December 13, 2018

Will One Charity’s Surprising Year-End Email Make You Look Bad?

This week, I received a surprising email from a national charitable organization. The email was so unusual that I need to tell you about it.

Like you, I’m deluged by emails from charities that arrive from the days leading up to #GivingTuesday through December. Most of the messages are from nonprofit organizations that forgot about me all year except now that they want my money. Most care nothing about me. None offers to help me or be of service to me. Most of the emails are just terrible.

One awful email came with the subject line, “Welcome to [I’m deleting the name of the organization].” Sounds nice enough, right? There’s just one tiny problem. I’ve been a donor for decades and even did a tour of duty as a trustee of the large organization. Ugh!

Given the garbage in my email Inbox, I was a bit relieved when I received a remarkable email from the Charities Aid Foundation of America.

WARNING: The email is so wonderful that it just might make you and your organization look bad.

Look for yourself, then I’ll explain why this is a near-perfect email and why you should immediately do something similar before it’s too late:

[Note, the actual email formatting was a bit better than the image I was able to capture for you. Ah, technology!]

Let me explain why this email works so well. Continue reading

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December 6, 2018

Can the Dalai Lama Help You Raise More Money?

Last week, I saw a tweet from the Dalai Lama that is relevant for fundraising professionals.

Your first reaction to this post might be, “Gee, I didn’t know the Dalai Lama has a Twitter account.”

Well, he does, and he has 18.8 million Followers. For some context, I’ll point out that the Twitter account of Pope Francis has 17.8 million Followers. In a comparison that may explain some of what is going on in the world, let me just mention that Kim Kardashian has 59 million Twitter Followers. Oh well.

So, the tweet from the Dalai Lama that resonated with me as a fundraising professional is this:

“Even more important than the warmth and affection we receive, is the warmth and affection we give. It is by giving warmth and affection, by having a genuine sense of concern for others, in other words through compassion, that we gain the conditions for genuine happiness,” tweeted the Dalai Lama.

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

This is the essence of donor-centered fundraising. Yes, I know you like it when people donate to your organization. But, if you want that support to be something more than a one-time and/or limited transaction, you need to show donors you care about them, their needs and philanthropic aspirations. When practicing donor-centered fundraising, you will be able to develop the conditions for genuine happiness. I’m talking about the happiness of your donors, your happiness, your boss’s happiness, and the happiness of those who benefit from the services of your organization.

By treating people the way they want to be treated, you’ll acquire more donors, renew more donors, upgrade more, and receive more major and planned gifts from donors. In short, you’ll increase the lifetime value of your organization’s supporters.

Penelope Burk, in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising, describes what she means by the term: Continue reading

November 28, 2018

“Philanthropy” Is NOT What You Think It Is

Do you understand what the word “philanthropy” really means? If you don’t, it could be costing your nonprofit organization a fortune in lost support. Conversely, once you know the true meaning of “philanthropy,” you’ll be better able to relate to prospective donors and inspire them to give. So, what does the word truly mean?

If you’re like most people, you probably think you know what “philanthropy” means. “Philanthropy” involves a large contribution to a nonprofit organization from a wealthy individual, a philanthropist. A recent example of this would be Michael Bloomberg’s recent announcement that he is donating $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University, the largest individual donation ever made to a single university.

However, that understanding of “philanthropy” is entirely too narrow. Let me explain by first telling you what “philanthropy” is not. Philanthropy does not necessarily involve:

  • donating vast sums of money;
  • supporting large numbers of charities;
  • sitting on nonprofit boards;
  • only wealthy people.

Coming from the ancient Greek, here is what the word “philanthropy” actually means:

Love of humanity.

Signs of support appeared throughout Pittsburgh following the murders at Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.

Think about that. People donate their time and money to nonprofit organizations because of their love of humanity (or animals). They want to solve problems and alleviate suffering. They want to make the world a better place. That’s what motivates people to think philanthropically.

People won’t think philanthropically simply because it’s Giving Tuesday, and you tell them they should. They won’t think philanthropically just because they attended your university and are told they should “give back.” They won’t think philanthropically just because your organization exists and is a household name.

If you tap into a person’s love of humanity, you’ll tap into their philanthropic spirit. That’s how you’ll inspire their support. That’s how you’ll upgrade their support. That’s how you’ll maintain their support.

Charitable giving is an expression of a donor’s love.

I was reminded recently of the true power of the  philanthropic spirit. It wasn’t Bloomberg’s massive gift, though that was definitely amazing. Instead, when I visited Pittsburgh, I was reminded of the power of love to build, and rebuild, strong communities.

Temporary memorial outside of Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.

When my wife and I traveled to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, we attended evening Sabbath services with the congregants of the Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation in their temporary home. This was less than two weeks after a gunman entered the synagogue and horrifically murdered 11 people as they worshiped. Praying with the congregants, talking with them, and meeting Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers was a profoundly moving experience. Making the evening even more moving was the fact that it fell on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass. During Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, Jews were murdered and synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized and had their windows smashed.

Support came from around the world.

Rabbi Myers drew a parallel between Kristallnacht and the recent attack that nearly took his life. Both violent attacks were motivated by rabid anti-Semitism, which has been on the rise in America since 2014. However, Rabbi Myers also drew meaningful distinctions between the two events.

During Kristallnacht, officially sanctioned groups along with German civilians attacked the Jewish population. Local authorities did nothing to stop the attacks. The police protected non-Jewish citizens while arresting and imprisoning Jewish victims.

By contrast, American authorities condemned the Pittsburgh attack immediately, and offered comfort to the victims. People throughout Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States, and the world expressed their sense of horror and grief. They offered words of condolence, and made donations to help the families and to rebuild the badly damaged synagogue. The police in Pittsburgh ran toward the danger, put their own lives at risk, confronted the attacker, and ended what could have been an even more tragic event. Continue reading

November 8, 2018

Did the Midterm Elections Help or Hurt Your Nonprofit?

I’m a news junkie. So, I was up very late on election night, actually very early the next morning. Now that I’ve caught up on some sleep, I’ve been thinking about what the midterm election means to charities. In this post, I’ll layout some of my nonpartisan thinking. Just be warned, I’m also going to share some statistics and a bit of history as we consider what the election means for the nonprofit sector.

The midterm elections this week resulted in the Democratic Party regaining control of the US House of Representatives. Let’s put that into a bit of historical perspective. Despite successfully securing a majority in the House, the Democratic Party’s much-hoped-for Blue Wave did not materialize. As I write this post, the Democrats are expected to gain a 27 to 34 seat advantage over Republicans in the House. However, Republicans not only hung on to control of the Senate, they actually enhanced their position by three to five seats.

To put the Federal election results into some context, let’s look at the 2010 midterm elections during President Barack Obama’s second year in office. Going into the 2010 election, Obama’s approval rating was six points higher than Trump’s was prior to the 2018 election. Nevertheless, Democrats lost 63 House seats and lost six Senate seats.

“[The 2018 midterm elections are] only the third time in the past 100 years that the party holding the White House has gained seats in the Senate in a midterm election while losing seats in the House,” according to MarketWatch. “The President’s party has won seats in both the House and Senate just twice in the past century in a midterm election.”

This all means that both Democrats and Republicans can declare success this week. But, what about the nonprofit sector?

While it’s too early to know with any certainty, there are some things we learned on election night and other things we can learn from history:

1. Impact on the Election. In the lead up to the vote, nonprofit organizations flexed their muscle along with their corresponding Political Action Committees. On a variety of issues, the nonprofit sector demonstrated that it could have a profound impact on public policy. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, here are just a few examples to illustrate the point:

In Massachusetts, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, MassEquality, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, The Yes on 3 Campaign, and other organizations joined forces and scored a massive victory on election night when voters, by a two-to-one margin, reaffirmed the rights of transgender people.

In North Carolina, voters approved a measure directing the legislature to amend the state constitution to guarantee the right of citizens to hunt and fish. This was a victory for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the National Rifle Association.

In Florida, the Humane Society of the United States and PETA persuaded voters to change the state constitution to ban greyhound racing.

