Archive for ‘Fundraising’

June 14, 2019

What is the Biggest Obstacle to Fundraising Success?

Have you ever wondered what is the biggest obstacle to fundraising success?

Is it the new tax code?

Is it the economy?

Is it the decline of religious affiliation?

Is it fewer donors?

Is it an underfunded fundraising budget?

Any or all of those might be obstacles. However, none of them is the biggest obstacle. So, what is?

You are the biggest obstacle to fundraising success.

Before you fire off a blistering comment to me, let me explain.

I know you’ve dedicated yourself to a noble profession. If you’re like many fundraisers I know, you continue to enhance your skills by studying books, reading blogs (wink, wink), participating in webinars, and attending conferences. I applaud you.

Unfortunately, none of that matters if you don’t take proper care of yourself, both physically and mentally. You can’t do your best if you’re not at your best. If you want to be the most successful fundraiser you can be, you must first take care of you. That begins with recognizing that workplace burnout is a real thing.

Recently, the World Health Organization announced, “Burn-out is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon.” WHO explains:

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

      • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
      • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job;
      • and reduced professional efficacy.”

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Furthermore, a number of scientific studies demonstrate that overwork can lead to real health problems.

Business Insider reports:

  • People who work more than 55 hours a week are 33 percent more likely to suffer a stroke and have a 13 percent greater risk of heart attack than those who work 35-40 hours weekly.
  • It gets progressively harder to relax if you don’t periodically get away from external stresses like a heavy workload. Even a 24-hour timeout can have health benefits.
  • Taking fewer vacations can shorten your life expectancy.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent or overcome job burnout. Using your allotted vacation time each year and taking a spontaneous day off can be enormously therapeutic.

My wife and I did just that when we recently played hooky for a day. It was a gorgeous Monday. So, at the last minute, we decided to push all of our responsibilities aside. We jumped in our car, and visited the Philadelphia Zoo. Founded in 1859, the Zoo is in a beautiful, park-like setting. We had a relaxing stroll, and even saw something we’ve never seen before. Whenever we’ve visited in the past, the hippos were always cooling off in their pond. However, on this trip, the weather was so perfect that we got to see the hippos walking around their enclosure. It made a special day just a bit more memorable.

Just our one day away from work, communing with nature a bit, was enough to recharge our batteries. We were much more relaxed and productive the rest of the week. Now, I know you might be thinking, “That’s nice, but that’s just one person’s anecdote.” Rest assured, though, that there’s plenty of scientific evidence backing me up.

Inc. magazine cites studies that show time away from the office:

  • Reduces stress,
  • Prevents heart disease,
  • Enhances sleep,
  • Improves productivity.

Business Insider reports:

  • Even planning a vacation makes people happier before they actually go.
  • Vacations and hooky days can provide greater life perspective and enhanced motivation.
  • Relaxing time off can keep your nerve cells healthy and your mind sharp.
  • Time off can make you more productive when you’re in the office.

Mental Floss reveals 11 hidden benefits of taking time off from work:

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May 21, 2019

101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make And How You Can Avoid Them

Over the past four decades, I’ve worked with hundreds of nonprofit organizations. Those organizations were diverse in every sense: geographically, type of work, people served, institutional size, and more. Yet, despite the significant differences among those organizations, they had one major thing in common: They all made mistakes of one sort or another.

As my career advanced over the many years, I noticed that nonprofits don’t just make mistakes; they tend to make the same mistakes. Despite the passage of enormous time, I still keep seeing nonprofits making the very same mistakes, over and over again. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become increasingly frustrated by this phenomenon.

So, when I saw a new, bestselling book from Andrew Olsen, CFRE, I was intrigued immediately. Olsen, Partner and Senior Vice President at Newport ONE, has written 101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make And How You Can Avoid Them following a year of research involving more than 100 nonprofit organizations in North America.

Olsen does more than outline 101 common mistakes. For starters, he actually highlights 108 mistakes. However, the real value of the book comes from the straightforward tips for avoiding or overcoming those mistakes. Helping Olsen with his book’s mission are 26 additional nonprofit management, marketing, and fundraising experts.

Olsen wisely groups his list of common mistakes into the following categories:

  • Organizational Leadership and Management
  • Strategy and Planning
  • Constituent Engagement
  • Special Bonus Content

Read Olsen’s book for chuckles. Read it so you won’t feel so alone. Read it for insights. Read it for helpful tips.

