Vigilance – know what it is.

What is vigilance?

Vigilance is associated—but should not be confused—with meeting a fundraising target. While it does take a certain amount of vigilance to crack that goal of, say, one million dollars, the truly vigilant fundraiser is one that is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to support an organization’s long-term sustainability.

Seasoned fundraiser Jim Watson often advises clients to “plan your work and work your plan.” Vigilance means having a keen sense of when to push boundaries or try something new, but always using your strategy’s clear mandate to drive those decisions.

Success is… choosing the right audience.

In Step 7 of The Vigilant Fundraiser Liz Rejman explains the importance of identifying your key stakeholders.

Here’s why:

Many communication efforts fail because they target everyone.

In reality, most outreach should target a specific group of people. Make sure you can define the allies you need so that you can focus your message, resources and strategy where it counts.

  1. Name your “Wish List” 
    If you could convince 130 people to embrace your message today who would they be? Why? What can they do for you? What do they think about your issue now? What are the key things they need to believe to help you? Focus on influencing this target audience.
  2. Not a Popularity Contest
    Unlike commercial advertising and communications, advocacy communications is usually not about raw numbers. Advocacy communications is about targeting key constituencies to influence their behavior and attitude in order to create change. Who can help to deliver your message to the target audience with the most accuracy and chance for success?
  3. Find the “Friend of a Friend”
    Who will your target audience listen to? Where does your target audience get their information? Who are the most influential people to your targets? Where do the target influentials get their information? Where can you reach them? Who influences the people that influence your target? Where do they get their information? And so on and so on.
  4. Draw Your Target Circle
    Do not begin your outreach efforts until you can accurately draw some target circles of influence around your audience. Who is in the center? What is the message they need to understand? What is the action they need to take? Each ring around the circle symbolizes an audience that can help you reach the target audience.
  5. Reach into the Circle
    An effective communication strategy will reach into your target audience. Be direct; never use the media if a meeting will work.
  6. Message Volume
    Use the target circles to draft your strategy to move your message into the center as often as necessary to create change. Use multiple strategies to assure your message gets to the target.
  7. Create Feedback Loops
    Test the accuracy and effectiveness of your message delivery by asking friendly members of each “ring” what they are hearing? Do they understand your message? Will your target audience?
  8. Adjust Strategy and Message
    Communications plans are NOT set in stone. Media work is opportunistic. Change things around if your message is not getting to the target audience. Simplify your message if it is garbled. Communications plans should adapt to changing realities of target responses and opposition tactics.

Special Events

Special Events are considered part of an organization’s overall fundraising strategy. That you decide to host a special event really depends on your particular organization: its mission, values, vision and culture. Given your organization’s purpose and reason for being, is hosting special events imperative to raise funds? Or would an event be a novelty, something that your organization has yet to attempt but is now considering? Only you can decide what is appropriate for your organization.

A special event is a fundraiser, but it is also a public relations exercise. If you decide to host an event, you must do everything in your power to make it a success. It should make more than just money for your organization’s coffers—it should make a positive impact on the community.

The most important document your organization will ever write

Case for support graphic no quote

A Case for Support is quite simply the most important document your organization will ever write. It is both the cornerstone of any fundraising campaign and the portfolio of your organization’s amazing achievements. It is the key document you will need to have in place when you set out to raise funds to meet your mission during annual campaigns, to fund capital campaigns or to state endowment needs and make requests for significant gifts. In addition, it will be your resource document when it comes time to write proposals and grant applications.

Why be vigilant?

In my book The Vigilant Fundraiser, senior fundraisers outline 12 steps for creating an effective fundraising program. What is that thing that sets some charities so far above the rest? It’s vigilance. Vigilance is the secret ingredient that will make the steps — all best practice activities — work for your organization.

There are two types of fundraisers out there: ones who work from their office — often closed off from people and outside interactions. Then there is the fundraiser who is truly “out there” being vigilant to opportunities and meeting the people who make magic happen.

What frustrates me is when I see fundraisers eating lunch at their desks instead of going to the cafeteria and interacting with people around them. A fundraiser’s network starts where they live. Vigilance starts when you open yourself up to the possibilities of what is happening around you.

Are you being vigilant? Do you know how to assess whether your plan has been a success?

The vigilant fundraiser is one that is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to support an organization’s long-term sustainability.

The vigilant fundraiser looks for ways to make the most of this experience, learning from the past to plan for the future.

Do you think about your data?

By Liz Rejman, CFRE

Do you work for an organization that is well established, has a good base of donors but just hasn’t had the opportunity to get a planned giving program off the ground? I suspect you are not the only one who has faced this situation.

So where do you begin? If it were me, I would immediately think about data to help find prospects. The diamonds are in the database – you just need to know how to find them.

I heard you groan. You were thinking something a little more fun like coordinating a special cultivation event. Those events are important. But data is a fundraising girl’s best friend for planned giving prospecting.

You need to think about your data for a few different reasons. Data will help you determine what your typical planned giving donor looks like. It will help you identify planned giving prospects. And thinking about how you will track data will help your efforts in a systematic and organized fashion.

In order to find planned giving prospects, you need to know what a typical planned giving donor looks like for your organization. To do that, you need to take a look at your data.

There are a couple of places to seek out this information.

First, has anyone recorded somewhere those people who have indicated they are leaving a planned gift to your organization? Maybe the information is in a notepad or the people have a special code assigned to them in your database? Have you scoured the paper files? Were letters or old pledge cards noting this golden information kept?

Second, take a look at the bequests that have been received. The data for this group may not be in your database. This is where making friends with your accounting department is helpful. If the information isn’t in the database, copies of wills that included your organization as a beneficiary have probably been kept by the accounting department. Ask to review the files and record the data for collation and analysis.

Collect as many pieces of data as possible for both living individuals who you know have made a planned gift and for fulfilled estate gifts.

Consider the following pieces of data: Were the donors male or female? Were they married or single? Did they have children? Where did they live? What was their giving history? What was their affiliation with your organization? For estate gifts, look at what was the average bequest and how the planned gift was made.

By taking a look at the data, you will find patterns that will develop a picture of the typical planned giving donor to your organization.

This will be invaluable in helping you identify planned giving prospects.

Parallel to this; take a look at the people who give faithfully year after year. The size of the gift is irrelevant. It’s the number of consecutive years of giving that is a strong indicator of planned giving potential. Donors who have given ten or more consecutive years are great planned giving prospects. Don’t have ten years worth of data? No problem – work with what you have, seeking out the people who have given for the most number of consecutive years.

Those who give faithfully and frequently are great planned giving prospects. Map this information with the characteristics of your typical planned giving donor and your data is doing the work of identifying who you should engage and cultivate for a planned gift.

With planned giving there are other clues that help determine potential prospects. Thinking about your data will help you find them.

This may sound obvious but it is a great data point to consider – are you tracking in your database the people who request will wording? What about the people who indicated (either in writing or verbally) that they left a gift in their will? These people are obvious planned giving prospects – but can you retrieve their names through a simple query in your database or is the information scattered in paper files, Word documents and your fading memory?

And what about which planned giving vehicle people are using? The majority of gifts are made through a bequest. But there are the rare few that make a planned gift differently. Are you thinking about how knowing this data will affect your interactions with them?

Does your data tell you if that lovely lady donor is a Miss or a Mrs.? Marital status can help indicate a potential prospect.

What about relationships such as children? Do they have relatives to include in their will? Or is there opportunity for your charity to be the primary beneficiary for consideration?

Can your data tell you at what life stage is your donor? Birthdates and graduation years can help identify this. Are they at the will making stage of their life? Are they retired empty nesters or are they still thinking about mortgages, retirement savings and education costs for their kids? Knowing life stage will help you determine the appropriate strategy to take.

Once you have collected and analyzed some great intel to help with your planned giving efforts, promise me you won’t leave it in an Excel spreadsheet or paper file in your desk drawer. Entering it in your database ensures that the next time you want to think about your data from a new angle you can easily do so.

First and foremost, when you track various pieces of data in your database, keep it simple. And please, for everyone’s sanity – be consistent! Tables with drop down menus are far superior to free text form. In addition to the actual great piece of data, ensure there is a place to record the date and the source. Date and source help to verify and legitimize the data down the road.

Data is dynamic and data collection is a work in progress. When you think about your data and systematically track the golden nuggets of information in your database (and not in people’s heads), you will soon gain an impressive body of information that will provide you with a treasure map to the planned giving prospect pot of gold.

A version of this article originally appeared in the December 2013 edition of Gift Planning in Canada.


Dirty data be gone! 5 tips to help keep your clean database resolution

Dirty data be gone! 5 tips to help keep your clean database resolution
Liz Rejman, CFRE

It’s the New Year. A time of new routines, new possibilities. Maybe this is the year you finally join the gym, journal daily or get your finances in order.

What about your database? When was the last time you developed some New Year’s resolutions related to your donor data so that data pulls, analysis and reporting didn’t require extra manual manipulation? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to run a mailing list or generate a report knowing that the information could immediately be sent to the mail house or presented to your senior leadership team? It is possible. It just requires some vigilance with key data points.

