Uh-Oh: “The only time I ever see you is when you’re asking me for a donation”

stewardship1Last week I was out with a friend for a glass of wine after work. We hadn’t seen each other in a few months, and we were catching up on lost time. “How are you? How is the new job? How’s your wife? Kids? Grandkids?” You know the drill. It was during this exchange that he dropped the bomb: “So, how is your partner? Ya know … the only time I ever see him is when he is asking me for a donation.

I’ve been doing non-profit work for a long time now, and I’ve trained myself to recognize this for what it is worth. Whenever I hear donors say something like this, I immediately think of it as a cry for help. It is a donor who is screaming for attention. They want to know:

  1. Was my contribution appreciated?
  2. Is my contribution being put to work in the manner in which I was told it would be during the solicitation visit?
  3. Is my contribution making an impact?

This is classic Penelope Burk stuff right out of her book “Donor Centered Fundraising“.

donor centered fundraising book coverWhat does your donor communication program look like? Does it include:

  • newsletters
  • bulk email / eNewsletters
  • annual reports
  • impact bulletins
  • computer generated gift acknowledgement letters
  • handwritten letters
  • donor recognition societies (featuring stewardship activities)
  • donor receptions
  • donor surveys and focus groups

I suspect many of you utilize some of these best practices, but are you missing the most powerful and simple stewardship activity of them all? My gut feeling tells me that the answer to this question is probably ‘YES’.

If you are using a “prospect assignment process” that allows you to pair prospects with volunteer solicitors who they know well, then you need to take it one step further and design a stewardship program around those relationships.

You should not assume that two people who know each other fairly well don’t lose touch with each other. It happens all the time. Take a moment to mentally review everyone in your life with whom you own a phone call, email or letter. I bet that list is longer than you originally thought.

If you want to improve your donor loyalty rate (and stop losing donors for silly reasons), then I suggest you do these two simple things:

  1. Amend your written volunteer solicitor job description to include one more task that includes two personal touches (e.g. phone call or sit-down meeting). The first conversation is a simple touch focused on saying thank you and updating them on how their contribution is being used. The second touch is equally as simple with a reiterated message of appreciation and an update on how their contribution is having an impact.
  2. Develop a tickler system and poke your volunteers when it is time to make these two calls. We’re all busy, and reminders are necessary. You shouldn’t expect your volunteer solicitors to remember when stewardship calls should be made.

stewardship2These personal touches do not have to be all about your non-profit organization. I suggest that you train your volunteers to be less obvious. For example, both stewardship touches could be as simple as three minutes worth of messaging in the middle of a lunch meeting or after-work cocktail. It should feel organic and nature. It shouldn’t feel forced or contrived.

Making these additions to your donor communication program will likely improve your donor loyalty rates, but it should also help your volunteers become better solicitors . . . less reluctant and more confident.

If there is one thing I hear all of the time from volunteers, it is how fearful they are with  “over-soliciting” their friends for charitable gifts. I believe this is rooted in the fact that volunteers aren’t involved in the stewardship process. So, they have doubts that the right things are being done in between solicitation calls to demonstrate return on investment.

So why not involve them?

Oh yeah . . . there is one more added benefit to adding these tactics to your stewardship plan. You end up stewarding your volunteer solicitors at the same time because you are providing them updates to share with their friends and your donors.

Does your agency have something like this folded into its stewardship program (e.g. Moves Management)? If so, how well does it work for you? Have you tracked your success? What was the impact on your retention rates? What were your challenges and how did you overcome them? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

By the way, my partner is a subscriber to this blog. So, my shout out to him is: “I think you should reach out to you-know-who and schedule time to catch up over a glass of bourbon.”  😉

Here’s to your health!

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

Is your non-profit only living for today? Then you need Picasso!

picasso1Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Not Pretty,” John talks about Pablo Picasso’s painting of Gertrude Stein and how it was a portrait of what he thought she would look like as an older woman. John used this story to springboard off into organizational development and change management themes. It was the following passage from his post that really got me thinking:

First off, how the organization performs in the future may hardly resemble how the organization is performing today … Time — aging — will have its way.  Things will change. Without the critical development of structure, process, culture, and talent, time — and change — will wreak havoc.  Capabilities will erode.  New capabilities will be needed.”

