Archive for ‘donor relations’

February 24, 2021

Are You Annoying Your Donors Without Even Knowing It?

If you’re annoying your donors, it could be hurting your fundraising efforts. The challenge is that you might not even know you’re annoying them. Let me give you a personal example.

One of my favorite charities, for well over a decade, has been annoying me lately. I don’t remember when it started, perhaps a year or so ago. For some time, I couldn’t even articulate why I was annoyed. Then, several weeks ago, I received a letter that made me immediately understand the reason for my irritation. Even better, the letter immediately made me feel better by making me feel closer to the organization.

The charity is the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance. The organization brings justice and healing to the survivors of child sex abuse. I have the utmost respect for the staff and the volunteers, including the board. They do heroic work helping children and their families cope successfully with a heinous crime. I’ve written about them here a number of times. I’ve shared insights from the PCA staff about child sex abuse. I’ve also shared their remarkable fundraising successes.

As a former PCA board member, I have remained a passionate supporter of the organization. Because PCA’s mission is so important to me, I have continued my support even when I became mildly annoyed with them. However, if other donors felt similarly annoyed, would they continue to give and, if so, how likely would they be to increase their support? The answer from psychology researchers reveals that it could be a big problem.

Let me tell you what was bothering me and how PCA was able to quickly and easily overcome it.

I had grown accustomed to receiving generic communications from PCA. I received the same cultivation messages and appeals as everyone else was sent. So, I was surprised one day not long ago when I received a hand-addressed, monarch-sized envelope. Inside (because of course I opened it) was a handwritten letter from someone with whom I served on the board.

While the letter was sent in December, I did not receive it until well into January thanks to problems at the US Post Office. Nevertheless, I appreciated the good wishes for happy holidays. I also appreciated that the letter went on to let me know that PCA’s spring fundraising event would take place either in-person, virtually, or as a hybrid. My former colleague, now the event co-chair, mentioned the date of the upcoming fundraiser and told me that more details would be forthcoming. He went on to say that he hoped to see me at the event. However, he did not make a specific ask and, therefore, did not include a response envelope. His communication was simply a cultivation piece designed to make me feel like an insider.

Yes, I appreciated the personal touch of this particular cultivation mailing. However, what I appreciated the most about the letter was that it acknowledged that I am an alumnus of the PCA board.

Bells went off in my head! I finally understood why I had been growing annoyed with PCA. Recent communications from PCA did not acknowledge my identity. I had been addressed just like every other donor. My former board service was rarely acknowledged, which made the handwritten letter particularly special to me.

By acknowledging my identity, PCA showed me they know who I am. They respect my prior service. They appreciate my support, not just my money. They rekindled the feelings I once had as a volunteer leader.

Should this matter? You might think it should not. Was I being childish or self-centered to be annoyed that PCA had not been acknowledging my identity? You might think I am. But, and I say this with full respect, your opinion doesn’t matter in this case. It’s MY feelings that determine which charities I support and how much I give them. As I learned by taking the certificate course Philanthropic Psychology, taught by the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, there is plenty of scientific research to back me up on this.

One reason most charitable organizations experience shamefully high donor-attrition rates is that they do not acknowledge the individual identities of donors. Let me give you a quick, simple example of what I mean.

When a donor contributes a $100 to your charity, do you thank her for her generous gift? Or, do you thank her for being a kind, caring person who made a gift. The former message describes the gift. The latter message describes the person. It’s a simple messaging shift that can have a massive effect.

In PCA’s case, an individual donor might identify as a Philadelphian, a parent, someone who cares about justice, someone who cares about children, etc. More generically, a PCA donor might identify as being kind, thoughtful, caring, concerned, angry, etc. In my case, one part of my identity as it relates to PCA is former board member. The key for you as a fundraising professional is to understand how your donors think of themselves. You can learn this through conversations with them, surveys, or their responses to appeals.

Here are four tips:

read more »

December 15, 2020

Listen to The Whiny Donor and Raise More Money

If you want to raise more money, you need to listen to your donors. Unfortunately, many of your donors do not feel comfortable giving you feedback about your fundraising appeals. Or, if they do feel comfortable, they won’t put in the time and effort to tell you what they think.

Fortunately, The Whiny Donor can help you. “The Whiny Donor” is the name of a Twitter account belonging to a woman who, along with her husband, is a significant donor and who has served on a number of nonprofit boards. Whiny is passionately committed to the philanthropy world making her a fantastic resource for fundraising professionals.

