A Fundraiser’s Secret Weapon: Program Colleagues

Blackbaud has published a terrific new — and free — eBook, npEXPERTS 2017  – Fundraising Matters: Building a Culture of Philanthropy. My article, “A Fundraiser’s Secret Weapon: Program Colleagues,” begins on page 23.

Use this link to download your own copy – and remember, it’s free!

npEXPERTS 2017 – Fundraising Matters: Building a Culture of Philanthropy


Is It Time to Reassess Donors’ Rights?

In September of last year, Bruce DeBoskey, who writes “On Philanthropy,” a syndicated column that appears in more than 600 newspapers, took on the Donor Bill of Rights in his column. He called it “significantly out of date” and provided his own update.

Some of you scanners out there are about to move on. Perhaps you have never heard of the Donor Bill of Rights, or you haven’t paid much attention to it for years. I’m not here to convict you of that; the truth is, the Donor Bill of Rights is a bit long in the tooth.

First, a brief history: back in 1993, shortly after Bill Clinton was inaugurated as President of the U.S., the Giving Institute (formerly known as the American Association of Fundraising Counsel), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) developed the Donor Bill of Rights, which declared all donors have 10 rights. Later, the AFP released the E-Donor Bill of Rights, adding nine more things online donors should “demand.”

The first question we should all be asking is, “Does it really matter that this document is outdated and often ignored?” I would argue that it does—because mistreatment of a donor or a donation can impact us all.

Presently, charities in the U.K. are under close scrutiny to say the least. A recent concern was voiced by a representative of the Information Commissioner’s Office related to using online search engines to research a potential donor, as that constitutes a breach of the U.K.’s Data Protection Act. Ian MacQuillin, founder and director of Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, asked in a recent article, “What relevance does any of this have for fundraisers in the U.S.?”

He wrote:

“If people outside the U.K. want to learn from this affair, the question they need to ask is not whether British charities broke data protection laws (facts); it’s how and why the data protection regulator came to the view that fundraisers ought not be permitted to use public domain information to do research about people (which is about values)… While the facts of the enforcement against charities’ wealth screening in the U.K. may not be transferable between countries, cultures and regulatory regimes, the values that underpin that action most certainly are.”

In other words, those of us who aren’t part of U.K. should not just dismiss this concern of our compadres as “their problem.” Instead, we need to shore up our own standards to ensure that we are doing all that we can to protect both our donors’ rights and our rights to thoughtfully invite people to voluntarily choose to support the work we carry out.

Which brings me back full circle to the Donor Bill of Rights. It is severely outdated. The E-Donor Bill of Rights is less so, but it’s little known. I, an active fundraiser, had never heard of it until a few years ago when one of my students came across it during an online search for an assignment. DeBoskey suggested 10 rights that he calls “strategic partnership principles.” These principles are based on the assumption that an organization and a donor are in a partnership and relate to transparency, information access, honesty and respect.

Limiting “rights” to 10, especially in our complex world, is difficult and certainly not required. However, on too many topics, we as fundraisers talk a lot, but seem to find it difficult to agree and then take action. We have a Code of Ethics, but adhering to that isn’t required to be a fundraiser, just a member of AFP. We have identified an “overhead myth,” but it’s hard to change generations of thinking that “less is better, more is evil” with a discussion that hasn’t gone mainstream. We have a greater emphasis on storytelling and reporting results, but we’re still seeing three in four new donors drop off a gift and disappear into the sunset, never to be seen again.

With all this as background, is it time to urge the AFP to launch a formal effort to update the Donor Bill of Rights, incorporating donors from offline and online sources, into a single, updated and relevant document? I argue it is, and that part of this effort should be to invite—and consider—input from the fundraisers in the trenches. Many organizations have taken the existing Donor Bill of Rights and adapted it to their situation. What can be gleaned from looking at how the original Donor Bill of Rights has been put into action in a real-world laboratory?

What do you think is the most important right an updated Donor Bill of Rights should contain? This old dog would love to hear from you with your thoughts. Together, we have a great deal of influence over how fundraising (and fundraisers) are perceived by the public. Let’s find ways to use our influence to self-regulate—and possibly stave off the (hopefully) well-intentioned efforts of regulators.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

How Accusations of ‘Financial Mismanagement’ Impact All Fundraisers

I recently read another “vindication” of a nonprofit that had been subject to a media expose. In this case, a thorough investigation by BBB Wise Giving Alliance (WGA) revealed that splashy accusations of financial mismanagement reported by multiple media sources had no merit.

It’s been disappointing to see that media outlets are less aggressive about reporting the outcome of this investigation than they were of the original, and apparently, false claims — but it’s not the first time we in the nonprofit sector have seen a story like this. It makes me mad that the media is not rushing to set the record straight.

And frankly, it should make anyone who is committed to fundraising for a nonprofit organization angry, too, because we all take some hits when another NPO is maligned. Even if it’s found that the criticism was unmerited, the reputation of a single organization – and the entire segment – still is impacted.

My brief review of this situation leads me to three important conclusions that impact every fundraiser:

  1. Negative media coverage of a single nonprofit organization can affect any of us. It’s not fair, but it’s life. That’s why proactively educating our supporters and sphere of influence about what we are accomplishing is so critical.
  1. You have to spend money to raise money. My conclusion is the nonprofit grew its revenue year over year because they intentionally made investment decisions to grow their donor base. (I base this on the amount of acquisition mail I received and their average of 25% overhead each year.) We’re all going to experience attrition of our donor file; the only sustainable response to attrition is acquisition to offset it.
  1. Proactive transparency is critical. The Leaven, a nonprofit for which I have a lot of respect (and that is one of my clients), has done an excellent job explaining their transparency without being asked. Other organizations have taken similar steps, knowing that when accusations are flying it’s often too late.

There are no perfect nonprofit organizations. We make mistakes, sometimes deliberately but usually without intent of malice. The media doesn’t cut us a lot of slack and the public often won’t either. So as a sector, let’s celebrate that WGA took the time to do a deep dive on the nonprofit, that the nonprofit cooperated fully, and that the end result was a positive report.

Originally published in npENGAGE.

Donor Behavior: They Love Us, They Love Us Not

When it concerns donors, too many fundraisers say the same two things: “But our donors love us!” and “Our donors are different.” The first is said when the fundraiser either doesn’t know or doesn’t believe the sorry state of donor retention overall or specifically for his or her organization. The latter is said when confronted with evidence about donor behavior that makes the fundraiser squirm. After all, wouldn’t an effective fundraiser have loyal donors that will stick around through thick and thin?

But regardless of what we think about our donors and their love for us, knowing some facts can help us make the decisions that lead to more loyal donors. A recent study released by Fidelity Charitable, called “The Future of Philanthropy,” provided some of those facts that cast light on what donors think about nonprofit organizations.

Why donors give: For half of the donors surveyed, giving, as a value, was motivation to donate. However, six in 10 donate because the cause is important to them.

What donors believe: Although only 17 percent of those surveyed believe that philanthropy can solve the problems they care most deeply about, 94 percent are at least somewhat optimistic. That leaves only 6 percent who are not convinced that philanthropic causes will ever have an impact on developing cures for diseases, solving the hunger crisis, providing health care or other causes that are priorities with donors. Of the Baby Boomers surveyed, 15 percent are very optimistic and 78 percent are somewhat optimistic. But Millennials are even more hopeful—29 percent are very optimistic and 68 percent are somewhat optimistic.

What donors think about us (the nonprofit community) and them (in terms of donating): Nearly half the Millennials (47 percent) believe nonprofit organizations have the potential to solve society’s problems in the future; only four in 10 (39 percent) of Baby Boomers agree with that statement. Additionally, “more than four in 10 donors believe individuals should do more to fund solutions, and half believe individual donors should maintain their support at current levels.”

I encourage you to download this report; it’s only 24 pages and well worth reading. But whether you read it or not, here are two takeaways that can challenge your thinking in the coming days.

1. People give because the cause is important to them.That implies that it’s the cause that matters, but not necessarily the organization centered on that cause. In other words, many donors love the causes we address, but may be more ambivalent about one particular organization as opposed to another.

So how do we develop donors who love our organization, as well as our cause, and who are convinced our organization is the best choice for solving the needs they care about? It seems to me that it boils down to one of today’s buzzwords: transparency. We must never be too busy or too tight on budget to make sure our donors know what happened because they gave. The stories we tell and the photos we share are essential to giving a donor a reason to believe our organization matters, not just the cause that we—and many, many others—are addressing.

It also requires genuine gratitude that shows a donor he or she is a valued partner, not just a transaction. Saying “thank you” can be automated using a computer-generated receipt or an auto-response for an online gift. But really showing the donor we’re thankful takes serious effort and a genuine belief that without the donor, our work would not be possible.

2. People also give because they have faith that maybe someday, in some small way, the problems they care about will be solved—or at the least reduced—because they gave.So in addition to saying “thank you” and sharing photos and stories that tug at the heartstrings, we need to provide facts.

For many organizations, the annual report has gone the way of the dinosaur, or at that least been relegated to a webpage about three dropdown menus removed from the home page. Producing the annual report was often the one thing that required us to ferret out the facts. So how many people did we feed? What progress did we make toward finding a cure? What can we point to that shows the impact our health clinic had on a community?

Truth be told, it was a pain to get all these facts together. It required reading grant applications and reports, and pleading with colleagues to provide the answers. But the end result was proof positive that our work had an impact, all bound in one report and (often) delivered right to the donor’s mailbox. I’m not against progress—but I am suggesting that we need to take what was good about the traditional annual report and marry it with what is awesome about today’s communication vehicles to deliver this important value to our donors because the only thing worse than never pulling together all that proof is pulling it together but not making it accessible so the donor can ingest it.

This old dog encourages you to check out Fidelity Charitable’s report and ask yourself, “So now what do I do differently as a result of reading this report?” You will be a truly effective fundraiser when you build lasting relationships with donors who love your cause—and love your organization for doing such a good job addressing it.

Originally published in NonProfitPRO.

What My Parents Taught Me About Fundraising, Part 2

Last week, I mentioned some phrases my parents had said often (it seemed ad nauseam when I was a teen) that, in hindsight, I’ve realized relate to fundraising. Here are a few more “mom-isms” and “dad-isms” that constituted my earliest training in fundraising, whether I knew it then or not.

‘When you break two needles, it’s time to stop.’

My mom was a great seamstress, and she taught my sister and me to sew, as well. But even though she seemed to always be up against a deadline, she recognized that sometimes it’s better just to set the project aside for later. When the project involved sewing, her measure was breaking the needle on the sewing machine, often a result of hurrying and trying to cut corners.

Fundraising is a lot like that, I think. We’re always against a deadline, so we rush to the finish line and hope everything ends up right. But that’s too often when mistakes happen. The salutation on the email is blank. There’s an embarrassing typo. We called the donor by the wrong name. And the list goes on. (I’m sure you have your own horror stories to go here.)

Mom was right. Sometimes the best way to finish a fundraising project on time and correctly is to set it aside for a while. Once we can look at it with fresh eyes, we often find that it’s a shorter trip to the finish line than we anticipated.

‘When you see work, do it.’

I seriously think it was about equal as to which parent said this the most (and pretending not to see work didn’t go over well with either one). In fundraising, there’s always more to be done. We can’t do everything, but if it matters to the relationship we have with a donor, or to the net income of our organization, we need to make it our priority, assign it to someone else or adjust expectations.

Fundraising is a constantly changing set of priorities, and our job is to make sure what matters most isn’t neglected. I admit there are some things I gravitate to first because I enjoy them more. But, sometimes, the ramifications of something not getting done are significant—so that’s what I have to do first.

‘You’re crabby. You need sleep.’

Variations: “You’re crabby. Eat an apple.” “You’re crabby. Take a break.” My mom seemed to know my needs for sleep, food and a respite better than I did. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized an uncomfortable truth: Mom was right. I really am a less pleasant person to be around when I am tired, hungry or too close to something to have a healthy perspective.

In the heat of the moment (like right before a gala or at year-end crunch time), stopping for food, sleep or even a 10-minute walk outside seems like a luxury we can postpone. But the time spent recharging can make the remaining hours far more productive (and in my case, more pleasant for others). After years in fundraising I can honestly say that neglecting your own basic needs is one of the worst ways to be an effective fundraiser.

‘Give a dollar’s worth of work for a dollar’s worth of pay.’

My first job was pricing merchandise and stocking shelves at a department store. I worked on the floor that sold bedding, towels and curtains. It was not scintillating for a 16-year-old. Added to that, I made minimum wage—and believe me, it was minimum. But I quickly learned that gaming the system and loafing on the job was not a way to earn my dad’s praise.

This dad-ism is a reminder to stay focused on always looking for ways to show the donor how he or she is getting a dollar’s worth of value from a dollar’s worth of a donation. Finding the stories, picking through the data to find the statistic that is going to make a project come alive, requesting a photo that really will paint a thousand words—all that and more helps us give our donors a sense of pride in what they are making possible.

I cringe when I think about what my daughter would say when asked for her mom’s trite sayings. But this old dog has learned that even in the clichés, there are kernels of truth that help shape us into the people—and fundraisers—who are changing the world, one corner at a time.

Originally published in Nonprofit Pro.

What My Parents Taught Me About Fundraising, Part 1

Growing up, we didn’t talk about fundraising at our dinner table, but looking back, I have learned that my parents prepared me for my career by teaching me important lessons. I recently jotted down a few of these lessons to share with you in this and the next few posts.

I need to preface this by saying that I often referred to my mom (not to her face, of course) as “the Slogan Queen.” Certain messages she repeated again and again, much to my irritation. But maybe Mom was on to something.

‘You can’t tear down Schurz.’

I attended Carl Schurz High School, a Chicago public school. When I attended, it was more than 60 years old and only a few years away from being named a Chicago landmark. (Now it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.) But all the wonderful history didn’t interest me. My friends who lived in the suburbs were the lucky ones. They attended new, modern school buildings resplendent with all the conveniences. But every time I complained about our “ancient” school building, my mom would say, “You can’t tear down Schurz.”

That sentiment is true in fundraising, too. Sure, there are shiny new objects that appeal far more than the boring fundraising of days gone by. But fundraisers are in the business of raising funds (duh!), and that means we have to do what works even as we test new methods. “Methodology envy” has no place in a fundraiser’s life—but neither does resistance to change. We may not be able to tear down the program that is working, but we can constantly look to refresh it to be even more effective.

‘Don’t cut corners.’

This was a familiar refrain from my father. Sometimes he meant it literally—walking on the grass instead of making the turn on the sidewalk was a serious offense!—but it also was how he performed his work.

Sometimes, as a fundraiser, it’s tempting to take a shortcut and skip some of the groundwork that allows us to ask for the truly transformational gift. It seems prudent to save time and money by cancelling the reporting and newsletter updates so we get right to the next ask. But we’re investing in long-term relationships—and support—from our donors. We need to make sure we are not looking for shortcuts that save time but potentially discourage supporters from continuing to give.

‘Different people spend their money differently.’

This was another quote from “the Slogan Queen.” She usually said it when I complained that our neighbors went to Disney World for spring break when we just visited the grandparents.

In our fundraising programs, we constantly are making choices about how we invest limited budgets. Sometimes, (to quote my dad here) we have Champagne appetites on beer budgets. We get envious of what colleagues in other organizations are doing and forget that we are responsible to make the choices that maximize the portion of our donors’ investments that we are using for additional fundraising. When you aren’t sure if you’re just looking to invest money “differently” instead of better, ask yourself how you would feel explaining the choice you make to your donors. If you feel squeamish, it’s possibly not the best decision and it’s time to look for a different alternative.

‘Say thank you.’

Some of you remember having to write your grandparents a thank-you note for the $1 they sent at your birthday. My mom sat me down at the kitchen table with a pen (or pencil when I was younger) and paper, and wouldn’t let me go out to play until I wrote my thank-you notes. What a chore!

But if you ever have been on the receiving end of a genuine message of gratitude, you know how much it is appreciated. And if you’ve ever felt taken for granted because someone neglected to say “thanks,” you know how irksome that can be. Saying “thank you” to our donors should not be a chore we avoid at all costs. Instead, it should be a task we do gratefully because we know it’s because of our donors’ generosity that we have jobs and that our missions are moving forward.

Perhaps it’s a result of this old dog getting older, but I am reminded frequently how the lessons I chaffed at as a child actually built a solid foundation for my fundraising career. What principles did your parents, a teacher or another caring person instill in you that still impact you today? Let’s celebrate those pithy truths together!

Originally published in Nonprofit Pro.

Fundraising Reminders and Refreshers

At the Bridge Conference last week, I had the opportunity to attend several breakout sessions. Like any conference, there were hits and misses, but I learned a few things, was reminded of many things and had some other things I was convinced of confirmed. So, all in all, it was a good investment of time and money.

The following is a random list of things I noted during the sessions. Maybe you can glean a few things that will get you thinking in new directions, too.

Building Donor Loyalty: Just What Do We Know?
Adrian Sargeant

  • “The confused mind always answers ‘no.’”
  • Thank-you letters should open with praising the donor for what he or she made possible.
  • A 10 percent improvement in retention rate can improve your retention by 50 percent or more.

Mind-Blowing Mid-Level Strategies That Generate Game-Changing Results
Tom Gaffny and Angel Aloma

  • Gaffny talked about the “Battered Donor Syndrome.” The donor needs to feel like a hero; it’s all about the donor, not the organization.
  • Eliminate “help” in donor-centric language; make it about what the donor can do, not what he or she can help you do.

The Path to a Knockout Statement
Jennifer Broome and Suzanne Burrows

  • In developing your case, show your donors how much more you have the capacity to do based on the current impact of your programs.
  • Ask yourself, “How can I use what I have in the most compelling way?” (In my experience, what we have isn’t always much, but that’s one thing that makes our job as fundraisers interesting.)

Getting Your Digital House in Order: What Your Smaller Nonprofit Can Do to Raise More Money Online
Jim Jacobs, Jeff Kost and Lisa Kaneff

  • When beginning to renovate your online presence, ask, “Who needs to be enlisted (to make it happen), and what needs to be invested?”
  • Shift your conversation from transactions to what’s important to the donor. Show your donor he or she has an opportunity to make a lasting difference.

Mid-Level Magic: How to Conjure Upgrades From Your Mass Market Donors
Lisa Maska and Josh Adler

  • If one thing isn’t working, try something new. (As Albert Einstein said, insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”)

The Offer Is the Story, the Story Is the Offer: The Real Reasons Donors Give, and How to Reach Them
Jeff Brooks and Jann Schultz

  • Donors give to express their values, not to support your organization.
  • Fundraising is all about action—the donor’s action. It’s not about what your organization does.
  • Fundraising is all about outcomes, not process. Organizations love the process, but fundraisers have to excite the donors with the outcomes.

What’s Happening in the Nonprofit Sector: Industry Trends and Insights
Carol Rhone

  • If you have a growing sustainer program, you will have upgrading; this will most likely not result in larger amounts, just greater frequency.
  • Donor loss comes from lapsed new donors; income loss comes from lapsed repeat donors and downgraded gifts.
  • On your website, ask for a monthly gift first; make a one-time gift the second option.

How am I applying these learnings? It’s impacting my copywriting, beginning with the opening line of the thank-you letter. It has me rethinking the entire path we lay out for new donors, and how we time our communication to them. It reminds me again that good fundraising isn’t what I like; it’s whether or not it raises money.

It’s always good to be reminded, as this old dog was, that it really is all about the donor. Whenever we forget that, even for a paragraph or a post, we risk sending our donor right into the arms of another organization that remembers where its focus belongs.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.