July 12, 2019

Do Not Fall for Newsweek’s Fake News!

You might have seen it recently. Sophie Penney, PhD, President of i5 Fundraising, saw it and then asked me what I thought. So, thank you for the question, Sophie; here goes…

Newsweek posted an article with this headline: “Trump Tax Plan Leads to $54 Billion Decline in Charitable Giving.”

There’s only one problem: IT IS NOT TRUE!

Shockingly, not even the body of the article supports the headline. Instead, the writer talks briefly about a $54 billion drop in itemized donations NOT a $54 billion drop in giving. This does NOT mean there was a $54 billion drop in actual giving. With fewer people itemizing their taxes, of course there would be fewer itemized donations. However, that does not mean fewer donations. Many donors will continue to give and continue to give generously despite not being able to itemize. By the way, the writer provided no source for the $54 billion figure.

The article furthers its doom-and-gloom theme by asserting that there was a 1.7 percent decline in overall charitable giving. However, the writer did not mention that that figure was for inflation-adjusted dollars. In real dollars, giving actually went up $2.97 billion (0.7 percent) between 2017 and 2018, and now stands at $427.71 billion, the highest level of all time, according to Giving USA 2019. Even if we look at inflation-adjusted dollars, giving in 2018 was the second highest in recorded history. Not bad.

If we want to understand the current philanthropy environment, we need to have an honest conversation using real information. In a previous post, I identified several factors affecting charitable giving: Continue reading

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

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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. Continue reading

June 20, 2019

I Told You So: Charitable Giving is Up!

Most charity pundits, mainstream media, and press serving the nonprofit sector got it wrong. Sadly, none of them is admitting their mistake, and many are continuing to advance a false narrative. However, I always told you the truth, and I’ll continue to do so.

I’ve often encouraged you not to overuse statistics in your appeals. But, we can all certainly benefit from reading lots of illuminating statistics.

In 2017 and 2018, most pundits and the media were convinced that the Tax Cut and Jobs Act would result in up to a $21 billion decrease in philanthropic giving. In January 2018, I joined a tiny group of professionals who predicted the decrease in giving would be far less than that and giving might actually increase. This was not a guess on our part, but a well-educated expectation based on research, experience, and observation.

Now, with the release of Giving USA 2019, we know who was correct.

Overall, philanthropic giving in constant dollars INCREASED by $2.97 billion (0.7 percent) between 2017 and 2018, and now stands at $427.71 billion, the highest level of all time. Relative to Gross Domestic Product, giving remained at 2.1 percent, which is greater than the 40-year average of 2.0 percent.

Despite the generally good news, the philanthropy scene is not entirely positive. When adjusting for inflation, giving in 2018 did decline by 1.7 percent, though that was much less than the doom and gloom estimates. Furthermore, giving by individuals as a share of overall philanthropy accounted for 68 percent; this is the first time since at least 1954 that it has fallen below 70 percent. In 2018, individual giving fell by 1.1 percent in constant dollars.

While the new tax code likely had an effect on charitable giving, we need to be careful not to overstate its impact. A number of factors have influenced giving:

New Tax Code. All or part of the decline in individual giving in 2018 could be due to donors taking action in advance of the tax law change. We saw this in 1986 when there was a spike in charitable giving in advance of the Reagan tax cuts in 1987.

In 2017, many donors likely front-loaded their philanthropic giving since they would no longer be able to deduct gifts beginning in 2018. In addition, many donors chose to bundle their philanthropy by contributing to Donor-Advised Funds at record levels in 2017. Together, these two factors might explain the 1.1 percent decrease in individual giving in 2018 compared to a 5.7 percent increase in 2017. If not for the new tax rules going into effect in 2018, some of those 2017 donations might have been made in 2018 instead.

The tax code might also affect giving in other ways that we just don’t see clearly at this point. Just as we had to wait until 1988 to see giving normalize following the Reagan tax cuts, we may need to wait another year or two to understand the full effect of the current tax code.

Decline in the Number of Donors. Since 2001, the percentage of US households contributing to charity has fallen steadily from a high of 67.63 percent to 55.51 percent in 2014, according to data from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Panel Study. In other words, the new tax code is not responsible for a sudden decline in the number of donors. This trend has been going on for years. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

June 11, 2019

4 Major Problems with Nonprofit Compensation

Salaries are a big problem for nonprofit organizations. However, the problem, or rather problems, might not be what you think they are.

Let’s look at just four major issues:

1. Nonprofit staff earns too much money. The mainstream media regularly trumpet the high salaries that some nonprofit executives receive. Through their selective reporting, many in the media advance a narrative that suggests nonprofit professionals earn too much money. As a result, donors focus frequently on charity overhead, including salaries, rather than program and service outcomes when evaluating charitable organizations.

2. Nonprofit staff earns too little money. Simply put, many people working for nonprofit organizations are grotesquely underpaid. For example, I recently came across an advertisement for a nonprofit Administrative Manager and Marketing Associate in Washington, DC. The charity requires candidates to have a college degree and an automobile. The organization offers an annual salary of just $35,000. Take a moment and think about that. The job pays $35,000 a year in Washington, DC! In case you don’t know, Washington, DC is the fifth most expensive city in the US, according to Kiplinger.

Yes, some charity executives are overpaid. However, many high-paid nonprofit employees are worth every dollar because of their skills and proven results. Geographical cost of living is another reason some nonprofit professionals earn higher salaries. On the other hand, the story that the media seldom cover is that of underpaid nonprofit staff. The failure to provide a competitive salary, or even a salary someone can live on reasonably, makes it difficult for charities to attract and retain talented staff.

Maclean’s examined nearly 600 charities in Canada with gross revenue of over $2 million (Canadian $). The publication found charities that significantly overpaid or underpaid chief executives, relative to peer organizations, were less likely to be transparent or efficient. “Analysis of charity data suggests extremely high compensation is linked to poor results for charities. But intriguingly, so is extremely low compensation,” according to the report. “High salaries receive the most attention, but Maclean’s found a stronger correlation with poor performance at charities that underpay their staff or have no staff at all.”

Ideally, nonprofit organization would provide employees with competitive compensation packages taking into account the type and size of organization, the job position, and geographic area. Compensation does not have to be precisely average; it can be high or low though it should be within the average range. Compensation that is excessively high or low can be directly problematic and could be a symptom of other problems at the organization.

This brings me to a third compensation problem: Continue reading

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: Continue reading

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: Continue reading

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: Continue reading

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: Continue reading

April 17, 2019

How Generous is the Charitable Giving of Presidential Candidates?

While I applaud anyone who donates money and/or time to charities, some deserve more applause than others do. Since the presidential campaign season has begun, and with federal tax returns due earlier this week, The Washington Post has reviewed the charitable giving of the 2020 presidential candidates who have released their federal tax returns so far.

Here is what we know from the most recently released tax returns (with candidates and their spouses ranked from least to most generous as a percentage of Adjusted Gross Income):

Beto O’Rourke donated $1,166, 0.3 percent of AGI.

Kamala Harris donated $27,259, 1.4 percent of AGI.

Kirsten Gillibrand donated $3,750, 1.75 percent of AGI.

Amy Klobuchar donated $6,602, 1.85 percent of AGI.

Bernie Sanders donated $18,950, 3.4 percent of AGI.

Jay Inslee donated $8,295, 4.0 percent of AGI.

Elizabeth Warren donated $50,128, 5.5 percent of AGI.

For perspective, here is some information about past presidential candidates: Continue reading

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