I am ever so thankful for a donor moment of insight.
When I’m working with a client on a strategic planning project, with their board and staff we routinely interview a selected group of stakeholders. They might be colleagues, political or government leaders, relevant businesses, funders, donors, volunteers … anyone with special insight. And it’s super great when two or more of those categories overlap.
A few days after a recent interview, I received a follow up email from a community leader-donor. They remembered something else they wanted me to share.
The donor had received the latest annual report. Like most of these reports, it included a list of donors. In this list, the organization had made a special effort to note donors who had given continuously.
Unfortunately, what was recognition for some was a rebuke for another. My donor felt hurt by not being included in this list. You see, this donor had been a donor for many long years. But, due to a few years of tight finances, there was a gap in their giving.
They were no less loyal. They started giving again when their finances improved. But that didn’t seem to matter. And now they were reconsidering future giving.
I completely sympathized. I feel this way whenever my college sends out its annual report with the same listing. Though I’ve been giving for many many years, I’ve missed a few now and then. Once I gave two gifts in the same fiscal year which knocked me out of the continuous recognition.
Think! What are you trying to accomplish with that public list of donors?
In this case, the intent was to reward some donors and inspire others to similar continuity. But it unexpectedly caused hurt feelings on the part of another long time donor.
Penelope Burk documents a number of concerns learned from donor research in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising. One that stands out are listings by gift range. A small donor might be making a huge stretch to give what they do. Yet they will never seem as valuable as those big donors for whom the gift that got them top recognition might be a drop in the bucket.
As the folks who care most about our donors, we’ll do better if we set aside convention and think of more creative ways to recognize and acknowledge our donors. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s complimentary membership is a good illustration of the return when you put donor needs first.
So, using that donor moment of insight shared above, here’s a simple solution:
Fundraising fundamentals were the topics of the talk by Robert Beagle, the now retired VP for Advancement at the University of Rhode Island at our AFP chapter’s 2018 annual meeting. The chapter members appreciated hearing from a seasoned professional.
Here are Bob’s tips from many years of successful fundraising:
- Above all, relationships are at the core of fundraising. Develop trust with your donors. They want to hear from you when you aren’t asking for money. Stay in touch, stay connected.
- Find common ground with your donors. Get to know your donors so you understand what is important to them. Be curious about their lives and what they value.
- Be an effective listener. You get to know your donors by listening to them. Donors want to talk about themselves.
- People don’t give to your organization because you need money. Donors want to know how you are making a difference, how the community is benefiting. Donors don’t give to “losers.” Why give to the cancer center? Donors want to give to helping people live, to curing the disease.
- Never assume you know what a donor wants to give to. The number one mistake for many fundraisers is making decisions for their donors before you even have a conversation. Find out what your donors care about and want to give to.
- People don’t give to meet your goal. Why should anyone care about your goal? Bob hates appeals that are all about how much funding you need to reach the end of your fiscal year. Translate your needs into benefits and outcomes – what are you going to do with their gifts?
- Always remember that giving is an investment. Just like investing in stock, donors want meaningful returns. They can give for the short term and for the long term. And if their investment in you produces those returns, they’ll invest again.
- Be prepared to explain how your organization makes a difference. Why are you relevant? What are you doing that others aren’t? What would happen if your organization went away? These are the fundamental components of your case for support.
Bob also shared that he felt that marketing studies can be very, very helpful to fundraising as a way to understand your community and donors. And that a good donor management database is an essential part of every successful fundraising program.
I’d agree. Fundraising fundamentals. And the key to success.
We talk a lot in fundraising circles about gratitude. We hear over and over again how we need to honor all of our donors.
But then organizations revert to form and tier their gratitude based on how much money they receive. The biggest gifts get the most personalized thank yous. The biggest donors get priority mention in the annual report and appear at the top of the donor wall and are forever fixed in our minds, remembered by name and amount.
The little gift donor barely registers.
Yet that small gift may be a much bigger act of philanthropy than some of those large gifts on which you heap recognition and praise. How often do you celebrate that small gift? Do you stop to think how much of a sacrifice that tiny amount might have been from someone of limited means or on a fixed income?
So when I saw this message bubbling with gratitude on Facebook, I knew I had to share it with you.
With the permission of its author, Henrietta White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, I bring you a close-up, truly authentic example of loving your donor for their act of generosity:
“Lounging around and I received a notification on my phone that someone had made a donation to HGI via our website.
“I checked, and there it was – a wonderful woman had donated $10.00 (ten dollars).
“I found it very significant and heartwarming that she would think of us in such a loving and kind way to donate what she could. It is not the amount that matter[s] but the fact that she contributed in such a thoughtful way means a LOT to us.
“Now, her generous gift of $10.00 is going to help purchase ice melt to help keep the premises of the HGI’S Rukiya Center safe!
“Oh, Happy Day! ❤”
Thank you so much, Henrie, for reminding each of us that donor love starts within our own hearts.
Did the ACLU take your donors after the election?
One question asked of me more and more in the recent months is how the election is shaping charity. How can we, the local nonprofit doing what might be considered “non-essential” work—arts organizations, independent schools, small service organizations—compete with established national organizations that have a renewed relevance? How do we go toe to toe with the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the International Rescue Committee?
The 2016 US President Election changed the landscape for charitable contributions. That’s an undeniable fact. It overturned established order in the United States across the board. In particular, it mobilized a groundswell of grassroots efforts. More than ever, people are putting their money into third sector solutions, looking for help in applying pressure to the public and private sectors.
So, yes, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, the International Rescue Committee and others saw an uptick in donations in the last quarter. Often a huge increase as many donors went into emergency spending. I would not expect that to persist at quite this level for the next four years. I do think they’ll continue to have a prominent place in many donors’ minds (and their checkbooks) for that time.
You, the smaller nonprofit with a local or regional focus, may well have seen a decrease in donations at the same time those national organizations were seeing record contributions.
But did the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the International Rescue Committee take your donors away from you? The answer to that is, unless you provide the same services as those organizations, probably not.
Because they weren’t your donors.
A donor who, when faced with an emergency, chose to redirect their charity from a local organization they have a giving history with to a national organization they had no history with was not that local organization’s donor. Not in real, practical, terms. They were not a partner in the work. They were unconvinced by the case for support that the organization’s mission was worth funding.
It’s a mistake to view that as the success of the ACLU, or Planned Parenthood, or the International Rescue Committee in attracting those donors away.
That’s a failure in not convincing those donors to stay.
This election, and many of the donors who have been most called to action by it, put a high premium on grassroots efforts. If that’s the narrative takeaway, then how can it be that large national and international nonprofits hoovered up those donor dollars from grassroots nonprofits? If you’re a nonprofit, your job is to effect change. Your job is to overthrow the established order, to take people’s complacency with the way things are and blow it up.
The question you should ask yourself is not, “how do we compete with huge nonprofits?” The question should be, “Why is it that our donors didn’t perceive our work as vital, even in an emergency?”
Then go and tell them that you’re vital.
Because you are.
Direct mail, smiling kids photos, Arab-American founders – the fascinating fundraising of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
You’ve heard the advice. No happy kid photos, they raise less money than sad faces. Focus on larger gifts. Millennials don’t do mail. I heard a counter, fascinating fundraising story Friday.
It was shared by the closing keynote speaker at the 2017 Yale Philanthropy Conference .Richard Shadyac, Jr., President and CEO Of ALSAC. ALSAC is the fundraising and awareness building organization whose sole mission is to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. ALSAC provides three-quarters of the funds that support St. Jude.
With a theme of Transformation, Mr. Shadyac generously shared his story and a lot of ALSAC fundraising data that might challenge some of your assumptions.
First, a little background on ALSAC and St. Jude:
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was founded by Danny Thomas, an actor, comedian and star of the The Danny Thomas Show. Danny Thomas was the stage name of Amos Muzyad Yakhoob Kairouz, an American citizen of Lebanese heritage. You can read the story of St. Jude’s founding here.
When Danny Thomas founded the hospital, he didn’t want the doctors and researches to worry about raising money, which he took on as his commitment. As part of his fundraising, he approached other Arab-Americans to give back to their adopted country. Folks came together to found ALSAC, American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, a 501c3 with the sole purpose of raising funds for St. Jude.
Today, the donors to ALSAC represent folks from all backgrounds. But this remarkable founding story by Arab-Americans other than Danny Thomas was unknown to me.
Mr. Shadyac,whose father was the first CEO of ALSAC, said that when he took over in the 2009 as the third CEO, the recession was taking its toll on giving.
So he made some gutsy decisions.One in particular was to invest heavily in direct mail, as everyone else was pulling out due to declining returns and rising costs. But that decision was the right one for ALSAC. Direct mail works for them, he said, including mail to millennials!
