September 5, 2014

Cheating Death

Recently, Death came knocking on my door. I did not answer; it seemed like the smart thing to do. It worked.

Now, I have completed treatment for my abdominal cancer (Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, often referred to as PMP). I’m in remission, and my oncologic surgeon expects me to live a reasonably healthy, full life.Death by thom via Flickr

Despite the miraculous treatment outcome, I’m still a long way from normal. My recovery continues as I focus on healing, regaining strength, and putting on weight. While I concentrate on a return to good health, I will gradually re-engage in professional life between now and the end of the year.

I wish my progress were much quicker. However, as I look back over my shoulder, I realize that I’ve been on an extraordinary journey over the past seven months. Here’s a brief recap of what has happened:

February 2014 — Leading up to my routine physical, I knew it would be more than routine. My abdomen had become inexplicably distended despite having shed some extra weight. In addition, I had a persistent cough for more than a month.

At my February physical, my doctor poked around and, with a concerned look on his face, told me he wanted me to have an abdominal CT Scan. While inconclusive, the CT Scan showed growths and fluid build-up. More tests and visits to specialists immediately followed as part of the diagnostic process.

March 2014 – By the end of March, my lead cancer specialist gave me my diagnosis and prognosis. He informed me that I had PMP, a rare cancer with fewer than 1,000 diagnosed cases worldwide each year. The doctor believed that I likely had the slow-growing appendiceal form of PMP, and that I probably had it for about ten years. Without treatment, my life expectancy would be about two years. Unfortunately, given the severity of my case, treatment would likely only give me a five-year life expectancy.

Treatment for my form of PMP involves surgery and HIPEC, a heated chemo infusion at the time of surgery. The Philadelphia PMP expert held out little hope that treatment would be able to remove all of the disease. However, he did recommend that we get a second opinion from Dr. David Bartlett at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dr. Bartlett and his team are among the world’s most experienced at treating and researching PMP. So, based on our own investigation and the recommendations of multiple doctors, we made an appointment with Dr. Bartlett. Continue reading

June 10, 2014

Progress Report

“Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive. It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!”

– Henry Frankenstein from Frankenstein (1931)

 

It’s been over two months since I first reported to you that I was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of slowly progressing abdominal cancer: Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP). So, I thought it was about time I provided you with a progress report.

The bottom-line is that I’m very much alive and doing better each week.

Here’s what’s been going on:

My wife and I traveled to Pittsburgh, PA so that I could undergo surgery on May 2, 2014 with Dr. David Bartlett at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dr. Bartlett is one of the world’s leading PMP surgeons and researchers. His surgical team and the nursing staff are experienced and fantastic.

Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein (1931)

My surgery was massive. I was on the table for nearly 14 hours. Approximately 30 pounds of mucin and several organs were removed. In addition, cancer growths were scraped off of other organs. Finally, I was treated with HIPEC, a heated chemo infusion. After approximately three weeks in the hospital, I was released and headed back to Philadelphia a few days later.

The fantastic news is that the expert surgical team reports they were able to extract the cancer and that they consider the surgery a “complete” success. In a few weeks, I’ll return to Pittsburgh for an anticipated follow-up surgery that will keep me in the hospital for about four days. After that, I’ll be completely done with treatment.

While my treatment will conclude shortly, I will continue to undergo frequent diagnostic testing. While successful as a treatment, the surgery is not a cure. Although I am now classified as being in “remission,” the cancer is expected to return someday. Fortunately, Dr. Bartlett believes this will not happen for many years. When it does, we’ll catch it early so that it can be beaten back with a far less aggressive treatment and, perhaps, with a breakthrough therapy. Continue reading

April 4, 2014

Delivering (My Own) Bad News

I don’t want to mislead you. So, let me be clear from the start. This post is less about how to deliver bad news and more about, well, me sharing some bad news with you. Nevertheless, in keeping with the spirit of this blog site, I will include some relevant tips at the end.

First, I want to share some terrible, personal news with you.

As you may know from some of my previous posts, the past couple of years have been a challenging time given my wife’s fight with Ovarian Cancer. Now that she continues to be in remission, we were looking forward to a happy, relatively normal 2014. Unfortunately, that’s not to be the case.

I have been diagnosed with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP), a slowly progressing abdominal cancer. PMP is rare. Medical professionals diagnose fewer than 1000 cases per year worldwide, according to some researchers.

Frowny Face by khaybe via FlickrAt this point, I have no pain and very little discomfort. My only significant symptoms are a distended abdomen, an annoying cough from the pressure on my diaphragm, and weight loss beyond what I was shooting for. However, left unchecked, my condition would soon change for the worse. Therefore, in the coming weeks, I will undergo surgical treatment. This will require a lengthy hospital stay and recovery period.

Unfortunately, there is no cure or even remission for PMP. Treatment will beat it back. Then, I have to hope it comes back very slowly.

Now, and for at least the next few months, I need to focus 100 percent of my energy on regaining as much of my health as possible. So, I’ll be taking an indefinite leave-of-absence from my blog, professional life, and most social media activity. I look forward to re-engaging as soon as I am able.

Meantime, here are some things that you might consider doing, in no particular order: Continue reading

March 29, 2014

Top 10 Posts of All-Time from “Michael Rosen Says…”

I want to do something a bit different in this post. While I’ve ranked my posts in a given year to give you a Top-10 list, I’ve never before ranked all of my posts. So, I thought it would be interesting to do so now.

Here are links to my Top 10 Most-Read Posts of All Time:

1.  Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?

2.  Survey Sounds Alarm Bell for Nonprofit Sector

3.  5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls

4.  How NOT to Run a Capital Campaign

5.  Does CFRE Have a Future? Continue reading

March 18, 2014

Get More Repeat Gifts: The Rule of 7 Thank Yous

Donor retention is a worsening problem for the American nonprofit sector, according to Jon Biedermann, Vice President of DonorPerfect. In 2011, only half of first-time donors to a charity could be counted on to make a second gift. As bad as that retention rate was, it dropped to 49 percent in 2012.

Something must be done.

It’s challenging and expensive to acquire first-time donors. Charities must do a better a job of hanging on to those donors. Cost-efficient annual fund campaigns as well as major and planned giving efforts depend on loyal donors.

MG Fundraising CoverFortunately, guest blogger Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE  offers a simple idea that can help: “The Rule of Seven Thank Yous.” Her rule will help you retain first-time donors, loyal donors, small donors, and major donors — in other words, all donors.

Amy is an author, speaker, coach and fundraising consultant who’s dedicated to making nonprofit development simple for you and your board. Her books include 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks and Raising More with Less.

In her current Amazon bestseller, Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops, Amy takes the complex subject of major gift fundraising and distills it down to its essential elements. The book provides a clear, methodical approach that any organization can follow. Great tips, real-world stories, check lists, sample forms, and more make this a book that you will keep on your desk and refer to often, that is if you want to raise more money than you might have thought possible.

I’m happy to share Amy’s advice about how to more effectively retain donors. Here’s what Amy Eisenstein says:

There are two main reasons that donors, including those who make major gifts, provide for not making a repeat contribution:

1. They didn’t feel thanked; and/or

2. They were never told how their first gift was used.

Fortunately, the answer to this dilemma is a simple one: donors give because doing so makes them feel good. This includes feeling appreciated for their gift and knowing that their check has fed more children, cleaned the environment, or in whatever way has made a measurable, positive difference to a cause they care about.

Your job, no matter how large or small your budget, is to make sure your donors are satisfied on both counts. Over the course of working with dozens of nonprofit organizations, I’ve developed a simple process to help you do just that whenever you receive a major gift.

You may have heard that you should thank a donor seven times before asking for another gift. Here is my version of “The Rule of Seven Thank Yous” works:

1. Thank the donor at the ask meeting (once they say “yes”).

2. Have a board member call to say thank you after the meeting.

3. Send a tax-receipt thank-you letter within forty-eight hours of receiving the gift.

4. Have the executive director write a thank-you card as a follow-up to the ask meeting.  Continue reading

March 14, 2014

5 Lessons Moses Can Teach Us about Fundraising

Moses can teach us a number of important things about fundraising. Yes, that Moses, the prophet revered by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other religious faiths throughout the world.

Consider just one story from the Bible that usually receives little attention.

Moses by rorris via FlickrOver 3,000 years ago, after fleeing slavery in Egypt, the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. During this time, God instructed Moses to have the people build a Tabernacle, a movable tent-like structure where the Hebrews could worship and experience the presence of God.

Special materials, fabrics, and precious stones and metals were needed for the project. So, Moses told the Hebrews about the project and shared with them what was needed. Then, he made a request to “everyone whose hearts so move them.” Moses asked them to “bring gifts for God” so that the Tabernacle could be built.

The Hebrews responded with great generosity by providing the needed materials and volunteer labor. Moses, overwhelmed by the volume of gifts received, actually had to instruct people to stop bringing gifts. No more were needed for the project.

Here are five things every fundraiser can learn from this story and the wisdom of Moses: Continue reading

March 7, 2014

Latest, Greatest Secret to Fundraising Success Unveiled!

Most nonprofit development professionals would love to find the Holy Grail of fundraising. Discovering a new piece of research, a proven technique, a new technology that could unleash a torrent of funds would be undeniably wonderful.

But, do we need the Holy Grail?

Some folks seem to thinks so. Perhaps that’s why, when I’m invited to speak at conferences or lead workshops, my hosts frequently want me to present the “latest, greatest” ideas for fundraising success. Perhaps that’s why so many articles, blog posts, and seminar titles include buzz words such as “secrets,” “great tips,” “powerful,” “fresh,” “innovative,” “simple,” “key tools,” etc.

I’m not immune. I’m always on a quest for new, robust ideas. In addition, I title many of my articles (see above) and seminars with the buzzwords I know will attract attention.

In one planned gift marketing seminar I did a few years ago, I shared a variety of ideas for promoting planned giving. I knew I had a diverse audience, so I provided both simple and sophisticated ideas. While my suggestions were certainly not revolutionary, they did push the envelope of current practice.

Following my talk, a fellow came up to me and said, “You didn’t say anything I didn’t already know.”

Ouch! That’s not the feedback I like, even if it was just one person’s opinion. I always want everyone to come away from my seminars with at least one terrific idea.

After receiving the stinging feedback, I said to the man, “I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get any fresh ideas. However, I’d love to hear about how you’ve used the phone to market bequests.”

He replied, “I haven’t implemented a phone program.”

“Ok, then tell me how your direct mail campaign has done,” I requested.

“I haven’t done a planned gift mailing,” he said.

“Ok, then tell me about your website and how it allows you to track and rate visitor interaction,” I requested.

“Our website isn’t that sophisticated,” he said.

The conversation continued. The point is that this fellow knew what he should or could be doing, but he was not doing it!

While finding the Holy Grail of fundraising would be spectacular, the truth is that such a singular, miraculous method or tool does not and will never exist. However, I have some good news. We do not need a Holy Grail.

Low Hanging Fruit by defndaines via FlickrMy latest, greatest idea for fundraising success is something that can benefit virtually all nonprofit organizations: Master the fundraising fundamentals and grab the low-hanging fruit.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Sheesh! There’s nothing new or great about that idea.”

Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, you should be right.

Unfortunately, I see far too many examples, far too regularly that charities simply have not mastered the fundamentals, and they have left plenty of low-hanging fruit on the tree. Just like the fellow who came up to me after my seminar, many folks may know what they should be doing but they’re not doing it.

Consider this: A new study by Dunham and Company found that charities could be losing literally billions of dollars in donations because they have failed at the online basics. For example, 84 percent of nonprofits do not make their donation pages easy to read and use with mobile devices. By the way, that statistic includes some of the nation’s largest charities.

The fundamentals matter. The evidence shows they could add up to billions for the nonprofit sector.

Do you want more money for the annual fund? Then tell me, do you have a monthly donor program? Do you do second gift appeals? Do you effectively steward gifts to ensure a high donor retention rate? Do you use database analysis to help you better target asks, even in your direct mail appeals? Continue reading

February 28, 2014

Warning: US Volunteerism at a Decade Low!

The rate of volunteerism in America fell to the lowest level in a decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report Volunteering in the United States — 2013.  This appears part of a downward trend.

Nonprofit organizations should find this trend alarming for a number of reasons, including:

Volunteers provide an essential labor pool. Approximately 62.6 million (25.4 percent) Americans volunteered at least once between September 2012 and September 2013.

The median volunteer spent 50 hours on volunteer activities during the study period. These significant volunteer hours mean that volunteers are a valuable part of the nonprofit labor force. Declining volunteerism rates mean charities will either have to limit services, discontinue certain activities, or pay for employees to perform the tasks formerly handled by volunteers.

Volunteers serve as ambassadors. Individuals who volunteer usually act as ambassadors for the organization. They obviously have a high-degree of interest in the organization, which is why they volunteer with it.

Through volunteer experiences, provided they are good ones, the volunteers will become more engaged with the organization and more passionate about its work. They will speak of the organization with family and friends. When they do, it will be in a positive, passionate tone. This word-of-mouth promotion will help your organization to attract additional volunteer and donor support.

Volunteers are more likely to donate. The more engaged an individual is with his community, the more likely he is to volunteer and contribute money to nonprofit organizations. The more points of connection there are between an individual and a particular nonprofit organization, the more likely that individual is to give, give often, and give generously to that organization, as I point out in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Volunteerism is an important point of connection. This phenomenon is explained, in part, by the Social Capital Theory popularized by Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone.

Volunteers are more likely to make planned gifts. Consider what researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP reports in his book, American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012):

Among those with [estate] planning documents, those who both volunteer and give ($500+) are dramatically more likely to plan a charitable estate gift than those who only volunteer or only give ($500+). Those who only volunteer, plan charitable estate gifts at approximately the same rate as those who only give.”

Graph from American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012) by Russell James.

Graph from American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012) by Russell James.

Furthermore, those who only volunteer or only donate ($500+) are more than twice as likely to make a legacy gift than those who do neither.

For a free electronic copy of James’ book, subscribe to this blog site in the right-hand column. You’ll receive an email confirmation of your subscription that will contain a link to the book.

Clearly, the steady decline in volunteerism represents a serious problem for the nonprofit sector.

So, why is volunteerism on the decline? Unfortunately, the reasons for the decline are unclear. However, the report contains some clues. Continue reading

February 23, 2014

Honoring Donor Intent: When it Works, When it Doesn’t

Donor-centered fundraising is smart fundraising. Part of being donor centric involves always honoring the donor’s intent.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Code of Ethical Principles states:

[Fundraising professionals] recognize their responsibility to ensure that needed resources are vigorously and ethically sought and that the intent of the donor is honestly fulfilled.”

Honoring donor intent is essential for at least two reasons:

  1. It’s the right thing to do.
  2. It’s a fundamental way to earn and deserve trust. Without trust, fundraising would be virtually impossible.

To honor donor intent, you must first ensure that the contribution is received according to the donor’s specifications. This is particularly important for planned gifts when the donor is no longer around to make sure everything goes according to plan. The charity becomes the voice of the donor.

The next part of honoring donor intent requires that the organization use the gift for the purpose specified by the donor.

Unfortunately, honoring donor intent is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes, it works the right way while other times it morphs into something ugly.

Let’s look at two examples.

The Pennsbury Scholarship Foundation learned of the passing of an elderly woman in the community. I first shared her story in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. A member of the all-volunteer organization’s board knew the woman and knew the Foundation was in her will.

The woman’s attorney produced a copy of the will which included a nearly $1 million bequest for the Foundation and nearly nothing for her two estranged children. However, the children produced another version of the will where the charitable provision was whited-out, literally.

The attorney for the children approached the Foundation to negotiate a settlement agreement. The Foundation, under the advice of legal counsel, held firm and asked that the matter proceed to court as soon as possible.

The attorney for the children initiated a series of delaying tactics hoping that the Foundation would eventually negotiate rather than have the matter drag out. Under the advice of legal counsel, the Foundation held firm.

About one year later, surprisingly quickly given the circumstances, the court upheld the clean version of the will, and the Foundation received the full bequest.

In the Foundation’s case, the donor’s interest was in alignment with the charity’s. The Foundation was right to defend the donor’s wishes. By defending the donor’s interest, the Foundation ultimately benefited. More importantly, young people in the community will benefit for years to come as the Foundation provides scholarships that would not otherwise be possible to award.

Sadly, there are times when protecting the interests of the donor cross a line. In those cases, the organization goes from being donor centric to being self-centered, even greedy. This might be the case with the University of Texas.

Warhol's Farrah Fawcett portrait on exhibit at the UT Blanton Museum.

Warhol’s Farrah Fawcett portrait on exhibit at the UT Blanton Museum.

The University received a bequest from Farrah Fawcett. The Seventies icon left “all” her artwork to the University where she had studied art prior to the successful launch of her acting career. The collection included at least one portrait of Fawcett by famed artist Andy Warhol.

However, the Fawcett story is complicated. Warhol actually did two, almost identical pieces. According to Ryan O’Neal, the actor and on-again-off-again boyfriend of Fawcett, Warhol gave one portrait to Fawcett and the other to him. Continue reading

February 14, 2014

Are Dangling Bits a Good Thing?

As fundraising professionals, we spend a significant amount of time creating messages to our prospects and donors. We carefully write copy for letters, emails, reports, newsletters, and web pages.

However, can your intended audience easily read your well-written communication? If they can’t, they’re likely not reading what you write at all.

As I prepared to work on this week’s blog post, I received a Tweet from Robin Peake of Oxford, England:

I hate your Times New Roman font. I hate it so much, I don’t read your content. Please adapt.”

Initially, I thought the message was a bit over the top. While there are things I “hate” (i.e.: war, child rapists, disease, etc.), it’s tough for me to ever get too worked up over typography. So, I was going to reply to Robin with a snarky Tweet of my own:

Your loss.”

Instead, I decided to keep my perspective and use Robin’s message as a teachable moment, for you and for me.

When using the written word to communicate with others, there are six rules we should adhere to so that our messages are easy to read:

1. In print, use a serif font such as Times New Roman. Serif fonts have little dangling bits attached to letters while sans-serif fonts such as Arial do not. Studies have shown that readers have an easier time reading printed text that uses serif fonts.

Sans-Serif v. Serif Font

Sans-Serif v. Serif Font

2. In electronic communications, use a sans-serif font such as Arial. Studies have shown that readers have an easier time reading electronic media messages that use a sans-serif font. The cleaner lines of a sans-serif font make it easier to read a message on a low-resolution screen or a small screen such as a smart-phone.

3. Never use reverse type. Reverse type, whether in print or electronic media, is more difficult to read than dark type on a light background. It’s also easier to cut-and-paste, photocopy, and fax copy that uses dark type on a light background. Some designers like to use reverse type for emphasis or because it looks pretty. Nevertheless, you should resist the temptation to use reverse type for the reasons stated. The darker the type and the lighter the background, the better. Continue reading

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