Nonprofit organizations have political power. When nonprofit organizations join forces, they can have a dramatic effect on public policy.

2. Good News for the Stock Market. Historically, Americans prefer divided government, so it’s not surprising that Democrats were able to regain control of the House. Like the populace, the stock market also prefers divided government.

“Here’s what Investor’s Business Daily found, looking at S&P 500 returns during each two-year election cycle, from election day to election day. The best outcome, an average 18.7% two-year return, came when Congress was divided. Unified control of Congress by the same party as the president yielded an average 17.3% two-year gain. When control of Congress was unified under the opposition party, gains averaged 15.7%.”

If the stock market goes up, many donors will own appreciated stocks that they can donate to charities. Foundations will see their stock holdings grow and, therefore, have more money to grant to nonprofits. That would be good news for investors and charities. Continue reading

October 23, 2018

Do You Want to Avoid Being a Fundraising Horror Story?

With Halloween just days away, horror is in the air. You can watch any number of classic or recent horror films on your television, or other electronic device. You can also go to your local movie theater to see the latest scary movie.

However, if you want to avoid being a horror story yourself, I have some important advice for you borne out of my wife’s recent donor experience with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Allow me to tell you the frightening tale, and share what you can learn from it.

My wife regularly reads a blog written by a nutritionist who is focused on a particular health condition. Not long ago, the blogger published a post about the research being conducted at Cedars-Sinai for this particular health issue. The post contained a link for readers interested in donating to the research project.

My wife clicked the link and was taken to the appropriate donation page on the Cedar-Sinai website.

Here’s where things start to get a bit scary.

It’s a good thing that the blogger provided the link, because the Medical Center’s homepage does not contain a link to its donation page at the top of its homepage. To find it, you need to take the time to search for it; if you go looking, it’s at the very bottom of the page.

The other disturbing part of the organization’s website is that, when making a donation, you must select a Title from a drop-down menu. The options are Cantor, Dr., Father, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Pastor, Rabbi, and Reverend. Notice any missing options? Well, they are missing others such as Honorable, military ranks, and other religious titles. They are also missing Mx., the preferred Title of many transgender and non-binary people. Sadly, there’s no way to write-in one’s own preferred Title. Furthermore, this is a required field. In other words, a transgender person who prefers the Mx. Title is compelled to choose between the wrong Title or simply not donating online to Cedars-Sinai. That’s the very opposite of rolling out the welcome mat.

Because my wife was provided the appropriate link and prefers either the Mrs. or Ms. Title, she was able to make an online donation. When doing so, she restricted her gift to the particular research project mentioned by the blogger. She also included a note in the comment field alerting the Medical Center that this would be a one-time gift.

Now, the fundraising horror really began for my wife.

Despite having clearly indicated that the gift was a special, one-time event, Cedars-Sinai insisted on sending a number of appeals to her. Making matters worse, none of those appeals had anything to do with the health issue that my wife contributed to. The institutional magazine that was sent to her contained no information about the health issue of interest. She never received any information from Cedars-Sinai about the research project.

My wife contacted Cedars-Sinai to once again inform them that her donation was a one-time event. She requested that Cedars-Sinai remove her from its mailing list. Weeks later, she still receives mail from them. A lot of mail. All of it unwanted, none of it relevant to the initial restricted gift. With more of her donation wasted with each mailing, my wife’s level of frustration and annoyance continues to increase.

Are you writing a horror story for your donors? Don’t.

Here are three things you can learn from the Cedars-Sinai fundraising horror story: Continue reading

October 19, 2018

How about a Bit of Fun for Fundraising Professionals?

It’s time to dig out your old swag from the National Society of Fundraising Executives and/or Association of Fundraising Professionals. Let me explain.

These are stressful times. In the broader society, we’re witnessing a volatile stock market, international intrigue, upcoming mid-term elections, the aftermath of hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the US Supreme Court, and so much more.

In the fundraising world, we read articles about how the new tax code could lead to a decline in charitable giving. We also read about scandals involving nonprofit organizations and religious institutions. Furthermore, we know that donor-retention rates remain abysmal despite all the talk about how to resolve the problem.

