Thursday, December 29, 2011

15 Things I'd Do As the New Head Fundraiser - Part 1

So, you’re new on the job. The expectation is that you will raise a lot of money for your nonprofit – and fast. What do you do first?

Ken Burnett, intrepid Scotsman, fundraiser par excellence and author of The Zen of Fundraising, Relationship Fundraising and other key fundraising tomes outlined 15 Things I Would Do If I Were The New Head of Donor Development on the SOFII (Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration) website, an online fundraising resource site he helped establish.

Here are the first 8 suggestions with my comments in italics -- but I highly recommend visiting SOFII and reading the details of all 15. They are really terrific.

1.    I’d aspire to be the most learned fundraiser of my generation.
 The fundraising community is blessed to have at its disposal scores of superb educational resources. Few professions are populated with individuals so willing to share as generously of their knowledge. Blogs, podcasts, seminars, books, publications, and very lively and active professional associations – all result in a plethora of advice and inspiration.

2.    I’d teach all my fundraising colleagues to make the 90-degree shift and to aspire to be 15 minutes ahead.
        Put yourself in the donor’s shoes. There is no greater folly or act of hubris than to think that donors should give to your non-profit simply because you have told them they should. Truly, our job is to determine what is important to our donors and how philanthropy fits with their values and aspirations. Then we can match our mission with their priorities.

3.    I’d develop a culture of appropriate but high quality donor service in our organization, top to bottom.

As Ken Burnett states, “I’d make sure we are always a pleasure to do business with.” Think about your organization’s customer relationship management. Can you honestly state that every donor “touch point” is exceptional -- or even acceptable?

4.    I’d be very choosy.

      Focus your efforts on areas with the potential for the greatest return on investment. Is it really the multi-millionaire who was a guest of one of your donors at a recent gala and is therefore in your database? Or is it perhaps the “less sexy”, long-time supporter who has been a modest but consistent donor for 25 years?

5.    I’d cut out all short-term thinking, including all hard-sell activities.

If you have determined what the donor’s values and aspirations are, made a connection between your mission and these values, and provided a long-range strategic path that resonates with them– you don’t have to “hard sell”. 

6.    I’d switch our organization’s contact paradigm from “marketing” to “communication”.

It’s the difference between being sold or being engaged. Resist the temptation to be hoodwinked into thinking that slick graphics, uber-clever concepts, and double entendre laden copy presented to you as edgy marketing is good communication, or more importantly – good fundraising.

7.    I’d make sure we only send effective, imaginative communications.

Given the comments above, will your fundraising communication be dull? I’ll bet your non-profit’s mission isn’t dull! Concentrate on clearly communicating what you do that is important and special. Do it in a compelling and authentic way. Being authentic is really a lot harder than being clever. And it is far more effective!

8.    I’d make ours a listening and hearing organization.

Back in the donor’s shoes again. Talk to them. Survey them. Listen to them. Let them know you have heard them. Then act upon what you have learned.

Next, I’ll share the last seven suggestions from Ken Burnett with my comments. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Giving with the Head or the Heart?

Two superb blogs recently mentioned conflicting studies relating to whether a donor was more likely to give based upon logic or emotion.  Beth's Blog posted information about a study from Guidestar and Hope Consulting, Money for Good II and The Agitator cited a Boston Globe article Why We Give to Charity examining research behind giving motivations. The two studies arrived at diametrically opposite conclusions as to what drives the giving process – one emotion the other logic.

The Boston Globe article quotes a marketing and psychology professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, “What we find is that when people are thinking more deliberatively…they end up being less generous overall.”  The article’s author concludes, “…it appears that giving is driven by emotional motives, rooted in deep impulses, cognitive biases, and even our own selfish needs.”

On the other hand, the Guidestar Money for Good II study claims, “…if nonprofits and information providers are able to provide donors, advisors, and foundation grant-makers with the information that they want, where they want it, these donors would consider shifting up $15 billion in charitable dollars to higher-performing nonprofits.”

I would put forward that these elements are not mutually exclusive. Crafting a strong brand identity, communicating a compelling case for support and being credible is a necessary precursor to even be considered for a charitable gift. The actual giving “trigger” is more likely to be emotionally based in order to be effective. Many annual fund experts know that response to a direct mail appeal declines as a result of data overload. But in order to prepare the way for that all-important second gift, providing additional information that justifies the past gift is essential.  Donor follow-up after the gift is made that includes information claimed important by the Guidestar research such as the nonprofit’s impact and financials would be relevant at that point. This more detailed information will help justify the charitable investment just made and help prepare the way for subsequent gifts.

Data to prepare the way, emotion to overcome inertia, and more information to confirm a good decision -- perhaps it really comes down to a matter of timing. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Online Giving and Older Donors

A new study by fund-raising consulting firm Dunham + Company out of Plano Texas seems to suggest that donors that are 60 or older are beginning to defy the long-held presumption that they aren’t comfortable giving online.  They found that of the 524 donors who participated in the survey and had made at least one gift of $25 in the past year, 51% of those in the 60 plus age group made their contributions online. Additionally, once these donors gave online they tended to give more frequently than younger donors.
(Link to Dunham + Company Study Article)

Wow!  Or, to quote the study “We believe this study blows some holes in the conventional thinking about older donors and online giving.”

Or does it? Is it problematic that the survey was conducted online? Does this skew the results? I believe to a great degree it must.

Should we temper our enthusiasm for results that are generated by a study that requires that the participant have a level of comfort with the online process to even take the survey?

You betcha!

Nevertheless, there is some validity in the study statement, “This just reinforces the need to apply best practices around integrated, multi-channel communication strategies and give donors options on how they want to fulfill their gift.”

This should apply to all demographics. Make sure the online giving process is clear and simple. And perhaps most importantly, reassure the donor of any age that the transaction is secure.

Giving online, even though it receives a tremendous amount of attention, still pales next to more traditional offline giving. The more we improve the online process, the more donors of all ages will have the confidence to give electronically.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I Give Marriott the Customer Focused “You” Award

It's early December and I just received an email from Marriott Rewards with a subject line “Seasons greetings from J. W. Marriott”. It is a wonderful example of customer-focused communication. The salutation is personalized with my name and it is signed by Bill Marriott in his handwriting. It might seem to be a familiar “end-of-the-year” thank you missive but it excels at coming across as genuine and warm. Here is a link to the email.  Marriott email.

Note the use of such phrases as (I have added the underlining) “thank you for your continued loyalty”, “It is an honor to host you”, and “I look forward to welcoming you at any of our nearly 3,700 hotels in 72 countries.” In fact the communication uses you or your a dozen times.

Too often we are tempted to focus on our achievements and our needs – to use year-end thank-you letters and emails as thinly veiled self-promotion opportunities. The Marriott letter does mention that next year will be the company’s 85th anniversary but they deflect that potential self congratulatory trap by stating that the true benefit of this milestone is that it “uniquely positions Marriott with the insights and experience to serve you, our treasured guest, and make your stay memorable”.

Three short paragraphs and I feel appreciated. But this email is not just a feel good thank-you message. It also provides the opportunity for the recipient to take a number of beneficial actions. There is a link to customer email preferences where the recipient can update personal information, limit or expand electronic communications, or simply opt-out of future emails.

There are also three prominent links displayed in the message. Two links titled “Find a Hotel” and “Explore a Plan” lead to a colorful and interesting corporate website that can help a customer plan a stay at one of the aforementioned 3,700 hotels around the world. Another link leads to the Rewards page where the customer can see how they fare with this benefit.

What can fundraisers learn from this well executed email? Consider these possibilities:
·      A “you” focused message from your organization’s leader presented in a conversational and genuine tone
·      Links that direct the recipient to select giving or volunteer opportunities
·      A way for the donor to help craft their own communication experience

I think this would be a far superior relationship builder than the common and hackneyed “two weeks left in the year, send your gift now” approach. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.  ~G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It’s Not Over Solicitation If It’s Relevant

L.L. Bean is a master of customer relationship management. 

