Tuesday, December 25, 2012

I Resolve to...

A year ago January, the Advancement Best Practices LinkedIn Group asked their members to list their fundraising resolutions or goals for 2012. Here is what they answered:

42% Build a philanthropic culture
20% Link metrics to ROI
17% Engage trustees/ CEO
16% Identify new potential donors
5% Not one of the above

I think it is interesting that the top goal was to build a philanthropic culture. You would think that was a given for anyone working for a nonprofit. The fact that it was yet to be built, (not even simply improved), says something about the state of our business. If a nonprofit or charity doesn't have philanthropy at the core of what they do, how are they surviving? How are they connecting with and motivating their donors? By coercion? Yikes!

According to Guidestar, up to 60,000 nonprofits fail each year and in 2010 8% claimed they were in imminent danger of going under. Why?

I think the lack of a philanthropic culture is part of the problem. But more importantly, there is a fundamental misunderstanding as to how and why donors give. Here is what nonprofit leadership must understand:

  • The heart is more important than the head. Executive Directors and Boards are often embarrassed to present the emotional side of their story. They want to "convince" the donor that they are a good "investment". Leave the investment up to the bank. Your charity or nonprofit most likely grew our of a compelling need. Don't forget that. 
  • You must ask to receive. The classic "If we build it they will come" is hooey. If you don't ask, someone else will -- and they will get the donation.
  • Everyone in your organization must be comfortable with the fundraising process. I have heard some fundraisers say, "Everyone in our organization is a fundraiser". I don't buy that. Fundraising is a skill forged from experience and an art born of personality. Not everyone is good at it nor do they have to be. If this wasn't so, why would we hire fundraisers? But the entire staff should understand how it works, if only to support the efforts of the fundraising team. The one thing that can kill an organization is an employee who is constantly denigrating the fundraising process.
  • Take advantage of every avenue to raise funds. There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the US. That's a lot of competition. Make it easy for the donor to give to you through the channels they prefer. You must have an annual fund program, solicit major gifts, make use of social media and e-philanthropy, create profitable events, accept planned gifts, and keep abreast of whatever is working for other organizations.
  • Test, test, test. Be fiscally prudent but don't be afraid to take risks. Risk can often be reduced by testing. I am constantly astounded to find experienced nonprofits that fail to test fundraising approaches. 

There are certainly other elements of successful fundraising. As the survey identifies, link your metrics to return on investment. (This is especially true of events. I am sure many organizations would be shocked if they included direct and all indirect costs in their event profitability assessment.) Engaging trustees and all leadership in the mission as well as the fundraising process is helpful. And yes, finding new donors is important. But, I would have ranked "steward current donors exceptionally well" ahead of prospecting and that isn't even listed! Your most valuable donors are the ones who have already provided you with a gift.

What are your resolutions for 2013? I will list mine in my next post.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Half of Nonprofits Say They Are Hurting

Half of the 500 nonprofits recently surveyed by Guidestar state that fundraising results have been very bleak this year. The percentage of charities reporting a decline was the second highest since the survey was started 11 years ago. Not only were the charities receiving fewer gifts, but even contributions received were smaller than before. Many institutions predict that the traditionally strong year-end gift giving period will not close the gap. Worse yet, this seems to be happening at the same time that many nonprofits state that their communities are requiring more of their charitable services.

Now, the recession has been dragging on for a number of years. Why has 2012 been so tough for charities? One fundraising professional speculates that many nonprofits have done a poor job of stewarding their donors and its "coming home to roost".

For me, stewardship is receiving a high priority. I have enlisted my Board to call all our donors and thank them for their past support. I have also engaged staff and volunteers to call unrenewed supporters. We are finding as many ways as possible to be donor-centric and share impact and outcomes of our donors' philanthropic support.

Take the time. Reach out. Touch your donors in an authentic, meaningful way. And make sure it is not just once a year but throughout the year. It may take a while to see results but it's worth it. The "new reality" is that it is going to take a lot of effort to retain and engage your supporters. But frankly, it's probably something we should have been doing all along - isn't it?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Going That Extra Mile

How often have you experienced someone going "above and beyond"? It seems to be a rare occurrence these days, especially in a retail experience. (I don't think the mindless, robotic response, "Can I help you find something" thrown your direction by a busy salesman as they speed past you on their way to the mysterious "back room" counts.)

When it does happen, when you find yourself in front of someone who gives you their full attention, who really seems to want to help - and knows how to - it can give you tingles.

A number of months ago, Sasha Dichter, intrepid blogger and Chief Innovation Officer at the Acumen Fund shared a story of one such experience he had at an Apple store. His salesperson's name was Hakiem and his post was a letter of thanks addressed to him:
Dear Hakiem,
I know everything at the Apple Store is  designed to  be techno-blissful, but you really took things to the next level. Not only did you shake my hand, make me feel welcome, and help me get a Genius Bar appointment in less than five minutes, but you managed to make me feel just a little bit less bad about dropping my iPad on 6th avenue and cracking the screen (and I was feeling REALLY bad). 
I was already appreciative of you for that, but then as I was walking up 9th avenue, you ran out of the store and up to 15th street and stopped me to make sure that my problem had been solved. Wow. 
I bet you go above and beyond every day for folks, and I'm sure they appreciate it more than you know. I'll be sure to tell everyone who goes to the Apple Store at 4th and 9th in New York City to look out for you.
Okay. Why don't we all provide this sort of care and service? It has incredible impact just because it is so infrequent. And it really didn't take much for Hakiem to do it. Probably no more than a couple of minutes to run down the street and make sure Mr. Dichter was satisfied.

Think about how much time we spend in the fundraising profession researching, cultivating, soliciting -- hours and weeks, even years. And yet, we often overlook the truly personal and momentous act of going "above and beyond" that is not only very gratifying for the prospect, but it makes us feel so good as well.

Do it. Go the "extra mile" because it is so rarely done. Do it because it is the right thing to do. Do it for how it makes you feel. Our profession needs it. And frankly, the world needs it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Quote of the Week: Building a Culture of Philanthropy

"Donors are not considered a means to an end, but just as vital as the work you carry out meeting the worlds greatest needs." 
Jeff Schreifels 

The Passionate Giving blog is launching a six part series about how to build a culture of philanthropy at your nonprofit. The brains behind The Passionate Giving blog, Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry, know their subject well. They have over 55 years of experience fundraising for nonprofits such as Oxfam, The Salvation Army, World Harvest Mission, and United Cerebral Palsy.

Here are the key elements mentioned in their first blog post that they state must be part of an organization intending to build a vibrant culture of philanthropy:

  • The mission of the organization includes donors.
  • The leadership of the organization and the entire staff embrace the idea that fundraising is essential in fully carrying out the work and that it brings joy to donors to  give.
  • Board members are your biggest cheerleaders.
  • It's hard to tell who is working in "program" and who is in "development".
  • Donors of the organization trust it.
  • Everyone in the organization knows "the story".
  • When anyone walks through the doors of the organization what is felt is love, empathy, righteous anger, grace, hard work, personal care, and...more love.
Here are my comments regarding these excellent points:

- I am not sure I have ever seen a nonprofit mission statement that includes donors. (If you have one that does I would love to see it.) What a great idea! 

- Although most nonprofit employees will grudgingly admit that fundraising is a "necessary evil", fewer accept the need for everyone to participate in the fundraising process, and still fewer believe that true philanthropists delight in giving.

- If board members are not your biggest cheerleaders, should they be on the board?

- Too often staff and program people see themselves in completely different worlds. How often have you heard program people speak disparagingly about "the suits", or development people complain of the unrealistic demands of the field staff? An organization with a flourishing culture of philanthropy respects each other's work and worth. 

- A nonprofit will not survive if there is no trust.

- Does everyone at the nonprofit have the same vision, a sense of the mission, a passion for the organization's core story regarding why it exists? Do they appreciate the incredible impact it is having on their community or even the world? Is it a culture where each employee can't wait to go to work each day?

- Walk through your door some day with the mindset that you are a new visitor. How are you greeted by the first person you see? What kind of small talk happens in the hallway, in the lunchroom, around the water cooler? Is it whiny and critical or is it filled with positive enthusiasm. Office atmosphere has a way of creeping into all that you do, even your interactions with your supporters. Make sure it is filled with the same optimism, care, and compassion you bring to your mission.

These are great ways to ensure that your organization is fostering a culture of philanthropy. Be sure to check out the Passionate Giving blog for their next five installments.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Thinking Outside the Box: Donation Payments

I don't know about you but I don't keep a lot change -- or even cash -- in my pocket any more. I use my discount debit or cash rewards credit cards nearly exclusively. Recently, I have been wondering how that might affect charities that depend upon "point of sale" or impulse contributions.  How has that adversely affected an organization such as the Salvation Army and their extremely lucrative Red Kettle program. Even though Red Kettle contributions exceeded $147 million in 2011, how much revenue was lost because people don't have as much loose change?

Well, the Salvation Army isn't taking any chances and last year started using a device that can be plugged into a smart phone, an iPad, or an Android device and accept credit card donations on site. A volunteer can take a contribution with his left hand as he continues to the ring the kettle bell with his right. It is called Square and it was developed by Jack Dorsey, the fellow that created Twitter. Unlike the clumsy credit card machines that could barely be jerry-rigged on a remote site, Square is really simple. Plug the Square device into your smartphone's headphone jack.

You can then swipe your donor's card, punch in the payment or donation amount, and have the donor sign the touch screen. Done!

Pretty cool, huh?

There is another device that might just be a boon to nonprofits unwilling to leave even the smallest contribution on the table. It is called DipJar. DipJar was developed in 2008 by another enterprising entrepreneur, writer, and (aspiring) academic named Ryder Kessler. As the story goes, Kessler was at his favorite coffee house and remarked to one of the baristas that although the place was "crazy packed" that night, the tips must make up for the mayhem. He was shocked to learn that this wasn't the case and that gratuities had really plummeted in recent years. Apparently, few patrons had much pocket change since they were making their beverage purchases on plastic. Well, as any brilliant entrepreneur would do, Ryder decided that this problem needed a solution. Hence, DipJar was created.

DipJar is particularly spiffy because it blends high-tech with high-tactile. Its design is simple and familiar. Slide your card into the opening just like dropping a tip into a cup. DipJar is set up to accept $1 dollar donations for each dip or swipe but it could be modified to charge different amounts.

How could you use tools such as these to advance your fundraising? Let me know about great, outside the box ideas.

