Posts tagged ‘marketing’

November 26, 2019

Is One Charity about to Make You Look Bad?

The Charities Aid Foundation of America might have made your nonprofit organization look bad last year. Warning: They’re about to do it again!

Let me explain.

If you’ve sent your year-end appeal, written a solid thank-you letter series, and prepared a donor-engagement plan, you might believe you’ll be all set to take a holiday break between Christmas and the New Year. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Many charities operate with a skeleton staff between the holidays while others shutdown completely.

However, while many nonprofit organizations wind down in the closing weeks of the year, many donors are gearing up their philanthropic activity. Many donors make their philanthropic decisions at the end of the year, often in the closing days of the year. While the current federal tax law means fewer people itemize their deductions when filing their taxes, many of those people still make late year-end charitable gifts. Furthermore, many wealthy people who do itemize will wait until the closing days of the year before making their philanthropic gifts.

Some of your year-end donors will have questions. They may wonder about the best way to give (i.e., cash, appreciated stock, Donor Advised Fund recommendation, etc.). Others may have questions about your organization’s programs and areas of greatest need. Still others may simply need to know the formal name of your organization to put on their check.

If individuals with questions are unable to reach you for answers, they may not give or they may give elsewhere. This is something CAF America understands.

Last year, Ted Hart, ACFRE, CAP, President & CEO of CAF America, sent an email wishing donors a happy holiday and announcing his organization’s extended holiday hours. Not only would someone be available throughout the holiday season, staff would be available until 8:00 PM EST, well beyond standard business hours. Hart provided an email address and phone number. The email encouraged recipients to reach out if they needed any help or had any questions. You can find a copy of Hart’s email message and my detailed analysis of it by clicking here.

Underscoring his organization’s donor-centered orientation, Hart concluded his message by writing:

It is our pleasure to be of service to your domestic and international philanthropy on a timetable that suits you best.”

Hart’s email let supporters know that the organization is there to meet their needs on their terms. Even if they didn’t need to contact the organization as December 31 approached, they still appreciated knowing that the organization cared enough about them to remain accessible.

Based on the response to last year’s extended hours, CAF America will be doing the same this year beginning December 9. Hart explains, “We had many donors who made use of the extended hours. Many are very busy during the holidays and regular business hours do not always support busy holiday schedules.”

By comparison with CAF America, does your organization look good or bad as the year comes to a close?

I’m not suggesting that you need to stay at your desk through the end of the year. However, I am suggesting you remain accessible. Fortunately, technology allows you to be reachable without having to remain in the office. For example, you can set email alerts on your cell phone. Also, you can forward your office calls to your cell phone. So, whether or not you remain in the office, you can still be available to individuals contemplating a donation to your organization.

If, like CAF America, you let people know that you will remain available, you’ll be showing them that you care about them. Your organization’s supporters will appreciate the extra effort you make to be of service even if they don’t have any year-end needs.

At this time of year, the public expects to be inundated with charity appeals seeking support. What people do not expect is a message offering good wishes and service. So, pleasantly surprise folks this holiday season. Show individuals you care about each of them by letting them know you’re there for them. Offer them assistance. Give them an opportunity to engage. Provide useful information.

To determine if your organization is donor centered as the year draws to a close, ask yourself these questions:

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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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November 8, 2019

3 Election-Inspired Tips for More Powerful Fundraising

Nonprofit fundraising professionals can learn three powerful tips from the US presidential candidates that will help inspire greater support.

Now that the November 2019 elections in the US are behind us, the media and the public will focus their attention increasingly on the 2020 presidential race. As the campaign for The White House heats up, there are already things you can glean from this election season that will help you and your charity.

Fox News recently interviewed pollster Frank Luntz about how the candidates are communicating their messages. Regardless of how you feel about the network or the researcher, you can pick-up great communication insights from them.

Specifically, Luntz shared what he believes to be the three elements of powerful, persuasive communications:

1. Credible. It’s not enough for a message to be true. It must also be believable. When sharing stories about those your charity helps, you might choose to highlight a less dramatic, but more believable example, rather than one that is extreme but that might invite suspicion. Or, if you do share a story that stretches belief, you might want to cite a third-party source (i.e., a published news report). In a mailing or face-to-face visit, for example, you could even provide a newspaper clipping that supports the story you share. When citing statistics, providing the source can lend credibility.

