Interviewed by Greg Nielsen for the Nonprofit Vision podcast March 2020

G: Gregory Nielsen, host

M: Mazarine Treyz, Founder & CEO of Wild Woman Fundraising

Podcast Key:

  • :57- Who I am
  • 1:50 – What is sustainable fundraising? (aka the 10 legged stool)
  • 3:30 – How are orgs diversifying revenue streams?
  • 5:56 – Resource I recommend for understanding your business model
  • 7:00 – What to do with risk-averse leadership
  • 9:34 – How to innovate while avoiding mission drift
  • 12:20 – How to build capacity to innovate?
  • 16:06 – What to do before you apply to a job to make sure it’s going to be a good place to work
  • 20:24 – For NP Leaders – How to stop fundraising turnover
  • 24:47 – What is one resource people can use right now to build their fundraising skills?


G: Hello and welcome to another episode of Nonprofit Vision. This is your host, Greg Nielsen. I am the president and CEO of Nielsen Training and Consulting where we work with nonprofit organizations nationally; Primarily in the areas of board excellent strategy and organizational development.

G: Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. I am especially excited this week, we took last week off from the podcast because I was doing some traveling, and we’re picking it up this week with what is always a popular topic on the podcast and that is fundraising. We are going to be talking about building your fundraising career and also sustainable fundraising practices for nonprofit organizations. Our guest this week is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising. Mazarine, welcome to the podcast.

M: Thank you so much Greg I really appreciate it and I am excited to talk with you about sustainable fundraising.

G: It is a pleasure to have you here! (00:57)

Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

M: Sure! For about 20 years I’ve been involved with nonprofits. I have cofounded a non-profit and worked my way up from development associate to development director. In the last 10 years I’ve been consulting, so I’ve done everything from writing appeal letters to appeal campaigns, e-newsletters and reports, to doing strategic planning and board development as well. My favorite things to do include helping foundations succeed with getting their grantees less dependent on grants. I’ve created 10+ E-courses, a variety of webinar recordings, and online conferences. I’ve written three books as well. I’ve done a lot! But all in the aid of helping nonprofits become truly sustainable because if government steps away from providing services, we have to be there to fill in the gaps for communities.

G: Absolutely. (01:50) I know in talking to you before the podcast recording you use a phrase called “sustainable fundraising” for nonprofits. I’m just curious if you could maybe tell us how you define that and then probe that little deeper?

What is sustainable fundraising?

M: Sure, Greg. So what happens if you sit on a stool with one leg?

G: You fall over.

M: Right what about two legs?

G: I’m pretty sure you’re still going to fall over unless you have better balance than I do.

M: Exactly! So, I hope everybody here gets this metaphor. But if you don’t, let me spell it out for you. If your funding strategy is dependent on one government grant or one-year end appeal or one major donor, I’ve got news for you. You’re about to hit your ass on the ground.

G: Understood.

M: So sustainable fundraising means “let’s have ten legs on the stool”, which I know, doesn’t seem very appropriate for a stool. But on the other hand, you’re not going to fall over!

G: That’s true! Much better balance.

M: So that is part of it. Having multiple strands of income. Everybody knows that’s a sustainable financial plan for you personally, but even more than that thinking about how you treat your people because they are your nonprofit. They are what makes your nonprofit go. You’re a machine made of people and if you have consistent turnover in the fundraising roll it cost you 117% of what you’re paying that person to replace them. That’s assuming that they are gone for a month and then there’s another person coming in and we all know it’s more like since six months to a year.

G: (03:31) When we talk about sustainable fundraising there’s a couple of different components to what you just said there. There is the number of revenue streams for the organization and making sure that there is some diversity there and some balance there. Then there’s also how you lead grow and retain your talent. Maybe let’s take them one at a time. The diversity of revenue streams, what are you seeing in the landscape right now? I think it depends on organizations obviously. But how are sustainable organizations approaching that task?

What does diversifying your revenue streams look like?

M: They are definitely looking to expand their options and do experiments. The organizations to really consider looking at are the national ones and see what they do. Year-end appeals are still a thing for nonprofits but we’re finding increasingly that the crowdfunding proliferation (there’s over 1200 crowdfunding sites now) has made it more difficult for people to feel the urgency of giving to your cause. We have to innovate if we want to survive.

M: You can do a crowdfunding campaign for your nonprofit, but you have to be prepared to do all the follow up for that. People are trying that. Other people are just trying to get more grants, but that’s really not sustainable, so the bright light at the end of this very long tunnel is earned income streams. Most people don’t know that (with) the biggest and most successful nonprofits such as hospitals and universities earned income is their main revenue stream.

G: (5:16) Right. This always comes up when I am working with boards or organizations, particularly in strategic planning, is how well do they understand their overall business model. That includes their earned revenue and their philanthropic revenue as well. So when you’re talking to nonprofit leaders and fundraisers how do you coach them on balancing the need to grow both sides of the equation?

How to understand your business model

M: I have a presentation that I like to do called Next Level Fundraising. In it we go over some of what is key inside the Blue Ocean strategy book as well as the Six Thinking Hats by Edward DiBono and for both of those (which entails many concepts that I don’t have time to go into here) but what I will say is look around you in the for-profit world and think about what you do for money right now and maybe even for our particular disease that we are working on or particular educational nonprofit. It could be everything from, “I think we are going to try and do an innovative partnership” to if you are an animal nonprofit, “have we thought about opening an online thrift store?”

M: There are so many little tools that you can use to start your gears turning. What if everybody in your organization read a business book once a month and then you all sat around and talked about it? Just little things to start getting you using your brain power inside your organization instead of just grinding along in business as usual and then thinking, “how can we pay people more if we are asking for more brain power?”. “What can we do to get people to stay?”.

G: (7:00) One of the questions that comes to my mind as you talk about that is risk. I know this comes up a lot with boards as well, but when you’re working with nonprofit executives and board members, how do you talk to them about the need for a responsible risk as a key part of innovation? It’s really important for sustainability that we try new things, but not everything is going to be an ace. Not everything is going to be a gold mine. How do we get comfortable as an organization in our culture, with taking on responsible risk?

How to deal with Risk Averse Leadership

M: You look at the business plans that are out there at your local SBDC will have them (small business development center). There are books about this as well and I’ve actually got a whole presentation just on earned income strands that nonprofits can try as well as a series on entrepreneurial thinking. I go into my presentation from least financial investment up front to greatest financial investment.

M: I actually helped a nonprofit in New York City take their volunteerism and edu-tourism program to the next level so they are called the Global Autism Project and what they do is they go to different countries and help communities learn how to accept people with autism so that they don’t beat them, leave them out in the cold, kill them. There’s just so much going on that (causes) desperate people (to) make desperate choices. Once people start to understand autism, they can see how this person can fit into their community.

M: What Global Autism Project does is they go to universities that teach autism therapists and say, “hey want help finishing your exam?”, and then finally, “would you like to go create more cultural competency inside of yourself by going to these different countries?”. Like Indonesia or India or other parts of South America or Africa and so on. Now they’re all over the world. I’ve been their monthly donor; they’re doing incredible work and they’re saving lives. They have gone from 3$5,000 a year to half a million a year, which is a significant jump over 10 years. It started out with the founder just sleeping out on people’s couches. Transformative thinking for them and that’s the bulk of their income is this edu-tourism it not only helps people experience other cultures, but it also makes them better therapist so it’s program work it’s not just let’s see how we can make some money.

G: (9:34) Right. And that ties into my next question, which (that) is a perfect example that you just shared there, because it is tied to their mission. I’m just always cautious trying to strike that correct balance in talking to organizations about being innovative and trying new things but avoiding grab bag or mission drift or activities that are going to take you farther away. I wonder how you talk about that and how you help balance the need to try new things, but also be responsive to what the core of your mission is.

How to avoid mission drift and still experiment

M: There are very tiny little ways that you could take little risks. You could try getting CaféPress to print your T-shirts, and then you just print them on demand. You don’t even have to put in a big order out front like a lot of people do. You could also try just thinking about experimenting with your e-newsletters. Your year-end appeal; hiring a consultant to write two versions for you and then send out half to one and one to the other and send out three emails and see which subject line is better. Do more than one appeal a year.

M: There are little things that any nonprofit can do and that’s something that I work with people to do and so for the year end of 2019, I worked with Jacksonville University and we actually got them from 37,000 in year in gifts to 90,000 so that was 144% increase through letters and emails that we put together. That was something that they hadn’t really been tracking you know how well does this email do? What’s the story we can tell that would be the most effective? We made a story about a kid who’s working on desalinating seawater with sea sponges, and everyone loved it! they loved this kid. It really worked out and I’m just so proud of that work we did together and that was experiments.

G: I love that idea about segmenting and testing different messages because I think that that’s something that can resonate with nonprofits of all different sizes you don’t have to be a major national or international nonprofit to try things like that but to take segments of your donor list and particularly if you’re planning an appeal or planning a letter and try out different messages or use different stories as part of different segments of your campaign and see which ones resonate most which ones generate buzz which ones generate results I think that’s a very tangible suggestion that people listening to the podcast can take away with them.

M: Yes, and if you want more templates and tools about how to do that, I totally have a whole page on my website devoted to just to appeal letters so we can put that in the show notes or something.

G: (12:20) Absolutely. I’m going to put my small to midsized nonprofit hat on (that was my background as a nonprofit executive). I hear things like, “we should try crowdfunding” or “we should try this or try that”, and I know several of our small nonprofit listeners are having the same reaction and I immediately think, “oh, I would love to, but with what army?”. “It’s just me” or “it’s just me and my board”. How do you talk to nonprofits about building the internal capacity to try different things? For the executive director that may already be stretched in terms of time just from the activities they are already doing on a daily basis, how do you create that space?

How to build your capacity to try new things

M: What is useful to do sometimes is just to think about your strengths. I believe in strength-based leadership and strength-based coaching for executive directors and I have done that with a New Jersey Catholic school, for example. I helped their executive director learn all of the strengths of her team and then redistribute tasks that she was doing based on other each other’s strength. As well as really appreciating what people brought to the table, she had a very much achiever personality and there was someone else in her office who had a relator personality.

M: Achiever is like “Ok let’s get thing done”. And relators: “tell me about your family, how is it going”, so they were turning each other off. So I helped her turn on again and really sit down and learn who this person was, and she was the director of their events, and then their events totally performed way better because she had been able to plug into what motivated this individual as well as other people on her team engaging her alums. She thought “what does he really do” and just walk around and talk to people. This guy had these different other strengths that she could then tap into and suddenly alums were more engaged, and they were getting major gifts more.

M: It comes down to redistributing tasks based on people’s areas of greatest joy and satisfaction. If you think about the Hakomi method you go from rest to action to clarity to satisfaction you know, toward happiness, but you have to come to full rest before you can get clarity to see what the right action is for you. And so, that’s what unfortunately, a lot of us in the small nonprofits are like, we never come to rest. You must do that.

M: So I really encourage people to take a real weekend and journal or talk with a therapist or process in some other way. What do I really love doing? What do I hate doing? And how can I pass off things I don’t like to do, and I’ve actually done it as a business owner as well, and I have a VA who takes care of so many things for me and it’s fantastic. I do need outside counsel. I pay for coaching because I believe in getting better for the people that I work with. I highly encourage people to work with a coach just to really expand their possibilities. They don’t have to live in that high fight or flight response anymore. Do you know what I mean?

G: I do. I have the same approach when it comes to the clients that I’m coaching. You know, one of the things that I tell the executives that I’m coaching is “this is about putting you and your team in position to be successful”. And that’s really what coaching boils down to, is tapping into your strengths and putting not only yourself, but also those that you’re interacting with in the best position to succeed. Because, as you said, that’s when you’re able to retain talent and keep those vital members of your team.

M: Right. And if you’re not helping them go to be where they shine, they’re going to go somewhere else. And then as we said in the beginning, that’s going to cost you so much money.

G: (16:06) Absolutely. Well, now I want to flip to the other side of the coin, which is the retaining talent and for fundraisers out there who may be listening responsibly, growing their own career and taking ownership of their own career. And Mazarine, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know when I say that we have issues in the fundraising profession with burnout, with turnover, with lots of different unrealized or unrealistic expectations out there. The work that you are doing in terms of growing the fundraising profession is vital. But what are you seeing in the landscape? What do you see up there?

How to avoid walking into a bad situation?

M: Well, I’ve seen people straight up lying to people to sign on. I’m seeing people saying, “okay, you can be director. Oh wait, now you’re going to be manager. Okay, actually you’re going to be assistant and would you mind taking like a $30,000 pay cut from what we told you we’re going to pay you?”. So that’s one shady thing that I’ve seen. I’ve also seen people, executive directors, walking into situations that people will just straight up lie and say, “oh, we’re great. Yeah. Come be our executive director”. And then they walk in and suddenly everything’s an emergency. I’m sure you’ve never heard that before.

G: I have. Yes. And A, integrity in the profession, but also that due diligence and research, research research before you put your career in the hands of an organization like that.

M: Right? Yes. Look at the 990 in GuideStar, absolutely a hundred percent do that. And so I’m also seeing people get a lot more choosy about what they’re going to accept. Good fundraisers are hard to find. According to the Bureau of Labor we have a 9% growth rate faster than the rest of the countries. We’re going to need about 35,000 more fundraisers in the next 5 to 10 years. It’s a total opportunity. You should ask for more. But also, you know, vetting your organization as you said, Greg is a key piece. You know, aside from looking at the nine 90 talking to people that currently work there if you possibly can. And also asking them in the interview a bunch of questions. I’ve got five key questions you can ask in the interview, but I also have way more than that on my website.

M: I also have a link just on careers and career pathing. But if you want hear some of the questions, I’m happy to share them with you.

G: Please! Absolutely.

M: Okay. Anyone can ask these. “How do you celebrate what’s working here?” is the number one question.

G: Love that.

M: The reason that you asked that is because you’re really trying to think about what’s the culture. You don’t want to go in trying to change it. It’s like going on a date with somebody being like, “I can change them”. That’s going to be a recipe for disaster. If they don’t celebrate, you need to not take that job. Another thing that you should ask in the interview is, “How willing are people to help each other here?”. You know, is it all hands-on deck for our event? Are you going to help me stuff envelopes at 2:00 AM? What’s the deal?

M: Another one you should ask is “Who will I learn from and how?”. So that can tell you if the former, ED or DD left on good terms. How much turnover have they had in the last five years? And then people say, “it’s not you, it’s me”. It’s really them, you know? So, there’s many, many questions you can ask. Another one you can ask is, “What do you do when things get stressful?” Because if they don’t have a strategy for that, that’s healthy coping mechanisms, instead of unhealthy coping mechanisms, you might just be in an office of seething tensions all the time, which isn’t very productive.

G: And I think that is important, because what you’re talking about is empowering fundraising professionals to take control and take ownership of their own career. And before you put yourself in a position that may be unhealthy or that may be toxic down the road, know what you’re getting into upfront so you can make an informed decision.

M: Right in the interview. And these could be for any job, not just for a fundraising job. Any job can ask these questions.

G: (20:24) Well I’m going to flip the script, and I have a feeling I know what the answer is, but I’m going to ask it anyway. One of the questions I get asked most frequently is comments from nonprofit CEOs who say, “how can I hold onto talented development directors? I keep hiring really talented people and they seem to move on. They seem to leave us far too often and far too frequently”. What advice do you…

How to retain good fundraising staff

M: Yeah, well, I mean, you should pay them more. And if you say, “I can’t pay them more”, you should say, how about you have them work four days a week or one day from home and three days a week or whatever it is. See what they want. Ask them where would they really like to be in five years and how can you help them get there? Ask them, “what would it take to make you stay?”. Ask them, “are we putting enough resources into your program?”. Ask them, “do you feel like you’re being supported enough in your role? Is there anything I could do for you?” I mean, asking the simple question, “where do you really want to be in five years?” shows them that you care about them, not them as a robot that wants to just work, work, work for you until they drop.

G: It goes back to, (what) we were just talking about with empowering the fundraising professional. And I think sometimes we are so afraid of losing talented people that we don’t have those conversations. I’ve even heard executives say, “well, I don’t want to put the thought in their head that they may want to leave”. In reality, they’re already thinking that, right? Everyone is thinking about what’s in the best interest of their career. Asking those questions regularly and making it a regular part of the relationship between the executive director and the development director, rather than something that is out of the blue or a conversation we only have once a year during performance review time. But having that kind of honest dialogue, I think leads to a more productive working relationship where someone is going to be more invested in the position in the organization.

M: Yeah. I mean if you’ve had turnover you have to ask yourself, did we do a good job with the exit interview? Do we have open and clear communication here? And you know, is there something that we’re not doing that’s making them leave? And you know, money is just one aspect. Maybe they want to go back to school. Maybe they want more time with their family. Maybe they just want time to work on their side projects, you know…

G: What you touched on there is professional development. And having looked at the research, having looked at the data out there, there is a significant under-investment in the nonprofit community in fundraising professionals and giving them access to meaningful professional development to keep growing in their skills, which they then bring back to the organization.

M: Your point executive directors as well.

G: Yes.

M: There’s underinvestment in executive directors too.

G: Without a doubt. There’s underinvestment at all levels of the nonprofit organization. If you look at the data, it comes back to that money issue. It also comes back to boards. And boards setting priorities through the budget and budget is a reflection of their priorities that reflect the kind of organization that they want to see. They want to see an organization with stable leadership. That’s going to require spending resources, capital. I’m developing that team so that they do grow, learn and grow together.

M: Yes. It boggles my mind that so many foundations that want capacity building don’t think about, “How are we helping everybody learn how to fundraise?” And that’s why I created fundraising mastermind elite, which is a program that is 10 plus e-courses and about 70 different webinars inside from a variety of fundraising experts, including myself. That helps people just learn how to get it done. You’ve got your strategic plan in place. Awesome. Do you have your one-page fundraising plan? Do you? Good. Okay. Now what about all the little pieces that go into making that 10 footed stool.

G: Back to the 10 legs on the stool again,

M: Right back to that because honestly, it’s not just about the legs, it’s about the number of those legs.

G: (24:47) Maybe talk to us a little bit about that. You know, you mentioned that you work with fundraising professionals, you work with nonprofit organizations. Tell us a little bit about that fundraising mastermind program and your efforts to professionally develop individuals in the profession.

What’s one tool you can use right now to increase your fundraising capacity?

M: Sure. Well, I just got thrown into fundraising like most of us. I had nobody watching me. I had no management. That’s why I wrote my first book, The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising. I realized after I wrote it that each chapter could be a whole course. How to make an annual report that makes you money. How to make newsletters that make people want to donate, how to find new donors, how to keep your donors, how to find more sponsorships, get a bigger sponsorship. How make your fundraising plan that’s the number one. How to get monthly donors. What about major gifts? All of these things are inside what I have to offer because people wanted access to my brain, but they didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars per hour, which is what I charged.

M: And so I said, “great, use this instead, have fun”. And people have just gone gangbusters with it. A woman came last year and she took this program and she went from $10,000 with their monthly giving for her Chinese charter school to $170,000 in one year. It really works! Educating people works and you don’t have to buy it for me, but if you do, I have the testimonials to back it up. Most fundraising information I find is pretty tedious. I’ve tried to make it fun. There are jokes, there are pictures. There are videos. And there are just people who have been in the trenches like us, Greg, just saying, “this is what worked for me”.

G: Absolutely. Mazarine, I appreciate you joining us today on the podcast. For those who are listening who may want more information about your work with nonprofits or about any of the courses, webinars that you mentioned. Give them a link or how they can get in touch with you.

M: Sure. Well, I’m going through a rebrand right now, so I’m just going to tell you to go to www.wildwomanfundraising.com and you can also go to www.mazarinetreyz.com . Thank you so much for having me, Greg. I really, really appreciate it. It’s been such a pleasure and if people want more information about careers or nonprofit leadership, I hope we can have those links as well. I have pages and pages devoted to that.

G: Absolutely Mazarine, I want to thank you for taking the time to join us. Before we wrap up, for those who are listening to the podcast, I appreciate all of you. It has been so much fun to see the numbers of the podcast growing, see the interaction and to receive the emails from listeners has been really gratifying to me.

M: Thank you.

G: Have a great one.