Posts tagged ‘cultivation’

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.

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April 28, 2020

Warning Signs You Need to Know About

While the nonprofit sector continues to raise massive amounts of money, danger lies ahead for fundraising professionals as the coronavirus health crisis leads us further into an economic calamity.

As the COVID-19 pandemic gained traction, individuals, corporations, and foundations have responded with robust giving. For example, individual giving revenue through direct mail, processed by Merkle RMG, has increased 5.8 percent year-over-year even while the volume of donations dropped by 15.5 percent, according to Merkle RMG’s Impact Report, COVID-19: How the Coronavirus Pandemic is Impacting Direct Mail Fundraising (transactions through April 19, 2020).

The initial philanthropic response to the pandemic is not surprising for those who have experienced major challenges in the past. Giving lags changes in economic conditions. For instance, during the Great Recession (2007-09), we also saw a similar philanthropic pattern with revenue initially increasing while the number of donors declined. The following graph from Target Analytics, a Blackbaud company, illustrates the point:

Now, let me just mention that no one has a crystal ball or time machine. Therefore, no one, including me, can precisely predict what will happen and when it will happen. Nevertheless, we do know that during past crises, we saw that charitable giving fell after an initial surge.

The overall economy has a profound effect on philanthropic giving. We know that overall philanthropy correlates with Gross Domestic Product at the rate of about two percent. Furthermore, historical data shows that individual giving correlates with personal income at the rate of roughly two percent. In other words, when the economy is strong, giving will be strong; when the economy falters, giving will slow.

Because the coronavirus pandemic has caused a major global economic disruption, we can anticipate that this will eventually have a negative effect on philanthropic giving. Consider these warning signs:

As corporations see profits eroded, as foundations see investments decimated, as individuals see personal income slashed, charitable giving will likely decrease. However, there are some mitigating factors in play:

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December 10, 2019

To Raise More Money, Look for More Engagement Opportunities

Smart nonprofit professionals know that fundraising success involves much more than simply asking for money. You need to identify prospective supporters, educate them, cultivate them, then ask for support, and finally steward your donors. An essential, often neglected, aspect of cultivation is engagement.

Sadly, many nonprofit organizations think of donors as piggy banks or ATMs dispensing money. Those charities tend to assume that charitable giving is, by its very nature, transactional. They further assume that low donor retention rates are just the way things are. Those organizations are correct … regarding themselves.

By contrast, nonprofits that treat prospects and donors as partners are more likely to attract support. Furthermore, they are more likely to retain and upgrade donors over time. One way to establish a partnership with people is to engage them in meaningful ways.

So, what does meaningful engagement look like?

PTC’s See & Be Scene Event.

For decades, I’ve been a fan and supporter of the Philadelphia Theatre Company. Recently, my wife and I were invited to attend “See & Be Scene: A Sneak Peek at the 2020/21 Season.” The event involved readings from eight plays under consideration for the upcoming four-play season. Subscribers and donors were invited to attend for free while the general public could purchase tickets at $15 each.

Through the event, PTC accomplished three important things:

  1. PTC expressed gratitude to its ticket subscribers and donors.
  2. Staff gained useful audience feedback that will help them select the plays of greatest potential interest to PTC’s audience.
  3. By giving them a real voice, PTC made its supporters feel like partners.

At intermission, I had the chance to quietly ask Paige Price, Producing Artistic Director, what she and the staff were hoping to get out of the program. She told me that they were interested in audience feedback. They wanted to know what people thought of each option, what they liked and didn’t like. They also wanted to be able to address any questions the audience might have about the upcoming season or the theatre company itself.

I also had the opportunity to speak privately with one of PTC’s board members. I asked him the same question I asked Ms. Price. He gave me a similar answer. Then, I mentioned that the event was a great way to cultivate ticket subscribers and donors. While he acknowledged it was, he told me that the primary purpose of the gathering was the opportunity to engage the audience and learn their thoughts about plans for the upcoming season.

I believe what I was told. PTC used the program to build a genuine partnership with people. Judging from the audience response, PTC succeeded with those in attendance. During the discussion session following the readings, one audience member said, “I think next season we should perform…” Someone else began her comment by saying, “As a member…” Clearly, at least some people in the audience did indeed see themselves as partners with PTC.

