Archive for ‘Fundraising’

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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September 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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August 29, 2018

Surprise! You’re Most Likely Part of the Top One Percent.

As you begin to make plans for year-end appeals, let’s spend a few moments considering the idea of entitlement. I’m talking about the idea that wealthy individuals and corporations should, perhaps must, “give back” simply because they have a lot of money.

Do you think the top one percent income earners should pay higher taxes? Do you think they should donate more money to charity?

You might feel a bit differently after I share some news with you. If you earn at least $32,400 a year (or approximately 30,250 Euros, 2 million Indian Rupees, or 223,000 Chinese Yuan), you are part of the top one percent of income earners in the world, according to a new report in Investopedia. If you’re reading this post, I’ll bet the odds are that you’re a one-percenter. Congratulations!

So, as a global one-percenter, do you feel under-taxed? Do you feel cheap and that you don’t contribute enough to charities, particularly global non-governmental organizations? Should fundraising professionals in the USA and around the world expect, perhaps even demand, that you donate more? Should they shame you for not giving enough? Are charities entitled to more of your money just because you’re a one-percenter?

You might think so. I do not.

I believe that charities must behave ethically, provide great services, develop a meaningful case for support, and inspire people, foundations, and corporations to give. Charities must partner with donors, report to them, engage them. Simply thinking that the rich, or anyone for that matter, should do more is not going to get the job done.

I want to share a bizarre story with you that would be funny if it were not true. It’s about fundraising for a wedding. It nicely illustrates my point regarding the failure of an entitlement mindset.

Susan and her fiancé were childhood sweethearts. The couple worked on her family’s farm before attending community college. Then, they went to work to “become financially stable.” The couple continued working hard and eventually saved $15,000 for a wedding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough money for the “extravagant blow-out wedding” Susan wanted in order to properly celebrate their “fairy-tale” relationship.

Susan figured her ideal wedding would cost $60,000. So, she decided to look for financial help. She says, “All we asked was for a little help from our friends and family to make it happen.” Specifically, the-bride-to-be sought cash gifts. “How could we have our wedding that we dreamed of without proper funding? We’d sacrificed so much and only asked each guest for around $1,500.” As Fox News reported, Susan also said she “made it clear. If you couldn’t contribute, you weren’t invited to our exclusive wedding. It’s a once and a lifetime [sic] party.”

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August 17, 2018

It’s Time to Stop Whining about Donor-Advised Funds!

The New York Times whined recently about Donor-Advised Funds in an article carrying the headline, “How Tech Billionaires Hack Their Taxes With a Philanthropic Loophole.”

While you personally might not complain about DAFs, you can sure bet some of your organization’s senior staff and board members may line up with some of the experts cited in the misleading piece in the Times.

I’m here to tell you and others that it’s time to stop whining about DAFs. Regardless of how you feel about them, DAFs have been with us since the 1930s, and they’re not likely to go away anytime soon. So, you and your organization will be far better off if you understand how to benefit from DAFs.

I’ll give you six tips. However, as a former newspaper editor, I feel compelled to first bust the myths peddled by the Times.

“Billionaires.” The Times seems to suggest that DAFs are a tool being used by and only available to billionaires. David Gelles writes, “DAFs allow wealthy individuals like Mr. Woodman to give assets — usually cash and stock, but also real estate, art and cryptocurrencies — to a sponsoring organization like the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Fidelity Charitable or Vanguard Charitable.” While many wealthy individuals establish DAF accounts, so do middle class people. Some sponsoring organizations require just a $5,000 contribution to create one.

As a result of the new tax code, some donors will no longer itemize deductions on their tax returns because of the increase in the standard deduction. However, if they are close to being able to itemize beyond the standard deduction, some will choose to bundle their charitable giving. In other words, they’ll give in some years but not others. In the years they give, they’ll itemize. One way some of these donors will give is to establish a DAF with a large contribution in a given year. Then, they’ll continue to support their favorite charities each year by recommending annual grants from their DAF account.

The bottom-line is that DAFs are not just for the super-wealthy.

“Hack Their Taxes with a Philanthropic Loophole.” The headline in the Times lets you know the reporter’s inappropriate bias right from the start. The wealthy are not doing anything cute, clever, sloppy, or nefarious by creating a DAF. Any donor who creates a DAF is simply following the clearly written provisions of the law.

If giving to charity is a “hack” in the pejorative sense, if receiving a charitable-gift deduction for donating to a nonprofit organization is exploiting a “loophole,” then perhaps we should do away with the deduction for donations all together. However, can we agree that would be stupid?

The bottom-line is that setting up a DAF is no more evil than creating a foundation or trust or, for that matter, giving directly to a charitable organization. Donors who engage in careful tax planning have more disposable income or assets, which has historically led to more giving.

“Charities Can Wait for Funds Indefinitely.” Gelles writes, “So while donors enjoy immediate tax benefits, charities can wait for funds indefinitely, and maybe forever.” He goes on to state that foundations are required to give away five percent of their assets each year, but DAFs have no similar requirement. That’s true, but…

While DAFs are not required to make minimum distributions, the average DAF distributes far more than the minimum required of foundations. According to the 2017 Donor-Advised Fund Report, compiled by The National Philanthropic Trust, DAFs contributed 20.3 percent of assets to charities in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. For the third year in a row, growth in grants from DAFs has outpaced the growth of giving to DAFs.

Why would a donor just let money sit in a DAF account “forever” after setting up the irrevocable account? While the sponsoring organizations would love that – they earn fees for managing the accounts – a donor derives zero benefit from warehousing money in a DAF, beyond the initial deduction. Instead, donors benefit when that money can be put to good use. Furthermore, they’ll benefit when the recipient charities recognize their support and express their gratitude.

The bottom-line is that most donors have no interest in warehousing their money. They want to use their DAFs to help build a better world. It’s the job of fundraising professionals to inspire these people to recommend grants from their DAF accounts.

“Philanthropy is Becoming Less Transparent.” The article quotes David Callahan, author of The Givers, as saying, “The world of philanthropy is becoming less transparent, and that’s not a good thing.” While I’m not really sure what point Callahan was making, the Times wants us to believe that DAFs are part of the transparency problem as people use them to hide their giving.

A few years ago, I was curious about how secretive DAF grantmakers really are. Here is what I was able to report:

Vanguard Charitable reports that 95 percent of its grantmakers share their name with the charities they support. Schwab Charitable, another large DAF management organization, says that 97 percent of its grantmakers share their name. Fidelity Charitable reports that 92 percent of its grantmakers provide information for nonprofit acknowledgment. This means that charities are able to continue to cultivate and steward these donors.”

The bottom-line is that when donors are inspired to give through their DAF, they almost never do so secretively.

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August 7, 2018

Mega-Philanthropist with Profound Legacy:H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest (1930 -2018)

H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, cable-television pioneer, mega-philanthropist, and civic leader, has died at the age of 88. His extraordinary generosity and wisdom will have a lasting impact.

I had the privilege of knowing Gerry. I was especially honored that he provided the Foreword to my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. I want to share some of his astute words with you. However, I first want to tell you a bit about this great man and his exceptional life.

Gerry Lenfest (left) with Michael Rosen.

Gerry was not born into great wealth. He was born in Jacksonville, FL, and raised in Scarsdale, NY and later on the family farm in Hunterdon County, NJ. After his mother died when he was 13-years-old, his father sent him to the George School, a private boarding academy. A troubled student, he was invited not to return after just one year.

At his new school, young Gerry continued to be something of a juvenile delinquent, his own description. Finally, his father enrolled him at Mercersburg Academy where teenage Gerry began to excel.

Following high school, Gerry was directionless. He worked as a roughneck in North Dakota, a farm hand, and as a crew member on an oil tanker. Eventually, he attended Washington and Lee University where he received an undergraduate economics degree. He served in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of captain. In 1955, he married Marguerite Brooks, an elementary school teacher. Gerry went on to receive his law degree from Columbia University and, then, served with a prestigious New York law firm.

Walter Annenberg hired Gerry in 1965 to work at Triangle Publications, Inc., owner of Seventeen and TV Guide magazines, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News newspapers, television and radio stations, and several cable television properties. With the help of loans and two investors, he bought two tiny cable systems from Annenberg in 1974 to start Lenfest Communications. In 2000, Gerry’s company had grown from 7,600 subscribers to over 1 million to become the 11th largest cable company in the nation. That same year, he sold the company to Comcast, netting $1.2 billion in the deal.

Gerry always attributed his great success to the skill and dedication of his various teams and good fortune, whether in business or with the nonprofit organizations he worked with. Knowing he owed much of his success in life to others motivated him, in turn, to help others.

