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Round Table Round Up: Overview of a Successful Major Gifts Program

When I moved into my current home, one of the first things that inspired me daily was the amazing work that went into the flower gardens in the front and back yards.  Neighbors told me that the previous owner would come outside each day with her glass of iced tea and carefully tend to the many bushes, plants and flowers with such technique and care.  As a result, I enjoyed walking outside for the next few months, excited to see what new flowers were blooming.  As another result, because I have no gardening instincts, or time to develop them, the beautiful gardens are no longer blooming and I now spend my time hoping the previous owner does not drive through the neighborhood!

The problem was that I used just one strategy for my entire garden – same amount of water, weeding, and shade, or I didn’t pay attention to it at all. The same story can be told in terms of major gift donors and the amount of care and time you take with them within your own organization.  Major gift cultivation is just like growing your own garden.  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.

What is a Major Gift?

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.”

Role of Major Gifts within the Annual Fund

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.

Developing Cultivation Plans

 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.

Planning and Tracking Cultivation Paths using Moves Management

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 as 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.

Round Table Round Up: Strategic and Consistent Donor Communication Plan

Many organizations have barriers in adhering to a consistent and strategic donor communication plan.  The most common we hear are: there just isn’t enough time in the day AND it’s difficult to gather stories from program participants. And of course there are hundreds of other barriers as well. Let’s face it, the donor communication plan isn’t breathing down our necks – so it’s easy to wait until it’s absolutely urgent. But today is the day to dedicate a little time to your plan. You’ll be glad you did.

Remember, it’s about the donor, not you. Organizations need to regularly “Inform, Ask, and Thank,” and it takes all three for a comprehensive plan.

To “Inform,” donors need to hear the details about what their dollars are doing – focus on what their gift has accomplished, share statistics and impact stories, and give updates on programs they have already demonstrated interest in. Vary your delivery. It can be letters, pictures, videos, etc.

To “Ask,” make sure the timing is right for that donor. Detail your future plans and where the organization is headed. Most organizations should be asking for support at least twice in a direct mail/email appeal.

To “Thank,” get the thank you letter/receipt out within 48 hours. Make it a meaningful piece of communication. Regularly change the content of the thank you letter so donors don’t get the same one.  At least change it seasonally/quarterly, but consider updating it monthly. Be sure you ask people how they want their tax letter (via email or hard copy) and especially be intentional with how monthly donors want their receipt info. Be creative! Consider sending a thank you video or hand made card from a program participant.

Combat the Struggles!  Time is a challenge for all development professionals, so we all have to do the best we can. First off, make a communication plan and share it with your team. This will help keep everyone on the same page and avoid random additions to your calendar! Don’t rely on mailings when you have a cash flow issue – you should be asking when it’s the right time for a donor to give, not when you need the money. Gathering stories can be difficult for some development staff as well. Consider participating in existing program meetings. Have each program director share a story at all staff meetings. Take notes on tours or identify a specific program staff member who you think might have stories and begin building a relationship with them. Program staff are busy and sometimes reluctant to share stories, so make it easy for them. Also, show them how the story will be used so they can be comfortable knowing we aren’t going to cross any moral or confidentiality lines. Consider asking for a little testimonial/statement in your remittance device and then have a volunteer make calls to follow up and get more info.

There are a few critical elements to a donor communication chart – but the most important part is to have one and use it! Make sure it has the purpose of the piece specified, the recipients, the segments, and the drop date listed. This will not only help you keep track of what you did before, but also eliminates some of the chaos if you agree on these areas ahead of time. Segmentation is the most difficult and time consuming part of donor communication, but also the most critical. You MUST talk to your donors in the way they identify with you. If they’re a volunteer, thank them for their time! If they’re a major or monthly donor, acknowledge their support before asking them for anything else. It’s okay to ask people to give more than once, but if you don’t start with gratitude, you won’t get very far.

Join Us April 12! Resources and Results – Preparing Your Donors For A Campaign

You’re Invited!

Let’s talk campaign readiness.

At Kennari Consulting, we are dedicated to giving nonprofit organizations the skills and resources they need to prepare for their futures. On April 12, from 11:00am – 12:30pm, we invite you to join us for lunch as we discuss an important element in preparing for a campaign.

