Archive for August, 2013

August 30, 2013

Can You Thank People Too Much?

A few years ago, I served on the board of a large nonprofit organization. During one of the Development Committee meetings I attended, we reviewed the organization’s stewardship policies.

That’s when one of my board colleagues asked, “Does anyone else think we thank people too much?”

Thank You by woodleywonderworks via Flickr and Wordle.netAs the discussion moved forward, I mentioned that, from a practical perspective, I did not think it possible to overly thank folks. I added that, if it was possible to overly thank people, this particular organization was so far away from being in danger of doing so that there was really no point in further discussing the matter. Others agreed with me, and the conversation eventually moved on to other related matters.

Well, it’s finally happened. I found an organization that overly thanks people: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Don’t worry. This is not a political post. I won’t be commenting about the political content of a thank-you email I received recently from Kelly Ward, Executive Director of the DCCC. Instead, I’ll stay focused on the thank you nature of the communication.

By the way, during the last Presidential election, I signed up to receive emails from a number of political organizations and candidates as a way of learning a bit about how these groups use social media. So, please don’t make any assumptions one way or the other about my political orientation.

When I received Ms Ward’s email, it immediately caught my eye. The subject line read:

Michael, thanks!”

 I like that the DCCC used my name in the subject line. And I liked that I was being thanked, though I couldn’t imagine why. While I could see the email was from Kelly Ward, I didn’t know her or who she represented. The combination of the personalized subject line that expressed thanks along with not knowing the sender made me open the email. Above all, I wanted to know what I was being thanked for.

Here’s what the email stated:

Michael —

We asked you to step up and, boy, did you ever!

House Republicans are home this month for August Recess, and activists like you have been holding their Republican Members of Congress accountable in some pretty amazing ways.

We put together a video of some of our favorite displays of activism — you should take a look at what YOU’VE helped accomplish this August:

[link provided to video]

We hope you’re inspired by the video to continue to hold Republicans accountable. Keep up the great work out there!

Thanks,

Kelly Ward

DCCC Executive Director

P.S. Here’s a sneak peek of one of our favorite highlights from the video: In Illinois, Rodney Davis was confronted by a group of concerned voters about ‘ducking’ questions on his ethics investigation. One activist even brought a LIVE duck!” [link provided to the video]”

Ok, here’s where it really gets interesting. While the DCCC wrote to thank me for my activism, specifically my actions to hold Republican members of Congress accountable, I never did what they were thanking me for. I never even donated money to the DCCC to help pay for the activism of others

As a result of the bizarre email from the DCCC, I’ve reached the conclusion that you can indeed over thank someone.

If you thank people for something they really did not do, you’re wrongly thanking them. Instead of showing appreciation, you’re being manipulative, gratuitous, lazy, or all of the above. Reserve your thank-you messages for expressions of real gratitude:

  • Thank people for giving their time.
  • Thank people for donating.
  • Thank people for demonstrating that they care.
  • Thank people for an inquiry.
  • Thank people for attending an event or program.
  • Thank people for referring others to the organization.

You get the idea. Just be sure you don’t behave like the DCCC. Don’t thank folks for what they have not done. If you do, you’ll only end up diluting the value of real expressions of appreciation.

For your donors, your organization should have a donor recognition policy that outlines how supporters at various levels will be thanked and recognized for their support. Just remember that some donors might not want the recognition you’re offering. For example, some donors may wish to give anonymously. In that case, thanking these people by name in your annual report would be inappropriate. Always remember to be donor centered.

To avoid the uncommon risk of over thanking people:

  • Do not thank folks for what they have not done.
  • Do not thank folks publicly if they want to remain anonymous.
  • Do not thank folks in ways they have told you they won’t appreciate.

When you do thank people, be personal, warm, and sincere.

For more information about showing gratitude effectively, see my previous posts on the subject:

What Can Your Nonprofit Learn from a Fortune Cookie?

Stewardship: More than a Thank-You?

Can a Thank-You Letter Contain an Ask?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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August 23, 2013

5 Words or Phrases that Can Cause Donors to Cringe

Words have the power to inspire. They also have the power to alienate. Words can touch us or they can fall flat.

In my previous post, I shared seven words that, when used together, can earn you the respect, trust, and appreciation of prospects and donors.

Word by Whatknot via FlickrMary Cahalane, of the Hands-on Fundraising blog, looked at words from a different perspective in her excellent post “7 Words and Phrases that Should Die.” 

Inspired by Mary, I now want to share my list of planned-giving and major-giving related words and phrases that, at times, make me cringe:

Planned Giving. I know, I just used the term “planned giving,” and now I’m telling you it makes me cringe. Let me explain. The term is jargon. As such, I think it’s fine to use with other nonprofit professionals in the office. It nicely encompasses all of the various ways of planning a gift. Unfortunately, most donors have either no idea what the term means or only a vague, partial notion.

When speaking with a prospect, avoid talking about “planned giving.” Instead, talk with your prospects about their “legacy” and the specific gift structure(s) you want to suggest. For example, talk about a gift in a will or a Charitable Gift Annuity rather than using the confusing and, for the context, overly broad term “planned giving.” If you need a generic term to use with prospects, I prefer “legacy giving,” while I acknowledge that that phrase is not completely without its own problems.

Bequest. When you read the previous paragraph, you might have noticed I avoided this word. You might have guessed that I don’t particularly like the word “bequest.” If you did, you’re right.

First, many people don’t really understand what a “bequest” is. Second, many of those who do understand the word think it is something only rich folks do. Third, the word sounds funereal to some.

Instead of using the word “bequest,” talk with prospects in simple, easy to understand terms. Don’t ask them to make a charitable bequest commitment. Ask your prospects to include your organization in their will.

Philanthropy. This is a great word. It comes from a Greek word literally meaning “love of humankind.” Unfortunately, some prospects, and even some donors, find the word alienating.

I remember speaking with a woman while we were waiting in the wings at a National Philanthropy Day luncheon. I was about to present her with the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning of Greater Philadelphia Legacy Award for Planned Giving Philanthropist of the Year. She told me she was honored to be present, but she wanted me to know, “I’m not really a philanthropist.”

I explained to the award recipient what the word “philanthropy” means. And I explained that it is not a term that is exclusive to the wealthy. I made sure she understood that she is indeed a philanthropist. I’m glad I had the chance to explain “philanthropy” to this caring donor. Sadly, we don’t always have such an opportunity.

If you’re thinking about using the word “philanthropy,” know your audience and know whether the term will resonate. Just keep in mind that 70 percent of people with investible assets of $1 million or more do not consider themselves wealthy, according to The UBS Investor Watch. If your prospects think “philanthropy” is only for the wealthy, and they’re not wealthy, you’re going to have some problems if you toss around the word. Words such as “legacy” or “support” might do nicely instead.

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August 16, 2013

7 Magical Words to Earn Respect, Trust, and Appreciation

I want to give you seven wonderful words that can help you earn the respect, trust, and appreciation of your prospects and donors.

Before I give you the magical phrase, I want you to know that I recognize that this post is about something that is common sense. However, given a couple of my wife’s recent encounters, I can tell you that just because the miraculous phrase is common sense does not mean it’s usage is common practice.

That’s why I’m going to share it with you here:

I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

Many nonprofit professionals think they need to know the answer to every question a prospect or donor asks. They think if they do not readily know the answer, they’ll appear stupid, ignorant, incompetent, or all of these or worse. So, they make any number of mistakes when they’re stumped, including:

1. They side step the inquiry. In a classic deflection move, some development professionals will simply acknowledge the question and then change the subject. Inside, they think, “Whew! I dodged that one.” Unfortunately, the reality is that the person who made the inquiry will almost definitely notice the dodge and be annoyed by it.

Albert Einstein by Philippe Halsman-19472. They start sputtering. In this case, the development professional starts struggling to answer the question but only ends up half answering a bunch of questions that were never asked. While the person who asked the question might find this somewhat amusing, he’ll still notice the original question has gone unanswered.

3. They will make up an answer. Some development professionals will, on occasion, make up an answer. They’ll do this because they think the answer is probably right and that there will be no harm if they’re mistaken. Sometimes, a development professional will outright lie in order to avoid being seen as lacking in information. Unfortunately, in this electronic age, there’s a good chance that the person who gets cute with the facts will end up being caught.

Instead of letting yourself be caught in your own uncomfortable trap, just use the amazingly simple, powerful phrase:

I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”

When you use that phrase, you’ll be telling your prospect or donor:

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August 9, 2013

Philanthropy at Gunpoint?

In a recent op-ed piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Mark Rosenman writes, “… few people in the nonprofit world seem aware of a new legislative proposal that could add $35-billion a year or more to [charity] programs perhaps including their own organizations.”

Rosenman is referring to a new tax proposal by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) that would impose a financial-transaction tax modeled on one adopted by the European Parliament and soon to be implemented by 11 of its member nations in order to slow flash-trading.

The Harkin-DeFazio plan, called the “Wall Street Speculators Sales Tax,” “has drawn the support of over 40 national nonprofit organizations and labor unions but has not caught the imagination of local and regional charities or the major coalitions that represent nonprofit groups,” according to Rosenman.

While I encourage you to read Rosenman’s op-ed article as well as the comments, many made by me in a tense exchange with Rosenman, I’ll share with you here what’s wrong with Rosenman’s support of the new tax plan:

1. The Wall Street Speculators Sales Tax will NOT benefit the nonprofit sector as it currently stands. Harkin and DeFazio introduced the tax plan to generate revenue to reduce the deficit. Right now, there is no reason to believe that even one cent would flow through to the community benefit sector. Rosenman initially misleads his readers on this critical point and does not provide clarification until the comment section.

2. Even if Congress could be persuaded to give the new revenue to the nonprofit sector, it raises a number of questions. Who would decide which charities should receive the money? On what basis should those decisions be made? Given that so many large charities employ lobbyists, would the new government spending go to those with political influence or those with vital programs that produce desired outcomes?

3. More government funding is not necessarily a solution to our problems. The federal government is already spending an enormous amount on the nonprofit sector. Government spending on nonprofits has grown from $100 billion a year in 1962 to an astounding $3.6 trillion in 2012, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal by James Piereson, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and President of the William E. Simon Foundation.

If a 36-fold increase in government spending on the charity sector since 1962 has not produced the desired result, will an additional $35 billion do the trick? At what point will government be spending enough on the charity sector?

The charity sector’s enormous appetite for government money (really taxpayer money) has created an interesting dynamic. Piereson points out that many of the charities that receive the most government funding turn around and lobby the government for even more money and for higher taxes! This kind of dynamic is created when nonprofit organizations start being funded like and acting like government agencies rather than charities.

The nonprofit sector’s reliance on government funding is dangerous. It encourages institutional laziness, a loss of independence, a lack of public responsiveness and, perhaps, aligning mission with government objectives rather than constituent needs.

Marvin Olasky observed in his book The Tragedy of American Compassion, greater government involvement in and funding of the social services sector historically has led to a pullback of private support for such organizations.

I’ve served on the boards of social service agencies, most recently for an organization helping children.

Piggy Bank by Images_of_Money via FlickrThe social service agency received virtually all of its funding from the government in the form of grants and contracts. At that time, the agency was meeting just a quarter to a third of the need in the community. But, to its credit, the agency eventually set the goal of meeting the needs of 100 percent of the community. The organization recognized that it would never be able to achieve this goal if it continued to be so dependent on government funding. Therefore, the agency launched a major, sustainable push for private funding.

An interesting thing happened. As private funding grew, the organization’s service capacity also grew. With a strong, compelling case for support, the agency has now raised the necessary resources to meet the needs of everyone in its community! While government funding is still important, the organization has achieved a healthier more sustainable funding balance that allows it to serve far more people and serve them better.

Richard Freedlund, on the greatergoodfundraising blog, states, “The problem is, if your budget is so dependent on government funding and not donors, you really do not fit the definition of a charity.”

4. The proposed tax would affect more than the wealthy. Rosenman stated that the new tax would primarily impact wealthy and institutional investors. However, that’s like a tuna fisherman saying his nets primarily catch tuna, and we should not worry about the dolphins also caught in the nets. The fact is institutional investors represent mom and pop investors and pension funds for working Americans. The majority of people in the US own securities.

Rosenman says the tax really won’t add up to much money for these small investors, so I shouldn’t worry about them. But, I had another idea. I asked my 86-year-old mother what she thought about the new tax idea.

Before I tell you what my mom said, let me just mention that for a huge chunk of her life, she was poor. I’m talking coal-stove heat, no bathroom plumbing poor. Together, she and my dad worked hard to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. As a result of a strong work ethic and a commitment to saving, she now has a modest nest egg, some of which she invests in mutual funds.

Here’s what my mom said about the new investor-tax proposal with Rosenman’s suggested modification for charities:

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August 2, 2013

“Charitable-Industrial Complex” Huh?

[Publisher’s Note: For a list of the “Top 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants,” checkout the Special Report here.]

 

I grew up poor. Let me be clear. We were not welfare poor, but we were food-stamp poor.

Because of my upbringing, one of the things I now enjoy in life is reading articles that beautifully demonstrate rich, liberal guilt. One such article recently appeared in The New York Times: “The Charitable-Industrial Complex” by Peter Buffett, son of multi-billionaire Warren Buffett.

In his op-ed article, Peter describes what he sees as the problems of “Philanthropic Colonialism” and the “Charitable-Industrial Complex.” It could have been amusing if it was not so irresponsible and potentially dangerous. It could have even been a worthwhile piece if it had demonstrated any serious intellectual thought. I encourage you to read it.

George E. Wolf, a consultant, called my attention to the Buffett op-ed piece when he started a discussion in the Philanthropy Network Group on LinkedIn. I thank him for starting the conversation and inspiring this blog post.

Guilt Washing Station-NY TimesIn case you don’t believe me about the article containing a big dose of rich, liberal guilt, consider the graphic that accompanied the piece, which I’m presenting here (left).

Peter Buffett has a very comfortable life thanks to his capitalist father. Now, after reaping the enormous benefits of his father’s hard work and, I suspect, his father’s good name and connections, Peter complains about the ugly side of capitalism. While he states he’s not opposed to the capitalist system, he spends a great deal of time in his article complaining about the very system that has given him his comfortable life. 

Sadly, he does little to propose an alternative. The only exception is a rather vague suggestion that we pursue “humanism,” though he fails to define the term or provide any examples of humanism in action.

Peter is entitled to his opinions. He’s also entitled to be philanthropic, or not, in whatever way he chooses.

However, as an intellectual exercise, his article is sorely lacking.

For example, he asserts that there is a growing “charitable-industrial complex.” To support his claim, he looks at the $316 billion in philanthropic support contributed in the USA in 2012 and the growth rate of 25 percent in the number of American nonprofit organizations between 2001 and 2011. So what?

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