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Roundtable Round Up: Best Practices for Successful Year-End Appeals

It is still true that the month of December makes up the majority of your annual giving. In fact, according to the 2018 Blackbaud Charitable Giving Report and Charity Navigator, December and November combined bring in 25% of your annual gifts! Until we see a few more years of data trends, spending a good deal of time on your year-end appeal is key.

This means starting now – in August. Finding and crafting the story, pulling the mailing list, and then the piece that can be the most timely, the one you want to say “forget it” to because it seems hard, finding your major donors.

Focus on finding the ultimate story first. What are your donors looking for?

“When people empathize with a story, they have 47% higher oxytocin levels and oxytocin leads to greater giving. In fact, when we see vivid imagery in a narrative, our brain processes it as if it is a visual and motor experience – almost as though it happened to you.”

What story was significant to YOU this year? Is there a story that can be told from a fresh or different perspective? Your reader wants to be the hero of this story – make sure you recognize the significance of their support!

While having that great story is important, so is segmenting your donors and making sure your year-end appeal stands out. Two key segments are major donors and those who could be major donors.

When it comes to asking your major donors for a year-end gift, be sure it is their time to make a gift. This means reviewing each major donor (whether it’s the top 30 game changers or the top 100) and determining if it’s the right time to ask and, if it is, what to ask for. For those that could be major donors: again, review the list, determine the appropriate ask, and include the appropriate response device.

Some organizations may have multiple segments while others have two or three. Same rules still apply. In fact, we surveyed our clients and found some overwhelming trends. One, a well-defined mailing list optimizes results. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) send it to everyone in your database. An organization may have 3,000 memorial donors they mail to each year but only 20 of those ever made another gift. It’s okay to say goodbye to the remaining donors in this segment. Doesn’t that feel great!

Bottom line: check your past year’s data before assuming everyone needs a letter.

I love this case study from a Kennari client:

An organization with one staff member sent their first year-end appeal in 2018 to 159 people (of 400 in database). They had a 31% response rate, with an average gift of $218. They spent $230 to send it.

The other trend that stood out in our client survey was that tried and true still works! A traditional one-page letter with a compelling story that included an ask that let the reader know what would be accomplished with their gift had the most success. Personal handwritten notes from board members and other volunteers also made a significant difference.

Create your calendar of to-dos for your year-end, find your story, run that mailing list, and get started. You will be glad you got a head start when you did.

We would love to help your organization with your year-end communication strategies and crafting your message!

Roundtable Round Up: Professional Development for You and Your Staff

Professional Development is a key part of success for organizations and their individual staff.  The primary reason employees leave organizations for other jobs is NOT because of pay.  Though compensation is important – and should be competitive – there are many other factors in job satisfaction.  One of those key factors is learning and growing professionally; professional development opportunities.  There are lots of local resources development professionals can take advantage of for in person training.  For example, AFP and IUPUI have multiple in person options and conferences.  It’s also important to subscribe to blogs and other experts to hear different views and perspective.  However, make sure to use critical thinking when participating in a training – How will this work for me?  What do I agree with?  What do I disagree with and why?  Remember that Kennari Consulting is working to help organizations build a model of philanthropy that focuses on building long-term relationships with individual donors.  Not every blog or expert in the field is working within that type of model so you must use that filter when learning new tips and tricks.

Suzanne Callahan from Davenport University’s Corporate Learning division walked round table attendees through a “speed” version of a course they offer: “Situational Leadership.”  She reminded us that we are all leaders – whether in a direct manager/employee relationship – or in an employee/volunteer/donor relationship.  It is important to focus on the task and what type of leadership is required for that specific task, not the person in general.  The 3 skills to develop to effectively use situational leadership are: Goal Setting, Diagnosing, Matching.

  1. Goal Setting – Getting alignment from all involved on what needs to be done, including specifying deadlines and metrics.
  2. Diagnosing – Collaboratively assessing an individual’s competence and commitment on a specific goal or task
  3. Matching – Using a variety of leadership styles to provide individuals with what they need for that specific task

A little more info about diagnosing….

