Archive for ‘Guest Author’

January 20, 2021

How Can You “Vaccinate” Your Nonprofit for Good Financial Health?

It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has caused death and economic destruction around the world. The nonprofit sector has not been immune from the ravages of COVID-19.

While some charities have held their own when it comes to fundraising, or have even managed an uptick, others have experienced a downturn. If the economy doesn’t fully recover, and quickly, all organizations may find fundraising more difficult in the months and years ahead. With a corresponding drop in earned income, the financial health of charities is in danger.

Richard Radcliffe is the Founder of Radcliffe Consulting based in the UK. He recently wrote a passionate article explaining how charities can ensure their financial health and security in the years ahead. Because he is kind and cares deeply about the wellbeing of the third sector, Richard has given me permission to share his wisdom with you:

 

Legacies are the “vaccine” for good, long-term financial health for your nonprofit organization.

Legacies are a security blanket, a treasure trove to dip into to GROW or to protect your charity in times of emergency.

Individual giving does not build reserves.

Trusts and Foundations give for projects.

Statutory funding is project or service-based.

Corporate funds are largely restricted or for dual interest.

What is there NOT to like about legacies? The answer is simple: It is wanting money NOW – rather like a baby screaming to be fed NOW.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The future depends on what you do today.” But legacies are not gained today or tomorrow. And bad leaders only think of today whilst in their seats of power.

Investing in legacies is like dieting: “Great idea but let’s leave it for another day.” And then a pandemic hits and all hell breaks out. Furloughed staff, redundancies, reduction in services.

Good leaders are visionaries who plan to fulfill their charity’s vision and mission AFTER their own lifetime as leaders.

read more »

December 16, 2020

Should Charity Begin in the Office with Employee Giving?

Should employees donate to the nonprofit organization they work for? Should they be asked, or even required, to give? Should employees never be asked to give?

Over the decades, I’ve had a number of clients ask me about the issue of employee giving. Over the years, my feelings about employee giving have flip-flopped any number of times. On the one hand, I’ve considered it a good idea to express one’s support for the organization before asking someone else to give. On the other hand, I’ve also recognized that nonprofit employees are frequently paid far less than they should be and often work many uncompensated overtime hours.

It’s a complicated issue.

Fortunately, there is now a new e-book that closely explores the subject of employee giving. Employee Giving: Does Charity Begin in the Office? is a free e-book by Ephraim Gopin, founder of 1832 Communications, an agency helping nonprofits raise more money through strategic and smart marketing and communications.

As part of the e-book project, Ephraim conducted a survey of nonprofit employees and consultants so he could explore all sides of a very contentious and complicated topic. The result is an e-book that will help you learn about:

  • Employee giving: The case for yes, the case for no, and why it’s complicated
  • Attitudes about Board and C-level giving
  • How employees working overtime affects giving
  • Can employee giving help when asking donors to give
  • And much more!

Learn from the survey data and over 30 sector experts. Whether you’re in the “oh hell no!” or the “let employees enjoy being a donor!” camp, this e-book will open your eyes to both sides of the issue. Reading the e-book might just change your mind. You can download your free copy by clicking here.

The topic of nonprofit employee giving doesn’t get much attention. So, I was intrigued when I saw Ephraim had written his e-book. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions related to the project. Here’s what he had to say:

 

What workplace ask have you experienced that stuck with you, good or bad?

Here’s how I open my introduction to the e-book: “The honest truth? I never gave. Even when I was a CEO.”

No one ever asked me and I never asked my employees when I was CEO. (It could be cultural as where I live it is definitely not the norm to ask employees to donate.) For me it would have been double-dipping: “I give way more hours to the organization than what’s stipulated in my contract. Now you also want to take a portion of my salary check away?!”

In the survey, I asked how much overtime (unpaid time) employees work in an average month. 41 percent of survey respondents said they work 11+ hours of overtime each month. That’s A LOT!

So, you’re overworked and underpaid, certainly in comparison to the for-profit sector. How would you feel if, now, you also are being asked to donate back to the organization that “steals” your precious few off-hours of family and friends time? There’s a reason why people are very vocal about their opposition to employee-giving programs.

