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! I’ve included the episode below. 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.


Money Money Money

Working in fundraising, I’ve always been a big proponent of redefining the concept of money. As I wrote about in How to Ask for Money Without Being Scared, a good fundraiser must reframe their ideas about money and understand that donating is a way to be involved in a cause, not just giving money away.

I realized recently that this is something I need to work on for myself. I understand the concept, but when it comes to my own money, I am petrified. My car just died and it’s time for me to buy a new one, and I am stressed out beyond belief. Do I get a new car? Used? Toyota? Ford? Focus? Escape? There are so many options, each with different pros and cons… and each with a different financial commitment. I feel so much pressure to make the right decision!

And then I realized… why?

Why do I feel all this pressure? I’m going to make a good choice. Even if it isn’t a perfect one, it will be a very thoughtful choice supported by my family members. I even have my regular car mechanic in my back pocket to look over whatever deals I get. I’ve surrounded myself with smart people. So… what’s the big deal?

For the past few years, I’ve scrutinized my personal spending. I switched car insurance companies. I stopped all TV service. I said no when asked several times about getting a smart phone. I’ve been diligent about keeping my costs down. You know what that means?

I have more money to play with for important investments… like a car!

A car, as I’ve come to realize in letting go of mine, is a precious thing. We gain memories in it. It keeps us safe. And we spend a lot of time with it (at least I do). It’s worth that big investment.

So wish me luck as I search for the right investment for me, and wish me luck in reframing my thoughts about money! Whatever car I end up with, I’ll surely love.


Happy Hour Questions (And 2-3 Sentence Answers) to Your Nonprofit Job

Boy are there plenty of misconceptions out there about working for a nonprofit! And since I’ve been doing so full time for almost six years, I’ve heard my share of them. But if you try to explain the intricacies of the sector to someone over a cocktail, nine times out of ten their eyes will glaze over and they’ll be wandering back to the bar before you know it. Here are my three favorite questions, and suggested responses, to the statement: I do fundraising and marketing for a nonprofit.

  • I hate asking for money. How do you do that all day? Fundraising does not equal sales. When people think of fundraising, they think sales: pressure situations, aggression, general impersonal interaction. Fundraising for a nonprofit is probably the opposite of that. The basic premise of fundraising is relationship building, cultivating, and being sensitive to donor wants and needs. My suggested response: It can be difficult. But when you have a good cause to raise money for, it’s really not so bad! In fact, it’s very satisfying to help donors support something they feel passionate about!
  • If you work for a nonprofit, how do you get paid? This one doesn’t always happen, but when it does, I know I’m dealing with a real newbie. Nonprofit does not mean you don’t make a profit, it simply means you are dealing with dual missions: both the cause you are working for and staying financially sound. It’s a better practice to come out in the black, just as it is in the for profit sector. My suggested response: I do get paid – nonprofits are just like businesses, only with a different goal: ours is to help people. We still generate revenue for operations and salaries – in fact, that’s what I do.
  • What is your long term goal? As if working the nonprofit sector is just a stepping stone to your next career. I actually get this question more now that I’m doing my Masters in Nonprofit Administration, because people are perplexed that a program like that even exists. Professionalism in the sector is just picking up steam, and we’re moving in the right direction. My suggested response: I haven’t completely figured it out, but I’m interested in capacity building for nonprofits. So whether that’s strategic planning, doing leadership development, or other consulting, that’s where I’d like to be. But one thing’s for sure: I’m staying in the nonprofit sector.

This is not to knock my for profit counterparts – of course, with the relatively low awareness of nonprofit operations, it’s only inevitable that there are misconceptions. This post is for my nonprofit peers, who suffer with articulating what they do over a martini. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it looks!!


Donors are People, Too!

I’ve noticed an “us versus them” attitude with fundraisers and donors. Us development staff spend hours trying to understand what motivates, inspires, and eventually causes donors to give. What makes them happy. What makes them sad. Heck, there are countless studies on what day of the week and time of day donors are on Facebook!

I understand the value of understanding the art of giving – and I appreciate that people want to understand what donors want instead of cramming solicitations down their throat. But when does this interest go too far?

I’m here to make a bold statement.

Donors are people, too!

Development staff get so wrapped up in understanding what donors might want that they get scared to do anything at all. Acknowledgement letters go out without personal notes. Major donors don’t get regular calls. Volunteers are never asked for money.

We need to make a change. The next time you send an appeal to a donor you know recently donated, take two minutes to hand write a note to thank them. On a random day, call up a major donor just to say thank you. Sending an acknowledgment letter to someone who gives regularly? Reference that!

These are not big changes. They’re small, but I promise you they make a world of difference. When was the last time you got anything hand written in the mail? Follow the golden rule – for every donor you work with, treat them the way you want to be treated. Simply acknowledge that they’re special.

Because donors are people, too.


My Top Three Fundraising Tips

Most people fill their days off with hours of reality television, shopping, and sleeping in. Not me (OK, I did sleep in a few days last week!). Last Thursday morning I ventured to San Francisco to Foundation Center to participate in the very informative Top Ten Fundraising Tips by Darian Rodriguez Heyman, the editor of Nonprofit Management 101 (which I was lucky enough to purchase an autographed copy of!). Darian gave a great talk reviewing some tips outlined in the book, a compilation of input from various experts in the field. He started with a very poignant anecdote about Bill Cosby’s grandmother’s view of whether a glass is half empty or half full – her response was, “it depends on if you’re pouring or drinking!”

Darian gave ten tips for fundraising, and I’d like to highlight my three favorite tips that he reviewed.

1. Stage a Thank-a-Thon. Fundraising isn’t all about asking for money. It includes everything from prospecting, to stewarding, to asking, to thanking. Darian posed this as a way to get your board engaged in the fundraising process – print out a simple script for board members (and I would add other volunteers who can speak eloquently about your organization), have some pizza, and schedule an hour after work one day where everyone can gather and make calls to say thanks – without asking for money. It’s a win-win situation for your board, your donors, and you.

2. Never Submit a Cold Grant. This point really can relate to anyone from whom you’re asking for money, not just grantors. Funding is all about relationships, and that includes grants. Just because the grantor doles out thousands of dollars each year doesn’t mean you have to be afraid to talk to them. Most of them prefer you talk to them. Get in touch with the Program Officer and ask for advice on your application. Darian went so far as to suggest asking them to review your application – I’ve never done that, but he’s had proven success doing it! Doing this causes them to mentally adopt your project, even if they never actually review it.

3. Utilize the Upcoming Volunteerism Revolution. OK, so I took liberty on changing one of his tip titles with this one, but this was a point he made. Volunteerism is moving toward people truly wanting to be part of the solution, and they don’t just want to stuff envelopes – they want to leverage their skills and expertise in helping you. Keep this in mind when engaging your volunteer force.

I’d like to end with one more point Darian made that really resonated with me – people don’t give to you, they give through you. People are giving to the impact you make. Fundraising isn’t personal to the fundraiser, it’s personal to the donor. They are connected to the change your nonprofit is making. You’re just the middle man.


P.S. I’m so excited that I can just pop over to events in San Francisco now! The city is full of nonprofit activity. Here’s a photo I took while stuck in traffic after the event!