Archive for October, 2018

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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