Another way that PTC seeks to engage theatregoers can be found in the lobby. A large sign invites people to make suggestions:

Have an idea? We want to hear from you.”

PTC’s Call for Suggestions.

People can take a card or use their ticket to write down their suggestion. They can submit it anonymously or include their phone number or email address so that PTC can respond.

With the “See & be Scene” program and with the request for feedback and suggestions, PTC engages people. Even those who do not take advantage of either opportunity will appreciate having had the opportunity to be heard.

Part of what makes the PTC engagement initiatives effective is that they are sincere efforts to build partnerships rather than cynical, manipulative gestures. By building meaningful partnerships, PTC will likely continue to develop a loyal base of ticket buyers and donors.

Engagement efforts that are sincere and true to an organization’s mission are most likely to be seen as meaningful. And they are most likely to build partnerships that lead to loyal support. While performing arts organizations have a number of obvious ways they can engage people, other types of nonprofit organizations may find it more challenging to do so.

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December 5, 2019

With #GivingTuesday Behind Us Here’s What You Need to be Thinking About

Ahhhhh! Once again, it’s safe for us to open our mailboxes and email inboxes. The same is true for charity donors. Giving Tuesday 2019 is behind us.

Now what?

Well, over Thanksgiving weekend, I sent out a cartoon via Twitter that got me thinking. It also caused a reader and friend to suggest I blog about it. So, here it is, the cartoon and my post about what the cartoon suggests for us in our post-Giving-Tuesday professional lives.

In the cartoon, the child at the Thanksgiving table asks, “Why aren’t we this thankful every day?” It’s a great question for us to ask both our personal and professional selves.

As a fundraising professional, you should adopt a thankfulness, or gratitude, mindset. You’ll be happier and healthier as will the people around you. Let’s be thankful every day. Allow me illustrate what I mean.

How do you feel when you receive a phone call from a donor while you’re busy writing your next direct-mail appeal or preparing your development report for an upcoming board meeting? Are you annoyed that the donor has interrupted you with a silly question that she could have answered for herself by visiting your organization’s website? Or, are you grateful for the donor’s support and happy to provide direct service to her in a personal conversation that you didn’t even have to initiate?

That’s just one example. But, I think you understand my point.

When you and your organization truly appreciate your supporters, you’ll look for ways to thank them, show them gratitude, and engage them in meaningful ways as part of your normal routine. This is essential for all of the folks who support your organization; it’s especially true for the new donors you acquired on Giving Tuesday. If you want to retain more donors, upgrade the support of more donors, and receive more major and planned gifts, you need to show contributors the appreciation they deserve.

Henri Frederic Amiel, the 19th century philosopher and poet, once said:

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

As a thankful fundraising professional, you will:

  • Provide a thank-you message to every donor.
  • Send a thank-you letter immediately, within days of receiving a gift.
  • Show supporters you care about them, not just their money.
  • Ensure that your communications are meaningful for your supporters.

As a general rule, you’ll want to look for ways to thank each donor seven times. For example, here are seven ideas for how you can thank a supporter:

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November 21, 2019

Are You Making This Big Mistake When Mailing to Donors?

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches in the US, a conversation on Twitter caught my eye. I recently read a pair of tweets from two charity donors that made me want to scream. I must share what I read about how they were thanked for their support. I hope it keeps you from making the big mistake that the donors describe.

After nearly four decades as a fundraising professional, not much about the nonprofit sector surprises me. However, every so often, I still come across an item that stuns even me. The Twitter conversation between The Whiny Donor and Meghan Speer provides an illustration of this:

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After making a donation, Whiny received a thank-you letter from the charity she supported. The envelope was addressed to her and “or Current Resident.” Speer contributed to another charity. As a supporter, she was invited to attend a donor thank-you event. The invitation was addressed to Speer and “or Current Resident.”

Both donors were annoyed at how the mailings were addressed. Speer wrote sarcastically, “…makes me feel super appreciated.”

For her part, Whiny demanded, “Spend enough on postage, or we’ll let some other resident donate the next time around.”

I never would have guessed that this was a problem. Apparently it is.

Who can blame Whiny or Speer for being annoyed? When someone supports your organization, they feel good about helping to achieve its mission. As a fundraising professional, part of your job is to help donors continue to feel good about their decision to support. With a proper thank-you letter, relevant information, and meaningful opportunities for engagement, you can help preserve and even build that warm feeling. If you properly steward your donors, they’ll be more likely to renew their giving, upgrade their support and, possibly, make a planned gift. Conversely, if you fail when it comes to stewardship, you risk alienating your donors.

They gave you money. They already like you. Don’t give them a reason not to.

Addressing a thank-you letter or donor-appreciation event invitation to “or Current Resident” is a certain way to make donors feel less than special and less than valued by you. If Whiny and Speer are put off by such addressing, you can bet other donors are as well.

So, why do some nonprofit organizations do this?

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November 12, 2019

A Pro Baker Knows 3 Things that will Help You Raise More Money

Chef Stefan Zareba is an award-winning baker and successful businessman. His tasty, artistic creations have impressed visitors at leading resorts around the world. My wife and I recently met Zareba, and learned three keys to his success. Interestingly, those three things can also help you be a more effective fundraising professional.

My wife and I recently spent a few days relaxing at the New Jersey shore. Beautiful weather and the Monarch Butterfly migration made our visit special. At the suggestion of a family member, we visited Blue Dolfin Sweets, a European bakery in Marmora, NJ. When we entered, Zareba greeted us as if we were regulars despite it being our first visit.

When Zareba saw that we were a bit overwhelmed by our options, he began offering us free tastes. When I remarked about the intense flavors, Zareba shared his baking philosophy. He believes in using carefully sourced, natural or organic ingredients. His flour comes from Minnesota, his chocolate from Belgium, his fruits from farmers he knows, his butter from Europe. At the Blue Dolfin, you won’t find agave syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, or chemicals and artificial additives.

Zareba believes pure, wholesome ingredients produce products, when crafted with skill, that taste better. He’s right. Not only do his creations taste better, the flavors he produces are more intense and bright than you would ever experience from a bakery chain.

So, here is what I learned during my visit with Chef Stefan that can help you:

Intense Passion. Zareba spoke with my wife and me as if we were the first customers he had seen that day. As it was well into the afternoon, I know that definitely was not the case. Nevertheless, Zareba was energetic, friendly, and helpful. He patiently answered our questions, and told us about himself and his baking experience. That’s how we learned about his baking philosophy. Seeing someone so passionate about his work was remarkable. I don’t know quite how to make my point vividly. Let me try this. Instead of simply selling baked goods, Zareba shares his creations. Moreover, when he sees you enjoying a bite, he smiles with his entire being.

Do you have that kind of passion for your organization and its mission? Do you believe that your organization is the best at what it does? Are you proud to work for your organization? If you’ve answered “yes” to each of those questions, do you convey that feeling to those with whom you interact?

In many cases, prospects and donors will take their cues from you. If they sense that you have lukewarm feelings for your charity, they likely will as well. However, if they sense your passion, they may very well be more receptive to your appeal.

Years ago, I co-owned a pioneering phone fundraising company, The Development Center. Over the years, we employed some callers who did just about everything wrong despite trying their best. They got tongue-tied when talking with prospects. They had difficulty handling questions and objections. They were awkward. A casual observer would think we should have terminated those callers. However, we didn’t always do that because a distinguished few were extremely successful. What made them successful fundraisers, despite their shortcomings, was their passion for the organizations they represented. Their passion was infectious. When prospective donors heard how passionate these callers were, they became excited about the mission and became supporters.

Passion cuts both ways. If you do not passionately represent your organization, alarm bells will go off in the minds of those you contact. Conversely, if you exude passion for your organization’s mission, that enthusiasm will be infectious and excite others.

Superior Skills. Unfortunately, passion alone will seldom lead to success. For Zareba, years of training and working in some of the top kitchens around the world developed his skills. When looking at his display cases, you can see the result. He turns out a huge variety of confections. In addition, he renders each beautifully. His wedding cakes are works of art.

The framed newspaper and magazine articles mounted on the bakery wall attest to Zareba’s skills and the awards he has earned. He’s a world-class baker who, thankfully, has chosen to make his home in a small town in New Jersey.

As the number of nonprofit organizations grows, there is increasing competition for philanthropic support. It’s unlikely that your charity is unique. More likely, there are other nonprofits with similar missions. To attract, retain, and upgrade support for your organization, you need to have well-honed skills. Good enough is not good enough. You need to work continually to enhance your skills. You need to master the fundamentals while remaining receptive to the right fresh ideas. You need to continue your education by attending conferences, participating in webinars, reading books and blogs, and more.

Music experts have long regarded Pablo Casals as the world’s greatest cellist. When he was about 80 years old, Casals agreed to be the subject of Robert Snyder’s short documentary movie. The filmmaker asked why Casals continued to practice playing the cello four to five hours each day. Casals replied, “Because I think I am making progress.”

The fact that the world’s greatest cellist continued to hone his skills late in life is a great example for the rest of us. As professionals, we have a responsibility to always strive to enhance our own skills. The more effective you are, the more support you will be able to attract for your organization. That means, depending on your organization’s mission, more lives saved, more people better educated, more spirits uplifted.

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November 8, 2019

3 Election-Inspired Tips for More Powerful Fundraising

Nonprofit fundraising professionals can learn three powerful tips from the US presidential candidates that will help inspire greater support.

Now that the November 2019 elections in the US are behind us, the media and the public will focus their attention increasingly on the 2020 presidential race. As the campaign for The White House heats up, there are already things you can glean from this election season that will help you and your charity.

Fox News recently interviewed pollster Frank Luntz about how the candidates are communicating their messages. Regardless of how you feel about the network or the researcher, you can pick-up great communication insights from them.

Specifically, Luntz shared what he believes to be the three elements of powerful, persuasive communications:

1. Credible. It’s not enough for a message to be true. It must also be believable. When sharing stories about those your charity helps, you might choose to highlight a less dramatic, but more believable example, rather than one that is extreme but that might invite suspicion. Or, if you do share a story that stretches belief, you might want to cite a third-party source (i.e., a published news report). In a mailing or face-to-face visit, for example, you could even provide a newspaper clipping that supports the story you share. When citing statistics, providing the source can lend credibility.

In one of her presidential campaign ads, Sen. Elizabeth Warren highlights her unexpected victory over incumbent Sen. Scott Brown in 2012 to demonstrate her political skill and her ability to surprise the pundits. In one of his campaign ads, former Vice President Joe Biden cited a number of polls to support his claim that he is the best positioned Democrat to unseat President Donald Trump. In other words, both candidates sought to establish credibility by documenting their claims.

If recipients of your message don’t believe it, they’ll dismiss it. You’ll lose the opportunity to cultivate, engage, or generate support. While your message needs to standout and capture attention, it has to be believable.

2. Memorable. To be effective, messaging must be memorable. By definition, successful education or cultivation requires a lasting impact. If someone receives your direct-mail appeal and sets it aside to deal with later, they’ll only respond if they remember it and remember what moved them. If someone sees an advertisement for your cause, they won’t talk about it with friends unless they remember it.

In one of Trump’s campaign ads, the narrator says, “Mister Nice Guy won’t cut it. It takes a tough guy to change Washington.” Luntz asserts that the “Mister Nice Guy” line combined with the images of Trump looking tough result in a memorable ad. The rhetoric is unusual for a political ad while being in alignment with the candidate’s image. By contrast, the Biden ad that talks about his ability to beat Trump uses footage that, for the most part, doesn’t support the narration and, instead, features bland, standard political glad-handing images. By contrast with the Trump ad, the Biden commercial is less memorable.

The most effective messages are the ones that are memorable. Words and images must support one another to maximize effectiveness.

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October 4, 2019

The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience

Your nonprofit organization has a serious problem. While you are expending enormous energy to attract, retain, and upgrade donors, things aren’t working out as well as they could. As a sector, charities are doing a horrible job of hanging on to supporters.

Let’s be clear. The low retention rate among donors is not their fault. Instead, the fault rests with charities that do not ensure a donor experience that inspires long-term commitment.

Fortunately, there’s something you can do about this. You can enhance the experience of your donors and thereby increase your chance of retaining them and upgrading their support. A new book by Lynne Wester, The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience, will show you the way.  Lynne is the principal and founder of Donor Relations Guru  and the DRG Group. In addition to her books and workshops, she created the Donor Relations Guru website to be used as a unique industry tool filled with resources, samples and thought leadership on donor relations and fundraising.

I first encountered Lynne several years ago at an Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference. She was leading a mini-seminar in the exhibit hall hosted by AFP. As I was walking past, her talk stopped me in my tracks. She was entertaining while talking about a subject that seldom is properly addressed at fundraising conferences. And her thoughts about donor relations resonated with me. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Lynne’s latest book, which is graphically beautiful and accessible, breaks down the philosophy of donor engagement while providing concrete strategies, tangible examples, and a whole slew of images and samples from organizations across the nation who are doing great work. The book is interspersed with offset pages that really drive home the theories outlined and provide specific examples that nonprofit professionals constantly crave and request. You’ll find key metrics, team activities, survey questions, and so much more. If you want to improve your organization’s donor retention rate, get Lynne’s book and improve the donor experience.

I thank Lynne for her willingness to share some book highlights with us:

 

When I sat down to write The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience, I wanted it to be a continuation of our thought work in The 4 Pillars of Donor Relations. But honestly, I wanted it to be a book that was read beyond donor-relations circles and practitioners and instead shared across departments and read widely by the nonprofit community.

Why? Because we have a huge problem facing our sustainability in nonprofits and that is donor retention. With first-time donor retention rates hovering below 30 percent, and overall donor retention less than 50 percent, we are in danger of losing our donor bases. We see this in the fact that 95 percent of our gifts come from five percent of our donors and, in higher education, the alumni giving rate is falling each and every year. My belief is that most of these declines can be attributed to our behavior and our insistence on ignoring the donor experience.

The donor experience is everyone’s responsibility and it requires much more than a thank you letter and an endowment report. It is a mindset. The four pillars—knowledge, strategy, culture, and emotion—can be applied in a wide variety of areas.

Knowledge is essential because it lays the foundation for all of our actions with donors. Far too often, we make dangerous assumptions that affect the donor experience. Getting to know your donors is essential. Look beyond the basic points of information and dig into a donor’s behavior and also communication preferences. Gathering passive intelligence is inextricable from the practice of crafting the donor experience. Seeking active intelligence is essential. What information are you gathering through surveys, questions, and intelligence gathering? Intentional feedback can help you prove your case for additional human and financial resources, new programs or initiatives, and gives you new content and activity to test.

In addition, consider how you can use this information to enhance the donor experience for all donors, regardless of level. Curiosity and tenacity are encouraged in this space. Being intentional is a mindset, a new way of operating and data drives all that we do. It’s your responsibility to gather as much data as possible to help build the strategic case for your donors and their experience.

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September 17, 2019

3 Reasons Why Your Year-End Fundraising Will Fail

Most charities raise more money during the last quarter of the calendar year than any other quarter. However, your year-end fundraising effort will fail to reach its potential unless you avoid the following three mistakes:

1. Failure to Tell Supporters What Their Previous Donations Have Achieved

Donors have choices about where they can give their money. Not surprisingly, they want to know that their giving is having a positive impact. If it’s not, or if they don’t know whether it is, they’ll take their support elsewhere. Chances are that your charity’s mission is not entirely unique. In other words, donors can fulfill their philanthropic aspirations by giving to another organization.

A few years ago, the Charities Aid Foundation conducted a survey that found that 68 percent of respondents said that they feel it is important for them to have evidence about how a charity is having an impact. Crying Man by Tom Pumford via UnsplashUnfortunately, many donors still complain that the only time they hear from charities is when they want money. Make sure your charity doesn’t make that mistake.

Make sure supporters and potential supporters know how your nonprofit organization is putting donations to work. Let them know what supporters are achieving. Share impact stories in your organization’s print and electronic newsletters, annual reports, special events, website, and special gratitude mailings.

You should even highlight donor impact in your appeals. Consider this: I tested a straightforward appeal against an appeal that highlighted donor impact before asking for a gift. The impact appeal generated 68 percent more revenue! So, make sure people know that their contribution will make a difference by showing them the positive effect past donations have had and by telling them how their donation will be put to work.

 2. Failure to Ask for Planned Gifts

As the end of the year approaches, your organization is facing fierce competition for an individual’s checkbook. Over the next few months, people will be deluged with charitable-giving requests. Furthermore, people will be spending large sums on holiday gift giving, entertaining, and vacationing.

However, a donor’s checkbook is just one potential resource. Many donors can donate appreciated stock, contribute from a Donor-Advised Fund, and give from their IRA. Virtually anyone can include your charity in their Will or designate your charity as a beneficiary.

Make sure you don’t assume that supporters automatically know all of the various ways they can give. Instead, make sure they know by promoting such giving opportunities. Tell stories of other donors who have given in those ways, and not just the mega-donors. Ask prospective donors to consider such gifts. And make it easy for your donors to engage in planned giving. Provide them with clear instructions on your website and in appeals that highlight a given planned gift opportunity.

To read what the experts, including myself, say about planned giving, checkout Jeff Jowdy’s article in Nonprofit Pro magazine.

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August 1, 2019

How Fundraisers Can Avoid 5 Big Mistakes Made by Capital One

Don’t worry. This post really is not about data security. It’s about much more. And I’ve written it for you, a fundraising professional.

But first, here’s some background:

Capital One, the tenth largest banking institution in the USA, announced it has experienced a major data breach involving the personal information of credit applicants and customers. In its official statement, the bank disclosed, “Based on our analysis to date, this event affected approximately 100 million individuals in the United States and approximately 6 million in Canada….This information included personal information Capital One routinely collects at the time it receives credit card applications, including names, addresses, zip codes/postal codes, phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and self-reported income.” In addition, about 140,000 Social Security numbers were compromised. One million of Capital One’s Canadian customers had their Social Insurance Numbers compromised.

The Capital One story presents the nonprofit sector with an opportunity to learn from someone else’s problem. Every charity should learn from the five mistakes made by the bank:

1. Inadequate Data Protection

While Capital One works with Amazon Web Services, AWS says it was not compromised. The hacker exploited Capital One’s own system. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has a former AWS employee, Paige A. Thompson, in custody. The investigation is likely continuing. What we know for certain at this point is that Capital One’s data protection systems were not up to the task.

As a fundraising professional, I don’t have any idea about what sophisticated data protection tools exist. I suspect you don’t either. However, you have an obligation to make sure that your organization seeks out the expertise to safeguard the organization’s data. Furthermore, you need to make sure your organization has a policy about who has access to data and under what circumstances. I know you won’t have the security systems of a bank, but you do have an obligation to have reasonably robust security protocols in place.

2. Lack of Timely Reporting

The personal data of Capital One credit applicants and customers was compromised from March 22-23, 2019. The company didn’t learn of the breach until July 19. The bank did not reveal this information to the public until July 29. We do not know if the FBI requested that the bank withhold news of the event pending an arrest. If so, the reporting delay is understandable. Nevertheless, the delay from the date of the incident to the date of disclosure was significant, even if it wasn’t the result of an actual mistake.

Fine wine improves with age. Problems do not. Whenever bad news is likely to become public or should be made public, it’s important to do so as soon as possible. This is true for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Getting the information out quickly and fully will help the organization preserve or, perhaps, even enhance its credibility.

3. Not Getting Out in Front of the Story

Once Capital One released the news, it did so haphazardly, despite having had 10 days to plan the disclosure roll-out. It issued a press release at 7:11 PM ET on July 29. By 7:41 PM ET, The Wall Street Journal website carried the news story. Other media outlets ran the story around the same the time. However, Capital One did not tweet the news until 8:43 PM ET. Therefore, when I first checked the Capital One Twitter feed, there was no mention of the story.

Even once the company addressed the general public, rather than just the news media, it did so with a bland tweet that simply read, “If you want to learn more about the Capital One cyber incident, please visit” along with a link to its press release and Frequently Asked Questions page.

The company did not issue an eye-catching alert. The company did not disclose the nature of the “incident.” The innocuous language and low-key look was also used at the top of the Capital One homepage. Assuming they actually spotted the mention, readers had to click through to the press release to find out what happened and, then, to the Frequently Asked Question page for additional information.

If something goes wrong at your organization, make sure you deliver your message on all the communication platforms your organization uses. Make it easy for folks to spot the information. Furthermore, make it easy for them to get more information by giving them a number to call or an email address, perhaps setting up both as hotlines for the occasion.

Capital One could have provided the public with the news without forcing folks to click through to the press release and then click over to the FAQ page. The bank could have also tweeted out tips for how its customers can protect themselves. Instead, the company is making people work a bit for the information. Don’t make the same mistake. Get people the information they need when they need it, and make it easy for them.

When something goes wrong involving your organization, whether or not it is to blame, you need to get out in front of the story in as coordinated a way as possible. At the point you alert the media, be prepared to take your message directly to the general public at the same time.

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