Joanne Oppelt – NANOE Member & Expert Fundraiser

Joanne Oppelt – NANOE Member & Expert Fundraiser introduces a nonprofit veteran who makes sure charities flourish instead of fail. Here’s what Joanne has to share:

What do you do when your fundraising is less than stellar, your budget is limited, and your board refuses to fundraise? How do you move the needle in your favor? See how one nonprofit, on the brink of failure, turned their financial position around.

With a mission to prevent substance abuse through education aimed at high-risk youth, the community drug prevention agency was in trouble. It was experiencing declining support from donors. Its financial reserves were gone, and its funders were starting to question its financial viability.

Joanne Oppelt – NANOE Member & Expert Fundraiser

The organization was small, with a volunteer service delivery system, a full-time executive director and six part-time staff. Its annual budget was around $600,000. It had been in existence for about fifteen years and was governed by a board of twelve.


Its defining attribute was the dedication to the mission by the board, staff, volunteers, donors, vendors, advocates, and the community. Everyone, and I mean everyone, who had anything to do with this agency was highly dedicated to mission fulfillment. However, aside from the executive director, the board and volunteers were unwilling to fundraise.

With a volunteer service delivery system, the organization had volunteer recruitment, training, development, and recognition down pat. Whatever I was going to do for it, I would build on its strong volunteer base.

Joanne Oppelt - NANOE Member & Expert Fundraiser

Our first task was to fully understand the details behind the decline and how we could change direction. So, we assessed its fundraising strengths and gaps in detail. I worked with the executive director, staff, and board. I administered board and staff surveys, coordinated feedback, and reported back to the executive director. The executive director then had me present to the board. Board members were most concerned about the declining revenues. They saw the agency’s survival at stake. Closing the doors was not an option. The board was acutely aware of how their services changed people’s lives.

I discussed growing organizational capacity with the executive director, and together, we outlined a plan to reverse direction.

My initial assessment was it needed to improve recordkeeping systems, secure low-cost fundraising software, develop a profitable fundraising plan, repair its reputation, get more people fundraising, and foster board fundraising leadership. The formal assessment confirmed my perceptions.  They were in dire need of reputation repair, a swift influx of cash, training in what fundraising was and wasn’t, more people fundraising for them, and board leadership in fundraising. The assessment also revealed the extent to which the organizational recordkeeping systems had deteriorated and how dire finances were.

We worked with the board to set fundraising policies and institute stronger accountability controls. The next thing we did was to allocate resources for a new fundraising software system so there would be some fundraising infrastructure. We created a case for support and integrated that message in all their individual appeals, grants, and special events. We also changed the fundraising focus from gross income to net income and put all costs, direct and indirect, into the fundraising budgets. That way, the organization was not underestimating its fundraising costs. With total costs accounted for, the agency had a better idea of how many resources they needed to raise through each fundraising activity.


In addition, we calculated their returns on investment for each activity. We created a development plan that focused on the agency’s strengths and where the nonprofit was making the most money using the least resources. The plan ended up with a strong focus on individual giving.

We spent quite a bit of time listening to board member objections to participating in fundraising. So, we didn’t ask them to fundraise. Instead, we focused on keeping the mission going, which necessarily involved raising money. We took asking for dollars out of the board equation, moving it to the new executive director, who had a solid background in fundraising.

We also worked on developing board fundraising leadership. We shared funding requirements regarding board giving, and the executive director brought donor inquiries about board giving to board meetings. Soon, the board adopted a 100 percent board giving policy. They directed the executive director to revise their board recruitment materials and put in board donation reporting protocols. They also changed their board service requirements, making not contributing a reason for termination of board membership.

As the board modeled giving leadership, skeptical donors were encouraged to continue contributing to the organization. Soon, others’ fears were also allayed. Which encouraged more donors to contribute.

The next step was to get more people fundraising for them. Since they had a robust volunteer program and many volunteers, after the board, we turned to the volunteer base. We wanted the volunteers to spread the agency’s message to the community the same way the board was. So, the volunteer manager took messaging from the case for support we had created and incorporated it into volunteer recruitment packets, training manuals, and recognition events. Everyone in the agency was getting on the same page in describing the agency to the community.

The had a huge obstacle to overcome, though.  Important donors had started questioning the viability of the organization. So, we sent a letter sent to all major donors explaining where the agency was in its growth cycle and what was being done to address the issues. The executive director was honest and direct about the situation.

Next, we worked on strengthening the organization’s communication channels. We developed a quarterly email newsletter for volunteers and donors, attaching opportunities for financial sponsorship outlining the PR opportunities available to the sponsor. We also worked on list building strategies.


During our time together, the agency had a wonderful opportunity for pro bono professional branding services. They identified their key constituencies, the branding firm conducted field research, and developed a complete brand package, including a messaging playbook. The playbook was invaluable. The messaging was used in press releases, newsletters, grant proposals, and annual appeals. It was also used to revise their board recruitment materials, volunteer outreach communications, board and volunteer training manuals, and employee handbook. We were determined to infuse the messaging into the organizational culture.

The nonprofit soon started reaping the benefits of its efforts. It became known in the community as a small but mighty organization moving forward. It had begun redefining itself, and it was working. More people wanted to volunteer. Foundation revenue doubled. Individual donations increased by 50 percent. Businesses started contributing. The agency began rebuilding its financial reserves. It was also able to begin an endowment. Within 2 years, their budget increased by 50 percent, it had about six months of operating reserves, and they secured an endowment that supports its volunteer recognition programming.

Joanne Oppelt - NANOE Member & Expert FundraiserAbout the author:  During Joanne’s 30+ years working in the nonprofit arena, she has held positions from volunteer to executive director. Integrating fundraising with strategic planning, marketing, operations, and financial systems, she builds up organizational revenue streams, creating sustainable funding structures. She specializes in helping nonprofits improve their ROI and realize continuous net surpluses. She currently provides consulting services, multi-module online courses with private coaching, person-to-person fundraising advice, annual summits, virtual get-togethers, and weekly newsletters. She can be reached at [email protected] or through her website


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