Posts tagged ‘cultivation’

October 10, 2016

Stop Pretending that You Work for Stanford!

It’s big news.

Stanford University has shut down its annual fund telephone fundraising program. You can visit the university’s official web page announcing the decision by clicking here.

It’s all over the blog-a-sphere. It’s made headlines in publications for the nonprofit sector. For example, here’s a headline from The Chronicle of Philanthropy:

Stanford Hangs Up on Telemarketing — Will Others Follow?

I’ll leave it to others to speculate about whether other charities will follow Stanford’s lead. I’ll also leave it to others to consider whether or not Stanford made a wise or foolish move. Instead, I’ll focus on whether or not you should also discontinue your organization’s telephone fundraising effort.

Simply put, you should probably keep your own telephone fundraising program. Here are just five of my random thoughts that lead me to that conclusion:

1.  You do NOT work for Stanford, so don’t act like you do!

Unless I’m mistaken, you don’t work for Stanford, or Harvard, or Yale, or Cornell, etc. Such prestigious universities have built-in, loyal constituencies and, therefore, have a massive advantage over your charity. Not only could Stanford eliminate its phone program, it could fire nearly its entire development staff and still raise much more money than the average American nonprofit organization.

Your challenges are vastly different than those faced by Stanford. So, your challenges require different solutions. If you don’t work at Stanford, don’t make the mistake of acting as if you do.

2.  Telephone fundraising is less effective than it was, but it still works.

Since the early 1980s, I’ve heard so-called experts predicting the extinction of telephone fundraising. Interestingly, many of those same folks also predicted the demise of direct mail.

phone-and-moneyThey were wrong then, and they are wrong now. Neither mail nor phone are as effective as they once were. However, smart organizations have evolved their use of both. The outcome is that these organizations are still able to produce worthwhile results by both mail and phone. It’s not about extinction; it’s about innovation and evolution.

Colin Bickley, writing for NonProfitPRO, provides superb analysis of some of the telephone fundraising challenges faced by the nonprofit sector. However, Bickley concludes:

The telefundraising business is never going away, but it is changing. And right now, it’s clear that its changing more than ever.”

3.  Don’t judge all telephone fundraising by looking just at bad programs.

I’m amazed at how many TERRIBLE telephone fundraising calls I receive. I suspect that the charities responsible are either disappointed with their program results, don’t know enough to be disappointed, or think they’re doing the best they can.

Let’s face it. If your calls are bad, your results will be bad. Remember the old adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Not all calling programs are of equal quality. If you’re not getting the results you want, look for opportunities to improve before abandoning the entire medium. You wouldn’t stop your direct mail efforts because one mailing didn’t do well, would you?

September 22, 2016

Don’t Miss Out on the 8 Benefits of Engaging Donors

The following is an excerpt from my guest post that I’m honored to have published on the Bloomerang blog:

I think happiness is a combination of pleasure, engagement and meaningfulness.” — Dr. Ian K. Smith, celebrity physician

You will be a successful fundraising professional if you make giving fun and enjoyable for donors and engage them in ways they will find meaningful.

bullhorn-cartoon-header-bloomerangGallup, the international polling company, conducted a survey of over 17,000 American donors to better understand giving behaviors. One of Gallup’s key findings was that effective engagement leads to greater donor loyalty. Gallup’s Daniela Yu and Amy Adkins report:

“… [donors] keep going back to the causes that emotionally engage them.”

Sound engagement practices will lead to strong donor retention and increased levels of giving. For example, the simple act of engaging a donor by calling to thank her for her gift can have a profound impact. Penelope Burk in her book Donor Centered Fundraising reports that:

September 13, 2016

Is Social Media Hurting Your #Nonprofit Organization?

We’ve all heard the stories of social media success. President Barack Obama was perhaps the first US presidential candidate to raise a significant amount of money via social media. The Ice-Bucket Challenge generated awareness and raised over $100 million for the ALS Association in addition to millions more for other ALS charities. Countless charities have raised vast amounts of money through crowd funding campaigns and other social media campaigns.

