September 22, 2016

Don’t Miss Out on the 8 Benefits of Engaging Donors

The following is an excerpt from my guest post that I’m honored to have published on the Bloomerang blog:

I think happiness is a combination of pleasure, engagement and meaningfulness.” — Dr. Ian K. Smith, celebrity physician

You will be a successful fundraising professional if you make giving fun and enjoyable for donors and engage them in ways they will find meaningful.

bullhorn-cartoon-header-bloomerangGallup, the international polling company, conducted a survey of over 17,000 American donors to better understand giving behaviors. One of Gallup’s key findings was that effective engagement leads to greater donor loyalty. Gallup’s Daniela Yu and Amy Adkins report:

“… [donors] keep going back to the causes that emotionally engage them.”

Sound engagement practices will lead to strong donor retention and increased levels of giving. For example, the simple act of engaging a donor by calling to thank her for her gift can have a profound impact. Penelope Burk in her book Donor Centered Fundraising reports that: Continue reading

September 13, 2016

Is Social Media Hurting Your #Nonprofit Organization?

We’ve all heard the stories of social media success. President Barack Obama was perhaps the first US presidential candidate to raise a significant amount of money via social media. The Ice-Bucket Challenge generated awareness and raised over $100 million for the ALS Association in addition to millions more for other ALS charities. Countless charities have raised vast amounts of money through crowd funding campaigns and other social media campaigns.

Despite the success stories, there is a dark side to social media that can actually hurt your nonprofit organization.

Let me share a cautionary story involving Ursinus College. It reveals how, when used improperly, social media can embarrass your charity, cause supporters to abandon the organization, and reduce contributions.

Here’s what went horribly wrong:

Got to love a janitor with a ‘Ban Fracking Now’ sticker on his bucket. Barack is clearly reaching his target demographic.”

“Yoga pants? Per my DTW visual survey, only 10 percent of users should be wearing them. The rest need to be in sweats – or actually get dressed.”

“Just saw an Aborigenese in ‘full gear’ talking on an iPhone. What’s next Ben Franklin driving a Tesla?”

“Bruce Jenner [Caitlyn Jenner] got 25 K for speaking engagements. Caitlyn gets $100K. What wage gap?”

Those are just four of the, ahem, colorful tweets posted on Twitter by Michael C. Marcon, an insurance executive and 1986 Ursinus graduate. These tweets, and others from Marcon, might have gone unnoticed except for one thing: When they were posted, Marcon was a member of the Ursinus College board of trustees and, as of July 1, he served as Chairman of that board.

some-failed-tweets-by-irish-typepad-via-flickrRecently, several of Marcon’s tweets were publicized on Facebook by Jordan Ostrum, an Ursinus senior, and later on Odyssey by Haley Brush, an Ursinus English major. She told Philly.com, “The tweets that were sexist made me really uncomfortable…. Comments like that are really inappropriate for someone in his position.”

David Bloom, another member of the Ursinus board, made an even stronger statement about Marcon’s tweets when he resigned in protest. He said, “I read strong evidence of an elitist, racist, sexist, body-shaming, anti-LGBTQ, exclusive-minded and generally intolerant individual.” He also called for Marcon to resign.

Ostrum was the first to publicly raise the issue of contributions when he said, “I pledge to not donate money to the Ursinus College Annual Fund while Michael Marcon remains on the Board of Trustees… If he remains on the board, they are saying yes [to] his behavior. I will say no — with my money.”

Days after the news story broke and Marcon met with administrators, faculty members, and students, he resigned from the board. In a written statement, Marcon said: Continue reading

September 7, 2016

Update: Should I Keep Naming Names?

The poll results are in!

In a recent blog post (“Do You Know How to Take Criticism?”), I explored the ways in which we can all deal with criticism more effectively. I also asked the poll question:

When critiquing a nonprofit organization or its fundraising appeal, should I name the charity or provide it anonymity?”

For a number of reasons, which I outlined in my post, I have generally named the charities that I have critiqued. As you might guess, I’ve been criticized for this from time to time. So, I conducted the admittedly unscientific poll, and I promised to be guided by the results moving forward.

Here is how readers responded: Continue reading

September 2, 2016

Let a 12-Year-Old Competitive Chef Show You the Way

The fundraising profession is not for the faint-of-heart. Ours is a field full of rejection. Every time we ask for a donation, we know there is an excellent chance we will hear, “No!” Even when we receive a positive response, it might not be quite as positive as we had hoped.

A fundraiser who has not learned how to deal with rejection, obstacles, and defeat is a person who is destined to burnout, who will become reticent to ask, who will ultimately fail at the job.

One of the greatest skills a development professional must learn is how to cope with inevitable rejection.

The Screaming Man by Walt Jabsco via FlickrI once attended a seminar led by sales-guru Tom Hopkins. He told us not be disheartened when receiving a rejection. Instead, he told us to celebrate the rejection because it brings us one-step closer to achieving a success. In other words, sales, or fundraising, is a bit of a numbers game. We know we will encounter rejection no matter what we do. So, when we do encounter one, we know we’re getting it out of the way and getting closer to finding a “Yes.”

In sales and fundraising, maintaining a champion’s attitude is a key to success.

Recently, I was watching the Food Network show Chopped Junior (“Beginner’s Duck,” Season 3, Episode 3). In this program, children compete to determine who is the best chef of the group. I’m always amazed by the high-level of talent on display. We’re not talking about making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; we’re talking about real cooking.

Ellie Zeiler, a 12-year-old cooking enthusiast, competed against others her age this week. Despite her enormous talent, Zeiler was cut following the second of three rounds.

When watching the show, I was struck by how Zeiler handled the rejection. She did not whine. She did not complain. She did not blame her defeat on unfairness, time, the judges, or her competitors. She did not bury her feelings, nor did she become consumed by them. Instead, she handled her defeat with extreme grace and wisdom:

I’m really sad that I got chopped. This competition has inspired me to really focus on my cooking. And I want people to know that I never quit, and I keep moving forward.”

Here’s what we all can learn about dealing with rejection from Zeiler’s fine example:

Do not bury your feelings. Recognize how you feel and accept it. However, do not let yourself be defeated by how badly you might feel. Move on. Zeiler acknowledged her sadness, but did not let it consume her.

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” — Charles R. Swindoll

Do not focus on the negative. Find and focus on the positive. Zeigler found inspiration in the competition. It inspired her to concentrate on her cooking and to further develop her skills. Whenever we face rejection, we have an opportunity to examine what we did and how we can improve our own skills.

“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.” — Michael Jordan

Never quit! Zeiler made it perfectly clear that she is not a quitter. Rejection is all part of a development professional’s life. If you’re not used to it, get used to it. To find the next “Yes,” you need to move forward with another ask.

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” — Vince Lombardi

The next time a prospect tells you “No,” I want you to think about three things: Continue reading

August 31, 2016

Do You Want Some End-of-Summer Reading?

Think before you speak. Read before you think.” ― Fran Lebowitz

Lebowitz has provided some great advice. However, with so many options, what should you read? As the official end of summer draws near, I thought I’d provide some suggestions for you. In turn, I hope you’ll share your own recommendations.

Here are some suggested quick reads…my five most read blog posts so far this year:

  1. Stop Showering All of Your Donors with Love!
  2. Stop Making Stupid Email and Direct Mail Mistakes
  3. Do You Know that “Planned Giving” is Bad for Fundraising?
  4. Avoid a Big Mistake: Stop Asking for Bequest Gifts!
  5. Donors Say: Enough about You. Let’s Talk about Me!

To discover other blog sites you might want to visit, checkout the following best-of lists that I’ve been honored to be part of:

Click for Donor-Centered Planned Gift MarketingTo help bloggers and readers more easily connect, I created the LinkedIn Discussion Group “Blog Posts for Fundraising Pros & Nonprofit Managers.”  Bloggers can promote their latest posts and readers can easily find those that interest them most and engage in thoughtful conversation, all in one place. Join the Group to get updates about information you’ll find helpful. You can find the Group by clicking here.