A capital campaign is a wonderful opportunities to move your organization forward, facilitate change within your community, and engage your donors, but it requires a lot of planning and preparation. This session will provide tips for engaging your donors in your campaign or project far in advance of the Feasibility Study. Bringing in donors early in the process helps build excitement and can generate early lead gifts.

So even if a capital campaign is the farthest thought from your organization’s mind, join us to learn what strategies you can implement today to guarantee capital success tomorrow. You won’t want to miss it!

Date: Thursday, April 12, 2018
Time: 11:00am – 12:30pm
Location: 401 Hall St. SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 – First Floor Conference Room
RSVP: Click here to register

Round Table Round Up: Recruiting Table Hosts (and Keeping Them Happy)

~ Cultivate those who pour their hearts into your mission ~


If we begin to think of our table hosts as major donors, or start treating them with more special treatment throughout the year, just imagine how much further that relationship could expand your mission. Not to mention how much easier it would make the job of host recruiting.

Let’s start by talking about the different ways you could recruit hosts.

  • Start early. By early I mean, start the day of your current table hosted event. Consider including an option on your pledge card at your event for people to be a host at the next event. Why not catch them on their ‘high’ from your event?
  • Each time you have a new donor or host an engagement activity, plan their next step with you. It might not be asking them to be a table host, but it might be engaging them as a key volunteer. I think its safe to say that key volunteers make some of the best hosts.
  • Are you truly looking through your donor list for host prospects? This seems to be a common area that gets forgotten. Comb through your donor list, especially those who have given to your table hosted event in the past – or maybe that donor who has given to your table hosted event for several years. Determine a giving level (such as $250+) and call that group of donors.
  • Diversify: consider staff, committees, and organization members. You may need to secure a few table host recruiters to help you with some of these harder to reach segments. For staff, consider sitting with them one-on-one to determine the guests they have in mind. Explain the purpose of the event and provide information on how these events have grown your operational budget allowing for program growth.
  • Track. Track. I’m fairly certain you have a donor database so please use it to track your host prospects throughout the year. If a host can’t commit one year to your event it doesn’t mean you can’t solicit them to be a host the next year. But tracking that info is key in being able to rely on it later.
  • Last but not least – don’t get discouraged. Implement a systematic way of reaching out to your hosts, keeping in mind that it may take three to four attempts to reach them.

I’m hoping you get to the point where you see the value of your host beyond what they accomplish at one event for you. Some of these hosts are bringing you board members, long-term major donors, committee members, and much more.

So, let’s treat them as such. Try some of these things to make sure your hosts feel special all year long:

  • Host a host appreciation gathering. Something simple. Not only do they feel appreciated and get to meet other hosts, but this is a wonderful opportunity for that host to bring someone with them who they think has the potential to be a future host.
  • Segment your table hosts in your mailings. Take opportunities to show them that you know who they are to you. Pull out a handful of newsletters and handwrite personal notes to your hosts.
  • Consider sending a mid-year thank you postcard, video, or special mailing from a client served.

When the time comes to actively pursue these host prospects, they should be highly engaged and highly cultivated, and you will have a stronger list to start from because you have been diligent about tracking.

A Look Back at 2017

Though 2018 is well underway, it’s still a little hard to believe! We at Kennari are excited to enter a new year – both for our own company and for the many nonprofit clients we serve. With the new year comes new possibilities – new initiatives – new successes – new stories of impact. Now we know that also means new challenges – new restraints – new obstacles – new complications. But, it wouldn’t be the industry we know and love if it was too easy!

In 2017, the Kennari Consulting team added five new members. We were grateful to add such high caliber people who were willing to jump in and join us in helping our clients move their missions forward. We continue to offer services in four main areas: campaigns, annual fund, grant writing, and strategic planning. We were also able to present at various conferences and groups on several facets of fund development and the critical role it plays within nonprofits.

