Homeless youth

Homeless youth
People we don't see.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A short video

I have been using video a lot ever since buying an I phone two years ago. It's a wonderful way to get a message out quickly and also an incredibly creative way to thank donors.

Today, with the frigid weather in Denver, I decided to make a video asking folks to donate to any agency that serves the homeless.

As my videos go, it is timely, informative, asks folks to take an action, and short.

I decided to make this particular video as I know so many agencies that serve the homeless were taken by surprise with the crazy winter weather that is affecting a good part of country.

Do you use video? Check it out and give it a try.

Thanks for reading. And for watching.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I am slowly getting back to writing blog posts and thought today I would jump right into it.

Please vote.

It's so important.

I personally believe it's important for everyone, yet I also believe that it is even more important for those of us in the non-profit world.

Who will be the voice for those we serve if we don't vote?

If those of us who have a good pulse of difficulties and challenges of the people we serve don't vote, how can things ever get better?

I could list quite a few other examples of why I think you should vote, but I will stop here.

Please take a moment and vote. In Colorado, it's super easy to either send in the mail ballot or vote early.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Donor relationships

I have said many times that I love the "R" word, meaning that I love the word "relationship".

It is a word that too often is overlooked by fundraisers and professionals in philanthropy.

And that really needs to stop.

If you are passionate about your organization's mission, get into solid relationship with your donors.

If you want to rock your budget, build relationships with your donors.

If you want to build a source of revenue that that your organization can count on, make sure your donors know that you care about them.

How does one go about this?

Call them. That's right. Next time you get an email from a donor asking a question, call them with the response.

Invite them on a tour of your facilities.

Email them a video thank you note.

Send a personal note.

Send them an impact report, or annual report. When we send these out we add a big "Thank you" on the back with signatures of our team.

These are just a few ideas of many. Start here and I assure you your relationships with donors will change.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Human touch

I have been re-posting some of my most read blog posts lately mainly because of life being so crazy. I am back to having time to write.

And I want to write about something so very important.

That is treating your donors and supporters as human beings.

Thank them.

Call them.

Ask them how they are doing.

Ask them for their opinion on something.

Ask them to pre-read a direct mail piece that you want to send, getting their opinion.

Call them. Yes, I am writing this again.

Invite them for a tour of your facilities.

I could go on and on.

There is a reason why people donate to our causes. We need to know why. And we need to ensure that our donors know how grateful we are and that we don't just see them as a human ATM.

Short but sweet. What will you do today to treat your donor as a human being?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A new fundraising effort

We recently began a new fundraising effort and in the first month it has been very successful, so I wanted to share some of the strategies with you.

We want to raise $300,000 in six months for a specific project. We want to raise $50,000 per month.

It's important to have a clear goal right from the start of the campaign. It's also important to be able to express how exactly funds raised will be used. We covered these two items before we event started with the planning of the fundraising effort.

Similar to a capital campaign, I believe it's important, regardless of how much money you decide you want to raise, to have several people in mind to help support the campaign. As we were deciding when we would kick off this effort we created lists of who we would make personal asks to and who would be on the list for a direct mail piece. After going over ideas of how to present to major donors, we decided that one third of the revenue would come from major gifts. That would be our goal. That meant that in six months, $200,000 would need to come from all of our other donors and those who are donating for the first time. Every organization will be different in how this breaks down. The important thing is to have the conversations with your team and form a strategy.

We decided to begin on April 1st which as you know is also April Fools Day. It also would be the half-way mark of our fiscal year and give us exactly six months to fundraise.

"No joke - we need to raise $50,000 this month".

You get the idea. On April 1st we rocked it with social media and ensured our direct mail piece landed. We also did an email blast.

Everything we did connected back to the fact that we need to raise $300,000 in the next six months, that we wanted to raise $50,000 each month, and exactly what we were using the money for.

Everything was planned out before we began. We met several times as a team and even brought in some long-term donors. Our strategy was clear. We tried asks out on different people, including ones who knew very little about our organization or our mission.

It's working.

I'd like to add that this is one experience. Every non-profit has their own stories and strategies around fundraising campaigns and efforts. This is just ours.

I hope this benefits some of you!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 14, 2014

The special event is not dead

Our organizations largest financial fundraiser of the year was last week.

It was a dinner.

I hope I didn't already lose you.

It was also a time when we honored an individual, a business and a civic/faith group for all they have done for us as an agency and the youth experiencing homelessness we serve.

I can imagine what you might be thinking: another fundraising chicken dinner.

I know.

This my first time planning this event. With a little over a year here and the experience of being at the dinner last year, I wanted to make some changes and take some risks.

Yep, risks.

Taking risks with an event, especially your biggest event, is not always a feel-good task.

All of the risks we took were focused on making the event more about our agency and the youth we serve as well as trying to reduce the expense budget.

Instead of hiring one of those amazing companies that does check-in and check-out and gets all of your guest information, we asked staff to do that.

Big, famous emcee? We asked staff to do that.

Expensive video company? You guessed it. We asked staff to do that.

During our live ask we had staff and volunteers greet each guest as they committed to a donation. The guest was handed an envelope with the amount they had just raised their number for. Over 90% of those who made donations filled out the enclosed information for the donation and handed it back to us.

Our check-in and check-out processes worked. No lines. Just amazing staff greeting those who allow us to do our vital work.

In the end we beat budget while cutting our expenses by 43%. We can now tell our supporters and future sponsors of this event that for every dollar that we spend on this event we raise five.

Take risks. Make your special event about you and your mission. Every single detail goes back to your mission. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Does passion help success?

I often go back and forth in my head on whether or not passion for the cause helps to make a fundraiser successful. Can you totally rock and roll in fundraising and relationship building if you do not have a passion for the mission of your non-profit?

I imagine the answer to this question is yes.

But not for me. I believe many of the successes I have in fundraising and relationship building come directly from the huge amount of passion I have for the mission of the non-profit I represent.

I often think about this when I meet or hang out with other fundraisers. Or when I meet someone for the first time who tells me they work in development and then tells me how unhappy they are at their current position.

First time meeting them.

I realize these are two different topics. I'm sure someone can be unhappy at a job that is at an agency whose mission the individual loves but for some other reason they are unhappy.

Then there is the non-profit fundraising employee who is only focused on their career and always moving up. I get it. I was once 25.

But back to passion. Does it help you in your fundraising and relationship building efforts? Do you believe it is critical to hire people for your development team that are passionate about your mission?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Where is non-profit leadership?

As someone who has been in the non-profit world for some time, and who loves it, there is something that is clearly missing from our community.


Not management. Or micro management.

Just good, inspiring leadership.

And before someone in a leadership role gets a little angry with me, I am writing about all levels of leadership, including my area, fundraising.

I am writing as a fundraiser and as a donor.

Recently one of our donors was sharing with me their experience with another non-profits Executive Director as well as their Vice President of Development. The words she used to describe them were arrogant, not mission embracing and not interested in their donors.


I'm not surprised. I have been asked several times by peers a question that makes me ponder: How do you have time to call your donors? They had not called a donor in months. The number one reason why? Time. As a donor, I don't like hearing that. As a fundraiser, my time is best spent building relationships with donors, including calls.

What I love seeing in ED's, non-profit CEO's and Development executives is what I love seeing in anyone who cares about the mission of a non-profit: Prefers to spend more time leading than managing; understands how vital it is for them to fundraise and build the brand; allows their staff to rock it with what they were hired to do; and is a huge, vocal supporter of staff. They do not fear a staff that is incredible at their jobs, they embrace them.

They spend their time meeting with leaders in the community, heads of local business, potential funders as well as other leaders in the non-profit world. They encourage and engage their staff, and most importantly, they trust their staff. They do not get bogged down in managing the non-profit or their executive leaders nor do they allow those same folks (or themselves) to get bogged down in the ever ending amount of meetings that tend to engulf some non-profit teams. They support the relationship-building that is crucial to any non-profit and they are good listeners.

A lot of this can be addressed when board members are interviewing candidates. Regardless of how much time someone has already been a CEO or ED, how comfortable are they sitting down with a funder and making an ask? What does leadership look like to them? Board members can be inspiring to non-profit leaders. Their direction, love of the mission, and knowledge of the non-profit can be a huge benefit. On the other hand, there are board members who sit on half a dozen boards. How much time and energy is your non-profit actually getting?

This type of Executive Director is out there, believe me. The reason I am writing this post is because I don't think  there are enough of them out there.

