End of Year

Take Stock

Right after the holidays,  I visited with my Big Bro and Fab SIL (Sister-In-Law). They kindly asked about my progress with my new consulting venture. Then Fab SIL sighed.  “We just finished our year-end giving. Could you tell your clients to please…please…PLEASE make it easy to give?”

Learning opportunity staring me in the face, I asked what would make it easy for her to give, and here’s what she said:

Place a prominent GIVE HERE button on the home page of your website.
Turns out even some of the ivy league schools both Fab SIL and Big Bro attended force their alumni to dig around. Big Bro gave up poking around one favorite nonprofit’s site and actually Googled “give to [this organization]” before he was led to a link. Research by Dr. Bill Crowe, Senior Public Service Faculty and Director at University of Georgia and former President at Tyler Community  College, TX, indicated that ONLY 5.9% of community college websites have a Call to Action (Donate/Give Here) button on the home page of their college’s website. Yikes.

Set up a secure ONLINE GIVING option.
Unbelievably, one of the institutions of the myriad they’ve attended in their academic careers (yes… both Big Bro and Fab SIL are academic overachievers), didn’t even have a way to make a gift online. All it did was list ways for them to give and where to send the check. Big Bro and Fab SIL are nearing retirement… and still they want to make their gifts online. LET THEM.  By the way, Fab SIL also wants a way to do the following online:

  • Choose to be an anonymous donor
  • Choose a specific project/scholarship/program to designate gift
  • Choose NOT to accept any thank you gift

Food for thought?


Compression Planning, Donor Focused Fundraising, Prospecting

15 Minute Prospecting at Every Board Meeting

Many of you already know that the crew at Binns Drennon LLC make ubiquitous use of Compression Planning®, a marvelous tool for planning everything from a case for support to a grant. Yes, it’s a magic bullet when planning the big stuff (strategic direction, campaigns, DACUMs). Often, we break the process into pieces to create short, quick sessions that resolve smaller and more immediate challenges.

One of our favorite “15 Minute CP” sessions is donor prospecting at foundation board meetings. It’s a fabulous way to engage your board members in meaningful discussions, and helps those who are reluctant to “ask” for support contribute to the foundation’s overall development plan.

You can use this process to prepare potential donors for a capital or major gifts campaign. Or, to introduce new or emerging businesses and other newcomers in the community to your institution, programs and services. Or, incorporate the process in your “planned giving” planning. Or, or, or… you’ll find a dozen ways to incorporate this process in all of your fundraising.

The First Step – Takes WAY Longer than 15 Minutes

The 15 Minute CP Prospecting Session works if you’ve already created your development plan, which includes a cultivation plan. Ideally, your cultivation plan includes opportunities throughout the year that showcases faculty lectures and/or labs, student success and achievements, and specialty labs or classrooms, as well as cultural and athletic activities that reflect the goals in your development plan. Don’t forget to look deeply into your college’s non-credit/workforce development offerings for opportunities to showcase college expertise and innovation.

Then prepare a calendar of cultivation opportunities that you can distribute at your next foundation board meeting.

The Second Step – Really, Truly – Keep it to 15 Minutes or Less

We have found that doing this exercise right at the beginning of your foundation board meeting creates all kinds of energy, setting a positive tone for the rest of the meeting.

Remember, keep the session simple to keep it short. Only work on 2 or 3 cultivation opportunities at each meeting.

Title a board or flip chart with each of the cultivation opportunities you identified in your calendar.

  • Cultivation opportunity that would entice donors to meet on campus

(remember… this opportunity ties into the development plan goal)

Each opportunity will then have the following headers:

  • Name of Donor
  • Board Member Here Who Will Bring Donor to Campus (No nomination of board members who aren’t present!)
  • Other Organizations Donor is Known to Support (this helps you match cultivation activities that might align with the donor’s philanthropic interests)
  • Potential Range of Gift

Post 8_photo example

This process should happen quickly. You don’t have to set dates or make the schedule there (unless the cultivation event is already a set date). You might have 0-4 donors for each of your cultivation events. It’s ok if you don’t have any takers for a specific cultivation event. All the planning for the on-campus visits take place later. This is just a quick way to link board members to donors that lead to cultivation opportunities.

