Posts tagged ‘engagement’

April 10, 2020

Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

Over the past couple of weeks, social media, the blogosphere, and countless webinars have pondered the question: Is this the best or worst of times for legacy fundraising? Unfortunately, despite the high volume of opinions circulating, a view grounded in science has yet to emerge. So, philanthropy researcher Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP® and I teamed up to prepare a special white paper for you that analyzes the current legacy-giving environment and reveals to you a path forward that we base on fact rather than emotional whim.

This blog post provides you with the full paper, nearly 5,000 words, with all of its insights and tips. In addition, you can download the PDF version for FREE. You may want to share the white paper PDF with your CEO, CFO, and board leadership.

Because of the unusual length of this post, I won’t offer any additional introductory comments other than to say that Russell and I are available for speaking engagements, training sessions, consultation, and interviews to address this and other relevant subjects. For more information, please contact me.

Now, here is the complete white paper:

 

Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP® and Michael J. Rosen

The death media currently inundate us with panic-inducing news. Ubiquitous reports about the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Daily death tolls. Images of people in masks or complete hazmat suits. Talk of overwhelmed hospitals. News of quarantined regions and nations.

What should a legacy fundraiser do in the midst of a societal crisis? Stop communicating altogether? Make a last-minute push to get into a donor’s Will before it’s too late? Something in between? All of the above?

To get some guidance, it helps to start with a bit of social-science theory, a look at recent financial history, and early empirical data.

Social-Science Theory

We start with social-science theory because it’s actually quite useful to first understand what we know about how people react to reminders of death.

An entire field of experimental psychology focuses on this very topic. Scientists call it Terror Management Theory. This field has produced many hundreds of experimental results. Therefore, we know quite a lot about what happens when you remind people that they are going to die.

There are many technical books and papers on the subject. Google Scholar lists 12,500 of them. Here’s a quick summary. Death is a problem. People use two solutions:  1) ignore the problem, or 2) live on after death. Allow us to explain.

The Two Defenses to Death Reminders

People respond to death reminders with two stages of defense. The first stage (proximal) defense is avoidance. Avoidance comes from a desire to suppress the reminder. This suppression can be expressed in many ways. For example, it might involve physically moving away from the reminder (e.g., avoiding strolling past a hospital or cemetery when taking a walk). It might involve denigrating a mortality reminder’s validity or personal applicability (e.g., it can’t happen to me). It might be dismissing the subject with humor (e.g., the film Death at a Funeral).

The second stage (distal) defense is pursuit of symbolic immortality or lasting social impact. When avoidance doesn’t work, then we must somehow deal with our own earthly impermanence. We deal with this by latching on to those things that will remain after we are gone. In other words, I may disappear, but some part of my identity – my family, my values, my in-group, my people, my story, my causes – will remain.

People don’t treat personal death reminders in the same way they treat other pieces of objective information. In legacy fundraising, it has always been important to understand this. These two underlying defensive responses help to explain how people will respond.

Death Just Got Way More Offensive

In experiments, personal death reminders ramp up avoidance responses. The more death reminders, the more avoidance people will exhibit. Right now, COVID-19 news engulfs our audiences in personal death reminders. For many people, this will make any death-related communications aversive.

(Interestingly, people will gladly read the latest news headlines as a means of pursuing avoidance. People hunger for details on how to avoid the death risk. They will support strong action that promises the same. Others may even pursue avoidance by putting unwarranted faith in untested treatments or unproven protocols.)

In addition to people living in an environment that stimulates greater levels of death avoidance, current conditions cause individuals to feel less of an emotional sense of wellbeing.

Dr. Jen Shang, a philanthropic psychologist and co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, among other social scientists, believes that wellbeing involves three essential characteristics:

  • autonomy – a sense of control
  • connectedness – the quantity and quality of relationships
  • competence – effectiveness

The more autonomous, connected, and competent people feel, the greater sense of personal wellbeing they will feel. Conversely, when people feel those qualities eroding, they will feel a decline in wellbeing.

In addition to the physical health risks associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic, people are experiencing psychological stress. Many individuals feel that current events are overwhelming them, knocking them out of their routines, and causing them to lose control of their professional and personal lives. With the uncertainty of the near-term, it’s not surprising that people would feel they have lost a great deal of control over their lives.