Against this anxiety-inducing backdrop, fundraising professionals have the added pressure of trying to meet fundraising goals as the end of the calendar year approaches.

If you’re not feeling a bit of stress and/or anxiety, you haven’t been paying attention, or you’re really good at meditation, or you’re drinking too much, or you’re eating too much chocolate.

So, with that in mind and given that Halloween, a fun holiday, is just weeks away, I thought I’d give you a brief break from fundraising talk. With this post, I want to do something a bit different and, I hope, have a bit of fun together.

The ever-stylish Michael Nilsen models his classic AFP shirt.

A few weeks ago, Taryn Gold, Vice President of Chapter Engagement at the Association of Fundraising Professionals, shared a photo on Twitter that I found amusing. The current picture shows Michael Nilsen, AFP’s Vice President of Communications and Public Policy, wearing an official AFP polo shirt from 2001.

One of the reasons the photo caught my eye is that I also still own the same shirt. No, I’m not ashamed to admit that. In fact, I also still have a bunch of older AFP swag, some of it from NSFRE, the name of the organization prior to 2001.

Gold’s tweet inspired me to dig around for my own ancient NSFRE and AFP swag. I was a bit surprised by what I found (see the photo below). Resting on my AFP shirt, you’ll find an NSFRE handbook from 2000, two AFP logo pins from 2001, an early CFRE button from 1994 (NSFRE created the CFRE credential), my first NSFRE Foundation donor pin from 1992, An NSFRE Founder’s Club donor pin from 1998, an NSFRE President’s Club donor pin from 2000, an AFP Political Action Committee donor pin from 2002, an AFP conference badge, my name badge from when I represented AFP before the US Federal Trade Commission, and an NSFRE conference badge. Continue reading

October 12, 2018

As Giving Lags, Alarm Bells Sound. Should You Worry?

While the story at some individual charities might be different, charitable giving in the sector for the first half of 2018 is lagging behind the first six months of 2017, both in terms of the number of donors and the amount donated. That’s according to a recent report from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

As I write this post, the stock market has just taken a two-day beating with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1,378 points.

I won’t blame you if you’re feeling a bit pessimistic about philanthropy these days. However, I will respectfully suggest that you shouldn’t be overly worried. As I wrote in the current issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the official magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, there are actually plenty of reasons for us to be optimistic about the current fundraising environment.

In my article for AFP, I show you how you can be your own fundraising superhero with six tips that will help you control your fundraising destiny. I also detail nine reasons for you to be upbeat about the current philanthropic environment as you seek year-end gifts. However, for now, I’ll just highlight some of the reasons why you should be upbeat about fundraising as year-end and the start of a new year approach:

1. Stock Market Growth. Despite the hit the stock market took this week, it remains above the 52-week level. An adjustment was expected. While volatile, the stock market is likely to stabilize somewhat and even continue to grow.

2. Dire Predictions Really Are Not that Dire. Some have predicted that the new federal tax code will negatively affect philanthropic giving. While it’s too soon to draw a firm conclusion, we do know that even if the worst-case prediction comes true, overall philanthropy will once again be approximately two percent of Gross Domestic Product, where it has been for decades.

3. Economic Growth. GDP growth for the first half of the year has been strong. If economic growth continues, as the Federal Reserve believes it will, this will likely have a positive effect on charitable giving. Remember, there’s a long correlation between philanthropy and GDP.

4. New Tax Code. For both individuals and corporations, a reduction in taxes makes more money available for charitable contributions. For example, many corporations (e.g., Wells Fargo, Southwest Airlines, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Best Buy, BB&T, Apple, Ally Financial, and others) have announced commitments to significantly increase corporate giving. Continue reading

October 5, 2018

9 Hard Truths Every Fundraiser Needs to Face in the 21st Century

In the Oscar-nominated film A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character famously shouts, “You  can’t handle the truth!”

Well, if you want to be a successful fundraising professional, you better know the truth and be prepared to handle it.