At the same time, the e-book includes a few stories of internal-giving programs done right. No pressure, employees can decide not to give and it won’t be held against them in any way.

As a consultant, I have given back to some of my clients. The truth is that while preparing the e-book, vendor fundraising did come up and I added it as a topic for thought.

However, if I were an employee, would I also be a donor to that organization? Tough one for me to answer.

Why did you decide to write the e-book?

As many things do nowadays, it all started with a tweet. I was curious to hear from my followers whether they donate/d to the nonprofit they work/ed for. My assumption was they did not.

Why would I assume that? Many nonprofit workers are underpaid, overworked and underappreciated. The thought of these employees also being givers — forced or not — never even crossed my mind.

Yet, the responses to my tweet surprised me: Most of the respondents were in fact donors to the charity they worked for! Obviously, it’s a big world out there and there are many nonprofiteers who did not answer my original tweet.

That’s how the ball got rolling. A year after that initial tweet I published a survey that aimed to measure attitudes related to employee giving and numerous issues surrounding it. My goal was to use the survey data as a backdrop to an e-book on the topic.

Post survey, I conducted almost 60 follow-up interviews via phone or video chat. Every single person I spoke to had very concrete opinions about the topic. Should employees be asked to donate? Plenty of NO! and plenty of YES! to go around.

Why write the e-book? It is a complicated topic I was interested in exploring and learning more about. Besides a blog post here and there, no one has really looked into it to understand why employees should or should not be asked. I feel my e-book can bring the discussion to nonprofit leaders who can make wiser and more informed decisions when considering an employee-giving program.

What do you hope to accomplish with the e-book?

read more »

August 4, 2020

How to Get Email Addresses and Build Better Relationships

While I have long known why nonprofit organizations should collect email addresses from supporters and potential supporters, I had much less of an understanding of how to accomplish that.

When you have someone’s email address, you can communicate with them at little cost and with great speed. For example, you can:

  • Send newsletters,
  • Share updates,
  • Conduct surveys,
  • Issue calls to action,
  • Invite people to programs and events,
  • Appeal for support.

Unfortunately, collecting email addresses is a challenge for every nonprofit organization. How can you get people to voluntarily provide you with their email? How can you ensure they’re happy with their decision so that they allow you to keep using their email?

Fortunately, we now have help from Ephraim Gopin, founder of 1832 Communications, an agency helping nonprofits raise more money through strategic and smart marketing and communications. He has written a book with the answers we need: How to Successfully Onboard New Subscribers to Your Nonprofit E-Newsletter. Ephraim’s e-book is FREE, and you can download your copy now by clicking here.

In his mercifully brief book – it’s just 38 pages – Ephraim packs in a wealth of fresh insights and useful tips. He addresses the following questions and more:

  • How do you build your nonprofit’s email list?
  • How can you use your website and e-newsletter to attract email subscribers?
  • Where on your website should you place your signup form?
  • What fields should your signup form contain?
  • Should you place an opt-in on your donation form?
  • What content should appear in your welcome email?
  • Why is it bad form to ask for a donation right after someone signs up?

With Ephraim’s help, you’ll learn how to gather more email addresses and how to ensure that your supporters value their relationship with your organization. Toward that end, with his guest post below, Ephraim generously picks up where his book finishes. He shares five tips for ensuring that your email subscribers receive the kind of consistent value that will lead to their growing support.

I thank Ephraim for sharing his wisdom with his book and now with his guest post:

 

I subscribed to your nonprofit e-newsletter and received your welcome email. Now what?

Just Getting Started

The initial email you send a new subscriber is their first touchpoint with your organization. As fundraising copywriting expert Julie Cooper says, it’s like a first date. You’re just starting to get to know each other. It will take time and effort to build the relationship.

How can your nonprofit use email marketing to create a connection that eventually converts me from subscriber to donor? Here are five elements you need to incorporate into your email strategy:

  1. Welcome Series

It’s not enough to send a welcome email. Your organization should prepare a “welcome series,” a series of automated emails intended to further introduce me to the organization. The goal at the end of this series? Make a small ask.