He described a data-driven department, investing in technology, donor service and research that drives their fundraising. He and his staff are driven by a passion for the mission, taking seriously the commitment they make to the children and families they serve, who pay nothing for their treatment, travel, food or housing during the 3 year average stay.
Here are the remarkable fundraising statistics:
- ALSAC is on track to raise $1 billion (with a B) from 10 million donors this year.
- 68% of their giving comes from households making $75,000 a year or less. If you’ve read the Gilded Giving report on the drop in giving by middle and lower income households, this statistic bucks that trend.
- The average donation… hold on to your hat… is just $34.
- Their biggest solicitation source is direct response, with 45% of their donations coming this way. Second biggest at 20%, is planned and major giving.
No pathetic children
Mr. Shadyac started his talk with a video and photos slides throughout his talk. I noticed immediately that these were upbeat images, images of hope, caring, and even happy, smiling faces. The types of images we are cautioned not to use in acquisition mailings.
So I asked the question about the images being shared with us. Mr. Shadyac said that if you had a spectrum, with harsh images of children sick with cancer on the left, and those smiling, joyous faces on the right, their philosophy starts in the middle and runs to the right. “We are selling hope.” Not false hope, as children are still dying from cancer. But when St. Jude started most childhood cancers were death sentences. Today, that’s an 80% survival rate for cancer. St. Jude’s shares all of its research and treatment protocols for free.
Yes, the children are bald, signaling immediately that they have cancer. But at the same time, those faces beam hope.
And one more, Mr. Shadyac wanted us to know, you’ll never see St.Jude use a child to ask for money. Never.
One more opportunity from Mr. Shadyac for you: PSAs, Public Service Announcements, are highly under-leveraged for communicating your cause.
With a challenge from the December 2016 nonprofit blog carnival, I thought I’d update my “self-portrait of a donor” from 2009 to see how my own giving might have changed since that time.
Why do I give? And why do I give to the groups I give to?
The top tier
Because I strongly believe that board members should make leadership gifts, it’s not surprising that the organizations on whose boards I sit are at the top of my giving. They include:
- WaterFire Providence. WaterFire Providence jumped to the top of my giving list from 2009 when it was in tier 2. I have such profound respect for the genius and generosity of its artist creator Barnaby Evans, our dedicated board and staff team and WaterFire’s critical role in rejuvenating my hometown, Providence. So I give to this one-of-a-kind arts and community building hybrid. Not to mention that I’m vice chair of the board, we have a minimum giving commitment, and I’m making an additional pledge over five years to our growth campaign. My annual gift I pay in monthly installments.
This week I’m teaching successful grant seeking in my Management of Cultural Institutions class at Brown University.
While perusing materials from a number of trainings Jon and I have taught on the subject, I found a handout entitled Secrets of Successful Grant Seeking.
You may have heard grant proposal writers say that 80% of the success in grant seeking happens before you ever lay fingers to keyboard. Just sending an out -of-the-blue proposal into cyberspace is usually like playing the lottery.
Here are a lucky 13 strategies that will help raise your potential for success.
- Design and implement quality programs – that’s what it’s all about, right?
- Cherish results and learning – measure, evaluate, revise, adapt. Funders want to fund organizations whose work is making a difference.
- Build strong peer relationships and partnerships: because it’s the right thing to do and because funders often turn to them as references for your organization or proposal.
- Keep your promises to your funders. Most funders understand when new programs may not achieving their desired results. But they are not very tolerant when you don’t do what you said you would do, especially if you haven’t communicated with them.
- Engage the ultimate decision-makers at family and corporate foundations.
- Cultivate knowledge and relationships with your program officer.
- Find connections and build relationships with potential funders. Seeing is ususally better than reading.
- Find donor value in your programs by discovering hidden value or bundling projects for maximum impact.
- Speak to your funder’s world view – understand how they see the world and their theory of change.
- Or yes, have a theory of change that is explicit and defendable.
- Create newness by incorporating new issues into existing programs, offering new audiences for donor portfolios, or developing new programs from what you have learned
- Be a thought leader in your field and communicate like one.
- Think and plan ahead — grants funding cycles are long and future oriented.
And when you do get to writing your proposal, follow the funder’s required format.
What’s on your list?
Jon and I just finished binge watching the first two seasons of Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon.
The cast includes Bernadette Peters, Malcolm McDowell and Gael Garcia Bernal who just won a Golden Globe for best TV actor in a comedy or musical.
It’s rare that any TV show brings us into the wacky and soul-fulfilling world in which we spend our days and many nights. This charming romantic comedy touches so many themes many of us have confronted.
Spoiler Alert — sharing some content
What’s not to love:
- Crazy charismatic but unpredictable new artistic director
- New artistic director succeeds long time and beloved director
- Board infighting
- An Interim Managing Director who is also the Board Chair
- Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising challenges
- Nurturing wealthy donors
- Traditional classical arts program grappling with cultural changes
- Staff-management relations (and relationships! not advised)
- Vision/mission/ values conflicts
- And many more
You’ve heard me preach that you need to create transforming emotional experiences for your donors and your board members. Without getting into the details, the fundraising scene in Episode 4, Season 1 is priceless.
It’s worth dissecting that one scene with your fundraising staff and board volunteers. For what works, and what doesn’t.
While I’m not recommending that your nonprofit conduct itself as the NY Symphony does in this show, I think you’ll find yourself relating to some of the challenges they face.
Are you already a fan? Why?
If not, let me know what you think.
P.S. My musical friends tell me not to get all crazy about whether the musicians are playing their instruments correctly. And for those who abstain from watching shows with some nudity and drug use, not for you.
OK, fundraisers and nonprofit people: you gotta have a real donor database. Seriously.
Not Excel. Not some do-it-yourself database patched together in Filemaker by your cousin Vinny. Not your Quickbooks accounting software. Not your Outlook address book or your MailChimp subscriber list. And I’m going to ruffle some feathers and suggest that you avoid Salesforce, even though it’s free for nonprofits.
These are all wonderful software tools. But….
These are not donor databases
Let me ask you this: would you try to build your own vacuum cleaner? Would you try to adapt your leaf-blower or hair dryer to clean your floors? Heck, no! It would cost too much, take too long and you’d have a lousy vacuum cleaner at the end.
You can plunk down anywhere from $45 to $600 dollars for a vacuum cleaner at Target today and start sucking up dirt this afternoon. You can buy parts and get repairs almost anywhere or anytime.
It’s the same with dedicated donor management systems. Why use do-it-yourself solutions to a problem that professionals solved long ago? Anthony Bakker created the Blackbaud company (which sells Raiser’s Edge) in 1981. For the last 35 years, Blackbaud and its dozens of competitors have been refining, perfecting and adapting their donor database softwares. Every day they strive to meet the evolving real-life needs of frontline fundraisers at the world’s large and small nonprofit organizations.
There is no reason you should use anything but a dedicated, professionally developed, off-the-shelf system specifically created to manage nonprofit donor programs. A good fundraiser will have this tool open nearly all the time. It’s the system that organizes a fundraiser’s day, recording new gifts, taking notes on donor contacts, assigning tasks to staff and volunteers, setting campaign and donor targets, launching segmented emails, mailing and other appeals. And much more.
The more difficult question is which one to get. There are dozens if not hundreds of products described as donor management software. Costs range from free to thousands of dollars per month and the feature sets vary at least as widely. Some of them won’t work well for you. Some of them don’t work well for anyone.
No one can stay current on all the donor databases out there. These roundups at Idealware and TechSoup are years old. We can’t keep up either. And we’re not primarily database professionals. But we’ve worked with several of the most-used systems. In a next post, we’ll look at some ways you can zero in on the right donor database system for your nonprofit. But if you want to save time, here’s our current top pick for most smaller nonprofits: Little Green Light. We love Little Green Light. Tell you why soon.
Relationships,relationships, relationships. That was the refrain of the “Meet the Funders” AFP panel I moderated Thursday.
The panelists included the Managing Director of Community Relations for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the Community Affairs Manager of Textron, Inc. and Communications Manager for the Global Brand Relations Division of ALEX AND ANI.
This panel of funders encouraged grant seekers to make contact in almost all cases before sending a gift request. They wanted to know about the organizations they were considering. Not knowing anything about the sending organization or having any prior contact pushed many a grant request deeper into the pile.
Our panel was very generous about their willingness to talk to donation seekers. They wanted to help the caller determine if their programs fit within their giving strategy. And they wanted to save organizations the time of applying for a grant for which they would never be eligible.
Whether to pick up the phone or make the first connection via email was largely a personal preference.
They also welcomed conversations with those who were turned down to provide feedback.
Of course, there are institutional funders out there who don’t want contact beyond their online forms or letters of intent. They’ll say so.
Otherwise, try a call and have a conversation with a real person before investing all of your time and energy in sending a blind proposal.