“The Whiny Donor”

Whiny lovingly tweets about charity issues, especially what works and what does not when it comes to fundraising. She provides meaningful, often actionable, insights from the perspective of the donor that she is. She’ll give you feedback that your organization’s donors won’t. Also, she’ll answer questions you would never dare to ask your own donors.

Recently, Whiny and her husband went through the year-end appeals that have inundated them. Then, she shared her thoughts in a valuable Twitter thread. With her kind, thoughtful permission, I’m going to share her helpful insights with you now.

Despite the name of her Twitter account, Whiny seldom whines. Instead, she provides insightful critiques, positive and negative. Here are 10 insights about some year-end appeals she has received recently:

COVID-19 Pandemic: Fundraisers should not be afraid to honestly tell prospective donors about the challenges their organization faces. Whiny says, “A couple of the appeals make a very clear case for their need for funds during the pandemic, and we are increasing our donations to them over last year’s amount. I am actually dumbfounded by appeal letters that DON’T mention anything about being affected by the pandemic. Where have you been all year?”

Mission: When a nonprofit organization has a well-articulated mission that is meaningful to donors, missteps will more readily be excused. For example, Whiny says, “There’s one local cultural nonprofit that always sends a reply form  with no appeal letter at all, and I’m so offended by that, I want to cut them off, but my husband insists that we continue to support them.” Whiny had this reaction to another appeal, “We keep donating to them, but I never read the very long, small-print, no-margin, weird-font appeal letter from a small local nonprofit. I simply don’t have the fortitude to tackle it.” Just be aware that, for most organizations, a clear, powerful mission will work best when paired with a well-crafted appeal, particularly one that is easy to read.

Fake Deadlines: Many charities like to use artificial deadlines for giving as a way to create a sense of urgency, especially at year-end. However, donors tend to care little about your deadlines and more about when they want to give. As Whiny says, “I don’t know how long it’s been sitting unopened in my stack of appeals, but one letter mentions a deadline of December 4, which seems weirdly arbitrary. I think they’ll still accept my gift, though. Don’t you?” I suspect they will. So, what’s the point of the fake deadline? Arbitrary deadlines just come off as hucksterism. When a fake deadline is impractical, it can become downright annoying. As Whiny has observed, “Another one I’m just opening, and it says ‘Nov 30 deadline!’ right on the envelope. But the postmark is November 23! C’mon!”

Postage: Unless you’ve tested a postage-paid response envelope versus one requiring a donor to affix a stamp, you should opt for a postage-paid response envelope as your default. You’ll likely get a better response rate. When requiring the donor to affix a stamp, avoid being condescending in the envelope’s postage box. For example, Whiny doesn’t like statements like “Place Stamp Here” or “Postage Stamp Required.” Whiny says, “I do know how to mail an envelope, you know.” A postage-box statement she likes is “Thank You for Your Support.”

Gift-Amount Suggestions: It’s almost always a good idea to suggest how much you would like a prospect to contribute. If you’re asking a past donor, the amount you seek should be related to what the donor has given in the past. In other words, don’t ask a $5,000 donor for $25; conversely, don’t ask a $25 donor for $5,000. When presenting a gift chain, make it legitimate. “The four choices on this gift chain are $250, $260, $265 and $275, which has got to be the narrowest range I’ve ever seen. They had the good sense to add a ‘Surprise Us!’ box, just in case I want to bust loose,” says Whiny. Generally, your gift-chain amounts should vary by more than $5 or $10.

read more »

November 17, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett Knows Something You Need to Know

This post has nothing to do with politics or judicial philosophy. Instead, I want to share an important story I heard during the US Senate hearings for Amy Coney Barrett. The hearings ultimately led to her confirmation as Associate Justice to the US Supreme Court with the support of a majority of Americans. That story can help you ensure the happiness of your donors, which could result in better retention and upgraded support.

Amy Coney Barrett being sworn in before the US Senate Judiciary Committee.

Laura Wolk, a former student of Barrett’s at the University of Notre Dame, testified during the final day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. Wolk, who is blind, said that she uses adaptive technology and alerted the law school of her needs in advance of her attendance. Unfortunately, the University did not provide the needed accommodations, and Wolk’s own computer was failing. As she struggled to keep up, she grew increasingly frustrated. Not knowing where to turn, she approached Barrett, one of her professors, to ask for assistance navigating the University’s system.

