Posts tagged ‘membership’

January 3, 2014

Do You Have an Attitude Problem?

Has anyone ever accused you of having an attitude problem?

I hope so.

If you don’t have an attitude problem, I encourage you to develop one. For your sake. For the sake of your organization. For the sake of the nonprofit sector. You can even make it your 2014 New Year Resolution.

I’m not suggesting you cultivate a bad attitude. Instead, I’m encouraging you to shake up the status quo regardless of what others might think. I want you to challenge conventional wisdom in an intelligent way.

Remember, if some of our ancestors had not had an attitude problem, we’d still be living in caves.

Let me share two stories that will illustrate what I mean.

I quite fondly remember the very first time someone told me I had an attitude problem. It was Mrs. Imperiali, my first-grade teacher. Mrs. Imperiali, her real name, asked the class, “What’s the Eager Studentsmartest animal in the world?” I immediately raised my hand. When Mrs. Imperiali called on me, I confidently answered, “Dolphins.”

My response puzzled my teacher. She asked, “Why dolphins?” I told her, “Because they don’t kill each other for no reason.”

Mrs. Imperiali snapped, “Mister, you have an attitude problem!”

I need to point out here that, when I was in the first grade, it was during the height of the Vietnam War. I guess Mrs. Imperiali didn’t appreciate what she believed was the anti-war sentiment of my response. However, since I believed in my answer, I did not take my teacher’s criticism as a negative. As a result, I’ve worn the attitude-problem label with pride, not shame, my entire life.

In case you’re wondering, the answer Mrs. Imperiali was going for was “humans.” As it turned out, she had designed her lesson plan to demonstrate that humans are part of the animal kingdom. Oh well.

A couple decades later, I met Carol Buchanan Daws at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Like me, Carol had an attitude problem.

As the Assistant to the Museum Director, Carol was responsible for the back-office processing of museum memberships. Despite being the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the Western Hemisphere, the Academy only had a token membership program and no Director of Membership.

Carol saw an opportunity to grow the membership program. She repeatedly told her boss about the potential of the membership program. Unfortunately, the Museum Director was content with the status quo. So, Carol did the only natural thing she could do: She kept nudging him about it.

Finally, when the Museum Director was sufficiently annoyed or, perhaps, convinced, he appointed Carol Director of Membership.

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March 30, 2012

6 Anti-Marketing Lessons

“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.” — Catherine Aird

This was going to be a post about a legendary musician appearing at a stellar museum. I was planning on writing about how the museum was leveraging the appearance to generate positive publicity and to bring in a new audience.

Rock Legend Max Weinberg

I’m a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. So, when I found out that Max Weinberg, the band’s longtime drummer and former music director of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, would be speaking at the National Museum of American Jewish History, my wife and I jumped at the opportunity and bought tickets.

Unfortunately, the experience itself took me in a different direction as I observed several anti-marketing lessons. The benefit for you is that you can learn from the mistakes of another nonprofit organization without having to make the same mistakes for yourself. So, in that spirit, let me share my experience.

No Problem Solving. When my wife called the museum’s reservation number to purchase our tickets, she was asked if she was a member. My wife then told the agent the reason why we’re not members. Before the new museum building recently opened, we bought a membership at another nonprofit’s fundraising auction. When she contacted the museum, she was told that the museum was closed pending the transition to the new building. Since there was nothing to really “join,” she was told that she could wait to activate our membership until the new building opened. However, when she re-contacted the museum to activate the membership as instructed, she was told that the membership was for the old building and, therefore, they would not activate the membership we had purchased! When my wife related this tale to the reservation agent, the person could not have cared less.

Instead of ignoring the problem, the reservation agent could have taken some initiative. For example, at a minimum, she could have expressed regret for our difficulty. Or, she could have gone a step further by offering to pass the information along to the membership office.

By its actions, or in-action, the museum clearly sent the message that it does not care about us. So, why should we care about the museum? If you want to read about the importance of caring, check-out my post: “The Most Important Part of Any Grateful Whatever Campaign is….”

Do Not Take Names. The telephone ticket agent at the museum was not interested in our name or contact information. The agent only wanted our credit card number. She then assigned us a check-in number. In other words, the museum was going to host hundreds of people, many first-time visitors to museum, and had no plans to capture the contact information for this new audience. As a result, we knew there would be no follow-up communication to see if we enjoyed the program, nor would there be any follow-up to invite us to future events or to purchase a membership.