As we celebrated the close of 2017, we were privileged to welcome Steve Wilson, President of the Frey Foundation, to present at our Holiday Luncheon. He shared that grant makers give gifts in three basic categories: Responsive, Collaborative, and Catalytic. Responsive grants are often transactional and given within defined guidelines to provide basic services. Collaborative grants have shared expectations and offer mutually beneficial partnerships. Catalytic grants look at systemic problems and partner to solve larger scale problems.

Though grant makers will likely always support all three of those categories, many, including the Frey Foundation, are continuing to seek more opportunities to make Catalytic Grants for long-term solutions. We were also all reminded to ask questions when meeting with funders: What are their goals? How do they see their funding changing in the next 5 years? What challenges do they currently have? Steve reminded us that fundraising, especially from foundations, should be a conversation, not just a presentation.

But most importantly, looking back on 2017, we celebrated many client successes. Whether it was the finish of a capital campaign, a transformational grant award, an implemented strategic plan, a wildly successful donor acquisition event, or just the first time an organization finally got a newsletter out, we have had much to celebrate with our clients. We are honored to partner with the staff and volunteers of so many organizations who truly are making a difference in their communities.

As we look ahead to all that 2018 can be, we are excited and ready. And we hope you are too!

Intern Spotlight

Meet Hanna Werner, a Senior at Cornerstone University majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in Music. Hanna concluded her internship experience with us before graduating this December.

Everyone is Connected

Over the course of my internship at Kennari Consulting, I have learned some of the best, most effective fundraising tactics and strategies to help organizations, but my biggest takeaway from my experience is the importance of building and cultivating relationships both internally and externally.

The staff at Kennari have brains that are living spider webs of relationships. I’ve had the privilege of shadowing the team in meetings and it seems they know everyone in Grand Rapids. All 196,445 people. Okay, that’s an over exaggeration, but it sure seems like it! Staff often know not only who a donor is, but also who they should sit by at an event. They know who should ask them for support to elicit the best response. They know where the donor went to college and where their interests lie, so an organization can ask for support for the project the individual is most interested in. In Kennari minds, everyone is connected.

Initiating and cultivating relationships is essential to any career, and particularly so for nonprofit development, but you also need the knowledge and wisdom to navigate those relationships. I’ve learned you must take time investing in individuals, not purely to get that major gift, but to get donors engaged in your organization for the right reasons.

Everyone wants to be appreciated and given special attention. Why not give that to your donors?

Not only should you be cultivating your current and new donors, but don’t forget about the person who sits across from you or down the hall in your office. Development and fundraising is impossible to do alone. You need people to support your organization, both externally and internally. You need to have a team that works well together for goals to be met. By being around Kennari’s team, it has affirmed the need to respect and value those around you, ask questions, and encourage those questions to be asked.

I am just graduating from Cornerstone University and the individuals working in Career Services have always drilled networking into our heads. Some fellow students have expressed to me that they feel like it is inappropriate to “use” someone to get a job or ask for support, when in fact, people typically want to help! My dad has always told me, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In some respects, that is the case. But you must have both. You must have the technical knowledge and wisdom to even utilize those professional relationships appropriately.

Overall, my internship at Kennari Consulting has increased my knowledge of West Michigan’s nonprofit community, given me the opportunity to do impactful work for clients, and connected me to individuals and organizations within the industry. They don’t make you feel like “the intern,” they include you in conversation and make you feel like a part of the team. Even the conversations I have had with the encouraging, passionate, and kind individuals in the office have impacted my life for the better.

If you are a student considering a career in the nonprofit industry, I would highly recommend pursuing an internship with Kennari because you are exposed to such a wide variety of organizations, projects, people, and job opportunities.

Thank you to everyone on the Kennari team for a great internship experience!


Hanna has been an absolute delight to work with during her semester here at Kennari Consulting. We are appreciative of her self-starter attitude, keen ability to take direction, and great sense of humor. We wish her the best as she begins her career in the nonprofit sector next month!

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

Round Table Round Up: Development Reporting and Scorecards

During November’s client Round Table, Steve and I discussed Development Reporting and Scorecards. We are in the process of integrating Scorecards for all of our clients, as it is a great tool to keep us updated and to keep your board involved and motivated!

Why should we have a scorecard? 

When you create a development plan, you’re creating your fundraising goals for the upcoming year(s). By creating a scorecard that mimics your development plan goals, you’ll be able to easily communicate those outcomes on a monthly basis.  A scorecard will help you stay on track with those projections, and will show your fundraising growth over time.

Why is it important to have a development report vs. financial report?

Finance numbers will not include all items that your database can pull. This includes Donor Retention, New Donors in an identified time frame or for a specific appeal, donor category totals, LYBUNT donors, etc. Fundraising reports that you pull provide an opportunity to connect your board to your donors.

You should also be reconciling with your finance team monthly, so your fundraising numbers should match closely.  Remember that in an event summary, for example, you will be reporting gross dollars in. By working with finance, you can create a net report to show the overall impact of your fundraising event.

Development Reporting Tips

  1. When presenting your development plan budget, give the previous year’s totals, in comparison to previous year to date, current year to date, and current year goal.
  2. Cash flow is never evenly split month-by-month. Reporting comparisons over previous years helps to show the high/low points. If you are planning to raise $200,000 in the year, it’s not as easy as dividing that goal by 12 to get your projected fundraising numbers. Certain months of the year will be significantly higher over others.
  3. Accounting reports and Development reports are not the same, but they should be close. There is often a difference in received date vs. deposit date which will impact the two reports side-by-side slightly. When accounting is showing their report of income and expenses, your income report should be very close. Keep in mind, that accounting will “close out” event accounts though, once funds are received. If you are receiving a monthly donation in response to that event, however, your cash-in budget report may shift higher as time goes on and the accounting report will stay the same.
  4. Make sure your reports are easy to run from the database. You shouldn’t be spending more than 30 minutes to run this report each month. It can be as easy as pulling an appeal summary of all cash gifts and plugging those numbers in to the appropriate goal line item.
  5. Have other staff review your reports to make sure they are easy to understand. It’s likely that you see the data every day and it makes sense to you. If you have footnotes and a cheat sheet explaining nuances within the report, it’s too complicated.
  6. Focus on your successes, especially in the areas of fundraising that your board has been involved. If they see how their help has really made a difference, they’ll continue to be willing to give that support. And at the same time, if there happens to be a specific effort that wasn’t as successful this year as in previous years, be ready to explain why.
  7. Additional analysis reports can be helpful at board meetings. However, do not overwhelm them with data overload! Choose one specific report to highlight each month in addition to your budget comparison. It’s often helpful to coordinate these reports with past or upcoming efforts. If you’re reviewing lapsed donors, frame it in a timely way that the board can help recapture some of those donors.


Alano Club of Kent County finds benefit in a new Donor Database

When Alano Club of Kent County came to Kennari Consulting for annual fund coaching, donor software was high on their list of priorities. An Access database had been in place for many years storing member, donor, and other transactional donor-like data for the organization. Any type of data entry was a challenge. Mailing lists were a cumbersome task of sorting through hundreds of names and acknowledgement letters were done manually one-by-one.

After implementing a new donor database, Alano Club of Kent County quickly accesses their data through a new lens of grouping, reporting, and analysis. Staff thinks more strategically about who is receiving an appeal based on previous giving amounts and timeframes, rather than an all-or-nothing approach. Acknowledgment letters are now processed through the database, instead of manually. Year-by-year comparison reports of specific donor and member appeals are now possible with just a few clicks. Monthly statements of payment transactions for groups are now processed in a matter of minutes.

By making the commitment to “good data,” Alano Club of Kent County is already seeing the benefits of a strong donor management tool after one year.

“Since starting with DonorSnap, our entire team has become more efficient and productive. We would spend hours sifting through data and sorting mailing lists for each mailing and event. We are now able to pull reports with ease, which now allows us to do even more mission work for the community.”
~Kevin M. O’Neill-Boehm, former Executive Director

The Alano Club of Kent County serves those recovering from addiction and their families by providing a welcoming place to support meetings and fellowship.


Round Table Round Up: Meaningful Development Plans

Close your eyes. You’re 14 years old and you just received your school report card. You hold it in your hands as your eyes scan the page top to bottom. A… A… B… A… F… Next to the “F” your teacher has written, “Need to apply yourself in class. Not living up to potential.”