  • Competence – The person has the knowledge/skills to complete the task
  • Commitment – The person has the motivation/confidence to complete the task

People are generally in one of the four following categories when it comes to different tasks.  And, it’s important that we move between them all depending on the task.  Being new or seasoned in a position doesn’t necessarily mean that we are in a certain category.  As you provide leadership to people, you need to identify and recognize which development level they are in and then provide the appropriate leadership for that specific level.

  • D1: Low competence/High Commitment
  • D2: Low to some Competence/Low Commitment
  • D3: Moderate to High Competence/Variable Commitment
  • D4: High Competence/High Commitment

The Situation Leadership approach is to identify the development level, and then adjust leadership in the following ways, based on the level the person is in.

  • Leaders role in D1: Directing
  • Leaders role in D2: Coaching
  • Leaders role in D3: Supporting
  • Leaders role in D4: Delegating

Tanya Horan from Davenport University also shared that there are resources available through Michigan Works to get funding for job training.  A list will be published in August of what trainings will meet the criteria for the funding.

The overall takeaway from the day is simple.  Though it can be difficult for non-profits to dedicate time and resources to professional development, they really can’t afford not to.  There are lots of resources out there – it’s time to make a plan and commit to implementing it over the next year!

Special thanks to Suzanne Callahan and Tanya Horan for joining us to enrich and inform our professional careers. Learn more about Davenport’s Professional Development programs and learn how you may receive funding for these on their website.

Roundtable Round Up: Your Community Foundation at Work

Your local community foundation is a tremendous resource for your organization. Specifically, in our last Roundtable, we had the privilege of hearing from Shaun Shira and Jonse Young who work at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. In this blog post, we will answer some of the most popular questions about community foundations and donor advised funds.

Why are Community Foundations Important?

Community foundations bring together financial resources of individuals, families, and businesses to support effective nonprofits and they play a key role in identifying and solving community problems.

What does the Grand Rapids Community Foundation do?

Primarily, they provide grants for nonprofits in Kent County. Also, community foundations teach and promote philanthropy, act as an intermediary organization between nonprofit and donor, and increase the accountability and operating standards of nonprofits.

What is a Donor Advised Fund?

A donor-advised fund is a charitable investment account, for the sole purpose of supporting charitable organizations a donor cares about.

Why would a donor consider a donor advised fund?

First of all, they would consider a donor advised fund because as soon as the donation is made there is immediate eligibility for a tax deduction. Some other benefits are simplified record keeping, the ability to name the fund, having legacy planning and strategy, and it directly supports what the donors care about.

Why the Grand Rapids Community Foundation?

The Grand Rapids Community Foundation is almost 100 years old and was Michigan’s first community foundation. They have awarded over $200 Million in grants and they are a trusted steward of the community’s resources.

What types of funds does the foundation have?

The foundation has a primary fund called Fund for Community Good. They also have field of interest funds, nonprofit funds, scholarship funds, and donor advised funds.

What areas of interest does GRCF fund?

Grand Rapids Community Foundation funds organizations with a focus on education, health, neighborhoods, engagement, prosperity or the environment.

How would someone set up a Donor Advised Fund at GRCF?

First of all, they would meet with Community Foundation Staff to discuss the goals, the funding of the donor-advised fund, the investment pool options, and determine the ultimate purpose of the fund. Then they would create a fund agreement and begin an orientation period.

How does a Donor Advised Fund work at the GRCF?

Individuals, families or businesses recommend grants to the nonprofits they care about most. If desired, donors can design a family grantmaking plan that includes the next generation.

What is the difference between an Endowed Fund and a Non-Endowed Fund?

An endowed fund is a perpetual fund from which grants are given annually and a non-endowed fund is one in which grants are given throughout the year.

How does my nonprofit get access to these Donor Advised Funds?

Donor advised funds can be a great source of funding for your organization. First of all, you should ask your donors if they have a donor advised fund. You could also look at the list of donor advised funds on the community foundation annual report and connect with the community foundation philanthropic services team. Lastly, you could consider adding a donor advised fund option on your fundraising cards, letters, etc.

Learn more about the Grand Rapids Community Foundation on their website!

Roundtable Round-Up: Best Practices in Developing Evaluation Plans

Now more than ever, grantmakers are focused on ensuring that every grant dollar has the greatest impact possible on people and communities. This means that the most competitive grant applications should incorporate strong evaluation plans, complete with goals, objectives, outcomes, and methods of measurement. For many nonprofits, developing an evaluation plan can seem daunting. However, with the right tools, you can develop a plan that is clear, realistic, and actionable – and impressive to funders! With a few evaluation basics, you can transform your big picture vision and mission into evaluation plans that grantmakers will love.

To cover first things first, however, you should understand why evaluation is important in seeking grants. Almost all proposals these days require an organization to state the outcomes they plan on achieving – and then to report on those outcomes in a progress or final report. A strong evaluation plan with clearly articulated outcomes will make your proposal more competitive. What’s more, if you actually follow your plan, and can show evidence of your success, grantmakers will be more likely to give you funding in the future.

Understandably, nonprofits can get frustrated when it seems like they must develop a new evaluation plan with new outcomes every time they apply for funding. And it’s true, funders will have different requirements for what they expect out of an evaluation. However, if you do the work to develop a strong framework for your organization or program’s evaluation plan, you should only have to tweak it slightly to fit with different funder requirements. Which gets us to our first big recommendation…

Build a Strong Foundation

With certain pieces in place, your organization will have fully developed, strong, and strategic framework for why it does what it does to achieve its intended impacts. These pieces include:

Theory of Change: a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context; includes information on the need, target population, core program components, outcomes, supporting research, and hypothesis. For more information, visit:

Research and Evidence-Based Models: evidence to show that the work you are doing will have its intended impact. This may include a literature review, which is a comprehensive overview of knowledge available on a topic, or utilization of an evidence-based model, where you can identify clear components that have shown to be effective through research or evaluation.

Program Model: to be able to evaluate your program, you need to know exactly what your program is. Make sure you have the key components of a program model clearly defined: goals and objectives, target population, services provided, dosage of services, staff required, resources required, and timelines.

Logic Model: A systematic and visual way to present your understanding of the relationships among the resources you have to operate your program, the activities you plan, and the changes or results you hope to achieve. Some grantmakers require you to submit a logic model with an application. For more information, visit:


Now that you have a strong foundation in place, you are ready to get into the specifics of your evaluation plan. For this, it’s important for you to understand some basic principles of data collection and evaluation design…

Basic Data Collection and Evaluation Design

Funders will ask you to describe your evaluation plan. To do this, you will need to know types of data collection methods and purpose – how will you collect data to measure your outcomes? You will also need to know different types of evaluation design – how do you plan to implement your evaluation?

There are many ways to collect data. Surveys, interviews, focus groups, and observation are all options. You will want to consider many factors in deciding on what method(s) to use. Do you need a large sample size? Will statistics suffice, or will you need more detailed narrative that can only come from actually speaking to another human being? How much time do you have to collect data – and how much money? Ultimately, the biggest factor is what type of data collection method will best measure your intended outcomes. For more information, visit:

As for evaluation design, this is about when you collect your data. A few basic examples include:

  • Post-only: data collection occurs once, after an intervention occurs.
  • Pre/Post: data collection happens before and after the intervention. This can help show the change that occurred as a result of the intervention.
  • Longitudinal: data collection occurs at multiple points over time. This can help show the impact over a longer period, as well as trends.

For more information, visit:


Finally, you can now put all this information together to create your evaluation plan! Remember, different funders will require different pieces of information for an evaluation plan, so you should always pay attention to what those are. However, as a general rule, a strong evaluation plan will have certain things in place…

Putting it All Together

  • Introduction: Overview of problem and program model, prior research on this program or similar programs, purpose of current evaluation, scope of current evaluation
  • Description of Intervention: planned work (resources, activities), description of expected results, outputs, outcomes, impact
  • Evaluation Methods: questions the evaluation will address, evaluation study design, data collection methods, data analysis plan
  • Timeline: How long will it take you to accomplish the following: planning, sampling identification, data collection, analysis, report writing
  • Dissemination: How will you report evaluation results? How will you disseminate evaluation results? How will you engage stakeholders in understanding/interpreting evaluation results?
  • Budget: Staffing, supplies, equipment, travel for each major evaluation component

Using Your Executive Committee to Improve Board Engagement

Many nonprofit organizations strive to have healthy board engagement. An active and involved board often means strong fundraising support, mission-connectedness, and productive and meaningful board meetings. Unfortunately, as consultants, we regularly hear that board engagement is not where everyone would like it to be, and often, the solution to better engagement can be found within the role of the executive committee.

So many times we hear officers say “The rest of the board just rubber stamps everything – there is hardly any discussion!” –  only to have another conversation with a director who says “It seems like everything is already decided when we get to the board meeting. I don’t feel comfortable asking questions.” Executive committees that meet as often or more frequently than the full board are contributing to this never-ending cycle. This mis-alignment is especially true when the executive committee numbers more than one-third of the total board. The good news is – it’s an easy fix!

A nonprofit board’s executive committee should be charged with only two main responsibilities: 1) Evaluate the CEO and 2) Oversee strategic plan alignment, facilitating necessary strategic conversations within the full board meetings. When the executive committee stays focused on these two tasks, the rest of the board is included in all other discussions, and the executive committee isn’t re-living the same meeting twice each month.

After changing the role of their executive committee last fall, CASA of Kent County Board Chair Heidi Hendricks saw significant change within their board: “The CASA board culture has changed a lot since we eliminated our monthly Executive Committee. Our full board is now engaged, empowered, and valued, which means we can better serve the kids, which is what we all want to do!”

The limited role of the executive committee also supports the CEO in a more productive way. The CEO has an opportunity to keep the board discussions at a strategic level, and they are not required to spend hours putting together similar, but not exactly the same, sets of reports each month. Additionally, executive committee members aren’t repeating conversations each month, and the full board is able to benefit from and participate in the discussion and reasoning behind decisions, making everyone feel more engaged. Occasionally, there is still a need for an executive committee discussion about a specific topic – often one that is of a more urgent or private matter. These additional conversations can certainly be up to the discretion of the CEO and/or Board Chair.

As with any new strategy, you want to be sure that this move is right for your organization. The best next step is to review what the executive committee is accomplishing and engage with staff leadership and the full board to determine if changes should be made. A healthy and engaged board serves the community best!

Catching Up With Kennari Internship Graduates

Kennari Consulting’s Internship Program is designed to inspire the next generation of nonprofit development professionals, by engaging participants in various steps of the nonprofit fundraising process. Main tasks involve directly shadowing our consultants as they work within various components of client development departments, planning educational Roundtable Events for Kennari clients, and providing essential support to the Kennari team and our clients.

The program seeks a diverse student pool from a variety of local colleges and programs, who indicate interest in developing an understanding of the nonprofit sector. Participants leave the program feeling empowered about their personal career journeys, and excited to actively engage with the community.

After welcoming more than a dozen interns to our program, we thought we would check in with a few past interns to see where they are now and what advice they have for future applicants. Quinn Kendra, Sarah Mariuz, Daniel Rivera, and Hanna Werner are all graduates of the Kennari Internship Program and offered the following insight into their experiences.

When did you intern at Kennari?

QK: Fall 2018

SM: Summer and Fall 2015

DR: Summer 2018

HW: Fall 2017


What made you decide to participate in the Kennari Consulting Internship Program?

QK: I wanted to participate in the Internship Program because I was curious about careers in consulting, and nonprofit/community-focused organizations are areas that I am passionate about. Reading through the description of the internship further intrigued me and, after meeting some of the team and interviewing, I knew that Kennari would be a place that I could learn a lot.

SM: I met Kennari Consulting when I was a Junior at Grand Valley State University. Kirstin and Laura (Kennari consultants) came to talk to one of my nonprofit classes. One message was clear: Kennari Consulting was very well-involved in the nonprofit sector. In fact, Kirstin and Laura encouraged us to intern with one of their clients. Like any student, I needed an internship, but I liked the idea of working from their angle. So, I approached both ladies after class and asked, “how can I intern with YOU?” I ended up applying for their internship that spring and by summer I was interning at Kennari Consulting (back in my day – Parrish Consulting).

