Posts tagged ‘cultivation’

November 6, 2015

Is a Zombie Video Good for Charity?

Halloween has passed, but zombies are still with us!

While checking my email Inbox recently, one subject line in particular caught my eye:

Zombie overpopulation video for Halloween by Population Matters.”

Halloween season or not, I like zombie films and television shows. For example, my favorite TV show of the moment is iZombie. If you haven’t seen iZombie, don’t judge me; instead, checkout an episode. Then, thank me.

Anyway, I quickly opened the email from a fundraising professional who I respect greatly. Her message piqued my interest even more:

I can’t believe that any communications or development department ok’d this! Horrible.”

Normally, “horrible” might be a good word to describe a zombie video, but that clearly was not the case in this situation. My fellow fundraiser believes that the video is problematic for the charity even if, on a superficial level, it might be mildly entertaining. So, doubly intrigued, I clicked on the link to the video by the UK charity Population Matters. You can watch it here:

On a superficial level, I kind of like the video. It isn’t great, but it is a bit fun while raising awareness about an important issue. I also acknowledge a few key points:

1.  The video is a British production for primarily (though not exclusively) a British audience. The British sense of humor and use of humor is very different from the American. What works in one country might not be appropriate in the other.

2.  Adults are not the primary target audience. The organization says “young people” are. I can understand how a zombie-themed video could capture the attention of the intended target audience.

3.  The video is bound to attract plenty of eyeballs that will achieve the objective of creating awareness for the issue of over population.

It was not until I thought about the video more deeply, viewed it again, and discussed it with colleagues that I began to see the problems with it.

Racism. At worst, the video is seen by some as racist. At best, it’s considered racially insensitive. The problem is that when mentioning the explosive population growth, only children of color are shown. No white babies or children are shown to illustrate the growth in population. Here’s what one colleague at an international social-service agency had to say about the video:

From our perspective, when people talk about overpopulation, they are often referring to black/brown folks in the global south and Africa. There can be a strong undercurrent of racism there, so connecting ‘too many black and brown people’ with zombies has an extremely negative connotation. In the human rights world, this kind of video is considered to be pretty racist. It got a uniformly negative response from the folks here in our office. So, even if millennials would like it, it’s very much out of step with the way family planning/population issues are framed in the human rights world, and makes it harder for groups like ours to even approach the overpopulation issue without being called racist.”

Overwhelming Use of Statistics. The video provided a number of interesting statistics. The trouble is, the use of statistics was overwhelming and abstract. As a result, even after watching the video three times, I cannot remember a single statistic cited. I suspect casual viewers will experience the same thing.

No Emotional Pull. While the video is somewhat fun, it lacks emotional pull. Greg Warner, of MarketSmart, pointed that out to me along with the next two points.

So What? This is one of my favorite questions when evaluating something. As Greg told me, “There’s nothing to answer the question any individual would ask while viewing it: ‘What’s in it for me?’” Yes, the video attempts to point out how the world and our species would be better off by reducing population growth. However, those “benefits” are abstract, particularly to young people who have some sense of immortality and narcissism.

Weak Call to Action. There are two calls to action in the video. Neither is compelling. First, viewers are encouraged to have smaller families. This is not immediately relevant to the target audience of teenagers. The second call to action is to go to the organization’s website for more information. As Greg mentioned to me, “[The call to action] is not all that exciting.”

Given my own thoughts about the video and the comments I received, I had questions about the production. So, I emailed Population Matters. I received a quick response from Simon Ross, the organization’s Chief Executive:

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:

September 11, 2015

Where Should You Avoid Meeting with Prospects and Donors?

Whether you want to cultivate or ask for support, a face-to-face meeting with a prospect or donor will usually be the most effective approach. To ensure the success of your meeting, you need to carefully plan for it. That includes knowing where to avoid having that meeting.

