All posts pertaining to the philosophy named donor-centered fundraising and espoused by Penelope Burk

Donor centered newsletters Part two

On Friday, I used my blog post to start addressing a question posed by Susan Rudd from the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington in Indiana about donor-centered newsletters. Both Friday and today’s posts are based completely on the work of Penelope Burk’s book “Donor Centered Fundraising“. While I spent Friday sharing Penelope’s survey data in an effort to “make the case for change”, today I will share some thoughts (specifically from Penelope’s work) on what donor-centered newsletters look like.

On pages 99 through 103, Penelope Burk does a tremendous job of laying out her vision:

  • Turn the multi-page length newsletters into one-page bulletins complemented by a lengthier year-end annual report.
  • Sharply focus content on programmatic impact while taking great care not to turn it into a parade of yawn-inspired statistics (e.g. use success stories, client and/or donor testimonials, sporadic stats, etc. that has a “features news story feel to it”). Avoid fundraising news because donors see through it as blatant advertising. They want to know how their last contribution is making a difference not how they can make another contribution. The key here is always focus content on your organization’s “IMPACT AGENDA”.
  • The format of a one-page bulletin will mean there is very limited space after the masthead, a photo with cutline, list of board members, and contact info is included. So, content needs to be professional, crisp, compact and impactful.
  • The publication frequency can be driven by a well laid out schedule, but Penelope encourages us to be more organic and publish a one-page bulletin every time something newsworthy occurs. So, a bulletin could go out a number of months in a row and then go silent until something else of significance happens.

OK … so this might sound a little radical to some of you. It also might sound intimidating because this approach requires time, tender loving care, and professional writing skills (which many non-profits don’t have a lot of). It is for this reason, Penelope encourages those wishing to move in this direction to do the following (page 102):

“Newsletters, like all communication pieces produced by not-for-profit organizations, need to look sharp and professional but not expensive. In-house publishing software makes this entirely achievable today. The savings you can accrue through shorter production time, lower printing costs, cheaper postage, etc. can be turned back into programs and services or devoted to other communication enhancements. My choice would be to put that savings into contract writers.”

As a former writer and editor for a weekly newspaper and currently a non-profit / fundraising consultant and coach, I find it hard to argue with Penelope probably because it is in my best interest to agree with her. LOL.

With that disclosure, let me say this … I am happy to provide a free consultation to anyone investigating how to shift from boring ineffective newsletters to something more donor-centered. Who knows … you might even be able to engage my services, produce and mail your new donor-centered news bulletins for what is currently in your budget. Please contact me if you wish to talk.

So, what do you think? Does this new approach sound too radical? What are your barriers to change? Please use the comment box below and share your thoughts.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

Donor centered newsletters Part One

A few days ago, Susan Rudd from the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington in Indiana emailed me and asked: “Do you have any suggestions on how to make our newsletter more donor-centered?” I promised her that I’d think about it and blog about it this week. So, I immediately cracked open my copy of Penelope Burk’s book “Donor Centered Fundraising” and started researching. As you can imagine, there are lots and lots of data points (based on Penelope’s survey data), and I’ve decided to break my response into two separate blog posts.

Today’s blog post focuses on the case for changing your non-profit’s newsletter. Monday’s post will look at specific ideas on how to change this critically important donor communication tool. I again want to thank Penelope Burk for her groundbreaking research and reiterate that none of what I am about to share with you are my original thoughts or work. Please go out and purchase a copy of “Donor Centered Fundraising” … it will change your life!

The following is a quick summary of survey data on the current state of affairs regarding non-profit newsletters (please note that these results are based upon “survey respondents” and hopefully I don’t need to go into any detail with you about the limitations of survey research):

  • 66% of donors reported that “they don’t have time to read newsletters thoroughly”.
  • 58% of donors said they believe non-profit newsletters are “too long”.
  • The average newsletter dedicates 52% of space to programs/services and 24% of space to fundraising.
  • 99% of non-profits participating in the study produced printed newsletters and 22% also produced an e-newsletter.
  • Only 19% of donors reported that they were “satisfied” with the current length of the newsletters they receive.
  • Only one-third of donors said newsletter content is “exciting and compelling” with approximately the same number of respondents reporting that there is “too much fundraising content”.
  • 54% of donors feel that newsletters can be improved if “more targeted information on how donations are being used” was included.
  • 53% of donors said they are “concerned about the cost of newsletters”.

There can be no doubt after reviewing this research that there is but one conclusion — something must change if non-profits want to make the transition to a new donor-centered paradigm of resource development.

So, this is where I will leave the “cliff hanger” and ask that you take time this weekend to ponder the case for change. While digesting the facts, please ask yourself the following questions … How do my donors feel about our newsletter? Have I asked donors how they’d improve it?  What have I heard? If I haven’t asked, what is stopping me from doing so? How much of our content is focused on programmatic ROI versus fundraising? How “stale” is the newsletter content by the time donors receive it in their mailbox? If you get a chance, please share some of your observations in the comment box of this blog.

Stay tuned for part two of this series when I share some possible solutions with you on Monday.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

The magic of engagement

Here I was last night watching fireworks when found myself engaged in a conversation with a gentleman by the name of “Dan”. In no time, our conversation turned to non-profit organizations and philanthropy. As he ticked through a number of different organizations he has supported over the years, he ended each of those thoughts with a negative memory attached to a fundraising issue or event. Here is a list of terms he used repeatedly used:

  • Dreaded special events
  • Rubber chicken dinners
  • Money grubbers
  • Beggars

If you personally know me, then you know how enthusiastic I am about philanthropy. So, this conversation was painful to sit through. However, five minutes into our chat Dan’s tone changed completely when he started talking about a new charity in which he has recently gotten involved. The name of this non-profit organization is Year Up.

I was desperate to change the path we had been on, so I started asking questions about this particular  non-profit organization. What I discovered just confirms everything I’ve learned about philanthropy over the last 15 years. In a nutshell, Dan glowed on and on about a recent “rubber chicken fundraising dinner” where participants weren’t just asked to give money, but the entire program was geared towards promoting involvement.

  • Creating internship opportunities for clients
  • Helping clients with resumes, cover letters, and their job search
  • Mentoring clients

While these words didn’t exactly come out of Dan’s mouth, he essentially said, “Ah ha! Finally a non-profit organization that isn’t just after my money. I am more than just a meal ticket. I am seen as a partner who is willing to roll up his sleeves and help advance the mission.” Most importantly, he had a twinkle in his eye and was obviously excited.

In my opinion, this is exactly what Penelope Burk is talking about when she writes about “donor centered fundraising”.

Isn’t it funny how many fundraising and non-profit professionals are afraid to ask donors to get involved? All I can figure is that we practice this avoidance behavior because we’re afraid donors will see us as “asking for too much” and withdraw their support completely. So, instead of letting donors make decisions about their own time and level of engagement, we oftentimes make that decision for them.

I can imagine that there are donors who might stop supporting a non-profit organization if they feel harassed. With that being said, I’m not advocating harassment tactics. So, here is my challenge to you … identify 10 current donors and schedule face-to-face visits with them sometime in the next 30 days. During your sitdown meeting, talk to them about the impact their most recent financial contribution has made and then ask each donor this simple question: “in addition to your generous financial support, is there anything else you would like to do to support the mission?” Don’t offer up your ideas and thoughts. Just like when you are soliciting a contribution, be very quiet and still after asking the question.

You might just be surprised with where the conversation leads you. You might also like what kind of fundraising and non-profit professional or volunteer you become. I bet you will find an army of people just like Dan who will roll up their sleeves and end up becoming some of your most loyal donors. And those donors who are happy remaining financial supporters and cheerleaders will likely be thrilled that you asked.

Do you know anyone like Dan? What words have they used to describe fundraising and non-profit organizations? Have they fallen in love with a particular charity? If so, what do you attribute to their change of heart? Please use the comment section of this blog to share because these stories can be so transformative for so many of us.

Sorry for today’s super long post, but I always get excited when I can relay a real life donor story to those of you who care so much about philanthropy.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

Fundraisers are seagulls

One of my favorite books in the whole world is my autographed copy of “Donor Centered Fundraising” by Penelope Burk. As many of you know, Penelope Burk is the CEO of Cygnus Applied Research. Their survey research is some of the only work of its kind when it comes to donor retention and communications. It isn’t uncommon for me to just pull her book from my bookshelf at home and curl up and read a few chapters, which is exactly what I did yesterday.

More oftentimes than not, I find myself closing the book, shaking my head, and wondering what is wrong with us? (and by “us” I mean non-profit and resource development professionals) For example, yesterday I closed the book and started wondering “what would Emily Post — America’s foremost authority (even from the grave) on all things dealing with etiquette — think of my profession?”

If you think this is a harsh and an unfair question, please consider the following findings from Penelope Burk’s research:

  • 71% of non-profits reported that they “communicate” with their donors by inviting them to a special event (Donor Centered Fundraising, page 52). I suspect most of these special events are fundraising events, which I believe is just more solicitation. “Thank you for your last contribution Mr. & Mrs. Smith! May we please have some more?”
  • 94% of donors who responded to the survey said that the non-profits they support either never or hardly ever call them on the phone without asking for another contribution (Donor Centered Fundraising, page 55).  “Thank you for your last contribution Mr. & Mrs. Smith! May we please have some more?”
  • 98% of donors who responded said they either never or hardly ever personally see someone from their favorite charities without getting asked for another contribution (Donor Centered Fundraising, page 55).   “Thank you for your last contribution Mr. & Mrs. Smith! May we please have some more?”

Friends, family, and countrymen … what have we become?  At the risk of being over-the-top, I suggest that many non-profit and resource development folks have turned into those self-absorbed seagulls from the movie “Finding Nemo“. Check out this YouTube video clip to refresh your memory, and for this analogy think of the seagulls as fundraising professionals and Nemo as a donor.