To help you find books that will get results and inspire, I created The Nonprofit Bookstore (powered by Amazon). At the site, you’ll get Amazon’s great prices and service. You’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing that, at no cost to you, a portion of each purchase will be donated to charity. At The Nonprofit Bookstore, you can search for books or browse categories including “Readers Recommend.” Among the books you’ll find there is my own: Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. You can find all of the books your peers suggest by clicking here.

Now, it’s your turn. Continue reading

August 26, 2016

Do You Know How to Take Criticism?

I received an extraordinary message recently.

With the permission of the author, I’m going to share her message with you. It’s a superb example of how to respond to criticism and turn it into an opportunity for positive engagement. It also raises an interesting issue that I want you to share your thoughts about.

Books by Aimee Rivers via FlickrEarlier this summer, my wife received an email appeal from Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library. That email inspired me to write a blog post about fundraising by email (“Stop Making Stupid Email and Direct Mail Mistakes”). The post was admittedly harsh though constructive with eight useful tips for the Rosenbach and you.

While I alerted the Rosenbach to the post, I never heard back from staff, not that I had requested or expected a reply. That is until a few weeks ago when I received the following message from Sara Davis, the new Marketing Manager at the Rosenbach:

Dear Mr. Rosen:

I recently joined the Rosenbach staff as the manager of marketing, and I stumbled across this post while getting caught up on social media mentions from the summer. Criticism can be hard to hear, and I admit that I would prefer to have found it in my inbox rather than see the organization named in a public post, but your advice is constructive and I agree with many of your points. I will certainly pass these suggestions along to my colleagues; our future campaigns will no doubt benefit from your expertise. My thanks.”

Wow! I was impressed with Davis’ message. I thank her for allowing me to share it with you. Davis struck the right tone and managed to pack a lot into a brief communication. Here are some of the reasons her message works:

Respectful. Davis referred to me as Mr. Rosen, knowing and respecting my feelings on the subject of salutations, which I had addressed in my post. Davis and I did not know each other, so an informal form of address would have been presumptuous.

Introduction. Davis introduced herself to me, told me her title, and mentioned that she is new to the Rosenbach, hence the delay in contacting me. This established a personal connection while putting her message into context.

Honesty. Davis shared her honest feelings about seeing my post. But, she did so in a professional way, without whining, complaining, or being defensive. She did not take my criticism personally. She did not take offense or, at least, she did not show that she was offended.

Value. Davis acknowledged that my post offered constructive criticism. She went on to show that she valued the tips I provided in my post. She also mentioned that she would share my advice with her colleagues. By valuing my advice, she showed she values me.

Thank you. Davis then concluded her message by thanking me! How often do you thank people for having criticized you or your organization? I know that I don’t do it very often. However, by thanking me, Davis reveals an understanding that constructive feedback is an opportunity for us to improve. She also understands that when someone takes the time to passionately and constructively offer criticism, it’s probably because they care.

Engagement. By writing to me, Davis engaged me and opened the door for me to contact her directly. And that’s exactly what I did.

Because of my interaction with Davis, the positive feelings I once had for the Rosenbach were rekindled.

When choosing whether to respond to criticism and, if responding, how to respond, we would be well served by following Davis’ excellent example. Every interaction is an opportunity for cultivation.

Now, here is where you come in. Continue reading

August 23, 2016

Special Report: What You Don’t Know about Donor Retention will Hurt You

[Publisher’s Note: “Special Reports” are posted from time-to-time as a benefit for subscribers and frequent visitors to this blog. “Special Reports” are not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including “Special Reports,” please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column. New subscribers will also receive a free e-book from researcher Dr. Russell James.]

The following is an excerpt from my guest post that I’m honored to have published on the Bloomerang blog:

The nonprofit sector is experiencing a serious problem, and it’s time we did something about it.

Fundraising experts and philanthropy researchers have been warning us that nonprofit organizations are losing donors at an alarming rate. Ken Burnett, Managing Trustee at SOFII and author of Relationship Fundraising sums it up best:

Our nonprofit sector is bleeding to death. We’re hemorrhaging donors, losing support as fast as we find it, seemingly condemned forever to pay a fortune just to stand still. It’s time we stemmed the flow.”

Donor retention is definitely a serious issue. Over the past ten years, the average overall donor retention rate has been just 44.5 percent, according to the 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and The Urban Institute. The new-donor retention rate for last year was far worse, a pitiful 26.6 percent! Continue reading

August 19, 2016

Could Your #Nonprofit be Forced to Return a Donor’s Gift?

Officials at Vanderbilt University got schooled. They learned, the hard way, that nonprofit organizations cannot unilaterally void the terms of a gift agreement without returning the donation.

This is a story that keeps on giving. It provides an important lesson for all nonprofit organizations about the requirement, ethical and legal, to honor donor intent.

The tale begins in 1933 when the Tennessee Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy donated $50,000 to the George Peabody College of Teachers to build a dormitory named “Confederate Memorial Hall.”

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

In 1979, Peabody was merged into Vanderbilt becoming the “Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.”

After years of discussion, according to Inside Higher Ed, Vanderbilt decided in 2002 to drop the word “Confederate” and rename the building simply “Memorial Hall.” The University took this action without gaining the approval of the Daughters of the Confederacy or returning the gift.

After taking Vanderbilt to court, the Daughters of the Confederacy received a Tennessee Appeals Court ruling in 2005 that ordered the University to either keep the original name of the building or refund the donation … in inflation-adjusted dollars. That $50,000 gift from 1933 is now valued at $1.2 million.

As reported in Inside Higher Ed:

The appeals court unanimously rejected Vanderbilt’s argument that academic freedom gave it the right to change the name. Vanderbilt argued that the Supreme Court has given private colleges considerable latitude in their decisions. But the appeals court said that was irrelevant because the agreement to name the dormitory ‘Confederate Memorial Hall’ was between a donor and a charitable group — and the government never forced the gift to be accepted.”

In its ruling, the Appeals Court stated (emphasis is mine):

We fail to see how the adoption of a rule allowing universities to avoid their contractual and other voluntarily assumed legal obligations whenever, in the university’s opinion, those obligations have begun to impede their academic mission would advance principles of academic freedom. To the contrary, allowing Vanderbilt and other academic institutions to jettison their contractual and other legal obligations so casually would seriously impair their ability to raise money in the future by entering into gift agreements such as the ones at issue here.

It took quite some time but, with money raised from anonymous donors, Vanderbilt paid $1.2 million to the Daughters of the Confederacy and renamed the building this month in accordance with the Court’s judgment.

Unfortunately, this has not brought this story to a happy conclusion. Vanderbilt has damaged its reputation by revealing its willingness to “casually” disregard donor intent.

I stand firmly with the Appeals Court decision. How I feel, or anyone feels, about the old Confederacy or the word “Confederate” on the building is irrelevant in this case. Instead, there are two powerful governing issues involved here: Continue reading

August 12, 2016

When Things Don’t Go Your Way, How Can You Still Win?

Prospective donors look forward to talking with you. Donors love you. Your colleagues are supportive. Your appeals achieve record success. When everything works the way it should, being a fundraising professional is fulfilling and enormously fun.

Unfortunately, things seldom go completely according to plan. Problems arise. Conflicts simmer. Unexpected events bring new challenges.

So, what can you do to become or remain a champion fundraising professional in the face of anticipated and unanticipated challenges?

The answer: Think like an Olympian.

I enjoy watching the Olympics. I like the competitions, and I like the human-interest stories. We can learn a great deal from Olympic athletes. If you want to be a champion, it’s a good idea to discover what champions do to succeed. For example, let’s look at a story involving Hope Solo, the gold-medal goalkeeper for the USA Women’s Soccer Team.

Soccer Ball by Armando Sobrino via FlickrAt the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics, USA faced New Zealand on the soccer field. Whenever the ball came near Solo, Brazilian football fans booed and, at times, chanted “Zika.” According to a report in The Washington Post, Brazil’s football fans were unhappy with Solo’s pre-Olympic comments about Brazil and her concerns about the Zika virus.

Prior to making the trip to South America, Solo took to social media to say she was thinking about not going. Ultimately, she “begrudgingly” announced she would participate in the games, but that she planned on being well armed with mosquito repellent. She also joked that she would bring enough for anyone else in the Olympic Village who might need some.

Solo’s concern is not unjustified. Zika is a serious virus that is transmitted by mosquito. The first major outbreak began in Brazil. In addition to causing other health problems, the virus can cause major birth defects if contracted by a pregnant woman.

Nevertheless, Brazilians were not pleased with Solo’s ongoing commentary about Zika.

So, Solo faced two issues when she took the field against New Zealand: Continue reading

August 5, 2016

The #Fundraising Secret for Success You Need to Know

What’s the secret to fundraising success?

Ice cream!

That’s right. Ice cream can help you achieve greater fundraising results. Really. I’m not just saying that because it’s August, and we’re setting new records for summer heat in Philadelphia. I know ice cream can help you because I saw first-hand what it has achieved for Smith College.

Let me explain.

This past Spring, my wife and I attended her class reunion at Smith. I enjoyed being with Lisa, and exploring the beautiful campus and the fun town of Northampton, Massachusetts. One of the highlights for me was seeing the College’s Gift Planning staff in action. Yes, I’m a bon-a-fide fundraising nerd, but you probably knew that already.

Sam Samuels, Christine Carr Hill, and Jeanette Wintjen staff the Smith College ice-cream stand during Reunion Weekend.

Sam Samuels, Christine Carr Hill, and Jeanette Wintjen staff the Smith College ice-cream stand during Reunion Weekend.

I’m not talking about seeing the staff in action at the mildly stuffy, but well presented, Grécourt Society reception for legacy donors. Instead, I’m referring to the ice-cream stand that the Gift Planning staff operated in the Smith College Campus Center one warm mid-day. As the staff served up the free tasty treats, they had a chance to interact with alumnae. When appropriate, the staff, wearing aprons and serving up the ice cream themselves, was able to casually explain what The Grécourt Society is, why legacy giving is important to Smith, and how alumnae can support the College with a planned gift. At the ice-cream stand, there was also a table of gift planning promotional material.

This was a great way to showcase gift planning in a friendly, pressure-free, guilt-free, fun environment. Sam Samuels, Director of Gift Planning, told me that the ice-cream stand not only allowed the staff to educate, cultivate, and thank people, it actually led to a number of planned-gift commitments during the reunion weekend.

Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and set up an ice-cream stand. However, if we examine why the ice-cream stand worked, there are some things you can learn that will help you reach your fundraising goals.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. KISS. In 1960, the US Navy noted the design principle “Keep it simple, Stupid!” That’s what we see with the ice-cream stand. The Smith staff did not over think it; however, they certainly did the planning necessary to make it work. But, the concept itself was simple. It wasn’t a fancy dinner or a posh reception to educate and cultivate prospects, though such events have their place. And Smith did some of those as well. However, this simple activity allowed the staff to reach a broader audience in a low-key fashion.

2. Lifestyle Enabling. The Smith staff put themselves in the shoes of their prospects and donors. In other words, they were donor centered when thinking about how to attract the attention of potential planned gift donors. Instead of trying to get donors to attend an estate-planning seminar (yawn), the staff thought about how to meet the needs and desires of the alumnae. Most folks like ice cream. So, the staff chose to do something that would meet alumnae where they were (in or near the Campus Center), and give them something they would likely want (a cool lunchtime treat on a warm day). The ice cream stand also harkened back to the days when, as students, they would meet up with friends for ice cream at the student center. In short, Smith helped the alumnae live the life they want. That’s what drew in the alumnae. Continue reading

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