Our amazing missions and those we serve depend on incredible leadership.

Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


In a casual check-in with one of my co-workers, she told me that we had raised $86.00 from eBay sales the prior month.


For many of you reading this, there may be no cause to celebrate. Indeed, many people might have chosen to not read this post because of such a low number in the title.

A couple of months ago we began selling items on eBay. We also began the process of letting our donors, volunteers and supporters know that they could donate to Urban Peak from items they sell on eBay.

Our first month we received a direct deposit of $1.26.

Now we are up to $86.00. And that is only from what supporters have sold online. With no effort on our part. Sellers on eBay can choose to donate anywhere from 10% to 100% of the sale to a non-profit.

This is huge to me.

This is how an entire new way of fundraising begins.

This is what the creation of a new budget line item looks like.


Of course we are late onto the eBay bus. But we are super excited and cannot wait to see what happens. Not only do we get the opportunity to raise money in support of our mission serving youth who are experiencing homelessness, yet imagine the brand visibility we get when folks are buying and selling on eBay.

This is just the beginning.

With all of the time we spend on campaigns, donor cultivation, lapsed giving, planned giving, corporate giving and special events, there are still so many other options out there for us to look at and see if we can do something with them.

Sometimes it's fun to not really think or act outside of the box, but to simply act as if there is no box.

If you raise money on eBay for your organization I would love to hear from you. We are in the early stages, yet we all believe that we can go very far with this idea of raising money from the millions of people who sell and shop on eBay. Generosity is alive and well online and I want to be  apart of that.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Using video for fundraising

I have been creating a  lot of videos lately in an effort to not only fundraise but to build stronger relationships with our donors.

Here's an example of one I did this morning:

I must admit that this morning I was sleepy and freezing cold but I think the message I was trying to get across is loud and clear.

I did this with my iPhone 5. It's simple and costs nothing.

I have made videos to ask for an urgently needed item, to make an ask for donations and to invite people to an event. I have also made videos to thank people as a group and specific videos for just one donor that I email then for a special thank you.

Imagine how your donor feels when they open their email and there is a video from you just for them to thank them for their donation!

I recently created a Vimeo account. We'll see how that goes. Our agency currently has a YouTube account and I highly recommend that!

Give it a try. Post it on your groups Facebook page and see what your supporters think. After a month or two of many videos, I asked our supporters what they thought about them and if they thought that I was doing too many. The feedback was a resounding "we love them and keep it up"!

Give video a try. You have nothing to lose!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Corporate giving

As a non-profit that receives a lot of support from local businesses and national companies I have always been grateful for business people who truly care about supporting our mission in serving youth experiencing homelessness. There are a lot of non-profits out there doing amazing work, and when a company chooses us as the recipient of a financial donation, I celebrate them.

As every individual has their own, personal reason for giving, so too do corporations. Some give because it is their community, some give because someone on their staff is on the board, some give because they are having a public relations problem and some give because they have a desire to make positive change. I could add dozens of reasons to this list.

My approach to asking for support from the business community is one of pure relationship. I don't like simply asking for a donation. As I do with individual donors, I want to be in a life-long relationship with the business. That of course looks different for each business.

Aside from an annual donation, what can the relationship look like? For me it starts with a tour of our space and introducing them to our mission. It continues with letting them know the variety of ways they can support us aside from a financial donation.

Then the fun really begins. How can we, as the non-profit, benefit them?

This is a question only the business can answer. I like to get creative. Would their presence at our annual dinner benefit them? Would having our staff speak to their employees be something of interest to them? What about social media? Remember that every business is different and their partnership with you is going to be different than the next business supporter based on why they are supporting you and what they want from a partnership.

For me it's important to be clear and for me to understand exactly what the business would like from us. I recently had a conversation with a potential corporate supporter who has been using the term "strategic partnership" for some time. I still, after many conversations, do not have a clear picture of what that is.

It's also important to know when there is just not a fit. Every business is not going to want to partner with you, regardless of how amazing your mission is. That's OK. Remember that just because there might not be a fit now doesn't mean that there can't be a fit in the future. And remember that a partnership is not only about a donation. We have dozens of businesses that have employees who volunteer with us all of the time. We couldn't be as successful with our mission without these folks. Each one of them is equally important as a financial donation.

