Amy Eisenstein is a “no nonsense” fundraising consultant for local and national nonprofits. She is the author of 50 Asks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the .
MKC: Your book is targeted specifically to small shops. Is that because you have a particular affinity for them, or they need more help?
AMY: The big shops invest in training, in all sorts of specialists and consultants, so even though they’re often struggling as well, they have more resources to put into development. But I have to say that most nonprofits in this country are operating with small shops, with very few exceptions. The universities, hospitals and a few national nonprofits have more than three development staff members, but a large majority of the nonprofits in our country and around the world have sometimes no paid development professionals, and usually one, or maybe two if they’re lucky. So yes, that’s why I targeted small shops. They need a lot of help.
MKC: I have heard that the average tenure of a development director is 18 months. Is that reasonable to believe?
AMY: Yes, that is the statistic. I haven’t seen an updated statistic, so I’m not sure if it’s changed in the last few years. It’s very unfortunate because, as you know, fundraising is about relationship building. So to have people job-hopping every 18 months is really a disservice to the organization, to the donors, and to the development person. But some of the issues that come up in small shops lead to that kind of turnover. Sometimes it’s unrealistic expectations of an executive director or board when a person is hired, or sometimes it’s such low pay that people move on for higher paying jobs. Other times it’s lack of training and experience, so they’re just not successful. It really is a shame. It would be great if we could do something to help increase longevity.
MKC: On your website you offer “no nonsense consulting” and I was wondering what that means.
AMY: I work with staff members and board members who are often intimidated or don’t understand the basics of fundraising. “No nonsense” means I’m not gentle with people. I tell them they need to ask and they need to help with fundraising in order for their organizations to be successful. A lot of board members and staff members tread along with hope and prayer and don’t really get out and do the fundraising. I tell them what they need to do, and that they’re not going to raise the money unless they get out there and work at it. And sometimes that means doing uncomfortable things, like asking people for money.
MKC: What’s that reluctance about?
AMY: Oh, there’s all sorts of reluctance. Fear of rejection, fear of people coming back and asking them for money for their favorite charities once they’ve given. We live in a society where money is a taboo subject. Nobody wants to talk about assets or how much you make. So lots of people are uncomfortable asking for a specific donation.
MKC: 50 Asks in 50 Weeks sounds a lot like Thinner Thighs in 30 Days. What’s your basic concept?
AMY: 50 Asks in 50 Weeks came about because in my experience talking with nonprofits and working with nonprofit boards and development staff, I found that most people in small shops were so busy doing the administrative work and the behind-the scenes-things that go into fundraising – like database management, event planning, grant reporting, thank you note writing, and even the P.R. and marketing, writing newsletters and such – that they really were fundraising infrequently. They were so bogged down, that the “asking” was falling to the bottom of the list. I created a system for counting how many asks were made. When we looked at a lot of different small shops we were finding that small shops were only asking for donations between 10 and 30 times a year. So I thought, well, they need to be asking more frequently in order to really be raising more money, so we need to bring that to the forefront and show them how to identify prospects and how to ask more frequently and raise significantly more money.
MKC: What are the issues that keep your consulting clients awake at night?
AMY: I think fear that they’re not going to raise enough in order to provide the programs and services they want to provide. I think a primary issue is that board members aren’t helping, and what I’ve found is that nonprofits aren’t giving the board members the tools or the training or know how or assistance to really help. So the issues are that the staff members are worried that the boards aren’t helping enough, but I don’t think that’s a fair complaint because the nonprofits aren’t teaching board members how to help. That’s often what I do. I’ll come in and teach boards and staff how to work with each other. One of the things I’m known for is giving boards and staff members concrete tools and simple steps to get from Point A to Point B.
MKC: Have you seen nonprofits doing well at integrating social media into their fundraising?
AMY: I think social media is one component of a small development shop’s fundraising effort. It certainly works really well for big organizations that can dedicate a person to doing social media full time. With smaller organizations, I think it needs to be one of the tools in their toolbox, but not necessarily the main focus, because I haven’t seen it raise a lot of money for small shops yet. That being said, I do think that the future of fundraising, in part, is in social media because younger people obviously are going to be giving more and more online as they start coming of age. Some of the generations have already started giving all of their giving online. One of the first things that donors of any age do, but the boomers (and younger) for sure, is go and check out an organization’s website. If a small shop isn’t paying attention to their website, that really reflects badly on the organization and they may lose a donation. Whether a donor writes a check or gives online, they’re checking out the nonprofit online first.
Honestly, to run a modest to reasonable social media program, you only need to give it about 30 minutes attention a day. You need to do one or two posts on Twitter and Facebook and make sure your website is up to date and obviously, that you’re able to keep taking donations online, sending your supporters an email once a month. It doesn’t have to be so much more than that, and it doesn’t need to take all day.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.