10 Questions with Patricia J. Langford, CEO of Dawning Family Services

Team NLC Stories

At the Nonprofit Leadership Center, we believe the best lessons in nonprofit leadership come from nonprofit leaders themselves. Our 10 Questions With Series celebrates and elevates nonprofit and business leaders across the Tampa Bay region each month who are making an enduring impact on our communities. Today, we’re pleased to introduce you to Patricia J. Langford, the CEO of Dawning Family Services (formerly the Alpha House of Tampa).

Patricia J. Langford, CEO of Dawning Family Services in Tampa, Florida

Pat has been at the helm of Dawning Family Services since 2010, responsible for overseeing programs and services for pregnant homeless women and homeless families with minor children. Most recently, she led the organization through a multi-pronged brand transformation and mission expansion, including a physical move and construction of a new shelter. 

Pat is an experienced and proactive leader with more than 25 years of experience in the design, management and administration of housing programs and support services for youth and homeless individuals and families and victims of domestic violence.

Here’s what Pat had to share about how to engage today’s donors, what nonprofit leaders should consider before a brand revitalization and the moment that changed her life in 2001.

Q1: As the CEO of Dawning Family Services, tell us about your organization and what drew you to serve this nonprofit.

Pat: Dawning Family Services provides short-term emergency shelter for families with at least one minor child that are seeking refuge from the storm of homelessness. To our knowledge, we are the only known low-barrier and Equal Access Rule compliant family shelter in Hillsborough County. (The Equal Access Rule was established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — HUD — in 2016 that requires shelter owners/operators/managers who receive HUD Community Planning and Development funding to grant equal access to their facilities in accordance with an individual’s gender identity.)

Every family deserves an opportunity to redefine their future. For me, this is all about social justice. That’s a big part of what drew me to Dawning Family Services. Your present situation does not have to define your future. Your future is what you’re willing to work hard to achieve. Our families deserve a shot at success. Moving into our shelter from living in a car or sleeping on a park bench and then quickly moving into permanent housing offers opportunities that so many of us take for granted.

Patricia Langford says that your present situation doesn't have to define your future.

Dawning Family Services recently expanded our services to include families and not just pregnant women and mothers with young children. By expanding our mission to serve entire families, we’re taking a holistic approach to ending homelessness. The families we serve in shelter receive essential services, including case management, financial assistance to quickly move into permanent housing (e.g., benefits, rent, utilities) and post-shelter supportive services to ensure self-sufficiency. We also have two Rapid Re-Housing programs. The first serves clients in our emergency shelter and the second is for families who are on the Hillsborough County’s Coordinated Entry List. Through partnership-building with landlords and property managers, we’ve become adept at finding permanent housing opportunities for families who have the extra challenge of one or more evictions in their history and for those who have non-violent felonies. 

Q2: Your organization recently underwent a significant rebranding effort, including a new name, logo and revitalized mission focus. What lessons did you learn from this experience, and what advice would you share with other nonprofits considering an organizational rebrand?

Pat: It’s labor-intensive to take on so much at once, but it’s also exhilarating! In a nutshell, we completely refreshed an organization that has been in the Hillsborough County community for more than 35 years. For other nonprofits considering an identity revitalization, I would recommend the following:

  1. Stay laser-focused on the “what” and the “why” behind your rebrand. What do you hope to accomplish by rebranding? What messages are you trying to convey? Why should you rebrand, and why now? 
  2. Allow adequate time for the necessary due diligence when selecting a communications partner/firm. We were incredibly fortunate to have been at the right place at the right time with our rebranding efforts. We met SPARK through our board’s Public Relations Task Force when researching PR firms. SPARK mentioned STOKED, a pro-bono nonprofit rebrand competition. Every year, the SPARK team selects a nonprofit to rebrand for free. A board member completed the STOKED application, and we were overjoyed that they chose us as the 2018 recipient. Although we won the pro-bono competition, SPARK really understood us — who we are, what we do and what we provide.
  3. Ensure your entire organization understands why you are rebranding, the steps along the way and receives communications throughout the process, including your board, staff and supporters.

Q3: Dawning Family Services recently announced a capital campaign to raise $8 million to expand the care and support you provide to the families you serve. As donors’ needs and expectations continue to evolve in our ever-changing world, what do you think are the most important ways to secure major gifts today? 

Pat: I believe nonprofits must provide as many opportunities as possible for individuals in the community to hear about the project and to connect in a way that is personally meaningful to them. Donors need to know how and why families benefit from our unique services and the pressing need to expand our shelter capacity and ancillary services. I want our donors to feel a strong connection to who we are and what we offer and to understand that they can be part of ending a family’s homelessness and the potential impact that will have on future generations. The community engagement process must cover multiple facets, as access to information must be presented in numerous ways — from social media and website updates to personal property tours, customized letters and board member connections. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to donor engagement.

Q4. What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to new professionals or emerging leaders today?

Pat: Allow yourself the time to discover what truly ignites your passion.

Q5. Last year, your organization participated in NLC’s sustainability cohort, which is a small group learning environment where 10 nonprofit organizations worked together with their leaders to strengthen strategic decision-making models by aligning impact and profitability. Tell us about your experience and how, if at all, you and your team are thinking differently about planning as a result.

Pat: Participating in the sustainability cohort through NLC has been a fantastic opportunity. We’ve already made decisions based on what we’ve learned. Moving forward, it will impact future decisions about the programs we offer, the services we provide, funding streams we pursue and more. It forced us (in a good way) to think critically about the financial viability and mission impact of our current programs and services and how those elements must be at the forefront as we plan for the future. We’re embedding the strategic decision-making model we learned through the program in our organizational goals for 2020. I also had the opportunity to attend Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management program last summer, and we’ve added what I learned there to our current planning efforts.

Q6. When you’re not working with your team to help women and families in need, what are you most passionate about in your everyday life?

Pat: I’m passionate about physical activity and strive to integrate cardio exercise into my schedule at least five days a week to improve my physical and mental health. Throughout my long career in the nonprofit sector, exercise has always been a huge stress reliever. Plus, as an introvert, taking those long solitary walks is how I re-energize. 

Additionally, my husband and I head to Longboat Key whenever we can get a few days away. It’s our happy place. We also enjoy a round of golf when time allows.

Q7. What’s the best book you’ve read recently? 

Pat: I’m an avid reader, mostly fiction mysteries or fun beach reads. I just finished reading “The Less They Know About Us” by Axton Betz-Hamilton. It’s a true-crime memoir about how a devastating and mysterious identity theft affected a woman and her parents.

Q8. What’s the best movie or Netflix/Amazon Prime show you’ve watched recently?

