Posts tagged ‘nonprofit’

January 15, 2019

Have You Done Something Stupid to Alienate Donors?

As 2018 drew to a close, my wife and I received a few good emails from nonprofit organizations. I even highlighted one of those in a recent blog post. Unfortunately, we received far more fundraising appeals that I can only describe as stupid.

The garbage email appeals simply mentioned that December 31 was fast approaching and, therefore, I should donate to that particular charity while there was still a chance to do so in 2018. Doing multiple count-down to year-end emails simply magnified the annoyance.

So, what’s the problem with that? Let me make it simple and clear:

The calendar is not a case for support!

Jack Silverstein, Vice President of Financial Development at the National Capital Region YMCA-YWCA (Ottawa, Canada), shares my frustration over this. He recently posted his views in “People Know When the End of the Year Is!!!” I encourage you to read it though it does contain a word some may find offensive.

Because I agree with Silverstein, I want to provide some highlights for you.

Your prospects and donors know when the year ends. They don’t need you to remind them. They’re not idiots.

With most charities engaged in year-end fundraising, people want to know why they should give to your nonprofit organization and why they should do so at the end of the year. The mere fact that it is year-end is not a reason. People can donate to any charity at year-end or, for that matter, at any time of year. You need to inspire them to give to your organization. In other words, you need to make a case for support.

A related mistake that charities frequently made was to highlight the tax-deductibility of donations. In the USA, some have estimated that as few as 10 percent of taxpayers will itemize. It’s only that small population that might be able to take advantage of the tax-deductibility of a contribution. However, even among that population, tax benefit is a low ranking reason why people donate. Furthermore, it’s no reason whatsoever why they should donate to your organization; after all, people can get the same tax benefit by donating to any qualified charity.

When charities send such terrible appeals, they are not being donor centered. Instead, Silverstein asserts:

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January 11, 2019

Was the Trump Foundation the Only Funder on Santa’s Naughty List?

As you struggled to raise more money at the close of 2018 while carving out holiday time with loved ones, you might have missed an important news story.

On Dec. 18, news reports announced that the New York Attorney General’s Office and the Trump Foundation had reached an agreement to dissolve the Foundation. Under the terms of the deal, the NY Attorney General will distribute the Foundation’s remaining assets to charities.

Donald Trump

However, the closing of the Trump Foundation does not end the matter. Barbara Underwood, the NY Attorney General, says the state still seeks $2.8 million in restitution, plus additional penalties.

Furthermore, the Attorney General is asking the court to bar Donald Trump from serving with nonprofit organizations in New York for 10 years. The state’s lawsuit also calls for a one-year ban for three of Trump’s children — Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — all of whom were Trump Foundation board members.

The State of New York “lawsuit says that Trump’s charitable organization, which he founded in 1987, engaged in ‘persistently illegal conduct’ and that Trump basically used the Foundation as a slush fund to promote his business and political campaign,” according to a report in Vox.

This news item is inherently important. It involves a charitable foundation with significant assets that appears to have acted far less than charitably. It also involves the President of the United States. However, the significance of this story does not end there.

If the NY Attorney General is correct about the alleged misdeeds of the Trump Foundation, dissolution of the Foundation and a temporary prohibition of Trump family members from serving with NY charities for a limited time seem like an insignificant punishment. Unless serious penalties are levied against Donald Trump and his family members who were involved, the Trumps alleged criminal behavior will go unpunished. Furthermore, they will remain free to create and/or serve with nonprofit organizations outside of the State of New York. Other than a bit of bad press, the Trumps will pay little for their behavior.

The problem does not end there. Failure to hold the Trumps personally liable not only fails to punish the Trump family, it sends a signal to anyone interested in using a charitable foundation for personal benefit. That signal is that there is little downside for misbehavior. In other words, there will be little to no deterrent effect unless severe penalties are imposed by the court, assuming the allegations are proven true.

