Posts tagged ‘fundamentals’

October 25, 2019

Do You Want to Know the Latest, Greatest Fundraising Idea?

When I’m invited to speak at professional gatherings, I’m asked frequently to talk about the latest, greatest ideas that will help nonprofit organizations raise more money. I’m never surprised. For many years, I’ve talked with fundraising professionals who attend conferences, participate in webinars, and read publications in a grand quest for the new shiny idea that will result in massive fundraising growth.

Recently, I read some tweets from three fundraising experts related to the search for fundraising’s Holy Grail. While these colleagues and I all embrace innovation, we also share a common belief about what will allow fundraising professionals to be more successful immediately. Here it is:

Master the fundraising fundamentals.

Here’s what T. Clay Buck, CFRE; Andrew Olsen, CFRE; and Tom Ahern all tweeted this month:

Let me demonstrate what I mean by “master the fundamentals.” In a planned-gift marketing seminar I presented a few years ago, I shared a variety of ideas for promoting planned giving. I knew I had a diverse audience, so I provided both simple and sophisticated ideas. While my suggestions were certainly not revolutionary, some of them did push the envelope of current practice.

Following my talk, a fellow came up to me and said, “You didn’t say anything I didn’t already know.” Ouch! That’s not the feedback I like, even if it was just one person’s opinion. I always want everyone to come away from my seminars with at least one terrific idea.

After receiving the stinging feedback, I said to the man, “I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get any fresh ideas. However, I’d love to hear about how you’ve used the phone to market bequests.”

He replied, “I haven’t implemented a phone program.”

“Ok, then tell me how your direct mail campaign has done,” I requested.

“I haven’t done a planned gift mailing,” he responded.

“Ok, then tell me about your website and how it allows you to track and rate visitor interaction,” I requested.

“Our website isn’t that sophisticated,” he said.

The conversation continued in that vein. The point is that this fellow knew what he should or could be doing, but he was not doing it! He had not fully embraced the fundamentals of planned-gift marketing yet he was searching for new ideas, a planned giving Holy Grail. If he would simply implement one of the ideas I had talked about, his planned giving results would have been much stronger.

The fundamentals matter. To be successful, fundraising professionals need to learn the basics and embrace them. Doing so could add up to billions of dollars for the nonprofit sector.

Do you want more money for the annual fund? Then tell me, do you have a monthly donor program? Do you do second-gift appeals? Do you do targeted upgrade appeals? Do you effectively steward gifts to ensure a high donor-retention rate? Do you use database analytics to help you better target asks, even in your direct mail appeals?

Do you want more planned gifts? Then tell me, do you have a sophisticated website that allows you to track individual engagement and then rate prospects based on that? Do you use direct mail to generate bequest commitments and leads? Do you use the telephone to generate planned gifts and leads? Do you use surveys to learn more about prospects while engaging them?

Do you want more corporate support? Then tell me, do you offer something of value to your corporate donors or do you simply expect them to “give back”? Do you only go after the usual suspects or do you also approach the profitable, rapidly growing small and mid-size businesses in your community? Do you just ask or do you cultivate and engage as well?

Don’t get me wrong. Once again, I’m a big fan of fresh ideas and cutting-edge research. Again, so are Buck, Olsen, and Ahern. However, learning without doing accomplishes nothing.

Everyone seeking to work as a fundraising professional should learn the fundamentals so they can effectively identify prospects, educate and cultivate them, ask for gifts, and properly steward supporters.

Implementing relatively simple, small changes can yield big results for your nonprofit organization. Virtually every charity has low-hanging fruit. But, you actually have to go and grab it!

Here are five simple steps, that I outlined several years ago, that you can take now:

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December 9, 2016

#GivingTuesday Hits and Misses

I’m not a fan of #GivingTuesday. Don’t get me wrong, though. I do like the idea of it. Promoting philanthropy at a time of year that has become associated with extreme consumerism is a nice concept.

While I have no quarrel with the idea of #GivingTuesday, I do have several problems with the reality of it, including:

It does not inspire much philanthropy. During #GivingTuesday 2016, early reports show that charities raised $168 million … WORLDWIDE. Last year, nonprofit organizations raised $117 million. Assuming all of that money was given in the USA, which was not the case, it would have accounted for just 0.03 percent of overall philanthropy!

We do not know whether #GivingTuesday inspires new and increased giving. While people contributed on #GivingTuesday, we simply do not know whether they would have given those gifts anyway. We also do not know if #GivingTuesday simply shifts when people give.

Well-resourced charities may be siphoning support away from smaller nonprofits. With larger marketing budgets, staff sizes, and brand awareness, it’s entirely possible that big organizations benefit from #GivingTuesday at the expense of smaller ones.

#GivingTuesday growth appears to be slowing. NonprofitPro reports that this year’s growth rate is the lowest in the five-year history of the campaign.

While I recognize that some charities have benefitted from their #GivingTuesday campaigns, I still fail to see how it is a benefit to the nonprofit sector as a whole. (You can read my more detailed critiques of #GivingTuesday by entering that term in my blog’s search box to the right.)

Furthermore, I find that many individual charities do themselves more harm than good by rushing to embrace #GivingTuesday while failing to invest time and money to enhance the fundamental fundraising skills of staff.

Consider the #GivingTuesday appeal initiated by Inis Nua Theatre Company. This small theatre company in Philadelphia produces excellent contemporary, provocative plays from Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales.

Jessica Simkins, General Manager of Inis Nua, told me that the company normally does a year-end fundraising campaign. This year, staff chose to use #GivingTuesday to frame this year’s appeal. Rather than implementing an entirely new appeal for #GivingTuesday as many nonprofits have done, Inis Nua chose to leverage the hype around #GivingTuesday, such as it is, to see if it could boost its year-end fundraising campaign.

Despite my general feelings about #GivingTuesday, I actually like this application of the concept. I consider it a Hit. I also like that they included a challenge grant.

Unfortunately, the appeal letter itself is a big Miss. Here’s the direct mail appeal my wife received:

gt-inis-nua-mail-appeal

The major issue I have with the mailing is that it is very organizational-focused. The author uses the words I, my, our, ourselves, us, we a total of 30 times in a one-page letter. On the other hand, the writer uses the words audiences, donors, patrons, supporters, you and your only eight times.

The letter is a self-congratulatory missive from the Founder and Artistic Director. Donors are never given any credit for helping to make possible Inis Nua’s impressive accomplishments. There are other problems with the appeal, but the organization-centric approach is a giant problem. Piggy-backing on #GivingTuesday won’t offset Inis Nua’s neglect of fundraising fundamentals.

By contrast, my wife received a donor-centered email from Lantern Theater Company that also referenced #GivingTuesday. Lantern Theater is also a small nonprofit in Philadelphia that produces classic and modern plays. Unlike Inis Nua, Lantern’s mission statement actually mentions audiences, audience members, and community. You’ll see the audience/community focus represented in Lantern’s email appeal:

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