Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fundraising and Repetition

Jeff Brooks had a great post today on his blog Future Fundraising Now titled The power of repetition in fundraising. I believe the root cause of most poor fundraising response results is the insidious belief that donors will like us better, and as a result donate to us, if we refrain from communicating with them "too often" and make the same pitch over-and-over.

If I may quote Jeff, "Despite what many people think, simple repetition is one of the most powerful tools in your creative arsenal. The savviest fundraisers use it all the time to ratchet up emotion -- and results -- from their donors."

 Jeff goes on to relate a study of new direct-mail donors that found that these mail recipients had received a direct mail acquisition piece six times before they responded to it. Many charities that I am familiar with believe that it is sufficient to mail prospective donors once or twice a year! No wonder total acquisition numbers are declining precipitously.

Think that just is the nature of a dying direct mail field? Nope, electronic media such as email requires even more repetition.

Jeff also recommends that repetition within the letter or email is also critically important. He states the call to action should be repeated five, ten, or even more times. Clearly, once is not enough.

So, get over your reticence. Your organization is worthy, your mission is important. Those who want to give to you deserve your perseverance.

Friday, July 11, 2014

What Does the Donor Hear?

I loved cartoonist Gary Larson. It was a sad day when he retired in 1995. One of my favorite cartoon panels was "What we say to dogs". There we go. Barking out commands to our canine friend, fully expecting that he hears and understands every word. Even raising our voice to ensure we are understood. What hubris! What the dog hears is it's name. That's it.

Sasha Dichter of the Acumen Fund cleverly illustrated the parallel between "dog/human" and possible "non-profit/donor" communication.

As Sasha wrote, "I wonder if we could re-title this cartoon 'our needs', as in: every time we regale someone with 'what we need' we remember all they're hearing is 'blah blah blah blah.' But whenever we say their name, whenever we paint them into the picture, whenever we make them a part of the story, they hear us loud and clear.

If you agree with the notion, rather than thinking tactically how to make this shift by 'changing your pitch', you might instead ask yourself who's keeping you from actually seeing the person across the table as an integral part of the story...because she is."

Amen,  Sasha! The donor is more likely to hear you if the presentation or case is more about them. It's like hearing your own name. And everyone loves to hear their own name.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Other mistakes that undermine your web fundraising

Last time I wrote about the "beginner" mistakes that undermine your web fundraising. This time I will cover the more intermediate mistakes that cost you online donations.

1. No Benefit for the Donor
If your website is all about what a wonderful non-profit you are, all your achievements, all your programs, you sound just like most other mediocre websites, whether charitable or commercial. If, on the other hand, you communicate what your organization can do for the donor, you immediately separate yourself from the pack. As with successful direct mail text, use the words “you” and “your” often. Your website should not appear to be a snare to catch a gift, but a tool for the donor to achieve his or her philanthropic goals.

2. No Urgency
Make it clear why the donor must do something now. What are the implications if they delay? Perhaps even set a deadline. “We need to raise $xxxxx by xx date in order to ensure children are fed.”

3. Colors Blend In
Does your call to action stand out or are you enslaved by corporate brand guidelines? Fundraising is often about creating action out complacency. It is hard to do that if everything is subject to the tyranny of a non-intrusive color palette. Your “donate” button should be big, bold and assertive. Your call to action statements should stand out. Tell the snarky designers to apply their sacrosanct brand guidelines on a nondescript brochure. You need to make sure your case for giving literally vibrates on your web page.

4. No Credibility
Donors are not only concerned about ensuring that their gifts are well used but also that they appear to be savvy philanthropists.  They don’t want to look like fools to their peers. They want to give to organizations that are winners. Nothing cuts through the “Who are these people?” question better than donor profiles, complimentary quotes by supporters, or the logos of recognizable corporate sponsors. Use them.

5. Loaded with Jargon

Sometimes it’s fun to use big words that make you look smart, right? Maybe, but it is a terrible fundraising tactic. Few but your own employees will understand highly technical industry jargon. Simple words work best when trying to persuade someone to take action.

Apply these elements and see your website giving soar.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

7 "beginner" mistakes that undermine your web fundraising

A couple of years ago Jeff Brooks referenced on his blog, Future Fundraising Now, a post from  Copyblogger regarding unfortunate content mistakes that undermine website sales. Jeff noted how these same issues could easily be applied to fundraising websites. Here are the first seven "beginner mistakes":

1. No Call to Action
Optimizing, tweaking, beautifying your website is nearly fruitless (from a fundraising perspective) if you don't ask for a gift.

