Posts tagged ‘donor relations’

December 13, 2018

Will One Charity’s Surprising Year-End Email Make You Look Bad?

This week, I received a surprising email from a national charitable organization. The email was so unusual that I need to tell you about it.

Like you, I’m deluged by emails from charities that arrive from the days leading up to #GivingTuesday through December. Most of the messages are from nonprofit organizations that forgot about me all year except now that they want my money. Most care nothing about me. None offers to help me or be of service to me. Most of the emails are just terrible.

One awful email came with the subject line, “Welcome to [I’m deleting the name of the organization].” Sounds nice enough, right? There’s just one tiny problem. I’ve been a donor for decades and even did a tour of duty as a trustee of the large organization. Ugh!

Given the garbage in my email Inbox, I was a bit relieved when I received a remarkable email from the Charities Aid Foundation of America.

WARNING: The email is so wonderful that it just might make you and your organization look bad.

Look for yourself, then I’ll explain why this is a near-perfect email and why you should immediately do something similar before it’s too late:

[Note, the actual email formatting was a bit better than the image I was able to capture for you. Ah, technology!]

Let me explain why this email works so well.

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December 6, 2018

Can the Dalai Lama Help You Raise More Money?

Last week, I saw a tweet from the Dalai Lama that is relevant for fundraising professionals.

Your first reaction to this post might be, “Gee, I didn’t know the Dalai Lama has a Twitter account.”

Well, he does, and he has 18.8 million Followers. For some context, I’ll point out that the Twitter account of Pope Francis has 17.8 million Followers. In a comparison that may explain some of what is going on in the world, let me just mention that Kim Kardashian has 59 million Twitter Followers. Oh well.

So, the tweet from the Dalai Lama that resonated with me as a fundraising professional is this:

“Even more important than the warmth and affection we receive, is the warmth and affection we give. It is by giving warmth and affection, by having a genuine sense of concern for others, in other words through compassion, that we gain the conditions for genuine happiness,” tweeted the Dalai Lama.

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

This is the essence of donor-centered fundraising. Yes, I know you like it when people donate to your organization. But, if you want that support to be something more than a one-time and/or limited transaction, you need to show donors you care about them, their needs and philanthropic aspirations. When practicing donor-centered fundraising, you will be able to develop the conditions for genuine happiness. I’m talking about the happiness of your donors, your happiness, your boss’s happiness, and the happiness of those who benefit from the services of your organization.

By treating people the way they want to be treated, you’ll acquire more donors, renew more donors, upgrade more, and receive more major and planned gifts from donors. In short, you’ll increase the lifetime value of your organization’s supporters.

Penelope Burk, in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising, describes what she means by the term:

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November 28, 2018

“Philanthropy” Is NOT What You Think It Is

Do you understand what the word “philanthropy” really means? If you don’t, it could be costing your nonprofit organization a fortune in lost support. Conversely, once you know the true meaning of “philanthropy,” you’ll be better able to relate to prospective donors and inspire them to give. So, what does the word truly mean?

If you’re like most people, you probably think you know what “philanthropy” means. “Philanthropy” involves a large contribution to a nonprofit organization from a wealthy individual, a philanthropist. A recent example of this would be Michael Bloomberg’s recent announcement that he is donating $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University, the largest individual donation ever made to a single university.

However, that understanding of “philanthropy” is entirely too narrow. Let me explain by first telling you what “philanthropy” is not. Philanthropy does not necessarily involve:

  • donating vast sums of money;
  • supporting large numbers of charities;
  • sitting on nonprofit boards;
  • only wealthy people.

Coming from the ancient Greek, here is what the word “philanthropy” actually means:

Love of humanity.

Signs of support appeared throughout Pittsburgh following the murders at Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.

Think about that. People donate their time and money to nonprofit organizations because of their love of humanity (or animals). They want to solve problems and alleviate suffering. They want to make the world a better place. That’s what motivates people to think philanthropically.

People won’t think philanthropically simply because it’s Giving Tuesday, and you tell them they should. They won’t think philanthropically just because they attended your university and are told they should “give back.” They won’t think philanthropically just because your organization exists and is a household name.

If you tap into a person’s love of humanity, you’ll tap into their philanthropic spirit. That’s how you’ll inspire their support. That’s how you’ll upgrade their support. That’s how you’ll maintain their support.

Charitable giving is an expression of a donor’s love.

I was reminded recently of the true power of the  philanthropic spirit. It wasn’t Bloomberg’s massive gift, though that was definitely amazing. Instead, when I visited Pittsburgh, I was reminded of the power of love to build, and rebuild, strong communities.

Temporary memorial outside of Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.

When my wife and I traveled to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, we attended evening Sabbath services with the congregants of the Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation in their temporary home. This was less than two weeks after a gunman entered the synagogue and horrifically murdered 11 people as they worshiped. Praying with the congregants, talking with them, and meeting Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers was a profoundly moving experience. Making the evening even more moving was the fact that it fell on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass. During Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, Jews were murdered and synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized and had their windows smashed.

Support came from around the world.

Rabbi Myers drew a parallel between Kristallnacht and the recent attack that nearly took his life. Both violent attacks were motivated by rabid anti-Semitism, which has been on the rise in America since 2014. However, Rabbi Myers also drew meaningful distinctions between the two events.

During Kristallnacht, officially sanctioned groups along with German civilians attacked the Jewish population. Local authorities did nothing to stop the attacks. The police protected non-Jewish citizens while arresting and imprisoning Jewish victims.

By contrast, American authorities condemned the Pittsburgh attack immediately, and offered comfort to the victims. People throughout Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States, and the world expressed their sense of horror and grief. They offered words of condolence, and made donations to help the families and to rebuild the badly damaged synagogue. The police in Pittsburgh ran toward the danger, put their own lives at risk, confronted the attacker, and ended what could have been an even more tragic event.

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October 23, 2018

Do You Want to Avoid Being a Fundraising Horror Story?

With Halloween just days away, horror is in the air. You can watch any number of classic or recent horror films on your television, or other electronic device. You can also go to your local movie theater to see the latest scary movie.

However, if you want to avoid being a horror story yourself, I have some important advice for you borne out of my wife’s recent donor experience with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Allow me to tell you the frightening tale, and share what you can learn from it.

My wife regularly reads a blog written by a nutritionist who is focused on a particular health condition. Not long ago, the blogger published a post about the research being conducted at Cedars-Sinai for this particular health issue. The post contained a link for readers interested in donating to the research project.

My wife clicked the link and was taken to the appropriate donation page on the Cedar-Sinai website.

Here’s where things start to get a bit scary.

It’s a good thing that the blogger provided the link, because the Medical Center’s homepage does not contain a link to its donation page at the top of its homepage. To find it, you need to take the time to search for it; if you go looking, it’s at the very bottom of the page.

The other disturbing part of the organization’s website is that, when making a donation, you must select a Title from a drop-down menu. The options are Cantor, Dr., Father, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Pastor, Rabbi, and Reverend. Notice any missing options? Well, they are missing others such as Honorable, military ranks, and other religious titles. They are also missing Mx., the preferred Title of many transgender and non-binary people. Sadly, there’s no way to write-in one’s own preferred Title. Furthermore, this is a required field. In other words, a transgender person who prefers the Mx. Title is compelled to choose between the wrong Title or simply not donating online to Cedars-Sinai. That’s the very opposite of rolling out the welcome mat.

Because my wife was provided the appropriate link and prefers either the Mrs. or Ms. Title, she was able to make an online donation. When doing so, she restricted her gift to the particular research project mentioned by the blogger. She also included a note in the comment field alerting the Medical Center that this would be a one-time gift.

Now, the fundraising horror really began for my wife.

Despite having clearly indicated that the gift was a special, one-time event, Cedars-Sinai insisted on sending a number of appeals to her. Making matters worse, none of those appeals had anything to do with the health issue that my wife contributed to. The institutional magazine that was sent to her contained no information about the health issue of interest. She never received any information from Cedars-Sinai about the research project.

My wife contacted Cedars-Sinai to once again inform them that her donation was a one-time event. She requested that Cedars-Sinai remove her from its mailing list. Weeks later, she still receives mail from them. A lot of mail. All of it unwanted, none of it relevant to the initial restricted gift. With more of her donation wasted with each mailing, my wife’s level of frustration and annoyance continues to increase.

Are you writing a horror story for your donors? Don’t.

Here are three things you can learn from the Cedars-Sinai fundraising horror story:

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October 5, 2018

9 Hard Truths Every Fundraiser Needs to Face in the 21st Century

In the Oscar-nominated film A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character famously shouts, “You  can’t handle the truth!”

Well, if you want to be a successful fundraising professional, you better know the truth and be prepared to handle it.

If you want to be successful at anything, you need to face the core truths involved no matter how challenging. Ignoring reality is a certain pathway to failure.

One nonprofit development truth is that authentic, donor-centered fundraising results in more donors giving more money than would otherwise be the case. Penelope Burk wrote about this years ago in her landmark book Donor Centered Fundraising, available October 15 in a new second edition. I wrote about the subject in my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Recently, Greg Warner, CEO of MarketSmart, released his powerful new book that reveals a straightforward, meaningful way fundraisers can embrace the concept of donor-centered fundraising.

In Engagement Fundraising, Greg passionately reveals the 21st century donor-centric strategy practiced by MarketSmart. Some people might be angered by or afraid of the core message of this book while others will find it to be simple common sense. However, one thing everyone can agree on is that Greg is a disrupter, and that’s a good thing. If it wasn’t for society’s disrupters, we’d still be riding around in horse-drawn carriages, and you’d be reading his book by candlelight. His fresh, technology-driven approach is a powerful way forward for those interested in engaging people to inspire more philanthropic support.

At the end of this post, I reveal how you can download, for free, the introduction and first chapter to Engagement Fundraising. But now, I want to share Greg’s additional insights with you as he outlines nine hard truths every fundraiser needs to face in the 21st century:

 

1.  Competition is fierce and everywhere. Nonprofits don’t only compete with other nonprofits. They also compete with private sector businesses and Uncle Sam (the tax collector) for every donor’s “share of wallet and attention.” Plus they want non-exclusive, polyamorous relationships with organizations. In other words, they will decide when they’ll cozy up to other charities. Of course, you can influence their decisions but you can never control them. You are at a disadvantage. Private sector companies and the government have deeper pockets. In order to win, you better be smart!

2.  Most of the time donors spend involving themselves with your organization happens without a fundraiser present. More than 99 percent of every donor’s time and energy spent involving themselves with your organization’s mission is done without you. You must accept this new reality and enable your supporters’ self-education and self-navigation of the decision-making process.

3.  The consideration continuum is open-ended. Donors are fickle. Their needs, passions, and interests will change. As they do, they might decide to give more, less, or stop giving altogether. They might involve themselves deeper in your cause or end their involvement (perhaps even by removing your organization from their estate plan). As a result, customer service (stewardship) is more essential now than ever.

4.  Your job is to make them feel good, not ask for money. In order to generate major gifts (including legacy gifts) and inspire high-capacity mid-level donors to give more, you must make your donors feel good by engaging them politely and persistently with offers that deliver value over time. If you do that, your donors self-solicit. They’ll step up to make a difference so they can find meaning in their lives. Then they’ll ask you, “What can I do to help?” Yes! Seriously! If you make them feel good, they will give, give more, refer friends, get more involved, become more committed, and make legacy gifts.

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October 1, 2018

Here are 3 Simple Steps to Avoid a Year-End Appeal Disaster

We’re now in the fourth quarter of the calendar year. It’s that special time of year when most charitable giving happens. That’s due, in part, to the fact that charities are out in force soliciting contributions as the year nears a close.

While there are many things you can and should do, I’m going to keep it easy. I’m going to give you three simple steps (and a bunch of useful tips) that will help you avoid a year-end appeal disaster:

Step 1 – Make a Year-End Appeal: You should test doing a beginning-of-the-year appeal in January/February since tax-avoidance is less of an issue for more people under the new tax code (see my post about this by clicking here). However, the fourth-quarter season-of-giving certainly remains the traditional time to ask for support. So, unless you have data for your organization that suggests otherwise, make sure you have a year-end appeal. The surest way to have a disastrous year-end fundraising appeal is not to have one.

As you plan your appeal, be sure to segment your prospect file. Treating your prospects as one homogeneous group may make your job easier, but it won’t help you keep your job. You’ll achieve much better results if you segment your prospect pool and target each segment with a tailored appeal.

For example, your message to existing donors will be different from your message to acquisition prospects. For starters, you’ll want to thank existing donors for their support before asking for another gift. Other segments might include monthly donors (You do have a monthly-donor program, right?), volunteers, past service recipients, event participants, etc.

In addition to tailoring your message to each segment, be sure to customize the ask. It’s inappropriate to ask an acquisition prospect for $1,000. Conversely, it’s also inappropriate to ask a $500 donor for $50. Just as bad, it’s a horrible mistake to not ask for a specific dollar amount or not to ask at all.

Step 2 – Have a Solid Case for Support: If you want people to give money to your organization, you need to make a compelling case for support. This is particularly true at this time of year when virtually every other nonprofit organization is out there looking for donations, too. Why should people respond to your direct-mail appeal (or phone solicitation, or face-to-face ask, etc.) instead of the appeal from another organization, perhaps one with a similar mission to yours? Address that question, and you’ll have greater success.

A strong case for support is particularly important when appealing to folks who have already contributed this year. They’ll want to know how you spent their money, the impact they have already had, and why you need more. Tell them those things, and you’ll increase the chance of getting another gift.

In addition to having a solid case for support, you’ll want to create some urgency. Why should people give to your organization now? If you’re the Salvation Army, people automatically get why you’re asking around holiday time. For pretty much any other organization, you’ll have to give prospects a good reason. And if that reason magnifies the impact that the donor’s gift will have, so much the better.

For example, you can have a challenge grant that matches all gifts received through the end of the year. Or, you could have the cost of your appeal underwritten by a major donor so you can legitimately tell prospective donors that 100 percent of their contributions to the appeal will go toward mission fulfillment. Both of these ideas will create urgency while magnifying the impact your donors can have.

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August 29, 2018

Surprise! You’re Most Likely Part of the Top One Percent.

As you begin to make plans for year-end appeals, let’s spend a few moments considering the idea of entitlement. I’m talking about the idea that wealthy individuals and corporations should, perhaps must, “give back” simply because they have a lot of money.

Do you think the top one percent income earners should pay higher taxes? Do you think they should donate more money to charity?

You might feel a bit differently after I share some news with you. If you earn at least $32,400 a year (or approximately 30,250 Euros, 2 million Indian Rupees, or 223,000 Chinese Yuan), you are part of the top one percent of income earners in the world, according to a new report in Investopedia. If you’re reading this post, I’ll bet the odds are that you’re a one-percenter. Congratulations!

So, as a global one-percenter, do you feel under-taxed? Do you feel cheap and that you don’t contribute enough to charities, particularly global non-governmental organizations? Should fundraising professionals in the USA and around the world expect, perhaps even demand, that you donate more? Should they shame you for not giving enough? Are charities entitled to more of your money just because you’re a one-percenter?

You might think so. I do not.

I believe that charities must behave ethically, provide great services, develop a meaningful case for support, and inspire people, foundations, and corporations to give. Charities must partner with donors, report to them, engage them. Simply thinking that the rich, or anyone for that matter, should do more is not going to get the job done.

I want to share a bizarre story with you that would be funny if it were not true. It’s about fundraising for a wedding. It nicely illustrates my point regarding the failure of an entitlement mindset.

Susan and her fiancé were childhood sweethearts. The couple worked on her family’s farm before attending community college. Then, they went to work to “become financially stable.” The couple continued working hard and eventually saved $15,000 for a wedding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough money for the “extravagant blow-out wedding” Susan wanted in order to properly celebrate their “fairy-tale” relationship.

Susan figured her ideal wedding would cost $60,000. So, she decided to look for financial help. She says, “All we asked was for a little help from our friends and family to make it happen.” Specifically, the-bride-to-be sought cash gifts. “How could we have our wedding that we dreamed of without proper funding? We’d sacrificed so much and only asked each guest for around $1,500.” As Fox News reported, Susan also said she “made it clear. If you couldn’t contribute, you weren’t invited to our exclusive wedding. It’s a once and a lifetime [sic] party.”

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August 24, 2018

What is the Most Important Thing You Can Learn from Recent Nonprofit Scandals?

Recent incidents at Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, Oxfam Great Britain, The Presidents Club Charitable Trust, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and elsewhere remind us that the nonprofit sector is not immune to wrongdoing and scandal.

If you’ve never worked for a charity reeling from scandal, there’s a good chance you will one day. Even if you don’t work directly for a scandalized charity, you could still be affected by a loss of public trust if a similar nonprofit finds itself under the spotlight for misdeeds.

For those reasons, it is essential that you learn the most important thing about how to survive a scandal.

Three broad types of scandals can affect a nonprofit organization negatively:

1. Self-inflicted scandals beyond your control. Here’s an example of a situation that was beyond the control of fundraising staff. Oxfam Great Britain was banned from operating in Haiti and the organization’s country director was forced to resign following allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Four other employees were fired for “gross misconduct.” While the frontline fundraising staff was not at all involved in the scandal itself, they nevertheless had to deal with the aftermath.

2. Self-inflicted scandals you could have avoided. We saw this when the Ohio Attorney General’s Office accused the charity Cops for Kids of defrauding donors of $4.2 million. Of all the money it raised over a 10-year-period, the charity spent less than two percent on charitable programming. This scandal allegedly involved fundraising staff as well as senior staff engaging in fraudulent behavior. The solution to this type of scandal is simple: Do not misbehave. Obey the law and adhere to the Association of Fundraising Professionals Code of Ethical Standards, the International Statement of Ethical Principles in Fundraising, and/or your nation’s own fundraising code of ethics.

3. Guilt-by-similarity scandal. People in Scotland experienced this several years ago. A cancer charity was embroiled in a well-publicized scandal. As expected, that charity saw a sharp decline in contributions. However, there was also an unpleasant, broad side effect. Completely unaffiliated cancer charities in Scotland also experienced a deep drop in donations resulting from broad public mistrust of all cancer charities. It took the innocent charities nearly a year to recover even with a coordinated campaign to restore public confidence.

Other than avoiding problems in the first place, always a good idea, what can you and your organization do to ensure it can survive a crisis or scandal?

The answer is simple, though the execution is not: Build strong relationships with donors. It takes effort, financial resources, and time. However, it’s an investment well worth making.

Recently, a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch contacted me. Rob Oller sought my commentary about the scandal involving Urban Meyer, The Ohio State University football coach. You can read about the situation on your own since there’s no need for me to get into the details here. Suffice to say that the coach has received a three-game suspension, but not before Bob Evans Restaurants withdrew its corporate sponsorship of Ohio State football.

Oller asked me about how scandal affects charitable giving. I told him, “It depends on the institution and quality of the relationships with its donors over time. The stronger the relationships the more likely the institution is able to weather the controversy.”

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August 3, 2018

Fantastic News and Opportunity for the Nonprofit Sector!

The nonprofit sector received a major piece of good news at the end of July. American Gross Domestic Product in the second quarter of 2018 grew at the annualized rate of 4.1 percent. This represents the economy’s fastest growth rate since 2014. GDP growth in the first-quarter was a healthy, though unremarkable, 2.2 percent.

I don’t really care if you love or hate President Donald Trump. I’m not making a political statement. I’m simply reporting on an economic fact that has profound implications for nonprofit organizations.

The news is fantastic for charities because overall-philanthropy correlates with GDP. For more than four decades, philanthropy has been between 1.6 and 2.2 percent of GDP. In 2017, philanthropy was once again at 2.1 percent (Giving USA). This means that when the economy grows, we can expect growth in charitable giving.

Think of it this way: For more than 40 years, the nonprofit sector has received about a two percent slice of the economic pie. It’s safe to say that that approximate proportion will continue. So, if the economic pie becomes larger, that two percent slice becomes larger as well.

While I’m oversimplifying, my fundamental point is sound: When the economy grows, so does philanthropy.

Some economists and commentators believe the robust GDP growth rate is not sustainable. However, if the impressive economic growth continues, or even if growth continues at a more moderate pace, we can still expect 2018 to be a good year for charitable fundraising.

Given the positive economic environment, you have an opportunity to successfully raise money for your organization. But, it’s up to you to seize that opportunity while the positive economic environment lasts.

Here are 10 things you can do to raise more money while the economy is good:

1. Hug your donors. Ok, maybe not literally. However, you do need to let your donors know you love and appreciate them. Do you quickly acknowledge gifts? You should do so within 48 hours. Do you effectively thank donors? You should do so in at least seven different ways. You should review your thank-you letters to ensure they are heartfelt, meaningful, and effective. Have board members call donors to thank them in addition to your standard thank-you letter.

2. Tell donors about the impact of their gifts. Donors want to know that their giving is making a difference. If their giving isn’t making a difference or they aren’t sure, they’re more likely to give elsewhere. So, report to your donors. Tell them what their giving is achieving and that their support is being used efficiently.

3. Start a new recognition program. One small nonprofit organization I know started a new, special corporate giving club. CEOs of the corporate members are placed on an advisory board, receive special recognition, and are provided with networking opportunities. This new recognition program generated over $50,000 in just a few months. While enhancing existing recognition efforts is beneficial, starting a new recognition program can yield significant results.

4. Ask. Your organization is providing important services. It needs money. Give people the opportunity to support your worthy mission. When you ask for support, just be certain not to limit the ask to cash gifts. Research shows that organizations that receive non-monetary donations (e.g., stocks, bonds, personal property, real estate, etc.) grow significantly more than organizations that receive only cash contributions. Partly as a result of the new income tax code, the number of Donor-Advised Funds has grown significantly. So, make it easy for your supporters to give from their DAFs.

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July 27, 2018

How to NOT Make a Mistake Worse

There is an adage, first published in The Bankers Magazine (1964) that advises wisely:

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

The Law of Holes suggests we should strive to not make bad situations worse through further unhelpful, counter-productive behavior.

Sadly, many people, including nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals, fail to heed that fine advice. Instead, when in a bad situation or when confronted by criticism, many folks make matters worse by reacting defensively, acting helplessly, remaining in denial, criticizing the critic, or ignoring the situation altogether.

Fortunately, many people handle criticism gracefully and, in the process, set a fine example for the rest of us.

Recently, I wrote about my wife’s failed attempt to donate to a local charity. While my wife and I have never supported the organization, we do agree with its mission. Therefore, it was with great interest that I noticed that the charity was hosting a fundraising event with a speaker I wanted to hear. My wife went to the organization’s website to buy tickets. However, due to a website glitch, she was unable to complete the transaction. So, she then called the organization during office hours. Not being able to reach a live person, she left a voice-mail message. No one from the organization returned her call. We ended up not attending the event.

After I posted about my wife’s experience and what fundraisers can learn from it, I sent the organization’s Executive Director an email and a link to my article. I sent the email on Tuesday evening at 7:01 PM. I expected one of two things to happen: 1) I thought I might receive a defensive response the following business day, or 2) I might not receive any reply, ever.

Instead, my guess was happily wrong. That very evening at 7:21 PM, I received a message from the Executive Director. We can learn much from the tone and content of his response:

Dear Michael,

Your email was both upsetting and instructive. I appreciated the spirit of the message and have already begun to think about how to use it to create change and improve. Also I read your blog. I’m curious if you are a professional fundraiser? Either way you and your wife have my apologies for this unfortunate experience. It is clearly our loss when customers and potential friends are turned off. It’s contrary to the purpose of running these events and clearly counter productive.

In addition to my apologies you have my gratitude for bringing this to my attention.

Sincerely,

(name withheld here)”

Here is what we can learn from the email response:

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