The other thing we need to understand about the Trump Foundation story is that it is not an isolated situation. A decade into my fundraising career, the nonprofit sector was rocked by the scandal surrounding the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. Operating from 1989 to 1995, the Foundation raised over $500 million in an elaborate Ponzi Scheme that defrauded well known charities and experienced philanthropists out of millions.

That wasn’t the first funder scandal, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Let’s face it. The Trump Foundation is not the only funder on Santa’s naughty list.

As another report in Vox observed, “There are some 86,000 foundations in the United States, with total assets of around $890 billion. And the vast majority of them never face this kind of scrutiny.”

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December 13, 2018

Will One Charity’s Surprising Year-End Email Make You Look Bad?

This week, I received a surprising email from a national charitable organization. The email was so unusual that I need to tell you about it.

Like you, I’m deluged by emails from charities that arrive from the days leading up to #GivingTuesday through December. Most of the messages are from nonprofit organizations that forgot about me all year except now that they want my money. Most care nothing about me. None offers to help me or be of service to me. Most of the emails are just terrible.

One awful email came with the subject line, “Welcome to [I’m deleting the name of the organization].” Sounds nice enough, right? There’s just one tiny problem. I’ve been a donor for decades and even did a tour of duty as a trustee of the large organization. Ugh!

Given the garbage in my email Inbox, I was a bit relieved when I received a remarkable email from the Charities Aid Foundation of America.

WARNING: The email is so wonderful that it just might make you and your organization look bad.

Look for yourself, then I’ll explain why this is a near-perfect email and why you should immediately do something similar before it’s too late:

[Note, the actual email formatting was a bit better than the image I was able to capture for you. Ah, technology!]

Let me explain why this email works so well.

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December 6, 2018

Can the Dalai Lama Help You Raise More Money?

Last week, I saw a tweet from the Dalai Lama that is relevant for fundraising professionals.

Your first reaction to this post might be, “Gee, I didn’t know the Dalai Lama has a Twitter account.”

Well, he does, and he has 18.8 million Followers. For some context, I’ll point out that the Twitter account of Pope Francis has 17.8 million Followers. In a comparison that may explain some of what is going on in the world, let me just mention that Kim Kardashian has 59 million Twitter Followers. Oh well.

So, the tweet from the Dalai Lama that resonated with me as a fundraising professional is this:

“Even more important than the warmth and affection we receive, is the warmth and affection we give. It is by giving warmth and affection, by having a genuine sense of concern for others, in other words through compassion, that we gain the conditions for genuine happiness,” tweeted the Dalai Lama.

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

This is the essence of donor-centered fundraising. Yes, I know you like it when people donate to your organization. But, if you want that support to be something more than a one-time and/or limited transaction, you need to show donors you care about them, their needs and philanthropic aspirations. When practicing donor-centered fundraising, you will be able to develop the conditions for genuine happiness. I’m talking about the happiness of your donors, your happiness, your boss’s happiness, and the happiness of those who benefit from the services of your organization.

By treating people the way they want to be treated, you’ll acquire more donors, renew more donors, upgrade more, and receive more major and planned gifts from donors. In short, you’ll increase the lifetime value of your organization’s supporters.

Penelope Burk, in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising, describes what she means by the term:

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November 28, 2018

“Philanthropy” Is NOT What You Think It Is

Do you understand what the word “philanthropy” really means? If you don’t, it could be costing your nonprofit organization a fortune in lost support. Conversely, once you know the true meaning of “philanthropy,” you’ll be better able to relate to prospective donors and inspire them to give. So, what does the word truly mean?

If you’re like most people, you probably think you know what “philanthropy” means. “Philanthropy” involves a large contribution to a nonprofit organization from a wealthy individual, a philanthropist. A recent example of this would be Michael Bloomberg’s recent announcement that he is donating $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University, the largest individual donation ever made to a single university.

However, that understanding of “philanthropy” is entirely too narrow. Let me explain by first telling you what “philanthropy” is not. Philanthropy does not necessarily involve:

  • donating vast sums of money;
  • supporting large numbers of charities;
  • sitting on nonprofit boards;
  • only wealthy people.

Coming from the ancient Greek, here is what the word “philanthropy” actually means:

Love of humanity.

Signs of support appeared throughout Pittsburgh following the murders at Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.

Think about that. People donate their time and money to nonprofit organizations because of their love of humanity (or animals). They want to solve problems and alleviate suffering. They want to make the world a better place. That’s what motivates people to think philanthropically.

People won’t think philanthropically simply because it’s Giving Tuesday, and you tell them they should. They won’t think philanthropically just because they attended your university and are told they should “give back.” They won’t think philanthropically just because your organization exists and is a household name.

If you tap into a person’s love of humanity, you’ll tap into their philanthropic spirit. That’s how you’ll inspire their support. That’s how you’ll upgrade their support. That’s how you’ll maintain their support.

Charitable giving is an expression of a donor’s love.

I was reminded recently of the true power of the  philanthropic spirit. It wasn’t Bloomberg’s massive gift, though that was definitely amazing. Instead, when I visited Pittsburgh, I was reminded of the power of love to build, and rebuild, strong communities.

Temporary memorial outside of Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.

When my wife and I traveled to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, we attended evening Sabbath services with the congregants of the Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation in their temporary home. This was less than two weeks after a gunman entered the synagogue and horrifically murdered 11 people as they worshiped. Praying with the congregants, talking with them, and meeting Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers was a profoundly moving experience. Making the evening even more moving was the fact that it fell on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass. During Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany, Jews were murdered and synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized and had their windows smashed.

Support came from around the world.

Rabbi Myers drew a parallel between Kristallnacht and the recent attack that nearly took his life. Both violent attacks were motivated by rabid anti-Semitism, which has been on the rise in America since 2014. However, Rabbi Myers also drew meaningful distinctions between the two events.

During Kristallnacht, officially sanctioned groups along with German civilians attacked the Jewish population. Local authorities did nothing to stop the attacks. The police protected non-Jewish citizens while arresting and imprisoning Jewish victims.

By contrast, American authorities condemned the Pittsburgh attack immediately, and offered comfort to the victims. People throughout Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States, and the world expressed their sense of horror and grief. They offered words of condolence, and made donations to help the families and to rebuild the badly damaged synagogue. The police in Pittsburgh ran toward the danger, put their own lives at risk, confronted the attacker, and ended what could have been an even more tragic event.

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November 8, 2018

Did the Midterm Elections Help or Hurt Your Nonprofit?

I’m a news junkie. So, I was up very late on election night, actually very early the next morning. Now that I’ve caught up on some sleep, I’ve been thinking about what the midterm election means to charities. In this post, I’ll layout some of my nonpartisan thinking. Just be warned, I’m also going to share some statistics and a bit of history as we consider what the election means for the nonprofit sector.

The midterm elections this week resulted in the Democratic Party regaining control of the US House of Representatives. Let’s put that into a bit of historical perspective. Despite successfully securing a majority in the House, the Democratic Party’s much-hoped-for Blue Wave did not materialize. As I write this post, the Democrats are expected to gain a 27 to 34 seat advantage over Republicans in the House. However, Republicans not only hung on to control of the Senate, they actually enhanced their position by three to five seats.

To put the Federal election results into some context, let’s look at the 2010 midterm elections during President Barack Obama’s second year in office. Going into the 2010 election, Obama’s approval rating was six points higher than Trump’s was prior to the 2018 election. Nevertheless, Democrats lost 63 House seats and lost six Senate seats.

“[The 2018 midterm elections are] only the third time in the past 100 years that the party holding the White House has gained seats in the Senate in a midterm election while losing seats in the House,” according to MarketWatch. “The President’s party has won seats in both the House and Senate just twice in the past century in a midterm election.”