DR: I decided to participate in the Kennari Internship program because I was struggling with the idea of what kind of career I wanted to pursue. I’m an advocate for the Latinx community, so giving back to my community has always been ingrained in my mind. Therefore, when I found the opportunity at Kennari, I knew that it would be the perfect exposure for not only building my social capital but also to see what kind of opportunities are available for individuals who want to give back and make a career out of it.


How has Kennari helped shape your work?

QK: Interning at Kennari has taught me to be self-motivated. The team trusted me with tasks that I could complete independently and in a method that complements my work style. I have gained confidence in myself that has allowed me to work with less direction than before, making me much more confident to eventually immerse myself in the workforce.

SM: This internship solidified my passion to work in the nonprofit field. Formerly an Accounting major, I switched my major half way through college to Public and Nonprofit Administration. You never know what you truly want to be when you grow up though, until you experience it. Experiencing a nonprofit world through my Kennari Consulting internship was just want I needed to feel confident going out into the “real world.”

HW: One thing that I learned while interning with Kennari is how every nonprofit organization is unique and there is no “one-size fits all” solution. Yes, there are best practices and solutions that have worked for others that you can learn from, but ultimately, it takes a combination of big picture data, knowing your donors, and knowing your industry to talk through the best solution for your organization.


What was your favorite thing about the program?

QK: My favorite aspect of the internship program was the shadowing experience. I loved being able to understand and witness workplace interactions between different positions while also networking with directors of multiple organizations.

SM: What was great about working with Kennari Consulting was that they knew the barriers nonprofits faced – which is often more than one. Their job is to educate and encourage their clients to make changes that allow them to advance their missions. I was able to see the inside challenges and opportunities nonprofits faced and work closely on several internal campaigns, such as a capital campaign, gala, table-hosted event, and the day-to-day work of development professionals.

DR: I enjoyed the staff the most. One thing that greatly helped me during my time at Kennari was the team. Every day was a joy working with them and they were very open and willing to help with any questions I had. I learned a great amount from the team members and they gave me insight into the world of fundraising.


Where are you in your career now?

QK: I just graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public and Nonprofit Administration from Grand Valley State University! I plan to continue my studies in graduate school at Michigan State University as a part of their Urban and Regional Planning program.

SM: For the past 3+ years I have continued my journey in the nonprofit sector. I now work as a Community Development Manager for the American Cancer Society (ACS). I have the privilege of working with countless volunteers on events that are making a difference in the lives of those battling cancer. Together, volunteers and myself, are hosting successful Relay For Life events, as well as other fundraisers that raise needed dollars to support the fight against cancer.

DR: I am currently finishing my undergraduate degrees at Ferris State University. I plan to complete my undergrad experience in the Fall of 2019. This summer, I will be studying abroad in Costa Rica and, upon my return, I will be working at the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Through this office, I will be working for the Building Bridges through Education Program, which helps bridge the gap between Latinx college students and employers to connect them with internships, employment, and professional networks.

HW: Right now, I am still in the beginning stages of my career. I was able to land a full-time position as a Development Coordinator right after graduation and am working daily on fundraising initiatives and strategies, as well as marketing. I get to write, plan and be a part of events, and work on various communications such as email marketing and printed materials.


What would you say to someone who is thinking about applying for the Internship Program?

QK: I would tell anyone who is interested to apply for an internship at Kennari! I truly think that all types of workers and learners could thrive at an organization like Kennari. If one were to apply, I would advise them to be open, honest, and humble themselves. Applicants do not need to know everything about nonprofits, consulting, or fundraising when applying or interviewing for an internship at Kennari. It is a learning experience!

SM: Even four years after my internship, I can still say that I consider those at Kennari Consulting friends and mentors. I truly feel that my internship all those years ago shaped me into the development professional I am today.