When I read this, I visualized rocks being pounded by ocean waves. In real-time, the rocks seem to win because waves disperse and scatter into mist and foam. However, the reality of the situation is the absolute opposite. The waves are actually winning. Right? Because in the long run those rocks turn into sand as a result of the pounding they take.

In this analogy, your non-profit agency is the rock and you’re more than likely eroding.

picasso2As time passes, the waves of change crash against your seemingly rock solid organizational exterior, but change is slowly occurring. Here are just a few examples:

  • You lose employees
  • You lose board volunteers
  • Your strategic plan is aging (in fact, all of your plans are aging)
  • Your technology systems are becoming outdated and old
  • Your base of donors gets older and their individual capacities change
  • Best practices and cutting edge practices morph and refine themselves (e.g. who saw online giving as an option 50 years ago?)
  • Your community’s economic foundation is eroding and changing (e.g. industrialization to information, local to global, etc)

Whether you feel it or not, your non-profit organization is being pounded into one big pile of sand.

And you are more than likely making things worse!

In recent years, there has been a lot written about “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle” by folks like Dan Pallotta (via his books Uncharitable and Charity Case) as well as the recent open letter titled “The Overhead Myth” from GuideStar, Charity Navigator and Better Business Bureau.

I think an article by Ann Goggins Gregory and Don Howard in Stanford Social Innovation sums up the mistake many of us are making very well:

“A vicious cycle is leaving nonprofits so hungry for decent infrastructure that they can barely function as organizations—let alone serve their beneficiaries. The cycle starts with funders’ unrealistic expectations about how much running a nonprofit costs, and results in nonprofits’ misrepresenting their costs while skimping on vital systems—acts that feed funders’ skewed beliefs. To break the nonprofit starvation cycle, funders must take the lead.”

Is this you? Are you skimping? Are you living for today and ignoring tomorrow?

picasso4I really like the last sentence in this previous passage because it dovetails with John’s organizational development blog post about Pablo Picasso so very well.

In a previous post titled “Ending the ‘Overhead Myth’ is everywhere,” I was skeptical. I honestly don’t think an open letter to donors or a ton of online chatter will change donor perceptions about the value of investing in what John describes as “…structure, process, culture, and talent…”

If you’re going to engage your donors in this discussion because they are the key to allowing you to invest in what they perceive as “overhead,then you’re going to need someone like Pablo Picasso to help you assess what your organization will look like in the future. This information will help you develop your case for support, which is what you need before engaging your donors in this conversation.

Is this way too much work for you to consider? No problem . . . I’ll see you at the beach!  😉

What is your agency doing to engage donors and win their hearts and minds when it comes to “The Overhead Myth” and the “Nonprofit Starvation Cycle”?  Who is your Pablo Picasso helping you with organizational assessment (both present and future)? If you’re thinking about using an external consultant to help you with all of this . . . I think I know someone who wants to help you!  😉

Here’s to your health!

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

Spray and pray fundraising strategies don’t work anymore

spray and prayThe concept of “spray and pray” in resource development is simply sending out many appeals (aka shotgun effect), and then waiting for (aka hoping and praying) that enough donors respond so that you can make your goal. “Spray and pray” doesn’t just refer to direct mail. Back in the day, I used it in annual campaigns where I asked fundraising volunteers to identify five people from their social network, sit down with them in-person, and ask for a pledge or contribution. If your fundraising program is still loaded with “spray and pray” strategies, then you’re probably struggling because those days are long since over.

I decided to blog about this topic today because it has now come up in conversations with clients and fundraising professionals and in other various ways (e.g. things I read, etc) more than just a few times over the last six months.

Why? Why? Why?

I’m not sure that I care about “The Why?” A friend of mine used to say all the time — “It is what it is” — which was his cute way of saying “It doesn’t matter because getting to an answer doesn’t change the fact that you still need to address the issue.”