Below, Olsen kindly shares with us what motivated him to write the book, three key discoveries involving what he terms the “mistake loop,” and three powerful ideas to help you break the mistake loop right now. I thank him for generously sharing his insights. I hope you’ll let Andrew and me know what you think about his book, what your “favorite” mistake is, and what thoughts you have about his guest post:

 

In a single year, I traveled to 46 states and across Canada to meet with more than 100 nonprofit organizations.

In that 12-month period, I learned so much about how nonprofit organizations work, how and where power is concentrated in organizations, what many of those nonprofits do very well – and where they are most challenged.

What emerged from this listening tour of sorts was something I never expected or imagined. I learned that nearly every one of these organizations was making one or more of the same mistakes as each of the others. What I mean by that is, if one day I was in Detroit talking with a hunger relief organization, then the next day in Toronto talking with a homeless service organization, and still the next day down in Baton Rouge talking with an animal welfare organization, the strategic and operational mistakes being made in each unique organization were eerily similar.

I found mistakes of leadership, like leaders not holding themselves or their people accountable for performance. Or, I found leaders not taking decisive action to remove toxic employees, making strategy mistakes like not investing in strategic planning, or not creating and managing to concrete development plans. And I found clear fundraising mistakes, like investing heavily in donor acquisition or social media, but not being willing to invest in major gift fundraising.

What’s more, many of the organizations had been making these same mistakes day after day, month after month, year after year. I found that there were usually three reasons for this continual mistake loop:

1.  Most often, organizations simply didn’t realize what they were doing was a mistake. It’s that whole, you don’t know what you don’t know scenario.

2.  Turnover is the next culprit. So many organizations struggle with perpetual staff turnover every 12-18 months, which saps their nonprofit of any level of institutional knowledge and memory – and results in making many of the same mistakes over and over and over again.

3.  Then there’s the last driver of continual mistakes, which is the most concerning and frustrating to me. And those are the organizations and leaders who are so deeply invested in their own “expertise” that they refuse to admit that they’re actually making mistakes, and are content to continue making them simply because their egos are so sensitive that they can’t consider a situation where they might not know best.

As I continued to process what I’d learned in these 100+ meetings, I started having conversations with other fundraisers and nonprofit leaders I trust, to get a sense for how widespread this problem really was. What I found was that many of these other leaders in our space were experiencing the very same things that I had discovered!

That’s when I decided to write 101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make and How You Can Avoid Them and, more importantly, to bring together 26 other fundraisers, nonprofit leaders, and leadership experts to contribute to this insightful resource.

The goal of this book is not to stop people from making mistakes. That’s part of being human, and part of learning. However, my hope is that we’ve created a tool that individuals and organizations can use to stop making these same mistakes that are so frequently made in our sector. We already know these mistakes are costly, and sometimes even disastrous for organizations.

So, what can you do to ensure that you and your organization are not trapped in a mistake loop?

Here are just three ways you can make certain you’re not allowing your own ego and self-worth to keep you from making meaningful change to avoid the 101 common mistakes:

read more »

May 17, 2019

You Need to Do What Monty Python’s Eric Idle has Just Done

Eric Idle, a member of the legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python, knows something about social media that you might not. He has recently done something that you should be doing. If you follow his example, you’ll engage more supporters. This will result in increased loyalty and enhanced lifetime giving.

I understand that you might have doubts about whether a comedy genius can really teach you something that will benefit your nonprofit work. Well, let me explain.

I’ve been a Monty Python fan for decades after first seeing them on television. Later, I thoroughly enjoyed their films including Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched them. I’ve also seen Idle’s Spamalot on Broadway.

While I am a fan of each Python member, comedy legend Idle holds a special place in my heart. Five years ago, when I was facing a 14-hour life-saving cancer surgery, his irreverent but strangely uplifting song from The Life of Brian buoyed my spirits. The first verse of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” goes like this:

Some things in life are bad,

They can really make you mad,

Other things just make you swear and curse,

When you’re chewing life’s gristle,

Don’t grumble,

Give a whistle

And this’ll help things turn out for the best.

And…

Always look on the bright side of life.”

You can listen to the full song by watching this clip from the film:

Because the song means so much to me, my eye was caught by a tweet from one of my Twitter-buddies, Ephraim Gopin. (By the way, Ephraim is a funny and sharp fundraising professional, a rare combination. Follow him.) His tweet included a GIF from the clip I shared above. He was thanking Idle for retweeting one of his previous messages.

I replied to both mentioning how the song helped me. That’s when I received a touching surprise.