Like a New Year’s resolution, consider breaking down the goal of clean data into manageable tasks. Divide and conquer the inconsistencies, the missing or dirty data. Here is a checklist to help you get started on your New Year’s resolution of a efficient database:

  1. Check for duplicate records.
    There is nothing more inefficient than sending the same communication multiple times to the same person. Once you have done an initial deletion of your duplicates in your database, develop a schedule to check for duplicate records depending on how many new records are created and when.
  2. Cross reference organizational contacts.
    Does the person that you send your mailings to really still work at Company ABC? Are they still the best person to connect with about your organization? A simple search on LinkedIn will confirm a person’s employment at an organization and can minimize the number of mailings that end up being sent to former employees of your organizational donors.
  3. Search for lost donors.
    People and businesses move. Take some time to try and find a new mailing address for a donor so that you can reconnect with them.
  4. Review codes for consistency and redundancy.
    There is nothing more frustrating than having three codes within a field for the same piece of data. For example, have you tried to pull a business phone number for donors only to learn that for some the field is labelled ‘Business Number’, while others have the field labelled as simply ‘Business’ or ‘Biz Number’? Decide on the label and change the records to all be the same.

    Are you coding the same piece of data in multiple fields within a person’s record? For example if mail for a donor is returned (thus the donor has no valid mailing address in your database), do you code this piece of information in one field or in a few different places? Marking the same piece of data in multiple places is a duplication of effort and inefficient. Decide where you will code key pieces of information. Be consistent with that coding in order to easily include or exclude the data when pulling a mailing list or generating a report.

  5. Bring your dark data into the light.
    A big part of fundraising is events: golf tournaments, 5k fun runs and fall galas. Often the events team rely on Excel spreadsheets to track registrants, foursomes and table seating configurations.

    Make a plan to record in your database registrant information. Track which foursome Mr. Major Gift Prospect golf’s with each year or which power couple does Brenda Board Member have seated at her table for your gala. Events are an incredible source of valuable information on connections – both business and personal. Are you recording these valuable connections into your database?

Consistent data is a big job. Consider enlisting a group of database power users on your team to divide and conquer the inconsistencies, the missing, dirty or dark data. Your efforts will be rewarded with accurate data that you can efficiently and confidently use for your fundraising efforts.

A variation of this article was first published March 2015 in Hilborn e-news.

A Vigilant Fundraiser Knows to Start Planning Now for Next Year’s Annual Fund

The Annual Fund; it provides the support required to enhance your organization’s reputation, attract and retain donors, meet fundraising goals, and sustain the operation and maintenance of operations.

The success of your Annual Fund campaign is determined by four fundamental elements of fundraising:

  1. Case for Support
  2. Leadership
  3. Donor Prospects
  4. Fundraising Plan

Each is integral to reaching – or even exceeding – your Annual Fund goal. Planning for these elements should take place near the end of your fiscal year, so that come the beginning of the new fiscal year, the infrastructure is in place to jump right in!

  1. Case for Support

The Annual Fund Case for Support must provide a compelling rationale for how funds will leverage your infrastructure to meet the needs of the community you serve.

  • Data: Many donors appreciate the use of data to communicate how you are earning and spending money. What are your organization’s current sources of revenue and expenses? How can the annual fund help to bridge the gap between core funding and the cost of delivering your services? Presenting hard data supports the role of the Annual Fund in a clear and compelling way.
  • Images: Pictures of your clients engaging in projects or programs is a great way to visually support your case. Pictures should capture various programs and events to showcase all that you have to offer.
  • Testimonials: Personal testimonials from community members, clients you have served or volunteers underscore the impact of your organization. Quotes should be incorporated into the case to provide a personal touch that will resonate with donors.

The case for support should be developed at the end of the fiscal year, once all Annual Fund data from the year has been generated. This way, the Vigilant Fundraiser may share the case with donors at the onset of the upcoming year.

  1. Leadership

A successful Annual Fund needs great leadership. It’s necessary to recruit a Fund Development Committee to work closely with the Vigilant Fundraiser and Board to spearhead the campaign. The Fund Development Committee will serve as ambassadors of the Annual Fund to the community; in essence, they are the face and voice of the campaign.

  1. Prospects

Typically, the majority of an organization’s Annual Fund is compromised from past donors. Therefore, special emphasis should be placed on cultivating these donors. Focus on engaging current donors and strengthening your culture of giving by articulating the benefits of supporting the Annual Fund.

  1. Plan

Ensuring you have a strong and well thought-out fundraising plan is vital to a successful Annual Fund. The Vigilant Fundraiser will develop a comprehensive calendar and tactical plan that outlines the timeline for cultivation events and solicitations. Make sure your plan includes any necessary preparation for follow up. You want to leave your donors feeling proud to have made a gift to your organization and inspired to make one again!

Having a clear and compelling case, engaged leadership, ample pool of prospective donors, and comprehensive plan are key elements for a successful Annual Fund. With these tools, your Annual Fund is poised for success!  


APRA Podcast: Terms of Social Media

Lori Hood-Lawson ( and Vigilant Fundraiser Liz Rejman (Pathways to Education Canada) discuss the terms of use of LinkedIn in their recent podcast. Liz and Lori also discuss recent changes to search capabilities, APRA’s ethical framework, and risk management at your organization.

Download their conversation via APRA International’s podcast page: