Posts tagged ‘donor relations’

December 16, 2014

Special Report: Congress Passes the Charitable IRA Rollover

At 7:32 PM (EST) this evening, Dec. 16, 2014, the US Senate passed HR 5771, the bill that retroactively extends several tax provisions, including the IRA Rollover. The law will expire on Dec. 31, 2014, without any grace period. However, it’s important to note that the measure will not become law until signed by President Obama, which is expected.

While approval of the IRA Rollover is good news, it unfortunately comes extremely late in the year. This means most nonprofit organizations will be unable to fully take advantage of the provision. Nevertheless, there are a couple of simple actions you can take:

  1. Look at your donor file to see which individuals have made gifts from an IRA in the past. Then, call those donors to let them know of the opportunity for 2014, assuming President Obama signs the measure. At the very least, email those donors.
  2. Email all of your older donors to alert them to the opportunity for them to give from their IRAs. Even if they don’t take advantage of the IRA Rollover, they’ll appreciate that you informed them about this late breaking news.

December 12, 2014

Is the American Red Cross Hurting Your Fundraising Efforts?

The American Red Cross regularly touts how responsible it is with donors’ money. ‘We’re very proud of the fact that 91 cents of every dollar that’s donated goes to our services,’ Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern said in a speech in Baltimore last year. ‘That’s world class, obviously.’

“McGovern has often repeated that figure, which has also appeared on the charity’s website.

“The problem with that number: It isn’t true.”

That stunning revelation was made in a recently released investigative report by ProPublica and NPR.

National Red Cross HQ by NCinDC via Flickr

American Red Cross National Headquarters

The Red Cross is a great organization. My wife and I have been donors. I even did a blog post highlighting the effective stewardship practices at the Red Cross and encouraging readers to support the organization. The American Red Cross does not have to “serially mislead” the public.

Yet, that’s exactly what it has been doing according to the reporters. While the organization has told the public that 91 cents of every donated dollar goes to services, its fundraising cost to raise a dollar has been 17 cents on average. And that does not include organization overhead expenses. Clearly, the Red Cross has not been as efficient as its leader has claimed.

When reporters contacted Red Cross officials for more information, those officials were uncooperative. However, the organization did change the claim on its “website to another formulation it frequently uses: that 91 cents of every dollar the charity ‘spends’ goes to humanitarian services. But that too is misleading to donors,” states the investigative report.

Sadly, this is not the first time that the Red Cross has been accused by the media of misleading the public.

As a Red Cross supporter and a fundraising professional, I’m alarmed and disappointed by the behavior of the Red Cross. Misleading the public, either through lies or the clever manipulation of language, is unnecessary, unethical, and unacceptable.

Such inappropriate behavior erodes public trust, which makes fundraising more difficult. Perhaps this is one reason that the Red Cross has had trouble consistently raising more money. In 2009-10, the Red Cross raised $1.1 billion. In 2012-13, the Red Cross again raised $1.1 billion.

In a study that examined the relationship between trust and philanthropy, researchers Adrian Sargeant and Stephen Lee found, “there would appear to be a relationship between trust and a propensity to donate.” In addition, “there is some indication here that a relationship does exist between trust and amount donated, comparatively little increases in the former having a marked impact on the latter.”

December 2, 2014

Have You Made This #GivingTuesday Mistake?

I have serious concerns about #GivingTuesday. Recently, the Context with Lorna Dueck Canadian television show invited me to share some of those concerns. My interview begins at about the eight-minute mark.

Context with Lorna Dueck television show.

Click to watch Context with Lorna Dueck.

I also shared some of my concerns in two prior blog posts: “#GivingTuesday: Hype or Hope?” (2012) and “No Evidence of #GivingTuesday Success” (2013).

I have many issues with #GivingTuesday.

Nevertheless, I continue to hope it will ultimately prove worthwhile for the entire nonprofit sector. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I want to make sure you do not commit a serious #GivingTuesday mistake that can hurt your organization.

If #GivingTuesday attracts new supporters and successfully inspires increased contributions from current donors, you can’t just operate as you normally would and expect to retain such support. Business-as-usual would be a big mistake. You need to do more to retain support.

We have Black Friday immediately following Thanksgiving. We also have Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Thanks to the folks at New York’s 92nd Street Y, we now have #GivingTuesday. The 92nd Street Y served as the catalyst and incubator for #GivingTuesday. Early on, the United Nations Foundation joined as a partner, bringing its strategic and communications expertise to the project. #GivingTuesday has now attracted participants from around the world.

To be worthwhile, #GivingTuesday will need to encourage:

  • more people to give,
  • more people to give more often,
  • and more people to give more.

In other words, to be good for the entire charity sector, #GivingTuesday must significantly increase the philanthropic pie. Helping some organizations do better at the expense of others is not a beneficial outcome for the entire nonprofit sector.

Unfortunately, most nonprofit organizations are poorly equipped or motivated to do what is necessary to secure gains made through #GivingTuesday. While charities might be able and willing to leverage #GivingTuesday promotions to attract new donors, those same charities are doing little to ensure those donors continue their support. Sadly, it’s not a problem unique to #GivingTuesday donors.

In the USA, donor retention is a real problem. Seven years ago, the average donor-retention rate was just 50 percent. While that’s not good, the retention rate has become far worse, falling to 39 percent!

In Canada, the pool of philanthropists relative to total tax filers has fallen in recent years, from 30 percent to 23 percent. In other words, the donor-pie is shrinking, rather than growing, relative to the total population of tax filers.

If your organization has participated in #GivingTuesday, I hope you have developed a creative strategy for engaging and cultivating all new and increased donors. By properly stewarding these individuals, you just might be able to hang on to them. If not, what’s the point of investing in #GivingTuesday?

So, are you doing anything special to retain your #GivingTuesday supporters as well as your other donors? At the very least, I hope you:

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?

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. 

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:

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?

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.

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.

February 7, 2014

Humor to Raise Money? Learn a Lesson from the Super Bowl

I enjoyed Super Bowl XLVIII. For starters, my Philadelphia Eagles did not lose! Ok, they weren’t in the game, but still…

The game itself was fun in its own bizarre, lopsided way as the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos by a score of 43 to 8. The Bruno Mars part of the Half-Time Show was entertaining, though the Red Hot Chili Peppers portion was inappropriate for a family audience.

I also enjoyed the amusing Super Bowl commercials. Debuting funny, quirky, sometimes sentimental ads during the Super Bowl has become an advertising tradition. My wife actually enjoys the commercials more than the game, a lot more.

Clearly, the advertising profession believes in the effectiveness of using humor in television commercials.

So, I took notice several days ago when John Ladd, Development and Planned Giving Coordinator at Carolina Friends School, started a discussion in the Smart Planned Giving Marketing Group on LinkedIn:

Humor in planned giving marketing? Have you seen a good example or used humor, or at least a light touch, in marketing planned giving?”

While the fundraising profession is not well known for having a raucous sense of humor, it’s not a profession that’s devoid of humor. Just as humor can help the for-profit sector sell goods and services, nonprofit organizations can leverage humor to inspire support. Indeed, some charities use humor to great effect, for general fundraising as well as planned giving.

You Can Use Your Stock to Make More Than Soup!

You Can Use Your Stock to Make More Than Soup!

In my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, I share a story from Rebecca Rothey, CFRE, when she was Director of Planned and Principal Gifts at Catholic Charities of Baltimore (she’s now Director of Major and Planned Giving at the Baltimore Community Foundation). Rebecca used humor quite successfully when branding her planned giving program.

Rebecca wanted to use humor to cut through the clutter and grab attention. She also wanted to ease the stress that people feel when considering their own death, stress that often keeps them from considering planned gifts. She came up with an idea she thought would work for her target market: older, traditional women.

The idea was “Rebecca’s Recipes for Planned Gifts.” In ads and postcards, Rebecca dressed as a 1950s homemaker engaged in various cooking/baking activities. The headlines included:

• You don’t have to be upper crust to have a trust.

• You don’t have to be rolling in dough to make a gift that will last forever.

• You can have your cake and eat it too—you can make a gift and receive payments for life.

• You can count your chickens before they hatch—you can make a gift and count on receiving payments for life.

• Don’t let taxes knock the stuffing out of your IRA.

• You can use your stock to make more than soup, you can use it to make a charitable gift.

• Too much on your plate to plan your estate?

While Rebecca thought she had a good idea, she first tested it before rolling out with it. Rebecca carefully tracked the statistical results as well as the feedback she received. Her methodical, appropriate use of humor worked, and she closed gifts as a result.

Rebecca’s use of humor also had an unexpected benefit. It engaged senior management. It got them joking about and more comfortable with the planned giving program. The use of humor also made Rebecca more approachable by staff.

While she certainly believes in the creative use of humor in the fundraising process, Rebecca still respects the serious side of planned giving:

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