FYI Blog

Avalon Dispatch 10.17.2023

In this week’s @AvalonFYI dispatch, we share Avalon’s strategy for deep work in a critical fundraising window. You will also find industry news, how to tell stories about impact, three magic words for better conversation, happy animals, and more. Get the scoop here!

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Dear friends,

This week (October 16-20) Avalon will conduct a meeting-free week for our staff. Because fall is so hectic, we are intentionally carving out time to focus on deep work and advancing client campaigns. Your Avalon team will arrange alternatives for regular meetings that occur during this window. In addition, we are available by email and are prepared to meet if an urgent issue arises. Thank you to Geoff Handy at International Rescue Committee for suggesting the idea—and to YOU for supporting the best possible work for your programs during a critical fundraising window.

Elsewhere in the industry, there is new closure on Blackbaud’s legal troubles following a 2020 data breach. The NonProfit Times reports that the company has settled investigations with 49 states and the District of Columbia at a cost of $49.5 million, plus an estimated $30 million in legal fees. In addition, the company has agreed to follow all laws, to enhance data security with specific measures, and not to make misleading statements. One big issue throughout the legal process has been the time gap between the initial attack (February), detection of the breach (May), and disclosure (July). The state of California’s investigation of Blackbaud is unsettled and will continue.

In fundraising news, Stanford Social Innovation Review published a great piece on messaging: How to Tell Real Stories About Impact. One key point is that impact stories should not position an organization as the hero or savior in their community’s story—a commitment that aligns with Avalon recommendations for DEI-informed messaging. Instead, author Annie Niemand suggests, nonprofit storytelling should:

  • Tell stories of systems at work,
  • Tell stories about your organization as part of a movement ecosystem,
  • Connect to human experiences, and
  • Tell stories with care.

Niemand concludes with a clear and inspiring call to action:

As storytellers, we need to take special care to ensure that the people sharing their stories are not exploited, traumatized, or tokenized. As a sector, we must avoid gatekeeping narratives assuming we as professionals know best, and hand over resources and space to people closest to injustice to tell their own stories as partners and strategists.

For one-on-one conversations, consider using three magic words: “Tell me more.” Marketing VP Barb Perell shared this tip from communications expert Matt Abrahams, who first got the idea from his mother-in-law: “I sensed immediately how much connection she forged with those three simple words, and I saw how much she learned from the people with whom she conversed.” The phrase works because it keeps focus on the other person, and it conveys interest and support. This helps us strike a balance between “support responses” that invite more sharing and “shift responses” that turn focus to ourselves. Abrahams explains that most people err on the side of too many shift responses, so enhancing support is often a good idea.

On a happy note, finance VP Kristina Deutsch made her annual pilgrimage to visit the animals at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. She has been visiting with her daughter Malin since 2011 and always returns with a rave review. This year, in addition to time with the animals, they got a great workout cleaning the sheep barn! Thank you to our clients at Farm Sanctuary for creating such a special place of retreat and connection.

Left: Kristina and Malin take a break while cleaning the sheep barn to snap a selfie in their Farm Sanctuary Volunteer shirts. Right: Kristina stands in a pasture petting a white cow with brown spots. There's a red barn in the background and the sky is clear blue.Finance VP Kristina Deutsch and her daughter Malin at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY.

Finally, does anyone need a brain break? Try this amusing distraction: virtual bubble wrap. When analytics VP Sarah Birnie shared this with the Avalon team, she joked, “I’m sorry and you’re welcome.” I second that!

Take care,


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Allison Porter, President
Avalon Consulting Group
202-429-6080 ext. 102