2. Below the Fold
Web visitors shouldn't have to scroll down to see your call to action. State your case and ask for the gift in the upper portion (above the fold) of the screen.

3. Not Authoritative
Tell your readers exactly what you want them to do, and do so with conviction.

4. Not Specific
Don't make it a guessing game. Spell out exactly what you want your visitors to do. Give, sign-up, share, like, etc. Make it easy, make it clear.

5. Too Much Self Proclaimed Hype
Tooting your own horn comes off as so much puffery and bloviating. A third party endorsement is much more effective.

6. Multiple Calls to Action
What's the most important thing you want your visitor to do on your website? This is often very difficult since we are tempted to provide the vast array of things we do as nonprofits and present all the things we want the visitor to do as a result. People are often stymied by choice and they end up doing nothing. Prioritize.

7. Puny Call to Action
As the Copyblogger author states, "I've never seen a website call to action that is too big."

In the next post I will share what Copyblogger regards to be the more "advanced mistakes". In the meantime, go back over your website and see if you have committed any of these rookie blunders.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Grants: Rejected! Done? Fini? Move on?

You've done your research. You found a great foundation that is a perfect fit for your organization. They have supported other organizations just like yours. You've even connected with the grants manager and they think you're wonderful. You have a fantastic program and write a bang-up proposal. Months go by and then you receive the following, dreaded response: "We receive requests from many worthy nonprofit organizations. We wish we could fund them all. Unfortunately, we cannot support your program at this time." Drat! All the planets seemed to be aligned. The heck with them! Next proposal...right? Wrong!

You need to find out why you were rejected. It may not be what you think. I found just such a foundation and the outcome was initially disappointing. But I called my contact and asked why we were rejected. I expected to hear something like this, "Although you are a great organization, ___________ (fill in the blank: "...your organization is not a fit, your program is not a priority, we are supporting XYZ organization that does the same thing, your proposal sucked, etc.")

What I heard was, "Your proposal was really great and it is something that we would really like to support. Unfortunately, we ran out of funds by the time we got to your proposal. Let's get together at the beginning of the next funding year and talk about it. I recommend you submit your proposal again just as it is. Don't change a thing."

If I had just moved on, reacted defensively, or just slinked off into the night with my tail between my legs, I would have never found out that it was still very viable. Now, not all calls reveal such great opportunities. Even candid, helpful, rejection feedback about NOT being a fit would be good for future proposals.

The point is ask, probe, follow-up.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Growing Philanthropy Part 3: Identifying New Audiences, Channels, and Forms of Giving with Strong Potential for Growth

Encourage the adoption of monthly giving. Monthly giving has so many benefits for charities and donors that I am always amazed at how few nonprofits promote this option. Per Sergeant and Shang, the lifetime value of supporters giving in this way is estimated to be 600 to 800 percent higher than "non-sustainer" donors. They note that younger donors prefer monthly giving because it is considered more convenient and environmentally friendly, requiring less renewal and reminder mailings. Donor retention is far higher for sustaining donors as well. It's a no brainer.

Improve the sector's engagement with young people. Promote giving at an early age and help develop a "giving habit". Utilize new digital media such as digital applications, virtual environments, gaming platforms, and social networking. Find ways to make it easy, affordable, and enticing to include them in the philanthropic process.

Encourage and promote best practices in social media. Traditional giving channels still significantly outperform online giving, and social media accounts for only just over 10 percent of that small portion. Nonetheless, social media has a huge potential to greatly increase a supporter's engagement, and engagement is the key to healthy giving. Social media also has the potential to build donor commitment, trust and loyalty. But it must be done well. This is a great opportunity for an astute nonprofit since so much social media based fundraising is done so poorly.

Encourage asset-based giving. 93 percent of American wealth is made up of stocks and non-cash assets such as real estate, business interests, and personal property. Charities are "missing the boat" if they are solely focused on chasing the 7 percent cash available. Provide easy means for donors to contribute asset-based resources.

Improve the quality of bequest fundraising. Although 80 percent of Americans will support the nonprofit sector during their lifetimes, only 8 percent will provide for charities in their estates. Sergeant and Shang believe part of the challenge is that charitable bequest solicitation has been relegated solely to the planned giving departments at nonprofits. They suggest that soliciting bequests should receive wider and broader communication and informational materials be accessible and employed by all staff.

Leveraging companies to promote philanthropy. Since many individuals spend most of their waking hours at work, provide opportunities in the workplace to educate employees about charity missions and outcomes. It must be more than simply a card table and brochures set up in a lobby. One nonprofit had launched a campaign to address obesity and set up a fajita bar at a local business to teach workers how to prepare healthy fare. They effectively hammered home their brand, their goals, and addressed latent objections such as proper dieting is no fun.

Although Sergeant and Shang's report included other recommendations, they concluded with this insightful statement, "Instead of viewing donors as a source of revenue and maximizing the value of that relationship, they (nonprofits) need to focus more on the individual and the articulation of that person's philanthropy. Only when we stop asking for money and instead ask for individuals to reflect on their own philanthropic identity will the needle truly be moved on giving."

Let's move the needle.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Growing Philanthropy Part 2: Developing Public Trust

The second finding that Sargeant and Shang suggested in their whitepaper, Growing Philanthropy in the United States, is the necessity to develop public trust and confidence in the fundraising sector. They state, “Organizations are the conduit by which donors fulfill their own aspirations. Donors don’t give to organizations but through organizations.” The disconnect that Sargeant and Shang see is that, as charities become more focused on removing financial risk, enhancing effectiveness, and employing more proven fundraising techniques, the process becomes more mechanistic. The donor can be viewed as, and feels like, a “piggy bank” rather than a partner in the cause. I believe some of this is the result of a rather corrosive, if initially well-meaning, emphasis by industry watchdog organizations on the percent of funds spent on program versus fundraising costs. I believe this puts undue pressure on nonprofits to squeeze as much revenue out of each transaction as possible.

Sargeant and Shang propose that nonprofits must see supporters as more than simply donors, but they should be regarded as “individuals with their own philanthropic aspirations and goals.” They suggest that donors may not even be aware of what their goals truly are and that it is the responsibility of the organization to “find new and creative ways through which individuals can discover and express their own philanthropic identity and thus experience the joy of giving.” They admit that this sort of identification on the charity’s part would require a greater degree of donor research and necessitate additional staff time, expertise and cost. All at a time when the aforementioned “program vs. fundraising” metric is being put forth as a litmus for what is a “good charity” worthy of donor investment.

Additional recommendations include:

Empower regulators to enforce 100 percent filing of Forms 990 and increase their utility.  Include more narrative that would focus on the outcomes achieved by the nonprofit thus shifting the emphasis from efficiency to effectiveness.

Blow the whistle on organizations claiming to have zero cost of fundraising. Recent research found that 59 percent of organizations did not claim any fundraising expenses. Come on! How can you believe anything a charity reports with this sort of blatant info manipulation?

Fund the development of a website in the United States to educate the public, boards, and other stakeholders. “There is gross misunderstanding in the public as to how nonprofits work. Many Americans still believe the sector is populated largely by volunteers, that managers are paid poorly (if at all), and that income can be generated at zero (or close to zero) cost.” It is critically important to communicate how nonprofits really work.

Encourage nonprofits to develop complaint schemes.  Many organizations are hesitant to create complaint schemes for fear of raising false expectations about their ability to resolve issues. Good complaint handling boosts loyalty. In fact, there is some indication that resolving a problem successfully creates greater loyalty than being problem free.

Fund the development of a website to facilitate peer-to-peer evaluations of nonprofits. Much like the comments and ranking sections on commercial online sites such as Amazon, providing a forum for donor commentary and evaluation may well inspire more people to give.

Develop new and more appropriate measures of performance. Watchdog groups such as Guidestar, Charity Navigator and Charity Watch place far too much emphasis on charities demonstrating what tends to be stifling efficiency standards rather than organizational effectiveness. Nonprofits need to be proactive and help define what is effective and better articulate the investment needed to achieve mission outcomes.

Develop the self-regulation of fundraising. The key concerns of the public appear to be:
  • A perception of an “excessive” volume of communication
  • The quality and tone of that communication
  • The use of enclosures in mail
  • The use of inappropriate or shocking imagery
  • Data errors in the communication
  • A sense of intrusion, created by the media employed for the message
Sargeant and Shang claim no one has yet addressed these issues properly. They recommend a greater focus on the development and promotion of professional standards or the creation of a body that would accredit good quality fundraising in a similar way that the Better Business Bureau accredits good business practices.