As the pandemic leads government officials to suggest or order people to stay at home, practice social distancing, and limit even essential activities such as grocery shopping, people are losing their sense of connection to other people including neighbors, extended family members, friends, colleagues, and more.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people are grappling with their feeling of competency when facing new conditions. Many have set-up a home workspace for the first time. Others are learning new technologies to communicate more effectively with others.

People want to have a sense of wellbeing. The more autonomy, connectedness, and competency they feel, the better they will feel. Generally, people will seek to engage in behaviors that enhance their sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, they will appreciate individuals and organizations that help them obtain greater wellbeing.

So, what does all of this mean for legacy fundraising (i.e., a key type of planned giving)? To begin, it means the following:

  1. Legacy fundraising communications that “lead with death” need to be shelved.

Many fundraising professionals are accustomed to being direct. Being blunt. Making the ask. Making it early and often. That may be fine for some types of fundraising. While this type of approach was often less than ideal for legacy fundraising prior to the pandemic, this is even more true right now. This is not the time to lead with death. In normal times, this will create some pushback. In these times, expect it to create massive pushback.

Yes, you should absolutely communicate with your organization’s supporters. Moreover, those communications should be about delivering value to the donor. Through your outreach, you should strive to enhance each individual donor’s sense of wellbeing.

  1. Now is the time to be “top of mind.”

Most people tend to put off estate planning in normal times. For example, in the U.S., most adults over 50 have no Will or Trust documents. From what we know about avoidance, such delay is no surprise. But, from a massive longitudinal study in the U.S., we also know when those plans are made and changed. The typical triggers for planning fall into one of two camps, family structure changes or “death becomes real.” Family structure changes include marriage, divorce, birth of first child, birth of a first grandchild, and widowhood. “Death becomes real” includes diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, stroke, moving to a nursing home, or actually approaching death (measured retrospectively).

Right now, many people are living the “death becomes real” experience. Consequently, there is a major upsurge in Will document completions – particularly online. Some sites are reporting greater than 100 percent week-over-week increases in completed documents.1 The Remember a Charity website, which promotes legacy giving for the U.K. charity sector, has experienced twice as many people visiting its “Making A Will” page as would do so normally.2

As “death becomes real,” people are also increasingly expressing interest in life insurance.3 One online life insurance agency saw the most ever monthly applications and sales in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic gained traction. Another online life insurance agency saw an increase in applications of more than 50 percent since February.

We know from experimental research that the charitable component of an estate plan is, for many people, highly fluid. In one experiment with British solicitors (lawyers), simply asking the question, “Would you like to leave any money to charity?” more than doubled the share of people including charitable gifts in their Will documents. Even small alterations in the wording used to describe such gifts results in dramatic changes in both charitable intentions and actual document contents.

For a charity, being “top of mind” at the moment in which people are actually planning is absolutely critical. More people are planning right now than in any normal time. Clearly, this is the ideal time for your charity to be communicating about gifts in Wills and even beneficiary designations. However, the language of how you communicate is most critical.

When viewed through the social scientist’s lens of individual wellbeing, the enhanced interest in estate planning is not surprising. Drafting a Will or purchasing a life insurance policy is a way for someone to feel a sense of autonomy or control over the current situation. Through these actions, they can enhance the feeling of attachment from relationships with those they love as they make plans to take care of these people. When successfully achieving their estate planning objectives, including supporting values and causes that have been important in their lives, individuals will feel an elevated sense of competency. In other words, a major reason we now see a spike in interest in Wills and life insurance is that it gives people an enhanced sense of wellbeing.

If communications from charities also enhance a donor’s sense of wellbeing, organizations may find that their donors will have greater interest in supporting them with a commitment in a Will or through a life insurance beneficiary designation. In other words, helping a donor feel better may ultimately benefit the charity.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Is this the best time or the worst time to be communicating about legacy gifts? Actually, it is both.

People are planning like never before because they seek to take care of their families, usually the first priority of those doing estate planning even in the best of times. The challenge for charities is that we need to be at the top of their minds when people are ready to make their plans. It’s definitely the best time for legacy fundraising. Furthermore, by engaging people, fundraisers have an opportunity, like never before, to perform a real service by helping donors enhance their feeling of wellbeing.

On the other hand, talking about legacy planning can be offensive like never before. People are emotionally-poised to lash out strongly against such death reminders. Take one step in that direction and the risk-averse herd animal known as your executive director will be ready to end your career. It can very-well seem like the worst time for legacy fundraising, particularly when done the wrong way.

We’re not talking about opposing camps. Instead, individual donors are experiencing both of these paradoxical orientations to one degree or another.

The Direct Route is Closed. Now What?

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January 7, 2020

What Can You Learn from “The Naked Philanthropist”?

Kaylen Ward, who refers to herself as “The Naked Philanthropist,” has a few things she can teach you about fundraising.

The first thing the 20-year-old can teach you is the value of being honest when promoting yourself and your organization. “The Naked Philanthropist” is not a euphemism. Ward really has donated money she earned by posing nude. Furthermore, by leveraging her nudity, she encourages others to give as well.

Kaylen Ward — The Naked Philanthropist

The raging wildfires in Australia caught the attention of Ward, a resident of California, a state often plagued by brush fires. She decided to take action.

“I donated $1,000 myself,” she tells Guardian Australia. “I had a substantial amount of followers, maybe 30,000 at the time, and I thought that a lot of my followers would pitch in and send in some donations for the wildfires.”

While Instagram has suspended Ward’s account, her Twitter account now has over 288,000 Followers (Jan. 7, 2020). More importantly, Ward tells the Guardian that she estimates that $700,000 has been donated as a result of her efforts in just four days!

Here’s how Ward did it. On January 3, she tweeted (below) that she would Direct Message a nude photo of herself to anyone who provided proof that they had donated $10 or more to any number of charities dealing with the Australian fires, ranging from the Australian Red Cross to the World Wildlife Fund – Australia. Her tweet, liked over 198,000 times, includes a list of qualifying charities (below) and a barely censored image of herself (not shown).

So, here are just six things you can learn from Ward:

1. Do not fall victim to generational stereotypes.

Ward is a member of Generation Z. Gen Z is the cohort following the Millennial Generation. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that younger people are not particularly philanthropic. They tend not to give as much to charity as older people, and they tend to be less brand-loyal than those of older generations are. However, that doesn’t mean that younger folks aren’t generous relative to their personal income. Furthermore, just because they may not have developed loyalty to a particular charity does not mean they have no interest in philanthropy. In Ward’s case, she not only gave $1,000 of her own money, she encouraged tens of thousands of other people to donate as well.

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December 10, 2019

To Raise More Money, Look for More Engagement Opportunities

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

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

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

So, what does meaningful engagement look like?

PTC’s See & Be Scene Event.

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

Through the event, PTC accomplished three important things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

PTC’s Call for Suggestions.

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

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

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

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

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December 5, 2019

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

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

Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a thankful fundraising professional, you will:

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

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

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November 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 17, 2019

You Need to Do What Monty Python’s Eric Idle has Just Done

Eric Idle, a member of the legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python, knows something about social media that you might not. He has recently done something that you should be doing. If you follow his example, you’ll engage more supporters. This will result in increased loyalty and enhanced lifetime giving.

I understand that you might have doubts about whether a comedy genius can really teach you something that will benefit your nonprofit work. Well, let me explain.

I’ve been a Monty Python fan for decades after first seeing them on television. Later, I thoroughly enjoyed their films including Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched them. I’ve also seen Idle’s Spamalot on Broadway.

While I am a fan of each Python member, comedy legend Idle holds a special place in my heart. Five years ago, when I was facing a 14-hour life-saving cancer surgery, his irreverent but strangely uplifting song from The Life of Brian buoyed my spirits. The first verse of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” goes like this:

Some things in life are bad,

They can really make you mad,

Other things just make you swear and curse,

When you’re chewing life’s gristle,

Don’t grumble,

Give a whistle

And this’ll help things turn out for the best.

And…

Always look on the bright side of life.”

You can listen to the full song by watching this clip from the film:

Because the song means so much to me, my eye was caught by a tweet from one of my Twitter-buddies, Ephraim Gopin. (By the way, Ephraim is a funny and sharp fundraising professional, a rare combination. Follow him.) His tweet included a GIF from the clip I shared above. He was thanking Idle for retweeting one of his previous messages.

I replied to both mentioning how the song helped me. That’s when I received a touching surprise.

Eric Idle, the Eric Idle, the comedy legend, the man who has made me laugh for decades, replied to me with a simple, uplifting message:

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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 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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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 Philly.com, “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:

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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.

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