Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Dream for Fundraising in 2012

As we conclude the first 31 days of 2012, I find myself reflecting on a few dreams and goals for fundraising during the remainder of the year:

  • That more people will understand that charitable giving blesses the donor as much as the recipient.
  • That charities better communicate that being on a “fire-in-the-belly” mission supersedes simply having a mission statement.
  • That nonprofits will understand that fundraising is not about “arm-twisting” but rather clear, cogent, and targeted communication. That it is the responsibility of the charity to identify a prospect’s interests and demonstrate how their charity’s work is aligned with the donor’s priorities.
  • That institutions understand that direct mail techniques are not used to insult appeal recipients but rather to assist those recipients. That utilizing all the allegedly “clich├ęd” direct response techniques is actually a thoughtful rather than insidious tactic and helps the potential donor navigate the appeal piece. 
  • That charities realize the true value today of social media. It will not replace traditional channels for gift revenue anytime soon, but it will help elevate relationships and engagement; enhancing traditional giving vehicles. 
  • That Ronald Reagan’s cold-war mantra of “Trust, but verify” is just as true for nonprofits as it was regarding the Russians in the late ‘80s. My hope is that charities will strive to gain the trust of their supporters and then supply verification of the outcomes of their contributions.
  • That America is recognized for being one of the most generous nations on earth. We gave nearly $291 billion dollars to charitable causes in 2010 despite one of the most difficult economic climates in decades. Additionally, people give because it feels good to be generous. My dream is that more people will have the chance to experience that transcendent, blissful feeling of philanthropy.
  • That it is realized that facilitating generosity through professional fundraising efforts is a noble profession, helping donors feel good and helping good causes continue their missions. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Videos and Making the Donor Connection

Donors don't often get to see how their contributions make a difference in a tangible way. They rarely meet the students who benefit from their student aid gift, they can't visit the African village assisted by the clean water well that they funded, they don't hear directly from the families that received food and shelter because of their gift, they don't see their money building a ship to monitor the ocean environment, or are taken directly into the jungle to see animals they have helped save.

Each of the following videos attempts to visually provide a closer connection with their charity. Some are folksy thank-yous, some feature the charity founders, some their staff in the field. Some have fairly sophisticated production values and some are more modest. Regardless of their appearance, their authenticity helps create an aura of credibility. 

The first video from University of California, Irvine utilizes a clever animation technique that ties together the comments from students that have received student aid. It employs a classic "thank-you donor" approach.

The second video from Charity:Water, a nonprofit that helps fund drilling for potable water wells, is also in the "thank-you" mode and features their affable founder and his likable staff. He and his organization come across as the kind charity that a 20 or 30 something could get behind.

The third video eschews higher production values or gimmicks but provides unvarnished statements of gratitude from real people helped by the social services agency Sarah's House.

The next video from Greenpeace illustrates donor contributions in action as the viewer witnesses the construction of the third Rainbow Warrior environmental watchdog craft in a shipyard in Bremen, Germany. ("You wanted us to build a ship to keep watch over the oceans and look, we're building it!")

The last video is from Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, England and the Aspinall Foundation regarding its lowland gorilla project. Follow Damian Aspinall as he visits a gorilla habitat in Gabon to see how a "reintroduced" gorilla that he raised in captivity is faring five years later back in the wild. The video does a great job of taking the donor right into the animal reserve in West Africa and reinforcing the value of the donor's contribution. Additionally, this particular video was focused on thanking donors who had made a second gift.

How can you use video to make your mission seem more immediate and tangible to your supporters? Consider the following:
  • Produce short video thank-yous featuring those served by your nonprofit.
  • Demonstrate what happens to a donation after it arrives at your charity. Follow the check from the minute it comes in the door until it funds a project.
  • Reveal a day-in-the-life at your organization.
  • Show before and after your organization impacts an issue.
  • Profile your staff and leadership as they speak with passion about their mission. Include everyone from your CEO to your janitor to illustrate both deep and broad commitment.
  • Create a "what if we did not exist scenario".
  • Record donors talking about how giving to your organization is a life-changing experience.
Send videos out by email, post them on your website, put them on YouTube, screen them at events. Who knows, they might even go viral. Or end up being featured on someone's blog!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How to Be a Great Major Gift Officer

Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels

Passionate Giving is a terrific blog penned by Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry, the founders of the major gift agency Veritus Group. At the end of 2011 Jeff posted a wonderful series entitled: Six New Year's Resolutions that will Change Your Life...or at least make you a better major gift officer. 

I am sharing snippets from each of the six but I encourage you to visit their blog and read each one in its entirety. If every major gift officer resolved to enact each one in 2012, they would surely experience success, satisfaction, and great joy. And as Jeff states “…2012 will be an incredible year for you, your donors and your organization.”
       1.    Serve your donor, don’t sell them
To drive home his point in this posting, Jeff relates a story of visiting an Apple store in an attempt to fix a software problem with his MacBook Pro laptop. From the get-go he was impressed by how the Apple attendants interacted with their customers. (If his Apple store was anything like the one I visited recently, it was packed with people waiting to be served, browsing, or receiving instructions for their new purchases.)
He was asked if he had an appointment, which he did not. No problem. Someone would be right with him.
Then, I asked him point blank, “Why are you not trying to sell this thing to me?.”  He said he was there to make my experience the best it could be, show me the product and let the product sell itself.  “We don’t get commission on sales”, he said.  “It’s all about serving the needs of the customer.”

He wandered over to the iPad display and was soon joined by a salesperson. Jeff asked the salesperson about the differences between an iPad, laptop, or an Amazon Kindle e-reader and received an unbiased assessment of the pros and cons of each. Jeff relates:
Here are snippets from the rest of Jeff’s posts.
I’m telling you that if you’re finding you have to “sell” your programs, organization or project to donors, you’ve already lost.  However, if you are truly “serving” your donors, you will understand what brings them passion and present projects and programs they will find joy in.
        2.   Love your work
If you don’t love your work in major gifts you either need to figure out what has to be overcome to love it, or you have to leave. I know that sounds harsh, but this major gift work is too difficult, frustrating and draining to NOT love it. 
        3.   Set better goals
…goal setting allows me to have a direction and something to aspire to.   And, it works! Surprisingly, many major gift officers whom I’ve worked with often don’t have goals- neither caseload, professional or personal.
This is tragic.
        4.   Make mistakes
I think our natural tendency is to play it safe.  It takes “something extra” for a person to take a risk and fall flat on his face.  Look, of course no one sets out to make mistakes.  But if you want to break through with your work, you have to walk through that fire of fear and risk failure. And when you do, one of two things will happen:  1) you will become wildly successful, or  2) you will fail, but at the same time will have learned an incredible lesson and moved forward. 
        5.    Be curious – ask questions
In my experience, one of the major reasons MGO’s get stuck in their work with donors is that they fail to ask good questions.  And they fail to ask good questions because they are not curious enough about their donors, their own organization or the projects they are raising money for.
        6.   Seek joy
When you have served your donor well, when you realize that you can’t wait to get to work in the morning, when you have set goals for your caseload, when you have a plan to take risks during the year and when you’re asking great questions left and right…YOU will find joy. 
Seek joy this year and it will find you.

Amen Jeff. 

If every Major Gift Officer resolved to enact each resolution, 2012 would indeed be an incredible year for you, your donors and your organization!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Attack of the Nonprofit Infographic!

Yes! Another nonprofit infographic! Infographics are so 2.0, aren't they?

But this post really isn't about infographics. The real story is about a relatively new web tool called Pinterest. It was recently featured on social media doyenne Beth Kanter's blog. Here is how she described it:
Pinterest is a virtual pinboard where you can organize and share images and videos you discover on the web. Think of it as a social network of visuals -- where you can find images from other people with the same interest or use it to curate your own visual "interest space".
Beth has used it to collect "snappy" nonprofit infographics such as the one below (originally created by Network for Good). You could also use it to collect and share photos or videos featuring the great work of your nonprofit. Or it could feature visuals of your mission's outcome. Who knows what other applications it may have!

You can even embed a"Pin It" tab on your browser to immediately "pin" an item of interest to your personal "pin board" and share it with others.  Wow! 

BTW, check out the infographics Beth has "pinned" to date.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Can we get rid of that "old" direct mail?

Here is another great infographic from Kivi Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Marketing site. It is compiled from their 2012 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report

It is interesting how the "new media" -- website, email marketing, e-newletters and Facebook -- are deemed either very important or somewhat important to a higher degree than the "tried-and-true" print newsletters and direct mail. 

This is particularly intriguing in light of fundraising expert Jeff Brooks' recent post on his Future Fundraising Now blog entitled What's wrong with the Next Big Thing? To quote:
One of the most pointless and uninteresting things you can hear is that something is the Next Big Thing in Fundraising.
Anything that's being bandied around as a "big thing" is not a big thing. Not yet, and probably not ever.
You'll know a thing is big when nobody's calling it a big thing any more -- but they're just using it successfully to meet their goals. 
Another way you can tell a thing is big is when people start claiming it's "dead".
The two Biggest Things in Fundraising today are direct mail and the house of worship collection plate.
Now, it is important to distinguish considering these newish channels from the standpoint of communication versus solicitation.  Electronic channels will serve an ever more prominent role in getting the word outTruly, email, websites, social media, et al are important components in any nonprofits communication arsenal.

The problem lies in the belief that any of these will supplant direct mail or in-person solicitations as a significant source of gift revenue any time soon. And oh, how we yearn to replace costly direct mail with something inexpensive such as email! Do not succumb to this spurious temptation! 