*Thinking Outside the Box is an occasional post about innovative possibilities in fundraising.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Donors Care About IMPACT

Donors care about impact.

That's not particularly surprising. It makes sense that donors want to know that their donation has made an appreciable difference for the nonprofit they are supporting. What has not been so clear is exactly what sort of information does the donor consider valuable in judging impact?

According to a new report from GuideStar USA, Inc. and Hope Consulting entitled Money For Good II, if charities can compellingly communicate impact to donors, serious money could move to the most effective institutions -- as much as $15 billion!

The report addresses these important issues:
  • What information do donors want and how and where do they want it?
  • How can you meet the demand for information, including specific tools and initiatives?
  • How other nonprofits are already doing this and the rewards they are reaping.
  • A view of the future of charitable giving and the nonprofit sector.
What do donors want?

According to the report, 88% of donations go to a nonprofit a donor has given to at least once before. Donors are comfortable with "the familiar" and need to trust the institutions they support. But far more funds could be directed to nonprofits if donors had easy access to better information. It is interesting to note, many donors don't take the time to research the nonprofits they are considering supporting.

Individual Donors Research Some Causes More Than Others 
(Chart shows the percentage of donors that research various nonprofits)

According to the research all donors want to know:
  • The financial picture, including how an organization spends its money
  • That the nonprofit is legitimate
  • The basics of the organization -- its mission, approach, and make up
  • The breadth and depth of the cause
  • The nonprofit's impact
Most of the above information is relatively accessible. But  the researchers believe information about a nonprofit's impact is grossly neglected.

Why is this so? It would seem that the impact of the work of the nonprofit would be a number one communication focus for all institutions. Unfortunately, this is too often not the case. Are nonprofits too busy? Are their resources stretched so thin they have no time to do the research and disseminate the information? Probably.

The report is emphatic that the nonprofit must make an internal commitment to collecting information about impact.

Collect that information and then communicate it to your donors through a multitude of channels -- websites, emails, newsletters, solicitation letters, videos, annual reports, and social media platforms.

Again, to quote the report, when you lead with impact, you reassure your existing donors that you are using their money wisely, and you attract new donors who are looking for organizations doing the most good.

The report includes a helpful Charting Impact Tool to begin assessing what impact information you should be communicating to your donor. It includes a series of questions, ways to answer, and reasons why such as: 
  • Question: What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
  • How to answer: Define how your organization will change the world for the better.
  • Why it matters: Donors want to know what you stand for. 
As well as:
  • Question: What are your strategies for making this happen?
  • How to answer: Explain what you are doing to accomplish your goals.
  • Why it matters: Donors need to understand, clearly, what you do.
(Check out the other questions and responses in the Charting Impact Tool. You'll find it quite helpful as you collect your impact information.)

Charity rating services and research resources such as Charity Navigator, GuideStar, Network for Good, and the Foundation Center are all playing a role in providing third party, non-partisan information on nonprofits for the potential donor. And although emotion plays an important role in charitable decisions, data from these sources help satisfy the donor's need for the rational aspect of the giving process.

Take the time to collect those impact stories, the third party endorsements, the data that shows your effectiveness. Make it easy for donors to get the information they want. Don't make them dig for it.

Earn some of that $15 billion in available gift revenue. You deserve it!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Quote of the Week: YOU are awesome!

I saw this great cartoon from the Marketoonist site authored by Tom Fishburne with the title 5 types of social media strategies - (by way of Jeff Brooks' Future Fundraising Now blog). 

Some of the most cutting and insightful commentary on modern marketing comes by way of the artistic wit of Mr. Fishburne. Fundraiser Jeff Brooks notes in his own blog's commentary on this 'toon that the self-absorbed, self-focused approach so often promoted on social media platforms must be avoided by fundraisers -- and all marketers, really.

Repeat after me- It's all about the donor. It's about how we can help them feel awesome. It is how awesome they ARE. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Are You Creating Pablum?

Pablum - the ultimate pejorative? 

Actually, Pablum was a breakthrough medical product created by a team of Canadian pediatricians in the 1930s to prevent rickets, a crippling childhood disease. It was a vitamin packed and digestible mush made from a mixture of ground and precooked wheat, oatmeal, yellow corn meal, bone meal, dried brewers yeast, and powdered alfalfa leaf -- all fortified with reduced iron. 

Sounds yummy, doesn't it?

Pablum had everything these doctors knew would be good for sick or at risk babies. And it seemed to help. So what if it tasted like wallpaper paste! It was good for you!

How interesting that pablum has come to define worthless, oversimplified, insipid or bland communication or information. Perhaps the problem with this sort of communication is similar to what might have been going through the minds of those well-meaning pediatricians eighty years ago. They might have been more focused on solving the problem at hand then in making the product appealing. In their instance, that might be justified. For a charity today, it is not.

Are we more focused on making sure the recipient of our messages or solicitations is informed about our great need than making our message compelling? Is it more important that the reader understand what is important to us -- our charity -- than for us to find a way to connect with the reader or donor's interests? Is that the reason for so many uninspired "wish lists", droning "opportunities to give", and endless tomes harping on needs, rather than stirring stories of actions and outcomes?

Let's think about what inspires and motivates us. Is it incessant begging and cajoling? Or, is it that rare and rousing tale from the heart that touches us and moves us to make a difference?

