Author: Cheryl Gurr

Kentucky Derby Museum

Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” The Executive leadership of the Kentucky Derby Museum was taking no chances. They had diligently completed a strategic planning process in 2014. The only problem with the plan was that it had been created with a short-term focus so many of the goals and objectives the plan outlined had already been achieved. Patrick Armstrong, President of the Museum, was just beginning the second year of his tenure. “As we reviewed the plan, we realized that we needed to update it and recreate it with a longer-term perspective. We wanted a plan to guide us for the next 3-5 years.”

After a call for proposals and presentations was completed, The Covenant Group was selected to lead the process. Lauren Baldwin, Office Administrator, recalls “We became aware of The Covenant Group through the referral of a Board member who had worked with the firm on a strategic plan with a different organization.” In addition to a more long-term perspective, other goals for the desired outcomes included ensuring that the Museum’s mission, core values and vision were still relevant and that the process would build stakeholder engagement.

The work to achieve these goals began with an online stakeholder survey. Baldwin partnered with Covenant Group staff in the survey process. “The survey was great. The Covenant Group helped make the survey process really easy.” She added, “It accomplished what we wanted by giving all of our stakeholders (staff, Board, donors, volunteers) a chance to be involved in the process and share their input.” Armstrong mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised with the survey results. “They were overwhelmingly positive. That is a great place to begin this type of process because it helped us build buy-in and gave everyone a chance to share in the formation of our direction.”

With the plan finished, the Museum is well on its way to implementation. Both Baldwin and Armstrong agree that they have put in place a process of checks and balances to ensure that “the plan is not put on a shelf and forgotten about”. Baldwin reports that they have a tracking process that helps keep individuals and teams accountable to the tasks and timelines set forth. They also discuss the plan at weekly and monthly meetings to keep it fresh in everyone’s mind. Some positive outcomes of the process have included building communication across departments, strengthening the staff and bringing people together.

Both Baldwin and Armstrong describe The Covenant Group’s process as efficient and effective. In fact, Baldwin calls the amount of time we saved “invaluable”. She continued, “It was so nice to have an experienced, knowledgeable facilitator leading us and helping keep us on task.” Armstrong adds, “Len very effectively gathered input from our internal resources which helped steer us in the right direction.”

Both agree that they would recommend The Covenant Group to other organizations. “They are friendly, accommodating and responsive. Trying to do this process without help is kind of like being in a boat with no paddles…it is not nearly as productive.”

Using Social Media to Boost Donor Retention

Thanks Steven!

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Fundraising Professionals monthly meeting of the Louisville Chapter.  I was fortunate to hear Steven Shattuck from Bloomerang share his experience with using social media to boost donor retention. As fundraising consultants, many times nonprofits ask us how they can improve donor retention rates. This blog is a brief recap of some of the helpful knowledge he shared. More detailed information can be found in his E-Book at:

Retain to Sustain

It comes as no surprise to any nonprofit professional that donor retention is key to long-term sustainability.  However, studies reveal that most organizations retain only 23% of their first time donors. Giving USA reports that the national average for donor retention is only 46%.  Although a lot of nonprofits use social media to communicate with donors, they may not realize the influential role it can play in keeping donors engaged.

Why Use Social Media?

Social media usage should be used by nonprofits for three reasons.  They are:

  1.  Appreciation
  2.  Advocacy
  3.  Appeals

Abundant Appreciation

Simply put, nonprofits should use social media to thank donors. In fact, posts with a message of gratefulness should account for 70% of the organization’s social media activity.  It has been proven that posts of appreciation get the most engagement.  They are retweeted nearly 99% of the time.

In our capital campaign consulting we stress the importance of a timely and sincere gift acknowledgement.  While posts or tweets should not be used in place of a personalized thank you letter or phone call, they do provide the organization with the opportunity to respond almost immediately to a donor’s gift.  With the donor’s consent, they can either post a gift acknowledgement (leaving out the gift amount) or share a picture of a volunteer workday with a note of gratitude.  This puts philanthropy on display and gives the donor a sense of pride in the important work they are helping the nonprofit achieve.

When donors share or retweet appreciative posts, it creates a FOMO or “fear of missing out” among their peers.  Hearing about the generosity of others can inspire others to get involved and this increases donations.

Engage Advocates

Every nonprofit has a cause for which they advocate. Social media provides an excellent platform to educate or raise awareness about an issue.  Posts can come from external sources such as research, news updates or other content-rich sources.  Internal sources may include insights from staff on a variety of topics. Employees might create videos, podcasts, webinars, or other content that can easily be posted to various social media outlets.

Limit Appeals

Although social media is a great place to make an appeal, these posts should be used sparingly. Appeals should only come after the nonprofit has established a regular pattern of activity heavily focused on appreciation and advocacy.   When the time is right to make an appeal, there are three ways to make it effective.