Clearly, the museum should have captured our mailing address, email address, and phone number. In addition, at the event itself, staff could have even asked audience members to “refer” a friend who might be interested in learning about future events. Audience members who referred someone could then have been entered into a drawing for tickets to another event, free membership, or coupon for the gift shop. This is something that performing arts groups have been doing for years to successfully build their marketing lists.

No Add-on Promotion. When we checked-in, we were not asked if we were museum members. We should have been. If we were members, we should have received a heart-felt word of appreciation. If we were not, we should have been handed a membership brochure for our consideration as well as a list of upcoming events. Now, there might have been membership brochures at the counter, but I didn’t notice. And, I should not have had to notice. The staff should have seized the opportunity to be proactive as a service to those attending.

When you have a distribution channel, you have an opportunity to “sell” more services and/or products. The museum had over 300 people coming through its doors that evening. By further marketing to that large group, the museum might have sold some memberships or tickets to future events. By being, at best, passive, they forfeited that opportunity.

By contrast, I once visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to see a special exhibit. It’s one of the world’s truly great museums. The line for speical exhibit tickets was long, and we were unlikely to get in that day. However, a membership staff person came along the line to quietly offer to sell folks a museum membership. By joining, we’d be guaranteed of getting to see the exhibit that day which was great since we were leaving the UK the next. And, we wouldn’t have to wait in line! My wife and I were very happy to join. When you have folks coming through your doors, look for other opportunities for engagement.

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October 28, 2011

5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls

With this blog post, I’m launching a new, regular feature at Michael Rosen Says. Periodically, I’ll invite an outstanding, published book author to write a guest post. If you’re an author who would like to be considered, please contact me directly.

For the first author-guest-post, I invited Stephen F. Schatz, CFRE, author of Effective Telephone Fundraising: The Ultimate Guide to Raising More Money, the definitive book about how to make a successful appeal using the phone. Steve and I worked together as telephone fundraising pioneers. In his book, for which I wrote the Foreword, he reveals most of our proven techniques. Step-by-step, his book shows the right way, the most effective way to do telephone fundraising. As the back-cover says, “Despite the advent of sophisticated fundraising methods via the Internet, social media, and other online platforms, the bottom-line truth is: good old-fashioned telephone fundraising still works, bringing in over one billion dollars annually from generous Americans. It’s a wellspring of untapped funds your nonprofit could be reaping. Savvy, straightforward, and humorous, Effective Telephone Fundraising: The Ultimate Guide to Raising More Money shows you how to secure more donors, raise more money, and build donor loyalty.”

For this post, Steve looks at things from a different perspective and shares what he believes are the things fundraisers should never do in their phone fundraising programs:


When my wife heard that I was writing an article about the DON’Ts of telephone fundraising for Michael’s blog, Michael Rosen Says, her helpful suggestion for #1 was “Don’t pick up the phone — it might be a telemarketer!”

I had to explain the slant was to help telephone fundraisers, not to hurt them. In my recent book, Effective Telephone Fundraising, I suggest plenty of “DOs” — things you can do to make effective telephone fundraising calls. But here for your reading pleasure are some of the DON’Ts!


In the cyber fundraising world, they call this “Opt In” or “Opt Out.” In telephone fundraising, it’s simply asking the prospect to speak with you. A range of nuance is available to the fundraiser from the interrogative “Is now a good time?” to the declarative “I’d like to speak with you a few moments about XYZ Charity, if that’s okay…” giving the prospect the opportunity to opt out. It’s simple courtesy.

The telephone is an interruptive medium. Your call is either coming into the prospect’s home, office, even the automobile. You are interrupting their time, mind and focus. Barging through by telephone is like a door–to-door brush salesman ringing your bell, and the moment you open the door, sticking his foot in the crack and proceeding to make a pitch — perhaps even waving his latest dandy toilet brush in your face — saying, “It’ll make your bowl the tidiest and cleanest in town!” Rude!

What if the prospect chooses “opt out”? You can try to arrange a more convenient time he or she will “opt in.” If you can’t? Chances are you wouldn’t receive a gift anyway, even by sticking your foot in the door!


This is one of the most difficult things for new fundraisers to overcome — a fear to steel one’s self to make a proposal with a dollar tag attached. The maxim “ask and you shall receive” is indeed apt.