Oh, and it should be noted that Pablum became even more commercially popular when the manufacturer added flavored versions. 

Imagine that.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Post Direct Mail Fundraising

Direct mail is still the king of fundraising. Despite the incessant drumbeat of speculation that direct mail  is on the wane, dying, or already dead, it is still responsible for 75% of all fundraising revenue for a typical nonprofit (source: Blackbaud 2011 donorCentrics Benchmarking Report). 

By the way, bad direct mail should be dead. With a stake in its heart!

Personally, I believe that the most successful fundraising strategies include a multifaceted approach. Coordinated campaigns that include complimentary direct mail, online, social media, telefundraising and personal solicitations are proving to be extremely effective.

But what would post-direct mail fundraising look like? Are alternatives to direct mail dependent campaigns really working for certain charities?

Is post-direct mail fundraising already here and does it looks like Charity:Water?

Tom Belford of the Agitator blog recently asked regarding Charity:Water's September campaign Is this any way to launch your annual appeal? He answered with a definitive "You bet it is!" And Beth Kanter recently posted about Charity:Water's brilliant use of Instagram

The following video hints at why Charity:Water is so successful, why it connects so strongly with donors on an emotional level, and how it utilizes electronic media so well.

September Campaign 2012 Trailer: Rwanda from charity: water on Vimeo.

The video tells a great story and illustrates how Charity:Water is a key part of the story. But it has the astuteness of understanding that Charity:Water, the nonprofit, is not the story. It is all about the people of Rwanda. It is their story. The story is told clearly and simply. It promises that if you - the donor - partner with Charity:Water you can help ensure the story ends well.

Paull Young, Charity:Water's Director of Digital Engagement, recently summed up their approach this way:
  • ask supporters to give up their birthdays, offering a great experience in return
  • focus on sharing great content, not asking for money
  • make the campaigner the hero, not the organization
  • strive to have a ten year relationship with constituents
  • rely 100% on social media and online platforms with no direct mail
This approach seems to be working extremely well for them. Charity:Water raised over $8.6 million in 2009 and over $16 million in 2010. All without utilizing direct mail.

Let's take a look at how they do it online. Click on this link for their September Campaign 2012

Charity:Water leverages the web beautifully. An arresting first frame of an embedded video takes up nearly half of the page. Towards the top of the page is a progress bar showing how much has been raised so far and what the ultimate goal is. Under this first video titled "The Trailer" you see there will be four other videos that can be viewed on August 28, September 4th, 7th and 11th. These are tempting teases encouraging the visitor to return to the site. Naming the lead video The Trailer makes it seems like a movie premier and I think you will agree the clip has the impact and production values of a Hollywood blockbuster.

As you scroll down you see that you can donate now or start your own campaign. You also see that they promise to "prove" they have completed their goals with photos of each completed well site. They will even supply GPS coordinates for each project just in case you want to check them out yourself.

Lastly, as you continue to scroll down on the landing page you see project cost information, links to individuals who have started campaigns, profiles of the people they are helping, more outcome data, and information on what different levels of contributions will accomplish. Scattered throughout the page are multiple links providing ways to give, start a campaign, or receive additional information and project updates.

The entire site is beautifully designed. The data is simple and compelling. The visuals are eye-catching.

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that does this better than Charity:Water.

Is Charity:Water unique? Could this same "no direct mail" approach work for all charities? I am not sure it could. Many nonprofits have a more complex and nuanced story to tell that may require more traditional communication media. Additionally, many prospects may be less comfortable with online giving. Perhaps more telling, many charities may not have the superb "new media" talent to pull something like this off.

What do you think? Is this the future of fundraising? Or, is this simply a superbly executed exception?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why We Fundraise

It was a success story right out of a Hollywood script. Working class boy from an industrial neighborhood in Australia makes it big. Scott Neeson loved movies and had a knack for picking winners. He quickly climbed the ranks of the Australian film industry before becoming President of 20th Century Fox in LA. Neeson was responsible for bringing such mega hits to the screen as Titanic, Braveheart, Independence Day, X-Men, Die Another Day and over 100 other films.

But in 2003 as he was about to transition to a new position at Sony Pictures, Scott decided to take some time off and visit Southeast Asia. Invited by a resident of Phnom Penh, Cambodia to visit Steung Meanchey, a stinking, fetid shanty town perched atop a toxic landfill, Neeson's life was about to flip 180 degrees. Picking through the rotting waste and mountainous garbage were scores of desperately poor Cambodians searching for recyclables that could be turned in for pennies on the pound. Most heartbreaking, many of the pickers were children - clad in tatters, filthy, and wearing the sullen mask of despair.
Neeson and friend at Steung Meanchey, Cambodia

But Neeson's transformation of spirit was launched by an ironic, movie script like incident that took place as he stood ankle-deep in trash that day. He had just received a call on his cell phone from the agent of a Hollywood superstar. The agent was railing against Neeson because his client would not be receiving adequate in-flight entertainment on the private jet that Sony Pictures had provided him. As described in a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor, "Neeson overheard the actor griping in the background. 'My life wasn't meant to be this difficult.' Those were his exact words," Neeson says. "I was standing there in that humid, stinking garbage dump with children sick with typhoid, and this guy was refusing to get on a Gulfstream IV because he couldn't find a specific item onboard," he recalls. "If I ever wanted validation I was doing the right thing, this was it."

Inspired by the staggering needs of the Steung Meanchey community and in stark contrast with that recent hedonistic exhibition of shallow excess, Neeson spent the rest of his holiday considering the creation of what would soon become the Cambodian Children's Fund (CCF). Within a year he had chucked his highflying executive career with his $1 million salary, and sold his home, boats and cars. He even held a giant garage sale to help him jettison all the detritus that before had seemed important indicators of his success.

Today, Cambodian Children's Fund provides refuge, education and medical treatment for hundreds of children across five separate facilities. Nearly two-thirds of these students once lived and worked in Steung Meanchey, picking plastic and metal out of the mountains of burning, hazardous waste and selling them to local recycling centers. CCF has even opened a bakery and restaurant to offer vocational training to older students and unemployed youth living in the area. Future plans include additional Satellite Schools throughout the village. The following three minute video gives an overview of their work.

This is why we fundraise.

It's to support courageous visionaries such as Scott Neeson. It is to ensure the children of Cambodia, Mawali, Santa Domingo, or Tennessee have a better life. It is to benefit those who are powerless, victimized, without hope. It is to provide a better life, an education, a chance to be a future leader to those who might otherwise be no more than a sad statistic. That is why we fundraise. And if we forget, think of Scott Neeson and his children of Steung Meanchey. Think of the children on the dumps of Changde, China, Lagos, Nigeria, Jakarta, Indonesia, Sidon, Lebanon, New Delhi, India, Lima, Peru, or Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Because at each of these dumps --the largest trash heaps in the world-- each one is being "worked" by thousands of children, trying to stay alive. This is why we fundraise.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fundraising and Coaching

Even though during football season I am a NFL fanatic, I love non-mainstream sports. The Olympics provide a great opportunity to indulge in viewing these unique endeavors. Beach volleyball, archery, luge, curling, modern pentathlon/biathlon/triathlon and others are a nice diversion from the highly commercialized core professional sports. I also catch myself pausing while surfing TV channels at up-and-comers in the popularity category such as women's college basketball. But the growing popularity of women's basketball has a backstory. Women's basketball has reached a level of interest, and I dare say legitimacy on the back of one incredible coach -- Pat Summitt of the University of Tennessee.

What does this have to do with fundraising? Well, consultant Jason McNeal of Gonser Gerber Tinker Stuhr, LLP and author of the wonderful blog The Far Edge of Promise, provided this thoughtful post recently: Donor Engagement as Coaching.

This month Coach Summitt received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2012 ESPY awards. She recently retired but not until she racked up these unbelievable statistics:

  • 1,098 wins - the most ever by a Division I college basketball coach (men's or women's)
  • 16 conference titles
  • 8 national championships
  • 12 Olympians
And perhaps most extraordinarily, 100 percent graduation rate for all Lady Vols who have completed their eligibility at Tennessee.

See the moving ESPY award tribute to Coach Summitt here

She was known as a tough coach holding her athletes to incredibly high athletic and personal standards. Many a teammate was brought to tears by her pointed rebukes or stern admonitions. Yet, as Jason brings out in his blog, many of her players claim they would run through a wall for "coach". 

To quote Jason's post:
"...what struck me as I watched the video were the many student-athletes she coached talk about (and to) her about what a positive difference she made in their development as people and in their lives generally, far beyond the basketball court. More than one of her players made the tearful statement: "I wouldn't be the woman I am today if not for you." 
What a legacy. What an impact. What a life's work."
Jason goes on to comment about how might we, as fundraising professionals, view ourselves. Do we see our job to be a solicitor or even a facilitator? Are we simply extracting money from our supporters? Or, as what made Coach Summitt a "life-changer" for her basketball players, do we really care about our donors? Really, really care and take the time to understand the donor's needs, aspirations and goals.

Again, to quote Jason:
"Just like Coach Summit, we ask donors every day to help our institutions succeed. And when we know our institution's donors well enough to inspire them and challenge them, we have the opportunity to be more than a solicitor or a facilitator. When our donors know that we care for them as people first and donors second, we have the chance to become a coach. And, then, we have an opportunity to help change their lives."

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's Not About You.

Yesterday, I read a short, fascinating little tome by Bob Burg and John David Mann called "It's Not About You: A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business". (Bob is also the author of "The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea".) "It's Not About You" is a compelling parable about how extraordinary leadership is achieved when you focus on others. A no brainer, right? Well, it's amazing how often we get tangled in the web of "meism" without noticing it. This book will help you identify whether this is an issue for you and how to redirect your thinking process.

A blog post by Jeff Schreifels of the Veritas Group entitled "The Six Secrets to Becoming an Extraordinary Major Gift Officer" -  Secret #5 - You Don't Have All the Answers, covers similar territory.

As Jeff states, "Curiosity is such a powerful tool for a MGO (Major Gift Officer). Yes, I said tool -- because curiosity can become the driver to help you figure out a problem. It creates the basis for understanding a donor and can catapult you to the answer to some very complex situations.
So, quite frankly, if you are not a curious person, you should NOT be a major gift officer."

The post continues by describing a real-life instance of a brand new, inexperienced gift officer who proceeds to build a caseload of over 100 high-value donor prospects -- multi-millionaires and leaders of industry-- and in one year secures over $300,000 in donations simply because she was brimming with curiosity, loved to ask questions, and was fearless. It wasn't about her.

Similar to the tact the character initially employs in Bob Burg's parable, how often do we go to a donor meeting or address a fundraising event thinking, "I have to persuade them to do what I want"? Even if we thoroughly believe it is the best course of action for said donor or charity, it is an approach doomed to fail.

It is about the donor, the charity, the charitable foundation, and the beneficiary of your work -- it's not about you. Find out all you can about them. Do your homework. Be curious. Ask questions, probe, and be truly interested. You may be amazed at how much you learn that can be helpful. And how much fun you'll have listening to the inspiring stories and lofty aspirations shared by the people you meet along the way.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Quote of the Week: "I'm Bored With My Fundraising."

I'll admit it, I like "high-brow" Masterpiece Theater costume dramas. One of my favorites is Bleak House that ran on PBS in 2007. Dickens' beautiful and droll Lady Dedlock was definitely bored - bored with the rain, bored with her husband, and bored with her life.

But can we afford to be bored with our fundraising. Not according to fundraising guru Jeff Brooks in a blog post entitled How to break free from boring fundraising. To quote, "Are you getting bored with your fundraising? Are you tempted to "get creative" and change everything?

Jeff continues and references a blog post from Kivi Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications Blog entitled Your Boredom is a Bad Way to Measure Success

Brooks states that the fact that you've grown bored with your fundraising has no bearing on whether it's time for a change. Actually, he maintains, "there's a slight correlation: If you're bored with it, you're probably on the right track:
Getting creative is NOT a high value goal in direct mail...The goal of direct mail is to find a "formula" that works and then do it until it stops working. You'll know you've succeeded if your appeals make money and you're bored with them."
He suggests concentrating on these key fundraising elements:
  • Finding new fundraising offers.
  • Discovering ways to encourage cross-channel behavior. 
  • Finding images that work.
I encourage you to review both Jeff and Kivi's blog posts. Unfortunately, some nonprofit executives question, ignore, or even scorn these recommendations. Ignore them at your own risk. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What At Your Charity Is Broken?

Seth Godin is an amazing thinker. Here is how Wikepedia describes him:
"Godin believes that the end of the TV-Industrial complex means that marketers no longer have the power to command the attention of anyone they choose, whenever they choose. Second, in a marketplace in which consumers have more power, he thinks marketers must show more respect; this means no spam, no deceit and a bias for keeping promises. Finally, Godin asserts that the only way to spread the word about an idea is for that idea to earn the buzz by being remarkable."
You can't be remarkable if your actions and processes are broken. 

The attached video was recorded at the Gel 2006 conference in New York City. Gel is short for "Good Experience Live", and is a conference and community exploring good experience in all its forms -- in art, business, technology, society, and life.

At Gel, Seth railed against the world's indifference at fixing things that just don't work. He claims just some of the reasons that things are allowed to be broken include these corrosive elements:
  • Not my job
  • Selfish Jerk
  • The world changed
  • I didn't know
  • I'm not a fish
  • Contradictions
  • Broken on purpose
Watch this video. You'll probably laugh a lot -- and wince a little.

Then ask yourself, "What are we doing that is clearly "broken"? (How easy is it to make a gift online? How fast do we send out thank-you letters? Does one size (fundraising appeal) fit all? Are our communications, newsletters, emails, press releases, etc. all in techno-speak, acronyms, or a language code only we understand? Is everything we do "donor centric"?)

If it's "broke", you must fix it. 

There are 1.5 million non-profits in the US and a new nonprofit organization registers with the IRS every 15 minutes. If you don't have it fixed, someone else will.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Quote of the Week: Scarcity and Abundance

I am sharing another great post by Sasha Dichter, Chief Innovation Officer at the Acumen Fund. It is about the concepts of scarcity and abundance. He says:
It is so easy to experience what we feel we lack.

There's never enough time or enough money.

We could do it if we just had a little more access, a little more support.

I'll start my new business soon, I'm just not quite ready.

I'll start blogging as soon as I come up with a few more ideas.

I'll take that big leap once it becomes just a little clearer what the other side looks like.


Abundance comes when you start practicing abundance. It's a decision, an attitude, a state of mind, and a practice.

I know I have to work on it each and every day. And it is work. But I keep at it.

What a critically important concept for charities and fundraisers. Think about it. Who wants to fund scarcity? What is "richer" than an abundance of ideas, optimism, affirmation, and certainty? It is a state of mind, an attitude, an outlook. 


Let's all work on it -- and practice it everyday.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Volunteers Give 10 Times More Money

Volunteers. How do you feel about them?

Do you concur with Erma Bombeck who said, "Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation's compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain love for one another"?

Or do they better fit your definition of "can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em"? 

Maybe volunteers provide far more value than the good intentions and unpaid servitude we normally ascribe to them.

According to a survey conducted by Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, those who have volunteered in the last 12 months donate ten times more money to charities than non-volunteers. Many survey respondents also claimed that volunteering is likely to increase their donations and cause them to donate to the organizations where they volunteer.

Surprising? Maybe not. I think we all presume that a more "engaged" donor is a more valuable and committed donor. But what are we doing to foster and encourage this beneficial relationship? Are we unwittingly turning some potential volunteers off? The survey revealed these reasons for not volunteering:
  • No time to volunteer - 46%
  • Pressure to give more time than you want to - 32%
  • You are just not interested - 32%
  • You can't find the right non profit to match your cause or needs - 30%
  • You prefer to just give money - 19%
  • You had a bad experience volunteering in the past - 15%
Have we crafted volunteer programs that respect our volunteer's time constraints? 

Have we provided a variety of opportunities that would appeal to different interests?

Have we taken managing volunteers seriously enough to ensure the experience is rewarding and satisfying for them?

Is it worth all this effort? (Would you agree that the ten times more giving figure settles that question?)

Charities have some work to do. 6 in 10 survey respondents believe that nonprofits have become too much of a big business. Roughly half agree that charities have disorganized management. 

Nonprofits have to do better. Volunteering is clearly too valuable to approach arbitrarily. 

As Ms. Bombeck so eloquently stated, volunteers are amazing people. 66% of survey respondents agreed that "true philanthropy" includes the giving of time and money. Yet 84% think volunteering should not include some sort of reward or incentive. Nearly 70% of those surveyed support the causes they care about simply because they think it is just the right thing to do!

Let's honor these altruistic individuals enough to create well planned and effective volunteer programs. It will be a more rewarding experience for everyone.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Quote of the Week: Good Enough Isn't

The Sonata by Childe Hassam

One of my favorite nonprofit "thinkers" is Sasha Dichter.  Sasha is the Chief Innovation Officer at the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit that is "creating a world beyond poverty by investing in social enterprises". He is also a prolific blogger and posted the following under the title of "The long, hard, stupid way".
"Our opportunity, today, is to recognize that now more than ever, how we do everything is what defines us, what humanizes us, and what differentiates us. To recognize that cutting corners is a race to the bottom. To see that we're not going to make massive change by cutting one more corner or by squeezing out that last half a percent of efficiency.
We have the opportunity, today, to give our gift to the world.
Giving this gift is what changes everything. "
According to Sasha, that gift may require doing something the "long, hard, stupid way". In his blog he relates listening to his concert pianist father practicing a particularly difficult Beethoven passage over and over - long past what his ears perceived as already perfect. 

How often has this passion for perfection, for ensuring that we provide our client, donor, or beneficiary with the very best we have to offer been our relentless goal? Or are we more likely to go for intelligent compromises and justifiable efficiencies? 

How do we wish to be defined?

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Two Faces of Fundraising Events: Part 2 - A Hydra Head?

In The Two Faces of Fundraising Events: Part 1, I noted that fundraising events are very popular with many nonprofits. The big charities often make a boatload of money on their "walks" and other "thons". Most staff and volunteers "get" events. They know the purpose is to raise money for the cause. Attendees understand this too and don't object to paying their share. They also feel they receive something tangible in return - a fun time, a chance to rub shoulders with community leaders and maybe even "the famous". Staff and leadership like events because they are often well covered by the media and goodness, they don't have to make a complicated "pitch and ask".

But is it the most effective fundraising vehicle?

Let's look at the potential investment numbers. Here's where the hydra-headed aspect of events raises its ugly...well, you know.

Let's suppose a nonprofit puts on an annual black-tie gala with music, upper tier catering, and an auction. Planning starts a year in advance. At least one staff member spends half of his/her time working on the event. Board members are involved in touching their friends and contacts. The President and Director of Development have roles. The event goes off well and grosses $100,000. Super, huh? Maybe. (Thanks to Nell Edgington, President of Social Velocity for the following cost presumptions. They ran a superb series of blog articles on the cost of fundraising which can be found here .)

Let's suppose some direct expenses:

Venue, music, food, decorations, invitations: $50,000

Often, this is how many nonprofits view their net profit from the event - $100,000 in gross revenue minus $50,000 direct expenses = $50,000 net profit.

But we need to consider the total costs of running this gala and how that compares to other fundraising opportunities. It is imperative to look at the indirect expenses such as:

Cost of staff members to prepare for and manage the event (hours worked by staff members times salary + benefits). 

Staff Event Coordinator's time: $15,000
President's time: $4,000
Development Director's time: $5,000

And let's also figure Board Member time utilizing the standard value of volunteer hours ($20.25): $3,000

Total indirect costs are $27,000
Add direct costs of $50,000
Total indirect and direct costs = $77,000

Our new net revenue is $100,000 - $77,000 = $23,000

The nonprofit made $23,000. Still seems like a reasonable number doesn't it? Especially, since so many new people attended the gala, and the mayor was there -- and it was mentioned on the 6 o'clock news.

But let's look at the cost to raise each of those 23,000 dollars. 

Cost to raise $1.00 = Direct + Indirect costs/ Net Revenue

$77,000/$23,000 = $3.35 cost to raise $1.00

(Also, how many of those new people are really connected to your cause? Is the mayor a prospect? Will anyone remember the 6 o'clock news?)

Now let's suppose you have a salaried staff person working on major gifts prospects. This person's salary is $65,000 per year plus benefits. Indirect costs might include leadership or Board members attending donor visits for a total of $100,000. Their activities result in $500,000 worth of donations in a year. The net revenue figures work out like this:

$500,000 - $100,000 = $400,000

... and the cost per dollar raised ($100,000/$400,000) would be $0.25.