For those of you who are still searching for answers, I encourage you to not think too hard about it. The fact of the matter is that the Great Recession changed everything. Economists, politicians and newscasters have taken to using the phrase “The New Normal” to describe things in our communities that look-act-behave differently now than they did before the stock market tanked in 2008. Let’s face it . . . things are different and it impacts donor behavior.

In my opinion, the answer is simple and right under our noses. Take a step back and look at your own philanthropy.

Before the recession, my partner and I were making contributions (of various sizes and shapes) to 12 or more non-profits both locally and nationally. Some of those agencies were near and dear to our hearts, and others just got lucky because they asked us on the right day at the right time.

After the recession, the number of organizations we support has dropped. You might think that it is because of limited money, fear of market forces and other recession-related issues. While this may be somewhat true, none of these reasons are even close to the big reason. If we were playing The Family Feud, Richard Dawson would shout out . . . “Survey Says?” and the number one answer for me (and I trustthink millions of other donors) would be:


In most cases, my partner and I eliminated our support of those non-profit organizations where we didn’t have a personal connection. We support agencies where we:

  • know a staff person
  • know a board member
  • know a friend who is passionate about their mission

In those instances, we TRUST that our contribution will be used in the manner they said it would be used. We TRUST the outcomes and impact they claim to achieve in their case for support is factual. We TRUST that we’ll be kept in the loop (aka stewardship) on how things are going either through traditional means (e.g. newsletters, eBlasts, etc) or through informal means (e.g. word of mouth from that staff person, board member or friend). Hopefully both!

What replaces “Spray and Pray”?

In order to build trust, you need to become more personal in every aspect of your fundraising program:

  • Your cultivation efforts need to focus on pressing the flesh. Get prospective donors in your door and touring your facilities and programs.
  • Your solicitation efforts need to focus on two things: 1) matching the right solicitor with the right donor based upon their personal relationship and 2) making the ask in-person with the right case for support themes that resonate with that donor.
  • Your stewardship efforts need to focus on a multi-channel approach — mail, phone and in-person. Just sending newsletters isn’t enough anymore.

I am sure that some of you are overwhelmed by these suggestions because you have thousands of donors and limited resources. To those of you who might be shaking your heads and clinging to your spray and pray strategies, I have two things to say to you:

  1. Evolve or die! Welcome to “The New Normal” . . . you need change because someone has “moved your cheese“.
  2. Use your donor database! Technology is amazing and you should have the ability to segment your donor list. You may not be able to become personal with thousands of donors, but your Top 10, Top 100 or Top 250 donors are super important to you and a little bit of focus can go a long way.

What has been your organization’s experience lately with spray and pray fundraising strategies? What have you done to adapt? Have certain strategies worked better than others? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Lights. Camera. Action! Are you watching this stuff?

lights camera actionLast year I wrote a post titled “FREE fundraising movies every Monday morning? Sign me up!“. It was all about Chris Davenport and 501 Videos. I talked about some of the services provided to non-profit organizations by this company, but I focused mainly on the free videos that come out every Monday morning on a variety of fundraising topics.

Of course, I’m a subscriber to the “Monday Movies for Development Directors” service. Why? First, it is FREE. Duh! Second, I love listening to fundraising professionals and donors talk about philanthropy. I find it uplifting and a great way to start my week. Finally, each video is only approximately five minutes in length. Anything more would be too much of a time commitment on a busy Monday morning.

Have you been watching lately?

I ask because there was some amazing content published by 501 Videos in the last few months. Today, I will focus on two videos that I believe have the power to transform your fundraising program if you let them.

Looking at Donors as Partners

penelope burkEpisode #228 . . . this video is simply a testimonial from Sara Morris, who is the CEO of Alliance for Education. The content is focused on donor-centered fundraising.

I think this video grabbed my attention because donor-centered fundraising is one of those BUZZ words that has been circulating in fundraising circles for years. God knows that I’ve been worshiping at Penelope Burk’s alter for a good long time and blogging about it, too. (Penelope is pictured here. Click it to see her blog.)

