From Research

Donor messages stick better on paper

Screens create distance between readers and your words.

Before you drop your direct mail donor appeals and donor newsletter, consider these findings by literacy scholars in Norway and Canada. Paper beats computer screens at making written information, ideas and emotions stick in readers’ minds.

Of course, fundraisers already know this: printed direct mail still does better than email in terms of donor response rates by wide margins.

A new study from Norway takes a deeper look at the difference between paper and screen. Using both fiction and factual articles, researchers compared comprehension and retention between groups reading the same material from PDFs on monitors and from printed pages. The group reading from screens understood significantly less than those reading print. Anne Mangen at the Reading Centre of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her co-authors speculate Read more

2013 set records for charitable giving

If you’re waiting for a rising tide of charitable giving, you may already have missed it.

Charitable giving in the U.S. reached an all-time high of $416 billion in 2013, according to the Atlas of Giving’s latest report on giving in the last 12 months, an increase of 13.3% over 2012. Looking ahead, the Atlas projects giving growth of just 4 percent for 2014.

The 2013 Atlas of Giving report was released today, via a live stream announcement featuring Rob Mitchell of the Atlas.

Giving to philanthropies that receive most of their gifts from major donors and foundation grants grew the most. Human services received 19.1 percent more gifts and grants than in 2012. Environmental organizations saw giving grow by 18.5 percent. That’s because a booming stock market and recovering real estate caused a huge jump in the value of assets, according to Mitchell.

Religious organizations did not fare as well, reflecting their reliance on the current incomes of less affluent donors. With employment high and wages flat, giving to religion rose just 8.8 percent.

Looking ahead, you still have a chance to claim a piece of 2013’s stock market Read more

Improve your strategic planning – WRAP it!

If ever there was a book that could help improve strategic planning, it’s Decisive, How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.

In this book, authors Chip and Dan Heath reveal the cause of so many poor decisions and offer advice on how to make better ones.

According to the book, our usual process looks like this:

  • We encounter a choice.
  • We analyze our options.
  • We make a choice.
  • Then we live with it.

This sounds logical and familiar. Most of us would pat ourselves on the back for being so rational.

The problem, as the Heath’s point out, is that there is a fatal flaw at each stage:

  • Narrow framing makes us miss other options when we encounter a choice.
  • Confirmation bias makes us gather self-serving information.
  • Short term emotions often tempt us into making the wrong choice.
  • We’re overconfident about how the future will unfold and stick to one path once we’ve made our choice.

Luckily, the Heath’s suggest four strategies to counteract your biases. They sum them up in the acronym, WRAP: Read more

You can’t hurry love… or collaborative fundraising

A collaborative capital campaign created an entire new arts and business district in Cleveland. Photo: Gordon Square Arts District

Collaborative fundraising takes time and trust. That’s what we heard over and again in our interviews with seven nonprofit executives in Rhode Island, Boston, Cleveland and Spokane, each of them successful collaborative fundraisers.

We looked into the topic at the prompting of our friends at New Roots Providence and presented our early findings at a New Roots workshop on January 19.

The short version of what we learned from our informants:

  • Successful collaborations flow from a deep process of trust-building among the partners. The right partners may take years to self-select, discover their shared goals and commit to combined action.
  • Detailed legal agreements help establish trust and smooth functioning by exploring and resolving the partners’ deepest worries in advance. (These also take time)
  • At the same time, good partners must be ready to make commonsense adjustments to agreements when they create unfair or unproductive results for some partners.
  • Long-term and permanent collaborations need to form an independent organization to fundraise and distribute revenues. (Another time-consuming process.)
  • The collaborative case must promise more than the sum of its partners: new funders respond to a transformative vision.
  • Truly successful collaborations can reach more and larger funders and generate more income at lower cost than the two partners could achieve separately.

Our cases covered five forms of joint fundraising: grants, workplace campaigns, events, capital campaigns, and, finally, our elusive ideal of truly integrated annual fundraising. We’ll tell you more about three very interesting cases in future posts:

  • The YWCA and YMCA in Spokane, Washington created a fully integrated capital campaign to build new shared buildings in two locations.
  • The Gordon Square Arts District in Cleveland, Ohio brought two theater companies together with a community development organization to build not just theaters, but a whole theater-oriented arts district with major economic benefits for the city.
  • The Central Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts began by building new shared performance space for the the Nora Theater Company and the Underground Railway Theater. The partnership then went on to take on all fundraising, business and back office operations, leaving both groups free to focus on their artistic missions alone.

If you have had a good – or bad – experience with collaborative fundraising that you think could help others, please send me an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Phil-rat-thropy: Altruism for animals

One of my all-time favorite bumper stickers was this one: “I am an animal. I brake for no one.” (A cynical comeback to the once-common “I brake for animals.)

However,  it looks like our basic animal nature actually includes a generous dollop of do-goodism, judging from this NPR Morning Edition report. Lab rats at the University of Chicago have now proven to the satisfaction of scientists that they will sacrifice themselves to spend hours of persistent effort to free another rat trapped inside a small tube within the larger cages.

Not only do helper rats selflessly devote themselves to comforting their stuck buddy, they also work urgently to find the hidden button that springs the trap. They’ll do this even when the other rat gets released to a different cage, removing any social benefit. They’ll even help a pal when they could be working on liberating chocolate instead!

The scientists were thrilled to have discovered such pure altruism in another species. (I guess they never read Old Yeller.)

Let’s take this as a reminder to give our  left brains a break as we compose our year-end and other funding appeals. Before you start to pile up facts and arguments, seek out your organization’s deeper appeal to our basic natures as creatures on earth: “Here’s another person in pain. Here’s how you can make it better.”

And then there’s this: Even though I really do brake for others, I am still an animal.

Remembering what we know: two landmark social enterprises

We think of social enterprise as a new trend. So, would you be surprised to be reminded that two of the nonprofit world’s most successful and transformative social investments were made more than 30 years ago? Muhammad Yunus started The Grameen Bank project in 1976. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) was founded in 1980.

Both new enterprises got key early funding from “program-related investments” (PRIs) by the Ford Foundation.  Both used familiar financial tools in creative ways to benefit people who were otherwise unable to access financial services. In both cases, that seed funding, given as loans, helped attract many millions more in public and private investments.

Grameen launched a new and profitable global financial services industry serving very low-income people. Mohammad Yunus won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for this achievement. LISC played a pivotal role in creating a powerful national network of local community development corporations (CDCs) in the United States. The CDC movement has transformed devastated and endangered neighborhoods in the United States by restoring millions of homes as well as commercial centers and public amenities.

Program-related investments (PRIs) by charitable foundations, have been around since the Tax Reform Act of 1969. The Act allows foundations to include loans, equity investments or financial guaranties for mission-related purposes (program related investments) to be counted toward their asset disbursement requirements just as they would count a grant.

PRIs can launch revolutionary innovations in meeting social needs and they have clear financial benefits for foundations. Yet, only 173 out of 75,000 U.S. foundations made PRIs in 2006 or 2007, according to Doing Good with Foundation Assets, a 2010 study from the Foundation Center. Why are they so rare?  I’ll take a look in my next post.