Eric Idle, the Eric Idle, the comedy legend, the man who has made me laugh for decades, replied to me with a simple, uplifting message:

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April 29, 2019

Update: Get a Free Webinar, Magazine Article, Poll Results

I want to update you about three posts I recently published. In addition, for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I wish to draw your attention to one of my older posts that will help you keep the children you love safe.

Free Webinar:

Did you miss it? Recently, I presented a webinar for SEI Investments Management Corporation: “Investing in Your Future: Practical Strategies for Growing Your Planned Giving Program.” If you missed the program or wish you could share it with colleagues, I have some good news for you. The webinar is now available for free download by clicking here.

In just 30 minutes, you’ll learn:

  • 8 reasons you should be a planned giving “opportunist”
  • Why you should invest more in planned giving instead of current giving
  • 5 Tips to boost your planned giving results immediately

In addition to the webinar itself, you’ll also be able to download additional resource materials including a list of 20 factoids about planned giving, a planned giving potential calculator, an executive summary of recent research findings from Dr. Russell James’ report “Cash is Not King in Fundraising,” and a digital copy of Dr. James’ book Visual Planned Giving: An Introduction to the Law & Taxation of Charitable Gift Planning.

Advancing Philanthropy Article:

Have you read my recent article published in Advancing Philanthropy, the Association of Fundraising Professionals magazine? “To Sir/Madam, With Love” shares stories from a number of fundraisers about their favorite teachers. Great teachers:

  • help us develop broad skills such as critical thinking,
  • help us develop specific skills such as how to write an effective appeal letter,
  • inspire us,
  • encourage us,
  • move us to think beyond ourselves and better understand others,
  • open our minds to lifelong learning,
  • motivate us to giveback by sharing our own knowledge.

After downloading the free article by clicking here, check-out my recent post that will give you tips that will help you find excellent teachers who can help you enhance your skills and inspire you: “Are You Really Just a Fundraising Amateur?”

Poll Results — Presidential Candidate Philanthropy:

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April 23, 2019

Are You Really Just a Fundraising Amateur?

We are all amateurs.

In my April 2019 article for Advancing Philanthropy, the Association of Fundraising Professionals magazine, I explain it this way:

In the film ‘Limelight’ (1952), Charlie Chaplin’s character says, ‘That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.’ In other words, we will never know everything we need to know. All we can do is continue to learn and, perhaps, share what we know with others, inspiring them as we have been inspired.”

Let’s review the way good teachers shape our lives, and consider some tips for how to find true experts to learn from rather than mere wannabes.

Teachers shape our lives and help make us into the people we are. Take a moment and think about the affect your parents have had on you. Consider the lessons you’ve learned from religious leaders, schoolteachers, job supervisors, and others. Some people have taught us valuable skills, some have inspired us, some have taught us right from wrong.

In my Advancing Philanthropy article and the sidebar, you’ll read about how teachers have affected the lives of seven fundraising professionals, some you’ll likely know:

  • Teachers help us develop broad skills such as critical thinking.
  • Teachers help us develop specific skills such as how to write an effective appeal letter.
  • Teachers inspire us.
  • Teachers encourage us.
  • Teachers move us to think beyond ourselves and better understand others.
  • Teachers open our minds to lifelong learning.
  • Teachers motivate us to give-back by sharing our own knowledge.

Just as good teachers have helped us become the people we are today, teachers will help us continue to grow and become the people we want to be tomorrow. However, for that to occur, two things must happen: 1) we need to remain open-minded and intellectually hungry; and 2) we need to seek out good teachers who have something legitimate to offer.

Today, with the proliferation of available books and educational presentations dealing with nonprofit management and fundraising, it can be a challenge to distinguish between the true experts and the pretenders. Here are some tips to help guide you:

read more »

April 12, 2019

Know When to Stop Asking for Money

When it comes to sound fundraising practice, it is essential to know who to ask for donations, what to ask for, when to ask, where to ask, how to ask, and why you are asking. That should all be obvious.

However, it is also important for you to know when to stop asking for money.

There are many reasons that a fundraising professional should not ask for a charitable donation. Let me give you just one quick example. I want to share a story mega-philanthropist Peter Benoliel told me.

Benoliel said that development professionals should avoid silly mistakes like sending multiple copies of the same appeal, sending a form appeal to a donor who has just made a gift, or ignoring a donor who is in the middle of a multiyear gift commitment.

I asked him for an example. He shared that he was annoyed with one particular charity that sent him a letter asking him to include the organization in his Will. He explained that he had received this letter well after informing the charity that he had already included it in his estate plan.

