Posts tagged ‘Andrew Olsen’

October 25, 2019

Do You Want to Know the Latest, Greatest Fundraising Idea?

When I’m invited to speak at professional gatherings, I’m asked frequently to talk about the latest, greatest ideas that will help nonprofit organizations raise more money. I’m never surprised. For many years, I’ve talked with fundraising professionals who attend conferences, participate in webinars, and read publications in a grand quest for the new shiny idea that will result in massive fundraising growth.

Recently, I read some tweets from three fundraising experts related to the search for fundraising’s Holy Grail. While these colleagues and I all embrace innovation, we also share a common belief about what will allow fundraising professionals to be more successful immediately. Here it is:

Master the fundraising fundamentals.

Here’s what T. Clay Buck, CFRE; Andrew Olsen, CFRE; and Tom Ahern all tweeted this month:

Let me demonstrate what I mean by “master the fundamentals.” In a planned-gift marketing seminar I presented a few years ago, I shared a variety of ideas for promoting planned giving. I knew I had a diverse audience, so I provided both simple and sophisticated ideas. While my suggestions were certainly not revolutionary, some of them did push the envelope of current practice.

Following my talk, a fellow came up to me and said, “You didn’t say anything I didn’t already know.” Ouch! That’s not the feedback I like, even if it was just one person’s opinion. I always want everyone to come away from my seminars with at least one terrific idea.

After receiving the stinging feedback, I said to the man, “I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get any fresh ideas. However, I’d love to hear about how you’ve used the phone to market bequests.”

He replied, “I haven’t implemented a phone program.”

“Ok, then tell me how your direct mail campaign has done,” I requested.

“I haven’t done a planned gift mailing,” he responded.

“Ok, then tell me about your website and how it allows you to track and rate visitor interaction,” I requested.

“Our website isn’t that sophisticated,” he said.

The conversation continued in that vein. The point is that this fellow knew what he should or could be doing, but he was not doing it! He had not fully embraced the fundamentals of planned-gift marketing yet he was searching for new ideas, a planned giving Holy Grail. If he would simply implement one of the ideas I had talked about, his planned giving results would have been much stronger.

The fundamentals matter. To be successful, fundraising professionals need to learn the basics and embrace them. Doing so could add up to billions of dollars for the nonprofit sector.

Do you want more money for the annual fund? Then tell me, do you have a monthly donor program? Do you do second-gift appeals? Do you do targeted upgrade appeals? Do you effectively steward gifts to ensure a high donor-retention rate? Do you use database analytics to help you better target asks, even in your direct mail appeals?

Do you want more planned gifts? Then tell me, do you have a sophisticated website that allows you to track individual engagement and then rate prospects based on that? Do you use direct mail to generate bequest commitments and leads? Do you use the telephone to generate planned gifts and leads? Do you use surveys to learn more about prospects while engaging them?

Do you want more corporate support? Then tell me, do you offer something of value to your corporate donors or do you simply expect them to “give back”? Do you only go after the usual suspects or do you also approach the profitable, rapidly growing small and mid-size businesses in your community? Do you just ask or do you cultivate and engage as well?

Don’t get me wrong. Once again, I’m a big fan of fresh ideas and cutting-edge research. Again, so are Buck, Olsen, and Ahern. However, learning without doing accomplishes nothing.

Everyone seeking to work as a fundraising professional should learn the fundamentals so they can effectively identify prospects, educate and cultivate them, ask for gifts, and properly steward supporters.

Implementing relatively simple, small changes can yield big results for your nonprofit organization. Virtually every charity has low-hanging fruit. But, you actually have to go and grab it!

Here are five simple steps, that I outlined several years ago, that you can take now:

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May 21, 2019

101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make And How You Can Avoid Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 17, 2015

Is It Better or Worse to Send More Appeals?

Part of me is definitely a fan of conventional wisdom. Come on. What’s not to like about wisdom?

On the other hand, part of me hates the notion that we should continue doing things because that’s the way they’ve always been done. All too often, conventional is code for mediocre.

In other words, I think it’s wise to regularly challenge conventional wisdom, so long as we do so thoughtfully and preferably with good data.

So, being a good fundraising nerd, I enjoyed reading a number of articles this week that explore how often charities should send appeals to donors.

Let’s start with the conventional wisdom:

The more appeals you send, the more money you will raise.

Change in Hands by Randy Willis via FlickrAndrew Olsen, CFRE, Vice President of Client Services at the Russ Reid Agency, tested the conventional wisdom. In his blog post “Fundraising Myth Busters: Solicitation Frequency,” Olsen concludes, “Don’t be afraid to add a solicitation or two to your annual line up. As this case shows, you stand to make a lot more money for your cause if you do!”

In his post, Olsen shared testing that was done for two nonprofit organizations:

  • In the first case, the organization went from five to 10 solicitations, and year-over-year revenue increased 123 percent.
  • The second organization increased from three to six solicitations, and year-over-year revenue increased 110 percent.

Given that the highly respected Russ Reid Agency conducted the tests, I had to take notice. However, Olsen’s post raised more questions for me than it answered:

  • While gross revenue increased in both test cases, did net revenue increase significantly?
  • What impact does increasing the number of appeals have on long-term donor retention?
  • How does increasing the number of appeals impact donor Lifetime Value (LTV).
  • If revenue went up, why stop at six or even 10 appeals? Why not send an appeal out monthly, weekly, daily, hourly? When should we stop?

With these questions nagging at me, I was relieved to see that direct-response guru Roger Craver wrote a four-part series on the subject for The Agitator blog (Note: The Agitator is now a paid subscription site.).

Craver looked at solicitation frequency a bit more closely than Olsen did. For example, he reported that the net income from successive appeals goes down after a point. He also showed evidence that some donors on a file are more receptive than others to multiple appeals. While not surprising, it is nice to see the data on this and have a chance to reflect on how screening for solicitation-frequency preference can affect net revenue. Craver shows that sending fewer appeals, particularly to certain individuals, can lead to greater net income.

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