Each email in the series provides more information to new subscribers. A success story, program description, or detailing how volunteers impact your service recipients. Each email should contain one CTA (call to action): Watch a video, take a survey, read a blog post, follow you on social media.

As the new subscriber learns more and understands the impact your organization is having in the community, you can then begin to move them slowly from subscriber to donor.

read more »

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 »

May 6, 2020

What is the Secret Sauce of Fundraising Success?

Once upon a time, there was a fundraising professional who found the recipe for the secret sauce of fundraising success. Through decades of dedicated work and careful research, she honed her skills. Now, she shares the secret with you in a book recently ranked by the BookAuthority as one of the “100 Best Fundraising Books of All Time.”

I’m talking about Lynn Malzone Ierardi, JD, Director of Gift Planning at The University of Pennsylvania. She offers her insights and wisdom in the 112-page book, Storytelling: The Secret Sauce of Fundraising Success. Don’t let the short length fool you. This is a volume stuffed full of valuable goodies.

As the official book description says:

Nonprofit organizations have amazing stories to share — stories of perseverance, fortitude, and generosity.

Stories give nonprofits a way to stand out in a world that gets noisier every day, where people are looking for ways to find meaning and connection.

Great stories engage donors and raise more money. Scientific evidence confirms good storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to engage stakeholders and influence behavior. Stories raise awareness, change behavior, and trigger generosity. Facts and logic are not nearly as persuasive as a good story. Stories penetrate our natural defense systems and become more compelling and memorable. As a result, great stories can be very powerful.

Like a good meal, storytelling can be delicious if it is executed with a bit of strategy. It requires planning the meal, choosing and collecting the right ingredients, and then sharing the meal with the right people, in the right setting, and at the right time.”

Throughout her book, Lynn uses a creative cookbook metaphor. This fun approach to a serious subject keeps the material from being dull and makes the tips easier to remember. Lynn does more than tell us why stories are important. She shows us what information is valuable (ingredients), how to gather the necessary information (shopping), how to effectively share stories (serving the entrée), how to craft the right story for the right situation (adding spices), how stories can be presented in different ways (side dishes), how to use stories to navigate change (the kitchen mishap), and the magic of success stories (a good dessert).

For years, we’ve heard that good storytelling is an important part of good fundraising. In Lynn’s practical book, you’ll find numerous, easy to follow tips for putting that notion into practice. Furthermore, you’ll learn how you can use storytelling to put board members and volunteers at ease when seeking to engage them in the fundraising process. I thank Lynn for her willingness to share some bonus thoughts with us along that line:

 

Snakes. Heights. Public speaking. Asking for money. Even worse: asking friends for money.

These things can make people really uncomfortable. In fact, for some people the mere suggestion of these things increases their heart rate or makes their palms begin to sweat. “Don’t even ask me to do that!”

So, it comes as no surprise that nonprofit CEOs, board members and volunteers (and even the unseasoned fundraiser) can sometimes be reluctant to ask for money.

It’s one thing to get people to roll up their sleeves to help, or to get those same people to donate to a cause they believe in. It’s another thing to find board members and volunteers who are willing and able to be effective fundraisers for your organization.

Too often, very well-intentioned board members and volunteers will say “I’m happy to give you my time and my money – but please don’t expect me to ask for money. I can’t approach my friends for money – and I certainly won’t ask them for an estate gift!”

In most cases, board members have no formal training as fundraisers. They may have the business and interpersonal skills necessary to ask for a significant gift – but have no practical experience in that realm.

Fundraising staff can struggle with making an ask, too – particularly for a planned gift. A new planned giving fundraiser visited with me over coffee earlier this year. She described meeting with the same donors and prospects several times, getting to know them and discovering their interests and passions, thanking them for their past support – but struggling to make the pivot in the conversation to ask for a planned gift. She asked me “How do you ask someone to consider their own demise – and ask whether they’ve included our organization in their estate plans?” It can be uncomfortable when you look at it that way.

