates on #GivingTuesday?
  • Are your paid advertisements scheduled?

It’s the last call for prepping your full suite of digital materials, so in the spirit of the holidays, check your list twice.

2. Do a trial run instead of damage control

Don’t be the Black-Friday-McDonald’s twitter. Before you leave the office today, go through all of your materials to make sure links are working, spelling and grammar are checked, and your photo content is visible.

McDonalds Tweet

3. Stay online!

It’s not enough to sit back and sip a spiced latte while scheduled posts roll out. Monitor your org’s social media platforms closely during the day so you can actively engage with donors before and after they make donations.

You can proactively seek out new followers and donors with targeted tweets, and should be ready to engage any users who directly mention your org in a tweet or post!

4. Use a custom hashtag

It’s not too late to ask your own audience to show their support using a custom-created hashtag. Hashtags not only make your campaign easier to monitor, but they also create social media buzz about your organization. Choose a  unique keyword/phrase to avoid overlapping with other organizations, but keep it simple enough for followers to remember.  

#GivingTuesday Best Practices

For many professionals, autumn days hold the promise of sweater weather, Butterball turkey, and holiday prep. For those of us in the nonprofit sector, our stress levels mark a more hectic time; the giving season.

Between sending your fall newsletter, planning your annual appeal, and continuing to provide services to your populations, it’s enough to make your head spin, Exorcist-style.

Insert #GivingTuesday. It’s hard to resist an opportunity to insert your nonprofit’s pitch during this feel-good season of giving. The question at hand is whether participating in #GivingTuesday come at the expense of your end of year appeal.

Although not a question we can definitively answer (we’ll keep collecting data and get back to you on this one), we’ve been scoping the interwebs and compiling best practices to maximize end of year giving without cannibalizing your annual appeal.

Here’s the list of tips and tricks we’ve pulled together:

Two approaches to ensure you don’t detract from your annual appeal

Approach #1

Use #GivingTuesday to launch only the online component on your end of year appeal. This strategy gets online donors to donate directly to your end of year appeal. The benefit is you’re investing more time in your end of year fundraiser as opposed to spending time and brainpower crafting an additional campaign. The downside is that donors who were going to give to the appeal anyways will probably only give this one time, not again in December.

Approach #2

Make #GivingTuesday a separate campaign with a finite goal that appeals only to online audience.  This strategy (suggested by our friends at Bloomerang) focuses on a single, tangible and urgent goal unrelated to your end of year appeal. The benefit is that you can tell a compelling story, and perhaps capture the same online donors twice within a month span (once for #GivingTuesday and again for your annual appeal, which will be a completely separate campaign). The downside is you end up with restricted funds and this campaign could still have a potential negative impacts on end of year donations.

Things to focus on while crafting a #GivingTuesday game plan

Aim for social media interaction and engagement

#GivingTuesday is an online event whose focus can be larger than donations. Use this high-traffic time to draw in your new social media audience and online subscribers to your email list. Make sure your social media platforms and website are optimized to draw in new users. This is a better strategy to find long-term donors; by getting them invested in the organization in order to share your stories and then make your ask.

Reach out to a new audience

Try a peer-to-peer strategy to get engagement! Even if you aren’t soliciting donations, ask your followers to share your organization with their friends or run a social media contest to gain a larger online presence.

Try something different

This suggestion from Causevox to use #GivingTuesday as “ a chance to break out of the same ol’ thing,” makes a lot of sense. Why not use a one day #GivingTuesday to spice up your social media tactics? Test out new messaging or try a new social media feature you’ve been hesitant to test.

Need help launching an innovative #GivingTuesday campaign? Email us at  

When life gives you lemons, maximize them!

Flashback to the start of my career in 1990: there is no internet, no email, no VOIP, no online giving to speak of.  Printing is done off of film. You have a home phone number. These are the ancient days before the invention of avocado toast, in an era when newspapers are still relevant.  

As changes in technology, culture and society that swept through the 90s and continued on to the 2000s, businesses were quick to adapt. They did so because it helped them make money; the same money that nonprofits need, too. Yet, here we are in 2017 and nonprofits continue to lag behind in their technological strategies and updates.

