Archive for ‘Stewardship’

August 26, 2016

Do You Know How to Take Criticism?

I received an extraordinary message recently.

With the permission of the author, I’m going to share her message with you. It’s a superb example of how to respond to criticism and turn it into an opportunity for positive engagement. It also raises an interesting issue that I want you to share your thoughts about.

Books by Aimee Rivers via FlickrEarlier this summer, my wife received an email appeal from Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library. That email inspired me to write a blog post about fundraising by email (“Stop Making Stupid Email and Direct Mail Mistakes”). The post was admittedly harsh though constructive with eight useful tips for the Rosenbach and you.

While I alerted the Rosenbach to the post, I never heard back from staff, not that I had requested or expected a reply. That is until a few weeks ago when I received the following message from Sara Davis, the new Marketing Manager at the Rosenbach:

Dear Mr. Rosen:

I recently joined the Rosenbach staff as the manager of marketing, and I stumbled across this post while getting caught up on social media mentions from the summer. Criticism can be hard to hear, and I admit that I would prefer to have found it in my inbox rather than see the organization named in a public post, but your advice is constructive and I agree with many of your points. I will certainly pass these suggestions along to my colleagues; our future campaigns will no doubt benefit from your expertise. My thanks.”

Wow! I was impressed with Davis’ message. I thank her for allowing me to share it with you. Davis struck the right tone and managed to pack a lot into a brief communication. Here are some of the reasons her message works:

Respectful. Davis referred to me as Mr. Rosen, knowing and respecting my feelings on the subject of salutations, which I had addressed in my post. Davis and I did not know each other, so an informal form of address would have been presumptuous.

Introduction. Davis introduced herself to me, told me her title, and mentioned that she is new to the Rosenbach, hence the delay in contacting me. This established a personal connection while putting her message into context.

Honesty. Davis shared her honest feelings about seeing my post. But, she did so in a professional way, without whining, complaining, or being defensive. She did not take my criticism personally. She did not take offense or, at least, she did not show that she was offended.

Value. Davis acknowledged that my post offered constructive criticism. She went on to show that she valued the tips I provided in my post. She also mentioned that she would share my advice with her colleagues. By valuing my advice, she showed she values me.

Thank you. Davis then concluded her message by thanking me! How often do you thank people for having criticized you or your organization? I know that I don’t do it very often. However, by thanking me, Davis reveals an understanding that constructive feedback is an opportunity for us to improve. She also understands that when someone takes the time to passionately and constructively offer criticism, it’s probably because they care.

Engagement. By writing to me, Davis engaged me and opened the door for me to contact her directly. And that’s exactly what I did.

Because of my interaction with Davis, the positive feelings I once had for the Rosenbach were rekindled.

When choosing whether to respond to criticism and, if responding, how to respond, we would be well served by following Davis’ excellent example. Every interaction is an opportunity for cultivation.

Now, here is where you come in.

August 19, 2016

Could Your #Nonprofit be Forced to Return a Donor’s Gift?

Officials at Vanderbilt University got schooled. They learned, the hard way, that nonprofit organizations cannot unilaterally void the terms of a gift agreement without returning the donation.

This is a story that keeps on giving. It provides an important lesson for all nonprofit organizations about the requirement, ethical and legal, to honor donor intent.

The tale begins in 1933 when the Tennessee Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy donated $50,000 to the George Peabody College of Teachers to build a dormitory named “Confederate Memorial Hall.”

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

In 1979, Peabody was merged into Vanderbilt becoming the “Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.”

After years of discussion, according to Inside Higher Ed, Vanderbilt decided in 2002 to drop the word “Confederate” and rename the building simply “Memorial Hall.” The University took this action without gaining the approval of the Daughters of the Confederacy or returning the gift.

After taking Vanderbilt to court, the Daughters of the Confederacy received a Tennessee Appeals Court ruling in 2005 that ordered the University to either keep the original name of the building or refund the donation … in inflation-adjusted dollars. That $50,000 gift from 1933 is now valued at $1.2 million.

As reported in Inside Higher Ed:

The appeals court unanimously rejected Vanderbilt’s argument that academic freedom gave it the right to change the name. Vanderbilt argued that the Supreme Court has given private colleges considerable latitude in their decisions. But the appeals court said that was irrelevant because the agreement to name the dormitory ‘Confederate Memorial Hall’ was between a donor and a charitable group — and the government never forced the gift to be accepted.”

In its ruling, the Appeals Court stated (emphasis is mine):

We fail to see how the adoption of a rule allowing universities to avoid their contractual and other voluntarily assumed legal obligations whenever, in the university’s opinion, those obligations have begun to impede their academic mission would advance principles of academic freedom. To the contrary, allowing Vanderbilt and other academic institutions to jettison their contractual and other legal obligations so casually would seriously impair their ability to raise money in the future by entering into gift agreements such as the ones at issue here.

It took quite some time but, with money raised from anonymous donors, Vanderbilt paid $1.2 million to the Daughters of the Confederacy and renamed the building this month in accordance with the Court’s judgment.

Unfortunately, this has not brought this story to a happy conclusion. Vanderbilt has damaged its reputation by revealing its willingness to “casually” disregard donor intent.

I stand firmly with the Appeals Court decision. How I feel, or anyone feels, about the old Confederacy or the word “Confederate” on the building is irrelevant in this case. Instead, there are two powerful governing issues involved here:

July 15, 2016

If You Want More Donors, Stop Being So Serious

Make giving fun!”

That’s the great advice offered by Michael Kaiser, Chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland and President Emeritus of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Kaiser has observed:

[Donors] don’t join our family to be whined at…. They join because we’re inspiring and fun.”

As a successful consultant and turn-around expert, Kaiser has proven, time after time, that when you make giving fun, you attract and retain more supporters and greater levels of support.

Despite the soundness of Kaiser’s advice, I’ve talked with a number of fundraising professionals who think their cause is too serious to lend itself to fun. Or, they think they have no opportunity to be fun. Seeing nothing but obstacles to bringing joy to giving, these organizations continue with a stale, serious, institutional approach to fundraising that has left them struggling.

HAMEC logoBy contrast, the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center gets it. A small, Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization, HAMEC operates a tiny museum and offers school-based education programs featuring survivors. In just the past three years alone, HAMEC has presented approximately 1,200 sessions for over 100,000 students.

Like me, you probably never have thought of the words “Holocaust” and “fun” going together. After all, as a result of the Holocaust, six million Jews and five million others were murdered by the Nazis from 1941-45. It was a supremely horrible event perpetrated by a truly evil regime.

Yet, despite the horrors of the Holocaust, HAMEC has successfully, and tastefully, paired “fun” with the pursuit of philanthropic support for Holocaust education.

Chuck Feldman, President of HAMEC, says:

‘Fun’ and ‘Holocaust’ are not put together in the same sentence. But I will tell you, our organization is a very upbeat organization. We are the happiest organization dealing with the most miserable subject of all time, and we’re happy because when our survivors go out to the schools we can see the impact that it has on the students. We can see it right away.”

As HAMEC continues to expand its outreach, it has also sought to acquire the new and increased support that will make that expansion possible. One of the challenges associated with raising money for a Holocaust-related cause is that the subject is dark and not something about which most people would want to think. So, how can a small nonprofit dedicated to Holocaust education engage supporters and potential donors in a meaningful way?

June 7, 2016

Be Smart. Act Like a Beauty Queen!

I recorded the 2016 Miss USA Pageant. I know. I know. But, here’s why: My favorite part of beauty contests is the question-and-answer portion of the show. Sometimes it’s a dud. More often, it’s hilarious. Sometimes, on rare occasions, it provides wisdom. The latter was the case this year.

Chelsea Hardin, Miss Hawaii, was asked an inappropriate question. Her response provides a wonderful example for fundraisers facing uncomfortable questions from donors and prospective supporters.

Pageant judge Laura Brown asked Miss Hawaii:

If the election were held tomorrow, would you vote Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump for president, and why would you choose one over the other?”

It was an awkward moment. Regardless of which candidate she would choose, Hardin would alienate a massive portion of the audience and, possibly, the judges. So, instead, she answered without revealing who she would vote for. Rather than picking one, she outlined the qualities of an ideal candidate. Hardin said:

It doesn’t matter what gender, what we need in the United States is someone who represents those of us who don’t feel like we have a voice, those of us who want our voices heard. We need a president to push for what is right, and push for what America really needs.”

While the audience booed the question, it cheered the response.

When speaking with prospects and donors, they occasionally will ask awkward questions. In this highly-charged political season, uncomfortable questions are even more likely to arise. When this happens, it’s important to keep the following five points in mind:

April 8, 2016

#Fundraising Moneyball: Track 3 Numbers that will Make You a Champ

[Publisher’s Note: This post is part of a series kindly contributed by guest authors who attended the 2016 Association of Fundraising Professionals International Fundraising Conference. These posts share valuable insights from the Conference. This week, I thank Carrie Horton, Director of Content and Education at Kindful, for highlighting the seminar “Fundraising Moneyball: The Only Metrics that Matter in Digital Fundraising.”]

 

While freezing temperatures continue to chill many in the USA, the boys of summer have nevertheless returned for the start of the 2016 baseball season. What better way to mark the occasion than drawing a parallel between the baseball book and movie Moneyball and fundraising?

Okay, enjoying a hotdog and beer at a ballpark would be a better way to celebrate the start of the new baseball season. But, the second best way is to explore some of the highlights from Jeff Stanger’s session at the AFP International Fundraising Conference: “Fundraising Moneyball: The Only Metrics that Matter in Digital Fundraising.”

The book and movie Moneyball presented the true story of a revolutionary approach to baseball introduced by Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland A’s. With a lean budget, he relied heavily on statistics, rather than personalities, to build a winning baseball team.

The Moneyball lesson for your nonprofit organization is that by leveraging statistical data, you can build a winning development program.

So, what statistics should you track? What goals should you set?

Carrie Horton, Director of Content and Education at Kindful, has identified three key points from the seminar that you need to know. Kindful is a nonprofit CRM software that offers powerful online fundraising tools, intuitive donor management, and comprehensive reporting analytics in one centralized data hub. Here’s what Carrie found most valuable from Stanger’s presentation:

 

If you’re anything like us at Kindful, when you hear the word “moneyball,” you think of Michael Lewis’s bestselling book and Brad Pitt’s killer acting. But thanks to the AFP International Fundraising Conference and Jeff MoneyballStanger’s impeccable session, we’ve got a new definition. Stanger’s session – “Fundraising Moneyball: The Only Metrics that Matter in Digital Fundraising” – sets forth a simple and straightforward digital strategy for nonprofit fundraising success. According to this renowned speaker and fundraising consultant from Cause Geek, it’s not rocket science, it’s statistics.

Stanger showed us that a successful digital fundraising strategy isn’t about trending on Twitter or gaining the most “likes” on Facebook. Instead, he urges nonprofits to focus on small steps taken with the insight of data and metrics behind them. Sustainable growth, Stanger says, comes through clear and simple goals that are easy to measure, quick to show return, and effectively reveal what works and what doesn’t.

What are the three goals that Stanger suggests you focus on? Again, Stanger’s recommendations are straightforward:

  1. Increase the number of subscribers to email
  2. Increase the number of volunteers
  3. Increase the number of monthly givers

Seems simple enough, right? These aren’t principles that are overly complex or hard to define. They’re straightforward and easy to measure. Even smaller nonprofits with limited funds and limited resources can achieve great success through a series of small victories.

But, where do you start? Well, if Stanger’s argument is that these goals are important because they are measurable metrics, then it only makes sense to start with metrics as well. We might be a bit biased (being the donor management provider that we are), but Kindful thinks that clean data and insightful metrics are at the heart of every successful digital fundraising strategy. However, don’t take our word for it. Here’s a quick breakdown of Stanger’s three goals and how an integrated CRM can help make you a fundraising champ:

Goal #1: Increase the number of subscribers to email

In a world where 95 percent of consumers use email and 91 percent check it at least once a day, the importance of growing your email marketing and distribution list is a no-brainer. In fact, Stanger mentioned that 75 percent of social media users still say that they prefer email communication! Email addresses provide you with a direct link to your audience and, when used wisely, help you cultivate donors who will be invested in your organization for years to come.

Want to build your email distribution list?

Pull a report to find out how many email addresses you have in your donor database. Integrate with your email-marketing provider to pull in stats related to how many people open your emails and click through them. Use data to understand what’s working (and what isn’t) and refine your strategy to send better emails and increase engagement. In other words, make sure your emails deliver value to recipients.

Goal #2: Increase the number of volunteers

Did you know that nearly 80 percent of volunteers donate to charity, compared to only 40 percent of non-volunteers? (Visit VolunteeringInAmerica.gov for more information.) It makes sense – those who are the most engaged with your organization will be the most likely to give financial support as well. And it’s not just that volunteers are most likely to donate…they’re most likely to raise money for your organization as well! Especially with the rising popularity of crowdfunding platforms, volunteers who engage through peer-to-peer fundraising don’t just bring in more money, they expand your audience.

