midwest studies group

The idea of being on a private island by yourself is captivating—tranquility, sunlight, and relaxation. While it's a dream for some, it can turn into a nightmare for others due to loneliness. Similarly, nonprofits often isolate themselves, whether out of fear of resource loss, a sense of superiority, or difficulty connecting with others. Regardless of the reason, we urge all nonprofits to forge relationships with other organizations, and here's why:

  1. It's beneficial to have allies. Discuss successes or brainstorm solutions when facing challenges. Two heads are better than one.
  2. It's advantageous to collaborate. Your organization can't excel in everything, so partnering with groups can fill each other's gaps, resulting in better programs for clients.
  3. It's beneficial for public relations. Just like knowing about an unknown private island, nonprofits remaining isolated may go unnoticed. By sharing spaces or collaborating, your organization becomes a topic of conversation, attracting donors, volunteers, and funders who appreciate strong inter-organizational relationships.

So, if you're on a nonprofit island, let this inspire you to invite others to share it with you and explore theirs.


For more information about Annual and Planned Giving, Strategic Planning, or Capital Campaigns contact us at info@midweststudiesgroup.com today.

At Midwest Studies Group we get a number of questions all the time, and we try to post them on here once in awhile so that we can help as many people as possible.

The question we are sharing with you this time is, what software should we use to keep track of our donors?

This is tricky because there are so many options out there AND every nonprofit person we run into has a different thing they are looking for. So to give you ONE suggesting or even a list of top suggestions, would be subjective at best.

What we would like to do is share a list with you from Center for Major Gifts. Although the list is a little old, it does a great job at naming off the big players, and giving a short description to each . . . saving you a lot of time doing this all yourself.

https://www.majorgifts.com/support/resources/top-donor-management-software/

The realm of software options is vast, but finding the best fit for your needs is a journey worth taking. As you navigate through the myriad choices, consider your specific requirements, budget constraints, and long-term goals. Remember, the best software is not always the most popular one; it's the one that aligns seamlessly with your unique workflow. Embrace the process of discovery, stay informed about updates and innovations, and empower yourself to make informed decisions that will elevate your efficiency and productivity.

Happy December everyone. Time to bundle up and do our best to stay warm (Well, at least in the Midwest and North). It's a Friday and you might be wondering, what could you possibly be doing right now to make a difference in your organization today?

We have an easy answer to you for that one. A simple challenge. Something that is SUPER easy, takes very little time, and can be a huge difference maker.

1) Check our your donor database

2) Find 5 people who you have not spoken to in awhile

3) Call them (Not text, not email, not carrier pigeon)

4) Don't ask for anything

5) Just thank them for being awesome

That's it. Getting a phone call from the leader of an organization, of sincere THANKS can make a difference.

*Want to take this challenge a step further? Set aside a few minutes every Friday to do this.

My father plays the trombone and absolutely loves it. In fact, it would be fair to say it is probably his number one passion in life.

When it comes to instruments, the trombone is so recognizable that most people know what it is by simply seeing a photo of it.

On the other hand, there is an instrument called the English horn. Ever heard of that? Google it and see if the photo matches up with what you thought it would be. There are musicians who don't even know what the English horn is.

When it comes to running a nonprofit, some staff and board members have the assumption that they are a trombone. They believe that when people see and hear their name, they know exactly who and what they are. So when it comes to doing a feasibility study, they think their capital campaign is going to be automatic because they have a great mission and everyone KNOWS who they are.*

The truth is that a lot of nonprofits THINK they are trombones when they are actually English horns. How do you know if you might be an English horn? Go around town and see how many people have heard of your organization. Look at your donor base and see how many higher-end donors you might have, or even how many donors you have in the first place. Examine your success in local grant writing compared to other organizations.

If you are looking to have a successful feasibility study, make sure you are a trombone. Putting these analogies aside, the point is this . . . too many times, a nonprofit will want to do a capital campaign, starting with a feasibility study, in the hopes that the interviews will magically bring in dollars to the project.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. If there was one piece of advice we would want to give to any nonprofit looking to do a feasibility study, it's to look at your donor base. Examine your support. See if you have donors who would support you at the level you are hoping for*

Taking the time to figure out if you are a trombone or an English horn will make all the difference in your upcoming feasibility study.

*Please note that this topic has nothing to do with the size of an organization. We run into small organizations who have a strong donor base and large organizations who don't have any donor base. If your organization is in need of strategies in becoming more visible in your community, MSG would love to be of service to you.

Do you have that one close friend or family member in life with whom distance does not seem to put a damper on your friendship? You might be separated by miles, but your relationship remains the same today as it was yesterday.

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Once a year, or even less often, you see each other, but when you first greet each other, you share the most enormous, warm hug that transcends the message that distance and time will never get in the way.

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If you are involved in fundraising and are unfamiliar with the terms LYBUNT and SYBUNT, it's important that you learn. LYBUNT stands for "Last Year But Unfortunately Not This (Year)," and is closely related to SYBUNT, which stands for "Some Years But Unfortunately Not This (Year)."

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If you are looking to grow your annual giving program, look no further than your donor list. Bringing back former donors alone should help you reach your goal. Sadly, many donors fall off because no one stayed in contact with them.

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Here are a few suggestions for how to use these lists to your advantage:

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  1. Make sure you keep good records of your donors. It's hard to have a LYBUNT list if you don't have accurate records of your donors.n
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  3. Compile a list of 30-50 individuals who are on your LYBUNT or SYBUNT list. Ensure that all their information is up to date. Send them a card, give them a call, meet for coffee, etc. Simply put, reconnect.n
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  5. Give your LYBUNT donors a warm reception. Not literally (unless you know them well, of course), but figuratively. Be excited to see them again. Treat them in a way that transcends the message that distance and time will never get in the way.n
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  7. For any donor who makes a gift, remember to treat them as you would a good friend. Don't treat them like an ATM you visit once a year. If you haven't already, create a donor cycle plan for your organization.
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Best wishes as you work to grow your annual giving program.

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P.S. - We are often asked about how a new development director can get started in bringing in new donors. Creating a LYBUNT list is an excellent place to start.

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To learn more about strategic and fundraising plans, feasibility studies, planned giving studies, need assessment studies, and capital campaigns, visit us at www.midweststudiesgroups.com.

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Now some of you might be reading this and wondering what does a BGCA Conference have anything to do with my nonprofit? What we are about to say can be connected to any organization. So keep on reading 🙂

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Last week Midwest Studies Group (MSG) had the grand opportunity to be part of BGCA's Midwest Leadership Conference with our partner, Creative Planning.

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We have been a sponsor at this conference for a few years now mainly for ONE reason. Several members of our team are former BGCA peeps and thus we know what a huge impact and difference you make to each of the youth who walk through your doors each day.

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Here is the one challenge we have for anyone who attends a conference, anywhere . . . PUSH FORWARD. If you did not hear that, again, PUSH FORWARD. Conferences are great. You have the opportunity to see old friends, spend time with your own team, have fun in the evenings, interact with awesome sponsors (hint hint), and even learn a thing or two during a session.

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Don't get us wrong, these are excellent reasons to enjoy a conference. Our team personally LOVED going to BGCA Conferences when we were on staff there. Everyone usually walks away saying something similar to "I walked away getting a nugget of info I can bring back with me". (Don't know why the word "nugget" is so popular at conferences)

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Question. What are you doing with that info? What are you doing with all that networking? What are you doing with all the info sponsors shared with you? What are you doing with that handy dandy notebook where you wrote all your notes from the presenters?

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If the answer is NOTHING, then that's where our challenge comes into play. PUSH FORWARD with something. Try out a new idea. Call that Executive Director you networked with and ask a few questions. Reach out to a sponsor/vendor and ask how their product can help your organization. Try a new leadership or fundraising idea that a presenter shared with you.

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If you go back to your organization without trying a single new thing from the conference you attended then what are you even going for? Take advantage of a tool (the conference) that many don't get the opportunity to attend and PUSH FORWARD with something new this year.

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SCHOLARSHIP WINNER - Ok, so this is for those who did attend the BGCA Midwest Leadership Conference. We did a drawing for a $500 college scholarship for a Club kid, and the winner was . . . . BGC of Franklin-Simpson!!!!!

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To learn more about strategic and fundraising plans, feasibility studies, planned giving studies, need assessment studies, and capital campaigns, visit us at www.midweststudiesgroups.com.

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Ask yourself this question. Would you expect a first grader to hit 25 free throws in a row? Would you ever yell at, or shame, that first grader for not being able to do this task? Probably not as it's perfectly fine and normal for a first grader NOT to hit 25 free throws in a row.

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At Midwest Studies Group, we get contacted all the time about groups wanting to move forward with a capital campaign. After years of playing things safe after 2020-2021, there is a lot of excitement in the air. Before we say anything else, let's first say that we are honored that organizations think of us.

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Sadly though, not everyone is ready to make the move for a campaign. Even worse, there are organizations who move forward, even when they are not ready. What ends up starting off as a dream ends up as a nightmare, as staff and board members raise thousands of dollars when they really needed millions.

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So what is the number one marker for seeing if you are ready for a campaign? One could say board development. Others might suggest a strong strategic plan. Both of those would make for strong cases, and are things that Midwest Studies Group could certainly help you with (Enter the shameless plug).

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However, what should be the most telling sign of all is asking what your annual giving program looks like. Believe it or not, a capital campaign is very similar to an annual campaign. For most, it's really the scale of the goal and the asks, which are different.

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Before jumping into a capital campaign, take a deeper dive into your annual giving program by HONESTLY asking yourself this one question. Does the annual support we get from donors and funders justify the ability to do a capital campaign? This includes the number of donors, the amount given, donor engagement, trust from foundations, etc.

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If you feel as if your long list of annual donors suggests a successful capital campaign, then go for it. Take the next step and do a feasibility study to test out your theory.

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If it turns out your annual giving program could use some beefing up? That's perfectly fine and normal. There is no shame in that. The fact that you would be gutsy enough to take action on improvement shows the type of person you are.

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Let's ask again. Would you expect a first grader to hit 25 free throws in a row? Would you ever yell at, or shame, that first grader for not being able to do this task? Of course not. You would take the time to train, and build, and train, and build until they WERE ready for the task.

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The same goes for a capital campaign and the relationship to your annual giving program. Train your team and build your annual giving program until you are ready for the task.

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To learn more about strategic and fundraising plans, feasibility studies, planned giving studies, need assessment studies, and capital campaigns, visit us at www.midweststudiesgroups.com.

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Do you know the difference between a homepage and a landing page? If you are scratching your head, don't worry. You are pretty much like everyone else in the world.

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One of our wonderful partners at Midwest Studies Group is IFC Studios. IFC Studios creates a variety of media outlets, including websites. Often times when they write a blog post that catches our attention, we like to share it . . . because, well . . . it's just so gosh darn good!!!

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So take a moment to read their blog entry on this subject at: https://ifcstudios.com/1-key-difference-between-a-homepage-and-a-landing-page/

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If you end up having any questions or need help revamping your website, let us know, and we would love to connect you with IFC Studios.

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To learn more about strategic and fundraising plans, feasibility studies, planned giving studies, need assessment studies, and capital campaigns, visit us at www.midweststudiesgroups.com.

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Nothing is more exciting than when a nonprofit organization starts to grow. More growth usually means more funding, for more clients, for more difference making. The question usually ends up being . . . how and when do you make that investment in growth?

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nFar too often organizations grow based on their perceived need, and then end up faltering because they grew too fast. In the nonprofit world, when that happens, it's not usually due to the new idea or program growth (although that can happen) but more likely it's due to the lack of funding to support the concept.

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The plane has been used as an analogy for organizational success, by many. There are even several models of what that looks like. Here is a basic definition which we would like to share with you to consider.

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Cockpit - This represents leadership. Do you have the right people, in the right seats, doing the right thing? The plane can't go anywhere if you don't have a pilot who knows what they are doing.

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Wings - This represents your offerings. Does your nonprofit offer programs which are needed and impactful? If you don't have programs that fit those categories, then you are not going to get very far.

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Body - This represents your overhead and operations. This is the part of the plane that can really make or break an organization during growth. Too lean and your flight is going to be all over the place. Too big and your flight is not going to be sustainable.

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Although each of these 3 parts are important for a plane to work correctly, for our topic of organizational growth, let's focus on the body for now, with the other parts of the plane to be talked about in the future.

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We want to talk about this because this is usually where organizations struggle the most during their growth period. Of course there is no perfect formula to what works best as every organization is different. However, before you invest in overhead and operations, there are a few questions you can ask yourself before doing so:

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1) Are you adding staff because you NEED to or because you are trying to keep up with the "Joneses"? That nonprofit added a FT Development Director, we need one too . . . that nonprofit added an Admin Assistant, we need one too. . . that nonprofit added an Operations Director, we need one too. nnWe are not questioning your desire for any of the items above but have you taken the time to really plan the need for the addition? For example, with staff members, it does sound great to add a FT Development Director but did you take the time to layout a list of duties and schedule out what the work week would look like?

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n2) If it is a program addition, was it something which was needed and impactful? Was the idea something you personally wanted and have a passion for or was it something that the community was asking for, which can make a big impact. Not just one or two people bringing it up to you but did you do a REAL bonafide program assessment study to really understand the true need for the potential program? (Shameless plug, MSG can help if you need one)

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3) Have you looked into other options? Can you partner on a program, or refer, another organization? Can you cost share an employee or use a contracted person?

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4) Is this in your budget? Pretty self explanatory but . . . well . . . is it in your budget?

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5) Finally, is it sustainable? Sure, adding a new staff member is awesome and might fit in the budget but is it a cost you can sustain for at least the next 3 years? No one wants to be in a job where they have to wonder if they are going to be laid off year after year. Clients and funders don't want to see programs coming and going constantly, because you can't afford to continue them.

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Now don't get us wrong. If you have read any of our past entries, you know that MSG is big into investing in your organization and capacity building. However we also have a belief that you should not just want to grow . . . but you want to GROW SMART!!!

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Taking the time to answer these few questions to yourself will help make sure the body of your plane is the right size and stay in the air for a long time. Although we never have taken an official poll on this, we do feel that most people who fly prefer their planes to stay in the air during the scheduled flight times . . . as will your board and staff with your organization.

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To learn more about strategic and fundraising plans, feasibility studies, planned giving studies, need assessment studies, and capital campaigns, visit us at www.midweststudiesgroups.com.

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It's that time. The dreadful time in which you or a member of your staff need a new computer. It's that head banging moment in which you need to compare value vs need.

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We know one could say this is an issue in any industry or for yourself personally but in the nonprofit world it's different because for every purchase you make, it can be scrutinized by someone.

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When is the last time you bought a TV or car for your home, and then had the community come over to give approval on if you spent your money the right way? That probably does not happen very often. In the nonprofit world though, we just need to take that extra step of making sure what we get is something we can truly validate. nnNow if you were looking for a list of computers you should buy, that is not what this article is about. Partly because every organization will have different needs but partly because if we did, by next week, the list we come up with would be outdated (Joking but serious). Instead what we wanted to do was create a buying guide, based on some simple questions you should ask:

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1) What is the computer being used for? This is a great place to start because this is often where people get the most caught up. There are some out there who want all the greatest tech in the world, only to use the computer for nothing but emails. At the same time there are those who want to be "frugal" and get a budget value computer but then are disappointed when Adobe Photoshop crashes on them or things run slow when several apps are open at the same time. nnDo your homework and compare more than just price, but compare speed, memory. chip brands/types. etc. as well.

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2) Who is going to be using the computer? Is this person going to be using the computer all day? Will they be traveling a lot? How big is their desk? All of these could effect the size of the computer. Is this person your graphic artist or just someone who uses email? Again, similar to #1, it is important to get some background on WHO is going to use the computer as well.

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3) What other brands does your organization use? Here is a question that often flies under the radar. Many of times a nonprofit will just buy whatever is on sale without any notice of what other brands they might have at their office. Especially for your IT team (internal or third party) who usually prefer everyone to have the same computer brand, it helps with training, supply purchases, costs, repair knowledge, and more, this can make a difference.

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4) Do you understand budget value computers and being future proof? Again, a temptation for a nonprofit is to just buy the $250 computer that is on sale. Here are some things to consider when you do that. You are getting a computer with parts which often have a short shelf life, apps that are not fully functional without upgrades, but most often ignored . . . since these computers tend to have the lowest options of hardware, it means that are not very future proof. nnSure, you might spend a little more for a computer with better hardware BUT as apps and web developers constantly push out things out that are data heavy, you want a computer which can handle those types of changes for years to come. Budget value computers can start to run slow in just a year or two, because the hardware can not keep up with app and website updates.

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5) What is your budget? Of course this eventually all comes down to your budget. Getting the computer you NEED might not match up with your budget. So make sure you are getting something that not only fits your needs but fits your budget as well.

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We will always suggest that nonprofits stay away from budget value computers whenever possible BUT we also understand why some organizations need to buy them. So just make your own well thought of, decision.

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6) Can you feel good when justifying the purchase to others? Finally, do you feel good about the justification of the new computer? This is especially true for those who get more expensive computers. If a donor were to ask why you purchased a more expensive computer, do you feel comfortable with the explanation? For example, "We need this because we use ABC app, and in order to use that app, we needed a computer that could handle those sorts of stresses". nnOn the flip side, if you feel like you are stumbling over yourself, trying to explain something you don't really have the need for, then perhaps your computer choice is not the right one at this time.

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When it comes to computers, you often "get what you pay for", which is why it is so important that you take the time to learn what you are actually getting. Once you ask these questions, do your due diligence in finding options, and then get the computer approved by your board, then you are ready to make your purchase.

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To learn more about strategic and fundraising plans, feasibility studies, planned giving studies, need assessment studies, and capital campaigns, visit us at www.midweststudiesgroups.com.

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