Is the glass half full or half empty?

A few days ago, my friend Bob Liming who is the Director of Development at Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley in Mesa, Arizona sent me an email with a link to the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits. Being the curious type of person that I am, I clicked it and was taken to a landing page that summarized the results of a December 2010 non-profit survey commissioned by the Alliance.

Bob asked if I knew of any national surveys that might allow him to do some comparison research or benchmarking. After a little Googling around on the internet, I’ve concluded that the closest thing to a comparison is Guidestar’s survey work. Most recently, Guidestar published “Key Findings of the Late Fall 2011 Nonprofit Fundraising Study“. However, since the Alliance’s survey went out in December 2010, a better apples-to-apples comparison might be Guidestar’s “Key Findings from the 2010 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey“.

While combing through some of this data, I just loved how Guidestar framed their data findings from their most recent Late Fall 2011 survey, when they said:

“The findings of the late fall nonprofit fundraising study, which compare fundraising results during the first nine months of 2011 to those during the same period a year ago, present a glass half empty/glass half full picture

Another way to look at this is in the context of a “tipping point,” which is of course the point in time when a situation can go in either direction — good or bad.

Looking at the 2011 Guidestar report, I found the following data points interesting:

  • 41- percent of survey respondents said charitable receipts increased in 2011 over 2010, compared to 36-percent in 2010.
  • 8-percent of agencies responding reported they are in danger of closing their doors for financial reasons. However, when you break it down by budget size, the picture changes and 20-percent of smaller organizations find themselves in this position in 2012.

So, today the glass is half full because the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in three years and charitable giving appears to be slowing improving. However, the glass is half empty because the demand for non-profit services seems to be tremendously increasing and a significant number of smaller non-profit agencies seem to be on the verge of going out of business as government funding dries up.

We’re at a tipping point, indeed! Stay tuned for what is sure to be a very interesting year ahead of us.

As your agency looks forward to 2012, what do you see that is positive for you? What concerns you? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts as well as what you’re doing to position your agency for survival.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

The Secrets to Their Success?

Yesterday was a fun day for me because I managed to get out of my home office and spend some time in the field trying to sell work. So, I hopped in my car and visited one resource development director and two executive directors. During the long drive home, I reflected on each of those three visits and came to the same conclusion:

In spite of sluggish economic growth,
there are some non-profit organizations
that are doing very well!

Here is a quick run down of what I saw in the field:

  • A fundraising professional with approximately 6-months under her belt at a new agency, planned and executed a $500,000 direct mail campaign in the fourth quarter of 2011.
  • An executive director who essentially closed a significant budget deficit in a matter of just a few months.
  • An executive director who quarterbacked a fairly reluctant board through the planning and implementation of a new annual campaign (developing a new revenue stream for their agency that is approaching 10-percent of their overall revenue budget).
  • A CEO whose non-profit organization has experienced a: 38-percent increase in individual giving, 80-percent increase in foundation contributions, and 222-percent increase in corporate sponsorships . . . all over the last two years. In fact, just last year this agency signed up 250 NEW donors.

I thought this economy was supposed to be big, bad and ugly for non-profit organizations? So, being the curious person that I am, I asked lots of questions and here are some of the things I discovered that I believe are “The Secrets to Their Success”:

  • Investments in marketing — aggressive pursuit of public service announcements using print, radio and television helped two of these agencies generate amazing awareness and mission-focus throughout the communities they serve.
  • Investments in fundraising staff — all three of these organizations had either hired more fundraising professionals or were talking about doing so. It reminded me of something my for-profit friends are constantly saying: “It takes money to make money.”
  • Engaging prospects and donors — all three of these organizations haven’t been shy about calling lots and lots of people (both existing donors and lots of new folks who have never given them a penny). The strategy was simple . . . be aggressive . . . get as many people on-site to see what their agency does . . . don’t ask for money right away, but ask them shortly thereafter (a few weeks to a few months later).
  • Re-developing the board — two of the three organizations have been diligently working on identifying, cultivating and recruiting new board volunteers who are capable of writing nice checks, are willing to introduce their friends to the agency’s mission, and aren’t afraid to ask others to make a contribution.

While the last 4-years have been brutal for many non-profit organizations and some recent survey research shows that many more are on the brink of insolvency in 2012, I believe that good executive leadership with a bullish and aggressive approach to resource development and non-profit management is “the cure for all that ails you”.

Here are a few bloggers who I like pertaining to marketing, hiring fundraising staff, cultivation & stewardship, and board development:

As you look around your community, has your non-profit organization performed better than the others over the last few years of recession and sluggish recovery? If so, please use the comment box below and share one or two of your secrets. Remember . . . we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Happy holidays from DonorDreams blog!

It is the Friday before a HUGE holiday weekend for most DonorDreams blog subscribers. I’ve been beside myself for the last few weeks trying to figure out an appropriate gift idea for each of you. Ugh! What do you get for 129 of your closest social media blog friends?

I was stumped and getting worried until one of my Facebook friends posted the YouTube video titled “Christmas Food Court Flash MobHallelujah Chorus – Must See!” Then it hit me.

My gift to you is to simply share this YouTube link and wish you a ground breaking 2012 fundraising campaign.

Thanks for subscribing to the DonorDreams blog. As most of you know, 2011 was a “year of change” for me as I resigned my position at Boys & Girls Clubs of America to pursue my dream of opening a nonprofit consulting practice. In doing so, I started this blog in an attempt to “pay it forward” by providing free fundraising ideas, observations, and advice to the resource development universe. In this regard, you’ve all been a part of my transformational year.

All I can say is “Thank You” for such a tremendous gift! I look forward to our 2012 journey together.

I know many of you are probably taking some vacation time next week, but I thought it is worth mentioning that next week’s blog posts will focus on 2012 predictions and fundraising trends. You might want to keep on eye on your email inbox or find those posts when you return to work.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Final tips on building your agency’s individual giving fish tank

Welcome to Friday of individual giving week where we take a step back and try to put everything in perspective. We’re using characters from the movie “Finding Nemo” to look at various individual giving strategies.

“Crush the Turtle” helped us look at special event fundraising on Monday. Tuesday’s post focused on “Marlin” and direct mail.  Dory helped us on Wednesday peek at some of the considerations around ePhilanthropy. Yesterday we looked at annual campaigns that have a personal solicitation approach at their core.

So, let’s turn to the dentist character from “Finding Nemo” because I think he wraps-up individual giving week nicely with this movie quote:

“I can’t understand it! Here this thing says it’s got a lifetime guarantee and it breaks! I had to take all the fish out, put ’em in bags, and . . .  where’d the fish go?”

We need to always keep in mind the following immutable facts about individual giving strategies:

  • It isn’t about finding one individual giving tool and using it over and over again. We need to fill our resource development toolbox with a number of different individual giving strategies and use them together.
  • Once we build a comprehensive strategy that works with our unique set of donors, we need to understand that unlike the dentist’s fish tank there is no lifetime warranty. We need to be vigilant and continue evaluating and tweaking our approach. (e.g. mail lists need to be culled, online strategies are constantly evolving, etc.)
  • If we don’t couple our individual giving solicitation strategies very closely with a serious stewardship strategy focused on acknowledgement, appreciation, and demonstrating program outcomes/community impact/return on investment, then we’ll find ourselves in the same situation as the dentist with no more fish in the fish tank.
  • Human being are naturally inclined to want to belong to something and the best individual giving programs focus on that instinct in the following ways:

* evolving their solicitation strategies into a “membership campaign”
*tightly weaving their solicitation strategies together with stewardship activities resulting in “donor recognition societies”.
* developing a case for support that focuses on joining a “winning non-profit team” rather than using dire messages about impending financial crisis and tough economic times.

Being committed to constant evaluation involves developing relationships with our donors, asking for their feedback, and taking the time to engage smart volunteers to help pour over data and figure out what it is telling us. Here are some metrics we need to keep an eye on:

  • response rates
  • turnover/loyalty rates
  • click-through rates from email or social media message to webpage
  • number of gifts that increased vs. decreased vs. stayed the same
  • tracking crossover participation between fundraising vehicles
  • tracking donors and whether or not they are moving up the giving pyramid

The bottom line is this . . . it isn’t good enough to just build a world-class individual giving program that employs multiple strategies and tactics. While these efforts will net fundraising success, you will find your newly built fish tank that is full of pretty donors suddenly empty just a few years later. Remember, individual giving is all about individuals who filter their decisions through an emotional filter and they are always evolving. We need to evolve with those donors and meet them where they are at by committing to a donor-centered approach to resource development.

Finding time to 1) evaluate the data in a collaborative way with volunteers and donors, 2) figure out what it is telling us, and 3) make appropriate adjustments will help guarantee that our fish tank is never empty.

What does your individual giving program look like? How do you monitor your “donor fish tank” to make sure it is clean and not too dirty? What data and metrics do you look at? What tools do you use to gather data (e.g. donor database, donor surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc)? How do you involve fundraising volunteers?

Please take a minute this morning to weigh-in using the comment box below because we can all learn from each other. We have all become the professionals we are today because others took the time to invest in our development and help us grow. Please “pay it forward” with a comment today.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Magic words? Be ‘transparent’ and ask to be held ‘accountable’

When I think of non-profit organizations who embark upon a strategic planning process, I usually get a mental picture of Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear standing on that bed post proclaiming “To infinity and beyond!” However, in my experience, many non-profit organizations jump and their results are not nearly as good.

What I am referring to is the phenomenon of: engaging stakeholders . . . building consensus around vision/goals/objectives/action steps . . . writing the plan . . .  approving the plan . . . putting the plan on the shelf and letting it die a dusty death.

So, the question being begged here is: “What do non-profits leaders (board and staff) need to do in order to bring their plans to life and avoid that ‘dusty death’?”

The simple and straightforward answer can be captured in two words:




In a nutshell, “transparency” means that everyone can see your plan including: who has agreed to what, where, when, why and how. “Accountability” means that everyone can see your measurement indicators and how well (or not so well) you are doing at accomplishing the various aspects of your plan.

I love what my college alma mater  — University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign — has done in the area of transparency with their strategic plan. Click here to check out how they’ve put everything on the internet for alumni, faculty, students, parents of students, residents of Urbana and Champaign, and especially donors to view.

I also like what Binghamton University did in the area of accountability with their online strategic planning dashboard. Click here to see that dashboard tool.

So, if you find yourself saying “Well, those are large university institutions and we’re different and unique,” let me help you bring these ideas into focus for your unique situation. The following is a short list of questions I encourage you to ask yourself about your specific non-profit situation:

  • Do I want my plans to be implemented or do I want them to sit on the shelf and collect dust?
  • Do I need other people to help with plan implementation or am I OK with doing it all myself?
  • Do the donors who support my organization deserve to see how well (or not well) we are doing with implementing the plan they helped create and pay for?

If you answered “YES” to these questions, then I encourage you to pull that dusty plan off the shelf, identify the measurements and indicators you likely built into the plan, and invest in creating tools like dashboard or scorecards that easily communicate implementation progress (or hire someone who knows how to do it . . . aka an external consultant). Once that tool is developed, post it online and integrate it into all of your committee and board meetings. To quote a number of very famous people who all take credit for this expression:

“What gets measured, gets done!”

These ideas don’t just apply to strategic planning. You can employ the ideas of accountability and transparency to your resource development plan, annual campaign plan, marketing plan, business plan, etc etc etc.

There is a whole flip side to this blog post pertaining to “measuring the right things to get the right results,” but let’s save that discussion for another time.

What is stopping your agency from being bold and asking donors to hold you accountable for achieving your plans? How do you share your currently organizational progress with your donors, supporters and board volunteers? Can you use the comment box below to share examples of how you are transparent and ask others to hold you accountable? If you use online resources to accomplish these objectives, would you please include links to those examples in your comment so we can all see it?

Please take 30 seconds to weigh-in with a comment. We can and should all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847|