I work for this agency because I firmly believe that we completely rock in our mission to serve youth experiencing homelessness. I take that belief and make sure that comes across in every dialogue I have with a potential supporter. That can help. After all, who wants to give to someone who doesn't come across as 100% enthusiastically supportive of the mission they are representing. When I am meeting with potential corporate donors I must remember that I am the voice for those who have had their voice taken away from them.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 13, 2014

I don't like meetings. Unless...

If you know me personally, you know that I do not care for meetings.

This reaction to meetings hasn't always thrilled my bosses.

I have worked some places where I spent way too much time in meetings.

What I have realized in the past several years is that I sincerely do not have a problem with meetings, as long as the meeting is productive and a good use of my (and my teams) time.

These are the things I think are crucial to a meeting:

First and foremost, an agenda. I want to know what we'll be talking about so I know in advance what might be expected of me and what I need to be thinking of before the meeting. Walking into a meeting without an agenda definitely takes the meeting down a few notches in regards to how strongly I can participate.

Please start the meeting on time. If the meeting is a weekly or monthly meeting and there are folks who consistently arrive late, please address them (privately of course) and let them know how important it is that we begin on time as a group.

Please don't have a meeting just because you always have a meeting on that day at that time. If you as the person charged with the meeting believe that all is well that week or month and that meeting isn't necessary, make the leadership decision and cancel the meeting. Brilliant!

Please make your meeting a safe place for expression. If the meeting is about asking those attending for an opinion, pleas ensure that the meeting is a safe place to express such an opinion. I have been fortunate in my career that this has always been the case and it certainly adds to the honest productivity of a meeting.

If you have a meeting over the lunch hour, please serve lunch.

If you are planning to go over something that those attending needed to read, please make sure you have given them ample time for the reading. I personally would like one week. There is nothing worse (except not having an agenda) than being in a meeting where more than half of the attendees have not read what you are discussing, especially when you took the time to read it. It's important to give folks ample time.

Please keep the meeting on topic. Believe me, I know how difficult that can be. I love the words "let's discuss that outside of this meeting"! That's a great way to honor the point but continue with a focused discussion. I also think it's fine to create another meeting from the current meeting so folks present can talk further about something that has come up.

Please honor people's time. So important. And in my view just plain courtesy. People plan their days around meetings and in many cases go from your meeting right to something else of equal importance.

Thinking of all of this can make your meeting more productive, and create an environment where staff actually want to attend!

I would love your thoughts of what makes a meeting better.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Special Event is not dead

To be clear, I mean the big Gala or dinner. I mean the event where your guests get all gussied up to spend an evening supporting your organization.

I have heard everything there has been said as to why to not have an event like this:

Too much time.

Too many staff.

Not really worth it.

Time, energy and money can be better spent elsewhere.

Exhausts volunteers.

All of these can be true. But I believe that they don't have to be true. I believe that the Gala or dinner is not dead. I believe that you can plan a hugely successful event and wake up the next morning feeling really good about it.

Here are some things we do to create an event that rocks it without destroying us, our volunteers or our budget!

Create an event that is as far away from your typical fundraising dinner as possible. Make it fun. Honor someone. Invite someone special to speak.

Get board buy-in. Get them excited about supporting and selling the event. Their support is crucial.

Invite staff to not only be there, but to help with the event. Donors LOVE to engage with staff who are doing the work of the non-profit. Hanging out with staff makes a big difference for donors. Our staff wants to help, and their help doesn't just mean more engaged dnonrs but it also can mean that you spend less money on services that staff can help with.

There are dozens of wonderful companies in your community that want your business. They want to run your auctions, run your check-in, charge your credit cards and decorate your room. This year we are trying something different and inviting staff to run our check-in and check-out as well as being there to support our auctioneer during the paddle raise. I have seen it done successfully before and I really want to try it.

Table sales/sponsorships will make or break the event. If you rock it in sales you have a really good chance of having a successful event. This is an all-hands effort: board, staff, donors, local community supporters, past board members, etc. As someone who very much values relationship, be sure to bring value to sponsorships, real value. Being acknowledged in the program is not really value. Get creative.

Take care of yourself! Self-care is uber important when planning an event.

Location. Location. Location. Plan your event at a hotel or conference space that honors your business and the fact that you are a non-profit. I like choosing a place with a catering sales person who I like to work with and who gets what we want to do.

Continue honoring your donors and supporters. This is big for me all year and I make sure we keep our eyes on this prize when planning our annual dinner. Quick thank yous, immediate invoices when asked for and ensuring all benefits have been taken care of.

A special event such as an annual Gala or dinner can be quite the benefit for your non-profit and your mission and it doesn't have to be a nightmare!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

An amazing non-profit employee

For those of us who fundraise for a non-profit, working at an agency filled with amazing, committed staff makes our jobs so much easier.

I am one of the luckiest guys in fundraising as I get the opportunity to fundraise for an agency that is filled with employees that bring it every day and are incredibly committed to the cause of serving youth experiencing homelessness. Every day I am blown away by their work and by their effectiveness in changing lives, in supporting youth, and in simply just showing up to serve those who are in need.

One of our employees that consistently rocks it for the youth and for our mission, and one who on a daily basis blows my mind with how incredible he is in supporting the youth we serve, is Clayton.

Clayton works in our Drop-In Center and supervises the staff there. The Drop-In Center is open Monday- Friday and is a place where youth experiencing homelessness can come by for a hot breakfast, to do laundry, take a shower as well as receive any of the dozens of services that our staff is there for to provide them.

I have met amazing youth at the Drop-in Center and spend a lot of time there as it's just across the street from my office. Sitting in the office for even the shortest of times one gets an immediate feel for what the youth we serve go through every day as well as the challenges brought to staff every day.

I have watched Clayton for almost a year and his patience, kindness, directness, empathy and compassion shine through in every interaction he has had with a youth. A youth could be screaming at him and this wonderful man, a veteran of the Iraq war, will simply stand there and listen. And listen. He then calmly will give guidance and support to the youth, and in a very calm and quiet tone take a situation that would freak most of us out and end it with there being some kind of resolution within the youth.

Watching Clayton invigorates me and strengthens me. It makes me want to be a better person. He 100% makes me a stronger fundraiser as after watching him in action I come back to the office and share what I have seen or learned with donors.

Clayton is also a rock star in my eyes because of his team. Our employees who work in the Drop-In Center are rock stars, each as an individual and as a team. Every day they are they for the youth we serve, in so many ways. And every day they greet me with kindness and a smile, the same way they greet the youth.

I'm sure your organization has a Clayton, or several Claytons. Thank them. Let them know they rock. Let them know you as a fundraise are way grateful for all they do. Introduce them to donors. Your entire fundraising world will change for the better.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Don't be afraid to share your mission

I have been wanting to write a post about this for some time.

Then this morning I saw an encounter between one of the youth we serve and one of our staff.

We serve youth experiencing homelessness and youth on the verge of becoming homeless. 98% of the youth we serve have experienced some type of trauma. Many of them feel safer on the streets than they did at home.

In my short time here I have met some amazing youth.

And the work our staff does is not always pretty. I hear the "F" word often, and when a traumatized young person is trying to express what they need it does not look like a scene from the "Sound of Music".

Having given hundreds of tours here, I realize that what happens here does not always leave a good taste in someone's mouth. Our work is vital. Our staff change lives every day. I would even say that they save lives every day. They give hope to someone who has none. They give a voice to someone whose voice was stolen from them with brutal violence.

This is the reality of our mission.

And I try to talk about it with donors just as much as possible. I also spend a lot of time bringing donors here to see for themselves the amazing work our staff does.

As fundraisers it's vital that we tell stories. I believe that it is also vital that we tell a variety of stories. Not just the "Sound of Music" stories but the brutal, raw, reality-based stories that are so ingrained to our work.

Homelessness is not pretty. Nor is sexual trafficking, rape, drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution, physical abuse and many other horrible things that happen to youth you are experiencing homelessness. These are important parts of our stories because they show the "why".

Success comes in many forms. The obvious ones would look like a youth entering our shelter, moving into their first apartment, celebrating a few weeks clean. The not so obvious ones look like a youth walking into our drop-in center for the first time, a youth looking at a staff member directly in the eyes, a youth breaking down.

Don't be afraid to share your mission, to share the stories of what really happens at your non-profit. You might be surprised in the affect it has on those who support you.

Thank you for reading.