A retinal disease in her infancy caused Wolk’s blindness. By the time she went to law school, she was certainly accustomed to having to be her own advocate. She didn’t expect much from Barrett, but any help would ease her burden. Wolk described Barrett during their meeting:

She sat silently, listening with deep attention as I explained my situation. She exuded calm and compassion, giving me the freedom to let down my guard and come apart.”

Wolk shared what happened when she finished explaining her situation:

‘Laura’, she said, ‘this is no longer your problem. It’s my problem.’” (3:00 minute mark)

Wolk said she expected to be directed to bureaucratic channels. Instead, Barrett made her feel comfortable to share all of her challenges and, then, she solved the problems. Wolk went on to graduate law school, clerked for Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, and now has a successful practice.

So, what does this story have to do with fundraising? Plenty!

If a donor comes to you with a question or problem, resist thinking of it as an interruption to your day. Instead, of passing them off to someone else or quickly brushing them aside, take the time to really listen. Don’t offer an automatic, institutional response. As an alternative, offer a warm, compassionate response. If it’s within your power, take on the donor’s issue as your own.

What might this look like?

Imagine you’re at your desk working on the final touches of your fundraising report to the board as your deadline draws near. Your phone rings. You answer, and are greeted by a donor. The donor wants to know how to make a gift of appreciated stock to your organization before the end of the year. Here are some courses of action you could take:

  1. You can put the donor on hold and transfer her to your assistant.
  2. You can direct the donor to your organization’s website where the instructions exist.
  3. You can thank the donor, commiserate about the somewhat complex process, explain the process to the donor and, then, offer to email a summary of the instructions to the donor, perhaps with a link to the appropriate web page as well.

While Option 1 would let you get back to your board report more quickly, which option would make the donor feel most loved? I believe the best course of action is Option 3.

If your donor feels you truly care about him, he will be more likely to care about your organization. He’ll be more likely to renew and upgrade support. Yes, loving your donors takes more time and effort, but it will yield powerful results.

What should you do?

When someone approaches you with a question, challenge, or problem, follow these five steps:

read more »

October 27, 2020

So, Wake Me Up When It’s All Over

There’s a line in the well-known Avicci song that goes, “So, wake me up when it’s all over.” It nicely sums up my feelings about 2020. It’s been a stressful year for us all in so many ways. Yet, despite the strain, I keep seeing articles and webinars full of unfounded optimism, particularly as they relate to fundraising in the post-COVID-19 world. Here are just a small number of the titles I’ve come across:

  • Rebooting and Managing After COVID-19
  • How to Keep Your Donors Once the Crisis Ends
  • Fundraising Predictions for After COVID-19
  • Fundraising Post-COVID-19
  • How Nonprofits Should Approach Grant Makers Post-Covid-19
  • After the Pandemic Fundraising

So, when is this post-COVID-19 time supposed to arrive?

No one knows. However, we do know it’s not going to arrive anytime soon. As I write this, the USA, and much of the world, is experiencing a coronavirus pandemic resurgence following efforts to reopen economies. We still don’t have a vaccine. While there might be a viable vaccine by the end of this year, experts say broad distribution will not be possible until probably the middle of 2021, at best. In the meantime, we still do not have solid, reliable therapeutics to treat the disease.

Even once people are vaccinated and the pandemic is brought under control, economists tell us it will take months, if not years, for the economy to recover. The Federal Reserve says that the jobless rate will remain elevated through 2022. The Congressional Budget Office believes it will take two years for the economy to recover to a pre-pandemic level. Even once things do return to “normal,” we do not know what that new normal will look like. For example, “about 2 in 5 Americans in a nationwide Bankrate survey from May, for instance, said they expect to shop less at traditional in-person retailers.”

While it will take time for the overall economy to recover, it will also take time for individuals to recover from financial as well as other physical and mental health issues made worse during the pandemic. For example, the percentage of individuals experiencing depression doubled even during the early months of the pandemic, according to the US Census Bureau.

So, if the lovely post-COVID-19 world is not going to arrive anytime soon, what should you really be focusing on over the next several months or longer? Here are just a handful of ideas:

May 20, 2020

Your Charity’s Greatest Opportunity is the Rising Need of Donors to Connect

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has presented fundraising professionals with a large number of significant difficulties. One of those challenges is trying to figure out where to get solid, actionable information to help nonprofit organizations raise much-needed funds.