The Third Step – Again  Longer than 15 Minutes, but FUN FUN FUN

Planning a visit obviously takes some time. Ideally, you’ve arranged everything so that your board member can simply offer the invitation and accompany the donor. Where you have a set cultivation activity and the date is not flexible, it’s great to turn it into a “mini special event” with no more than 6 prospective donors and 2 or 3 board members.

These intimate cultivation events are where your board members can really get “on board.” Don’t make “an ask” on the tour. Let your prospect become fully engaged and let your board member be the “host.” If you can, walk your donor across campus during a busy time when classes let out, or through the student union or library.

Afterwards both you and your board member should write notes thanking the prospective donor for taking time to come to campus and to ask if they have any questions. Further follow-up should continue to reflect your foundation’s development plan.


Over time, your board members become mini-experts on particular programs or services that they introduce to prospective donors. And that pays off in the community as they “talk up” the college and programs naturally in conversations.

Another Bonus

After a while, as success builds and funding starts impacting programs and services, faculty and program directors actually begin to come to you with ideas for engaging prospective donors.

Have fun!

Case for Support, Donor Focused Fundraising, Needs Statements

Telling Your Story: Lessons from Aristotle

Sometimes it seems like there is nothing new under the sun. Over 2300 years ago, the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle, proposed that a persuasive – or rhetorical – appeal contained three elements: logospathos, and ethos. These ideas still prevail, and if you analyze any great story or compelling essay, or unforgettable advertisement, you’ll find these same elements.

Everyone knows that in fundraising and grant development, you need a good story. So when you develop you Case for Support or you Need Statement, be sure that you use logospathos and ethos to make your case.

Greek for “word”, logos are facts, data, and verifiable information. They appeal to a reasoned conclusion of needs in your fundraising story: How many students will benefit from this scholarship? How many students will participate in the apprenticeship? How will the unemployment rate be reduced by the new program? Be sure to cite the sources of your data and be sure those sources are credible in themselves. (See how Central Carolina Community College Foundation uses facts in its Case for expansion of the Veterinary Technology Program.)

The root of words like “empathy” and “sympathy,” pathos reflect the emotional impact your story bears upon the listener or reader. It is the human element that grabs the heart; it zooms into the facts until they are crystallized in the real story of a real person. What happened when Angel, single mother of three, graduated from the Nursing Program? Why are dad, son and daughter all enrolled at your community college at the same time? Why does that student walk 4 miles to and from the college every day? (Here’s a good example using video from Grand Rapids Community College Foundation’s website.)

What keeps logos from being dull and pathos from becoming treacly? Ethos – your credibility. These statements will establish why your college is THE community organization that can solve the stated problem. Longevity, past successes, quality of faculty, speed of programmatic development and delivery – these are all ways that express your credibility. Another way of thinking about ethos: what right do you have to claim you can solve the stated problem? Most of the time (and most effectively), your credibility is woven into your logos and pathos, not necessarily a separate statement. However you establish your ethos, though, be sure it’s present in your Need Statement or Case for Support (check out Bucks County Community College’s Case for Support. Click on the links to the PDFs). Without it, you are unconnected to the data (logos) and/or manipulative (pathos).

Test your Case for all the Elements
When I taught freshman English at Cecil College, I often used “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to help students recognize logos, pathos, and ethos in persuasive argument. I asked them to highlight facts and data in blue, phrases that elicited an emotional response in pink, and phrases or statements that established Dr. King’s credibility in yellow. (Often yellow underlined blue and pink highlights.) When you do this exercise with your Case or Need Statement, look for balance, rhythms, crescendos, and coda (I’m trying to keep to musical terms here – in fact, Aristotle’s rhetoric was designed for oration!)