Oh, you don’t believe me? Then please consider this … on pages 52-56, Penelope Burk rattles off the top 10 typical reasons that fundraisers provide for not doing a better job with personal stewardship-oriented communications. One of the reasons listed is: “We are overwhelmed by the numbers and feel that if we make personal contact with one donor, we will be obligated to do the same with every donor within the same period, something that might be logistically impossible.” Hmmmm, that certainly sounds like it is all about us … “MINE! MINE! MINE!” And many of the other 10 reasons on Penelope’s list sound very similar to “ME! ME! ME!”

I beg you … let’s start behaving like human beings and take a page out of Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette. I suspect that doing so will get all of us a little closer to what Penelope describes as “being donor-centered”.

Are you a seagull? Have you seen other fundraising professionals behave like seagulls? What written policies does your organization have that keeps you from behaving like a seagull? Please use the comment box to share any stories or best practices or random thoughts on this subject. We can all learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

What are you saying?

Last night I was watching Comedy Central before bedtime and caught an interview between Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.  It was obvious that Norquist made an appearance on The Colbert Report because he wants to “cultivate” new Millennial generation voters and educate them about his anti-tax message.

Unfortunately for poor Grover, his time was not well spent because when all was said and done the only thing he essentially accomplished was to 1) explain his anti-tax pledge and 2) demonstrate how much he hates taxes. He never got around to telling the young Millennial audience WHY an anti-tax position is important to their generation. I was left wondering what is the case for support?

This got me thinking about many recent conversations I’ve had with non-profit friends. We’ve focused too much on the “how to” communicate with prospects & donors as well as the “how often” to do it. Unfortunately, I think we’re missing the boat (like Grover did last night) by not talking about WHAT should we say to our prospects and donors.

In today’s day and age of non-profit competitiveness, it is not good enough to:

  • send out a gift acknowledgement letter that just says “thank you”
  • mail a quarterly newsletter to donors
  • e-blast informational emails
  • call donors with appreciation
  • host a recognition event
  • get the newspaper to print your press releases
  • set-up and use Facebook pages and Twitter accounts

This laundry list is important, but even more important is what your messaging will be once your secure and use these communication vehicles. Here are a few suggestions to help you fine tune your messaging:

  • Go back and re-read everything you’ve used in the last 3-months.
  • Assess the messaging with a critical eye. Ask yourself if there is a fine tuned message focused on what you do, why you do it, and where are you doing it, and why is it urgent and critical for the community. (If all you hear is “blah-blah-blah,” then you have some work to do.)
  • Pull together a focus group of donors and ask them what messages they hear and what do they want to hear.
  • Dust off your organization’s “case for support” document. Re-read, assess, test, and re-write based on what you hear from others.

Tom Ahern put it best in his most recent e-newsletter when he said: “Our job as donor communicators, I am now convinced by experience and research, is to bring JOY to the donor’s door.”

Has your donor communications brought joy to your donors? Have you asked them? Or are you just grabbing the megaphone and yelling as loudly as you can “we need more money”? Please go to the comment section of this blog and weigh-in on your organization’s communications best practices and how you know they are effective. Let’s learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

Donors and organizational politics

A good friend of mine (and a reader of this blog) sent me an email yesterday suggesting that I start reading another blog called “The Third Sector Report“. Being a firm believer that good writers are good readers, I clicked the link and tried that blog on for size. This week’s post by Jeffrey Wilcox CFRE talks about politics inside of non-profit organizations.

Wilcox’s words hit me sideways and personally. They took me back in time to board meetings where two or three groups of board members were discussing different building options prior to beginning work on a capital campaign. Some volunteers wanted us to acquire land and build in one place. Others wanted to expand on our current site. Still others (including one of our biggest and most influential donors) wanted us to acquire an existing building and renovate.

When you get a bunch of people together who are mission-focused and passionate, politics can’t help but enter the equation. Sometimes it is paid staff at odds with board volunteers, and it really gets interesting when donors get involved.

Wilcox suggests that politics is unavoidable and urges non-profit leaders to develop a political management toolkit. There are lots of awesome tools one of which is a written succession plan. <Yikes!> However, I don’t want to steal his thunder. I urge you read his blog post for suggestions of the other tools to include in your toolkit.

In the end, I am convinced this “political management toolkit” is a great opportunity for non-profit leaders to get donors involved. CEOs and development professionals are wasting an engagement opportunity if they sit down and pound out a communication policy by themselves. I don’t see any problem with involving key donors and board volunteers in development of the executive director’s annual performance management plan.

Some donors just don’t have time to join the board of directors, a standing committee or a special event committee. So, why not ask them if they want to help out with a small project that has a distinct start and end? If you can make the case for why these tools in your political management toolkit are important, you will likely find a few donors who are willing to help. In the end, that donor is likely to be more engaged and as we all know … “money follows involvement”.

The bonus, of course, is that you’ve simultaneously built more organizational capacity in addition to deepening key donors’ engagement. Additionally, if the project involves something that a donor is passionate about, then you are modeling what a good “donor-centered” resource development professional looks like.

Have you ever included key donors who are not board volunteers in short-term projects? What was your experience and the results? Please weigh-in and let us know.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653