Now, Prof. Jen Shang, Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, comes to our rescue. On Friday, May 22, 2020, she will be presenting a special webinar: “How to Love Your Donors During COVID-19.” I recently received an email from Prof. Shang, along with three tips, that she is kindly allowing me to share with you.

Prof. Shang, the world’s only philanthropic psychologist, has found that the pandemic is causing donors to feel a lack of wellbeing. This is due in large part to a decrease in the sense of connection that people feel during the lockdown. Interestingly, this presents an opportunity for your charity.

When you help your donors feel a sense of real connection, you will help them feel a greater sense of wellbeing. When they associate that greater sense of wellbeing with your nonprofit organization, they will be more likely to renew and increase their support now and well into the future. In other words, by taking care of your donors, you will be taking care of your charity.

One of the things that will make this webinar a valuable experience for you is that it is based on scientific research rather than simply relying on war stories or opinion. In other words, the many bright ideas you’ll learn will be solid and safely actionable. As someone who has taken Prof. Shang’s Philanthropic Psychology course, I can personally assure you that you will get meaningful information that will help you enhance your fundraising efforts.

Here is Prof. Shang’s message:

 

COVID-19 has created such uncertainty in our lives that many are wondering how and when life will ever get back to normal and how we will survive it all in the meantime.

At the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, we have not stopped collecting data since the first country locked down at the beginning of this pandemic. And we have been collecting data on how good people feel every other week since.

This [post] will give you a first sneak peak of the findings, and three tips on what to do NOW that you’ll find at the end.

We will release the full results of these studies in a webinar that we will host twice this Friday, May 22 at 6:00 am UK time and again at 3:00 pm UK time.

We studied over 4,000 adults in the US and other countries.

We measured about 30 feelings that people experienced on a daily basis. We found that people’s feelings significantly worsened during the first six weeks of the pandemic. As the lockdown continued, people felt progressively worse.

Specifically, people felt less connected to others.

Psychologists have known for decades that feeling connected to others is one of the three most fundamental needs we have as humans. Our need to have this fulfilled cannot be changed. It is as certain as our life exists. Our sense of connectedness declines when we are isolated in lockdown, when we cannot physically see anyone or talk to anyone, and when we cannot hug anyone or kiss anyone. We have seen our connectedness score declining for over six weeks now.

There is no uncertainty in any of it. When humans are locked down, their need to connect rises. With data, we also know what they need and in what quantity.

read more »

April 28, 2020

Warning Signs You Need to Know About

While the nonprofit sector continues to raise massive amounts of money, danger lies ahead for fundraising professionals as the coronavirus health crisis leads us further into an economic calamity.

As the COVID-19 pandemic gained traction, individuals, corporations, and foundations have responded with robust giving. For example, individual giving revenue through direct mail, processed by Merkle RMG, has increased 5.8 percent year-over-year even while the volume of donations dropped by 15.5 percent, according to Merkle RMG’s Impact Report, COVID-19: How the Coronavirus Pandemic is Impacting Direct Mail Fundraising (transactions through April 19, 2020).

The initial philanthropic response to the pandemic is not surprising for those who have experienced major challenges in the past. Giving lags changes in economic conditions. For instance, during the Great Recession (2007-09), we also saw a similar philanthropic pattern with revenue initially increasing while the number of donors declined. The following graph from Target Analytics, a Blackbaud company, illustrates the point:

Now, let me just mention that no one has a crystal ball or time machine. Therefore, no one, including me, can precisely predict what will happen and when it will happen. Nevertheless, we do know that during past crises, we saw that charitable giving fell after an initial surge.

The overall economy has a profound effect on philanthropic giving. We know that overall philanthropy correlates with Gross Domestic Product at the rate of about two percent. Furthermore, historical data shows that individual giving correlates with personal income at the rate of roughly two percent. In other words, when the economy is strong, giving will be strong; when the economy falters, giving will slow.

Because the coronavirus pandemic has caused a major global economic disruption, we can anticipate that this will eventually have a negative effect on philanthropic giving. Consider these warning signs:

As corporations see profits eroded, as foundations see investments decimated, as individuals see personal income slashed, charitable giving will likely decrease. However, there are some mitigating factors in play:

read more »

April 10, 2020

Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

Over the past couple of weeks, social media, the blogosphere, and countless webinars have pondered the question: Is this the best or worst of times for legacy fundraising? Unfortunately, despite the high volume of opinions circulating, a view grounded in science has yet to emerge. So, philanthropy researcher Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP® and I teamed up to prepare a special white paper for you that analyzes the current legacy-giving environment and reveals to you a path forward that we base on fact rather than emotional whim.

This blog post provides you with the full paper, nearly 5,000 words, with all of its insights and tips. In addition, you can download the PDF version for FREE. You may want to share the white paper PDF with your CEO, CFO, and board leadership.

Because of the unusual length of this post, I won’t offer any additional introductory comments other than to say that Russell and I are available for speaking engagements, training sessions, consultation, and interviews to address this and other relevant subjects. For more information, please contact me.

Now, here is the complete white paper:

 

Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP® and Michael J. Rosen

The death media currently inundate us with panic-inducing news. Ubiquitous reports about the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Daily death tolls. Images of people in masks or complete hazmat suits. Talk of overwhelmed hospitals. News of quarantined regions and nations.

What should a legacy fundraiser do in the midst of a societal crisis? Stop communicating altogether? Make a last-minute push to get into a donor’s Will before it’s too late? Something in between? All of the above?

To get some guidance, it helps to start with a bit of social-science theory, a look at recent financial history, and early empirical data.

Social-Science Theory

We start with social-science theory because it’s actually quite useful to first understand what we know about how people react to reminders of death.

An entire field of experimental psychology focuses on this very topic. Scientists call it Terror Management Theory. This field has produced many hundreds of experimental results. Therefore, we know quite a lot about what happens when you remind people that they are going to die.

There are many technical books and papers on the subject. Google Scholar lists 12,500 of them. Here’s a quick summary. Death is a problem. People use two solutions:  1) ignore the problem, or 2) live on after death. Allow us to explain.

The Two Defenses to Death Reminders

People respond to death reminders with two stages of defense. The first stage (proximal) defense is avoidance. Avoidance comes from a desire to suppress the reminder. This suppression can be expressed in many ways. For example, it might involve physically moving away from the reminder (e.g., avoiding strolling past a hospital or cemetery when taking a walk). It might involve denigrating a mortality reminder’s validity or personal applicability (e.g., it can’t happen to me). It might be dismissing the subject with humor (e.g., the film Death at a Funeral).

The second stage (distal) defense is pursuit of symbolic immortality or lasting social impact. When avoidance doesn’t work, then we must somehow deal with our own earthly impermanence. We deal with this by latching on to those things that will remain after we are gone. In other words, I may disappear, but some part of my identity – my family, my values, my in-group, my people, my story, my causes – will remain.

People don’t treat personal death reminders in the same way they treat other pieces of objective information. In legacy fundraising, it has always been important to understand this. These two underlying defensive responses help to explain how people will respond.

Death Just Got Way More Offensive

In experiments, personal death reminders ramp up avoidance responses. The more death reminders, the more avoidance people will exhibit. Right now, COVID-19 news engulfs our audiences in personal death reminders. For many people, this will make any death-related communications aversive.

(Interestingly, people will gladly read the latest news headlines as a means of pursuing avoidance. People hunger for details on how to avoid the death risk. They will support strong action that promises the same. Others may even pursue avoidance by putting unwarranted faith in untested treatments or unproven protocols.)

In addition to people living in an environment that stimulates greater levels of death avoidance, current conditions cause individuals to feel less of an emotional sense of wellbeing.

Dr. Jen Shang, a philanthropic psychologist and co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, among other social scientists, believes that wellbeing involves three essential characteristics:

  • autonomy – a sense of control
  • connectedness – the quantity and quality of relationships
  • competence – effectiveness

The more autonomous, connected, and competent people feel, the greater sense of personal wellbeing they will feel. Conversely, when people feel those qualities eroding, they will feel a decline in wellbeing.

In addition to the physical health risks associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic, people are experiencing psychological stress. Many individuals feel that current events are overwhelming them, knocking them out of their routines, and causing them to lose control of their professional and personal lives. With the uncertainty of the near-term, it’s not surprising that people would feel they have lost a great deal of control over their lives.

As the pandemic leads government officials to suggest or order people to stay at home, practice social distancing, and limit even essential activities such as grocery shopping, people are losing their sense of connection to other people including neighbors, extended family members, friends, colleagues, and more.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people are grappling with their feeling of competency when facing new conditions. Many have set-up a home workspace for the first time. Others are learning new technologies to communicate more effectively with others.

People want to have a sense of wellbeing. The more autonomy, connectedness, and competency they feel, the better they will feel. Generally, people will seek to engage in behaviors that enhance their sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, they will appreciate individuals and organizations that help them obtain greater wellbeing.

So, what does all of this mean for legacy fundraising (i.e., a key type of planned giving)? To begin, it means the following:

  1. Legacy fundraising communications that “lead with death” need to be shelved.

Many fundraising professionals are accustomed to being direct. Being blunt. Making the ask. Making it early and often. That may be fine for some types of fundraising. While this type of approach was often less than ideal for legacy fundraising prior to the pandemic, this is even more true right now. This is not the time to lead with death. In normal times, this will create some pushback. In these times, expect it to create massive pushback.

Yes, you should absolutely communicate with your organization’s supporters. Moreover, those communications should be about delivering value to the donor. Through your outreach, you should strive to enhance each individual donor’s sense of wellbeing.

  1. Now is the time to be “top of mind.”

Most people tend to put off estate planning in normal times. For example, in the U.S., most adults over 50 have no Will or Trust documents. From what we know about avoidance, such delay is no surprise. But, from a massive longitudinal study in the U.S., we also know when those plans are made and changed. The typical triggers for planning fall into one of two camps, family structure changes or “death becomes real.” Family structure changes include marriage, divorce, birth of first child, birth of a first grandchild, and widowhood. “Death becomes real” includes diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, stroke, moving to a nursing home, or actually approaching death (measured retrospectively).

Right now, many people are living the “death becomes real” experience. Consequently, there is a major upsurge in Will document completions – particularly online. Some sites are reporting greater than 100 percent week-over-week increases in completed documents.1 The Remember a Charity website, which promotes legacy giving for the U.K. charity sector, has experienced twice as many people visiting its “Making A Will” page as would do so normally.2

As “death becomes real,” people are also increasingly expressing interest in life insurance.3 One online life insurance agency saw the most ever monthly applications and sales in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic gained traction. Another online life insurance agency saw an increase in applications of more than 50 percent since February.

We know from experimental research that the charitable component of an estate plan is, for many people, highly fluid. In one experiment with British solicitors (lawyers), simply asking the question, “Would you like to leave any money to charity?” more than doubled the share of people including charitable gifts in their Will documents. Even small alterations in the wording used to describe such gifts results in dramatic changes in both charitable intentions and actual document contents.

For a charity, being “top of mind” at the moment in which people are actually planning is absolutely critical. More people are planning right now than in any normal time. Clearly, this is the ideal time for your charity to be communicating about gifts in Wills and even beneficiary designations. However, the language of how you communicate is most critical.

When viewed through the social scientist’s lens of individual wellbeing, the enhanced interest in estate planning is not surprising. Drafting a Will or purchasing a life insurance policy is a way for someone to feel a sense of autonomy or control over the current situation. Through these actions, they can enhance the feeling of attachment from relationships with those they love as they make plans to take care of these people. When successfully achieving their estate planning objectives, including supporting values and causes that have been important in their lives, individuals will feel an elevated sense of competency. In other words, a major reason we now see a spike in interest in Wills and life insurance is that it gives people an enhanced sense of wellbeing.

If communications from charities also enhance a donor’s sense of wellbeing, organizations may find that their donors will have greater interest in supporting them with a commitment in a Will or through a life insurance beneficiary designation. In other words, helping a donor feel better may ultimately benefit the charity.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Is this the best time or the worst time to be communicating about legacy gifts? Actually, it is both.

People are planning like never before because they seek to take care of their families, usually the first priority of those doing estate planning even in the best of times. The challenge for charities is that we need to be at the top of their minds when people are ready to make their plans. It’s definitely the best time for legacy fundraising. Furthermore, by engaging people, fundraisers have an opportunity, like never before, to perform a real service by helping donors enhance their feeling of wellbeing.

On the other hand, talking about legacy planning can be offensive like never before. People are emotionally-poised to lash out strongly against such death reminders. Take one step in that direction and the risk-averse herd animal known as your executive director will be ready to end your career. It can very-well seem like the worst time for legacy fundraising, particularly when done the wrong way.

We’re not talking about opposing camps. Instead, individual donors are experiencing both of these paradoxical orientations to one degree or another.

The Direct Route is Closed. Now What?

read more »

December 10, 2019

To Raise More Money, Look for More Engagement Opportunities

Smart nonprofit professionals know that fundraising success involves much more than simply asking for money. You need to identify prospective supporters, educate them, cultivate them, then ask for support, and finally steward your donors. An essential, often neglected, aspect of cultivation is engagement.

Sadly, many nonprofit organizations think of donors as piggy banks or ATMs dispensing money. Those charities tend to assume that charitable giving is, by its very nature, transactional. They further assume that low donor retention rates are just the way things are. Those organizations are correct … regarding themselves.

By contrast, nonprofits that treat prospects and donors as partners are more likely to attract support. Furthermore, they are more likely to retain and upgrade donors over time. One way to establish a partnership with people is to engage them in meaningful ways.

So, what does meaningful engagement look like?

PTC’s See & Be Scene Event.

For decades, I’ve been a fan and supporter of the Philadelphia Theatre Company. Recently, my wife and I were invited to attend “See & Be Scene: A Sneak Peek at the 2020/21 Season.” The event involved readings from eight plays under consideration for the upcoming four-play season. Subscribers and donors were invited to attend for free while the general public could purchase tickets at $15 each.

Through the event, PTC accomplished three important things:

  1. PTC expressed gratitude to its ticket subscribers and donors.
  2. Staff gained useful audience feedback that will help them select the plays of greatest potential interest to PTC’s audience.
  3. By giving them a real voice, PTC made its supporters feel like partners.

At intermission, I had the chance to quietly ask Paige Price, Producing Artistic Director, what she and the staff were hoping to get out of the program. She told me that they were interested in audience feedback. They wanted to know what people thought of each option, what they liked and didn’t like. They also wanted to be able to address any questions the audience might have about the upcoming season or the theatre company itself.

I also had the opportunity to speak privately with one of PTC’s board members. I asked him the same question I asked Ms. Price. He gave me a similar answer. Then, I mentioned that the event was a great way to cultivate ticket subscribers and donors. While he acknowledged it was, he told me that the primary purpose of the gathering was the opportunity to engage the audience and learn their thoughts about plans for the upcoming season.

I believe what I was told. PTC used the program to build a genuine partnership with people. Judging from the audience response, PTC succeeded with those in attendance. During the discussion session following the readings, one audience member said, “I think next season we should perform…” Someone else began her comment by saying, “As a member…” Clearly, at least some people in the audience did indeed see themselves as partners with PTC.

Another way that PTC seeks to engage theatregoers can be found in the lobby. A large sign invites people to make suggestions:

Have an idea? We want to hear from you.”

PTC’s Call for Suggestions.

People can take a card or use their ticket to write down their suggestion. They can submit it anonymously or include their phone number or email address so that PTC can respond.

With the “See & be Scene” program and with the request for feedback and suggestions, PTC engages people. Even those who do not take advantage of either opportunity will appreciate having had the opportunity to be heard.

Part of what makes the PTC engagement initiatives effective is that they are sincere efforts to build partnerships rather than cynical, manipulative gestures. By building meaningful partnerships, PTC will likely continue to develop a loyal base of ticket buyers and donors.

Engagement efforts that are sincere and true to an organization’s mission are most likely to be seen as meaningful. And they are most likely to build partnerships that lead to loyal support. While performing arts organizations have a number of obvious ways they can engage people, other types of nonprofit organizations may find it more challenging to do so.

read more »

December 5, 2019

With #GivingTuesday Behind Us Here’s What You Need to be Thinking About

Ahhhhh! Once again, it’s safe for us to open our mailboxes and email inboxes. The same is true for charity donors. Giving Tuesday 2019 is behind us.

Now what?

Well, over Thanksgiving weekend, I sent out a cartoon via Twitter that got me thinking. It also caused a reader and friend to suggest I blog about it. So, here it is, the cartoon and my post about what the cartoon suggests for us in our post-Giving-Tuesday professional lives.

In the cartoon, the child at the Thanksgiving table asks, “Why aren’t we this thankful every day?” It’s a great question for us to ask both our personal and professional selves.

As a fundraising professional, you should adopt a thankfulness, or gratitude, mindset. You’ll be happier and healthier as will the people around you. Let’s be thankful every day. Allow me illustrate what I mean.

How do you feel when you receive a phone call from a donor while you’re busy writing your next direct-mail appeal or preparing your development report for an upcoming board meeting? Are you annoyed that the donor has interrupted you with a silly question that she could have answered for herself by visiting your organization’s website? Or, are you grateful for the donor’s support and happy to provide direct service to her in a personal conversation that you didn’t even have to initiate?

That’s just one example. But, I think you understand my point.

When you and your organization truly appreciate your supporters, you’ll look for ways to thank them, show them gratitude, and engage them in meaningful ways as part of your normal routine. This is essential for all of the folks who support your organization; it’s especially true for the new donors you acquired on Giving Tuesday. If you want to retain more donors, upgrade the support of more donors, and receive more major and planned gifts, you need to show contributors the appreciation they deserve.

Henri Frederic Amiel, the 19th century philosopher and poet, once said:

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”

As a thankful fundraising professional, you will:

  • Provide a thank-you message to every donor.
  • Send a thank-you letter immediately, within days of receiving a gift.
  • Show supporters you care about them, not just their money.
  • Ensure that your communications are meaningful for your supporters.

As a general rule, you’ll want to look for ways to thank each donor seven times. For example, here are seven ideas for how you can thank a supporter:

read more »

November 26, 2019

Is One Charity about to Make You Look Bad?

The Charities Aid Foundation of America might have made your nonprofit organization look bad last year. Warning: They’re about to do it again!

Let me explain.

If you’ve sent your year-end appeal, written a solid thank-you letter series, and prepared a donor-engagement plan, you might believe you’ll be all set to take a holiday break between Christmas and the New Year. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Many charities operate with a skeleton staff between the holidays while others shutdown completely.

However, while many nonprofit organizations wind down in the closing weeks of the year, many donors are gearing up their philanthropic activity. Many donors make their philanthropic decisions at the end of the year, often in the closing days of the year. While the current federal tax law means fewer people itemize their deductions when filing their taxes, many of those people still make late year-end charitable gifts. Furthermore, many wealthy people who do itemize will wait until the closing days of the year before making their philanthropic gifts.

Some of your year-end donors will have questions. They may wonder about the best way to give (i.e., cash, appreciated stock, Donor Advised Fund recommendation, etc.). Others may have questions about your organization’s programs and areas of greatest need. Still others may simply need to know the formal name of your organization to put on their check.

If individuals with questions are unable to reach you for answers, they may not give or they may give elsewhere. This is something CAF America understands.

Last year, Ted Hart, ACFRE, CAP, President & CEO of CAF America, sent an email wishing donors a happy holiday and announcing his organization’s extended holiday hours. Not only would someone be available throughout the holiday season, staff would be available until 8:00 PM EST, well beyond standard business hours. Hart provided an email address and phone number. The email encouraged recipients to reach out if they needed any help or had any questions. You can find a copy of Hart’s email message and my detailed analysis of it by clicking here.

Underscoring his organization’s donor-centered orientation, Hart concluded his message by writing:

It is our pleasure to be of service to your domestic and international philanthropy on a timetable that suits you best.”

Hart’s email let supporters know that the organization is there to meet their needs on their terms. Even if they didn’t need to contact the organization as December 31 approached, they still appreciated knowing that the organization cared enough about them to remain accessible.

Based on the response to last year’s extended hours, CAF America will be doing the same this year beginning December 9. Hart explains, “We had many donors who made use of the extended hours. Many are very busy during the holidays and regular business hours do not always support busy holiday schedules.”

By comparison with CAF America, does your organization look good or bad as the year comes to a close?

I’m not suggesting that you need to stay at your desk through the end of the year. However, I am suggesting you remain accessible. Fortunately, technology allows you to be reachable without having to remain in the office. For example, you can set email alerts on your cell phone. Also, you can forward your office calls to your cell phone. So, whether or not you remain in the office, you can still be available to individuals contemplating a donation to your organization.

If, like CAF America, you let people know that you will remain available, you’ll be showing them that you care about them. Your organization’s supporters will appreciate the extra effort you make to be of service even if they don’t have any year-end needs.

At this time of year, the public expects to be inundated with charity appeals seeking support. What people do not expect is a message offering good wishes and service. So, pleasantly surprise folks this holiday season. Show individuals you care about each of them by letting them know you’re there for them. Offer them assistance. Give them an opportunity to engage. Provide useful information.

To determine if your organization is donor centered as the year draws to a close, ask yourself these questions:

read more »

%d bloggers like this: