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.
I’ve been a donor-member of Amnesty International USA for about 40 years.
Last year I decided to set myself up on monthly payments via my checking account bill pay system. Since then, every month I get a receipt mailed to me. I file it away, without really looking at it.
Today I read through the receipt and noticed that it had a check box that said I could “go green” by having my monthly support debited from my checking account. Well, I want to “go green.” And I’m already having my support debited from my checking account.
So I thought I’d contact Member Services, which the receipt tells me I can do if I have any questions regarding my account.
It says I could email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. So I did.
I got a very rapid automated response.
Here is what it said: Read more
I just received an enewsletter from Museum Hack (which sounds like a ton of fun) sharing advice on ways that millennials are different from the generations of donors before them.
Here are two of the differences they cited:
- ” Millennials want to feel like they are a part of something and making a difference, but if the only time the XYZ contacts the donor is for money, they will not feel like they are a part of the bigger picture.”
- “When the person who asks for money and the person who thanks them knows absolutely nothing about the donor, it turns them off. Millennials feel like it is a very personal thing to give, but when they are met with no reciprocation, the engagement drops off.”
Am I missing something here? Doesn’t every donor, regardless of their age, expect the same?
I recently revived a training on basic grant seeking. I thought I’d share some of the components with you as they are useful not just for grant seeking, but also apply to other aspects of your fund raising.
Let’s start with the Letter of Inquiry.
Crafting your Letter of Inquiry (LOI) for a foundation or other institutional funder is good practice for developing your case for support.
The LOI is a preliminary, shorter version of a grant application. In one to three pages, you need to convince the funder that your proposed project is important and worthy of a more thorough review.
In the LOI, you need to make your case against strong competition (hundreds or even thousands of proposals) in order to advance to the next round of consideration.
In a very short document, you need to answer these questions:
- What good this will accomplish (problem/need) and for whom (target audience) in keeping with the objectives of the grant guidelines
- How it accomplishes the funder’s goals
- Who you are and why you are the best organization to solve this problem/address this need
- What you plan to do, when you plan to do it, who will do it and why you believe it will be effective
- What will have changed/improved as a result of this project
- How much the project will cost, how much you want from the funder, and how you will pay for the other costs
And up the ante by also ensuring that your LOI is:
- Reasonable on its face, likely to succeed
- Extraordinarily compelling
- Using language that resonates with the funders theory of change
- Complete (includes everything the funder requested)
- Compliant with the length and space limitations of the funder
While we aren’t in the proposal writing business (at least not recently), we can help you develop your case for support and assess your readiness for grants funding. Just give Jon a call at 401-331-2272 or email Jon
I’m not a great events fundraiser. I strongly encourage nonprofits to put their time and energy into cultivating donors directly rather than spending huge amounts of time on logistics for events that too often raise very little money.
But I’m far from doctrinaire about events, unlike some colleagues who poo poo their value. When done well — and that’s the caveat — events can raise significant money at a good return on investment and excite supporters and build community energy and interest in your organization and it’s mission.
Special events come “naturally” to some fundraisers who are really talented at raising money this way. I’m not, but I admire them. My take is that the backdrop of an event provides a comforting rationale to raise major individual and corporate gifts which are the secret sauce for successful events. And there are some donors who would just rather give through events. Events can be the hook for young donors or those new to philanthropy.
Online giving platforms have become a critical part of event fundraising. Today I’m sharing a guest post from Maureen Peine of DoJiggy. on what they’ve learned from their clients.
Effective Fundraising : 5 Things Our Customers Have Taught Us
By Maureen Peine, DoJiggy
Our best teachers are our customers. They use our software every day, creatively, to raise funds for the noblest of causes from hunger to education to the environment. Of these diverse organizations, there are those who stand out among the crowd for their dedication, success and effectiveness.
Crowdfunding events have become quite popular given their inherent ability to reach the audience of each constituent. Reaching constituents emotionally was done with a great degree of effectiveness by an event participant during a recent bike-a-thon to support education in California. Julia is one of the event’s top fundraisers, and from her personal fundraising page, it is easy to see why. Even the scrolling comments from her supporters reflect her commitment to education given the emotional investment shown by each supporter — “Besides the donation, sending a million blessings!”….. Literacy lives! Love, Mom”. Julia has included some touching photos of the kids she teaches and their artwork as opposed to pictures of herself, speaking loudly of her mission. Read more