Furthermore, over time, many volunteers will choose to donate in significant ways including through planned giving.

Want to build your volunteer base?

March 22, 2016

There’s Something Important You Need to Do Before You Can Raise More Money

Do you want to acquire more new donors?

Do you want to retain more existing donors?

Do you want to upgrade the support from more of your donors?

Do you want to get more planned gift commitments?

To achieve any of those goals, there’s something essential you must first do. You need to build trust. Trust is the cornerstone of all fundraising success.

Consider what noted philanthropy researchers Dr. Adrian Sargeant and Dr. Jen Shang have written on the subject:

There would appear to be a relationship between trust and a propensity to donate…. There is [also] some indication here that a relationship does exist between trust and amount donated, comparatively little increases in the former having a marked impact on the latter.”

In other words, the research demonstrates that the level of trust one has in a charity affects both willingness to give and the amount of giving.

TrustIf you’re like most fundraising professionals, you instinctively understand the importance of establishing trust. However, what are you actually doing to build and maintain it?

Sadly, many nonprofit professionals think that trust is automatic. If your organization has existed for a reasonable period of time and if it has had some demonstrable success at fulfilling its mission, fundraisers may be lulled into the belief that trust already exists. Therefore, organizations spend little effort building trust and, instead, focus their energies and resources on making funding appeals. Unfortunately, the result is usually underperformance and occasionally disaster.

As I mentioned in a recent post, a cancer charity in Scotland was involved in a major scandal several years ago. Unfortunately, the fallout from that scandal negatively affected many unrelated charities throughout Scotland as public trust in the charity sector suffered greatly. As a result, some charities reported a 30 percent downturn in contributions in the months following the controversy. To restore the public trust, Scotland’s charities and the Institute of Fundraising joined forces to get people meaningful information and provide them with assurance about the trustworthiness of the charity sector. It took several months to rebuild trust. As trust was restored, giving began to return to normal.

By investing in efforts to establish and grow trust, nonprofit organizations will yield far greater fundraising results and protect themselves from an unforeseen public relations challenge.

So, recognizing that building and growing trust is essential for success, and fragile once established, what can charities do to develop trust?

Fortunately, building trust does not have to be complicated or expensive. Sales guru Tom Hopkins identifies three simple steps:

March 5, 2016

Gallup Poll: Donors Not Feeling the Love

The most recent “Health and Well-Being Survey” conducted by Gallup provides alarming insight about the effectiveness of nonprofit donor recognition efforts.

Among those surveyed, 81 percent say they have donated money to a charity within the past year. In addition, 52 percent of survey respondents say they have volunteered their time during that same period.

Given the high-level of engagement, Gallup wanted to determine whether survey respondents were “feeling the love and received recognition for their efforts to help improve the city or area where they live.” Unfortunately, the findings are disturbing:

•  Only 15 percent of respondents agreed with the The Applause by Rachael Tomster via Flickrstatement “In the last 12 months, I have received recognition for helping to improve the city or area where I live.” This includes 5 percent who “Strongly Agreed” and 10 percent who “Agreed.”

•  Conversely, a whopping 69 percent of respondents disagreed with that same statement, including 45 percent who “Strongly Disagreed” and another 24 percent who “Disagreed.”

There are a few things that might explain the disconnect between the philanthropic/voluntary involvement of survey respondents and the recognition they received, or didn’t:

1.  Many of the respondents may have donated or volunteered for non-local causes. For example, donors may have given to alma maters in a different geographic region. Alternatively, donors may have given to or volunteered with national or international charities.

2.  Survey respondents might not think of their giving or volunteering as “[helping to] improve the city or area where they live.” For example, if one gives to a local animal shelter, she might think of it as helping the kittens and puppies but not necessarily think of it as improving the community.

3.  Survey respondents might not fully understand the definition of “recognition.” For example, some donors might think of “recognition” as being profiled in the local newspaper because of their philanthropic efforts. Other donors might think of “recognition” as being honored with a plaque at a special event. Others might think “recognition” means receiving a t-shirt. Still others might think of “recognition” as a well-written thank-you letter.

If the disconnect between giving/volunteering and recognition was small, I wouldn’t be too worried; the disconnect could be explained. However, the disconnect revealed by the survey is massive. Even allowing for a large margin of error for the reasons I’ve just outlined, I suspect we’d still see a significant #DonorLove gap.

Considering the anemic donor-retention rates throughout the nonprofit sector, I’m even more convinced that Gallup has uncovered a legitimate concern. As a statement from Gallup says:

It seems most communities and organizations are missing an opportunity to validate donation and volunteer efforts by recognizing those who offer them.”

Here are just some of the things you can do to ensure your donors and volunteers feel appreciate:

February 10, 2016

Do You Really Know Your Donors? — Part 1

How well do you know your donors?

How well do you need to know your donors?

The first question is for you to answer. I’ll answer the second question:

You need to know your donors well enough to know how to effectively steward them in a way they will appreciate. You need to know them well enough to know to avoid doing something stupid that will alienate them. You need to know them well enough to engage them in meaningful ways.

Let me share a story that illustrates my point.

Smith PG Package 2My wife Lisa is a proud Smith College alumna. She has been a leader with the Smith College Club of Philadelphia. She has referred students to the College. She has donated to the annual fund and capital campaigns. She has volunteered as a Class Agent. Several years ago, she even included Smith in her will, becoming a member of the College’s Grécourt Society.

Over the years, Lisa has received mailings specifically for Grécourt Society members, including invitations to special member events. Recently, in advance of her landmark reunion, she received a fold-over postcard mailing that included an option to request a replacement Grécourt Society pin if she needed one. As it turns out, Lisa did need a replacement, so she happily responded.

So far, so good.

Then, Lisa received the package from the Smith College Office of Gift Planning. The package included the Grécourt Society pin, a surprise magnet, and a preprinted thank-you card that was hand-signed by Lisabeth.

Ouch! While trying to do something nice, Smith stumbled badly.

Here are the mistakes the College made:

December 4, 2015

What Can a Steakhouse Teach You about #Fundraising?

Not long ago, I visited The Capital Grille where the chef served more than perfectly prepared steaks. At the end of the meal, he also served up a valuable fundraising lesson, albeit unwittingly.

Capital Grille TY NoteLast week, in America, we celebrated Thanksgiving. This week, we marked #GivingTuesday. Inspired by both of those occasions, I’m going to share my Capital Grille experience with you.

At the end of a wonderful meal, some uneaten steak remained on my plate. There was no way I was going to let the succulent meat go to waste when I could use it to make a perfectly delicious sandwich the next day.

So, I asked our waiter to please wrap it to go.

I didn’t give the matter any further thought as I waited for the package to arrive from the kitchen. Up until this point, everything was pretty much routine.

However, when my to-go package of leftover steak arrived in a nice paper bag, I couldn’t help but notice a note tied to the bag’s handle. The note, hand signed by the chef, read:

We are glad you enjoyed your meal enough to take some home with you. Thank you for dining with us, we appreciate your business.”

I’m more than a half-century old. I dine out quite a bit. In my life, I’ve taken leftovers home on many occasions. However, this was the first time that my leftover package came with a hand-signed thank-you note!

Here are five takeaways for you:

October 22, 2015

Do You Know if Your #Fundraising is Failing?

You might think it’s a blunt, maybe even a harsh, question. It is.

Do you know if your fundraising is failing?

If your nonprofit organization is typical, I have some bad news for you. You’re fundraising effort is most likely sorely underperforming. That’s according to the newly released 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Urban Institute.  Here are some of the key findings:

•  For every 100 donors gained in 2014, 103 were lost through attrition, a net loss in donors of three percent!

•  For every $100 gained in 2014, $95 was lost through gift attrition. In other words, organizations are running hard to remain essentially in place.

•  The median donor retention rate in 2014 was just 43 percent. There was no improvement over 2013’s rate despite all of the publicity and advice about the issue.

•  The median dollar retention rate increased slightly from 46 percent to 47 percent in 2014. However, the fact that the retention rate is not well above 50 percent is pathetic. Sadly, that’s been the case for nearly the past decade.

The Scream by Mark Tighe via FlickrRoger Craver, one of the Editors at The Agitator blog and author of Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life summed up the results perfectly with just one word: “depressing.”

Even if your charity is performing on par with the median nonprofit organization, make no mistake about it, it is failing. Unfortunately, many organizations do not even know whether or not they are performing well. They usually don’t look at or understand their numbers. Fortunately, the solution is simple. Here’s a story I told The Agitator:

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