Talk is talk, and it can be cheap. What I love about this video is that Sara tells us what she and her agency actually did to shift FROM transactional fundraising TO donor-center fundraising.

Testimonials are powerful. I was transfixed to my computer monitor.

Click here to watch that video.

While you’re there, I suggest you subscribe to 501 Video’s free Monday morning video service if you already haven’t done so. Also, please scroll down and take a minute to share your thoughts and reactions in the comment box below.

Emotional Triggers and how to use them

the written wordEpisode #239 . . . Tom Ahern. Do I need to say anything more? OMG! It is Tom Ahern, who I consider one of the rock stars of the written word.

I personally subscribe to Tom’s eNewsletter. As many of you know, I used to run a small town weekly newspaper in a different life. I didn’t win any Pulitzer prizes, but I did receive some awards from the Illinois Press Association. So, listening to Tom talk about how to use the written word to speak to a donor’s soul was a real treat for me. In fact, it was so inspiring that I ran out and bought Tom’s DVD titled “How do you create a compelling Case for Support?

In this Monday morning video, Tom masterfully speaks to the idea of emotional triggers. This is where the art of writing and the science of psychology meet, and I find it fascinating.

Click here to watch that video.

As I said in the previous section, I suggest you subscribe to 501 Video’s free Monday morning video service if you already haven’t done so. Also, please scroll down and take a minute to share your thoughts and reactions about what Tom Ahern has to say about donor communications in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

How much money should your non-profit have in reserve?

operating reservesIdentifying blog topics can be hard. Sometimes you find a comfort zone and ideas flow freely. Other times, it is next to impossible and the writers block is crippling. So, I love it when readers sometimes email me on the side and suggest topics.

Yesterday, a reader did exactly that when she emailed me with the following request:

“Do you take requests?  If so,  I would love to hear your take on social service agencies that have more than 6 months of money on hand and the impact of that on fundraising.”

When I first read that email, I planned on squirreling the topic away for one of those days when topic ideas are difficult to come by. However, there was something about this topic that possessed me. I opened up a few Google searches, read a few white papers and blog posts, and found myself whipping out this post.

First, let me start with a very direct response to the question posed by the reader.

I have worked with a disproportionately large number of small non-profit organizations. Organizational capacity for these agencies is always an issue and the amount of cash on hand is typically very small. So, I’ve always advocated to CEOs and their boards that they put plans in place to build operating reserves equal to three to six months.

Only one client to my recollection every worked with more than a six month operating reserve, and I don’t think it impacted their fundraising efforts. If I were to speculate as to why that was, I think the explanation is simple . . . that agency did an excellent job with donor communications and made their case as to why operating reserves of that size were important.

uncharitableSetting this one example aside, I do generally believe that building large operating reserves larger than 6 months or one year causes problems with donors. I say this because of everything Dan Pallotta writes in his book Uncharitable and how donors hold the non-profit sector to a different standard than the for-profit sector.

In his book, Pallotta talks eloquently about how for-profit corporations are rewarded by investors for generating profits, banking cash and growing organizational capacity. He contrasts this point with how donors punish non-profit organizations for doing the same thing.

For actual examples and a better explanation, I encourage you to read his book. I promise that it will be an eye opening experience. Additionally, you’ll likely walk away from the exercise and find yourself muttering the words: “Damn Puritans!”

In my clicking around and Googling, I found a number of interesting facts including:

  • Charity Navigator reserves its top ratings for organizations with 12 or more months of working capital.
  • The Nonprofit Finance Fund reported in its 2012 State of the Sector Survey that only one-fifth of survey respondents said they felt their donors were comfortable talking about operating reserves.
  • In 2011, more than three-quarters of non-profit organizations had less than 4 months of expenses in operating reserves (60% reported less than 4 months and 28% reported one month or less).

I strongly urge you to click-through and read more startling statistics on this and similar subjects at:

I want to thank the reader who suggested this blog topic because they have caused me to change my thinking on this topic. From now on, when agencies ask my advice on what they should strive towards with regards to building an operating reserve, I plan on telling them . . .

12 months or more! ! ! !

With this Big Harry Audacious Goal (BHAG), the next words out of my mouth will be . . .

