Taking your fundraising to the next level with Julie Edwards

Episode aired March 17, 2021: Let’s Raise More!

As a former executive director and fundraiser, Julie Edwards has seen up close what separates the successful from the not so successful organizations. In this episode Julie discusses

  • what one thing NPOs don’t do well- and how much it hurts them 
  • three ways to segment a donor list  
  • how marketing and fundraising should work together
  • how you make it “rain for change”
  • the ROI in investing in a consultant and
  • how Board structure and scarcity mindset hurt the sector.  

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.

Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit Podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us a nonprofit management, fundraising and marketing expert Julie Edwards. Julie, how you doing today?

Julie: Great. How are you?

Ephraim: I’m doing great. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

A 25-plus year expert in media and marketing communications, Julie Edwards is a dynamic, visionary executive with a demonstrated track record of increasing revenue, raising money, leading high performance teams and motivating large groups of people to affect positive change. In 2010, she turned her expertise to the nonprofit sector first as a development director and then an executive director for a regional selective admission animal welfare facility. During her tenure, she doubled the overall budget from $1.1 million to $2.4 million through directing growth of new and existing services, increased fundraising revenue by 255 plus percent and oversaw six hundred thousand dollars in capital expansion projects.

When not helping clients make the world a better place, Julie crafts chef-level vegetarian meals, works as an up-and-coming contemporary folk-art painter and loves on her two rescues Charlie and Millie.


In today’s episode we’re going to discuss taking your fundraising to the next level. Let’s dive right in. Julie, there are so many ways to fundraise, yet we’ve both seen nonprofits who are heavily dependent on one method, gala event or direct mail for example. What are the potential pitfalls in putting all your eggs in one basket?

Julie: Well that’s probably pretty self-evident but if that one thing fails for whatever reason, like if you are dependent on a gala and then there’s a global pandemic of some sort, you have to cancel it or there’s actually our local big venue that people use here where I live, the country club, their roof fell in and so everybody that had their gala had you know… so there’s things outside of your control and so if something happens that you can’t do and then you put all your eggs in that basket, then your budget shop for the year… diversification of your fundraising portfolio, just like diversification of your stock portfolio for your retirement, is incredibly important.

I was recently talking to someone on a strategy session and they were a small nonprofit who relied upon their local county government for like 85 percent of their budget. And I was like, you got to do something about that because you know the government cuts their budget or slashes and they get cut, then that’s affects their mission. So sometimes you have to start small and you only can do one thing but as quickly as you can, you need to have a mix of events. Some… events are not money makers, I’ll change it off and say that because the time you put into them, they’re usually more fundraisers than fundraisers. But events, individual fundraising, major gift fundraising, monthly donors, grants, you need to have your pie spread out across multiple revenue streams just so if something happens to one of them, it doesn’t impact your budget as hard, which in turn impacts your mission, your availability to deliver your services.  

Fundraising Strategy

Ephraim: Excellent answer. Totally agree. So if we’re going to be talking fundraising, let’s talk fundraising strategy. What does that strategy have to include in order for the implementation to be successful?

Julie: Okay, so this is the hill I will die upon but I am a ginormous advocate of donor love, donor relations, stewardship. I was not really introduced to that concept until 2017 by Tom Ahern and I went to a conference and he spoke about that and I was like, oh, all the light bulbs went off. It makes such sense and it seems so simple on the surface but for something so simple, it is shocking to me about how few nonprofits actually do it or do it well. I mean there’s still a ton of nonprofits out there who don’t thank their donors at all, which causes my little fundraising heart to just hurt. I mean anything you can do to increase your stewardship is so important because it’s not just about getting the gift. It’s actually more important than getting the gift, because that’s how you retain your donors and help them give to you again and up their gift, so that they will give you more money hopefully in the future.

And I know it works because at my former organization, the humane society I worked at where I was development director and executive director, after I went to that conference, we started implementing stewardship and came with a really robust strategy, the most we could do and that is what made the difference I fully believe and we took our fundraising within two years from a little over $400,000 to over a million. More than doubled it and that was the main difference that we did was to implement a really robust stewardship strategy and that included thanking, as well as reporting back to the donors about what their impact was with that gift that they made.

Segmenting Your Donor List

Ephraim: Fantastic answer. Always important to have a gratitude attitude. Today’s actionable item, segmenting a donor list. Please tell us three ways an organization should be segmenting their list and why doing so will take their fundraising to a whole new level?

Julie: So I’m going to be a little different about this but of course you need to separate between your current donors, whatever you define that as, which some people that’s the past year, some people that’s past 18 months,  24 months, whatever makes sense to you and some of that depends on the size of your donor database and then you’re either LYBUNT, SYBUNT, people have it who haven’t given because when you’re sending out an appeal or ask, you want to be able to structure those messages a little differently.

But then I would also say what you need to do on the backend and this is sort of like I guess segment number three, is when you are sitting down and ask, it’s important to remember especially if you’re doing it via email, that you take out those donors who have already given, so you’re not consistently sending them a barrage of emails, especially if it’s a day like say Giving Tuesday where you may be sending multiple emails over a 24 to 72 hour period. As soon as those people give, if you can take them off the list so they’re not continuing to get those emails. You just don’t want to make people angry over email that they’ve given because they’re like… and then they’ll get you “I gave my gift. Why didn’t you get it?” But that is an important thing as well.

And of course, monthly givers are a whole different subset. If you have any type of a monthly giving program, those people also need to be stewarded in a totally different way, as do your first-time donors. So those also need to be segmented out and you need to have separate stewardship campaigns, drip campaigns, to address those donors.  

Marketing And Fundraising Working Together

Ephraim: Excellent and certainly on that email one, that’s an excellent point that you’re making. If we’re going to be talking about marketing and fundraising, how should the two work together to increase donations and thus help increase impact in the community?

Julie: So this is the second hill I will die on and it probably is because my background is in marketing- my degrees are marketing communications- and I got into development, I learned all things fundraising but I mean- and again, this is something I see nonprofits not doing well again and again- the marketing teams and the development teams never converse, never talk to each other, never share information. But it is crucial that they work together and not only that but really, marketing should support development because marketing has to be over here telling the stories, telling the good, thanking the donors through social media, email, newsletters, whatever that they’re doing and that needs to funnel into and support your development efforts so that they’re mirroring each other.

And of course, you know any campaign you have that needs to be communicated through marketing but that messaging, the branding, all the things that your organization on a day-to-day basis for a special campaign it needs to be cohesive across your organization and there is no way in my mind that you know marketing and fundraising can exist independently within an organization. They have to work together and be married up and support each other, because it’s just that I don’t know how you’d be successful otherwise, quite honestly.

Make It Rain For Change

Ephraim: I have three words for your answer: Yes, yes, yes. On your website jedwardsconsulting.com you talk about being passionate about “making it rain for change.” What does that mean and how do you go about making that happen?

Julie: So that was actually a line I creatively borrowed, I don’t say steal from… it was a CRM company, I can’t remember which one it is now so I don’t want to talk out of turn. I think I know but I don’t want to say. But I thought it was so clever. Of course making it rain is a colloquialism slang for creating lots of money and so making rain for change obviously is creating a lot of money for nonprofits or for charity to help their mission for change in the world and whatever their mission basis is. 

My wheelhouse sort of is I’m a fixer. I like to fix things and I like to go in and fix things and get out and I figured out after several months now doing consulting work that sort of my sweet spot is helping  because this is what I did at the organization I was at. So I have lived it and breathed it and done it and done it successfully, to go in and help smaller to mid-size nonprofits that maybe don’t have the team or the time but have enough budget to go to the next level. So maybe it’s just an ED who doesn’t have a DD and can’t do it all, so they need that help with their fundraising strategy. Maybe it’s they have a DD but they’re not well versed in all the things fundraising and they need some support. Or maybe it’s a special campaign they need support for or stewardship strategy. But I know because I was a DD and then an ED and did not know what I was doing at first about fundraising and did not have team members at first and was doing all things that that support is so crucial and I think where again a lot of nonprofits meet the boat is they have this… miss the boat, sorry, is they have this mindset of scarcity and they don’t want to spend the money but there are affordable consultants  and there are great people out there who do great work and you do have to screen them and do the right things but sometimes you can spend a little bit of  money and make a lot in return.

For example, I had a client at the holidays and I wrote three emails for them for less than five hundred dollars and they made twelve thousand dollars off of those three emails! So you know five hundred dollars may sound like a lot of money to a lot of nonprofits depending on where you are in the world but that’s a great return on your investment. You need to think about that when you’re thinking like oh this may cost me two or three thousand dollars. But if I make 10, 12, 15, 20,000 off of hiring this consultant or hiring this help, it’s totally worth it. And again you can’t always promise that and there’s a lot of things that go into that relationship between consultants and nonprofits but it’s worth considering, it’s worth considering… you’re getting the help, especially if it’s not your wheelhouse. You’re not a copywriter, you’re not a great strategist, whatever, to help you to increase your fundraising because again, it only helps your mission at the end of the day.  

Let’s Learn More About Julie

Ephraim: Fantastic. Make it rain for change, I love that. It’s brilliant. The lightning round. Let’s learn more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Julie: Okay, so I’m gonna be 100% honest here. I actually did work earlier in my career for a hospital in their public relations department. Of course, hospitals are nonprofits but a totally different… or some hospitals are… this was a nonprofit hospital but that’s a totally different animal.