Last month, my daughter and her friends ran a lemonade stand to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey and decided to give the money to the Houston Food Bank. As I rerouted to their homepage to make our $250 donation, I noticed something strange… their webpage had not prepared in any way for an influx of hurricane relief donations.  

Upon closer inspection (and I mean much closer), I noticed Hurricane Harvey is mentioned both for volunteers and victims below the fold of the page near the bottom, a realm to which only 22% of users scroll. The most topical information was hidden where barely anyone could see it. My automatically generated acknowledgement made no mention the hurricane or thanking me for donating to hurricane relief.

Above all things in fundraising, nonprofits need to focus their energy on maximizing donations. Donations are your income, how you connect with your donors and what allow you to continue to serve and expand your communities.

When a national campaign brings donors (proverbial lemons) your way, take the small steps to make a big impact in the way of donations (you guessed it, lemonade!). Easy implementations like a hurricane-relief-specific donate button can pay off big time. Simple updates to your website, thank you letters, and messaging are also invaluable pieces of a fundraising campaign.

I am sure that Houston Food Bank had a lot on their plate and I do not discredit the amazing work they have done and continue to do in the wake of Harvey. My disappointment is derived from the fact that better systems could have generated more income to support relief efforts. It is especially surprising for an organization on that scale, whose 2015 990 says they brought in $61 million dollars.

Nonprofits need to build in the capacity and foresight to adapt their fundraising strategies, materials and messaging when opportunities present themselves. It is an investment that quite literally pays off in the short term, and most definitely pays off long-term. DSA can help you maximize your nonprofit’s donations this year; email us at to find out how.

Paint donors a pretty picture

Sifting through mediocre, lackluster photos got you down? Unsurprisingly, posting those photos has that same effect on your audience.

Visual content doesn’t just serve to complement text; readers spend more time looking at relevant photos than looking at the text on the page. That means that, no matter how touching or informative your narrative may be, related photos are the key to heightened impact.  

Our storytelling capabilities alone won’t cut it in the age of social media and digital marketing. Hiring a professional photographer or training your staff to seek out and collect high-quality content is equally as important as the narrative you share. This isn’t just in written content, but also in verbal presentations since people retain 55% more information if a relevant image is paired with the story you are telling. There’s a reason the cliche “a picture is worth a thousand words” hasn’t been laid to rest, and it’s because photos convey a story and insert donors into the narrative in a way that words can’t.

Photographers are worth the investment:

  • Specialized Photography
    • You can find a professionals whose specialities align with your organization. This means you’ll be able to preview their portfolio of similar-style shoots and know what style of photos you’ll be getting.
  • Knowing what works
    • Most take a LOT of photos but most will refine and filter out photos, selecting only the best of the bunch. Now all the photos you have to work with are usable. No more scrolling through dull duplicates!
  • Processing Photos
    • Photos might not always be perfect when the shutter clicks, but a photographer’s software savvy can banish the blemish, or soften the background so your photos more acutely convey your messaging.
  • Innovative Ideas to Offer
    • Whether it’s a technique or ideas for content, a professional can offer up effective innovations that they have been previously exposed to through training or other clients.

Hesitant to hire a professional photographer? Here are helpful hints to step up your content.

  • Take a diversity of photos
    • This will vary based on the issues/circumstances you are working in, but try to switch up backgrounds, and take photos from different perspectives and of different subjects to help keep your content fresh.
  • Take more pictures than you think you’ll need
    • How often do you take a picture and one of the subjects is blinking at that exact moment? If I had a nickel… Take a ton of pictures; the short time it takes to sort through them later is nothing compared to the disappointment of being one second off from having that perfect shot
  • Use a digital camera
    • Your smartphone is an amazingly powerful device that serves many purposes, but print-ready high-res content is not its main function. Digital cameras offer more.  

Photography is an important tool in conveying the message of your organization and deserves as much of your attention and time as the words you write.

Want to up your photography game? Email and find out how we can help.

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

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.