If you want to be successful at anything, you need to face the core truths involved no matter how challenging. Ignoring reality is a certain pathway to failure.

One nonprofit development truth is that authentic, donor-centered fundraising results in more donors giving more money than would otherwise be the case. Penelope Burk wrote about this years ago in her landmark book Donor Centered Fundraising, available October 15 in a new second edition. I wrote about the subject in my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Recently, Greg Warner, CEO of MarketSmart, released his powerful new book that reveals a straightforward, meaningful way fundraisers can embrace the concept of donor-centered fundraising.

In Engagement Fundraising, Greg passionately reveals the 21st century donor-centric strategy practiced by MarketSmart. Some people might be angered by or afraid of the core message of this book while others will find it to be simple common sense. However, one thing everyone can agree on is that Greg is a disrupter, and that’s a good thing. If it wasn’t for society’s disrupters, we’d still be riding around in horse-drawn carriages, and you’d be reading his book by candlelight. His fresh, technology-driven approach is a powerful way forward for those interested in engaging people to inspire more philanthropic support.

At the end of this post, I reveal how you can download, for free, the introduction and first chapter to Engagement Fundraising. But now, I want to share Greg’s additional insights with you as he outlines nine hard truths every fundraiser needs to face in the 21st century:

 

1.  Competition is fierce and everywhere. Nonprofits don’t only compete with other nonprofits. They also compete with private sector businesses and Uncle Sam (the tax collector) for every donor’s “share of wallet and attention.” Plus they want non-exclusive, polyamorous relationships with organizations. In other words, they will decide when they’ll cozy up to other charities. Of course, you can influence their decisions but you can never control them. You are at a disadvantage. Private sector companies and the government have deeper pockets. In order to win, you better be smart!

2.  Most of the time donors spend involving themselves with your organization happens without a fundraiser present. More than 99 percent of every donor’s time and energy spent involving themselves with your organization’s mission is done without you. You must accept this new reality and enable your supporters’ self-education and self-navigation of the decision-making process.

3.  The consideration continuum is open-ended. Donors are fickle. Their needs, passions, and interests will change. As they do, they might decide to give more, less, or stop giving altogether. They might involve themselves deeper in your cause or end their involvement (perhaps even by removing your organization from their estate plan). As a result, customer service (stewardship) is more essential now than ever.

4.  Your job is to make them feel good, not ask for money. In order to generate major gifts (including legacy gifts) and inspire high-capacity mid-level donors to give more, you must make your donors feel good by engaging them politely and persistently with offers that deliver value over time. If you do that, your donors self-solicit. They’ll step up to make a difference so they can find meaning in their lives. Then they’ll ask you, “What can I do to help?” Yes! Seriously! If you make them feel good, they will give, give more, refer friends, get more involved, become more committed, and make legacy gifts. Continue reading

October 1, 2018

Here are 3 Simple Steps to Avoid a Year-End Appeal Disaster

We’re now in the fourth quarter of the calendar year. It’s that special time of year when most charitable giving happens. That’s due, in part, to the fact that charities are out in force soliciting contributions as the year nears a close.

While there are many things you can and should do, I’m going to keep it easy. I’m going to give you three simple steps (and a bunch of useful tips) that will help you avoid a year-end appeal disaster:

Step 1 – Make a Year-End Appeal: You should test doing a beginning-of-the-year appeal in January/February since tax-avoidance is less of an issue for more people under the new tax code (see my post about this by clicking here). However, the fourth-quarter season-of-giving certainly remains the traditional time to ask for support. So, unless you have data for your organization that suggests otherwise, make sure you have a year-end appeal. The surest way to have a disastrous year-end fundraising appeal is not to have one.

As you plan your appeal, be sure to segment your prospect file. Treating your prospects as one homogeneous group may make your job easier, but it won’t help you keep your job. You’ll achieve much better results if you segment your prospect pool and target each segment with a tailored appeal.

For example, your message to existing donors will be different from your message to acquisition prospects. For starters, you’ll want to thank existing donors for their support before asking for another gift. Other segments might include monthly donors (You do have a monthly-donor program, right?), volunteers, past service recipients, event participants, etc.

In addition to tailoring your message to each segment, be sure to customize the ask. It’s inappropriate to ask an acquisition prospect for $1,000. Conversely, it’s also inappropriate to ask a $500 donor for $50. Just as bad, it’s a horrible mistake to not ask for a specific dollar amount or not to ask at all.

Step 2 – Have a Solid Case for Support: If you want people to give money to your organization, you need to make a compelling case for support. This is particularly true at this time of year when virtually every other nonprofit organization is out there looking for donations, too. Why should people respond to your direct-mail appeal (or phone solicitation, or face-to-face ask, etc.) instead of the appeal from another organization, perhaps one with a similar mission to yours? Address that question, and you’ll have greater success.

A strong case for support is particularly important when appealing to folks who have already contributed this year. They’ll want to know how you spent their money, the impact they have already had, and why you need more. Tell them those things, and you’ll increase the chance of getting another gift.

In addition to having a solid case for support, you’ll want to create some urgency. Why should people give to your organization now? If you’re the Salvation Army, people automatically get why you’re asking around holiday time. For pretty much any other organization, you’ll have to give prospects a good reason. And if that reason magnifies the impact that the donor’s gift will have, so much the better.

For example, you can have a challenge grant that matches all gifts received through the end of the year. Or, you could have the cost of your appeal underwritten by a major donor so you can legitimately tell prospective donors that 100 percent of their contributions to the appeal will go toward mission fulfillment. Both of these ideas will create urgency while magnifying the impact your donors can have. Continue reading

September 14, 2018

Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My: Fundraising in Times of Crisis

As I’m writing this, Hurricane Florence is barreling toward North Carolina. Watching the news reports, I’m reminded that the best way to weather a storm is to prepare before one strikes. The tragic situation in the southeastern US can serve as a metaphor for coping with any type of crisis, even for the nonprofit sector.

The best way to deal with a crisis is to prepare for one before one strikes. 

Guest blogger Sophie W. Penney, PhD is a big believer in that axiom. Sophie is President of i5 Fundraising and Senior Program Coordinator/Lecturer for the Penn State University Certificate Program in Fundraising Leadership. As the co-editor and chapter author of the soon-to-be-released book, Student Affairs Fundraising, Raising Funds to Raise the Bar, Sophie will be sharing her insights at the CT Alliance 2018 Conference on October 2, 2018 where she will present a session about leading through challenging times, Lions, Tigers and Bears: Leading Through Crisis.

A crisis can affect any type of organization. The nonprofit sector is not immune. As I point out in “What is the Most Important Thing You Can Learn from Recent Nonprofit Scandals?” there are three broad types of scandals or crises: 1) self-inflicted scandals beyond your control, 2) self-inflicted scandals you could have avoided, and 3) guilt-by-similarity scandal.

I’m grateful to Sophie for her willingness to share with us a few tidbits from her upcoming presentation that will help us all become better prepared to weather any scandal or crisis as we continue to strive to raise more money:

 

Michael Rosen’s recent blog post, “The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession,” was a clarion call to fundraisers. The piece served as a reminder that a profession designed to bring joy and result in great good can be fraught with challenges.

Fundraisers are pressed to raise ever-larger sums (and the sooner the better); as a result, it can be compelling to focus on fundraising tips, tools, and techniques that will bring in ever-bigger dollars. Yet a crisis, particularly legal or ethical in nature, can derail fundraising not only for a fiscal year, but for far longer.

Fundraising in times of crisis hit home for me in 2011 with the advent of the Jerry Sandusky Scandal. This child sexual abuse scandal toppled the Penn State University President, resulted in the abrupt firing of the University’s revered football coach, led to the sale of a nonprofit founded to serve the very types of children who became victims, and rocked a small community previously known as “Happy Valley.” What’s more, the scandal came to light in the midst of the University’s billion-dollar capital campaign, which was on the verge of going into a public phase. Yet, the Sandusky Scandal is just one of many such crises to rock the nonprofit world: Continue reading

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