DR: Be open to new ideas. In this position, you will be able to meet several people, research many organizations, and do unique work. Coming into the office with an open mind is the best tip to make the best out of this experience.

HW: Stay connected. One of the most valuable things I have found is to stay connected with people along your journey – internship supervisors, professors, bosses, etc. Build relationships and leave great impressions. These connections provide mentorship, network, and various opportunities (and a great reference)!


To learn more about internships at Kennari Consulting, contact our internship supervisor, Kim Kvorka, at or check out our page on Handshake.


Year End Appeal Findings

Recently, 21 Kennari Consulting clients shared results from their 2018 Year End Appeal. They represent organizations of various sizes and across several sectors. Though this data is not meant to be compared to an “official” study coming from Blackbaud or Network for Good, it can be a helpful guide in benchmarking among peers.

For analysis purposes, data was split into two categories: organizations that solicited OVER 1,000 people and those that solicited FEWER than 1,000 people. Below are a few takeaways that came as a result of the analysis.

  • Staffing levels will impact your results. If a development staff leaves shortly before or during the planning process, or there is a new staff unfamiliar with the process, you might see results that are lower than your typical return. On the other hand, if you hire new development staff with a role dedicated to managing your year end activities, you might see an increase in your results.
  • A well-defined list will optimize results. Sending your appeal to more people does NOT mean you will get more donations! Do not send to everyone in your database. It’s likely that you have many people in your database with very lapsed gift history or no previous giving at all. Focus on three to five segments of donors and customize your ask verbiage to each group, typically mailing to those who have activity in the last five years.
  • It’s not about flashy materials. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to design and print catchy materials for your appeal to work.
  • You shouldn’t measure the success of your appeal solely on how it does from one year to the next. Giving at events, to newsletters, and the timing of individual major gifts can skew numbers from year to year.  Numbers being up or down doesn’t necessarily mean it was good or bad, but you should be familiar with where and why the variances are.

In the included PDF document, you will see the Mean (Average), Median (Middle), Max (Highest), and Min (Lowest) values for eight key data points of the year end appeal. How does your year end appeal compare?

Download summary data: 2018 Year End Data Summary

Roundtable Round-Up: Top Prospects and Cultivation

Gift cultivation is just like growing your own garden: roses will need different attention than daisies.  Just as donors become engaged with your organization through different channels, their needs are different in terms of stewardship and cultivation.  This means that while some donors want to attend a group tour or event, others may prefer a one on one meeting, or engaging with your constituents directly. Everyone is different, and each donor prospect is going to respond differently to a different level of engagement with your organization. In order to build and maintain a robust major gifts program, organizations must keep a “garden” mentality, using care and deliberate action to get results.

Major Gifts are defined by three things:  the amount, the process that garners the gift, and the source.  A major gift for one organization might be $250, for another it may be $10,000.  The particular dollar amount is the highest level at which you have a critical mass.  This is also the level of donor that is manageable for you to cultivate on an individual basis.   These donors may be individuals, foundations, or corporations – any gift that is part of this highest critical mass should be considered a major donor.    This group of donors is your base for your major gift program, or your organization’s “donor garden.”

A successful major gifts program plays a critical role in your organization’s strategic plan success and mission advancement.  As the strategic plan provides the vision and mission and details the initiatives that move that mission forward, a robust major gifts program can provide the funds to resource those initiatives.  And, your major donors not only want to know you have a strategic plan, but they also want to help you reach your goals.  But, you have to share your vision and future plans with them in order for them to see how their dollars can help.  All of your donors are interested in your success, a major donor is interested in how you are going to get there.

Your plans for growing your major gifts should include a strategy to share your vision and goals with donor prospects regularly, without making an ask, so that when it comes time for them to renew or increase, they know what your needs are, and they can respond.

Not all of your donors have the capacity to become major donors, but your job as the “master gardener” is to give them the opportunity to get to their own highest level of giving. This means that as you are able to bring prospects in through a strategic point of entry such as an event or tour, you are taking the time to determine what the next step should be to give that person an opportunity to learn more about your organization.