The Lenfests signed on to The Giving Pledge, a movement of wealthy individuals who commit to donating the majority of their fortunes. Over more than two decades, the Lenfests have donated more than $1.3 billion to over 1,200 nonprofit organizations. The top 10 recipients of support from the Lenfests are (source: Philly.com):

ORGANIZATION DOLLARS IN MILLIONS
Columbia University 155.0
Lenfest Institute for Journalism 129.5
Mercersburg Academy 109.0
Philadelphia Museum of Art 107.3
Washington and Lee University  81.0
Museum of the American Revolution  63.0
Curtis Institute of Music  60.0
Lenfest (Pew) Ocean Program  53.3
Wilson College  40.0
Lenfest Scholars Program  32.0

In addition to his enormous philanthropy, Gerry served on a number of nonprofit boards including Columbia University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of the American Revolution, which he helped create. In 2005, Gerry and Marguerite were awarded the Association of Fundraising Professionals Award for Outstanding Philanthropists.

You can read more about Gerry Lenfest’s extraordinary story by clicking here.

While I could say much, much more about Gerry and his tremendous, positive impact, I’d rather share some of Gerry’s own words with you. Gerry provides some sage advice for fundraising professionals about what they must do to secure significant contributions:

Knowing your prospects and understanding what motivates them are two critical steps in the [philanthropic] process. Quite simply, you cannot skip cultivation and relationship building and expect a successful outcome.”

Lenfest was also keenly aware that the fundraising process should not end when an organization receives a donation. He advises:

Do not make the mistake of forgetting about us once you receive our gift commitment. We may truly appreciate how efficiently and effectively you handle contributed funds so much that we entrust you with another [donation]. We are also in a position to influence others to do the same.”

As a strong advocate for planned giving, Gerry observes:

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August 3, 2018

Fantastic News and Opportunity for the Nonprofit Sector!

The nonprofit sector received a major piece of good news at the end of July. American Gross Domestic Product in the second quarter of 2018 grew at the annualized rate of 4.1 percent. This represents the economy’s fastest growth rate since 2014. GDP growth in the first-quarter was a healthy, though unremarkable, 2.2 percent.

I don’t really care if you love or hate President Donald Trump. I’m not making a political statement. I’m simply reporting on an economic fact that has profound implications for nonprofit organizations.

The news is fantastic for charities because overall-philanthropy correlates with GDP. For more than four decades, philanthropy has been between 1.6 and 2.2 percent of GDP. In 2017, philanthropy was once again at 2.1 percent (Giving USA). This means that when the economy grows, we can expect growth in charitable giving.

Think of it this way: For more than 40 years, the nonprofit sector has received about a two percent slice of the economic pie. It’s safe to say that that approximate proportion will continue. So, if the economic pie becomes larger, that two percent slice becomes larger as well.

While I’m oversimplifying, my fundamental point is sound: When the economy grows, so does philanthropy.

Some economists and commentators believe the robust GDP growth rate is not sustainable. However, if the impressive economic growth continues, or even if growth continues at a more moderate pace, we can still expect 2018 to be a good year for charitable fundraising.

Given the positive economic environment, you have an opportunity to successfully raise money for your organization. But, it’s up to you to seize that opportunity while the positive economic environment lasts.

Here are 10 things you can do to raise more money while the economy is good:

1. Hug your donors. Ok, maybe not literally. However, you do need to let your donors know you love and appreciate them. Do you quickly acknowledge gifts? You should do so within 48 hours. Do you effectively thank donors? You should do so in at least seven different ways. You should review your thank-you letters to ensure they are heartfelt, meaningful, and effective. Have board members call donors to thank them in addition to your standard thank-you letter.

2. Tell donors about the impact of their gifts. Donors want to know that their giving is making a difference. If their giving isn’t making a difference or they aren’t sure, they’re more likely to give elsewhere. So, report to your donors. Tell them what their giving is achieving and that their support is being used efficiently.

3. Start a new recognition program. One small nonprofit organization I know started a new, special corporate giving club. CEOs of the corporate members are placed on an advisory board, receive special recognition, and are provided with networking opportunities. This new recognition program generated over $50,000 in just a few months. While enhancing existing recognition efforts is beneficial, starting a new recognition program can yield significant results.

4. Ask. Your organization is providing important services. It needs money. Give people the opportunity to support your worthy mission. When you ask for support, just be certain not to limit the ask to cash gifts. Research shows that organizations that receive non-monetary donations (e.g., stocks, bonds, personal property, real estate, etc.) grow significantly more than organizations that receive only cash contributions. Partly as a result of the new income tax code, the number of Donor-Advised Funds has grown significantly. So, make it easy for your supporters to give from their DAFs.

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July 27, 2018

How to NOT Make a Mistake Worse

There is an adage, first published in The Bankers Magazine (1964) that advises wisely:

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

The Law of Holes suggests we should strive to not make bad situations worse through further unhelpful, counter-productive behavior.

