My Tips on Planning and Prioritizing: Team of One Fundraising

Stock Illustration of a Busy White Person Holding And Talking On Three Corded Telephones

This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode about this topic, click here.

Now that you have your plan together… what do you do if you have no other development staff members to help you execute? Not to worry – here are some tips as to how to go about prioritizing your time. Remember: even Beyonce has only 24 hours in a day!

First: prioritize. Get very clear with your executive director what is absolutely necessary to accomplish, and then pick some extra things to do to complement the need-to-do’s.

  • Maybe there’s a big grant that your organization gets every year – it’s important to get the application and reporting deadlines on the calendar so that you don’t miss them. And build the relationship with the program officer!
  • Your next item to execute should be a year end appeal. This can be an easy way to communicate out to a big group of donors and bring in money without too much one-on-one contact. It’s an efficient way to fundraise if you don’t have much time.
  • Next would be relationship building, especially with major donors. They have the capacity to give large gifts that could make a big difference to your bottom line.
  • Lastly, if you have time, you can throw in a fundraising event. Events are nice-to-have’s, but take a lot of time and aren’t guaranteed to raise a lot of money.

Next: remember that while you’re a team of one, you’re not REALLY a team of one! You have other resources at your fingertips.

  • Are there other staff (outside of development)? They can help with demonstrating impact, like hosting a donor at an event with your clients.
  • Is there a board? They can help with sharing stories about the organization.
  • Is there a development committee? They can help with getting to know donors. You can assign them a portfolio of donors to work with.
    • If not, can you work to form one? Can you identify a chair?
  • Are there other volunteers? They can help with writing thank you notes or doing thank you calls.
  • Can you mobilize your donors? They can help with acquiring new donors, by asking their friends to give on your behalf.

All of these people can help tell your story. They all have their unique perspectives on what the organization is doing. They can forward your e-newsletters, share your social media posts, attend your events, and be advocates for you in the community – which is the majority of what you should be spending your time on as a fundraising effort.

As you’re busy running around mobilizing all of these people – remember to say thank you. Not just to them, but also to yourself. Hold yourself lightly, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Be thoughtful about your work, take breaks when you need to, and do your best. The organization’s story will hold up no matter what!

You can do it! And thank you!


My Tips on Planning and Prioritizing: Managing Fundraising Teams

motivating team

This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode about this topic, click here.

When you hear the phrase fundraising planning – what do you think? Do you think about Excel spreadsheets that sit on the shelf, or documents with track changes with dates that span over eight months? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. A plan can serve as a roadmap for the direction you want to go, and can be something you refer to when your executive director asks you to do something a little out there (it can help you say no!). At the end of the day, it can – and should – be something that helps you stay sane.

As you start to put together your plan – use last year to benchmark, but don’t set your sights too low & get stuck on what’s happened in the past. Be reasonable but also imaginative. And make sure you have concrete goals. For each group you are looking to raise money from (i.e. individuals, grants, events), think about what you want to accomplish. Are you trying to raise more money? Increase your number of donors? Those goals aren’t necessarily the same, so get clear on what you want to do from the beginning.

So what if you’ve put together your plan and now you have to manage your staff fundraising team? It’s not an easy feat – getting everyone on your team on the same page. There are endless ways to fundraise, and there are always more people to ask for money, so as a team manager it’s your job to decide how to prioritize the work to be done. It’s also super important to balance what has to be done with what could be done – i.e. what is good for long term fundraising.

A couple of tips to do this:

  • Team retreats: In addition to your staff fundraising team, it’s good to include others as well, like your executive director, marketing team, or other volunteers working with you. Make sure to use time effectively – balance between strategic thinking and implementation. Make sure to do follow up! There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours at a retreat and then hearing nothing afterwards.
  • Regular check ins: Depending on your team, this could be with the whole team or one-on-one. It’s important to keep your staff working on what’s important, but still have the bigger picture in mind.

It’s all about open communication! But: what if you’re a team of one? Stay tuned for tips next time!


Chapin’s Monthly Fundraising Tips – You Can Now Listen!


Chapin 2017-67 - resize2

Some exciting news for 2018! I am going to be a monthly contributor to the podcast I’ve been on a couple of times, Social Entrepreneurship with Nathan A. Webster (if you want to check out my posts about the two other episodes I was on, check out I’m On a Podcast! and Fundraising Tips for the Last Two Months of the Year). I’ll be focusing on different topics related to fundraising. My episode comes out the third Monday of each month, so look forward to the first one this coming Monday!

I’ll also do a blog post that complements each episode, so as long as you’re subscribed to my blog, you’ll get notifications every time there’s a new episode. You can also subscribe to the podcast through your preferred podcast listening method – just search Social Entrepreneurship with Nathan A. Webster.

If you or someone you know might be interested in sponsoring the podcast, let me know here!

And thanks to Nathan for having me! I’m exciting to share fundraising tips with his audience!


Fundraising Tips for the Last Two Months of the Year

We’re in the home stretch, friends! We’re in the final two months of the year and we’re ramping up for the busiest part of the giving season. If you’ve found yourself here thinking – well what do I do to raise money? – you’ve come to the right place.

A few months ago, I was honored to be a guest on the podcast Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster (you can check out the recording here). Nathan and I had such a good time that he invited me back to talk about five tips of things to do before the year wraps up. Here’s the link for the new one: 5 Fundraising Tips for Q4. Because I have your back, I’ve written up some notes from what we talked about.

Let’s get into it!

  1. Think of a story that illustrates your impact.
    1. We’re all emotional creatures, and we love a good story. It’s a great way to draw people in and show your impact without telling them what you do with tons of jargon and fluff. In this story, try to get as specific as possible, describing the people involved and using descriptive language about the setting and the feelings. Show, don’t tell!
    2. You can use this story everywhere, whether in mail, email, social media, or even in person. You might feel like you’re telling the story over and over, but you won’t oversaturate your donors – your donors only hear a fraction of your messages, and will pay attention to even a smaller portion than that.
  2. Tell your story & communicate it out.
    1. If you have the capacity, send out a mail appeal. You can stick with a simple letter and donation envelope. Mail it out to donors from the past three years, and if you have the time, you can segment the list more and send more targeted communications.
    2. Definitely make time, however, to focus on electronic communications, email and social media. A few email tips: keep your email as simple as possible, from the subject to the text inside. Make it very obvious what you’re asking for in the email. Make sure the donation request is above the fold; while many people are accessing their email on their phone, it’s still important. Speaking of the phone, make sure your website is both ready to go and mobile friendly.
  3. Use Giving Tuesday.
    1. Giving Tuesday is an annual day of giving, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, as a response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s a fun day celebrating nonprofits and what they give to the community. Since we’re just a few weeks away, don’t spend too much time and energy on it – but at the very least, send out an e-blast with a donation button and post on social media (remember to use the hashtag #GivingTuesday!). If possible, find a donor or company who will match donations on that day.
    2. This is also a great day for a meme! Take an image from your organization (a cute animal, a beautiful outdoor setting, a cute kid) – and use language about impact, donating, feeling good, etc. Ask a young person if you need it! This is a fun way an intern or volunteer could help.
    3. Finally, check out their website at – it has tons of great resources.
  4. Use your board & other passionate volunteers.
    1. Ask your board to talk to their circles about the work your organization is doing. Make sure to send them details about your impact story so that they can tell the story themselves. Draft an email requesting donations that your board and other volunteers can send to their contacts.
    2. If there are a few extra passionate board members, have them follow up with donors who did not give their gift by the last two weeks of the year. If there are board members who are uncomfortable with asking, have them make some calls to say thank you.
  5. Say thank you!
    1. Make sure your acknowledgment letter template is ready and fits in with the message you set with your story. Try to get your thank you letters out as soon as possible. I’m not as much of a stickler to get them out 48 hours after receiving the donation, but sending them out within a week is ideal. Make sure your electronic acknowledgment message also reinforces your story.
    2. Try to have an attitude of gratitude while working with your donors. The end of the year can be a stressful time of year, and customer service is key in making sure donors have a positive experience with your organization.
    3. And extend that attitude of gratitude to yourself and the other staff or volunteers who are working tirelessly during this season. Saying a genuine thank you on a regular basis can mean a lot and make the work more enjoyable.

Speaking of saying thank you, thank you for the great work you’re doing. I hope you can take some of these tips and implement them to get your story out and raise plenty of money. Your cause is worth it, so it’s up to you to tell your donors and prospective donors all about how they can be part of it.


I’m On a Podcast!


I’m very excited to share that I was recently interviewed as a guest on a podcast about social entrepreneurship! Check out the recording here. I had a great time chatting with Nathan about fundraising, the nonprofit sector, and other career hacks on his show, Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster.

Being on the podcast was a wonderful experience because it allowed me to reflect on some of the key moments of my life that have led me to where I am today. I got to share about how my mom shaped my approach to helping others. I talked about my experience interning at San Diego Grantmakers when I was in college, which opened my eyes to the path of fundraising for nonprofits. And I got to share the importance of one on one networking for long term success – that’s been such a huge part of my journey!

In addition to chatting about my path, it was fun to share tips I’ve learned along the way (resources I tap into and how I achieve my goals), my tendency according to Gretchen Rubin (I’m an obliger!), and even my love of The Real Housewives.

Take a listen and please share with anyone you think might benefit from what we chat about!


Top Ten Fundraising Lessons I’ve Learned in Ten Years

Top 10 Letterpress

Today I’m celebrating ten years of working in the nonprofit sector doing fundraising for nonprofit organizations! When I think back on all of the experience I’ve gotten over the years, I am overwhelmed and humbled by all I’ve learned, as well as the people who have helped me learn it.

I thought I’d celebrate today by sharing the top ten lessons I’ve learned over these past ten years. Hopefully some of these tidbits can reinforce what you’ve been thinking or allow you to consider a new idea. Because that’s the thing about fundraising – we are never done learning about it.

1. While fundraising might be our world, to most people, it’s a small piece of their lives. We might toil over a fundraising letter, spend hours hundreds of hours working on a three hour fundraising gala, or write a lengthy grant proposal. While the work we are doing is important, usually, the details matter less and the intention matters more.

2. We are not fundraising for the nonprofit organization, we are fundraising for the cause. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the nuances that your organization offers, and the activities it is doing. But in the donors’ eyes, they don’t care about what you are doing, they care about why you are doing it. They care that because you exist, the world is a little different. And that’s what we’re working for.

3. Donor centric communications and activities are key. Being wrapped up in the organization you work for can easily lead to communications and activities that are full of organization-specific jargon. As often as you can, take a step back from your communications and read it with fresh eyes. Remember, donors just want to change the world. Your organization is just the way to do so.

4. It’s all about the relationships. Maintaining relationships with donors is just like maintaining relationships with your friends or loved ones – it’s important to keep them updated through the good times and the bad. No friend is going to stick by your side if you ask for a favor every time you call them. Cultivation and stewardship should make up 90% of your communication with a donor – solicitation should be 10% at most.

5. Fundraising is not a dirty word. Society has made us scared to talk about money. Many people think there are power dynamics at play when it comes to money, so they think of fundraising as begging. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Every organization, nonprofit or otherwise, needs money to function. Donors know that, and they want to be part of the change.

6. Fundraising is a two way street. We need donors just as much as donors need us. Fundraising is an equal exchange, where donors get just as much out of the relationship as nonprofit organizations do. There are a plethora of benefits that donors enjoy in making a donation, everything from changing the world to public recognition to tax benefits.

7. There is always more work to be done. There are always more donors to thank, prospects to find, research to do, solicitations to be made… the work is never done.

8. Fundraisers need to take care of themselves. Since the work is never done, it can be easy to burn out. Expectations just keep growing higher and needs of program staff just keep increasing – which is great – but, we need to remember that we are not all miracle workers. We must do our best and accept that it is enough.

9. Fundraisers need to take care of each other. We are a community. It is time to band together and support each other in the work we are doing – whether through professional associations or informal meet ups. We are our best allies!

10. The learning is never done. As I mentioned in the beginning, there is always something new to learn. The field is always changing and it’s imperative to keep up. That’s part of what I love most about fundraising – it’s always changing.

I am tremendously grateful for all of the experiences I have had and the people who have been part of my journey. You know who you are! Here’s to the next ten years – I have a feeling I’ll be impacting even more nonprofit organizations through my work!


Five Years Old Today!


Five years of blogging as Nonprofit Chapin! You know what that means – a complete blog overhaul. New layout, new photos (courtesy of the supremely talented Krishna Patel), new About Me page, even some new stuff on my Twitter page. It’s a new year and time for a refresh. Let me know what you think!