Despite the success stories, there is a dark side to social media that can actually hurt your nonprofit organization.

Let me share a cautionary story involving Ursinus College. It reveals how, when used improperly, social media can embarrass your charity, cause supporters to abandon the organization, and reduce contributions.

Here’s what went horribly wrong:

Got to love a janitor with a ‘Ban Fracking Now’ sticker on his bucket. Barack is clearly reaching his target demographic.”

“Yoga pants? Per my DTW visual survey, only 10 percent of users should be wearing them. The rest need to be in sweats – or actually get dressed.”

“Just saw an Aborigenese in ‘full gear’ talking on an iPhone. What’s next Ben Franklin driving a Tesla?”

“Bruce Jenner [Caitlyn Jenner] got 25 K for speaking engagements. Caitlyn gets $100K. What wage gap?”

Those are just four of the, ahem, colorful tweets posted on Twitter by Michael C. Marcon, an insurance executive and 1986 Ursinus graduate. These tweets, and others from Marcon, might have gone unnoticed except for one thing: When they were posted, Marcon was a member of the Ursinus College board of trustees and, as of July 1, he served as Chairman of that board.

some-failed-tweets-by-irish-typepad-via-flickrRecently, several of Marcon’s tweets were publicized on Facebook by Jordan Ostrum, an Ursinus senior, and later on Odyssey by Haley Brush, an Ursinus English major. She told, “The tweets that were sexist made me really uncomfortable…. Comments like that are really inappropriate for someone in his position.”

David Bloom, another member of the Ursinus board, made an even stronger statement about Marcon’s tweets when he resigned in protest. He said, “I read strong evidence of an elitist, racist, sexist, body-shaming, anti-LGBTQ, exclusive-minded and generally intolerant individual.” He also called for Marcon to resign.

Ostrum was the first to publicly raise the issue of contributions when he said, “I pledge to not donate money to the Ursinus College Annual Fund while Michael Marcon remains on the Board of Trustees… If he remains on the board, they are saying yes [to] his behavior. I will say no — with my money.”

Days after the news story broke and Marcon met with administrators, faculty members, and students, he resigned from the board. In a written statement, Marcon said:

August 26, 2016

Do You Know How to Take Criticism?

I received an extraordinary message recently.

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

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

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

Dear Mr. Rosen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, here is where you come in.

August 23, 2016

Special Report: What You Don’t Know about Donor Retention will Hurt You

[Publisher’s Note: “Special Reports” are posted from time-to-time as a benefit for subscribers and frequent visitors to this blog. “Special Reports” are not widely promoted. To be notified of all new posts, including “Special Reports,” please take a moment to subscribe in the right-hand column. New subscribers will also receive a free e-book from researcher Dr. Russell James.]

The following is an excerpt from my guest post that I’m honored to have published on the Bloomerang blog:

The nonprofit sector is experiencing a serious problem, and it’s time we did something about it.

Fundraising experts and philanthropy researchers have been warning us that nonprofit organizations are losing donors at an alarming rate. Ken Burnett, Managing Trustee at SOFII and author of Relationship Fundraising sums it up best:

Our nonprofit sector is bleeding to death. We’re hemorrhaging donors, losing support as fast as we find it, seemingly condemned forever to pay a fortune just to stand still. It’s time we stemmed the flow.”

Donor retention is definitely a serious issue. Over the past ten years, the average overall donor retention rate has been just 44.5 percent, according to the 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals and The Urban Institute. The new-donor retention rate for last year was far worse, a pitiful 26.6 percent!

August 5, 2016

The #Fundraising Secret for Success You Need to Know

What’s the secret to fundraising success?

Ice cream!

That’s right. Ice cream can help you achieve greater fundraising results. Really. I’m not just saying that because it’s August, and we’re setting new records for summer heat in Philadelphia. I know ice cream can help you because I saw first-hand what it has achieved for Smith College.

Let me explain.

This past Spring, my wife and I attended her class reunion at Smith. I enjoyed being with Lisa, and exploring the beautiful campus and the fun town of Northampton, Massachusetts. One of the highlights for me was seeing the College’s Gift Planning staff in action. Yes, I’m a bon-a-fide fundraising nerd, but you probably knew that already.

Sam Samuels, Christine Carr Hill, and Jeanette Wintjen staff the Smith College ice-cream stand during Reunion Weekend.

Sam Samuels, Christine Carr Hill, and Jeanette Wintjen staff the Smith College ice-cream stand during Reunion Weekend.

I’m not talking about seeing the staff in action at the mildly stuffy, but well presented, Grécourt Society reception for legacy donors. Instead, I’m referring to the ice-cream stand that the Gift Planning staff operated in the Smith College Campus Center one warm mid-day. As the staff served up the free tasty treats, they had a chance to interact with alumnae. When appropriate, the staff, wearing aprons and serving up the ice cream themselves, was able to casually explain what The Grécourt Society is, why legacy giving is important to Smith, and how alumnae can support the College with a planned gift. At the ice-cream stand, there was also a table of gift planning promotional material.

This was a great way to showcase gift planning in a friendly, pressure-free, guilt-free, fun environment. Sam Samuels, Director of Gift Planning, told me that the ice-cream stand not only allowed the staff to educate, cultivate, and thank people, it actually led to a number of planned-gift commitments during the reunion weekend.

Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and set up an ice-cream stand. However, if we examine why the ice-cream stand worked, there are some things you can learn that will help you reach your fundraising goals.

Here are five things you need to know:

1. KISS. In 1960, the US Navy noted the design principle “Keep it simple, Stupid!” That’s what we see with the ice-cream stand. The Smith staff did not over think it; however, they certainly did the planning necessary to make it work. But, the concept itself was simple. It wasn’t a fancy dinner or a posh reception to educate and cultivate prospects, though such events have their place. And Smith did some of those as well. However, this simple activity allowed the staff to reach a broader audience in a low-key fashion.

2. Lifestyle Enabling. The Smith staff put themselves in the shoes of their prospects and donors. In other words, they were donor centered when thinking about how to attract the attention of potential planned gift donors. Instead of trying to get donors to attend an estate-planning seminar (yawn), the staff thought about how to meet the needs and desires of the alumnae. Most folks like ice cream. So, the staff chose to do something that would meet alumnae where they were (in or near the Campus Center), and give them something they would likely want (a cool lunchtime treat on a warm day). The ice cream stand also harkened back to the days when, as students, they would meet up with friends for ice cream at the student center. In short, Smith helped the alumnae live the life they want. That’s what drew in the alumnae.

July 28, 2016

Do You Know that “Planned Giving” is Bad for #Fundraising?

That’s right. “Planned Giving” is bad for nonprofit fundraising.

For years, I’ve been writing and talking about the problems with the term “Planned Giving.” Now, new research underscores what I’ve been advising: You should stop using the term!

Sometime ago, The Stelter Company conducted a survey that I cite in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. Stelter found only 37 percent of Americans over the age of 30 have a familiarity with the term “Planned Giving.” We have no way of knowing what percentage of those claiming familiarity really, in fact, know what the term truly means.

Other terms have become increasingly popular as substitutes for “Planned Giving.” However, none has yet to gain sufficient traction to overtake the use of “Planned Giving.” Consider the results from simple Google searches I conducted for this post:

  • Planned Giving — 14.8 million results
  • Philanthropic Planning — 11.1 million results
  • Gift Planning — 5.7 million results
  • Legacy Giving — 2.1 million results

What we know is that the general public has little understanding of the term “Planned Giving” although it appears to be the best term we have. Unfortunately, popular does not mean effective.

William Shatner in The Grim Reaper by Tom Simpson via FlickrWhile “Planned Giving” is a reasonable, inside-the-development-office catch-all term to describe, well, planned giving, it’s not a particularly good marketing term. That’s according to the findings of philanthropy researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP.

James conducted a study to answer this vitally important marketing question: “What is the best ‘front door’ phrase to make people want to read more Planned Giving information?”

Think of it this way: Will a “Planned Giving” button at your website encourage visitors to click through to learn more or is there a more effective term?

To be a successful term, James believes two objectives must be met:

  1. Individuals have to be interested in finding out more.
  2. Individuals have to expect to see Planned Giving information (i.e., no “bait and switch”).

To find the strongest marketing term, James asked people to imagine they were viewing the website of a charity representing a cause that is important in their lives. In addition to a “Donate Now” button, the following buttons appear on the website:

  • Gift Planning
  • Planned Giving
  • Giving Now & Later
  • Other Ways to Give
  • Other Ways to Give Smarter
  • Other Ways to Give Cheaper, Easier, and Smarter

James asked participants to rate their level of interest in clicking on the button to read the corresponding information. In a follow-up, James asked study participants what kind of information they would expect to see when clicking the buttons mentioned above.

The winning term is:

July 15, 2016

If You Want More Donors, Stop Being So Serious

Make giving fun!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chuck Feldman, President of HAMEC, says:

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

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

June 21, 2016

Stop Making Stupid Email and Direct Mail Mistakes

Last week, my wife received an email appeal that demonstrates that fundraising professionals continue to make stupid email and direct mail mistakes. I’m not talking about fundraisers who have failed to use cutting-edge techniques. Instead, I’m talking about folks who have made S-T-U-P-I-D mistakes when it comes to the fundamentals of making a simple appeal.

To help you avoid some common, yet stupid, mistakes with your email and direct mail appeals, I’m going to share the email solicitation my wife received from the Rosenbach Museum and Library:

Rosenbach Email Appeal copy

Now, let’s look closely at the appeal to see where the author went wrong:

Subject Line: The subject line on the email reads, “Please support the Rosenbach!” Unless the recipient was waiting around anxiously for some way to donate to the Rosenbach, why would she even bother to open the email? The subject line tells the reader what she needs to know about the content: The Rosenbach wants money. And it either wants lots of money or needs money desperately judging from the exclamation point.

Rather than opening the email, my wife mentioned it to me because of the ridiculously bad subject line. When I asked her to open the email and read it aloud, she initially refused, saying, “We know what they want. They want money. Why bother opening it?” (By the way, we actually happen to like the Rosenbach; that’s why we’re on their email list.) I replied, “I bet the email is equally bad and that they even mention the end of their fiscal year.” So, with a sense of amusement, she opened the email.

Tip 1: Write a subject line that will entice the reader to open the email. Avoid turn-off subject lines or those that are misleading. For help writing more effective subject lines and headlines, checkout the Headline Analyzer tool.

Inappropriate Personalization: Right at the start, the author missteps. The email begins, “Dear Lisa.” Some people, particularly younger readers, might not find this problematic. However, Lisa does not know the email’s signatory, Derick Dreher. It was presumptuous of Dreher to address her by first name rather than as Mrs. Rosen or Ms. Rosen. Interestingly, adopting a less friendly and more formal style by the end of the email, Dreher signed his full name rather than just his first name.

Tip 2: When addressing people, especially strangers you want something from them, it’s generally a good idea — and always good manners — to show respect and a bit of deference. At the very least, if you’re going to use a casual salutation, be sure to match that style with a casual sign-off.

End of Fiscal Year: No one cares about the end of your fiscal year. Let me be perfectly clear: NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE END OF YOUR FISCAL YEAR! Okay, your Chief Financial Officer cares. However, your prospects and donors do not. Unfortunately, in the very first sentence of the appeal, it mentions that the Rosenbach is nearing the end of its fiscal year. If this was tied to a challenge grant that was about to expire at the end of the fiscal year, that might have been a worthwhile point to make. However, by itself, who cares?

Tip 3: Be donor centered and recognize that donors care about their own fiscal year, not yours. Unless you have a very good reason to talk about the end of your fiscal year, don’t do it.

Engagement: As if the first sentence wasn’t bad enough, the author made it even worse by referencing that Bloomsday has come to a close. There are two reasons this is a negative. First, my wife and I have no idea what “Bloomsday” is. So, why should we care about it?

Second, if Bloomsday was some sort of fun, worthwhile event, telling us about it after the fact is simply annoying and would make us feel terrible that we didn’t know about it in advance (hint, hint). Perhaps, the Rosenbach should have segmented its email list to send slightly different messages to those who did and did not participate in Bloomsday.

June 17, 2016

The Top 5 Benefits of Blogging for Nonprofits

[Publisher’s Note: From time-to-time, I invite an expert, with valuable insights, to write a guest post. If you’d like to learn about how to be a guest blogger, click on the “Authors” tab above.]


Do you want to acquire and retain more donors? Do you want your existing donors to upgrade their support? Do want people to talk about your nonprofit organization?

If you do, then you need to do a more effective job of engaging people and giving them information they will value. And you need to meet them where they are: the Internet.

Last month, I published a post from Richard Santos, Founder of Fundlio, that encouraged nonprofit professionals to leverage Facebook to engage prospects and donors: “10 Reasons Your #Nonprofit Should be Using Facebook.”

Now, Andrew Wise, Founder of Wise Startup Blog, outlines five valuable benefits your organization can reap by maintaining a high-quality blog site. Wise Startup Blog provides actionable guides that teach anyone how to build, market, and monetize their blog.

Discover why it’s important for your organization to create or maintain a powerful blog:


The main goal of a nonprofit organization is to inspire people to take a stand and make a change. It is supposed to evoke emotion in people in such a way that they feel so inclined to support the organization and/or to go out and advocate a particular social cause or point of view.

The inherent struggle that nonprofits face is how they can get their information out into the public in order to elicit that strong reaction. It’s not that there is no one there who is willing to listen. It’s just the opposite, really. According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, over 10 million people dedicate themselves to nonprofit-work day in and day out.

Their hard work pays off, too. Americans alone make $373 billion in charitable contributions.

But, despite all of the good that is being done, there is still that inexplicable feeling of hesitation that wafts through the air whenever someone discusses a nonprofit. Although there are hundreds of thousands of completely valid nonprofit organizations in the United States alone, there are unfortunately for-profit companies that take advantage of the not-for-profit status in order to receive a tax exemption.

If you need an example, look no further than the National Football League who, up until 2014, was labeled a nonprofit organization. The organization, which earned around $327 million in 2013, is only one example of many companies that have hidden behind a nonprofit blanket in order to evade tax costs.

Furthermore, countless nonprofit organizations were created with the sole purpose of enriching their founders rather than fulfilling a charitable mission. Occasionally, we’ll hear from the mainstream media about these unscrupulous operators.

Because of all of this, legitimate nonprofit organizations have to work harder to prove that they are not only worthy of people’s time, dedication, and money, but that they are worthy of the nonprofit title.

The place in which most nonprofit organizations struggle is in their delivery of this information. It can be difficult to educate the public in such a way that informs them of your cause, entices them to donate, and keeps them interested enough that they simply need to learn more.

Here is where blogging comes in. (For a great guide for starting a blog, if you need a primer, click here.)

Social media use is on the rise, and the proof is found no further than the number of total users on the most popular social media sites out there right now.

With over 1.65 billion monthly users on Facebook, over 400 million users on Instagram, over 320 million users on Twitter, and over 100 million daily users on Snapchat, there is no denying that people look to social media on a daily — if not hourly — basis for their fill of information.

Blogging is no different. The benefits of starting a blog for your nonprofit organization far outweigh any cons you may be able to think up.

Here are some things to consider…

1. Your nonprofit blog can help you rank higher on search engines.

Blog 1

While looking at the top 10 nonprofit blogs out there right now, I noticed something particularly interesting. They all ranked high on Google. A first page Google search result is a highly coveted spot that every blogger out there wants to obtain, and nonprofit organizations are no different. You see, blogs tend to rate higher on page results than regular nonprofit organization websites for one reason and one reason only:

%d bloggers like this: