All posts by Mark Zobel PhD, CFRE

I help nonprofits accomplish their missions and achieve their visions for a better world through donor-centered fundraising and comprehensive development work.

professionals

Go Pro Or Go Home

Being professional does not mean being stilted or stodgy, but it does mean comporting oneself in a manner that dignifies the proposition being made to the donor. Whoever solicits for a worthy cause – be it a volunteer or a paid fundraiser – becomes the face of that cause to the donor.

mail box

Sharing is Not Always Caring: 3 Considerations for Donors’ Contact Information

For better or worse, nonprofit organizations can and do share their mailing lists with other organizations. The decision to share or not is one that should not be taken lightly, and there are at least three major considerations that need to be addressed.

empty chair

4 Ways to Avoid Being an Absentee Leader

The most destructive, and unfortunately the most common kind of bad leader, is the absentee leader. That is, one who is psychologically absent from the role, and who regularly fails to show up in the way that is needed by the team. Left unchecked, absentee leadership fosters high rates of job dissatisfaction, turnover, role ambiguity, even mental health concerns. Here are four concrete steps one can take to avoid this particular pitfall.

Money

The CFRE: Worthwhile or Not? (Part 2 of 2)

I applaud what CFRE International is trying to do, as I believe in accountability for fundraisers. I also believe in accountability for the certification process, and if the CFRE is to grow in its recognition as an industry standard, and be taken seriously, then it must introduce greater rigor into the process.

Money

The CFRE: Worthwhile or Not? (Part 1 of 2)

There has been a lot of discussion among fundraisers, both online and around the water cooler, about the CFRE credential, whether or not it has merit, whether it is credentialism run amok, or worse, a scam. While @CFREx’s comparison on Twitter of the CFRE to the sinking Titanic is a bit overblown, there are a number of reasoned critiques out there that do make some valid points.

4 Must-Dos to Handle Donor Information with Respect and Confidentiality

The sixth tenet of the Donor’s Bill of Rights says donors have the right “…to be assured that information about their donation is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.” A failure to treat donors with respect and safeguard their information can be disastrous to the relationship. All philanthropy is based on trust, and once the trust is gone there is nothing left. Safeguarding donor information is not just the law, it is vital to the success of the organization.

books

My “Read Immediately List” for 2020

I once had a philosophy professor who spoke of his “read immediately list.” That is, a list of books he felt were so important that to die without reading them would be a tragedy. I too have a read immediately list and, like him, mine has grown beyond what I am likely to have time for, but what a glorious list it is. Of the eighteen books from that much larger list I have committed to for this year, here are five work-related titles that I look forward to in 2020.

pigs-at-the-trough

Don’t be Like Pigs at the Trough, Say “Thank You” To Donors

It ought to go without saying. When someone offers you something, and you accept it, you say, “thank you.” It’s just common sense, and yet it never ceases to amaze how uncommon common sense has become. Sadly, many nonprofits act like pigs at the proverbial trough, greedily snorting up all the resources donors put in front of them without ever acknowledging the generosity of their gifts.

Open Ledger

Keep Donors Informed: Open Up the Books

Donors cannot make informed decisions about how and where to give their money if they cannot get a sense of the financial health of an organization. Nonprofits that are on the up and up should have no trouble disclosing basic financial information.

Conference Table

Donor Rights and the Nonprofit Board

Donors can only evaluate an organization’s ability to operate ethically if they have reasonable access to information about who the leaders are, and their operational track record. For this reason, the Donor’s Bill of Rights calls for organizations to be open about the identities of their board members.

playing cards

Don’t Hide Your Hand From Your Donors

Donors have the right to know an organization’s mission, how it intends to use unrestricted funds, and whether or not it has the capability to follow through on its promises.

bag over head

Thou Shalt Not Kiss-Off Donor Intent

Alumni/Development work is always and everywhere about relationships. Relationships take time to build and are based on trust. Building trust by honoring donor intent might seem like good old-fashioned common sense. The problem is, common sense isn’t so common anymore.

bill-of-rights

A Guided Tour of the Donor’s Bill of Rights

Any philanthropy professional worth his or her salt is, or should be, on intimate terms with the Donor Bill of Rights. It outlines the backbone of trust, which lies at the heart of all philanthropy, and organizations who ignore these tenets do so at their peril.

person meditating

The Value of Margin in Alumni/Development Work (and life!)

One of the most overlooked productivity hacks has to do with the concept of margin. That is, creating space in your workflow for not actively working on a project. That might seem counterintuitive, but building in empty space is actually integral to the overall project management process.

students at graduation

Student Satisfaction and Alumni Giving: 7 Strategies for Engagement

There is a strong correlation between student satisfaction and alumni giving. Here are 7 ways advancment can help ensure greater student satisfaction on campus.

drops of water creating a ripple effect

What a “Mind Like Water” Can Do

A mind that is untroubled by worries over the various inputs of the day is free to respond to the needs of the moment, and then return to a state of calm. GTD is all about restoring the calm.

workflow chart

GTD: My First Big Breakthrough

David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology is not about getting things done. It’s about clearing the mind so that one can focus on the needs of the moment.

Iceberg

Alumni Relations and Icebergs: The Hidden Makings of Success

Engaged alumni, a thriving annual fund, regular major gifts, these are all highly visible signs of a healthy alumni/development program. The reality, though, is that the vast majority of what makes these successes happen lies behind the scenes where no one can see. Much like an iceberg, the bulk of what drives institutional advancement is largely hidden from view.

coffee and book

5 Books I Put on My “Read Immediately List” in 2020

My “read immediately” list is far longer than what I will be able to get to in a lifetime, and that is how it should be. There were, however, some titles that made a real difference in 2020.

headlines

3 Headline Templates for Optimizing Fundraising Appeals

Donors only spend a few precious seconds scanning fundraising appeals. It is critical that eye-catching headlines and call-out text be crafted in a way that communicates the essence of the message. Here are three templates to help make the most of your headlines.

student with books

Vocation and Gen Z: Alumni as Mentors

Mounting evidence indicates that Gen Z-ers tend to be espeically open to coaching and mentoring. Given the right circumstances, alumni can be effective mentors, helping students grapple with the big questions of vocation.

Disney Castle

Be “Show-Ready” and “Optimize the Mundane” with Alumni

Here’s what a trip to Disney World taught me about delivering an exceptional level of service to alumni and donors.

hurricane damage

5 Alumni Engagement Strategies for When Tragedy Strikes

Alumni/Development work is all about relationships. Good alumni engagment after a disaster strikes is all about being responsive to the needs of the moment.

written letter

Before Your Next Appeal Goes Out, Check the “You” Factor

Appeal letters are at their best when the language focuses heavily on the donor’s need to know that he or she is the only one who can make a difference in that moment. Too many refernces to “us” and “we” redirect attention back to the organization, attenuating the importance of the donor’s role.

balance

Why I Now Use the Term “Balance” Instead of “Work-Life Balance”

Life is one indivisible whole, and to fragment it into discrete categories introduces a kind of needless schizophrenia. Instead of seeing work as this thing that is somehow at odds with everything else, we need to see what role it could/should play in enhancing all the other areas of life, so as to foster greater levels of happiness and fulfilment.

direct mail appeals

Gone in 20 Seconds: Grabbing Attention in Direct Mail Appeals

Over 90% of potential readers never open the envelope. The more that writers understand about how readers engage with direct mail appeals, the better chance they have of maximizing open rates.

gift range chart

How a Gift Range Chart Can Reveal Gaps in Your Donor Base

Gift range charts are invaluable tools that can help drive fundrasing appeals throughout the year. One can see clearly how many gifts are needed at each level, and how many prospects are needed for each gift. There is one often-overlooked benefit, however, and that is their ability to reveal gaps in your donor base.

panning for gold

Managing News Overload Part 2, The Processes and Tools I Use

Getting to the most useful and helpful content is a lot like panning for gold. There is much detritus to sift through in order to find the best reads. With the right tools, however, the process can be made fairly easy and even enjoyable.

newspaper

Managing News Overload Part 1, Four Rules to Follow

News feeds, blogs, websites, and print media are like an army that mounts a daily assault on your mind. We are constantly bombarded with “stuff,” much of which is poorly written and peppered with errors. With a few simple rules and the right tools, however, you can get control of the glut and increase the quality of what you read.

Old Phone

3 Reasons To Not Give Up on the Phone Just Yet

Annual phon-a-thon appeals have witnessed declining success rates for quite awhile now, but there are still some good reasons to continue doing them.

Primer Cover Page

4 Ways Your Board Can Benefit From a Primer on Advancement

Board members bring their own unique skills and abilities to the table, but they may not necessarily understand the role institutional advancement plays in the organization. Providing them with a brief primer on the aims and functions of advancement can be an invaluable resource for fostering understanding and engagement.

Thumbs Up

5 Reasons Why Every Campus Needs a Centralized Fundraising Approval Process

Student groups and campus organizations can and should be encouraged to participate in fundraising, as it helps foster a culture of philanthropy and extends the reach of the development team. It is vitally important, however, that a centralized process for approving and monitoring fundraisers be put in place. Here is why.

Cell Phone

My 5 “Nonnegotiables” For Task Management Apps

With so many task management applications available, selecting and settling on one can be both time-consuming and expensive. Before giving an app serious consideration, I find it helpful to get clear about what I absolutely must have in an application.

direct mail

What Gets Read First In Direct Mail Appeals

Direct mail appeals are unlike other forms of writing, and people do not read them the way they would other correspndence. Are you including a P.S. line in all your direct mail appeals? If you are not, you need to. Here is why…

books to read

How I GTD: The 3 Most Helpful Books I Read in 2019

I read widely this past year, and as I look back I see a pattern in the topics to which I gravitated. Three books in particular were the most helpful.

twitter welcome screen

4 Ways I Use Twitter in Alumni/Development Work

Twitter can be an extremely powerful tool in alumni/development work, both in terms of alumni engagement and one’s own professional development, but only when you understand the nature of the medium and what it can and cannot do.

typing email

Inbox Zero or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and “Love” Email

How emptying my email inbox everyday helped me keep track of things better, regain a sense of control, better prioritize what is actionable, and enabled me to leave work at work.

saying thank you

Thanking Donors: Is There Such a Thing as Too Much?

Saying thank-you is a critical part of donor stewardship, but it can be overdone. A carefully crafted donor recognition plan ensures that donors get appreciated consistently and in just the right ways.

letting go

Giving Up vs. Letting Go

We give up on things when we stop caring about them. Letting go, however, does not mean one does not care, but rather that one accepts the situation and works to clear the way for something better.

light bulb

Failure is an Option

No one likes to fail, but stepping outside of our comfort zones and allowing ourselves to screw up is necessary for achieving great success.