One of the most common issues we hear from our clients is that they can’t seem to connect with a major donor prospect after inviting them to different events.  While it might seem like this donor is simply not interested in your organization, another explanation is that you just haven’t found the right cultivation step for them.  As you look at your cultivation options, consider which types of donors might like to attend which activities. Someone who would be thrilled to have lunch with the CEO or Artistic Director, would not be as interested in attending a large group event or house party.  This is why each major gift prospect should be considered individually, so they can be brought to their highest cultivated gift for the organization.

A great way to better understand your donor prospect, and begin to cultivate them in a way that elicits the response you are looking for, is to engage with a volunteer that knows the prospect.  A good connection can tell you whether what part of your organization is probably the most interesting to them, and how they might like to learn more.  Another way to determine the right path is simply by listening to the donor when you are talking with them.  Do they seem uninterested in your idea or are they simply too busy?  Have you asked them how they got interested in your organization in the first place?  Many donors are happy to tell you what interests them, and you can use this information as you consider the right pathway.  However, if you only try to reach them by mailed invitations, you don’t have an opportunity to learn more about them.

As your development team considers its “donor garden,” and how to care for the donors in it, you should create an action plan for the next three steps that you plan to take with that donor.  One step may be to engage a volunteer, another may be to invite them to a speaker series you are holding, and another may be to personally share a recent “win” for the organization.  As these three steps are mapped out, a staff member should be identified as the person who will ensure the identified pathway is taken.  In addition to the cultivation plan, there should be an intended target ask amount.  This ask might happen two months after the first step is taken, and it might happen a year later, but there should be an ask plan that matches the dollars you have identified in your development plan.

Your cultivation path should be a fluid, dynamic document.  A missed first step can derail the rest of the plan, and your action plan should reflect that shift.  Additionally, your plan doesn’t end when you receive the gift.  Once the gift is received, you should be planning the next steps to steward the gift, and show the donor how your organization is a good investment.

Every organization wants to know how to move the needle on the issue that their mission addresses.  I often have people ask me how they can make a significant improvement on their fundraising results – how can they go from good to great?  The answer is always a robust major giving program.  A deliberate plan to bring individual donors closer to your organization is the best way toward real mission advancement.

Intern Spotlight

Meet Emily Veldman! Emily just finished up earning her Business degree from Hope College and is hoping to enter into the world of nonprofits by working on the development side of things. She is looking forward to staying in the Grand Rapids area, contributing to and investing in our thriving community.

The Power of a Story

My time with Kennari Consulting has given me a glimpse into the world of nonprofits, the environment of nonprofits in the Great Lakes region, and some of the greatest issues and solutions troubling nonprofits across the globe.  I am forever grateful for the opportunities to shadow client meetings, sit in on conference calls, and work with various clients to get an insider look at what it is like to think critically about the heroic goals of partnering nonprofits and how it is we will work together to achieve these goals.

Although there are countless takeaways that come to mind when thinking about my time at Kennari, perhaps the number one insight I have learned firsthand is the power of a story.  All of the organizations that Kennari Consulting has the opportunity to work with have worthy missions and ambitious goals.  However, whether it be annual fund, capital campaigns, grants, endowments, or planned giving, the question for these nonprofits is how do we communicate our cause in a way that truly connects with people to the point they become invested in movement toward raising money?  Furthermore, how are we to share our mission in a way that welcomes fellow fighters working to make impactful change?

One of the greatest tools nonprofits have are the stories accumulated from both clients and providers.  During my time at Kennari, I have been given the incredible opportunity to work with various clients in documenting just some of these countless stories with the intent to share these stories with potential volunteers, clients, donors, or simply those curious about the work being done through these area nonprofits.  As someone who comes from the outside of these organizations, I can say firsthand that hearing these stories has given me a better understanding of the impact of these organizations in my very own community.

To give you an idea of what this looks like, I think back to one of my first stories collected for Evergreen Commons.  According to their website, ‘Evergreen Commons is a community-based organization that has reimagined what it means for older adults to live independently and vibrantly right where they are.’  This statement was brought to life when I had the opportunity to interview one of their clients.  Through our conversation, I learned about this person and the services she benefited from in being a member of Evergreen Commons.  She explained to me that without Evergreen Commons and the assistance they provided for her, she would be unable to live on her own, a lifestyle she thoroughly enjoys and benefits from.