Two types of locations make particularly poor choices for meetings:

Katz's Deli by Matt Biddulph via FlickrRestaurants/cafes. Such locations can be problematic for any number of reasons. Your guest might not feel comfortable discussing personal matters in a public setting. The noise level of the restaurant might not be conducive to conversation. Servers will inevitably interrupt your discussion. The choice of a specific restaurant could even be problematic. Consider the following true story that I shared in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

The development officer picked up the donor at her home and drove her to the Four Seasons Hotel for lunch in the very lavish Fountain Room. The donor was appalled. She refused to be seated and told the development officer that lunch in the more casual, and less expensive, Swan Lounge would be more appropriate.

When relating the story to a friend, the donor expressed her outrage that the hospital would waste her money by taking her out to such a fancy restaurant. She even thought the more informal Swan Lounge was too much.

When asked if she would be making another gift to the hospital, she said, ‘Absolutely not! They waste too much money.’”

If you really want take a prospect or donor to a restaurant, or if she insists on meeting in one, make sure you ask her, “Where would you like to go?”

Office of the other person. From time to time, a prospect or donor will want to meet in his office. He might feel more comfortable in his own office. He might appreciate the convenience of meeting in his own office rather than traveling across town to yours. It’s possible he might even want to show-off a bit to you.

While visiting with someone in her office will give you a chance to learn more about her professional life, be prepared for interruptions and distractions. Another problem with an office meeting is that they tend to be more formal and less relaxed than meetings held elsewhere.

So, where should you visit with prospects or donors?

The individual’s home. There are a number of benefits to meeting in someone’s home. He will likely feel relaxed and comfortable. He will be more willing to discuss personal matters in a private setting. You’ll have a chance to learn more about the individual just by looking around. You’ll get a sense of net worth, hobbies, family, etc. These insights will help you more effectively build rapport. In addition, you’ll learn things that will help you better understand what motivates the individual and how you can match your organization’s needs with the individual’s interests.

Your site. Depending on the objective of your planned meeting, you might want to invite your prospect or donor to visit you at your office. This will give you a chance to introduce the individual to your colleagues. Your prospect or donor will also have the opportunity to see your organization in action (i.e.: preparing meals for the homeless), see physical changes (i.e.: a new building on campus), or see something special behind the scenes (i.e.: a painting not yet on public display).

Here’s a true example, from Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, that illustrates how powerful it can be to have a donor visit your location:

September 1, 2015

A Charity Scandal with a Surprising Twist

Yet another charity scandal has made headlines. What makes this ongoing situation startling is that the charities involved are the victims while government is the offender.

“Nearly $10 million in charitable donations by California taxpayers sat unspent in government accounts at the end of last year, The Associated Press has found, and the Senate Governance and Finance Committee chairman said Thursday that he wants a review of state accounts and will hold a hearing to find out why the money hasn’t been spent.”

Since 2005, California has collected $35 million for 29 funds. The state’s taxpayers donated the money when filing their tax returns. The money was supposed to go to a variety of charitable organizations ranging from cancer research to wildlife protection.

“’This is just embarrassing. It’s unacceptable. People expect their money to be spent for these important purposes and these delays, you know, they’re not explainable to me,’ said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. ‘So I just learned about it, but I’m going to jump on it,’” according to the AP report.

Sadly, California is not alone in mishandling taxpayer donations to charity. For example, “New York’s top financial officer found donations languishing in its tax checkoff funds,” according to the AP.

While well intentioned, the government’s efforts to help charities have not always been efficiently or properly managed. I’m reminded of a famous quote from a former California Governor, President Ronald Reagan:

In 1986, Reagan famously said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

While Democratic administrations in both California and New York have mishandled money meant for charities, Democrats do not have a monopoly on making life difficult for nonprofit organizations.

While it initially looked like the Republican controlled US Congress might quickly enact certain charitable giving incentives including the IRA Charitable Rollover, the body failed to act before the summer recess. With a full legislative calendar awaiting the return of lawmakers, it’s unclear if or when the matter of charitable giving incentives will be addressed. This means that even if Congress passes measures that would benefit charities, nonprofit organizations will once again have very little time to promote those opportunities to donors prior to the end of the year.

While government can and should take steps to help the nonprofit sector, charities should not wait expectantly for assistance. Furthermore, even when assistance is promised, charities should not expect such assistance to be delivered in a timely or efficient manner.

As Doug White, Director for the Master of Science in Fundraising Management program at Columbia University, told the AP, “They are not in the business of charity. The government has its own issues.”

Another way in which government hurts the nonprofit sector is through burdensome, costly regulation that does little or nothing to protect the public interest. Such regulations divert donor funds away from the fulfillment of charitable missions.

While government action and in-action has a direct cost for nonprofits, the problem could be much greater. For example, in California, donors may now distrust the government to such a degree that they will no longer bother to designate funds for charities. Time will tell.

So, what can you do?:

August 14, 2015

Easy Ways to Cultivate Your Donors and Raise More Money

Steven Shattuck recently interviewed me about one of my favorite topics for Bloomerang TV: Donor Cultivation.

Many nonprofit organizations see caring cultivation and solid stewardship as luxuries rather than essential components of the fundraising process. That’s one reason for low donor retention rates, 23 percent for first-time donors and 43 percent overall.

Well, I’m here to tell you that if you simply ask for donations with little or no attention given to cultivation and stewardship, you’re nothing more than a professional beggar. Development professionals recognize that fundraising does not begin and end with an appeal. Development professionals know the importance of cultivation and stewardship.

During my interview, I share a number of easy to implement, low-cost ideas for cultivating and stewarding your prospects and donors. One of the things I talk about is the value of pleasantly surprising people; I even share a couple of examples. You can read the full interview transcript of “Sneaky Ways to Cultivate Donors” by clicking here. You can watch the full 17 minute video below:

For more tips about cultivating your planned giving prospects and donors, read my article “Effectively Cultivating Prospects at Little or No Cost” which appeared in Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. For additional tips and great examples for educating, cultivating, and stewarding planned giving prospects and donors, checkout my book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

August 12, 2015

23 Sources for Powerful #Fundraising Tips that Will Get Results

Most fundraising professionals want to achieve better results. Unfortunately, finding the insights and tips that will help you enhance your development efforts is challenging. So many information resources exist. However, which sources are the best?

Last week, I reported that Fundlio created a valuable resource list: “20 Fundraising Blogs Every Nonprofit Organization Leader Should Be Reading Now.” I’m honored to have my blogsite included on the list.

Now, I’m honored to report that my blog has been included on yet another list of must-read sites. Chris Baylis of The Sponsorship Collective has written: “23 Fundraising Websites and Blogs Every Fundraiser Should Read.”

Information Hydrant by Will Lion via FlickrTo compile the list, Baylis says, “My preference is for blogs that provide good content, comic relief and tips and tricks that I can implement right away.”

Baylis has done fundraising professionals a great service by putting the list together. While his list is not exhaustive, as he himself admits, it is certainly another great place to start if you’re looking for wisdom in the vast sea of information on the Internet. I encourage you to checkout the list and visit some of the blogs with which you might not yet be familiar.

July 13, 2015

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

The 18th century French writer and philosopher Voltaire wrote, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Whether he originated the sentiment or was referencing an earlier Italian proverb, Voltaire’s powerful observation is one that remains relevant for today’s fundraising professionals.

While it’s certainly understandable that fundraisers strive for perfection in cultivation, solicitation, and acknowledgement, the reality is that that quest is problematic for several reasons, including:

1.  Perfection is unattainable. There is good. There is excellent. However, perfect does not exist. W. Edwards Deming, the father of Total Quality Management, believed in a process of never-ending improvement. Seeking improvement is very different from seeking unattainable perfection.

2.  If you wait until you have developed the mythical perfect cultivation piece, appeal, or acknowledgement, the reality is you will never deploy your message. Sir Robert Watson-Watt, who developed early warning radar in Britain to counter the rapid growth of the German Luftwaffe during World War II, stated, “Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late; the best never comes.” Releasing a good or excellent message is far better than never releasing a near-perfect communication.

3.  Seemingly near-perfect communications do not necessarily work any more effectively than less ideal messaging. Let me explain.

The way to cut grass perfectly is not exactly the best way to a nice lawn.

The way to cut grass perfectly is not exactly the best way to a nice lawn.

I have a client, an international social service agency. A few months ago, one of the organization’s fundraisers traveled to Central America to meet with an affiliate agency and see, first-hand, how services were being delivered. Immediately upon returning to headquarters, the fundraiser sent emails to her key major and planned gift donors and prospects. Attached to the emails were a few snapshots she took during her trip.

In response to the cultivation emails, the fundraiser received a number of thank-you messages from recipients. How often do your donors and prospects thank you for cultivating them?

I believe that the emails and snapshots were effective for a number reasons including:

June 12, 2015

How to Train Your Un-trainable Board to Raise More Money

I’m a fan of Andrea Kihlstedt. I continue to use her book, Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work, when teaching graduate “Advanced Fund Development” at Drexel University. So, I was naturally quite interested when Emerson & Church Publishers released her latest book, co-authored with Andy Robinson: Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money.

Cover of Train Your BoardKihlstedt and Robinson have put together a book that’s different from any other fundraising book on the market. Really. As they put it, it’s “A cookbook of easy-to-use fundraising exercises” to help your board members, volunteers, and staff more fully engage in the development process.

Each of the 53 “exercises has a brief introduction, a list of ingredients, instructions for facilitating the activity, and a training tip to help improve your skills.” The authors draw the exercises from some of the best trainers in the field.

Here’s a list of just some of the “Suggested Menus”:

  • Give Confidence to the Fundraising Phobic
  • Get Everyone Involved in Fundraising
  • New Board Member Training
  • Agenda for a Full-Day Retreat
  • Train Your Program Staff about Fundraising
  • Prepare for Your Major Gifts Campaign
  • Quick and Easy: 20 Minutes or Less

Each “suggested menu” lists at least five relevant “recipes,” training exercises.

This book represents a powerful resource for any nonprofit organization. Here are just some of the benefits you’ll get from the book:

  • Without studying to be a trainer, you’ll be able to facilitate high impact, effective training sessions.
  • You’ll help your board members develop more confidence and greater fundraising skills.
  • You’ll get your board more engaged in the fundraising process.
  • You’ll gain greater insights that will help you be a more successful fundraising professional.

As Simone Joyaux, ACFRE, the internationally recognized fundraising consultant, says, “This book can help you — a lot!”

This week, I’ve invited Kihlstedt to share some of her wisdom with us. In addition, she shares a free copy of one the exercises from the book:


Are your board members chomping at the bit to go and ask their friends for money?

If your answer is a resounding “Yes,” then you must have found some magic potion or concocted a special courage drink. And the nonprofit world will be beating down your door for the recipe.

Most board members shrink at the very thought of asking their friends for money. My colleagues and I have asked them why they hesitate and here are some of the reasons they state:

  • I don’t know anyone with money.
  • I don’t want to “hit up” my friends.
  • It makes me feel uncomfortable.

But most often, board members say they don’t feel prepared. They don’t know what to say or how to say it or what to ask for.

Imagine for a minute what it would feel like if your board members were excited about asking their friends for money.

Imagine if they started calling you for the names of donors they’d like to contact.

What if — without your prodding — each of them contacted several donors a month, asked them for gifts, and were successful much of the time.

I’ll bet your job would be quite different. Not only would you be raising more money, but your board meetings would be buzzing with a sense of commitment and energy.

So, it’s worth doing everything you can to get your board members to be comfortable with and excited about helping to raise money.

There are a number of reasons why your board members don’t learn, but you can teach them.

It’s entirely possible to teach your board members to be great fundraisers, but here’s the catch:

Adults seldom learn by being told what to do and how to do it. And your board members are no exception.

The realities of training your board members (or any other adult) are these:

May 25, 2015

Discover 5 of the Latest Trends Affecting Your Fundraising

Leading up to the 2015 Association of Fundraising Professionals International Fundraising Conference, a number of my readers contacted me to request that I gather information about emerging fundraising trends. (Yes, I take requests, so feel free to make one.)

It’s not surprising that development professionals understand the need to stay on top of the evolution that takes place in the world of philanthropy. After all, as Benjamin Disraeli has said:

Change is inevitable. Change is constant.”

Recognizing that ongoing change is part of our life is one thing. Understanding what that change means and how to capitalize on it can help even good fundraisers become stars. As John F. Kennedy has stated:

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

None of us wants to miss the future.

So, with that thought in mind, I attended the session “Latest Trends in Giving and What They Mean for Your Organization” with presenters Stacy Palmer, Editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Jeff Wilklow, Vice President of Campbell & Company. Here are five of the key trends they cited:


Among very wealthy, very generous philanthropists, much of their giving does not go directly to existing charitable organizations. While their philanthropy will eventually find its way to charitable purposes, it will first be funneled through special funds or foundations that the mega-donors create or contribute to.

Money by 401(K) 2012 via FlickrMany of those who earned their fortunes through entrepreneurialism will gravitate toward entrepreneurial philanthropy. This is particularly true with younger technology entrepreneurs. With a do-it-yourself attitude, these individuals may choose to create a charity or socially-responsible business rather than donate to an existing, mainstream nonprofit organization.

In any case, big donors are interested in funding big ideas. They’re interested in big solutions to big problems. To attract the support of mega-donors, your charity will need to focus on creative solutions for large challenges.

Legacy Donors:

Many charitable organizations embrace the idea that planned giving equals endowment building. For example, many charities have adopted policies that direct bequest revenue into the organization’s endowment fund unless otherwise designated by donors.

While your organization might have a bias in favor of building endowment revenue, donors have a keen interest in their own legacy. Donors want to make a lasting difference. So, they will likely be more interested in funding your programs and initiatives that help establish their legacy than they will in simply having their money deposited into your organization’s investment pool.

Just as we see that current donors have a growing interest in gift designations rather than unrestricted giving, we see a similar interest among planned giving donors who want to ensure their legacies. Some donors want to be assured of having a long-term, definable impact while other might be content with having their name, or the name of a loved one, on an endowment fund. The key is to understand what motivates the individual.

Social Donors:

Donors communicate with your organization in a variety of ways thanks to new technologies. They also communicate with each other like never before.

Donors are online. And it’s not just young donors. They view your website, they engage in crowd funding, they give online, they take surveys, etc. Here are a few simple things you need to do to make sure those experiences inspire support:

May 15, 2015

I’m Sorry, but Mother Theresa was Wrong!

Have you ever heard a nonprofit professional, speaking of prospective donors, say:

They should give until it hurts.”

Recently, I once again came across this phrase. I shuddered. Nevertheless, I realized that this person was not alone in his thinking.

The Rev. Jimmy Swaggert, echoing the sentiment of many church leaders and paraphrasing the Bible, is reported to have said:

Give, even at all costs, ‘till it hurts.”

Even Mother Theresa, who has been Beatified by the Roman Catholic Church, reportedly said:

Give, but give until it hurts.”

So, with this blog post, I know I’m going out on a limb. However, I must emphatically state that, on this point, the nonprofit professional I mentioned was wrong. Rev. Swaggert was wrong. Mother Theresa was wrong.

Unless you’re dealing with a population of masochists, asking people to give until it hurts is not a sound strategy. Most people tend to run from things that cause pain and toward things that give them pleasure.

I believe we should inspire people to give until it feels good.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in this belief. Recently, Michael Kaiser spoke at Drexel University and stated:

Make giving fun!”

Michael Kaiser

Michael Kaiser

Kaiser is the Chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland. He is also President Emeritus of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. When Kaiser speaks, people listen. And rightfully so. He’s a masterful nonprofit leader and a gifted turn-around expert. Whether you work for an arts organization or not, you owe it to yourself to listen to his remarks. You can find the video by clicking here.

Here are some additional key points that Kaiser made:

[Donors] don’t join our family to be whined at.”

“They join because we’re inspiring and fun.”

“The donor doesn’t owe us allegiance. We need to earn it.”

“Donors get fatigue when we get boring.”

In other words, all nonprofit organizations, whether involving the arts or not, need to make giving a pleasure. We need to recognize that people will be more willing to donate if giving is enjoyable, and they’ll be more willing to continue their support as long as giving continues to be gratifying.

So, how can you more effectively inspire prospective donors by making giving fun?


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