In one of her presidential campaign ads, Sen. Elizabeth Warren highlights her unexpected victory over incumbent Sen. Scott Brown in 2012 to demonstrate her political skill and her ability to surprise the pundits. In one of his campaign ads, former Vice President Joe Biden cited a number of polls to support his claim that he is the best positioned Democrat to unseat President Donald Trump. In other words, both candidates sought to establish credibility by documenting their claims.

If recipients of your message don’t believe it, they’ll dismiss it. You’ll lose the opportunity to cultivate, engage, or generate support. While your message needs to standout and capture attention, it has to be believable.

2. Memorable. To be effective, messaging must be memorable. By definition, successful education or cultivation requires a lasting impact. If someone receives your direct-mail appeal and sets it aside to deal with later, they’ll only respond if they remember it and remember what moved them. If someone sees an advertisement for your cause, they won’t talk about it with friends unless they remember it.

In one of Trump’s campaign ads, the narrator says, “Mister Nice Guy won’t cut it. It takes a tough guy to change Washington.” Luntz asserts that the “Mister Nice Guy” line combined with the images of Trump looking tough result in a memorable ad. The rhetoric is unusual for a political ad while being in alignment with the candidate’s image. By contrast, the Biden ad that talks about his ability to beat Trump uses footage that, for the most part, doesn’t support the narration and, instead, features bland, standard political glad-handing images. By contrast with the Trump ad, the Biden commercial is less memorable.

The most effective messages are the ones that are memorable. Words and images must support one another to maximize effectiveness.

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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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October 8, 2019

It’s All Up to You Now

It’s that time of year once again. It’s the season when most charities raise the most amount of money, perhaps because that’s when most fundraising activity happens. However, how tough will it be to raise money as the end of 2019 approaches?

You might be concerned about a recession on the horizon. You should be. We’re experiencing a record for sustained economic growth that quite simply can’t go on forever. A recession is bound to hit eventually even without factoring in trade wars, political turmoil, disruptions to the global oil supply, and the threat of foreign wars.

Among ultra-wealthy Americans, those with an average worth of $1.2 billion, 55 percent believe the US will enter a recession within the next year, according to the UBS Global Family Office Report. About 45 percent of respondents are sufficiently concerned that they are boosting their cash reserves, and 45 percent are realigning their investment strategies to mitigate risk.

While recession fears loom, a major economic downturn has yet to take shape. In other words, the economic climate is currently good from a fundraiser’s perspective. Could it be better? Sure. Always. But, it’s plenty good enough for you to anticipate a successful year-end fundraising effort. Consider some of the following six economic factors (as of Oct 4, 2019):

Gross Domestic Product. GDP is growing at a rate of 2.0 percent. Overall philanthropy historically correlates closely with GDP. So, if GDP goes up, we can anticipate that philanthropic giving will also increase.

Unemployment. The national unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, the lowest since 1969. If more people are working, more people will likely have funds with which they can donate.

Wages. Wages have increased 2.9 percent over 2018. Individual giving closely correlates to personal income. So, if personal income is rising, we can anticipate a rise in individual philanthropy.

Stock Market. The stock market, while volatile, has been performing well. This year, the Dow is up 13.92 percent, the NASDAQ is up 20.30 percent, and the S&P is up 17.76 percent. This is good for fundraising for two important reasons worth mentioning here. First, stock growth means that foundations and donor-advised funds will have more money with which to donate. Second, many individuals own stocks that have appreciated in value. When donating appreciated stocks, individual donors can avoid capital gains tax. In other words, even if someone can’t claim a charitable gift deduction under the current tax code, they can still derive a tax benefit by contributing appreciated securities.

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August 1, 2019

How Fundraisers Can Avoid 5 Big Mistakes Made by Capital One

Don’t worry. This post really is not about data security. It’s about much more. And I’ve written it for you, a fundraising professional.

But first, here’s some background:

Capital One, the tenth largest banking institution in the USA, announced it has experienced a major data breach involving the personal information of credit applicants and customers. In its official statement, the bank disclosed, “Based on our analysis to date, this event affected approximately 100 million individuals in the United States and approximately 6 million in Canada….This information included personal information Capital One routinely collects at the time it receives credit card applications, including names, addresses, zip codes/postal codes, phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and self-reported income.” In addition, about 140,000 Social Security numbers were compromised. One million of Capital One’s Canadian customers had their Social Insurance Numbers compromised.

The Capital One story presents the nonprofit sector with an opportunity to learn from someone else’s problem. Every charity should learn from the five mistakes made by the bank:

1. Inadequate Data Protection

While Capital One works with Amazon Web Services, AWS says it was not compromised. The hacker exploited Capital One’s own system. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has a former AWS employee, Paige A. Thompson, in custody. The investigation is likely continuing. What we know for certain at this point is that Capital One’s data protection systems were not up to the task.

As a fundraising professional, I don’t have any idea about what sophisticated data protection tools exist. I suspect you don’t either. However, you have an obligation to make sure that your organization seeks out the expertise to safeguard the organization’s data. Furthermore, you need to make sure your organization has a policy about who has access to data and under what circumstances. I know you won’t have the security systems of a bank, but you do have an obligation to have reasonably robust security protocols in place.

2. Lack of Timely Reporting

The personal data of Capital One credit applicants and customers was compromised from March 22-23, 2019. The company didn’t learn of the breach until July 19. The bank did not reveal this information to the public until July 29. We do not know if the FBI requested that the bank withhold news of the event pending an arrest. If so, the reporting delay is understandable. Nevertheless, the delay from the date of the incident to the date of disclosure was significant, even if it wasn’t the result of an actual mistake.

Fine wine improves with age. Problems do not. Whenever bad news is likely to become public or should be made public, it’s important to do so as soon as possible. This is true for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Getting the information out quickly and fully will help the organization preserve or, perhaps, even enhance its credibility.

3. Not Getting Out in Front of the Story

Once Capital One released the news, it did so haphazardly, despite having had 10 days to plan the disclosure roll-out. It issued a press release at 7:11 PM ET on July 29. By 7:41 PM ET, The Wall Street Journal website carried the news story. Other media outlets ran the story around the same the time. However, Capital One did not tweet the news until 8:43 PM ET. Therefore, when I first checked the Capital One Twitter feed, there was no mention of the story.

Even once the company addressed the general public, rather than just the news media, it did so with a bland tweet that simply read, “If you want to learn more about the Capital One cyber incident, please visit” along with a link to its press release and Frequently Asked Questions page.

The company did not issue an eye-catching alert. The company did not disclose the nature of the “incident.” The innocuous language and low-key look was also used at the top of the Capital One homepage. Assuming they actually spotted the mention, readers had to click through to the press release to find out what happened and, then, to the Frequently Asked Question page for additional information.

If something goes wrong at your organization, make sure you deliver your message on all the communication platforms your organization uses. Make it easy for folks to spot the information. Furthermore, make it easy for them to get more information by giving them a number to call or an email address, perhaps setting up both as hotlines for the occasion.

Capital One could have provided the public with the news without forcing folks to click through to the press release and then click over to the FAQ page. The bank could have also tweeted out tips for how its customers can protect themselves. Instead, the company is making people work a bit for the information. Don’t make the same mistake. Get people the information they need when they need it, and make it easy for them.

When something goes wrong involving your organization, whether or not it is to blame, you need to get out in front of the story in as coordinated a way as possible. At the point you alert the media, be prepared to take your message directly to the general public at the same time.

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June 26, 2019

It’s Not Just WHAT Donors Think, It’s HOW They Think that Matters

When certain fundraising experts have something to say, we all would be wise to pay close attention. Bernard Ross, Director of =mc consulting (The Management Centre based in the UK), is one of those insightful voices.

I’ve been among the legion of fans Bernard has attracted through his consulting work, conference lectures, articles, and books. Bernard’s latest volume, Change for Good written with Omar Mahmoud, demonstrates that fundraising is more than an art; it is also a science.

The publisher’s book description reads:

This breakthrough book is about how we as human beings make decisions — and how anyone involved in the field of social change can help individuals or groups to make positive choices using decision science. It draws on the latest thinking in behavioural economics, neuroscience and evolutional psychology to provide a powerful practical toolkit for fundraisers, campaigners, advocacy specialists, policy makers, health professionals, educationalists and social activists.”

Change for Good introduces readers to 10 key persuasion principles that will help fundraising professionals introduce decision science into their work as they strive to raise more money. For a decade or more, the for-profit sector has used decision science to influence people to make particular choices, whether to purchase something, accept certain behaviors, or take specific action. Now, this book, by Ross and Mahmoud, makes this profound knowledge accessible to fundraisers.

Not only will your nonprofit organization benefit when you read Change for Good, so will Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. That’s because the authors are donating the profits from book sales to the international charity.

Bernard’s generosity does not end there. He has kindly provided us with a special article that demonstrates the importance of understanding both WHAT and HOW people think. In his guest post below, Bernard demonstrates the impact that decision science can have with real-life examples. In addition, you’ll be able to download a free summary sheet that provides valuable highlights from Change for Good.

I thank Bernard for his willingness to provide the following material:

 

Fundraisers are often concerned about changing hearts and minds. And they’re often, especially when prompted by colleagues in advocacy or communications, interested in increasing supporters’ conscious engagement with the cause. But, is this the best or only way to improve pro-social behavior — whether it’s increasing donations, using less plastic, or avoiding bias?

Let’s begin with the science. Fundamental to decision-making is the premise that much of our data processing and decision-making is subconscious and fast. Deciding is so fast, even changing our minds can be difficult. According to some recent research at Johns Hopkins University if we change our minds within roughly 100 milliseconds of making a decision, we can successfully revise our plans. If we wait more than 200 milliseconds, however, we may be unable to make the desired change. That’s not very long to persuade a donor to not look away from our TV ad or crumple our direct-mail pack.

But, it’s not just our visual process that’s important. For example, other senses are also important, especially smell. In a test between two Nike stores, one with a very faint “consciously undetectable” scent and one without, customers were 80 percent more likely to purchase in the scented store.

In another experiment at a petrol (gas) station with a mini-mart attached to it, pumping the smell of coffee into the store saw purchases of the drink grow 300 percent.

If you take the time to wander into the M&M World candy store in Leicester Square London, you might now notice the smell of chocolate. When it first opened in 2011, it did not have the smell and sales were disappointing. They hired a company called ScentAir who specialize in adding signature scents to stores. The managing director of the company, Christopher Pratt, said in an article describing the effect, “It looked like the place should smell of chocolate, it didn’t. It does now.” And sales have moved in response.

There was a similar positive response when the National Trust, a UK heritage charity, included a “scratch and sniff” element in an appeal to save a flower meadow.

When you visit a charity website, the conscious brain analyses the message content. (What is the cause I am being asked to support? What do they want me to do — donate, sign a petition, or join up?) At the same time, the subconscious brain continuously responds to how you react to the subtle background and peripheral cues. (How do I feel about the colours, images, celebrities involved, etc.?)

______________________________________________________________

“I always thought the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. And then one day it occurred to me, ‘Wait a minute, who’s telling me that?'”

Emo Philips

______________________________________________________________

It’s not all about you either. Your subconscious brain has a mind of its own. Some signals also come from inside us, and we look unconsciously for opportunities to confirm our inner state. When we are in a good mood, we are more likely to tolerate our colleagues and partners and are more likely to donate to charities. These activities become a way to validate or confirm our inner feelings. Let’s look at an example of how this affects our behaviour.

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June 20, 2019

I Told You So: Charitable Giving is Up!

Most charity pundits, mainstream media, and press serving the nonprofit sector got it wrong. Sadly, none of them is admitting their mistake, and many are continuing to advance a false narrative. However, I always told you the truth, and I’ll continue to do so.

I’ve often encouraged you not to overuse statistics in your appeals. But, we can all certainly benefit from reading lots of illuminating statistics.

In 2017 and 2018, most pundits and the media were convinced that the Tax Cut and Jobs Act would result in up to a $21 billion decrease in philanthropic giving. In January 2018, I joined a tiny group of professionals who predicted the decrease in giving would be far less than that and giving might actually increase. This was not a guess on our part, but a well-educated expectation based on research, experience, and observation.

Now, with the release of Giving USA 2019, we know who was correct.

Overall, philanthropic giving in constant dollars INCREASED by $2.97 billion (0.7 percent) between 2017 and 2018, and now stands at $427.71 billion, the highest level of all time. Relative to Gross Domestic Product, giving remained at 2.1 percent, which is greater than the 40-year average of 2.0 percent.

Despite the generally good news, the philanthropy scene is not entirely positive. When adjusting for inflation, giving in 2018 did decline by 1.7 percent, though that was much less than the doom and gloom estimates. Furthermore, giving by individuals as a share of overall philanthropy accounted for 68 percent; this is the first time since at least 1954 that it has fallen below 70 percent. In 2018, individual giving fell by 1.1 percent in constant dollars.

While the new tax code likely had an effect on charitable giving, we need to be careful not to overstate its impact. A number of factors have influenced giving:

New Tax Code. All or part of the decline in individual giving in 2018 could be due to donors taking action in advance of the tax law change. We saw this in 1986 when there was a spike in charitable giving in advance of the Reagan tax cuts in 1987.

In 2017, many donors likely front-loaded their philanthropic giving since they would no longer be able to deduct gifts beginning in 2018. In addition, many donors chose to bundle their philanthropy by contributing to Donor-Advised Funds at record levels in 2017. Together, these two factors might explain the 1.1 percent decrease in individual giving in 2018 compared to a 5.7 percent increase in 2017. If not for the new tax rules going into effect in 2018, some of those 2017 donations might have been made in 2018 instead.

The tax code might also affect giving in other ways that we just don’t see clearly at this point. Just as we had to wait until 1988 to see giving normalize following the Reagan tax cuts, we may need to wait another year or two to understand the full effect of the current tax code.

Decline in the Number of Donors. Since 2001, the percentage of US households contributing to charity has fallen steadily from a high of 67.63 percent to 55.51 percent in 2014, according to data from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Panel Study. In other words, the new tax code is not responsible for a sudden decline in the number of donors. This trend has been going on for years.

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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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April 29, 2019

Update: Get a Free Webinar, Magazine Article, Poll Results

I want to update you about three posts I recently published. In addition, for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I wish to draw your attention to one of my older posts that will help you keep the children you love safe.

Free Webinar:

Did you miss it? Recently, I presented a webinar for SEI Investments Management Corporation: “Investing in Your Future: Practical Strategies for Growing Your Planned Giving Program.” If you missed the program or wish you could share it with colleagues, I have some good news for you. The webinar is now available for free download by clicking here.

In just 30 minutes, you’ll learn:

  • 8 reasons you should be a planned giving “opportunist”
  • Why you should invest more in planned giving instead of current giving
  • 5 Tips to boost your planned giving results immediately

In addition to the webinar itself, you’ll also be able to download additional resource materials including a list of 20 factoids about planned giving, a planned giving potential calculator, an executive summary of recent research findings from Dr. Russell James’ report “Cash is Not King in Fundraising,” and a digital copy of Dr. James’ book Visual Planned Giving: An Introduction to the Law & Taxation of Charitable Gift Planning.

Advancing Philanthropy Article:

Have you read my recent article published in Advancing Philanthropy, the Association of Fundraising Professionals magazine? “To Sir/Madam, With Love” shares stories from a number of fundraisers about their favorite teachers. Great teachers:

  • help us develop broad skills such as critical thinking,
  • help us develop specific skills such as how to write an effective appeal letter,
  • inspire us,
  • encourage us,
  • move us to think beyond ourselves and better understand others,
  • open our minds to lifelong learning,
  • motivate us to giveback by sharing our own knowledge.

After downloading the free article by clicking here, check-out my recent post that will give you tips that will help you find excellent teachers who can help you enhance your skills and inspire you: “Are You Really Just a Fundraising Amateur?”

Poll Results — Presidential Candidate Philanthropy:

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