Pat: I’m mostly watching whatever is on TV to get me through a workout on the stationary bike or rowing machine.

Q9. Finish this sentence: If I weren’t the CEO of Dawning Family Services, I would be ______________.

Pat: I would be the owner or general manager of a professional sports team. I grew up watching sports with my Dad, and being connected with a sports team as an owner or general manager is a fun fantasy. 

Q10. What’s something interesting about you that most people don’t know?

Pat: I am an only child, a former lifeguard, a Pastor’s wife, a dog lover with a 165-pound English Mastiff named Boo, and a native New Yorker who lived in Brooklyn, the Lower East Side, Greenwich Village and the Bronx, as well as “upstate” Chester. 

I also spent several years living and working in New Jersey. In 2001, I was working on West 14th Street in New York City, where I watched the 9/11 terrorist attack unfold from my office window. My office was about one mile away from the World Trade Center and I can remember exactly where I was and who I was speaking to when the first plane hit. I watched the buildings collapse. It was surreal and something that only those who personally witnessed the attack can fully understand. The terrifying events from that day and the tragically sad and scary days that followed have left an indelible mark on my life. 

Would you or someone you know be a great leader to profile for an upcoming 10 Questions With Series article? Email us at info@nlctb.org with your recommendations.

READ NEXT: 10 Questions with Randall H. Russell from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg

READ NEXT: 10 Questions With the Deuces’ Live Executive Director Veatrice Farrell

READ NEXT: 10 Questions With Frameworks Board Chair Jennifer Garcia

Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to get more great advice from nonprofit leaders, along with the latest tips, tools and trainings for nonprofits.

Why Nonprofits Must Think Differently About Measuring and Reporting Impact

Sheff Crowder, President, Conn Memorial Foundation Tips

In 2008, author and renowned philanthropy expert Dan Pallotta challenged nonprofits to find a better way to communicate organizational impact. More than a decade later, our sector continues to struggle with communicating how our work truly makes a difference.

Thinking differently about nonprofit impact | Nonprofit Leadership Center

How should nonprofits measure and articulate their impact? How do we communicate what social returns on investment look like? As a sector, we must begin answering these questions differently than we do today. By understanding our current challenges, we can chart a better path forward.

3 Pitfalls to Avoid When Communicating Nonprofit Impact

As a nonprofit funder for more than 25 years, I see three common mistakes most charities make when it comes to demonstrating community impact:

1. Equating impact with activities.
Many nonprofits report impact by counting heads and dollars — sharing the number of events held, people served, volunteers engaged, dollars raised or other similar metrics. While it’s great that your organization may have served 100,000 people last year, funders and donors want to know not just what you did but why it matters. Of the individuals or families you served, how is your support changing and improving lives? How are those outcomes contributing to more significant improvements to our local economy and community? Instead of thinking about organizational impact in terms of listing tactical activities accomplished, funders want to know that you’re tracking meaningful metrics and driving programmatic outcomes that lead to enduring, positive change.

2.  Mistaking aspirations for outcomes.
Another common trend I see when it comes to nonprofit impact reports is elevating aspirations over actual results. For instance, I often see impact reports that showcase lofty visions, such as “we’re developing kids to be good global citizens.” While that’s certainly a noble and necessary cause, it isn’t a concrete result, nor does it demonstrate how you’re making progress toward that outcome with your current programs and services. While communicating aspirations through your mission and vision are important, nonprofit organizations must connect programmatic specifics to those larger goals.

3. Assuming the packaging can carry the message.
In some cases, organizations showcase beautiful infographics for their impact reports. While donor-centric and aesthetically pleasing packaging is important, your report design shouldn’t be superior to the content itself. A report that looks good but doesn’t answer the critical questions about why your work matters is just a prettier way of listing activities that doesn’t move your organization or our sector forward.

3 Ways to Think Differently About Reporting Your Nonprofit Impact

So how can nonprofits think differently about measuring and reporting impact? Here are three things we can all do as a start.

1. Identify and measure the right performance metrics.
While the nonprofit sector has excellent resources for evaluating finances, including tax returns, audited financial statements and third-party evaluation resources from organizations like Charity Navigator and GuideStar, we lack a North Star when it comes to defining what lives changed and saved looks like. The first step to ensure meaningful impact reporting is to identify the right metrics to measure. Rather than counting activities, such as program participants, events, calls responded to, food distributed, etc., ask yourself more profound questions about why what you’re doing matters.

  • How is what we’re doing changing lives?
  • How is our work contributing to positive changes in the overall community?
  • If we were to put ourselves out of business because we accomplished our mission, what does success look like? What are the milestones we can measure and control to get there?

For example, Metropolitan Ministries — a nonprofit that cares for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless in our community — reports its activities accomplished but then connects them back to broader implications for why it matters. In 2018, they reported helping more than 31,000 families, serving more than 1.6 million meals and providing nearly 200,000 nights of safe shelter for children and their parents. They then connect that back with how it is making a real difference, showing that almost 93% of families maintained their housing for at least one year after graduating from their self-sufficiency program, and that 98.5% of families have not returned to homelessness. Combining both activities with transformational impact is essential to go from highlighting what your nonprofit organization does to why it matters.

2. Tell the right story.
Once you’ve identified what you’re going to measure and how, telling your story clearly and compellingly is critical to inspire confidence and continued support among donors and funders. What should you highlight? Where do you begin?

Charity watchdog groups like Charity Navigator and GuideStar offer some helpful suggestions for what to include when you’re creating a community impact report. Both recommend several vital questions that every nonprofit should answer transparently for donors.

Charity Navigator advises donors to ask nonprofits these questions:

  • What is your organization’s mission?
  • What are your organization’s goals?
  • What progress is your organization making toward its goals?
  • What sources are available to increase my confidence in your work?

Guidestar, a platform for nonprofits to tell their stories, suggests five questions every charitable organization should answer when it comes to charting their impact:

  • What are you aiming to accomplish?
  • What are your key strategies for making this happen?
  • What are your organizational capabilities for doing this?
  • How will you know if you’re making progress?
  • What have you accomplished so far, and what’s next?

Making sure answers to these questions are appropriately reflected in your impact communications is a helpful place to start.

3. Convey your story in a way that will resonate with your audience.
Finally, while understanding what success looks like and tracking your performance is critical, communicating and packaging your story in a way that is validating and motivating to your key audiences is crucial. It’s not enough to list long paragraphs about how great your organization is and all you’re doing. Nonprofits must think about impact in terms of what it means to their target audiences, how it is of value to them and why they should care. As you craft your impact report and determine how to best package it, here are a few considerations:

  • When it comes to messaging and content, be sure to position your impact in terms of your audience, making it more about them and less about your organization.
  • Think through the best format for your audience. If you’re going to be presenting a progress report, a PowerPoint deck might be best. If it is primarily read online, something short and visual with graphics and limited text may be ideal. In other instances, a video may be best.
  • Make your impact real. In addition to quantitative data, share stories and/or quotes from real people or organizations that have benefited from your work. An impact report shouldn’t just convey progress; it should inspire pride in your audiences and motivate their continued support.

As a longtime leader in the Tampa Bay nonprofit sector, I challenge each of us to do the hard work of better communicating our impact. Our neighbors, constituents, donors and participants deserve our best when it comes to making a difference.

Upcoming Opportunities to Improve Your Nonprofit’s Impact Story

Join us for a new two-part series to elevate your nonprofit’s reputation and community impact with Sheff Crowder.

In this course, nonprofit leaders and board members will learn how to think differently about measuring and reporting impact while enhancing organizational reputation and relevance.

In the first session on January 23, you’ll learn how to understand and improve your communication with charity watchdog groups, like Charity Navigator and GuideStar. In the second session on January 30, you’ll review best practice case studies and learn the necessary components to create a meaningful impact report for your organization.


Sheff Crowder, President, Conn Memorial Foundation, NLC board member and trainer

Sheff Crowder has served as the president of the Conn Memorial Foundation since 1993. His foundation provides leadership and grants to organizations in Hillsborough County that support the educational achievement of children and youth in low-income neighborhoods and strengthen the capacity of leaders in preschools, schools and social service organizations. He was the founding chair of the Nonprofit Leadership Center and is a current board member and trainer. He is also an instructor at the University of Tampa in nonprofit management. Sheff has a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College and a master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. 

Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to get exclusive tips, tools and trainings especially designed for nonprofit leaders delivered to your inbox.

Four Skills Nonprofit Leaders Must Embrace to be Successful in 2020

Emily H. Benham | CEO, NLC Tips

After more than 40 years as a nonprofit leader, turning the page to a new calendar year is always a sobering moment for me because everything resets to zero — success metrics, revenue performance and participation impact. The pace of change in our society and nonprofit sector is dizzying. The one thing I know for sure is that our plans must continually evolve to achieve our goals. While change is constant, it’s our response that matters.

In the spirit of operating in an ever-changing landscape, I believe there are four essential skills nonprofit leaders must embrace to be successful in 2020.

Four Skills Nonprofit Leaders Must Embrace to be Successful in 2020

1. Master the pivot.

Author and NLC facilitator Steve Zimmerman recently wrote that innovation happens through continuous learning. He said that creating an innovative strategy can’t be a one-time or episodic practice, but rather it must be a continual process of trying, observing, refining and trying again.

Just as a strategic plan can’t sit on a shelf, successful nonprofit leaders must think strategically every day, using program assessments to drive real-time decision making and adapting to resource changes nimbly. Having an adaptive mindset and the ability to think strategically on your feet is a non-negotiable in 2020.

2. Find your voice.

The Nonprofit Leadership Center partnered with the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg in 2018 to assess the capacity of 31 nonprofit organizations in Pinellas County. Using the Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT), certified facilitators worked with teams of leadership staff and board members to pinpoint specific areas to strengthen to ensure organizational growth. While there were many “aha” moments from the collective findings, one of the most striking was the need for nonprofit leaders to find their voice to tell their story. Not only was this the case for fundraising effectiveness, but also for community outreach and board leadership.

In 2020, successful nonprofit leaders will recognize the value of having a clear and compelling brand story and will invest in a communications plan to help potential donors, community leaders and their peers understand what their organization does and, most importantly, why it matters. What tools (human and financial) do you already have in your toolbox or need to acquire to make that a reality? Even with a limited budget, nonprofit leaders can utilize staff and board resources as well as external consultants who are willing to contribute to their mission to inspire audiences to care and act.

READ NEXT: How to create breakthrough communications on a budget

3. Be relentlessly curious.

Learning is a lifelong endeavor. The status quo is what happens when we stop seeking new and better ways to accomplish our work. No matter how seasoned or successful one may be, the best leaders are hungry to learn more — to read about industry best practices, to stay abreast of what peers and partners are doing, to listen to and ask questions of others and to go out of their comfort zone to hone new skills. Past performance won’t dictate future success in our ever-changing world and sector. The best leaders in 2020 will be those who are relentlessly curious, seeking information, education and innovation to adapt, grow and thrive.

Here are a few ways NLC can help nonprofit leaders stay relentlessly curious this year:

  • Obtain a new professional certification: Whether you want to brush up on your skills or learn completely new ones, a professional certification is a great way to continue your education and enhance your professional reputation. NLC offers a graduate certificate in nonprofit management with the University of Tampa as well as numerous certificates in areas like grant writing, board governance, volunteer management and financial management.
  • Join a leadership peer group: The best learning happens when we connect with and learn from others. Sharing struggles and triumphs as well as problem-solving with peers is often where the most powerful learnings — and new opportunities — are born. Consider joining a leadership peer group, like one of NLC’s CEO Circles or another local leadership networking community. Email me to learn more.
  • Take a class: Strengthening our skills and our organizations is a never-ending process. We have an opportunity to grow and hone our skills in every area. Commit to take several nonprofit training classes throughout the year and empower your staff/team to do the same. Consider strengthening your skills in an area that feels less natural or comfortable to you — perhaps financial management, dealing with conflict, avoiding bias in the workplace, enhancing your social media presence or countless other areas.

READ NEXT: Why face-to-face learning is better than online learning

4. Embrace the pause.

What does productivity look like to you? Is it an empty inbox, a grant application submitted, a client’s issue resolved? Yes, of course. But being productive also means giving yourself time to reflect. Too often, I allow reflection to drop to the bottom of my list. A nicety. Something that’s optional. I recently changed my thinking on that topic. It’s not an either/or — it’s a both/and.

READ NEXT: 3 Ways to Increase Your Productivity at Work Without Working More

Team NLC recently held our staff retreat at Quantum Leap Farm as part of their Equine Assisted Self Exploration (EASE) program. Our staff retreats have historically consisted of packed agendas and discussions around strategic goals and growing resources. This past year, however, we ditched the overwhelming list of conversation topics to explore the expression of our individual leadership styles and to learn more about each other. Working as a team with our equine partners and master trainer Ellen Nastir, we learned how to better work together to accomplish our big audacious goals. We learned to celebrate who we are and what we bring to the team.

Team NLC at Quantum Leap Farm in December 2019

In this moment, I learned to embrace the power of the pause and to make it a priority in everyday life. A pause will look different for each of us. It could be a five-minute walk outside your office during the day. It might be eating lunch together with other team members and not talking about work issues. It may be a 10-minute meditation first thing in the morning. This year, successful nonprofit leaders will make personal reflection and intentional pausing a must-do rather than a might-do. I’m certain you’ll notice a difference.

Emily H. Benham has nearly four decades of experience in the nonprofit field. Before taking on the role of CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Center in 2014, Emily was the interim president for Bayfront HERO (Health, Education and Research Organization), a health legacy foundation formed in 2013 with the net proceeds of the sale of Bayfront Medical Center. She also served as a member of Bayfront Medical Center’s senior leadership team, directing its philanthropic arm for more than 20 years.

Prior to her work in health care philanthropy, Emily led fund development efforts at the Florida Orchestra, American Stage and the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami.

Emily is a native of Reading, Pennsylvania, and received her bachelor’s degree in music from Amherst College in Massachusetts. She’s an avid equestrian and competes regionally in dressage with her equine partner, Current Affair.

Are you a nonprofit leadership VIP? Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to get exclusive tips, tools and trainings especially designed for nonprofit leaders delivered to your inbox.

The Most Popular Nonprofit Classes and Content of 2019

Team NLC News

As a nonprofit community, we did a lot during 2019 to develop our skills, make connections and improve ourselves and our organizations to strengthen our community. But with an overwhelming amount of information everywhere we turn, it can be challenging to remember all we’ve read and learned. Here’s a recap of what Tampa Bay’s nonprofit professionals were most interested in during 2019.

The most popular content and classes from the Nonprofit Leadership Center in 2019

Most Popular Blog Posts in 2019

Of all the content we shared during the past year, nonprofit leaders were most interested in these top 10 articles:

Most Popular Nonprofit Professional Development Classes Attended in 2019

At NLC, we host about 90 professional development classes each year. In addition to the 75 we presented at our training center in Tampa, we also launched classes in Pinellas County during 2019. Here are the top classes local nonprofit professionals attended this year.

Check out our current program schedule and be sure to bookmark it as we’re adding classes for 2020 regularly.

Thank you for your commitment to lifelong learning and to strengthening your skills, your organization and our community. We look forward to supporting you in 2020.

Have a topic you want to learn more about in 2020? Let us know at info@nlctb.org.

Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to get tips, tools and trainings for nonprofit leaders delivered directly to your inbox.

How to Craft an Effective Out-of-Office Message

Team NLC Tips

If you’re getting ready for some time away from the office, setting an out-of-office message on your email and voicemail is important to manage expectations for those who may contact you while you’re gone. It’s especially critical so that donors, corporate partners or constituents who reach out don’t think you’re unresponsive or uninterested in their message, questions or needs. So how do you craft the most effective out-of-office message?

First, set a calendar reminder the day before your departure, so you don’t forget to schedule your out-of-office message.

Next, consider the answers to these questions to draft your message:

  • When will you be out of the office?
  • What day will you return?
  • Will your office be closed during any of the time you’re away?
  • How can people reach you, if at all? If you choose to provide access to your cell phone number while you’re away, how quickly can people expect a response?
  • Who can they contact in your absence? If there is a particular person they should ask for, list that person’s name, email and phone number. If there are specific people for certain issues, list them all.

Sample Out-of-Office Email Message

Thank you for your email. I will be out of the office with no access to email or voicemail until (day of the week), (month and day). I will respond to your email upon my return.

If you require immediate assistance while I’m away, please call our office at 888-888-8888 or email (name of colleague) at (email address).

The office will be closed (dates office will be closed).

Thank you.

Changing your voicemail message on your phone prior to heading out for vacation or business travel is also important. Your voicemail message can be similar to your out-of-office email message, but keep it short with just the critical information.

If you are using Outlook as your email provider, don’t forget to change both your internal and external message. The same message can work, but you can customize them depending on your office size and office requirements.

Last, but not least, consider setting a calendar reminder for the morning you return, so you don’t forget to turn off your email responder and/or change your recorded voicemail.

Enjoy your time out of the office!

A Year of Impact: 2019 in Review

Emily H. Benham, CEO, NLC News

As 2019 draws to a close, our Nonprofit Leadership Center staff and board of directors have been reflecting on the past year. As a nonprofit organization that exists to support other nonprofits, our success at NLC is a direct reflection of your success. So, what have we accomplished, what have we learned, and what does it mean for our nonprofit sector?

I’m pleased to report that 2019 was a historic year. As your partner in strengthening our nonprofit sector and community, here are several of the ways we’ve made an impact together in 2019.

1. We experienced historic growth in our training services.
In 2019, NLC served 3,750 nonprofit leaders through our training and consulting services — the largest number in our organization’s history. That means more nonprofit leaders across the Tampa Bay region are investing in their personal and professional development than ever before! Attendance at our professional development classes grew by 19%, while the number of leaders participating in our peer-based learning groups (we call these cohorts) increased by 63%. This includes programs like our Nonprofit Management Certificate program at the University of Tampa and CEO Circles where nonprofit CEOs come together to discuss critical issues and share best practices.

Nonprofit Leadership Center: 2019 Year-in-review
Nonprofit Leadership Center: 2019 Year-in-review
Nonprofit Leadership Center: 2019 Year-in-review
Nonprofit Leadership Center: 2019 Year-in-review

In the coming year, we’ll be working with a subset of the nonprofits that are most engaged with us to map and measure the mission impact they’re having in our community as a result of the growth and capacity they’re building through NLC classes, conferences, custom solutions and cohort participation.

2. We welcomed top talent on our staff, board and training roster.
During the past year, we’ve reimagined how we serve the growing and evolving needs of our diverse nonprofit audience by adjusting our structure and staffing to better align with our strategic goals. This year, we recruited extraordinary leaders and created broad lanes in which they can put their gifts to work to add value to our community. On the staff side, we’ve been blessed to welcome Charlie Imbergamo and Jessica Dvoracsek to our team. We also welcomed five new board members to our leadership team and expanded our training facilitators to include new programming and learning opportunities that meet the changing needs of nonprofit leaders.

Nonprofit Leadership Center: 2019 Year-in-review

3. We launched classes in Pinellas County.
After hearing from our nonprofit community that you want more learning opportunities from NLC in Pinellas County, we launched our new Pinellas County classroom series in 2019. During the past year, we held 10 classes across Pinellas in the areas of board governance, leadership, fund development and marketing/communications. This new series was only possible because of the generosity of our founding funders, including the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, Pinellas Community Foundation, Juvenile Welfare Board and Allegany Franciscan Ministries. We look forward to growing this series in 2020.

Nonprofit Leadership Center: 2019 Year-in-review
Nonprofit Leadership Center: 2019 Year-in-review
Nonprofit Leadership Center: 2019 Year-in-review
Nonprofit Leadership Center: 2019 Year-in-review

4. We measurably deepened engagement and impact on behalf of our nonprofit community.
As we do every year, we had big goals in 2019, with 27 indicators on our impact dashboard. While we are pleased to have met or exceeded nearly all of them, perhaps the result I’m most proud of is an 83% increase in the number of organizations that are engaging in multiple types of professional development we offer to strengthen their capacity and impact, thereby increasing their ability to create true change. That’s both a wow for us and for the organizations and leaders we serve.

I continue to feel humbled and privileged to lead NLC and serve alongside our talented team of staff, board, trainers and nonprofit community. I’m certain that together, we’ll continue to take our organization and sector to new heights in 2020 to strengthen our community. Here’s to each of you who touch the nonprofit sector in your daily lives and work every day to make our collective work and impact better. Cheers!

10 Questions with Randall H. Russell from the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg

Team NLC Stories

At the Nonprofit Leadership Center, we believe the best lessons in nonprofit leadership come from nonprofit leaders themselves. Our 10 Questions With Series celebrates and elevates nonprofit and business leaders across the Tampa Bay region each month who are making an enduring impact on our communities. Today, we’re pleased to introduce you to Randall H. Russell, the founding president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg.

10 Questions with Randall H. Russell, CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg | Nonprofit Leadership Center

Randy is a community activist and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his career to solving systemic issues through innovative partnerships. In his current role at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, he and his team are working to achieve health equity in Pinellas County. [The Foundation is an NLC strategic partner, making it possible for numerous nonprofit leaders and organizations to afford critical professional development opportunities to strengthen their leadership and our community.] Before joining the Foundation, Randy served as the CEO of Lifelong, a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides home-delivered meals, housing, care coordination and advocacy efforts for those with chronic illness, including HIV/AIDS. He was also a professional bassoonist in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and spent many years as a marketing, public relations and development professional.

Here’s what Randy had to share about the new Center for Health Equity, how nonprofits can be more innovative, career advice from a funder’s perspective and much more.

Q1. Tell us a little bit about the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg and what drew you to the organization.

Randy: The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg seeks to address health disparities, advance population health, and achieve health equity in Pinellas County. We do this by inspiring and empowering people, ideas, information exchange, organizations and relationships so that every person can equitably achieve optimal health and well-being.

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg logo | Nonprofit Leadership Center

What drew me to the Foundation was the ability to bring philanthropic resources to address the community’s ambition, which was articulated as improving population health. Ultimately, that means dealing with culture and race across multiple sectors. That is the work I love and have been driven to find pathways to demonstrate.

Q2: As a mission-based community activist for more than three decades, what inspired your strong sense of servant leadership that’s guided your life and career?

Randy: Fairness. It’s a principle, a moral, a law, and maybe just good manners. As a Southern-raised son of two Midwestern (Chicago, Kansas) parents, the mantra at our dinner table was to “leave the world a better place than you found it.” Perhaps that was it. Or maybe it was my father’s career focus on helping the poor get a good job. Or my mother’s narration of the Civil Rights Movement through her eyes as a professor of political science — a white woman with all black students, teaching from 1950 through 1996. Or perhaps it was my direct experience as an adult serving as a buddy to 45 men over 31 months who died from AIDS, and my outrage at an unresponsive system. I think it is all of the above. If we are a kind people, then how can we tolerate injustice?

Q3: As part of the Foundation’s work to promote health equity in Pinellas County, you recently opened the Center for Health Equity. Tell us more about that and how it will improve our community.

Randy: What is innovation? By its nature, it suggests changing the status quo. Something different or new. It could be a different version of Pepsi, or it could be a spaceship to Mars, or it could be an end to discrimination. Where does this innovation come from? People with knowledge and lived experience. People who have lived through discrimination can identify what happened to them. Our job is to translate that into systems change leading to equity. For example, why are we tolerating higher rates of arrests of black people for resisting arrest? That statistic points to a system that profiles people based on their race. We hear from people who are incarcerated for resisting arrest, which dramatically impacts their employability, housing opportunities, social connections and well-being. The Center for Health Equity will approach inequities in our community by bringing together data, people who are affected by systems and people with the motivation to change those systems. They will arrive at practical, tactical actions to improve outcomes for everyone. That’s how people create positive social change.

Q4: One area many nonprofits tell us they struggle with is innovation. As a leader who’s known for social innovation, what advice would you give to nonprofit leaders seeking to be more creative in accelerating their mission and driving change?

Randy: Identify your risk tolerance and that of your organization. Find the benchmark for where people’s risk tolerance is, then ask this question: Are we really being brave enough to satisfy our vision and mission? 

10 Questions with Randall H. Russell, CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg | "To be innovative, nonprofits must ask themselves if they're really being brave enough to satisfy their vision and mission."

In my career working in more than 30 states, I’ve yet to find more than a few nonprofits that are truly able, willing and brave enough to push against the status quo that creates the systems that lead to the symptoms they spend their time addressing. That’s not getting at root causes or systems change.

Q5: One of your mantras throughout your career has been “comprehensive solutions to complicated problems.” How can nonprofit and community leaders think differently about collaboration, or be more effective when it comes to collaboration?

Randy: The obvious and often discussed truth about collaboration is trust. For me, the most practical application is to literally carve out several hours each week dedicated to spending time with potential/likely/chosen/strategic partners. We talked about networking in the 90s; then we decided email would suffice. I say bunk. Nothing beats human contact when humans are working together to solve the problems of other humans. Email won’t work. The art of collaboration is as vast and brilliant as the art of relationships. How are those formed? From the chemistry and shared experiences of the groups of people who are building those relationships. How can you know if you have chemistry, and how can you have shared experiences if you do not have time to connect and explore together? The basis of our advanced convening stages at the Foundation is exactly that — we will fund the time people spend together to create solutions. We believe that wisdom, with the lived experience narratives and understanding, and data, with good facilitation, will accelerate closing the health equity gap.

10 Questions with Randall H. Russell, CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg | "Nothing beats human contact when humans are working together to solve the problems of other humans."

Q6. From a funder’s perspective, what is the most important piece of advice you’d give to new professionals or emerging leaders?

Randy: Fierce and courageous vision, patience, identification of self-care needs and plans, and insist on the best people on your team. Agencies are not there to serve the staff. The staff is there to champion the mission and serve those identified by that mission. Be brave by ensuring transparency and strategic selection of your board and identifying the best talent who share the same risk tolerance. The balance of risk tolerance between the board and CEO is paramount to achieve the highest impact.

Q7. At NLC, we’re big believers in lifelong learning. What’s one area in which you’d like to continue honing your skills?

Randy: There isn’t one — it is a lifelong endeavor. If pressed to pick just one thing, I’d say understanding the complexity of professional relationships and our responsibility in them. As a leader, if you spend limited time outside of your organization not fundraising, something is out of balance. The learning comes from how others are approaching solutions to challenges that intersect with any nonprofit group. From the arts to policy to human service delivery, to large, publicly-run institutions and systems, so much depends upon the quality of leadership. I believe the most passionate leaders learn about other leaders, how they think and operate, and learn technical skills from them. That builds a community of collaborative leaders that can solve the complex problems we face.

Q8. When you’re not working, what are you most passionate about in your everyday life?

Randy: As a Gemini, I’m both an extrovert and an introvert, depending upon the moon cycle (almost literally). My favorite moments in life are dinners with friends and the conversation that ensues, cooking all day (blending science and accidents into a meal and calling it art), and the planning/anticipation that comes with breaking bread with others. Introspection brings meditation and study of Buddhism. None of these things are consistent, but they are constant throughout my life. Perhaps most important is planet exploration – I’ve been to five continents and experienced many adventure trips. I can’t imagine ever being done with travel.

Q9. What’s the best book you’ve recently enjoyed?

Brene Brown’s “Brave New World.” She is a qualitative researcher but perhaps the most inspired and authentic leadership discussant I’ve ever heard.

Q10. What’s something interesting about you that most people don’t know?

Randy: All in, I’m a tap-dancing, baton-twirling, roller-skating, Guinness World Records-listed, gay Eagle Scout, meditation-instructing, bassoon-playing, super-amateur actor. (Not necessarily all at once).

Would you or someone you know be a great leader to profile for an upcoming 10 Questions With Series article? Email us at info@nlctb.org with your recommendations.

READ NEXT: 10 Questions With Tampa Theatre CEO John Bell

READ NEXT: 10 Questions With the Deuces’ Live Executive Director Veatrice Farrell

READ NEXT: 10 Questions With Frameworks Board Chair Jennifer Garcia

Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to get more great advice from nonprofit leaders, along with the latest tips, tools and trainings for nonprofits.

2019 Nonprofit Holiday Gift Guide

Team NLC News

Frederick Lenz once said that selfless giving is the art of living. As you prepare for festive gatherings and finish your holiday shopping, our Nonprofit Leadership Center Holiday Gift Guide highlights gifts for everyone on your list that give back to local nonprofit organizations. Thank you to our nonprofit community for sharing your top picks on social media to compile this year’s guide.

The Nonprofit Leadership Center's 2019 Holiday Gift Guide: 13 Gifts to Benefit Tampa Bay Nonprofits

Candles from Seventh Avenue Apothecary to Benefit A Kid’s Place

Custom candles made locally by Seventh Avenue Apothecary exclusively for A Kid’s Place give hope to foster children in our community. They were created with the help of children and volunteers and come in two distinct scents: “Hope,” a blend of White Tea + Fig and Green Clover + Aloe and “Wish,” a blend of Chai Latte + Christmas Tree.

Candles from A Kid's Place and Seventh Avenue Apothecary | Nonprofit Leadership Center Holiday Gift Guide
Source: A Kid’s Place

A Kid’s Place provides a safe, loving and nurturing home for foster children from birth to age 18 who have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.

Candles range from $17 to $27 and come in glass jars or tins.

Find them here.

Handmade Bags from ECHO

From wristlets and zipper bags to leather totes, ECHO Handmade bags transform salvaged materials into socially conscious accessories.

ECHO Handmade Bags | Nonprofit Leadership Center Holiday Gift Guide
Source: ECHO

ECHO (Emergency Care Help Organization) is a nonprofit organization that assists Hillsborough County residents in crisis with emergency food and clothing, life stabilizing programs and resources. Their social enterprise strives to empower our neighbors, community and planet with upcycled, handcrafted goods. 

Products range from $14.95 to $44.95.

Find them here.

Ornaments from Answered Prayers Project

One-of-a-kind, handmade clay ornaments are the perfect addition to any Christmas tree or office. Pieces are created by women who are gaining workforce opportunities through art. Each ornament is numbered and finished with a mustard seed of faith on the back that you pass forward. Your recipient can register their piece and pass it on to others.

Answered Prayers Project Ornaments | Nonprofit Leadership Center Holiday Gift Guide
Source: Answered Prayers Project

Answered Prayers Project is a non-denominational Christian nonprofit that provides healing art ministries to women in the Tampa Bay Area. Their mission is to equip low-income women with skills to gain workforce opportunities while building a community of support, restoring their dignity and fostering hope through faith, cloth and clay.

Ornaments are $10 each and can also be purchased in bundles.

Find them here.

Children’s Outfits from Bowtism

Bowtism is an online children’s clothing boutique owned by a Tampa mom who is dedicated to enhancing the lives of autistic families one beautifully handcrafted outfit and bow at a time. The company makes fashionable clothing and accessories for girls at affordable prices, with a portion of each sale supporting autism charities.

Bowtism Children's Clothing | Nonprofit Leadership Center Holiday Gift Guide
Source: Bowtism

The company’s roots are in the owner’s personal autism story. After seeing the countless dollars it took to embrace therapy and provide a nurturing environment and knowing not all families have the means to support crucial care, Bowtism was born.

Prices vary by style, but all outfits are under $20.

Find them here.

Bourbon & Boweties Bracelets

As part of its Giving Back Collection, Bourbon & Boweties has gold and silver bangle bracelets that benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay. This nonprofit works to enable all young people, especially those who need us the most, to reach their full potential as productive, responsible, caring citizens. 

Source: Bourbon & Boweties

Bracelets retail at $32, with 10% of the profits from the sale going directly to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay.

Find them here.

Women’s Fashions from The Charity Branch

From a neighborhood block party or family event to an impromptu getaway or weekend dinner, The Charity Branch offers women stylish and comfortable fashions for any occasion. And the best part is that the clothing is for a cause.

Charity Branch is an online women’s clothing retailer based in Tampa that gives 10% of every purchase to varying charities throughout the Tampa Bay community. They choose a benefitting charity each month and also host in-home or event-specific fashionable fundraisers where nonprofits or hosts can choose their benefitting organization. Charity Branch’s mission is to evoke goodwill and charitable giving through their clothing collections.

Source: The Charity Branch

Prices vary by style.

Find them here.

Bowties from Sewn Apart

Sewn Apart takes old clothes and refashions them into new designs, diverting unnecessary waste from landfills while simultaneously giving back to local food systems. Their collection of colorful and creative bowties makes the perfect gift for any fashion-forward person in your life.

Source: Sewn Apart

A portion of all sales benefits The Sustainable Living Project, an organization that teaches people about sustainable gardening and living.

Most bowties are around $40.

Find them here.

Cards of Hope from CASA

From a bus pass or a pair of shoes to a weekly stay in a shelter for a parent and their child, CASA cards allow you to give tangible hope to domestic violence victims in honor of someone you care about.

CASA is dedicated to creating a society free from domestic violence. They work to challenge the societal acceptance of all forms of domestic violence and stand up to silence through advocacy, prevention, intervention and support services.

Cards (and associated services provided to victims) range from $10 to $1,000.

Find them here.

Home Goods from Habitat for Humanity

Find new and gently used home furnishings at Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations in Clearwater, Palm Harbor and Zephyrhills. New items arrive daily and help build strength, stability, self-reliance and shelter for people living in our communities. Select locations are also selling Christmas ornaments that give back.

Prices vary.

Candles from Girls Empowered Mentally for Success

Empowerment. Joy. Friendship. Forgiveness. You can give these gifts and more when you purchase Transitions Candles to benefit Girls Empowered Mentally for Success. Their varying candle scents align with the characteristics they work to rebuild in the girls they serve.

Source: Girls Empowered Mentally for Success

Girls Empowered Mentally for Success empowers high school girls to discover their passion and purpose through creativity and wisdom. The candles provide another means to create healthy transitions for at-risk girls.

 Prices vary from $9 to $27 for travel tins to glass jars.

Find them here.

A Bike from WellBuilt Bikes

Getting around on two wheels is better when it benefits our community. From mountain bikes and hybrids to road bikes, you can travel with purpose in the New Year. WellBuilt Bikes is a nonprofit bike shop that sells refurbished bikes at affordable prices and invests the sales revenue into their Earn-A-Bike program so those with little to no money can access and own a bike of their own. Their goal is to ensure everyone in Tampa, regardless of income, can own their own bike and benefit from transportation access, exercise and community.  

Prices vary based on style from $149 to $449.

Find them here.

Source: BayNews9

Edible Cookie Dough from Metropolitan Ministries

The award-winning Dough Nation serves up edible cookie dough in Tampa. From classic flavors like chocolate chip and dark chocolate to mixtures like s’mores, sweet & salty caramel and more, a gift card for your favorite sweet tooth to this social enterprise café benefits Metropolitan Ministries to feed the hungry in our region. Dough Nation is located at 505 N. Tampa Street, Tampa, FL 33602.

Source: Dough Nation

Prices vary based on size and treat from about $5 to $9 per dessert.

Find Dough Nation here.

Conversation Cards

Appropriate for kids of all ages, Conversation Cards feature thought-provoking questions and discussion prompts, as well as emojis to support the development of emotional vocabulary. They’re an effective tool to encourage deeper conversations between parents and children, teachers and students, coworkers, mentors and mentees and others.

Proceeds from the cards benefit Frameworks and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay. Frameworks empowers educators and other youth services professionals with training, coaching and research-based resources to equip students with social and emotional skills. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay works to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth so every young person can achieve their full potential.

Card decks are $20 each or $15 when you purchase 6 decks or more.

Find them here.

Happy holiday shopping to support Tampa Bay area nonprofits!

Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter to get exclusive tips, tools and trainings especially designed for nonprofit leaders.

Sharing Our Moments of Gratitude

Emily H. Benham, CEO Stories

I recently participated in a local conference where I had the opportunity to interview an eighth-grader. The assignment was to describe a time when he felt most connected to the community. He told me several stories, all involving good deeds he’d done to help others through local nonprofit organizations … participating in a food pantry, rescuing lost dogs, cleaning up neighborhoods. His heart, at the young age of 13, was centered on helping others. I thought about our conversation for days after and about how that sense of deep connection through helping others abides in the nonprofit sector. For this, I am especially grateful.

The giving hearts in our nonprofit sector and community never cease to amaze me. Each year at Thanksgiving, our team at NLC shares the moments and people we’re most grateful for in our lives. We thank you for your friendship and partnership this year and hope you’ll join us in sharing an attitude of gratitude each and every day.

35 Years of Marriage

NLC CEO Emily Benham shares what she's grateful for in 2019

“I have so many things to be grateful for in 2019 – and for that I am grateful. If I have to pick one, I’d say it is for the 35 years of marriage I’ve shared with my soulmate, life partner and extraordinarily talented husband Jim Connors. We celebrated this year by hiking more than 60 miles of trails in our happy place, Glacier National Park in Montana. While it feels like yesterday that we met in the cello section of the Amherst-Mt. Holyoke College Orchestra, remembering the adventures behind us and imagining those ahead of us bring joy like nothing else.”

Emily H. Benham, CEO

Unwavering Support

NLC resource development fellow Jessica Dvoracsek shares what she's grateful for in 2019

“I’m incredibly grateful for my husband who supports my dreams. From driving me to and from races and taking charge of house duties while I’ve transitioned into a new job to being a sounding board for anything and everything, I don’t know what I’d do without him!

“I’m also thankful for the nonprofit community being so welcoming!  From the moment I stepped into my new role at NLC, I’ve met so many nonprofit leaders and cannot begin to explain the warm welcomes and kind words I’ve received!”

Jessica Dvoracsek, Fellow in Resource Development

The Gift of Giving

NLC Operations Manager Lorraine Faithful shares what she's grateful for in 2019

“I am especially grateful that children can learn early in their lives about the gift of giving and how important it is to give. My 9-year-old grandson who lives in Hawaii recently embodied this while visiting local care homes and handing out flowers to individuals who live there. I was so happy to hear this and receive pictures of him approaching complete strangers and asking if they’d like a flower. My heart sang! This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the children of the world who dare to step out of their comfort zone and receive the gift of giving by giving something of themselves.”

Lorraine Faithful, Operations Manager

A Community of Caring

“I’m grateful for the support of people in my life who have journeyed with me through all the joys and challenges. This year, I’m especially grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve the nonprofit sector in my new role at NLC. As a new member of the team, it has been a gift to be welcomed into and mentored by a great team of nonprofit leaders. Having worked in the nonprofit sector in several other communities and states, I’m consistently struck by the goodness, giftedness and collaboration that exists in our sector in this community. I’m also grateful for the marriage of my niece and my new nephew-in-law this year!

NLC Director of Strategic Programs Charlie Imbergamo shares what he's grateful for in 2019

“I will reflect on these blessings and many more as I gather to enjoy Grandma Marie’s Sicilian rice and sausage stuffing at the center of the table with the turkey surrounded by family and friends this Thanksgiving.”

Charlie Imbergamo, Director of Strategic Programs


“When it comes to being thankful, the creation of nature is probably at the top of my list. It’s beyond splendorous to me, because there are so many different types of features that correlate with the word nature. There are clouds, trees, sunsets/sunrises, and many more. Everything is absolutely amazing to me and it leaves my face with the biggest smile. Nature, overall, gives me a warm feeling that beauty is still left in the world. My favorite sceneries have to be in Iceland: blue lagoons, Northern Lights, beautiful skies, glaciers and waterfalls.  I can truly say that nature is something I’m very thankful for.

Taghiyana Wells, Intern

Moments that Stick

NLC Education and Data Manager Laurel Westmoreland shares what she's grateful for in 2019

“Over the years, I’ve created my own version of sharing what I treasure. It’s a bunch of different colored sticky notes on my desk with little scribblings that highlight moments of gratitude. Each one is different and special: notes from a conversation I’ve had with those who cross my path at NLC, a book recommendation, a great yoga instructor, organizations doing interesting things, must-see-documentaries — you name it. Seeing them makes me grateful for the wisdom we each hold in our heads and our hearts. I’m so grateful for each of the people and conversations that resulted in a sticky note to add to the collection.”

Laurel Westmoreland, Education and Data Manager

Be the first to hear about the latest nonprofit tips, resources and training classes at NLC by signing up to receive our weekly NLC e-newsletter. It will help you thrive personally and professionally as you work to strengthen our communities. 

7 Secrets to a Successful Year-end Fundraising Letter

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE Tips

Do you ever wish you could send a year-end fundraising letter to existing donors that says: “Hi friend. It’s that time of year. This is your reminder to give. Please give again this year.”

If only it were that easy!

Unfortunately, the “just-send-money” approach doesn’t work. Charitable giving is much different than paying a bill or meeting an obligation. It’s voluntary and comes from the heart, which means nonprofits must provide a compelling, persuasive reason to give every time they ask. Even people who support a favorite cause want a new story, promise or need to inspire their next gift.

Fortunately, there’s a body of knowledge about what works to improve your year-end fundraising results. Here are seven tips to help you craft your year-end letter to meet your revenue goals and move your mission forward.

7 tips to write a successful year-end fundraising letter | Nonprofit Leadership Center

1. Make it about them, not you.
Fundraising appeals must be about the people who benefit from your organization and elevate how your donor can help solve an important problem with their gift. Your letter (and corresponding emails) should not be about your organization. Donors care about who you’re serving and how their lives are improving because of your programs or services.  

One effective way to accomplish this is by sending your letter from someone who benefits from your mission. Rather than an appeal from your executive director, ask a grateful patient, parent, volunteer or respected community leader who has directly benefited from your work to author the letter. Research confirms donors want to hear from the highest-ranking volunteer who brings a personal perspective to the call to action.

2. Tell a compelling story.
At the end of each year, it’s easy to want to share a laundry list of accomplishments with your current and potential donors. But an overwhelming list of facts and statistics doesn’t often connect emotionally, even if the results are impressive. The best year-end giving letters tell a compelling story that demonstrates impact. Pairing facts with emotionally resonant stories is key.

Don’t be afraid to use more than one page when sending a direct mail piece, because longer letters raise more money. Yep, it’s true. Longer letters provide more entry points to engage donor interest and recognize that donors skip around so the need and ask must be repeated. People who like and respond to direct mail will read the story. So, tell a better one.

3. Match it.
Ask an existing donor or funding partner to provide a matching gift that will inspire donors to give, knowing their gift will be doubled. Everybody loves BOGO — a buy-one, get-one deal! Donors feel great knowing their gift will have twice the impact, and matching donors love knowing their gift will effectively raise more money.

4. Make a visual impression.
Formatting is important for successful year-end fundraising appeals. Successful letters use a clear, 12- or 14-point font (larger is better) and plenty of white space to be easy to read. Don’t be afraid to bold and underline key phrases. 

When sending a mailing, add a clever teaser to the outside of the envelope, and continue the letter’s theme on the reply card, website homepage and online giving portal.

5. Make it personal.
Personalize your fundraising appeal for your recipients. This includes the address, salutation and previous giving amount if possible. Identify a group of donors, perhaps the most loyal and generous, and ask board members and the executive director to add personal notes to these letters.

6. See the bigger picture.
Treat your year-end fundraising mailing as part of an overall campaign. Include similar messaging in social media posts, emails, newsletters and on your website. Add a giving link to your email signature during the campaign. Consider creating a theme and corresponding hashtag to galvanize support. Report results online as the campaign unfolds and invite followers to join and promote the effort. Ask board members to share the campaign via their social networks to help build a ground swelling of support.

Finally, don’t let other people edit or revise your letter if they aren’t familiar with the science of direct mail. Some of the best techniques mentioned here may be counter-intuitive. Allowing too many editors may appease internal staff but won’t resonate with donors.

7. Don’t forget to say thank you.
For every gift you receive, send a freshly written thank-you letter filled with passion and authenticity. That means no jargon, “on behalf of,” or talking about the organization more than the donor. Focus your thank-you on what the donor made possible and report on results before you ask again.


Upcoming Fundraising Classes at NLC

  • Fundraising 101 (January 31 or July 17): This program is designed for those who have less than three years of fundraising experience but have a responsibility or share responsibility for fundraising at their organization.
  • Make Your Case for Support (March 3 & 10): A case for support is critical to distinguish your organization from other nonprofits. In this two-part program, you’ll leave with the skills and tools to draft your organization’s case for support and will receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts. Professionals at all levels can benefit from this program, including executive directors, development directors, program staff, board members and volunteer managers (anyone who’s responsible for securing resources for their organization).
  • Mastering the Ask (November 5 & 12): This series examines the most common obstacles to making asks and how you can overcome them, equipping you for successful solicitations through hand-on practice. This program is good for anyone who asks for support, including fundraising staff, CEOs, executive directors, board members and volunteers.

Alyce Lee Stansbury | Nonprofit Leadership Center trainer

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, is a nonprofit expert, 25-year fundraising veteran and popular instructor at NLC. Contact her at alycelee@StansburyConsulting.com or 850-668-2569.

Want to be the first to hear about the latest nonprofit tips, resources and training classes at NLC? Sign up to receive our weekly NLC e-newsletter to help you thrive personally and professionally.