Be Bold. Be Persistent
Remember, writing is hard work. Don’t take my word for it:

“There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” — Louis Brandeis

“I don’t write; I rewrite”. – Mark Twain


“Language is an improbably powerful thing. It’s just words, after all, in a world full of noise. But certain combinations of words can move mountains and change lives.” – Ron Suskind

Your mission is critical – not just to your community as a whole, but to each individual you touch. You are worthy of philanthropic support. Move YOUR mountain.

Collaborations, Compression Planning

From Competitors to Collaborators


What happens once you’ve decided to pursue a grant opportunity? You get everyone who could be  involved in developing the idea, but how do you engage them in developing a concrete and sequential action plan, and “owning” the task list that results from the discussion?

For some colleges, the answer is Compression Planning®, a seven-step visual planning process, designed to reduce project and strategic planning time and increase meeting and planning productivity. Sinclair Community College was one of the early adopters of Compression Planning®. They’ve used it successfully to:

  • Win $163 million in grant awards over the last 20 years
  • Produce winning proposals 30% faster than their competition
  • Achieve a $40:$1 Return on Investment (ROI) in their grants office for over 14 years

According to Deb Norris, Vice President for Workforce Development & Corporate Services at Sinclair, Compression Planning has been a game changer in their effort to secure resources. “We’ve experienced the transformative nature of Compression Planning® at Sinclair,” she said. “The process is inclusive, and allowed us to draw together multiple organizations and create true stakeholders in creating solutions to regional workforce challenges.”

Jerry McNellis, Founder, McNellis Compression Planning®, noted that in the community college grants arena, Sinclair Community College is considered a national leader. “Several years ago, I was presenting to the Florida Council for Resource Development. I asked if any of them knew of the grants operations at Sinclair Community College.”  Someone in the audience shouted, ‘They are the gold standard in our field.’ Another man stood up and said, ‘No. They’re the platinum standard.’ ”

Vicki Jeppesen, Director of Resource Development and Institutional Research at Northcentral Technical College, WI, reported exemplary results when she used the tool to plan TAACCCT Round 3.

“We used Compression Planning® with all our external partners (see box), to share what each individual agency was doing: their mission, projects, and so on,” she noted. “It quickly became evident that all of us were investing resources in career pathways, but doing so in silos, and sometimes at cross purposes.” Additionally, she was thrilled that collaboration among these “competitors” was so easily facilitated by the Compression Planning® process. All the agencies voices were heard, no one dominated the conversation, and the agenda was clear to everyone throughout.

Jeppesen reported that a 4-hour CP session with the grant writers from the state’s 16 technical community colleges laid the framework for the application. They were able to go back to their respective institutions with the same message for their college teams to begin specific development. Dr. Jack Daniels, President, Madison Area Technical College, who came to his position after the state won the $23.1 million grant from the US Department of Labor was astonished at the success. “It’s pretty outstanding,” he said, “that 16 colleges could agree on the framework, goals and objectives of such an important grant.”

Karla Hibbert-Jones, Director of the Grants Development Office at Sinclair Community College, noted that they have been using Compression Planning® for over 25 years to develop grant proposals.

In fact, she feels that the process gives their shop a competitive edge.

“By using CP, we estimate that we plan proposals about 30% faster,” she noted. “This is because the process brings out the best thinking of the project team in a short amount of time. It is a highly structured process that helps the planning team concentrate on what is important so they can make decisions that move the project forward.”

CP’s highly structured process allows groups to achieve their purpose, avoiding the meandering that occurs during most meetings. It further increases productivity because the outcome of the session becomes the outline for the proposal.

“You never have writers block when you use CP,” she commented.

And like Jeppesen, Hibbert-Jones extols the process when working collaboratively with multiple partners.







“CP allows all members of the planning team to contribute on a level playing field, she said. “Everyone’s contributions are heard without judgment by others in the group. This allows the group to explore new ideas freely and build on each other’s ideas to create rich thoughts.”