Do your development plans sometimes feel this way? Your reporting and planning time always sneaks away? Your development plans are not living up to, what should be, a meaningful potential?

Forecasting development plans and creating regular “report cards” to track your progress can help your organization in the long-term achieve an A+.

National and Individual Fundraising Trends
Looking at national fundraising trends can help you craft not only an achievable fundraising goal, but a specific, measurable fundraising goal for your organization. From this, you can look at your own fundraising trends.

  • What is the breakout of giving from the last three years?
  • What were the “outliers” and how can we use this information in the future?
  • What worked and what didn’t work last year?

Evaluate your events, direct mail campaigns, other communications, and renewal rates throughout in answering the three questions above.

Three Year Outlook Strategies for Growth
Create three-year strategies for growth in your organization by thinking about what lies ahead and being prepared.

  • What are the needs of your organization over the next three years? Will you have new programming? A capital campaign? Endowment campaign? Increased operating needs?
  • What are the best strategies for growth of your organization? Are you renewing, recruiting, and cultivating all types of donors? Do you have a strategy for planned giving?
  • What resources does your team need to meet these needs? Will you need additional staff? Additional materials?

This three-year plan should include specific dates for direct mail appeals, board solicitation strategies, major donor solicitation plans, event time frames, goals, and strategies, and grant time frames and goals.

By creating this three-year outlook plan, you will be able to better anticipate the needs within your organization. This is not to say that everything will go exactly as you have planned, however, having a plan with specific strategies can give you a base – a cohesive and consistent vision – despite the unexpected in your organization.

Budgeting Process
To supplement your three-year plan strategies, create a three-year budget. This budget should include the revenue goals in consistent sections. Many organizations track giving from Individuals, Businesses, Foundations, and Events while others track by “appeal” type and track giving by Direct Mail, Events, Grants, Major Gifts, etc. As long as it’s consistent and easily pulled in your database, it doesn’t matter which specifics you track! Just remember to keep the categories broad so it doesn’t get too detailed for the board and leadership to digest.

Once you have listed all goals, use this as a tool to either meet or increase your goals in the future. Craft specific, measurable, realistic, and time-bound strategies that will help you meet these goals. Once your end date has come, evaluate!

Gather the data from your team and set a reporting process and plan. Use your data to support your plan and demonstrate that in the report.

Working with Your Board of Directors
Reporting to your internal team is important, but communicating the development plan with your board members is equally as important.

  • Demonstrate how your plan will address specific goals for your organization and how strategies will be implemented and post-evaluated. These details will help them understand and approve the plan.
  • Get them on board (pun intended) with the strategies and let them know of their responsibilities within the plan.
  • Keep them in the loop! Reporting back to your board of directors must happen for them to be effective in their role in the planning as well. Did they include personalized notes to donors in the last direct mail campaign? Was that campaign a success? Tell them! Let them know that they made a positive impact and they will be apt to do similar activities in the future.

Close your eyes. You’re 14 years old and you just received your next school report card. You hold it in your hands as your eyes scan the page top to bottom. A… A… B… A… A…
At the bottom your teacher has written, “Proud of you and the tools you’ve used to make progress!” You smile, find a magnet, and stick the report card on the front of your refrigerator.
It takes time to get an A, but you know that you have laid out and begun to track the steps needed to reach your goals.

Join Us September 7! Resources & Results – Campaign Readiness

You’re Invited!

It’s time to talk campaigns.

At Kennari Consulting, we are dedicated to giving nonprofit organizations the skills and resources they need to prepare for their futures. On September 7th, from 12-1pm, join us for lunch as we discuss Campaign Readiness and what it means to be prepared for a campaign. Capital campaigns are wonderful opportunities to move your organization forward, facilitate change within your community, and engage your donors, but they require much planning and preparation on a whole range of development components. So even if a capital campaign is the farthest thought from your organization’s mind, join us to learn what strategies you can implement today to guarantee capital success tomorrow. You won’t want to miss it!

Date: September 7, 2017
Time: 12:00 – 1:00 PM
Location: 401 Hall St. SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 – First Floor Conference Room
RSVP: Click here to register

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