As a Hope College student, I had driven past the Evergreen Commons building countless times in the heart of Holland.  Yet it wasn’t until meeting and speaking with some of their clients that I began to see the larger impact this organization had on my very own community.

I am thankful to Kennari Consulting for providing me with this and endless other opportunities to better get to know the organizations that are making a real impact in my community.  As I get ready to enter into the world of nonprofits for my career, I owe this insight as well as countless others, to the Kennari team.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the meaningful work being done by Kennari and their clients throughout my community.

Emily was a lovely addition to our office this semester! We appreciated her eagerness to learn and work on new projects, exceptional communication skills, and warm personality!  We are excited to see what Emily does in the nonprofit development world.

To learn more about Kennari Consulting’s internship program, please email Kim Kvorka at

Round Table Round-Up: Ways to Impact Giving at your Evening Event

Your evening event is an important element in your development program – and a rare opportunity to be face-to-face with your donors. Events are often costly and time consuming, so taking every opportunity to make the most of them is critical.  Simply gathering donors together and then making an ask doesn’t ensure people will give.  And though there is no magic formula, there are a few critical pieces you can put in place to create a better environment for giving.

Purpose and Goal

Each event should have a purpose and a goal. This helps drive the planning and expectations.  Typically evening events have a focus on donor renewal and cultivation. Perhaps they made a first time gift at a luncheon or through some other engagement. As this is a time when you can deepen engagement with your mission, the evening event can secure a renewal or an increased gift. Is this an annual event, or perhaps the celebration of a successful campaign?

Determine the financial goals for the event. How much money do you need to raise? Are you trying to increase donations at a certain level? Will you be using the proceeds for general operations or perhaps for some kind of program expansion? It’s important to be clear on these details.

Events as Cultivation

We often refer to cultivation as a gardening term. Always remember that cultivation is a process, and your evening event is an opportunity for donor cultivation. Take a look at your top prospects and those in the pipeline of your major gifts program. Evening events can be a great way to move them up a level, especially if you take strategic steps with your Donor Development Committee to invite them.


Compelling testimonials show how this person’s life is different because of your mission. Throughout the year be collecting stories from program staff that could be used in your event.  You need to select people who are comfortable and dependable on the stage. The use of videos can also be part of the testimonial when appropriate. Be sure to rehearse with the patron/client so they are comfortable, and you get to see if they need coaching. Program staff can play a role in sharing testimonials but avoid using development or executive staff in sharing testimonials. If you have an emcee, it’s important they have been prepared to step in if needed.

Match and Challenge Gifts
Leverage gifts in the form of Match or Challenges can take your event fundraising up a notch. People respond favorably to these opportunities to increase the impact on your mission. Know the difference in types of leverage (See last month’s Round Table Round-Up for details!) The main thing is to be clear, consistent, and accurate in how you describe your match or challenge. Seek your match or challenge from one of your significant donors.  They could be an individual, foundation, or corporation. Sometimes pooling several donors together to make the match large enough can also work. Share with them the impact you’re trying to achieve with the leverage.


Honoring someone who has made a significant impact on your organization can also increase the results of your event. Choose someone who has been a longtime donor, leader, or volunteer whose name will be a draw for people to attend the event. They should be willing and able to share their passion for the organization at the event. Honorees can also be a great way to increase sponsorships. Engage one or two people from their network to be on the committee to make sure all the right people are invited.  Look for small ways to make it special for the honoree, like a food choice, color scheme or flowers.

Opportunities to Give

Events often offer multiple ways to give. A compelling ask from the stage is probably the strongest way to raise money at events. Choose the right person, usually a board member, donor, or volunteer who can share a blend of their passion for the mission with the theme of the event. Auctions and raffles, while not mission-focused, can add to your bottom line. Fund-a-Need and Giving Trees can also be ways to give.

Your evening event can be an even greater success if you implement these strategies!