“Create a strong case for support or prepare to incur the wrath of donors.”

For those of you who don’t think this is possible, please take a moment to think about why that much cash on hand is important to your organization.

  • Many agencies are using their operating reserves as cash flow cushions as they wait for their accounts receivable from government grants. (Believe it or not some states are six to 12 months late in paying their bills.)
  • It is a sign of financial health to have operating reserves of this size.
  • One of the lessons learned from the recent economic recession is that larger rainy day funds are a necessity and not a luxury.
  • Stuff breaks and your organization needs to be in a position to fix the roof or replace a HVAC unit without running off to donors with an urgent case for support that sounds like a crisis or fire drill.

My advice to anyone who cares to hear it is:

  1. Set a goal to increase your operating reserves to 12+ months
  2. Work with the Finance Committee to develop a plan to achieve this goal (Yes, it will likely be a plan that spans many years). Perhaps, include in your plans to use a portion of your operating reserves to invest in organizational capacity building once certain targets are achieved.
  3. Work with the Resource Development Committee to write a case for support that supports these actions.
  4. Don’t hide from donors. Get out there and start talking to them. Weave the talking points from this new case for support focused on increasing reserve levels into your stewardship efforts. Donor engagement and education is the key to success.

So, I’m curious how many of you think I’m crazy? How big are your reserves? How big would you like them? What do your donors say about your reserves? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in on this discussion.

Here’s to your health!

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

Donor says: “Less selling. More serving.”

servingOver the last few days, I’ve had the pleasure of doing one-on-one donor interviews for a client of mine. I just love it when I get an opportunity like this because there is nothing more enlightening than chatting with someone about their philanthropy.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes develop a blind spot about what I think donors know versus what they don’t know when it comes to the fundraising profession. For me, it is that “Wizard of Oz” moment where the wizard is discovered by Toto and his response is: “Ignore the man behind the curtain.”

So, it is always startling to me when a donor engages in a fundraising process conversation with me. This is exactly what happened yesterday during one of my donor interviews.

The donor I am referencing simply said:

“The non-profit sector needs to have a paradigm shift. They need to move from selling to serving.”

This opened the door to a rich conversation about the importance of stewardship and loving your donors. (Believe it or not the words ‘stewardship’ and ‘loving your donors’ came out of his mouth and not mine.)

The idea of putting less time, energy and effort into SELLING and redirecting it into SERVING (e.g. stewardship) has been top of mind for me lately because I signed up for Pamela Grow’s four week eCourse titled “Monthly Giving: The Basics & More!

Literally, the night before this donor interview, this is what I read in the first week’s materials:

“One of the most amazing things about monthly giving is that once a donor signs up for a monthly giving program, you can stop asking them for money, because the person is giving you money each and every month. Instead of making regular asks, you can focus 100% on stewarding your donors. Imagine, donors that get tons of attention from your non-profit, and none of it an ask!”

I’ve always been fascinated by monthly giving, but I’ve never had an opportunity to develop or run such a program. So, my curiosity got the best of me and I signed up for this eCourse.

I’m not suggesting that the silver bullet for your resource development program is a monthly giving program. Heck, I’ve only read the first week’s worth of reading materials. Truth be told . . . the case for support is compelling, and I’m excited to learn more.

At the intersection of this eCourse and yesterday’s donor interview, I am left wondering what other non-profit organizations are doing to shift more of their time into stewardship activities?

I suspect the reason monthly giving programs are appealing is because it recognizes a basic truism, which is there is only so much time in a fundraising professional’s day and the money needs to come in the door. Investing in the development of a monthly giving program creates an environment where solicitation time can be converted into stewardship time.

I’m going to stop here because you need to sign up for Pamela’s eCourse if you want to learn more.

What are you and your organization doing to invest more time into “serving your donors“? What does that look like? How are they responding? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit donors, hospital visits, and stewardship opportunities

get well soonIt is the morning of Wednesday, March 27, 2013 and my soon-to-be 40-year-old brother is on his way to the hospital for hip replacement surgery. He is the youngest hip replacement patient that his doctor has ever seen. With all of this going on, my mind still wanders back to non-profit organizations and how they treat their donors at times like these.

It should be no surprise to any fundraising professional that non-profit hospitals are very good at resource development. In 2011, non-profit hospitals and healthcare systems improved their fundraising efforts by 8.2 percent over the previous year’s efforts, according to the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. That’s right. We’re talking about 2010 and 2011 when unemployment, the economy, and the housing sector were softer than they are today.

In a nutshell, I believe people are at their most vulnerable when they walk through the doors of a hospital. They are scared and their support networks (e.g. friends, family, neighbors, etc) stand by their side.

Here is the point . . . good non-profit organizations constantly message to their donors things like:

  • You’re part of our non-profit family.”
  • We care very much about you, and we appreciate how much you care about our mission and clients.”
  • You’re a valued friend.

If all of this is true, then shouldn’t you be by their side during their time of greatest need? And if you aren’t there, then aren’t you undercutting all of the stewardship messaging you’ve invested in throughout the years?

Non-profit hospitals have it easy in this one regard because donors (and prospective donors) are on their home turf. Of course, they still need to do a ton of hard work (e.g. quality care, bedside manner, compassion, service, etc).

My brother’s surgery this morning reminds me of a life lesson that I learned more than a decade ago when a board member, who was struggling with kidney disease, was admitted to the hospital. Not only did I not send a card/balloons/flowers, but I had left a number of emails and voicemail messages pushing him about an upcoming committee meeting.

Needless to say, the post-hospital phone call was more than a little uncomfortable for me. It was a lesson that I learned and carry with me to this very day.

Last week, I started working pledge cards for one of my favorite charities. One of the first donors I called to set-up an appointment informed me that she was being admitted for surgery in a few days. She didn’t want to schedule a solicitation meeting and asked that I call back after her surgery.

So, what did I do?

  1. I wished her well. I asked her when I should circle back around to check-in and set-up a meeting.
  2. I calendarized the date she told me to call her.
  3. I offered assistance. I told her that I’m happy to help in whatever way she thinks is appropriate. I can pick-up prescriptions, run to the store, or drive her to a doctor appointment.
  4. I called the agency to report this news, and they immediately mailed a “get well soon” card to the donor.

Did I do this because I am working the angles to secure a contribution in the long-term?

Heck NO!

I did these things because it is what friends do for each other. It also happens to be what donor-centered fundraising professionals do.

Do you have any stories about donors, hospitalization, and stewardship activities? If so, please take a minute out of your busy day to share that story or what you consider a best practice in the comment box below. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Under promise and over deliver? Managing donor expectations?

promiseWelcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Squeeze Out the Doubt,” John looks at both sides of the “Under promise . . . Over deliver“.  Yes, there is a debate surrounding this concept. One side says, this approach is the key to producing win-win business outcomes. The other side says, managing expectations will lead to inflated expectations and the need to always over deliver in order to attain a win-win outcome (e.g. unsustainable vicious cycle).

As someone who saw “Under promise . . . Over deliver” as a basic truism, I find this debate interesting and something I mentally chewed on for the last few days. While masticating on this concept, my mind turned to the relationship that non-profit organizations have with their donors (aka investors).

As I thought about it more, I think this debate is at the center of every agency’s fundraising program. Here are a few questions that I’ve heard clients and colleagues ask themselves:

  • Should we tell our donors how close we are to closing our doors? Or will it set the fundraising bar higher next time we solicit them for funds?
  • Do we share our mediocre program outcomes data with our donors? Or should we cherry pick the data and make them feel good about ROI?
  • When writing our case for support, should we under state our goals for program outputs and outcomes?
  • When talking about our fundraising campaign goals, should we talk about the stretch goal as if it is what we’ve budgeted?

It would be easy for me to come out and proclaim that honesty and transparency are always the best policies; however, I think it is much more complicated than a black-and-white proclamation.

For example, I am not a big fan of non-profits who run around their community screaming from every mountaintop that they are running out of money and weeks away from closing their doors. On one hand, I’ve talked to some non-profit professionals who see this as a way of low-balling expectations. If they keep the doors open, then they win. It also creates a heightened sense of urgency among donors. Right?  On the other hand, donors don’t like to throw good money after bad money. So, the next time your agency asks for money, donors will set the bar higher than they might have otherwise done because they want to make sure they aren’t investing in the S.S. Titanic.

OK . . . this might not be the best example, but the point that I’ve driving at is that employing an “Under promise . . . Over deliver” strategy takes careful thought and application.

Please use the comment box and share examples of where you successfully employed this strategy with your board members, donors, volunteers, or staff. Did it result in a win-win? Or do you subscribe to another school of thought entirely (e.g. honesty is always the best policy, never promise anything and just deliver, etc)? If so, please tell us how that has worked for you.

Here’s to your health!

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

Bad cause related marketing is offensive

cause related1Have you ever been the victim of a bad cause related marketing promotion? If so, then perhaps you would agree with me that bad cause related marketing is offensive and even damaging to the non-profit industry. For this reason, the industry really needs to start policing itself and developing a set of commonly accepted best practices.

My story

On Saturday, I decided that I needed a new pair of glasses. So, I took a trip to the mall and walked into LensCrafters because it felt convenient. I saw the doctor. She poked around my eyes and dilated them. I picked out my frames and proceeded to check-out. During the process of ringing up the bill, we got to a point that sounded something like this:

  • Cashier: “Would you like to add $1.00 to your bill today to support a charity called OneSight?”
  • Me: “Ummmmmm, what is that?
  • Cashier: “It is a charity that helps poor people around the world who suffer from bad eyesight.”
  • Me: “Can you tell me anything else about the charity?
  • Cashier: “Ummmmmmm, no.”
  • Me: “Then no, I wouldn’t like to support that charity.”

My issue with this exchange

I understand that it is only one dollar, but as a donor don’t I deserve a better case for support than: “It is a charity that helps poor people around the world who suffer from bad eyesight.”?

Again, you’re probably thinking to yourself: “Come on, Erik. It is one dollar. You’re not going to get the song and dance that charities give you for larger ask amounts.”

Of course, you are right, but am I asking too much for something like:

  • A brochure sitting at the cash register that explains more about the charity.
  • In-store posters or displays explaining who this company’s charity of choice is and why it is their charity of choice?

Buyer beware!

cause related2So, I came home and decided to Google around to find a few answers about the charity I was asked to support at the LensCrafters cash register.

Here is what I found on the LensCrafters website:

Twenty-five years ago, LensCrafters founded the OneSight organization with one purpose in mind: To provide better sight for all—everything from free eyecare to eyewear to important research that will change how people see tomorrow.”

Perhaps, I am being cynical, but isn’t LensCrafters asking its customers to fund its charitable work?

Back in the day, I remember corporate America feeling the need to re-invest part of its annual profits back into the communities from where those profits came or into a charitable mission about which they felt strongly. Again, I might be off-base here, but it feels like today some companies are keeping their profits and asking their customers to fund their charitable work and then turning around and asking for customer loyalty because of all their good works.

I did go to Guidestar and snoop around OneSight’s 990 forms, which as you know can be like deciphering hieroglyphs at times.   From what I can tell, this organization raises very little money from more traditional resource development methods and gets most of its money from LensCrafters’ cause related marketing cash register program.

As a consumer, I believe I deserve a little transparency at the cash register if I am just being asked to essentially support a company’s charitable activities.

Is a brochure or display really asking too much?

Cause related marketing is here to stay

Cause related marketing is here to stay because it generates substantial revenue. It is an easy ask. After all, it is just one dollar, right? Come on. Isn’t it a small price for a concerned citizen and donor to pay so that they can feel good about doing something to feed a hungry person or give the gift of sight?

Call me old fashion, but this feels like lazy philanthropy, especially when companies can’t even be bothered to train their cashiers to answer a few questions or produce a brochure for distribution at the cash register.

If only there were best practices and some minimum standards that we could all agree upon.

Ummmm, wait! Perhaps, we have something . . .

My online friend, JoanneFritz, at about.com posted a great article titled “3 Cause-Related Marketing Trends That Matter to Nonprofits and Their Business Partners“. It is definitely worth taking a minute to click-through and read it.

Joanne ends her post with a call to action and includes a few good links for non-profit organizations that are searching for best practices.

Has your agency played around with any cause related marketing efforts? If so, what did you do? More importantly, what did you learn? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Donor retention in two easy steps

hole in bucketLast week I spent an hour on the phone with Jay Love, the founder and CEO of Bloomerang, which is the new online donor management and retention service. Jay is the same guy who brought eTapestry to the non-profit industry before selling it to Blackbaud a few years ago.  It was during the product demonstration with Jay that I had the following thoughts:

  • Donor retention is a huge issue that is killing too many fundraising programs.
  • There are tons of tools and best practices available for those wanting to tackle this problem.
  • The root problem contributing to the donor retention epidemic is likely lack of resources and time for most non-profit organizations.
  • The solution doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, simple solutions are probably the most sustainable.

Let’s take a few minutes to flesh out a few of these thoughts.

Donor turnover is an epidemic

donor retention1Allyson Kapin at frogloop blog did a nice job of capturing this issue and included an awesome infographic from Bloomerang in her post titled “Strategies to Increase Nonprofit Donor Retention Rates“.

  • Non-profit donor retention rates currently stand at 41%.
  • The turnover rate is getting worse not better.
  • Our for-profit cousins do a substantially better job with customer retention. Their retention rate is 94%.
  • Non-profits seem to do better with retaining larger donors than smaller donors.

The problem is likely rooted in the non-profit sector’s short-term view when it comes to revenue generation. So, we over-invest in cultivating new donors and under-invest in stewarding existing donors. When we do invest in stewardship activities, it is focused on larger donors and not the base of our giving pyramid — smaller donors.

Best practices and tools

donor centered fundraising book coverPenelope Burk tells us in her book Donor Centered Fundraising that donor retention is as simple as:

  1. Thanking donors promptly. Being enthusiastic. Being personal.
  2. Circle back around to donors and show them that you’re using their contribution in the manner that you told them you would when you originally solicited the contribution.
  3. Circle back around again and tell donors what impact / outcome their charitable had with your clients and throughout the community.

Of course, the devil is in the details. I believe it is HOW you go about accomplishing these three simple principles where people get tied in knots and lose their way.

Consider this list of donor retention tools and communication opportunities:

  • There are countless donor management services and products (e.g. Blommerang, eTapestry, Results Plus, Raisers Edge, etc).
  • There are countless social media tools (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Constant Contact, etc).
  • There are paper newsletters and eNewsletters.
  • Annual reports
  • Impact reports
  • Annual meetings and town hall meetings
  • Mailings and phone calls
  • Personal visits

In fact, Penelope Burk spends a number of pages in her book talking about what the donors who she surveyed like and dislike.

Back to basics

donor solicitorIf there is one thing I know about the vast majority of non-profit organization, it is that they are busy and overwhelmed. Looking at the donor retention statistics and the long list of remedies only adds more fuel to that fire.

So, it makes sense to simply.

If you’re a small non-profit organization and want to improve your donor retention rate, do the following two things:

  1. Set aside one afternoon every month to call donors who made a contribution in the last four weeks. Get through as many as you can. Make sure you are enthusiastic about their gift and generally tell them how you plan on putting their gift to work. Ask them how they would like you to communicate with them in the future (e.g. newsletter, eNews, snail mail letters, etc), and make sure you follow-through on your promise.
  2. Set aside enough time in your weekly schedule to sit down with one of your top individual donors every week. Share a cup of coffee or buy them lunch. It doesn’t matter. While you have a little bit of their time, casually share success stories. Tell them that those successes wouldn’t have been possible without their help and generosity. Do this once a week and you will meet with your Top 50 individual donors over the course of a calendar year.

I have worked in small non-profit organizations. Doing these two things is not unrealistic for an executive director or fundraising professional.

What is your agency doing to stem the rising tide of donor turnover? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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