Benoliel, a sophisticated donor and winner of the Planned Giving Council of Greater Philadelphia Legacy Award for Planned Giving Philanthropist, felt that the unnecessary re-solicitation revealed a lack of appreciation for his support. At the very least, it indicated that the charity failed to properly handle vital details.

Even if he was willing to forgive the mistake, he worried that other legacy donors might not be as forgiving and, therefore, the error could prove costly for the charity. More importantly, if that happened, it would be harmful to those the charity serves.

When fundraising, it is essential to handle the details well. That certainly involves effectively asking for donations. However, fundraising involves so much more. As Benoliel’s story demonstrates, it also involves proper record keeping, successful purging of mailing lists, and appropriate displays of appreciation.

Regarding that last point, I encourage you to take to heart the words of philosopher and poet Henri Frederic Amiel:

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

Showing proper thankfulness and gratitude will help maintain the donor’s commitment and could also lead to additional support.

When the relationship is handled properly, it is certainly acceptable to ask a planned gift donor for another current or planned gift. Consider what H. Gerry Lenfest, another mega-philanthropist, has said on the subject:

read more »

March 27, 2019

Who are Your Best Planned Giving Prospects?

Almost everyone has the capacity to make a planned gift. Consider just these four facts:

  • Among those ages 65 and older, 78 percent own their home (US Census)
  • Most Americans own stock in one form or another (Gallup)
  • Inflation-adjusted median household net worth grew 16 percent from 2013-16 (US Federal Reserve)
  • 69 percent of Americans expect to leave an inheritance (Stelter)

The fact that most Americans have the ability to make a planned gift presents both a great opportunity and a profound challenge for fundraising professionals. With limited staff and budget resources, it is essential to focus legacy giving marketing where it will do the most good. So, who are the best planned giving prospects?

You can visualize the answer to that question as an equation:

Ability + Propensity + Social Capital = GIFT

Your best planned giving prospects will have the means with which to make a planned gift, ideally a sizeable one. However, just because they have the ability does not mean they will take the action you desire. A number of factors influence a prospect’s propensity for giving. Some of those factors might be related to the organization seeking a gift while other factors might have nothing to do with the organization. Finally, we need to consider a prospect’s level of social capital, their degree of engagement with the community and the organization. Someone who scores high in each category is more likely to make a planned gift than someone who scores low.

A simpler way to identify strong planned giving prospects is to recognize that “the most dominant factor in predicting charitable estate planning was not wealth, income, education, or even current giving or volunteering. By far, the dominant predictor of charitable estate planning was the absence of children,” according to philanthropy researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP®. In other words, people who do not have children are far more likely to make a charitable planned gift than those who have children.

However, while the absence of children tells us who is generally more likely to make a planned gift, it does not tell us whether your organization will be the recipient of such a gift. The leading factor that will determine whether someone will make a planned gift to your organization is their level of loyalty, according to legacy researcher Claire Routely, PhD.

As you attempt to determine a prospect’s level of loyalty to your organization, you’ll want to consider a number of factors including:

read more »

March 18, 2019

Free Webinar: 5 Easy, Powerful Tips to Boost Planned Giving Results

Is the current environment good or bad for planned giving? Should you invest more money in planned giving or current giving? What are five easy things you can do now to boost your planned giving results? In an upcoming, free webinar, I’ll answer these questions as well as inquiries from participants.

I’m honored that SEI Investments Management Corporation is hosting me for the free, 30-minute webinar: “Investing in Your Future: Practical Strategies for Growing Your Planned Giving Program.”

Planned giving is a vital source of contributions for the nonprofit sector. Organizations that don’t have a gift-planning program envy those that do — and those that do want even better results. While it can certainly present challenges, there are simple things you can do to create or enhance your organization’s gift-planning efforts. In just a 30 minutes, you’ll learn:

  • 8 reasons you should be a planned giving “opportunist”
  • Why you should invest more in planned giving instead of current giving
  • 5 Tips to boost your planned giving results immediately

In addition, all participants will receive a complimentary selection of planned giving tools to help with strategy building.

Register today for this free webinar because the valuable information provided will help you meet your goals. After you register, think about the questions that you’d like to have me address during the live Q&A portion of the presentation.

Here are the details you need to know:

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March 15, 2019

5 Tips You Need to Know to Survive Funding Volatility

It’s no secret that nonprofit organizations face funding challenges. One of the biggest challenges is volatility. Donors give and often do not renew support. Sometimes, that’s the fault of the charity. Other times, it has nothing to do with what a charity does or does not do. For example, funding from government sources, whether contracts or grants, can go up or down depending on political whims and changing priorities.

Recently, I was doing research for an article I was developing for the January issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine published by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. While doing that, I identified five tips that can help all nonprofits better cope with funding volatility despite the fact that the article focuses on poverty-fighting charities.

Let me explain. As I wrote in my article:

Globally, poverty has been on a sharp, steady decline. ‘In 1990, 37 percent of humanity lived in what the World Bank defines as extreme poverty; today that number is 10 percent,’ writes Gregg Easterbrook, author of It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear. Yet, even given that good news, nearly one billion people continue to suffer in extreme poverty around the world.

In the United States, poverty has also been on the decline while individual purchasing power has been on the rise. For example, ‘On the first day of the twentieth century, the typical American household spent 59 percent of funds on food and clothing. By the first day of the twenty-first century, that share had shrunk to 21 percent,’ Easterbrook reports. ‘US poverty has declined 40 percent in the past half-century.’ Still, despite the enormous economic progress, poverty continues to darken the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.”

While charities continue their efforts to combat poverty and its effects, government funding is becoming increasingly unreliable. With the national debt over $22 trillion and climbing, the federal government is contemplating cutbacks. Already, some state governments have been cutting back funding to charities.

Here are five tips that poverty-fighting charities are embracing that all charities would be wise to also adopt:

read more »

February 26, 2019

Inspired by Lady Gaga: 10 Ways to be a Fundraising Genius

You might never have heard of Stefani Germanotta. Yet, she is known internationally as a top recording artist, nine-time Grammy Award winner, social activist, and philanthropist. Following the 91st Academy Awards, we now also know her as an Oscar winner.

You, as her millions of fans around the world, likely know her better as Lady Gaga.

Jesse Desjardins, when he was Social Media Manager for Tourism Australia, recognized that Lady Gaga is more than a singer. He recognized that she is even more than an entertainment genius. He understood that marketing and public relations professionals could learn from her, so he put together an interesting PowerPoint presentation, “10 Ways to be a Marketing Genius Like Lady Gaga.” When I saw the slides, I believed that fundraising professionals could also learn a great deal from her. Thanks to permission from Desjardins, I’m able to share 10 useful insights with you.

1. Have an Opinion

“Gaga regularly speaks out on issues she feels strongly about. In doing so, she keeps herself in the public eye.”

By speaking out, Gaga makes certain no one forgets her. She remains relevant. She advances the issues that she finds important. She engages her fans.

Your organization has an important mission. Let supporters and potential supporters hear about it beyond those times that you ask for money. Stay in front of them. Remain relevant. Engage people year-round while advancing your organization’s mission. Communicate about issues relevant to your organization’s mission. Ask supporters to help in ways that don’t involve giving money (e.g., volunteer, call elected officials, etc.). Share information people will want and appreciate.

2. Leverage Social Media

“Gaga has worked tirelessly on accumulating over [78] million Twitter followers and [55] million Facebook fans.”

To put that into perspective, there are only five people on the planet who have more Twitter followers. In other words, tens of millions of people want to hear what Gaga has to say, and she says things people want to hear. She speaks to people where they are.

Today, people consume information in more ways than ever before, and how they do it varies by age group. You need to be where they are if you want your message heard. Understand the demographics of your supporters and potential supporters and learn what media they consume. Then, be there with relevant, meaningful information.

3. Be Different

“Differentiate wisely. There are too many normal people doing normal things. Show, don’t tell. You are extraordinary so show it.”

You’re not alone. Unless you work for an exceedingly rare charity, others have the same or similar mission as your organization. What makes your organization special? Why should people care about your organization instead of the others that do similar things? You need to address those questions if you want to capture hearts.

4. Don’t be Afraid to Make Lots of Money

“Being starving is not fun. If making a ridiculous amount of cash is what you want to do, go for it.”

If your organization relies on donations to fulfill its mission, don’t be shy about doing what it will take to get the funds your organization needs. Don’t be afraid to ask people for money. When people ask you what you do for a living, answer them with pride.

5. Give Your Fans Something to Connect With

“Gaga calls her fans Little Monsters and gives them a shared symbol. The official Little Monster greeting is the outstretched ‘monster claw’ hand. This allows fans to identify each other and connect.”

No, you don’t need to create a secret handshake for your supporters. However, you should create a sense of belonging. People would rather join a cause, a movement for change, than simply give money to a dusty institution. Provide people with easy ways to connect with you. Give them opportunities for meaningful engagement as a way to build connection.

read more »

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