Use email to support direct mail. Employ social media to provide broader opportunities for education and engagement. Spruce up your website and make sure that it tells your story in a clear and compelling manner. But realize your gifts will come mostly through old-fashioned but lucrative channels. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Where and Why People Donate Their Time and Money

YourCause, an online resource designed to provide powerful online tools to facilitate fundraising and volunteering, recently posted a great infographic focused on where and why people donated their time and money in 2010/2011. Note that the top motivators for giving included a personal or emotional connection to the charity or being asked by someone they know well. Religious and educational causes accounted for top categories to receive volunteer assistance.  Not surprising given the current recession, economic development was the top issue donors wanted addressed by charities. Also, note that the ways in which donors choose to give appears to be becoming more diverse with donors stating that they have made much greater use of giving channels beyond sending a check in the mail.  

Let’s see what 2012 brings!

(Thanks to Katya Andresen for mentioning this on her blog.)

Monday, January 2, 2012

15 Things I'd Do As the New Head Fundraiser - Part 2

Continuing commentary (mine are in italics) based upon Ken Burnett's 15 things I would do if I were the new head of donor development as shared on the SOFII (Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration) website:

9.    I’d work on strategies that build our donors’ trust and confidence in us and our organization. I’d make our nonprofit a model of proactive accountability, to show we are effective and well-run.

Perhaps our greatest responsibility to the donor and one often poorly executed involves earning the donor’s trust. This will involve focusing on establishing superb communications, being transparent regarding our operations, and being guided by a set of principles that are donor-centric. An excellent place to start is encapsulated in the Donor Bill of Rights as outlined on the CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) website.

10.    I’d focus on the major motivations that have attracted our donors to our cause in the first place. I’d try to understand these, and make the best possible use of them.

Do you know what the main motivators are for your donors? Is that an assumption or have you asked them? Distribute surveys, provide opportunities to assemble small groups of supporters for feedback sessions, and establish groups of volunteers that can provide ongoing input. And don’t forget to communicate with the beneficiaries of your organization since they often hear first hand from donors why they give. Keep an open mind. Motivating triggers may be quite different than what you assume – or even think you want.

11.    I’d have our donor database properly profiled at least once a year.

Your most valuable source of information is right in your own database. Consider having it profiled for demographic and response information as frequently as possible. I have had great success utilizing the resources of Marts and Lundy and Target Analytics but there are other excellent services and resources available that will provide invaluable insights and benchmarks. Do it. It is well worth it. Then make sure you act upon what you have learned.

12.    I’d offer donors and other supporters the chance to choose when and how often they hear from us and what they might want to hear about.

As Ken Burnett states, “Donors will always be more responsive if what we send them is what they want to receive.” And as Burnett adds, “When this strategy starts to work, I’ll try introducing other choices for our donors, so they can in effect choose their own personal communications programs.”

I would reiterate that allowing a donor to “choose their communication program” is not the same as removing the donor from a communication stream in the mistaken belief that they will be grateful “not hear from you”.  Remember, donors like to give. If they aren’t giving to your organization they are likely giving to another. Shouldn’t they be given the opportunity to give to you? It is the rare donor indeed that will search you out to send you a contribution unsolicited.

13.    I’d create an environment where innovation and creativity can flourish, so I could readily develop appropriate products and propositions designed to suit our donors.

There are over 1.5 million non-profits in the US and a new nonprofit organization registers with the IRS every 15 minutes. It is the responsibility of each nonprofit to create programs that are compelling, unique, and deserve the support of donors. It will take talented communicators to make sure your nonprofit stands out and establishes a clear niche.

Likewise, fundraisers must balance utilizing “best practices” in their appeals for these nonprofits with innovation and creativity. This will require testing our “tried and true” against new ideas. Test, test, test and test some more.

14.    I’d make our organization the best communicator anywhere.

Communication can take place through many different channels. It could be through your website, fundraising appeals, thank you letters, public events or publications.

Let’s consider nonprofit websites. A significant percentage of donors go to a nonprofit’s website to research the organization prior to making a gift. Yet, recent research has found that donors find giving online far more difficult than what they are accustomed to when utilizing commercial sites. Researcher Jakob Nielsen found that a top priority for nonprofit websites should be to “write clearer content”. As he states in a recent Jakob Nielsen Alert posting, “Non-profits must clearly communicate their value proposition if they want to attract volunteers and online donations. Sadly, such communication is the sore point in the non-profit user experience.”

All areas of communication require the sort of scrutiny that ensures top-notch clarity.

Scrutinize everything you do. “Mystery shop” your branch offices, run your communications past your beneficiaries for their perspective, call donors after appeals and ask for their input. Try to make an online gift and see what the process is like. Remove all impediments from engaging your supporters.

15.    Finally, I’d give a little bit extra.

Going “above and beyond” expectations will set your organization apart from your 1.5 million nonprofit friends. Establish a culture that encourages each of your employees, volunteers, and representatives to exceed expectations. Your mission deserves it. Your donors deserve it.