I ordered a couple of Christmas gifts for the kids online the other day and here is what I received:

10:00 PM, Sunday night: Gifts ordered online
  • 10:07 PM, Sunday night: L.L. Bean sent me an email with the subject line “Thank You For Your Order (Note: May Contain Gift Information)”. This was great. I could confirm that my order was received properly and Bean provided a toll-free number in case there were any issues. They even included a heads-up that this email could contain gift information if I needed to keep it from my kids peering over my shoulder. Also prominently displayed was a link to a video titled “Ever wonder what happens after you place an order?” Check it out here, it is a paragon of customer focused communication:
  • 11:44 PM, Sunday night: Less than 40 minutes later I received another email with the subject line “ Your L.L. Bean Order Confirmation (Note: May Contain Gift Information)”.  This time the email included a link to track my order and noted that one of my items was back-ordered (along with the anticipated availability date). I was also informed that my order qualified for a $10 promotional gift card that would arrive in about 10 days. Wow! Nice surprise.
  • 10:14 PM, Monday night: I received a shipping confirmation email letting me know which items had shipped.
  • 3:42 PM, Wednesday afternoon: I received another ship confirmation email showing what additional items had shipped and included a link that showed me where my package was at that very moment (the trip from Maine to Illinois to Missouri)
  • 4:30 PM, Thursday afternoon: I received two of my four ordered items. Waiting in my inbox was an email with the subject line “Good News, Your Packages Have Been Delivered (Note: May Contain Gift Information)”.  It also reiterated the Bean 100% satisfaction guarantee and provided step-by-step instructions for returns.

Five emails in five days. Each one relevant and helpful -- one even providing notice of the unexpected $10 gift card. 

Oh, and with each email L.L. Bean featured pictures of and links to interesting items related to my purchases tempting me to consider additional purchases.

What can fundraisers learn from a top-notch merchandiser like L.L. Bean? 

Let’s consider the following potential scenario:
  1. Within minutes of an online contribution you send the donor an effusive thank-you email. 
  2. On day two you send an email note stating that the donor's contribution has been directed to a program or department to be put to immediate use.
  3. Then, within a day or two, you report back to the donor the potential impact of their gift. Perhaps you share a story of a person or a program that will be helped. 
  4. Lastly, the donor receives an email note of gratitude directly from a program director or an individual who has benefited from the gift. 
You also include in one of your emails a link to a video titled “Have you ever wondered what happens after you make a gift?” I'm sure many donors really do wonder about that, especially since they often never hear from an institution again until the next “ask”.

Additionally, each email correspondence includes links to other programs and giving opportunities. 

Do you think the donor would consider this over solicitation? 

Bet not. 

I dare say the donor would be thrilled and might even spring for an additional gift just to start this satisfying process all over again. 

Give it a try and report back your results!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Make It Personal

I love Jimmy John’s.

For those who haven’t been blessed with a shop in your area, Jimmy John's is a franchise sandwich restaurant founded by Jimmy John Liautaud in 1983. According to Wikipedia, Liautaud founded Jimmy John’s after graduating second to last in his class from Elgin Academy and receiving the choice from his father to either join the military, go to college or start a business. You can guess what he chose.

19 year-old Jimmy John borrowed start up money from his father, retaining a 52% stake, figuring he would open a hot dog shop in Charleston, Illinois. Quickly realizing that hot dogs would cost more than he originally figured, he shifted to sandwiches. His initial strategy included passing out free sandwich samples all around town. This resulted in building his business to the point where he could buy out his father’s interest after two years.

Today, Jimmy John’s has over 1,200 stores and is the envy of the franchise restaurant world. In an environment with a gazillion Subway’s and Quiznos’, why was there room for another sandwich place? First of all the product is great. Liautaud figured out that it’s all about the bread. According to his website, with a handful of cookbooks checked out from his local library, he perfected his bread recipe. This bread is baked in-house every day and served fresh.

But I think JJ’s has taken it a step further than simply a great product. From the moment you walk through the door it is as if you are in the company of friends. Do you ever get that feeling from the mumbling 18 year-old behind the counter of any other fast food joint? And no one gets out the door without one of their employees calling out, “Thanks for coming in guys!” And I mean no one.

Corny? I don’t think so. Is it an element included in Jimmy John’s training? I don’t know but even if it is a unique quirk of my local Jimmy John’s there is a lesson for fundraisers. We preach how relationships are key but then build up walls with stuffy prose and over-formalized processes. Drop your “airs”, be real, write conversationally and connect with your donor. Make it personal.

And oh, btw, check out their Facebook page if you want to see some interesting corporate to customer interaction.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

People Don't Give to Need. People Give to Opportunity.

I have something posted on my bulletin board next to my computer that I look at every day.

People don’t give to need. People give to opportunity.

I don’t remember where I first heard or read that statement but it is an incredibly important fundraising premise.  We probably have all been faced with the mandate to raise X dollars in order to build this or that or fund some worthy program. How tempting it is to just get the word out, “We need your contribution. We need your renewal. We need an extra gift!” 

It’s a bit like banging a gong. It results in reactionary giving. The donor sends a check or clicks a button and then forgets about you. They give to quiet the noise.

Now, imagine a donor making a gift because they see the opportunity. They give to make a difference, to accomplish something. They become engaged.

How do you communicate the distinction? Let us consider two different lead sentences for an appeal letter.

The need approach, “As a past contributor to our student aid fund we ask that you consider another gift to The University of Crying Need. We provide over twenty million dollars worth of aid to needy students each year. If we are to continue this type of critical support we need your contribution today.”

The recipient of an appeal like this may react to this approach in many ways. Certainly, the enormity of the need stands out – twenty million dollars a year in financial aid. But, they may also be thinking, “What will my measly (twenty-five, one hundred, or even one thousand dollars) do to help?” The focus is shallow. It is numerical rather than emotional.

Now consider the opportunity approach. “Martha Smith grew up in a tough part of town. Her mother worked two jobs and took in laundry to send her to Opportunity College. Last year as a freshman Martha got straight A’s and discovered she loved science. Her physics professor sent her most recent research paper to the National Academy of Science for which she won commendation. Without generous student aid donors like you Martha might still be doing laundry with her mother rather than excelling in her class. There are twenty-five hundred more Martha’s who want to thank you for making another gift today.”

I would give to make sure Martha has an opportunity to finish school, wouldn’t you? Take the time to determine what the impact of a gift will be. Communicate the opportunity that the donor has to make a difference. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Loving Humanity

Everyone in the field of fundraising knows that philanthropy comes from the Greek words philos (loving) and anthropos (human being or humanity). This love for humanity is expressed tangibly when those who care provide for those who are in need. What we often forget is how we fundraisers are the yeast that rises the dough, the facilitators that ensure that the caring and the needy connect.

And how often have we heard “I could never do that! I could never ask people for money!” Well, if that is all we did I couldn’t do that either. Practiced properly, charitable giving is in itself an incredible gift – as much for the donor as for the recipient. Even neurologically, scans have revealed the act of giving greatly enhancing the pleasure centers in the brain. Giving feels great!

No, fundraising is not about extracting money. It is about fulfilling dreams, changing lives, and the rewards of selflessness. At its best it is a spiritual experience hinting at the divine. And we are the shepherds. Truly, is there a better job out there?

This blog will explore how we can keep our eye on this higher mission. It will also explore how we can be highly effective. Frankly, keeping these higher goals in mind will ensure greater success. Nevertheless, good intentions alone are not enough. We must be superb at what we do. Too much is at stake to be mediocre.

Stay tuned as we explore the tried-and-true and the cutting edge. We’ll have some fun. And just maybe, we won’t drop our voice and mumble fundraising (cough, cough) the next time we’re asked what we do for a living.