Wow! We have a lot of work to do. And we're not through all of Sargeant and Shang's recommendations or themes.

Next post I'll review their third theme, Identifying New Audiences, Channels, and Forms of Giving with Strong Potential for Growth.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Growing Philanthropy

As mentioned in my March 20th blog post, back in June of 2011, fundraising experts Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang from the School of Philanthropy at Indiana University published a report presented by Blackbaud, entitled Growing Philanthropy in the United States. Their research had found that, despite increasingly sophisticated fundraising practice, the development of sophisticated planned giving vehicles, the appearance of the Internet, and the rise of new digital channels, giving as a percentage of average household disposable (after tax) income has been static at 2% for at least 40 years. This, despite the increased level of human need presented as a challenge to nonprofits.  The number of natural disasters has tripled since the 1960s, the number of armed conflicts almost doubling during this period, one in six Americans are challenged with hunger and one percent of Americans are homeless.

Sargeant and Shang’s findings were reviewed at the Blackbaud 2011 Nonprofit Executive Summit and the conclusion of the participants included the following needs within the industry:
  • Enhance the quality of the donor relationship
  • Develop public trust and confidence in the fundraising sector
  • Identify audiences, channels, and forms of giving, with strong potential for growth
  • Enhance the quality of fundraising training and development

For the next four posts I will share additional details of each of these findings. First, addressing the donor experience:

Enhance the quality of the donor relationship
  • Understand donors have their own philanthropic aspirations and goals and find new ways for them to express their own philanthropic identity
  •  Go beyond maximizing the donors gift to your organization and develop the philanthropy of your supporters
  • Allow donors to have greater control over their giving relationship
  • Enhance focus on retention of donors by building the loyalty of supporters, since a 10% increase in retention can result in a 200% improvement in lifetime value of a supporter
  • Breakdown organizational silos and encourage greater collaboration between teams
  • Reduce high turnover rates (30% per annum) in the fundraising profession, often caused by CEOs and Board members who value their own limited personal experience or “gut feel” more than they do the accumulated fundraising body of knowledge, so that meaningful relationships have time to develop
  • Educate stakeholders about the necessity of a longer term and integrated approach to fundraising

I know many of these issues have been the topics of industry webinars and conferences. But how much progress has been made over the past three years since Sargeant and team published their report? I dare say, not much. Certainly, the lingering effects of the recession have prevented many organizations from indulging in what they may feel is the luxury of donor relationship building. Tight budgets may have reduced opportunities to invest in any activities beyond bare-bones solicitation. Unfortunately, failing to make progress regarding the foregoing issues has a direct impact on current fundraising success and the next blog posting topic - Developing public trust and confidence in the fundraising sector. 

Until then…

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Is Your Job To Serve Or To Sell?

Back in 2011,  one of my favorite fundraising blogs, Passionate Giving, penned by major giving experts Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry, posted about a new year's resolution they suggested all fundraisers adopt for that year. Make sure you are serving your donor, not selling them. Jeff shared an experience he had in an Apple store when it was clear, to his chagrin, that he could have been easily "sold" a solution to a computer problem he had by chucking his old computer and upgrade to a more expensive and newer model, but wasn't. He asked the salesperson why he wasn't trying to sell him a new iPad? The salesperson's said he was there to make his experience the best it could be, show him the product and let the product sell itself. He added, "We don't get commission on sales. It is all about serving the needs of the customer." Jeff continued, "I didn't buy the iPad that night, nor were they able to fix my software problem (it was a Microsoft product), but I left feeling so good about my experience that I can't think about NOT buying an Apple product in the future."

Do our donor interactions leave them with the same sort of feeling? If the moment was not right to make a gift, do they walk away feeling they couldn't even think about NOT giving to our organization when they are ready to contribute? If our objective is to sell them, put another notch in our "closed deal belt", then it will likely fail. Serving our donor demands more listening, research, and interaction. It will be necessary to unearth what our donor's goals or interests are that need to be served.  It must be more than just identifying financial capacity or finding out about their other philanthropic giving.

Listening, really listening, demands putting aside our egos and our objectives and really concentrating on the prospect. Listening, not to find a window to "pounce" but to find a connection between what our organization does and how that aligns with the donor's aspirations. Listening. So important, and seemingly so hard to do. Which reminds me of a fantastic TED talk by deaf Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie titled "How To Truly Listen". But that is for another post.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Back to the Future

Roger Craver, one of the founders of the fundraising agency Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co, currently provides insights through his fundraising blog, The Agitator. Back in 2011 he posted an article titled The Future of Fundraising. It was based upon Blackbaud’s recently released report Growing Philanthropy in the U.S.  The report contained reams of helpful recommendations and insights. A lot has happened since 2011. Osama Bin Laden is off’d, Occupy Wall Street begins, Muammar Gaddafi is killed, the Sandy Hook massacre takes place, the Japan tsunami wrecks havoc, Prince William and Kate Middleton marry, and NASA’s Mars rover detects evidence liquid water once flowed on the red planet. Where stands fundraising? Were the Blackbaud recommendations heeded? You be the judge.

Here are a few of the top takeaways from the report and Craver’s analysis (minus some of his entertaining but salty language):

     Redefine Relationships. Stop being selfish. Focus on giving for giving’s sake.

     Re-orient toward longer-term measures of fundraising performance. Immediate measure of ‘success’ (response rates, immediate ROI, giving totals for the year) doom us. Look at long-term values.

     Enhance focus on retention and building supporter loyalty.  Listen up! With retention rates in the dumper too few nonprofits really understand that a 10% improvement in retention results in a 200% improvement in lifetime value.  Time to get real.

     Develop a more integrated approach to fundraising. It’s not the method, stupid, it’s the message. And the message must focus on the donor’s concerns, not yours.

     Break down organizational silos and encourage greater collaboration between teams. The authors are too kind to say it, but you should be ashamed of your territoriality.

     Give supporters greater control over the relationship. Ken Burnett, The Agitator, DonorVoice and scores more have been preaching this for years. This is the arena where you can quickly add the most value.

     Tackle high turnover rates in the fundraising profession. Face it. It’s not the pay it’s the lack of respect from CEOs and board members that drives folks out of this trade. We have an identity crisis and have to deal with it.

  Educate all stakeholders about the necessity of a longer term and integrated approach. I know, I know, it’s like playing Mozart to a cow, but we have to do it. It’s a real challenge, but we must not allow Boards to be stupid about fundraising, stewardship and philanthropy.

     Empower the regulators to enforce 100 percent filing of Forms 990 to increase their utility. Hey, I know this seems picky, but the fact is that some organizations don’t file, some lie, some don’t.  Transparency is key to the future of philanthropy. Get with it.

     Blow the whistle on organizations claiming to have zero costs of fundraising. As long as watchdog organizations reward ‘zero’ costs, organizations will lie. It’s time to call out the phonies in the watchdog groups and blast the nonprofits that play this game. There simply ain’t no thing as ‘zero’ fundraising costs.

     Encourage nonprofits to develop complaints schemes. Anyone who knows anything about donor retention and commitment is familiar with the importance of feedback. (See http://thedonorvoice.com)  This report reminds us of the absolute necessity to provide multiple methods for donor feedback.

     Develop new and more appropriate measures of performance.  Efficiency and cost of fundraising sucks as a measurement of anything.  There are far more appropriate measures.

     Develop the self-regulation of fundraising. Ethics be damned.  There’s a whole host of scumbags out there. But, we can do something about them.

     Encourage the adoption of monthly giving. Serious Monthly Giving or Sustainer programs produce 600% – 800% more revenue. Get to it. Now!

     Encourage and promote best practices in social media.  Importance of social media isn’t $, it goes to building loyalty and commitment.

     Encourage asset-based giving. The Report claims that 93% of a person’s giving potential is realized with a bequest or other planned gift.  Get at it!

     Improve the quality of bequest fundraising practice. Death is our friend. But, with at least 8% of our donors willing to make a bequest, this just has to be taken out of the incompetent (marketing-wise) hands of planned giving officers and placed in the hands of those capable of selling.

     Redesign the system of professional development and certification for fundraisers. Important stuff here. Knowledge and understanding of donor behavior is key for the future, not the number of AFP merit badges.

     Educate board members about the intricacies of fundraising.  Among all the barriers to successful fundraising and philanthropy, the ‘board’ is the mightiest barrier and pain. This report rightly targets the boards for education and improvement.

I’d say all of these would make the list of priorities for 2014.  What say you?