This all means that both Democrats and Republicans can declare success this week. But, what about the nonprofit sector?

While it’s too early to know with any certainty, there are some things we learned on election night and other things we can learn from history:

1. Impact on the Election. In the lead up to the vote, nonprofit organizations flexed their muscle along with their corresponding Political Action Committees. On a variety of issues, the nonprofit sector demonstrated that it could have a profound impact on public policy. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, here are just a few examples to illustrate the point:

In Massachusetts, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, MassEquality, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, The Yes on 3 Campaign, and other organizations joined forces and scored a massive victory on election night when voters, by a two-to-one margin, reaffirmed the rights of transgender people.

In North Carolina, voters approved a measure directing the legislature to amend the state constitution to guarantee the right of citizens to hunt and fish. This was a victory for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the National Rifle Association.

In Florida, the Humane Society of the United States and PETA persuaded voters to change the state constitution to ban greyhound racing.

Nonprofit organizations have political power. When nonprofit organizations join forces, they can have a dramatic effect on public policy.

2. Good News for the Stock Market. Historically, Americans prefer divided government, so it’s not surprising that Democrats were able to regain control of the House. Like the populace, the stock market also prefers divided government.

“Here’s what Investor’s Business Daily found, looking at S&P 500 returns during each two-year election cycle, from election day to election day. The best outcome, an average 18.7% two-year return, came when Congress was divided. Unified control of Congress by the same party as the president yielded an average 17.3% two-year gain. When control of Congress was unified under the opposition party, gains averaged 15.7%.”

If the stock market goes up, many donors will own appreciated stocks that they can donate to charities. Foundations will see their stock holdings grow and, therefore, have more money to grant to nonprofits. That would be good news for investors and charities.

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October 23, 2018

Do You Want to Avoid Being a Fundraising Horror Story?

With Halloween just days away, horror is in the air. You can watch any number of classic or recent horror films on your television, or other electronic device. You can also go to your local movie theater to see the latest scary movie.

However, if you want to avoid being a horror story yourself, I have some important advice for you borne out of my wife’s recent donor experience with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Allow me to tell you the frightening tale, and share what you can learn from it.

My wife regularly reads a blog written by a nutritionist who is focused on a particular health condition. Not long ago, the blogger published a post about the research being conducted at Cedars-Sinai for this particular health issue. The post contained a link for readers interested in donating to the research project.

My wife clicked the link and was taken to the appropriate donation page on the Cedar-Sinai website.

Here’s where things start to get a bit scary.

It’s a good thing that the blogger provided the link, because the Medical Center’s homepage does not contain a link to its donation page at the top of its homepage. To find it, you need to take the time to search for it; if you go looking, it’s at the very bottom of the page.

The other disturbing part of the organization’s website is that, when making a donation, you must select a Title from a drop-down menu. The options are Cantor, Dr., Father, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Pastor, Rabbi, and Reverend. Notice any missing options? Well, they are missing others such as Honorable, military ranks, and other religious titles. They are also missing Mx., the preferred Title of many transgender and non-binary people. Sadly, there’s no way to write-in one’s own preferred Title. Furthermore, this is a required field. In other words, a transgender person who prefers the Mx. Title is compelled to choose between the wrong Title or simply not donating online to Cedars-Sinai. That’s the very opposite of rolling out the welcome mat.

Because my wife was provided the appropriate link and prefers either the Mrs. or Ms. Title, she was able to make an online donation. When doing so, she restricted her gift to the particular research project mentioned by the blogger. She also included a note in the comment field alerting the Medical Center that this would be a one-time gift.

Now, the fundraising horror really began for my wife.

Despite having clearly indicated that the gift was a special, one-time event, Cedars-Sinai insisted on sending a number of appeals to her. Making matters worse, none of those appeals had anything to do with the health issue that my wife contributed to. The institutional magazine that was sent to her contained no information about the health issue of interest. She never received any information from Cedars-Sinai about the research project.

My wife contacted Cedars-Sinai to once again inform them that her donation was a one-time event. She requested that Cedars-Sinai remove her from its mailing list. Weeks later, she still receives mail from them. A lot of mail. All of it unwanted, none of it relevant to the initial restricted gift. With more of her donation wasted with each mailing, my wife’s level of frustration and annoyance continues to increase.

Are you writing a horror story for your donors? Don’t.

Here are three things you can learn from the Cedars-Sinai fundraising horror story:

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October 19, 2018

How about a Bit of Fun for Fundraising Professionals?

It’s time to dig out your old swag from the National Society of Fundraising Executives and/or Association of Fundraising Professionals. Let me explain.

These are stressful times. In the broader society, we’re witnessing a volatile stock market, international intrigue, upcoming mid-term elections, the aftermath of hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the US Supreme Court, and so much more.

In the fundraising world, we read articles about how the new tax code could lead to a decline in charitable giving. We also read about scandals involving nonprofit organizations and religious institutions. Furthermore, we know that donor-retention rates remain abysmal despite all the talk about how to resolve the problem.

Against this anxiety-inducing backdrop, fundraising professionals have the added pressure of trying to meet fundraising goals as the end of the calendar year approaches.

If you’re not feeling a bit of stress and/or anxiety, you haven’t been paying attention, or you’re really good at meditation, or you’re drinking too much, or you’re eating too much chocolate.

So, with that in mind and given that Halloween, a fun holiday, is just weeks away, I thought I’d give you a brief break from fundraising talk. With this post, I want to do something a bit different and, I hope, have a bit of fun together.

The ever-stylish Michael Nilsen models his classic AFP shirt.

A few weeks ago, Taryn Gold, Vice President of Chapter Engagement at the Association of Fundraising Professionals, shared a photo on Twitter that I found amusing. The current picture shows Michael Nilsen, AFP’s Vice President of Communications and Public Policy, wearing an official AFP polo shirt from 2001.

One of the reasons the photo caught my eye is that I also still own the same shirt. No, I’m not ashamed to admit that. In fact, I also still have a bunch of older AFP swag, some of it from NSFRE, the name of the organization prior to 2001.

Gold’s tweet inspired me to dig around for my own ancient NSFRE and AFP swag. I was a bit surprised by what I found (see the photo below). Resting on my AFP shirt, you’ll find an NSFRE handbook from 2000, two AFP logo pins from 2001, an early CFRE button from 1994 (NSFRE created the CFRE credential), my first NSFRE Foundation donor pin from 1992, An NSFRE Founder’s Club donor pin from 1998, an NSFRE President’s Club donor pin from 2000, an AFP Political Action Committee donor pin from 2002, an AFP conference badge, my name badge from when I represented AFP before the US Federal Trade Commission, and an NSFRE conference badge.

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October 12, 2018

As Giving Lags, Alarm Bells Sound. Should You Worry?

While the story at some individual charities might be different, charitable giving in the sector for the first half of 2018 is lagging behind the first six months of 2017, both in terms of the number of donors and the amount donated. That’s according to a recent report from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

As I write this post, the stock market has just taken a two-day beating with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1,378 points.

I won’t blame you if you’re feeling a bit pessimistic about philanthropy these days. However, I will respectfully suggest that you shouldn’t be overly worried. As I wrote in the current issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the official magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, there are actually plenty of reasons for us to be optimistic about the current fundraising environment.

In my article for AFP, I show you how you can be your own fundraising superhero with six tips that will help you control your fundraising destiny. I also detail nine reasons for you to be upbeat about the current philanthropic environment as you seek year-end gifts. However, for now, I’ll just highlight some of the reasons why you should be upbeat about fundraising as year-end and the start of a new year approach:

1. Stock Market Growth. Despite the hit the stock market took this week, it remains above the 52-week level. An adjustment was expected. While volatile, the stock market is likely to stabilize somewhat and even continue to grow.

2. Dire Predictions Really Are Not that Dire. Some have predicted that the new federal tax code will negatively affect philanthropic giving. While it’s too soon to draw a firm conclusion, we do know that even if the worst-case prediction comes true, overall philanthropy will once again be approximately two percent of Gross Domestic Product, where it has been for decades.

3. Economic Growth. GDP growth for the first half of the year has been strong. If economic growth continues, as the Federal Reserve believes it will, this will likely have a positive effect on charitable giving. Remember, there’s a long correlation between philanthropy and GDP.

4. New Tax Code. For both individuals and corporations, a reduction in taxes makes more money available for charitable contributions. For example, many corporations (e.g., Wells Fargo, Southwest Airlines, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Best Buy, BB&T, Apple, Ally Financial, and others) have announced commitments to significantly increase corporate giving.

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October 5, 2018

9 Hard Truths Every Fundraiser Needs to Face in the 21st Century

In the Oscar-nominated film A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character famously shouts, “You  can’t handle the truth!”

Well, if you want to be a successful fundraising professional, you better know the truth and be prepared to handle it.

If you want to be successful at anything, you need to face the core truths involved no matter how challenging. Ignoring reality is a certain pathway to failure.

One nonprofit development truth is that authentic, donor-centered fundraising results in more donors giving more money than would otherwise be the case. Penelope Burk wrote about this years ago in her landmark book Donor Centered Fundraising, available October 15 in a new second edition. I wrote about the subject in my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Recently, Greg Warner, CEO of MarketSmart, released his powerful new book that reveals a straightforward, meaningful way fundraisers can embrace the concept of donor-centered fundraising.

In Engagement Fundraising, Greg passionately reveals the 21st century donor-centric strategy practiced by MarketSmart. Some people might be angered by or afraid of the core message of this book while others will find it to be simple common sense. However, one thing everyone can agree on is that Greg is a disrupter, and that’s a good thing. If it wasn’t for society’s disrupters, we’d still be riding around in horse-drawn carriages, and you’d be reading his book by candlelight. His fresh, technology-driven approach is a powerful way forward for those interested in engaging people to inspire more philanthropic support.

At the end of this post, I reveal how you can download, for free, the introduction and first chapter to Engagement Fundraising. But now, I want to share Greg’s additional insights with you as he outlines nine hard truths every fundraiser needs to face in the 21st century:

 

1.  Competition is fierce and everywhere. Nonprofits don’t only compete with other nonprofits. They also compete with private sector businesses and Uncle Sam (the tax collector) for every donor’s “share of wallet and attention.” Plus they want non-exclusive, polyamorous relationships with organizations. In other words, they will decide when they’ll cozy up to other charities. Of course, you can influence their decisions but you can never control them. You are at a disadvantage. Private sector companies and the government have deeper pockets. In order to win, you better be smart!

2.  Most of the time donors spend involving themselves with your organization happens without a fundraiser present. More than 99 percent of every donor’s time and energy spent involving themselves with your organization’s mission is done without you. You must accept this new reality and enable your supporters’ self-education and self-navigation of the decision-making process.

3.  The consideration continuum is open-ended. Donors are fickle. Their needs, passions, and interests will change. As they do, they might decide to give more, less, or stop giving altogether. They might involve themselves deeper in your cause or end their involvement (perhaps even by removing your organization from their estate plan). As a result, customer service (stewardship) is more essential now than ever.

4.  Your job is to make them feel good, not ask for money. In order to generate major gifts (including legacy gifts) and inspire high-capacity mid-level donors to give more, you must make your donors feel good by engaging them politely and persistently with offers that deliver value over time. If you do that, your donors self-solicit. They’ll step up to make a difference so they can find meaning in their lives. Then they’ll ask you, “What can I do to help?” Yes! Seriously! If you make them feel good, they will give, give more, refer friends, get more involved, become more committed, and make legacy gifts.

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