The collaborative sharing of ideas, supported by the CP process, allows the planning team to identify unique factors to incorporate into a proposal that will make it stand out from others. With CP, you can collaboratively generate ideas that would not easily be generated by someone working in isolation.

Recently, Sinclair Community College has partnered with the McNellis Company to train other institutions involved in joint grant development opportunities through Sinclair’s North American Compression Planning® Center. Over the last five years, Sinclair’s Workforce Development Division has partnered with McNellis Company to offer Compression Planning® Institutes and custom planning engagements. Through the Division, McNellis and Sinclair have brought together employer groups (including Advanced Manufacturing, Health Care, and Call Center) to identify, develop and launch appropriate new training programs via the Compression Planning® process. In addition the partners have facilitated the regional Compression Planning® engagement on entrepreneurism for the Dayton Development Coalition.

Sinclair hopes their new initiative will benefit organizations who seek to solve intractable organizational problems, build strong and efficient organizations, and manage complex projects.

Originally published in CRD Dispatch, Summer 2014


More than Marketing

I’ve been reading a lot lately about conversion rates, optimizing copy, branding, conversion copy, auto responder marketing and a multitude of other marketing concepts. I have to say, I’m fascinated by the relationship of fundraising to marketing, particularly how to convey with clarity that the work we do deserves philanthropic support.

For a fun look at some pretty bad non-profit marketing pieces, see Stupid Nonprofit Ads from Future Fundraising Now. Jeff Brooks, the creative at TrueSense Marketing, dissects each of these ads, pithily pointing out fuzzy and/or esoteric language, misplaced visual metaphors, and sloppy donor analysis. Fortunately, he also suggests fabulous ways to clearly connect with the intended audience.

The MGs (Marketing Gurus) that KNOW their stuff, talk a lot about understanding the customer, feeling their “pain points”, and focusing marketing copy on how the product will deliver the customer from that pain. In other words, marketing is all about the customer and his/her needs and not about the product.

So let’s substitute “motivation” for “pain” when speaking with our donors, and find ways to satisfy a donor’s motivation to do good in the world.

Many companies create avatars to represent individual customers in order to speak more directly to them. It’s a practice that would be very useful in developing fundraising case statements and proposals that would speak to a donor’s deeply held motivation.

To start, segment your market then create an avatar that represents ONE person in that market segment. For instance:

  • Segment-Nursing Alumni: An alum who got a nursing degree at age 42(15 years ago)
  • Segment-Entrepreneurs: A retired entrepreneur who at the peak of her success turned to the college to train her employees
  • Segment-Community: A couple who sent their children to the college from summer camps through an AA degree
  • Segment-College staff: A college administrative assistant who gives $50 every year to the Foundation (for 27 years)

Write a detailed bio of the nursing alum described above  – and then assume that alum’s identity. Anticipate the answers to the questions below based on what you “know” about the alum as if you WERE that alum:

  •  What led me to Beyond Everything Simply Terrific Community College (BEST CC)?
  • What was the best part about being at BEST CC? What was the worst?
  • What did I do besides go to class at BEST CC? Did I avail myself of academic services at BEST CC? Student engagement activities?
  • What was going on in my life outside of my academic world at BEST CC? How did I juggle my two lives (personal/academic)? What did BEST CC do to help or hinder that juggling?
  • What kinds of relationships did I develop with my professors? Are they maintained? If not, why not?
  • What’s going on in my life now? Work? Family? Recreation? Further education? Retirement?
  • Does anyone at BEST CC care about what I’m doing right now? If so, what do I think about that? If not, what do I think about THAT?

When you’ve answered those questions, can you discern the motivation for your donor to give to a program, service, scholarship, lab, or academic center?

In the end, of course, you may not writing a case for support  or a proposal to just one donor (actually, you MAY be). But when you really dive into your donors’ motivations, you can speak directly to their deepest feelings and beliefs of how they manifest their humanity through philanthropy.