But the year I turned 40, which was 2009, I lost my job that year in January due to the recession that happened the year before and I was basically unemployed all that year. I did consult work that year as well. At the end of that year and I won’t go into the detail because it’ll take too long to explain, but through lots of coincidences and things just started working out, I found out about this job at the Humane Society and they were looking for somebody to do their development marketing that they had never had that position before. So I applied and got the job. Started there actually February 1 of 2010, so it would have been 11 years a few days ago. And again, I had all the marketing expertise but I didn’t know a whole lot about fundraising. Had done some fundraising events in my church but not the same. I learned and it became a passion for me, because I’ve told everybody over the years that it seemed to be a great merge of my personal and professional skills, because I had the marketing skills and developed the fundraising skills and I’ve always been I guess a do-gooder.

Like if you know anything about the enneagram, I’m a type 2 enneagram, the helper. I just… I really do have a passion about making a difference in the world and like helping these smaller mid-sized nonprofits become better, do more and really help them make a change and make difference.

Ephraim: Fantastic. So given your expertise and years of experience in the sector, if you could shake up one thing in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

Julie: Okay, I’m gonna say… can  I say two things? I’m gonna be scandalous here. Number one thing I’m gonna say is… I’m a big Dan Pallotta fan. If you don’t know who he is, you should go look up his TED Talk on rethinking the way people approach nonprofits. But again it goes back to that mindset of scarcity, that nonprofits need to have a different mindset. You are a business. You are a business and you need to operate like a business and that is something that I preach all the time. You’re a business of the heart. And again I won’t go into all the detail on that but we need to change the way we think about nonprofits and because of all the years… I think he has a stat that nonprofits have been a thing, the income to them has not really changed, even though we’re doing all these different things, which is as relation to gross national product which is ridiculous, because they fill so many gaps and that has to change.

Another thing I would change- and please don’t hate me people if you’re listening- is I have come to realize that the structure of a Board overseeing a nonprofit is not a great structure. These are people well-meaning, well-intended professionals who come into an organization to help them out but they know nothing about the field, nothing about the mission, nothing about the history, nothing about the people there. And they learn but it’s… and then they roll off a few years later, so then you get a whole new boss and a whole new team of people coming in and it’s not sustainable. And I’ve seen so many great ED’s or great teams or great nonprofits fail because the Boards don’t understand and it’s not their fault always.

What needs to happen… and so people get let go, people get frustrated and leave and it’s just… I don’t know what the answer is to that and maybe there needs to be some national or international governing agency that… because I understand that you need to have a boss but it’s just… I see so many good ED’s that have suffered at the hands of Boards and it’s really sad and the people that leave the industry because they just can’t deal with that anymore. And I will say as an ED, that was the most stressful job I’ve ever had in my life. It’s a really weird job where you’re stuck between your team and your Board and you have to balance that and it’s just a unique place to be and unlike anything in the for-profit world that I’ve ever experienced.

Ephraim: Been there, totally get it. Julie, what’s a cheese board?

Julie: Okay so first of all I’m vegetarian. I’ll just say that. Working for a humane society I made the choice at a point that I could not help animals and also eat them. I made the choice and there are some health issues and ecological issues as well.  But I’m not the kind of person who’s going to shame me for eating meat, as long as you don’t shame me for not eating meat. But you know there’s charcuterie boards, I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly, it’s a hard word to pronounce. But the meat and cheese boards. But I just do a cheeseboard. It became a big thing for me last summer 2020. I had a few friends who were safe, covid safe and we would meet at my house and we would have wine and we would have a spread of cheeses and crackers and jellies and relishes and pickled vegetables and it’s just fun. I’ve always been the kind of person like if you said the party has heavy appetizers and open bar, I am all in.

Ephraim: I like, I like. Dogs or cats?

Julie: Dogs, dogs. I mean I love them both but I have two dogs as you mentioned earlier and actually I’m going to go into your next question. You want to answer that…

Ephraim: So hold on, I’ll ask the question and then you can tell about your love of dogs who are Charlie and Millie and what makes them so special.

Julie: Charlie and Millie are my rescues. I adopted Charlie the year I started at the Humane Society. So he’s just celebrated his 11th birthday a few weeks ago. He had a sister, his littermate, who we also adopted. She passed away unexpectedly last year. Broke my heart because she was one of the most special dogs I’ve ever had. She really bonded with me personally and it took me awhile but I got another girl dog in November of 2020, Millie. She’s a mess but she’s fun. She’s got a lot of puppy in her. She’s crazy pants but we’re working on it.

I honestly… the past year has been so hard, I know for everyone but the isolation of being alone a lot of time, working from home, not seeing friends, not seeing family, I honestly don’t know if I would have made it without my dogs. They have been a comfort to me. They have been relief. I mean there’s a reason that dogs are therapy animals. I mean, there really is and I think the thing- and I’ve seen it happen, again I worked in a Humane Society for almost 11 years and I’ve seen it happen again and again and again and again and again- these dogs would come in that have been treated so badly, like I mean crazy stuff, shot, abused, neglect, I mean just crazy things that had happened to them and yes, sometimes it would take them awhile to trust again but they always forgave and they always trusted.

And there’s some quote, I can’t remember who said it, if we would be like… if humans were like dogs, the world would be a better place and that is true. Dogs give unconditional love, they forgive, they forget, they move on and it’s incredible. But again I’ve seen it happen again and again with animals, that especially animals that should ever forgive and never forget who do and it’s a great thing that they can do that and again, if humans can be more like that, the world would be a better place.  

Ephraim: Excellent answer. Lastly we will turn the table. You ask me one surprise question. I have no clue what it is in advance. Go ahead.

Julie: Okay. So I hope you know what the phrase ‘die on a hill’ means. Since I mentioned that a couple of times in this conversation, what is the one thing in the nonprofit world that you will die on the hill of? Is your thing that you push and you’re an advocate for and why.

Ephraim: Boy oh boy, there are so many hills. I’ve got Himalayas of hills. Hills to die on. I’m trying to think where I go with fundraising, marketing, email, gratitude, management. Oh lord. You know what? I’m gonna go on salaries. That’s my hill. The low salaries. Number one, the salaries in the nonprofit sector are approximately let’s call it a quarter to a third less than the for-profit sector. The second thing is you’ve got women, on average, are making 27% less than men in the nonprofit sector. So you’ve already got an imbalance when you join the sector and if you’re a woman, you’ve got extra, you’re making way less. So right there we’ll start. The second thing what bothers the hell out of me is the attitude that if you work for a nonprofit, you really should work for free. You don’t deserve a salary. You’re doing good in the world. Why would you need a salary?! That’s my hill and my feeling is that salaries need to be on par so the sector can compete with the for-profit sector and bring in… I’m not saying the nonprofit sector doesn’t have good people. There’s a ton of good people but we need to invite in a lot more good people and when I say good, I mean not just good natured but competent, smart, experienced people who can come in and change the world or make it rain for change and that’s not just the dollars. It’s the marketing, it’s the communications, it’s the stewardship and it’s everything around that. So as far as I’m concerned, salaries are my hill. 

Julie: I 100% agree and that sort of feeds into that whole Dan Pallotta idea of scarcity thing and he talks about that in that TED Talk and I’m telling y’all, p-a-l-l-o-t-t-a. Go look at this TED Talk. 

But yes and I will just tell you quickly a story. I know this for a fact, the guy before me, my organization at the Humane Society I worked for, had never had a female executive director, even though a female founded the organization back in 1913. I know for a fact that the man before me was making well… I’ll just say this: I don’t know the percentages but he was making like $120,000 and I was making a lot less than that when they brought me in, even though I had the same experience, actually more experience because he had not had experience in the field of animal welfare and I did. So it is definitely a thing and yes absolutely, people in nonprofit world, we do it for the passion. We do not do it for the money. But you were right. So the other story I will tell as you said that about don’t make any money, there are people, it was frustrating too, people in the nonprofit world who really buy into that and they take it as a source of pride. Like well I have been volunteering for this organization for 20 years and I’ve never taken a penny and… I mean that sounds horrible. I’m going to be rude.

Ephraim: No it’s not and I don’t get that attitude and what ends up happening is then the nonprofit says we can get everything for free, we don’t pay for anything and that hurts. That’s a whole separate podcast.

Julie: Well I had a Board member say to  me once and let me qualify this saying this particular Board member  who has a house in the Dutch Caribbean, has a four-story house on the lake, drives a Porsche SUV, she’s wealthy, she’s upper upper upper middle class to lower upper class and she looked at me in a meeting and said, I just don’t…we were talking about the budget, I don’t understand why the staff needs to make so much money. In the Dutch Caribbean city where we reside half the year, the Humane Society there, none of their people make money. It’s all volunteer and I was like, that’s great there but now you can’t ask people to work for nothing. We have to have a living. You have to make a living.

Ephraim: I’m gonna avoid a rant here and shake my head and leave it at that. Holy cow.

Julie: Good answer Ephraim.

Ephraim: Julie, thank you very very much for appearing on the podcast. You can learn more about Julie’s work on her website at jedwardsconsulting.com  She’s also happy to connect with nonprofit pros on LinkedIn. Julie, it was a pleasure having you on the podcast today.

Julie: Thank you for your invitation. It was great. I enjoyed it. You have a great day.

Ephraim: A pleasure. Have a great day.