Professionally, I have grown a tremendous amount this year. I moved from a Donor Relations Manager role, where I was focusing mostly on direct mail, grants, and donor database management, to an Associate Director of Development role, where I am in charge of a fundraising team while there is no Director of Development. I am jumping head first into some meaty management issues and getting a ton of great experience thinking about how to be strategic with my energy and efforts. With managing a department comes a variety of different types of tasks, and it can be tough to manage my time without working 12 hours a day. But I’m learning it, and gaining a lot of wonderful experience.

If you (or someone you know) has found yourself at a loss of how to move forward with your development team, I would love to help. I have gained so much great experience that I’d enjoy working with other nonprofits to reimagine how their team might work best. Feel free to contact me on my About Me page or by leaving a comment here, and we can talk about working together. I’d love to be of help, wherever you are!

Here’s to another five years!


A Brand New Role in a Brand New City


It’s been some months since I’ve blogged – I’m sorry about that! But I promise there’s a good reason: I’ve been busy learning and growing in a brand new role in a brand new city. I accepted a new position: Associate Director of Development at a theater nonprofit. I started there on August 19 and have been getting to know the ropes and my role in the development team.

I was attracted to this position because I was ready and craving the next step in my career. Over the past few years, I have gained multiple direct reports and realized that my favorite time at work was working with these folks. I really enjoy thinking about how development teams work and I was looking for a new step that would allow me to contribute to that most thoughtfully.

And that’s where my current job comes in. This brand new position was created to inject capacity into a department where everyone is working at 150% and no one is able to step back and plan (sound familiar?). I am able to serve as the liaison between the development director and the rest of the development staff, manage daily operations, and assist the development director with department strategy. I was excited that this nonprofit identified the need for this kind of role and happy I could fit in to help.

I am learning a tremendous amount at my new job, and the possibilities are endless about what I could write about here. In addition to the development operations, I get to focus on developing the people in our department, which I love – a nonprofit is only as good as the amount of happy people working for it.

So thanks for being patient with me, and I hope you’ll read the coming posts as I navigate through my new role. It’s not always going to be pretty, but it’s always going to be honest. I appreciate you understanding that.


The Joy of Fundraising



I love this opinion piece from Sunday’s New York Times: Why Fund-Raising Is Fun. When I tell people I do nonprofit fundraising for a living, I usually get a reaction that is a mix of awe and respect. I’m told “that must be hard” and “I hate asking for money.”

Fundraising is not just “asking for money.” It’s not a one way street, not solely a “gimme” or “begging” job. There are a long list of benefits for donors, including everything from the benefits of acting altruistically, to tax benefits, to making new contacts. The most important benefit, the one that makes the biggest difference, the one that moves people to act, is that:

Through donating to a nonprofit, you are changing the world. Fundraisers make that happen.

Donating is your way to be part of something bigger than yourself. It’s your chance to make a difference in the world for people who need help. It’s how you can make an impact on nonprofit organizations that are doing important work.

So, fundraisers actually have a very fun job: we get to make things like this happen. We get to connect people to causes they believe in, and we get to ensure that people make a mark on the world. I love being a fundraiser, and I have no problem “asking for money.” In fact, instead of asking for a favor, I am demonstrating an opportunity for people to make a difference. I am grateful every day that I get to do so.






I am thrilled to share a phenomenal report about the challenges faced by nonprofits surrounding fundraising. If you work in development or are a senior level employee at a nonprofit, you must read this! UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising is a joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund that surveyed development directors and executive directors across the nation to understand their relationship to each other and to fundraising. The report includes insightful numbers on high turnover rates, skills and abilities around fundraising, and an entire section about nurturing a culture of philanthropy in organizations.

I believe the biggest takeaway from this report is that we must reframe what it means to raise money – whether that be by development directors, executive directors, or line staff. We need to have an honest conversation about money, what it means to all of us in society, and what it means to nonprofit organizations. Money, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, is an incredibly taboo subject. People aren’t comfortable talking about finances in a really open way. It is not deemed to be an acceptable conversation topic. This is a problem when that is what fundraisers are supposed to do – talk about money all day. What does this mean for the success – or lack thereof – of fundraisers?

We need to get to a place where we all understand that money is necessary for nonprofits to provide the services they do, and without donors and their generosity, there would be none. We need to be comfortable to share that with outsiders when we are talking about our programs. We need each other – nonprofits need funds to run, and donors need causes to support and believe in. In the end, we will all win.

Please, read this important report and share it with everyone you know! It can have a great impact for people in need.