Sadly, many people, including nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals, fail to heed that fine advice. Instead, when in a bad situation or when confronted by criticism, many folks make matters worse by reacting defensively, acting helplessly, remaining in denial, criticizing the critic, or ignoring the situation altogether.

Fortunately, many people handle criticism gracefully and, in the process, set a fine example for the rest of us.

Recently, I wrote about my wife’s failed attempt to donate to a local charity. While my wife and I have never supported the organization, we do agree with its mission. Therefore, it was with great interest that I noticed that the charity was hosting a fundraising event with a speaker I wanted to hear. My wife went to the organization’s website to buy tickets. However, due to a website glitch, she was unable to complete the transaction. So, she then called the organization during office hours. Not being able to reach a live person, she left a voice-mail message. No one from the organization returned her call. We ended up not attending the event.

After I posted about my wife’s experience and what fundraisers can learn from it, I sent the organization’s Executive Director an email and a link to my article. I sent the email on Tuesday evening at 7:01 PM. I expected one of two things to happen: 1) I thought I might receive a defensive response the following business day, or 2) I might not receive any reply, ever.

Instead, my guess was happily wrong. That very evening at 7:21 PM, I received a message from the Executive Director. We can learn much from the tone and content of his response:

Dear Michael,

Your email was both upsetting and instructive. I appreciated the spirit of the message and have already begun to think about how to use it to create change and improve. Also I read your blog. I’m curious if you are a professional fundraiser? Either way you and your wife have my apologies for this unfortunate experience. It is clearly our loss when customers and potential friends are turned off. It’s contrary to the purpose of running these events and clearly counter productive.

In addition to my apologies you have my gratitude for bringing this to my attention.

Sincerely,

(name withheld here)”

Here is what we can learn from the email response:

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July 20, 2018

Make It Easy for People to Give You Money

Two different stories this week have inspired me to write this blog post, and provide two pieces of simple, essential advice.

My first tale involves a local charity. While my wife and I have never supported the organization, we do agree with its mission. Earlier this week, the charity hosted a fundraising event with a speaker I wanted to hear. My wife went to the organization’s website to buy tickets. She saw there were two options: 1) general admission tickets, and 2) tickets to both the talk and a pre-talk meet-and-greet reception with the speaker. We opted for the pricier tickets.

That’s when the trouble started.

As my wife began entering her contact information, the website would not allow her to change the town name in the address section. This was a big problem because our hometown is different from the nearby town where the charity is located. Compounding the problem, this was a required field although it did not have to be so.

Unable to buy the event tickets online, my wife called the charity to try to purchase the tickets by phone. No one answered. She left a voice-mail message. No one returned her call.

That was the end of it. My wife could not complete the transaction. We were both annoyed. While our intended contribution would not have been huge, it would have been a significant first-time gift. Unfortunately, for the charity, it lost its chance to engage us. Instead, the charity alienated us. Sadly, we likely weren’t the only people who experienced this problem.

So, what can we learn from this story? The lesson is as simple as it is significant:

Make it easy for people to give you money!

Here are some tips:

  • If you’re having a fundraising event, create a landing page on your website to make registration easy.
  • Make it easy to find the event landing page.
  • Make registering easy by ensuring the registration or donation page is functional.
  • Make it easy for people to donate money online, even when there is no special event, by having a donate button at the top, right corner of every web page on your site.
  • In addition to a donate button, have a donate tab on your website’s menu bar to make giving easy.
  • When seeking donations online or by mail, keep it simple and easy. Ask only for the information you need. The more information you seek (particularly the information you require), the greater the risk that the donor will not complete the contribution.
  • When sending direct-mail appeals, enclose a Business Reply Envelope to make responding easy.
  • Provide your full contact information (name, title, mailing address, phone number, fax number, email address) for donors to reach out to you easily with any questions or issues. Your organization’s general contact information should be on every website page.
  • When a donor or prospective donor calls, answer your phone. If you’re not going to answer your phone, be sure to respond to messages as quickly as possible. This is especially true leading up to an event or at year-end.
  • Accept gifts of cash or donations made through credit card and PayPal. In other words, make giving easy by accepting the donor’s preferred payment method.

The bottom line here is that your organization needs to make it easy for people to give it money. Donors have choices. Your charity is not unique. There are other charities with a similar mission. If you mistreat prospects or donors, or make giving a challenge, they’ll simply support another organization with a similar mission that more effectively engages them.

While making it easy for people to give is important, it’s not enough as the following story from the for-profit sector demonstrates:

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