Posts tagged ‘fundraising’

August 26, 2016

Do You Know How to Take Criticism?

I received an extraordinary message recently.

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

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

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

Dear Mr. Rosen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, here is where you come in.

August 23, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 19, 2016

Could Your #Nonprofit be Forced to Return a Donor’s Gift?

Officials at Vanderbilt University got schooled. They learned, the hard way, that nonprofit organizations cannot unilaterally void the terms of a gift agreement without returning the donation.

This is a story that keeps on giving. It provides an important lesson for all nonprofit organizations about the requirement, ethical and legal, to honor donor intent.

The tale begins in 1933 when the Tennessee Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy donated $50,000 to the George Peabody College of Teachers to build a dormitory named “Confederate Memorial Hall.”

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

Confederate Memorial Hall (2007)

In 1979, Peabody was merged into Vanderbilt becoming the “Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University.”

After years of discussion, according to Inside Higher Ed, Vanderbilt decided in 2002 to drop the word “Confederate” and rename the building simply “Memorial Hall.” The University took this action without gaining the approval of the Daughters of the Confederacy or returning the gift.

After taking Vanderbilt to court, the Daughters of the Confederacy received a Tennessee Appeals Court ruling in 2005 that ordered the University to either keep the original name of the building or refund the donation … in inflation-adjusted dollars. That $50,000 gift from 1933 is now valued at $1.2 million.

As reported in Inside Higher Ed:

The appeals court unanimously rejected Vanderbilt’s argument that academic freedom gave it the right to change the name. Vanderbilt argued that the Supreme Court has given private colleges considerable latitude in their decisions. But the appeals court said that was irrelevant because the agreement to name the dormitory ‘Confederate Memorial Hall’ was between a donor and a charitable group — and the government never forced the gift to be accepted.”

In its ruling, the Appeals Court stated (emphasis is mine):

We fail to see how the adoption of a rule allowing universities to avoid their contractual and other voluntarily assumed legal obligations whenever, in the university’s opinion, those obligations have begun to impede their academic mission would advance principles of academic freedom. To the contrary, allowing Vanderbilt and other academic institutions to jettison their contractual and other legal obligations so casually would seriously impair their ability to raise money in the future by entering into gift agreements such as the ones at issue here.

It took quite some time but, with money raised from anonymous donors, Vanderbilt paid $1.2 million to the Daughters of the Confederacy and renamed the building this month in accordance with the Court’s judgment.

Unfortunately, this has not brought this story to a happy conclusion. Vanderbilt has damaged its reputation by revealing its willingness to “casually” disregard donor intent.

I stand firmly with the Appeals Court decision. How I feel, or anyone feels, about the old Confederacy or the word “Confederate” on the building is irrelevant in this case. Instead, there are two powerful governing issues involved here:

August 12, 2016

When Things Don’t Go Your Way, How Can You Still Win?

Prospective donors look forward to talking with you. Donors love you. Your colleagues are supportive. Your appeals achieve record success. When everything works the way it should, being a fundraising professional is fulfilling and enormously fun.

Unfortunately, things seldom go completely according to plan. Problems arise. Conflicts simmer. Unexpected events bring new challenges.

So, what can you do to become or remain a champion fundraising professional in the face of anticipated and unanticipated challenges?

The answer: Think like an Olympian.

I enjoy watching the Olympics. I like the competitions, and I like the human-interest stories. We can learn a great deal from Olympic athletes. If you want to be a champion, it’s a good idea to discover what champions do to succeed. For example, let’s look at a story involving Hope Solo, the gold-medal goalkeeper for the USA Women’s Soccer Team.

Soccer Ball by Armando Sobrino via FlickrAt the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics, USA faced New Zealand on the soccer field. Whenever the ball came near Solo, Brazilian football fans booed and, at times, chanted “Zika.” According to a report in The Washington Post, Brazil’s football fans were unhappy with Solo’s pre-Olympic comments about Brazil and her concerns about the Zika virus.

Prior to making the trip to South America, Solo took to social media to say she was thinking about not going. Ultimately, she “begrudgingly” announced she would participate in the games, but that she planned on being well armed with mosquito repellent. She also joked that she would bring enough for anyone else in the Olympic Village who might need some.

Solo’s concern is not unjustified. Zika is a serious virus that is transmitted by mosquito. The first major outbreak began in Brazil. In addition to causing other health problems, the virus can cause major birth defects if contracted by a pregnant woman.

Nevertheless, Brazilians were not pleased with Solo’s ongoing commentary about Zika.

So, Solo faced two issues when she took the field against New Zealand:

August 5, 2016

The #Fundraising Secret for Success You Need to Know

What’s the secret to fundraising success?

Ice cream!

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are five things you need to know:

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

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

July 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The winning term is:

July 23, 2016

10 Ways To Be Happier Right Now

Do you want to be a better fundraising professional? If so, you need to work on being a happier person.

Sadly, 48 percent of Americans are not very happy.

It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to understand why. If you pick up a newspaper, tune into the television evening news, search the Internet for the latest current event stories, you’ll find plenty of reasons to not be very happy. You might not even need to look that far. Perhaps, you’re facing economic or health challenges at home, or an uninspiring job that doesn’t pay you what you deserve.

While many things are out of our control, there are nevertheless some steps we can take to enhance our level of happiness. By taking care of ourselves and by building our happiness, we’ll develop stronger relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and supporters of our organizations.

Your level of happiness affects all aspects of your life, personal and professional. That’s why I want to share some tips to help you be happier which will, in turn, lead you to better health and greater professional success. By being happier, you’ll be a more effective fundraising professional.

Think about it. Would you rather be around someone who is happy or unhappy? It’s not really a hard choice, is it?

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was naturally scared and miserable. After some serious contemplation, I realized that I could be sick and miserable or I could choose to be just sick. Being sick was bad enough. Why would I also want to be miserable, too?

My choice has made it easier for people to stay close to me and to help me when I need it as my fight continues. I’m also convinced that my positive attitude has profoundly benefitted my health; the science backs me up on this. While I certainly don’t like having cancer, I am continuing to enjoy life.

How to be Happy via Life Coach SpotterRecently, Rana Tarakji, of the Life Coach Spotter, sent me a terrific infographic with 10 practical, science-backed tips for helping us to enhance our happiness and, as a result, improve our well-being, relationships, and professional success:

1. Laugh. That’s right. Laugh more. It’s good for you. Laughter reduces physical pain, reduces heart attack risk, increases blood flow, boosts immunity, and enhances energy level.

2. Thank. Feeling and expressing gratitude boosts happiness. The old adage that encourages us to count our blessings and be grateful for what we have has validity. Researchers have demonstrated that expressing gratitude to others actually increases our own happiness.

For example, Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, asked study participants to write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. Following the completion of the task, participants’ happiness scores increased significantly.

See. Not only is thanking a donor good for the donor and your organization, it’s good for you, too!

3. Love. When we send love out into the universe, love returns to us. Those who maintain strong, loving relationships are happier and healthier. Perhaps it’s because we all know the value of love that we often take it for granted. We need to be careful. Love takes work. We need to actively plan to spend quality time with those important to us.

4. Smile. The average person smiles only 20 times per day. By contrast, happy people smile 45 times a day. While happy people are more likely to smile, science has proven that smiling more will make you happier. Even fake smiles will release pleasure hormones that will make you happier. As the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh says:

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

5. Meditate. Meditation is not an activity reserved for New Age folks. Anyone can do it and derive benefit from it. There are large varieties of ways to mediate. Personally, I like Guided Imagery.

Meditation offers a number of proven benefits. When I was hospitalized, I found meditation calming. I also found, to my surprise, that it reduced my pain level. To be effective, meditation takes practice. However, over time, you will see the benefits for yourself. You can learn some simple meditation techniques by clicking here.

6. Relax. Years ago, I heard the great sales guru Tom Hopkins speak. He said that to be successful, we need to do the most important thing at any given moment. That does not mean turning yourself into a workaholic. Instead, it means that at times we certainly need to work hard. However, it also means that we need to recognize that, at other times, the most important thing to do is to relax and refresh ourselves. Life balance is essential for happiness.

July 15, 2016

If You Want More Donors, Stop Being So Serious

Make giving fun!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chuck Feldman, President of HAMEC, says:

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

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

July 7, 2016

Should You Worry about Election-Year Tax Plans?

As Americans, we should be generally concerned with who our next President will be. The outcome has both personal and professional implications for you, even if you’re one of my international readers.

Presidential Seal by Jason Seliskar via FlickrWho will be best for the future of the nation and the world? Who will voters elect?:

Whether you’re a nonprofit manager, fundraising professional, and/or donor, you should also be concerned about which of the candidates will be best for the charity sector. Government policies, particularly tax policies, can have a significant impact on charitable giving.

If new government policies lead to greater economic growth, nonprofit organizations will likely benefit. Giving USA has shown that charitable giving consistently correlates to roughly two percent of Gross Domestic Product. So, if the nation experiences more robust economic growth, we can expect more robust philanthropic growth. The converse is also true.

If new government policies lead to greater personal income, nonprofit organizations will likely benefit as Giving USA has revealed that giving also consistently correlates to approximately two percent of personal income.

So, which Presidential candidate is best? Well, that’s a simple question with a complex answer. Evaluating the potential impact of each plan will never generate a consensus among economists. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that any of the plans will be adopted as presented. Congress will still have its say. And Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has introduced his own tax proposal.

While I will not tell you which candidate will be best for the country and the nonprofit sector — I don’t happen to own a crystal ball — I will provide you with a few key, relevant highlights of each plan. I hope you’ll then take the time to learn a bit more about each candidate and his/her proposals so that you can make an informed choice this November and be prepared when change arrives.

I also encourage you to visit the seemingly non-partisan website I Side With to take a quiz that will match your answers with the positions the candidates have taken on a variety of issues. At the conclusion of the quiz, you’ll be told how your positions align with those of each of the candidates. The results might surprise you. If you’re one of my international readers, I still encourage you to take the quiz to see how our presidential candidates align with your values so you’ll know who to root for.

Now, let’s take a brief look at some of the highlights from the various tax proposals:

June 21, 2016

Stop Making Stupid Email and Direct Mail Mistakes

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

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

Rosenbach Email Appeal copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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