  1.  Be specific – It is important to remember that specific asks receive better response than general requests.  For example, asking for the donation of a specific baby item (diapers) or volunteer need (writing letters to soldiers) help people know exactly how to respond.
  2. Get help – If you can get high-visibility donors, board members, volunteers and employees to help develop and deploy social media campaigns they will have a larger impact.
  3. Express Urgency – When an appeal is truly urgent, it is important to make people aware. Convey in posts the tight timeline and share why an immediate response is necessary.

Implementing the strategies outlined above can help your nonprofit develop an effective social media plan that will help you boost retention and increase engagement.

Sojourn East, Louisville

The old saying goes, “There’s no place like home” and the congregation of Sojourn East was ready to find out what it would be like to have their own space. They had selected a great facility that would serve the needs of their growing church well for years to come.  The only thing standing between them and this new building was the $3.25 million needed to acquire the property. Sojourn East Pastor, Kevin Jamison decided to call The Covenant Group to help make their vision of home a reality.

“We were familiar with the work of The Covenant Group as they had helped another Sojourn site complete a very successful campaign,” recalled Jamison. Although we interviewed 2 other firms, The Covenant group stood out because of their competitive pricing, strong reputation and the fact that Len Moisan and the rest of the team knew our congregation well.”  Jamison added, “We liked the fact that The Covenant Group was readily available. We could meet Len for coffee and get his advice.”

Jamison admits that he did not enter the campaign without some hesitation. “I was afraid that we would not be able to raise even $2 million.  It was a big test of faith on my part as a leader.” He noted that The Covenant Group’s expertise and experience were invaluable and helped put his mind at ease. Jamison likened Len to a personal trainer. “He kept us on task and didn’t let us get off the path. I knew he cared as much about the success of the campaign as I did. He provided us with a logical, straightforward strategy.  It was clear enough for me to follow on my own, but without his guidance and at times gentle prodding, I know I would not have kept to the plan.” Jamison laughed as he added, “It is like with personal trainers when you really want to eat ice cream, but they make you eat salad.”

Sticking to the plan paid off.  Jamison reports, “I was blown away at Commitment Weekend. We raised $4.25 million. Enough not only to acquire the church home we wanted, but $1 million more to put in a reserve fund for additional projects as needed.” Jamison’s faith was not the only positive outcome of the campaign. He adds that the process cultivated in his church members a deeper sense of ownership and the accomplishment of knowing that “God did this through us.” He also reports, “We have grown in stewardship, confidence and unity and we have experienced new levels of giving and attendance.”

Now at home in their new facility, Jamison reviews the entire experience from start to finish. “There is a lot of fear going in to a fundraising campaign. Len’s presence brought peace of mind and gave us the confidence we needed to move ahead with God’s plan without timidity.” Jamison describes The Covenant Group as professional, efficient, polished and strategic.  When asked if he would recommend The Covenant Group to other churches seeking counsel, he is quick to respond, “Yes, I would and I have. I am glad to do it.” Then he adds his own bit of advice, “But if you hire The Covenant Group you are wise to do what they say.  If you follow their plan, you will be successful. Not only are Len and his team good consultants, they are also good friends.”

GIVING USA, Philanthropy in Review

Source: Giving USA 2016 (Highlights)

Published by The Giving Institute, in cooperation with

Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Thank you

A special thanks to everyone who came out last Friday to hear Len Moisan’s presentation on the results of Giving USA 2016.  Also, thanks to the Center for Nonprofit Excellence for coordinating the event and Metro United Way for being such gracious hosts.

We trust that you found the data informative and applicable to your own development operations.  We also hope that you are already finding ways to implement some of the strategies we discussed to enhance your fundraising efforts.

A Few Statistics

With 2015 being the most generous year ever that presents much optimism and opportunity for local nonprofits.  Americans gave $373.25 billion to charitable causes last year and that was an increase of over 4% compared to 2014.  The top five sectors that continue to receive the largest share of total giving are:

  • Religion (32%)
  • Education (15%)
  • Human Services (12%)
  • Foundations (11%)
  • Health (8%)

Specifically, all four categories of giving experienced growth.  Those include:

  • Giving by Foundations: +6.5%
  • Giving by Corporations:  +3.9%
  • Giving by Individuals: +3.8%
  • Giving by Bequest: +2.1%

More than likely your nonprofit has received support from several of these sources.  However, some categories maybe more than others, so how can you maximize your support from as many of these sources as possible? The following are a few of the key strategies we discussed.

Strategies to Consider

  1. Put a renewed emphasis on individual giving
  • When conducting capital or annual campaigns, organizations tend to neglect giving from individuals.
  • On average, individuals give 88% of the total giving each year.
  • Of the total amount given, 71% came in direct gifts from individuals.  However, individuals also are the ones who make bequests and nearly half of the gifts from foundations came from family foundations, again, controlled by individuals.
  • The most effective form of solicitation is still face-to-face visits.  In fact, 70% of the time a peer visits a peer in a face-to-face solicitation the answer is “yes”.  However, it is still important to have a full program that includes social media, direct mail, special events and more.

More to Come

This is the first in a series of blogs that will continue to present strategies that you can apply to your own fundraising efforts. The next blog will focus on Starting to Think About Some Foundations as Individuals. 

Remember, The Covenant Group is here to help you create and implement strategies to grow your fundraising. We have worked with hundreds of nonprofits to accomplish their strategic planning, capital campaign and fundraising goals.  Our associates have raised over $1 billion in our 20-year company history.  Contact us to put our experience to work for you.

Highland Presbyterian Church Louisville, KY


Labor Day of 2015 was memorable for Cynthia Campbell Pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church.  “It was during this time we discovered a crack in the main truss of the roof of our sanctuary,” she recalled. In fact, the damage was so severe that the congregation had to relocate worship services to a different building on campus until the roof could be repaired. “We were faced with the question of how to pay for it?”

In response to the urgent need a taskforce was formed to evaluate launching a capital campaign. Part of their due diligence included researching and interviewing consulting firms.  “The Covenant Group stood out because they were local and had a good grasp of Louisville’s philanthropic landscape.  They also had an impressive track record of campaign success and were highly regarded by several of our members.”

In addition to the roof project, the committee compiled a list of other projects that needed to be addressed. “When we combined all of the projects together they totaled $4.7 million. Although the feasibility study revealed that achieving this goal could be a stretch, church leaders were adamant that we needed to tell the congregation all that needed to be done and what it would cost.”  Campbell states that there was considerable apprehension among congregants about undertaking another campaign so soon after a campaign begun in early 2006 (which ran into the recession). “People were discouraged by the results of that effort and the fall-out lasted a long time.” 

This campaign was different from the start though. “The most helpful thing The Covenant Group did was provide us with a very organized, clear process.  It was so well laid out” Campbell complimented. “We just had to follow the instructions and by doing so we were successful.” Comparing her past experience with institutional campaigns Campbell remarked, “the process worked as well as any I have ever seen.  Providing the campaign manuals helped us not waste time trying to decide the next steps …we knew exactly what to do and when to do it.” 

She describes The Covenant Group as “professional, engaging and flexible. They let us modify the model as needed to better fit our church.”  Campbell continued, “Success depends on the organization’s fit with the consultant. Can the consulting firm adapt to match the ethos of the congregation? The Covenant Group was a great match for us.” The campaign was completed on a very compressed timeframe, January to May of 2016, which also included doing a feasibility study up front. In June, church members received the exciting news that the $4.7 million goal had been surpassed.

Campbell reports that in addition to the financial results, other benefits have come from the campaign’s success.  “We have seen member involvement increase, there is a renewed energy and positive feeling of success among members and we will be back in the sanctuary by September of this year.” And as for the campaign leadership once hesitant about the campaign, “they refer to the entire process as ‘painless’ and ‘actually kind of fun’”.  Campbell concluded by saying, “I have hired and fired a lot of consultants during my career.  However, given the process and the results, I would absolutely recommend The Covenant Group to others seeking campaign counsel.”


Prince of Peace Catholic Church, Madison, IN

Prince of Peace Catholic parish had an urgent need.  The steeple of the church was falling down and required emergency repairs.  In addition to the steeple work, the church also needed exterior paint and other updates.  After concluding a feasibility study, the church set a goal of $1.5 million.

Pastor Chris Craig states that the goal represented a significant stretch.  “Past campaigns the parish had conducted raised an average of $900,000.”  Although another firm had helped with the feasibility study, at the recommendation of the Archdiocese, Prince of Peace parish decided to hire The Covenant Group to provide counsel during the campaign.

“When we first met Len, we could tell he was personally invested in our success.  He was committed to the end result and helping us achieve our goal.”  Pastor Craig described The Covenant Group’s process as “energizing”.  He continued, “They really motivated our leadership, who were a bit reluctant at first.  They helped us define our needs clearly and then they helped us get the parish involved.  We had over 200 volunteers engaged at some level.  The campaign went from ‘we have to do it’ to ‘a genuine excitement about it’ and the spiritual aspect became a key component.”

Father Craig described Len’s leadership style as “very hands on.” He adds that “the process empowered me to become much more confident in fundraising techniques and in striving towards larger goals.”  As Celebration Weekend approaches campaign leaders are thrilled to announce that more than $2 million has been raised!  “We are shocked.  This campaign has been much different than past campaigns.  People are doing more, digging deeper.  We already have significant funds collected and in the bank.  We will begin renovation work next month”.

“One really smart concept The Covenant Group recommended was the 5-year pledge period” commented Father Craig.  “By allowing people to spread their pledges over a longer period, people were able to give more. They are choosing weekly and monthly giving options.  We have seen gifts grow from $20,000 in a 3-year campaign to $50,000 in a 5-year campaign.”  The longer period has really made a difference.  He further noted that they are now working to try to get as close to 100% participation in the campaign as possible.

When asked if Father Craig would recommend The Covenant Group to other churches seeking counsel, he responded.  “Absolutely! I may be at 2 or 3 more parishes in the future.  When I am in a situation where our church needs to raise money, they will be the first call I make”.