Not only that, but hopefully you have been soliciting and stewarding warm prospects, not a random group of event attendees who may or may not be smitten by your mission.

Doing the math is illuminating.

Does that mean events are a waste of time? No. But it does depend on how you view the investment. How much staff time do you want devoted to this sort of return? Can it be spent more effectively elsewhere? Maybe you can afford to have staff devoted to events and major gift prospecting. Or, maybe you look at the value of events being more resident in their friendraising, cultivation, and stewardship value?

Do the math -- and see what makes sense for you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Quote of the Week: Generosity Day Follow-up

A month ago I posted a story about an initiative to "re-boot" Valentine's Day as Generosity Day proposed by Sasha Dichter of the Acumen Fund and Katya Andresen of Network for Good.  (See my February 14th post here.) 

Their concept was to elevate the day beyond the rather benign commercialism of cards and candy and encourage more compassion and caring. In Sasha's words, "We wanted to reconnect (the day) to the core ideas of love and human connection."

The idea had its genesis in Sasha's Generosity Experiment -- a month in which he said "yes" to absolutely every request for help.

Last week he blogged about the results of this year's Generosity Day. 

Here is some of the feedback he received. 
One person shared that she approached an elderly woman on the street and gave her a rose, only to be told that this was the first Valentine's Day flower she'd ever received. Another woman finally had coffee with someone she'd long thought could be a new friend -- and she was right. A third person told an 80-year-old woman how beautiful she was and the woman shed a tear, saying that no one had told her that in years.
Much more than any statistics about the word spreading far and wide, it is these actions that made Generosity Day real, these actions that created innumerable moments of joy. We heard stories of anonymous acts of kindness, outrageous over-tipping and heartfelt thank you notes. We heard about people paying strangers' tolls on the parkway, folks passing out croissants to the morning-rush crowd, and loads of people who spent the day or night volunteering. We heard from people who were donating money, and those who were donating blood. We heard from so many people who made the day better for others and experienced the joy of generosity themselves.
Oh, the bliss of giving and the blessings of generosity!

To further quote Sasha Dichter, You too can be part of this movement, today or any day. All it takes is the decision to say "yes".

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Two Faces of Fundraising Events: Part 1

The Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council's sixth annual study revealed that in 2011 the top 30 fundraising races, walks, and other athletic events took in $1.69-billion, up $40.8 million or a 2.46% increase over 2010. 11.6 million people participated in some sort of "thon fundraising" according to the study. This was an increase of over 200,000 over the previous year.  36,422 events were held by the top 30 event sponsors. (The American Heart Association held over 24,000 separate events alone in 2011.)

The top five grossing events were:
  • American Cancer Society - Relay for Life - - $415,000,000
  • Susan G. Komen for the Cure - Race for the Cure -  $131,315,739
  • March of Dimes - March for Babies - $105,000,000
  • American Heart Association - Heart Walk - $99,088,367
  • The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society - Team in Training - $87,511,103
It seems as if the "fundraising event" is a favorite for every nonprofit. Looking at the numbers above it is easy to see why it is so tempting. Even a more modest event can gross significant dollars and attract many new prospective supporters.

Let's consider the "good face" or advantages of event fundraising:
  • An event can attract new supporters such as hard to engage donors, government officials, corporate leaders, and local or national media personalities.
  • It can often raise significant gross revenue.
  • A well executed event can help burnish your brand and enhance your charity's awareness in the community.
  • It can unite supporters in a sharply focused common goal.
  • It can provide a compelling platform for media exposure and raise public awareness in your cause.
  • It can present an opportunity for nonprofit leadership to interact with important community representatives.
  • An event can be specifically tailored to leverage your charities brand.
  • People like to hobnob with their peers or with the socially elevated. 
  • You can obtain sponsors that might not ordinarily associate with your organization.
  • Events can be a nice way to thank current supporters.
  • Successful events tend to increase in effectiveness over time.
And now the disadvantages or "bad face" of event fundraising:
  • They can take a year to plan and three years to reach optimum revenue returns.
  • An unsuccessful event can tarnish your organization's reputation and brand.
  • Events suck-up a tremendous amount of staff time managing volunteers and interacting with vendors.
  • They can have high initial costs, hidden costs, and can even cost far more then revenue raised.
  • Events could be the victim of unrealistic expectations ("American Cancer Society raised $415 million, why can't we raise a percentage of that?")
  • Attendees may have no long-term interest in your organization and will need to be kept engaged through future events.
  • They could be sensitive to outside influences such as disasters, wars, or scandals.
  • There are tens of thousands of events each year with probably hundreds in your own backyard competing for the donor's attention and engagement. Many events will be run by big, national charities that could overwhelm any marketing presence you may attempt to create if you are competing with them for airtime and "share of mind".
These "good and bad" elements of events don't even tell the entire story. It really depends on how your organization looks at events. Do you consider them an important revenue generating activity or do you look at them as more of a friendraising, cultivation, and stewardship opportunity? This is a critical distinction that I will explore more in my next post.

In the meantime, consider these questions:
  • How do you calculate the financial success of a major event?
  • Do you rely upon gross revenue compared to direct expenses?
  • Do you understand what your indirect costs are and why they should be included in your calculations?
  • Are there more effective means to accomplish the same end?