Join our online community for fundraising tips and to hear our clients’ success stories.

Planned Gifts Increase Annual Gifts, Study Finds

In a recent study, Dr. Russell James debunks the myth that Planned Giving erodes annual fund giving. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

Pentera’s Planned Giving blog, PGBuzz, provides a nice overview of the findings:

Planned gifts, rather than cannibalizing annual giving to charity, actually trigger increases in annual gifts, according to new research that should allay the fears of some nonprofit fundraisers.

Russell James, a Texas Tech professor, has been conducting an in-depth analysis of charitable bequests and found that donors who added a charitable beneficiary to an estate plan increased their average annual giving by more than $3,000 after making the planned gift. The research supports a 2007 study by Indiana University which found that donors who had included a charity in their wills gave more than twice as much to charity in annual gifts as donors who did not have the charity in their wills.

“This is great fodder for your annual fund department, VPs, and CFOs,” said Pentera President and CEO Claudine A. Donikian of the research. “Starting or nurturing a planned giving program will have a positive impact on annual fund giving and current giving.”

The James Research
James, an attorney, Ph.D., and CFP®, has been analyzing the charitable findings of a huge ongoing research study by the National Institute on Aging that is following more than 20,000 Americans, asking them the same questions every two years and even collecting data after they die. He looked at more than 9,000 answers in regards to annual and planned gifts to reach his conclusion:

Average Annual Giving Before and After Making a Planned Gift

Average Annual Gift PRIOR to Making Planned Gift – $4,210

Average Annual Gift AFTER Making Planned Gift – $7,381

James found that after arranging the planned gift, the donors’ annual gifts increased by an average of $3,171. He also found that donors made larger annual gifts in the study years immediately before and immediately after adding the charitable beneficiary. Donors revealed their largest annual gift to date when answering questions two years before making the planned gift, and two years after the planned gift they made their largest annual contribution ever recorded in the study years.

James presented the research results as part of a “myth-busting” session at the National Conference on Philanthropic Planning in October. His entire slide presentation, officially titled “Golden Nuggets from Ivory Towers: Recent Powerful Research Impacting Gift Planning,” is available here:

The results directly contradict the belief of some annual fund fundraisers who think that planned gifts result in a decrease in annual giving. But this is not the first study to show that planned gifts help annual giving.

For more information on how your organization can strategically blend planned giving and annual giving, please contact us or email our Senior Project Manager, Steve Ozinga.


Planned Gifts Increase Annual Gifts, Study Finds. (December, 2014). PGBuzz. Retrieved from

2015 EPIC Awards Finalist

Kennari Consulting is honored to be nominated for Small Business of the Year in the 2015 EPIC Awards! The EPIC Awards, presented by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, celebrate local businesses and people who are doing greats things in the community by being Entrepreneurial, Progressive, Innovative, and Collaborative.  Seven categories of awards recognize businesses and individuals supporting the community, demonstrating growth, finding ways to innovate, and working with others as mentors and collaborators.

We join an esteemed list of organizations this year, including clients and many community partners.

Congratulations to all nominees. We look forward to celebrating with each of you at the celebration event on June 1!

View all nominees and event information here.

Strategists • Catalysts • Teachers

Sometimes a company outgrows its name. So it is with Parrish Consulting. What started as the solo practice of Sandi Frost (Parrish) Steensma has evolved into a full-service firm staffed by a talented team of consultants offering a wide range of fundraising expertise.

Kennari better reflects this broader scope. It also expresses our unique education-driven approach to consulting. Kennari is an Icelandic term for teacher – an apt descriptor for the way we coach, train and educate our clients to create sustainable fundraising strategies. Kennari puts the focus squarely on what we can do for you.

Our mission and services remain the same, including:

Fresh approaches to annual fundraising.  We’ll help you focus on people who are passionate about your mission and have the potential to give long-term support. Learn more >>

Capital campaigns with an edge. We’ll help you tap dedicated volunteers for focused interaction with donors who identify with your mission. Learn more >>

New ways to energize your ambassadors. We’ll help your staff and board members better understand their role in fund development, so that they will create relationships that lead to major gifts. Learn more >>

Let Kennari empower your people, evolve your programs and enhance your impact on the communities you serve.

e-Newsletters: Best Practices and What to Avoid

Donor communications should be intentional. They should validate the donor’s decision to contribute and build inclination for future gifts by demonstrating mission achievement. eNewsletters are a great way to communicate to your donors because they are low cost and are a critical tool in building online giving. There are several important factors that should be considered before sending your first eNewsletter.

1. Identify your audience – Consider who will be receiving your eNewsletter: donors, program participants, volunteers, prospects, etc. Consider targeting your eNewsletter to a specific group or groups in order to focus your message.

2. Pick a tool – MailChimp, Constant Contact, Vertical Response, etc. Create templates that best communicate your message and connect with your intended audience.

3. Frequency – Decide how often you are going to send eNewsletters. Map out your communications for the year. Start conservatively and add in frequency as applicable.

4. Subject line: Tell, don’t sell – According to MailChimp, “the best subject lines TELL what’s inside, and the worst subject lines SELL what’s inside.”

  • Lowest open rates included the words: exciting; state of the art; solution; partner; leading edge; passion; unique; help; reminder; confirm; join, assistance; speaker; press; social; invite
  • Focus on the benefits to your reader
  • Ditch the CAPS and exclamation marks!!!
  • Consider using numbers in your subject line
  • Experiment and test different subject lines with your readers
  • Best practice is to keep your email subjects under 50 characters – “They should not be longer than this sentence”

5. Review and Test – Review your work for grammar and accuracy. Test your eNewsletter on desktops and mobile devices for format. Avoid industry slang or acronyms that the average reader won’t understand.

6. Upload and Share – Upload the content of your eNewsletter to your organization website for archiving and reference. Share your content on social media sites.

7. Track – Track the number of eNewsletters sent and track open, return, click, and forward rates through your distribution site. Take note of which campaigns have better success than others and try to determine why.

New Year’s Data Resolution

We all know how a new year’s resolution works for the majority of people… You’re all for it on January 1, the first week goes off with ease. Week 2, not so easy, but you still manage. In week 3 other priorities take precedence, and then week 4…. Resolution? What Resolution?

This may be the case in your personal life, but it doesn’t have to be the case when it comes to your nonprofit data.  I know how it goes! You run a mailing list or report and see errors that need to be fixed. You jot it down or make a mental note to go back. What happens? You forget about it until the next list.

There is no time like the present to start being diligent about clean data! Here are a few items you can start with, along with some ideas for easy clean-up, to get you started:

  1. Prioritize: Identify a couple of areas in your database that need attention. Set aside time to make the changes necessary so that these are no longer trouble areas. Maybe there are certain tasks that can be done on a monthly basis. Solution: Set a calendar reminder for an hour on the first Tuesday of the month to do these tasks.
  2. Duplicate Records: This is a common one that is tossed to the side as a “later” project.  Just do it! Most data systems have a merge tool that allows you keep one record, delete another, and no information is lost.  It’s easier than you think to have duplicates…  A&B Co is probably the same as A & B Company. Joe P. Van Dyke is likely he same person as Joseph P.  VanDyke. Solution: Set up some basic data entry standards to address little issues like these can save time from bigger issues occurring later down the road. This might include spacing in names like “A&B” previously mentioned, using full names, spelling out certain words like Association or Foundation without abbrevations, or how/when to use the word “The” at the front of an organization name.
  3. Table Entries: Your tables are what make up your drop-down lists anywhere in the database. Job titles, note titles, appeals, campaigns, solicitors…. Data entry errors happen, just don’t forget to clean them up! Solution: You can typically hide old appeals (we LOVE it when your appeals are year specific!), and sort them into a manageable list; as is the case with most drop down lists in your tables. Board Members as solicitors, etc.
  4. Blank Fields: If there’s a piece of information you’re collecting on every single donor record or gift, there’s a good chance it may have been missed a few times in the entry process. Solution: You can easily set up smartlists or queries to search for any blank fields like donor category, gift appeal, etc.
  5. Reconcile: You don’t want to hunt for a missing $25 donation that accounting has on record, but you don’t at the end of the year! Sometimes donations come in online, or in a random envelope that doesn’t pass through the development department first.  Solution: Establish a monthly practice of meeting and reconciling donations with someone from your accounting or finance team. Make you recorded exactly what they recorded.

One practice that can help in eliminating some of these cleanups is to establish a database policies and procedures manual. Even though “what if you get hit by a bus” analogy is hypothetical, he day may come when you have an illness, or even leave the organization. Someone needs to be able to jump in and work their way through basic data entry. We believe that successful organizations have great data!

2013 in Review

Parrish Consulting and our clients enjoyed a very successful 2013.  Following are a few reflections as we begin our 8th year of service.  As always, we continue to focus on our client partners’ achievements, and think about ways to continue improving our mutual success.

1.      Client Successes: Overall, our clients raised more money in 2013!  Annual fund clients enhanced their Boards and improved their fundraising infrastructures.  They also upgraded their philanthropic practices to bring in new donors, renew current donors and cultivate donors to larger gifts. Our capital and endowment clients completed projects, implemented campaigns and initiated Feasibility Studies to determine community interest in their new projects.  Special congratulations to Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University for completing the Federal Building renovation.  This $23 million project, including a $7 million philanthropic portion, was recognized by Governor Snyder for its excellence.

2.      2013 Top Women-Owned Business: Parrish Consulting was named one of the 35 Top Women-Owned Businesses in West Michigan by the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

3.      Continuing Clients: Parrish Consulting is blessed to have many continuing clients, including several from our very early years. These clients are committed to continuous improvement and excellence, and they continue to help our staff better understand the needs of the nonprofit sector.

4.      New Clients:  Parrish Consulting welcomed several nonprofit organizations from Western and Northern Michigan as new clients in 2013.  Our new clients bring energy, fresh ideas and enthusiasm into our practice.  They also enrich our pool of knowledge about philanthropic practices, social media tools and donor communication techniques.

5.      New Services:  We introduced a new planned giving program at the end of 2013. With many millions of dollars changing generational hands over the next 20-30 years, we’re committed to helping our clients maximize their opportunities in planned giving.  Watch for more about this in 2014!

We also focused on internal growth to ensure that our capacity matches the needs of our clients.

6.      Staffing:  We increased staff capacity in virtually every area of our practice.   We will be adding another seasoned professional in February to augment strategic fundraising, Board development and training, capital campaigns and endowment building.

7.      Interns: Parrish Consulting places high value on professional development in philanthropy. We believe it is part of our responsibility to build professionals for our ever-changing field.  We greatly appreciate the work of our two fantastic interns: Madeline Sagorski and Jeanna Miedema.

8.      We Moved…. Again! Parrish Consulting moved into a larger space in the Masonic Temple in downtown Grand Rapids to accommodate our growing team and to facilitate client meetings.

9.      Round Tables: We host monthly client roundtables to facilitate professional development and to share successes.  We choose the monthly topics based on client input and by trends we see “on the ground.”  In 2013, we started hosting a two-track series, selecting topics for both senior and executive professionals as well as line professionals.  We look forward to another lively, well-attended and successful roundtable series in 2014

10.   Strategic Direction and Vision:  Parrish Consulting began a strategic direction and vision process in May 2013 to determine how we can best serve the nonprofit sector with our message of mission-based fundraising.  Our new hires and staff reallocation reflect this thinking. Our internal processes and practices also have been re-imagined to ensure that we meet our client’s expectations so that they achieve successful fundraising outcomes.

What lies ahead in this new year?  Ongoing commitment to excellence in mission-based fundraising and providing our clients with processes, practices and counsel that will lead to sustainable success in fundraising. Here’s to a successful 2014!

Leveraging Your Marketing Dollars: Part 2

This is part 2 of 3 from our April Roundtable: Leveraging Your Marketing Dollars to Increase Fundraising Success)

Building Your Walls: Marketing Tools

When it comes to creating your marketing tools, it’s important to know your audience.  The audience you serve is going to care about different things than your donors care about.  Talk to donors about impact and sustainability, not about your schedule and program details.  You typically can only communicate well with one audience in one piece – everyone tries to create the “one size fits all” and it ends up fitting no one well!

Understand what you want the piece to accomplish when you’re thinking about what to include in the content.  Answer the reporter’s questions: know who, what, and why before you start to create. Consider what someone would need to know in order to do what you want them to do.  Also – start from their perspective, not yours! What is important to you might not matter to the reader.

Know how you’re going to use the tool before you build it.  For example, if you are going to put something in a brochure rack, it must be the right size.  If you are going to mail it, it must fit in a standard envelope.  If you design a square piece, you will pay extra postage.  If you design something that can’t be filed, it will most likely be thrown away.

Carry through the themes of your case.  You should be able to go through your marketing items with a highlighter and find common language in every piece.  Don’t reinvent the wheel!  Once you land on the language and look, keep using it.  Repetition is an asset, not a liability.

Stay tuned for Decorating The Outside: Building a Cohesive Brand Identity!

Content provided by Julie Hordyk of Mind Over Marketing.
Visit Julie’s website to learn more about ways she can help your organization!

Leveraging Your Marketing Dollars: Part 1

(This is part 1 of 3 from our April Roundtable: Leveraging Your Marketing Dollars to Increase Fundraising Success)

Building Your Foundation: The Case for Support

The Case for Support is a document that explains the need for your work as an organization, the impact you make, and how you change people’s lives.  It is normally about three pages long and provides the essence of what you do and why. The case is an “insiders” document that should be available to any staff that needs it, but is generally not shared in its full form to the public. When the case has been thoroughly developed with input from the relevant stake holders, the result is a document that is valuable on many levels.

Why do you need a Case for Support? A well-written case becomes the backbone of all your communications pieces by establishing consistent language for how you speak about the work you do. When you need to write appeals, newsletters, communicate on-line or off, the case is your resource for “how we talk about us”.  Staff members should be able to access the document so they will know how to speak to the public.

In the case for support, rather than listing activities, speak about the impact you make and how you change lives.  The case for support is not the place for enumerating your programs, but rather to outline the result of those programs.

Differentiate yourself by showing how your organization is uniquely positioned to do the work. There are many non-profits out there today; how do you stand out in the sea of others who also do good work?  Language such as “we’re the only organization in West Michigan that ….” is compelling and helps to distinguish you from what might otherwise be considered similar groups.

Stay tuned for Building Your Walls: Marketing Tools!

Content provided by Julie Hordyk of Mind Over Marketing.
Visit Julie’s website to learn more about ways she can help your organization!

Are your prospects casual observers? Or raving fans?

Before your board can work for you and help move your mission forward, you have to ensure the right people are on board.  You need diversity of skill set, connectivity, experience, and demographics.  Many Parrish Consulting clients are familiar with our board composition piece.  This allows us to identify that you have the right make up for your board.  Generally speaking, boards are saturated with executive management and administrative skills and while this is necessary as they are contemplative, you also need insurance, sales, real estate.  Folks in this industry tend to have a natural sales personality which lends itself to the work of fund development.

One of the major responsibilities of the board is to ensure the organization has the resources necessary to achieve the mission, and this goes beyond simply reviewing financials.  It means that not only do they ensure that the financial health of the organization is up to IRS standards, but they need to actively participate in the process of philanthropy.  Without this, the mission does not move forward.

More simply put: the board needs to identify, invite, and steward prospects, and to bring those prospects from casual observers to raving fans.

Let me explain some easy steps the board can take to ensure the organization’s livelihood is secure.

Board members, LISTEN!

The universe is full of prospective donors for your organization.  When you are out networking in the community, listen to gauge the inclination of those around you.  Who should be invited to a tour or an event?  The action step from listening will be a personal ask for involvement.  And not via mass email.

P-e-r-s-o-n-a-l   A-s-k.

Now that you have ‘listened’ in the community, you should have a targeted list of people to INVITE to that tour or event your organization is hosting next month.  Bring those prospects!  Fill your table or fill the tour with those folks who already have a natural inclination to the mission.  Have a cell phone?  I’m quite sure you do.  Start storing information of those you come in contact with.

So, you have listened and invited.  Chances are that prospect is now interested.  They may have given a gift already.  Time to THANK THEM!  Help make phone calls, write a thank you note.  Did you know that a first-time donor has a 25-50% renewal rate?  This increases if the cultivation process is happening.  Did they get a receipt from the organization?  Most likely.  Or I should dearly hope so.  But now they want something personal.  Help with those phone calls to just say thanks or jot a quick note.  You can easily do this while at your next board meeting.

Now, if you have done your job as an active board member, that donor has officially moved from a casual observer you met at Starbucks to a raving fan of your organization.  And you couldn’t be more proud.  You are ready to hand off that donor to the care of the organization.  But don’t think you are totally off the hook yet!  Donors at this level are now talking big steps with the organization: investing, long-term planning, etc.  But we still need to make sure they are happy and engaged.  You still serve as the eyes and ears for the organization to help gauge the interest of that donor.

Good job and keep those fans rolling in!

Leveraging Your Marketing Dollars: Part 3

This is part 3 of 3 from our April Roundtable: Leveraging Your Marketing Dollars to Increase Fundraising Success

Decorating The Outside: Building a Cohesive Brand Identity

What is a brand? It’s not just your logo, tagline, or a particular graphic. These items are all parts of your brand, but not where it starts. A brand is whatever you are communicating to anyone – your clients, board, employees, and the public. This includes your logo, website, donor appeals, newsletters, and brochures, as well as a few things you might not think about like your phone greeting – is it a consistent friendly person that your audience grows to recognize, or is it a recording? What about your office presentation? Is it professional and clean? Even your staff dress code can have an effect on what people think about your organization.

Your brand happens, whether it’s deliberate or not. It’s an effective way to differentiate yourself from others, and it becomes your organizations personality. When done correctly, your brand becomes who you are.  A strong brand works FOR you, and a weak or inconsistent brand is at best neutral; at worst, a liability.

What does a brand do for you? A good brand creates instant recognition. Consider the logos of Mercedes, McDonald’s, and Nike. You recognize these brands instantly without any text indication of who they are. Does your audience have the same recognition for you?  A brand also cuts through the clutter, inspires trust, and conveys professionalism. Are your materials created in house, or do you hire a professional designer? Do you have several people proof read your work, or just the person designing it?  Believe it or not, the person putting a piece together is often so immersed in the project that the small details get away from them, like spelling and grammar!

Does it seem like an expensive, daunting task to hire someone and create an entirely new library of materials? Of course. But with the right tools and knowledge, your designer can help cut through some of the expensive items and help build the cohesion that your organization should have. And keep in mind, building your brand happens over time. Once the initial templates are in place, like a speaker series postcard, it becomes very inexpensive and easy to make changes to use that same piece over and over.  Ultimately you should make the investment and carry it through. You will eventually be able to do much more, with much less.

Content provided by Julie Hordyk of Mind Over Marketing.
Visit Julie’s website to learn more about ways she can help your organization!

Subscribe to Blog

Enter your email address and receive notifications of new posts by email.