But there are other ways to approach the conversation. Storytelling provides a different perspective. People are more attentive, more responsive, and more generous when they are engaged in a good story. In the noisy world in which we live – with constant news, updates, mail, video, social media, and more – the most effective way to communicate and influence is with stories.

read more »

April 14, 2020

10 Fundraising Strategies for Complex & Major Gifts During COVID-19

The following guest blog post is from philanthropy researcher Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP®. He originally posted it on LinkedIn, and I’m reposting it here with Russell’s kind permission. I’m reposting the piece because of the enormous importance of the subject and the valuable information it contains.

Engaging donors in planned-giving conversations is still possible during the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, Russell and I shared our FREE whitepaper “Legacy Giving: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?” Now, I want to share Russell’s 10 charitable planning strategies you should keep in mind when seeking complex and major gifts during these challenging times:

 

The market went down. A lot. The economy is temporarily frozen. Unemployment may increase dramatically. In the past, all of these things have been bad for charitable giving. We can’t control that. So, what can we control? What strategies make sense for fundraising, in particular for complex and major gifts?

Here are ten charitable planning concepts to keep in mind.

1.    Crisis is the time to show support

A social/friendship/family relationship encourages sharing. A transactional/market/exchange relationship does not. We see this in fundraising experiments where family language (simple words and stories) consistently outperforms formal language (technical words and contract language). One of the defining moments that identifies a friendship relationship, rather than a transactional relationship, is during a crisis.

In our personal lives, we know this. When you might be in trouble, a good friend is one who reaches out to help. A friend visits you in the hospital. A friend comes to the funeral with you. A friend listens whenever trouble strikes. In time of crisis, reaching out with concern, help, or even a relevant gift reinforces this social/friendship/family type of relationship.

Ideally, the first contact with donors in a time such as this should begin with concern. Are you OK? Do you need anything? Can we help? Later, we can return to the typical donor-charity dynamic. (If you represent a cause related to public health or COVID-related assistance, that return may happen more quickly.) But, first we want to show friendship-like support during a time of crisis.

2.    The first giving conversations should be with DAF-holders

Requests made to donors with funded Donor Advised Funds will be successful earlier than requests made to others. During times of downturn and uncertainty, people are more likely to hold tightly to their wealth. This drives down charitable giving. But distributing funds already in a DAF doesn’t affect personal financial security.

During the last major economic downturn, many private foundations temporarily increased their distributions to help soften the blow for their grantees. The same reasoning can apply to individual donors who have already funded their DAFs. Due to tax planning strategies, many may have placed multiple years’ worth of future expected donations into a DAF. Given the current crisis, it makes sense to consider this as a time to empty those accounts earlier than originally planned.

3.    One-time special requests work, but be careful with a crisis

In fundraising experiments, people are more willing to donate in response to a special, one-time need than for ongoing needs. An appeal for one-time needs that arise as a result of the current turbulence may be particularly effective. In experiments, people respond more to appeals during a time of crisis. We are all sharing this experience together. We can work together to help overcome the effects of this hit.

However, it is important in such appeals to identify the crisis as a crisis for beneficiaries or for the cause, but not an organizational crisis. Projecting organizational instability might help get the $50 gift today, but it will come at the cost of the major donation later down the road. Major philanthropic investments don’t go to unstable organizations.

4.    Use planned gifts as your “Plan B”

During times of downturn and uncertainty, people are more likely to hold tightly to their wealth. Planned giving opportunities can help “lean into” this uncertainty.

Estate gifts take place only after the donor no longer needs the money personally. They can also be revocable. They can be a percentage of the estate, and thus can vary in size with financial ups and downs. These percentage gifts are actually much better for charities because they usually end up being much larger. (Fixed dollar gifts tend not to get updated for inflation.)

Irrevocable planned gifts can also help with financial uncertainty. These typically give the donor lifetime income or lifetime use of the donated property. Thus, the gift can be made while still protecting the financial security of the donor.

If a donor needs to back away from a commitment or feels that a future ask is too daunting, consider planned gifts as a “Plan B”. A response to such a refusal might include revocable or irrevocable planned gift options.

I certainly understand your concerns. I know others in your same situation who have decided to move their commitment into an estate gift instead. This provides flexibility with no upfront cost. There are even ways to do it that provide tax benefits. Would you be interested in learning more about these options?”

[This is followed by discussion of: 1) Gift in a will. 2) Beneficiary designation on an IRA/401(k), avoiding income taxes that heirs would otherwise have to pay. 3) Retained life estate, creating an immediate income tax deduction, discussed below.]

I certainly understand your concerns. I know others like you who have decided instead to make a gift that gives them lifetime income. With interest rates being so low and the market being so volatile, many people like the fixed payments coming from a charitable gift annuity. Would you like to learn more about this?”

5.    A charitable gift annuity as a two-stage gift

For those representing stable institutions offering Charitable Gift Annuities (CGAs), this may become a particularly attractive gift. A CGA usually trades a gift for annual lifetime payments to the donor (or donor and spouse). During times of uncertainty, the guarantee of fixed payments from a stable institution can be attractive. Following the last dramatic drop in the market in 2008, some large, stable organizations reported receiving exceptionally large CGAs. These very large gifts would normally have been structured as a Charitable Remainder Trust. But during extreme volatility, donors instead preferred the certainty and stability of payments guaranteed by the organization rather than payments tied to investment returns.

A charitable gift annuity can sometimes be presented as a two-stage alternative when uncertainty prevents a normal gift from being made.

I certainly understand your concerns. Another donor like you was in your same situation and she decided to protect against all this volatility by making the gift in two stages. First, she made a gift that gave her annual payments for life. If things go downhill, she has that income. But, if everything turns around and she ends up not needing the extra money, then she can donate those future payments as a second gift.”

Section II: Wonky Charitable Tax Planning Opportunities

read more »

June 26, 2019

It’s Not Just WHAT Donors Think, It’s HOW They Think that Matters

When certain fundraising experts have something to say, we all would be wise to pay close attention. Bernard Ross, Director of =mc consulting (The Management Centre based in the UK), is one of those insightful voices.

I’ve been among the legion of fans Bernard has attracted through his consulting work, conference lectures, articles, and books. Bernard’s latest volume, Change for Good written with Omar Mahmoud, demonstrates that fundraising is more than an art; it is also a science.

The publisher’s book description reads:

This breakthrough book is about how we as human beings make decisions — and how anyone involved in the field of social change can help individuals or groups to make positive choices using decision science. It draws on the latest thinking in behavioural economics, neuroscience and evolutional psychology to provide a powerful practical toolkit for fundraisers, campaigners, advocacy specialists, policy makers, health professionals, educationalists and social activists.”

Change for Good introduces readers to 10 key persuasion principles that will help fundraising professionals introduce decision science into their work as they strive to raise more money. For a decade or more, the for-profit sector has used decision science to influence people to make particular choices, whether to purchase something, accept certain behaviors, or take specific action. Now, this book, by Ross and Mahmoud, makes this profound knowledge accessible to fundraisers.

Not only will your nonprofit organization benefit when you read Change for Good, so will Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. That’s because the authors are donating the profits from book sales to the international charity.

Bernard’s generosity does not end there. He has kindly provided us with a special article that demonstrates the importance of understanding both WHAT and HOW people think. In his guest post below, Bernard demonstrates the impact that decision science can have with real-life examples. In addition, you’ll be able to download a free summary sheet that provides valuable highlights from Change for Good.

I thank Bernard for his willingness to provide the following material:

 

Fundraisers are often concerned about changing hearts and minds. And they’re often, especially when prompted by colleagues in advocacy or communications, interested in increasing supporters’ conscious engagement with the cause. But, is this the best or only way to improve pro-social behavior — whether it’s increasing donations, using less plastic, or avoiding bias?

Let’s begin with the science. Fundamental to decision-making is the premise that much of our data processing and decision-making is subconscious and fast. Deciding is so fast, even changing our minds can be difficult. According to some recent research at Johns Hopkins University if we change our minds within roughly 100 milliseconds of making a decision, we can successfully revise our plans. If we wait more than 200 milliseconds, however, we may be unable to make the desired change. That’s not very long to persuade a donor to not look away from our TV ad or crumple our direct-mail pack.

But, it’s not just our visual process that’s important. For example, other senses are also important, especially smell. In a test between two Nike stores, one with a very faint “consciously undetectable” scent and one without, customers were 80 percent more likely to purchase in the scented store.

In another experiment at a petrol (gas) station with a mini-mart attached to it, pumping the smell of coffee into the store saw purchases of the drink grow 300 percent.

If you take the time to wander into the M&M World candy store in Leicester Square London, you might now notice the smell of chocolate. When it first opened in 2011, it did not have the smell and sales were disappointing. They hired a company called ScentAir who specialize in adding signature scents to stores. The managing director of the company, Christopher Pratt, said in an article describing the effect, “It looked like the place should smell of chocolate, it didn’t. It does now.” And sales have moved in response.

There was a similar positive response when the National Trust, a UK heritage charity, included a “scratch and sniff” element in an appeal to save a flower meadow.

When you visit a charity website, the conscious brain analyses the message content. (What is the cause I am being asked to support? What do they want me to do — donate, sign a petition, or join up?) At the same time, the subconscious brain continuously responds to how you react to the subtle background and peripheral cues. (How do I feel about the colours, images, celebrities involved, etc.?)

______________________________________________________________

“I always thought the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. And then one day it occurred to me, ‘Wait a minute, who’s telling me that?'”

Emo Philips

______________________________________________________________

It’s not all about you either. Your subconscious brain has a mind of its own. Some signals also come from inside us, and we look unconsciously for opportunities to confirm our inner state. When we are in a good mood, we are more likely to tolerate our colleagues and partners and are more likely to donate to charities. These activities become a way to validate or confirm our inner feelings. Let’s look at an example of how this affects our behaviour.

read more »

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:

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April 25, 2018

Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins When Working with Volunteers

Given that this is National Volunteer Month, I want to acknowledge the often unsung heroes of the nonprofit sector.

Like monetary donors, volunteers are supporters. We need to recognize that and act accordingly. Volunteers are a valuable resource for nonprofit organizations. They provide essential free labor. They serve as ambassadors in the community for your organization. They donate twice as often as non-volunteers do. They are just as likely as donors to include a charity in their Will. People who volunteer and donate are far more likely to include a nonprofit organization in their Will compared to people who do only one or the other. Volunteers are supporters!

Unfortunately, volunteerism is on the decline in the USA. This will be potentially costly to the nonprofit sector.

As I pondered the problem of declining volunteerism, I had the good fortune to “meet” Kelly Ronan on Twitter. Kelly is an Indiana State University Bayh College of Education Scholars-to-Teachers Program Scholar and a candidate for the Certified Nonprofit Professional credential offered through the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.

I’ve been impressed with the material about volunteerism that Kelly regularly shares on social media. So, I invited her to share some of her insights and wisdom with us. I’m happy to report that Kelly has generously accepted my request, for which I am grateful.

Her guest post below looks at some best practices in volunteer management that will help you more effectively recruit and retain volunteers:

 

There are three key best practice areas when it comes to volunteer management. By mastering these three areas, you will help your nonprofit organization to more effectively recruit and retain volunteers. You’ll also help ensure that each volunteer’s experience is a good one thereby developing a valuable ambassador and potential donor.

1.  Start Off Right

To get off on the right foot with volunteers, you need to avoid missteps. But, that’s not enough. You also need to understand what motivates each individual so you can meet their needs.

Let’s first look at the many potential mistakes we can make with volunteers. For example, let’s consider Energize’s “7 Deadly Sins of Directing Volunteers” with this listing:

  1. To recruit a volunteer for a cause or program in which you do not believe.
  2. To sign a person up even if he or she is not right for a vacant volunteer position you need to fill, or to ask a volunteer to take on a role that misuses or underutilizes that person’s talents.
  3. To restrict a volunteer’s effectiveness by not providing adequate preparation, training, or tools.
  4. To ask salaried staff to work as a team with volunteers if you yourself do not have volunteers helping with the responsibilities of your job.
  5. To be so concerned about your own job security that you do not stand up and fight for the needs and rights of the volunteers you represent.
  6. To offer volunteers certain opportunities and working conditions, and then not deliver.
  7. To waste a volunteer’s time – ever.

You need to be honest, ethical, and fair with volunteers, just as you would be with staff. You also need to understand what motivates them. Let’s get one thing straight: Volunteers don’t volunteer just to get that happy, fuzzy feeling inside. Everyone volunteers for their own reasons. So firstly, determine the motivation of your volunteers. VolunteerHub offers more in their post here, but these were the common reasons for volunteering that they found:

  • Individuals have a personal tie to a nonprofits mission, goals, and values.
  • Individuals are looking for opportunities to meet and network with new people.
  • Individuals have a moral compass to do good.
  • Individuals are in search of skill-building opportunities.
  • Individuals want to practice leadership capacities.
  • Individuals are looking for ways to build their personal resume.
  • Individuals were asked to participate in a volunteer opportunity.

All of this means, when it comes to motivation, that you’re going to have a diverse group of volunteers. I can see how the thought of communicating effectively with all of them may seem intense. So, let’s take a moment to look into forming a communication strategy.

2.  Setting Up a Communication Strategy

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March 6, 2018

3 Powerful Ways to Get Your Monthly Donors to Give More

A few weeks ago, I published the post “How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year.” Guest blogger Joe Garecht shared some great advice for increasing giving. However, the post did not specifically address the issue of monthly giving. That led to a reader comment.

Larry Little, President of Guardian Angel Basset Rescue, raised some important questions:

Our revenues are in the $300k range but approximately 30% of that comes through our monthly giving program. My question is about asking monthly donors to increase their amounts. How often should that be done? And should you segment your list and ask that segment every 18 months?”

First, I want to congratulate Little for having a robust monthly-giving program. Well done!

Second, I thank Little for inspiring this week’s post. While I could have given him a quick, brief response, I realized the topic deserves more attention and that it would likely be of interest to many of my readers. So, I invited expert Erica Waasdorp, President of A Direct Solution and author of the best-selling book Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, to share her wisdom to help us better understand how to inspire greater giving from monthly supporters. I thank her for her insights:

 

It’s wonderful to see how much the focus is shifting to monthly giving, and it’s starting to really pay off for nonprofit organizations. Here are just two recent statistics from the most recent Blackbaud Luminate Online Benchmark Report:

Expanding relationships with existing supporters was the name of the game this year as we saw a 20.4% growth in sustainer revenue.”

Viewing online revenue as one great big pie, we saw a larger slice of the pie—8.4% more—coming from sustainer gifts in 2017.”

Today, I’m not going to write about how to convert your donors to give monthly. Today, I’m going to focus on how to generate more money from your existing monthly donors.

Just because they’re now giving more money than as single-gift givers doesn’t mean it ends there. Oh no! There are three ways you can actually ask your monthly donors to give more money:

1.      Ask for a monthly upgrade.

2.      Ask for an additional gift.

3.      Ask for a legacy gift.

Ask for a monthly upgrade.

People typically ask me two questions: A) How soon after a donor starts giving monthly can I ask for an upgrade? B) How often can I ask for an upgrade?

Before I address the timing questions, let me just point out that donors upgrade because they have been stewarded effectively. Totally true. And this also pertains to monthly donors. That’s why I always “hammer” on the importance of sending a hard-copy thank-you recognition letter even if the monthly donor came in online.

So let’s assume that you’ve done this part right. And let’s assume that your donor gives monthly through his or her credit card. And let’s assume that you send the donor a quarterly newsletter with some great stories and updates on how the donor’s giving makes a difference.

I’ve seen organizations that started to upgrade right away. I’ve seen organizations that started to upgrade three months after a monthly donor joined. Frankly, I think that’s just too soon. Yes, you may get some donors to upgrade when you ask, but I think you’d also come across as much greedier than you may wish to. That could alienate some supporters.

Your donor has just started to get used to giving monthly. They’re just getting acquainted with your stewardship efforts. They have just started to realize the convenience of giving this way.

You pay taxes typically once a year; you update your budget once a year, so I suggest asking for an upgraded amount once a year, ideally between 10 to 12 months after the donor gave monthly for the first time. That’s when you can make a legitimate case for the increase in cost for xyz service, and ask the donor if he can “give just a few dollars more a month” to help the children/client/animals.

And, as Joe Garecht mentioned in his earlier post, the four elements of asking monthly donors to increase their monthly gift are indeed:

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