How successful would a grants writer be in writing a proposal to a foundation that ended, “Well, anything your foundation can spare this year, we’ll appreciate!” Or, thinking in another, completely different vein, a young man asking a girl out for a date, shyly looking down as he shuffles his feet, “Uh, Shirley, maybe you’d like to go out with me sometime?” — as opposed to the more direct, “Shirley, there’s a great new pizza shop on Market Street with the best pizza in town. How would you like to come with me next Tuesday?”

Allow the prospect to focus on a number, a specific dollar proposal. If the prospect rejects that, it opens the door to a counterproposal, a lower amount. G = f(A) is an indelible formula for telephone fundraising, and for philanthropy in general: the number of gifts you receive is a direct function of the number of asks you make.

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August 12, 2011

3 Ways for Nonprofits to Crash & Burn in Current Economy

This week, I was all set to write my blog post. But then, an article at The Chronicle of Philanthropy website caught my attention: “How a Double-Dip Recession Could Affect Giving” by Lisa Chiu. It was a fine article, but it was nevertheless the last straw. I’ve seen way too many articles, blog posts, and Tweets exploring the “What’s going to happen?” question. I have to respond. And, I have to share some meaningful suggestions.

There’s really no mystery. It’s quite simple. I’ll tell you what will happen if there’s a double-dip recession or, for that matter, if the economy improves. Overall philanthropy will follow the growth trend of the Gross Domestic Product. Philanthropy has long correlated to GDP. It averages about two percent of GDP. So, if GDP goes down, giving will go down. If GDP grows modestly, philanthropy will grow modestly. If a miracle happens sometime soon and GDP growth leaps upward, so will giving. We don’t need more studies. We don’t need to guess. We already know what will happen.

Photo by inajeep via Flickr

While philanthropic performance is easily predicted, what is more difficult to determine is how individual nonprofit organizations will do in a bad economy. Since we are nearly powerless to alter the course of the economy, we need to focus our efforts on controlling the thing we can, well, control rather than behaving like a deer caught in the headlights. While I cannot provide a plan that will guarantee success, allow me to share three things that can guarantee that your nonprofit organization will crash and burn during a poor economy:

Stop Asking. It may seem obvious that you should never stop asking, but some nonprofit organizations really do think that the current economic conditions are not good for going out and soliciting money. So, they have scaled back their fundraising efforts. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (in Washington state), left their Director of Development position open for a year. They ended up on the verge of bankruptcy. If you ask for contributions, you may not get them. But, if you don’t ask, you certainly won’t get them. Ok, maybe you’ll get a few, but you won’t raise nearly as much money as if you get out and ask.

Do Not Have a Compelling Case for Support. If you’re going to ask people for money, particularly folks who might be struggling themselves, you better have a superb case for support. Just showing up and saying, “Hi, I’m here. Give me money,” might work in good times, though it’s still not a particularly effective idea. But, in these tough economic times, you’ll need to do better. So, get back to basics. Examine your case for support and make it stronger. If you don’t have one, create one. Tell prospective donors how you have wisely used previous contributions and what you intend to do with new dollars. Identify a problem and show prospective donors how they are part of the solution.

Ignore Current Supporters. To save money, some organizations are cutting their stewardship budgets. This is a great way to alienate and lose supporters at a time when you can least afford to do so. During the recession of the 1980s, I had a museum client with a senior executive who wanted to eliminate the member magazine to cut costs. Before doing that, the wise membership director and I put together a member survey to determine whether the membership valued the magazine or not and what, if anything, they valued in particular. We found that the magazine was an important member benefit, even among those who couldn’t remember any of the articles from the most recent issue. The most valued feature of the magazine was the listing of upcoming events. As a result of the survey, the membership department redesigned the magazine with a special pull-out calendar rather than a simple event listing. A follow-up survey found that members valued the publication even more. The membership retention rate even went up! And, yes, the great powers allowed the magazine to continue. In a bad economy, it is time to take especially good care of supporters. It is not the time to alienate them.

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July 29, 2011

What Do You Want to Read?

It’s been just over six months since I started my blog, Michael Rosen Says…. I thought this might be a good point to share some interesting information with you about what I’ve seen so far. And, more importantly, I thought it would be a good time to ask, “What do you say?” Yes, every week I ask for your opinion about my latest blog post. I thank all of you who have shared your thoughts. However, now I want your feedback, not about a specific post, but about my blog site in general.  Your input now will help ensure that I can spend the rest of the year providing you with the material that will be most meaningful to you.

Over the past six months, readership has steadily grown. I’ve received terrific comments to my various posts, here on the blog itself and on Twitter, email, and various LinkedIn groups. Folks have been almost universally thoughtful, insightful, and courteous. In just over six months, there has only been one comment that I have refused to publish due to its uncivil tone.

Based on the number of readers for each post, my five most popular posts have been:

I’m gratified that all of the top five most popular posts are about being donor centered. As the author of Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, recently added to CFRE International’s official Resource Reading List, being donor centric is near and dear to my heart. Thank you for appreciating this theme as well.

If you’ve enjoyed reading my posts, I encourage you to subscribe (Email Subscription) on the right. This way you’ll be one of the first to find out when a new post has been added. And, while I normally publish and promote one blog post per week, I periodically will publish a bonus post for subscribers that will not be widely promoted.

I hope you’ll take just a few moments to share your thoughts with me through the 10-question Reader Survey by clicking on the button below to access the Surveydaddy pop-up. I also invite you to leave me a comment below or, if you’d prefer, feel free to email or call me.

Take the Reader Survey!

Thank you for your time and your interest.

That’s what Michael Rosen Says… What do you say?

UPDATE: August 1, 2011, New in the Top Five

Since I wrote the above post on Thursday night, there’s been a change in the ranking of my top five most read blog posts. 9 Fundraising Tips You Can Learn from a Savvy 7-year-old has now displaced What Can Fundraising Professionals Learn from L.L. Bean? in the number five spot. While I won’t continually update this list, I thought I would provide this revision since it’s just days after the original list was posted.

April 1, 2011

Should Your Legacy Society be Inclusive or Exclusive?

During the recent Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference, a great event, I was approached by someone serving on an AFP Foundation committee. This person raised a very interesting question that I thought I’d share with you. The question deals with a fairly common planned-giving recognition issue frequently debated by nonprofit boards: Should a legacy society be inclusive or exclusive?

Since 1990, the AFP Foundation has recognized planned gift donors/pledgers as members of its Omega Circle. To become an Omega Circle member, one simply has to make a planned gift or planned-gift commitment of at least $5,000. Now, an AFP Foundation committee is reviewing the minimum threshold, which has not been increased in over two decades. Because I’m the author of Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, I was approached by a member of the committee and asked how I felt about the idea of increasing the minimum threshold from the current $5,000 to $10,000.

I responded to the inquiry by pointing out that legacy recognition societies should be inclusive rather than exclusive. So, I think raising the threshold is a bad idea. Furthermore, I said that I think the committee is asking the wrong question. Instead of asking whether the Omega Circle minimum gift level should be raised, the committee should consider whether or not there should even be a minimum. I do not think there should be one. Again, legacy societies should be inclusive, not exclusive.

When I spoke with Curtis C. Deane, CFRE, CAE, President of the AFP Foundation, he defended the minimum threshold. He pointed out that there are hard stewardship costs in the Foundation’s gift planning program. One of the challenges in running a planned giving program for a professional association is that donors tend to be fairly young and active. This means that the Foundation will be waiting a long time for a gift to be actually realized. To underscore the point, Deane said that stewardship costs have exceeded realized planned-gift income over the six years he has been at the helm of the Foundation. By maintaining a minimum gift threshold, the Foundation hopes to ensure that a gift will retain some meaningful value when finally realized and that the costs associated with long-term stewardship will be more than offset.

While I understand Deane’s position, his arguments have not moved me. While eliminating the minimum gift requirement may result in some very small gifts, I doubt that it will result in a burdensome number of small gifts. Besides, with proper stewardship, some of those small donors will increase the value of their commitments over time.

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February 23, 2011

What Can Fundraising Professionals Learn from L.L. Bean?

I recently had a personal experience that illustrates what I mean when I speak of “donor-centered” fundraising. Sadly, my recent experience is a cautionary tale rather than a happy story.

My experience brought to mind the L.L. Bean Company philosophy as described by Jay Conrad Levinson in his book Guerilla Marketing Excellence (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993). Unfortunately, my recent encounter demonstrated the exact opposite point of view. At L.L. Bean, the successful retailer, the customer is the center of the universe. One way the company has maintained its customer-first culture is that it has developed a list of statements about customers that are shared with each employee as a reminder. In my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing (John Wiley and Sons, 2011), I adapted the L.L. Bean list for the nonprofit world because it is a good idea to remind ourselves and our colleagues, from time to time, of the importance of the donor:

  • The donor is the most important person ever in this office, in person, by mail, or on the telephone.
  • The donor is not dependent on us; we are dependent on the donor.
  • A donor is not an interruption of our work; she is the purpose of it.
  • We are not doing a favor by serving her; she is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.
  • A donor is not someone to argue or match wits with. Nobody ever won an argument with a donor.
  • A donor is a person who brings us his wants. It is our job to handle them in a way that is beneficial to him and our organization.

Unfortunately, my recent experience involves an organization that is not donor-centered. A couple of weeks ago, I returned to my alma mater to be interviewed by National Public Radio. NPR did the interview remotely while I was in a studio at my old college radio station. It was fun to be interviewed by NPR even though I knew there was a superb chance I’d end up on whatever the digital version of the editing room floor is which, by the way, is exactly what happened. But, I was also excited to be back on my old stomping grounds. While just a 15 minute cab ride away from my home and office, I don’t get to that part of the city very often. And, I was particularly happy to be returning to the radio station, now in a far more sophisticated facility than when I worked for it in my student days.

My interview went quickly and well. So, with the extra time I had, I thought I would try to meet someone on the development staff, get a quick tour of the station, and become a “member” as a gesture of appreciation for them hosting me. Upon my request, the receptionist found a membership staff person to come out and speak with me. So far, so good.

I explained that I was an alumnus. I had been at the station to be interviewed by NPR. I found it exciting to be back since I had once worked long hours at the station’s old location while a student. And, I was interested in a quick tour. The membership person told me, with an officious tone, that I could not have a tour. When I expressed puzzlement over this, she further coldly explained that tours were available at set times and that I was welcome to come back at any of the designated tour dates and times. I shared that I don’t get to this particular neighborhood very often and, since I’m already present, would like just a quick peek around. She then began to get belligerent. She stated, “We can’t have people just showing up wanting tours!” I re-explained that I was not just anyone, that I was an alumnus and someone who had worked at the station. She said I’d still have to come back. I pointed out, with some annoyance, that this is not a very donor-centered approach. That simply confused her. So, I told her that doing things on my schedule is donor-centered while doing things on her schedule is organization-centered. At that point, she really looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

I waved-off the membership person. I thanked her for her time. And, I said good-bye. As I was putting on my coat, the station manager came out to greet me. The membership person had very wisely and very quickly briefed him. While I’d like to believe she did this for my benefit, I suspect it was really more about protecting herself from what she rightly expected would be a future complaint letter from me.

The station manager graciously apologized. He said staff was very busy as they were in the middle of the pledge drive and, therefore, could not be flexible regarding the tour policy. It was a case of bad timing. And, he, too, suggested I come back for a scheduled tour. We parted ways with handshakes and smiles. A couple of weeks have now passed, and I have yet to receive a “Gee, it was nice meeting you” email or letter. Nor, have I received a personal note inviting me back for a tour. In short, I have heard nothing more.

While I appreciate the station manager’s apology and understand his reasoning, he could have handled the situation much better.  Here are just some ideas for how he could have done things in a more donor-centered way:

  1. He could have explained to me that staff was busy with the pledge drive, but he’d have someone give me a quick walk around rather than a full tour. Surely someone could have been spared for five minutes of spontaneous donor cultivation.
  2. He could have invited me into the studio to observe the pledge drive.
  3. He could have invited me to become a member and then offer to put me on the air to do a short testimonial as a returning alumnus. That would have wowed me and a testimonial is a great way to inspire others to give as well.
  4. He could have followed up with an email or letter inviting me back or at least saying it was nice to meet me.

If he had done any of those four donor-centered things, I would have given the station money and become a member. And, I’d be on my way to being cultivated to give another, larger gift. Instead, that station manager and membership person have alienated me. I have not given and likely will not give for two reasons: First, I don’t like the way I was personally treated. Second, and far more importantly, if this is the way in which they treat prospective donors, they are alienating others and leaving plenty of other donations on the table. They have demonstrated that they are not a donor-centered organization.

If the radio station adopts a donor-centered development culture and if staff posts the modified L.L. Bean list somewhere on the wall of the development and membership office, I might be persuaded to make a gift to the radio station. Otherwise, I’ll continue giving where I know that organizations are most effectively raising and spending money.

Is your organization donor-centered? I hope so.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?


I’m happy to report that I received a gracious and thoughtful email from the radio station manager on March 2. He invited me to the station for a tour and a chance to talk. We’re in the process of coordinating calendars. I really do have fond memories of the station, and my wife and I are listeners. So, I’m looking forward to another visit and the chance to get the relationship back on track.

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