Posts tagged ‘donor-centered’

November 18, 2015

It’s Shameful to Shame a Major Donor

Would you publicly shame a generous philanthropist who just contributed $100 million?

Dylan Matthews, a writer at the blog site Vox, has done just that in his recent post: “David Geffen’s $100 Million Gift to UCLA is Philanthropy at Its Absolute Worst.”

David Geffen

David Geffen

The post came after David Geffen, the billionaire entertainment mogul and philanthropist, announced that he is donating $100 million to the University of California, Los Angeles, to build a private school aimed, in part, at serving the families of UCLA’s faculty and staff, according to a Los Angeles Times article.

Geffen and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block described the new school, in part, as a recruiting and retention tool for faculty and scientists who may be worried about the cost of living in Los Angeles and the quality of the Los Angeles education system, the Times reports.

The gift to create the Geffen Academy was not the philanthropist’s first donation to UCLA. He has already contributed $300 million to what is now UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Through his gifts to UCLA, Geffen told the Times, he wants to help the medical school “to be competitive with Harvard and Johns Hopkins and the very best in the world.”

While many might think Geffen’s generosity is noble, Matthews clearly feels otherwise:

Music mogul David Geffen is very, very bad at being a philanthropist. His past donations have mostly taken the form of massive gifts to prominent universities and cultural institutions, rather than to poor people or important research or even less famous, more financially desperate universities and arts centers.”

In short, the Vox blogger says that Geffen is a “ very, very bad” philanthropist because he does not give to causes that Matthews believes he should support. This is a perfect illustration of holier-than-thou liberalism (not to be confused with liberalism).

Matthews calls Geffen’s philanthropy a “grotesque waste.” He adds, “This gift is actually worse than no charity.” He disparages Geffen’s desire to have UCLA compete successfully with Harvard and Johns Hopkins. He even insults the students who will be attending the Geffen Academy by dismissing them as “faculty brats.”

Interestingly, I discovered one reason why Matthews might really be opposed to the Geffen gift. Geffen wants UCLA to be able to compete more effectively with Harvard. Well, guess what? Matthews is a Harvard alumnus, something he neglected to point out in his blog post. That conflict of interest aside, I also noticed that most of the charities that Matthews thinks would be worthier of Geffen’s support work in the developing world. Could it be that Matthews believes in white paternalism and/or keeping people of color dependent on white, Western charity? Is Matthews of the belief that there are no needy children in the US or is it that he’s simply anti-American?

So, Mr. Matthews, how do you like having your motives judged and your character impugned? Normally, I wouldn’t have done so, but I decided to take a moment to adopt your writing voice. I also thought it might be interesting for someone to hold a mirror up to you.

I won’t go into why the Geffen donations are beneficial. Suffice to say they will do a great deal of good from creating good paying jobs to enhancing medical education and research. It might not be what you or I would support. It’s certainly not what Matthews would support. But, the fact is, it’s not our money. It’s Geffen’s wallet, and he can empty it however he wishes, or not at all. If Matthews wants $100 million to go to the various causes he listed, let him go out and earn it so he can give away his own money where he sees fit.

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:

August 20, 2015

Fundraising and Marketing Does Not Have to be Hard or Costly

Marketing and fundraising for a nonprofit organization can be time consuming and expensive. But, it does not always have to be.

One way to market and raise money for your organization with little effort and no cost is to include a simple tagline in your email signature. The tagline can promote a program, event, general fundraising, or even planned giving.

email symbol on row of colourful envelopesRecently, one of my readers contacted me looking for email tagline tips and examples. Because I take topic requests, I’m devoting this post to the subject of taglines. If you have a subject you’d like me to address, just let me know with a comment below.

Before I get to email signature taglines, I want to quickly make a point about email signatures, in general: You should always use one. An email signature, with your name and full contact information, will make it easier for people to communicate with you and, if they are so moved, to give you money. So, use an email signature block in new and reply emails. If you want tips on constructing an email signature, checkout my post: “Remove Obstacles to Giving!”

An email tagline should come immediately after your email signature block. There are six factors that will make your micro-message standout:

1.  Actually use a tagline. As Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is showing up.” If you want a successful email tagline, you have to use an email tagline. Even a mediocre tagline will be better than having none.

2.  Speak to Your Audience. Before you can speak to your audience, you need to know your audience. In the case of orchestra supporters, many like to see themselves as true patrons of the arts. Therefore, using a term such as “musical legacy” might resonate. For other types of nonprofit organizations, however, the term “legacy” might be off-putting. So, be sure to know your audience before crafting your message.

3.  Keep it pithy. An email tagline should be no more than 10 words in length. The fewer words you can use to get your point across, the better.

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.

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 29, 2015

Avoid the Pitfalls to Raise More Money

Yesterday, I made my first public speaking appearance since my successful battle with cancer began just over a year ago. I served as the plenary presenter at the Philanthropic Planning Group of Greater New York Planned Giving Day Conference. My topic:

Ripped from the Headlines: Learning from the Planned Giving Mistakes of Others”

It was a particularly moving day for me. You see, I was scheduled to speak at PPGGNY’s conference last year. Unfortunately, because of my health, I had to cancel. It marked the first time I ever canceled a professional appearance.

Meryl Cosentino, the Vice President of PPGGNY and Senior Director of Planned Giving at Stony Brook University, was very understanding and kind. She stayed in contact with me during my recovery and, when she learned of my return to professional life, she invited me to speak at this year’s Planned Giving Day. I thank Meryl and her colleagues for the invitation to present.

So, PPGGNY Planned Giving Day marked my first speaking cancelation and, now, my return to the speaking circuit! I’ve come full circle!

To help me celebrate the happy occasion, The Stelter Company generously sponsored 20 copies of my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, so we could give them away to random winners during my presentation. I thank Stelter for its thoughtful support. I also thank Stelter for contributing valuable material to my book. The company’s commitment to the nonprofit sector is remarkable, though not the least bit surprising.

Michael Rosen at PPGGNY Planned Giving Day Conference.

Michael Rosen at PPGGNY Planned Giving Day.

During my talk, I shared several stories about well-known nonprofit organizations that have stumbled. I also shared plenty of useful tips, and a story that provided the overarching theme to my presentation. The story contains an important lesson for all nonprofit professionals:

Several months before my surgery, I visited southern Utah with a good friend. We went hiking in Escalante National Monument, a spectacular wilderness. On the more treacherous trails, I was particularly cautious. I carefully placed my feet with each step. I looked at where I was going to step next so I could pick the best spot. Because I exercised great caution, I didn’t stumble once.

Coming off one challenging trail, I found myself on a wonderfully flat, gravel path. I gave a sigh of relief. I was pleased to be able to spend more time looking at the lovely scenery rather than the trail and my feet. However, as soon as I had that thought, I stepped into a small gully, a tiny wash. And I went falling straight over. After grabbing my camera to make sure it was undamaged, I checked myself. With the exception of a skinned knee and bruised ego, I was fine.

From that experience, I learned a profound lesson.

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?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,124 other followers

%d bloggers like this: