If you want donors to be loyal, then be loyal to your donors!

I know, I know . . . I keep coming back to the issue of loyalty, but I think this is the biggest issue for this generation of non-profit organizations. In fact, I think it will determine who is going out-of-business or being forced into merger/acquisition talks in the upcoming years. It is just that transformative of an issue!

What set me off and down this path again, was an email I received in my inbox yesterday from Gail Perry titled: “Don’t Be a Fundraising Dinosaur: 5 Big Ideas to Adopt Right Now“. It was such a tantalizing and catchy title that I couldn’t resist clicking on it. In about 5 seconds, I felt just like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole all over again. LOL

Gail’s second “big idea” was “Donor retention is more important than cash totals“. I read that header and thought to myself “DUH,” and then I read the following sentence:

“If you can only measure one thing in your fundraising program, then measure donor retention.”

Think about THIS for a moment . . . “only measure one thing” . . . isn’t she essentially saying donor retention is the MOST IMPORTANT thing to gauge how well your resource development program is succeeding or failing?

I think that is exactly what she is saying . . . and that is what got my attention.

It also begs the question: “What should non-profit and fundraising professionals focus on doing to encourage donor loyalty?”

Gail suggested the following few things:

  • ask your donors for video testimonials, and
  • ask your donors to do more than just write checks . . . get them involved through advocacy and volunteerism.

Both are great suggestions and you couldn’t go wrong if you decided to take those roads.

However, the words of Mahatma Gandhi keep ringing through my ears this morning as I read Gail’s blog post:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Essentially, this translates into what I titled this blog post. If you want donors to be loyal to your mission, then you need to be loyal to your donors. What does THAT mean? Well, I turned to Adrian Sargaent for help in answering this question. In 2003, Professor Sargaent wrote an article in The NonProfit Times titled “Keeping Donors Loyal: How to Minimize Attrition on the Fundraising Database“.

In that article, Sargaent makes two great points:

  • one-third of lapsed donors surveyed said they stopped giving because they found other charities that were “more deserving,” and
  • engaging donors in HOW they are communicated with and WHEN they are communicated with and WHAT they want to hear is an effective and important strategy in the fight for a donor’s loyalty.

For those of you who read this and think: “We can’t do that. We’re too small. We don’t have the resources to pull-off that kind of donor communication strategy.” Sargaent cuts you off at the knees and suggests that even today’s smallest non-profit organizations can implement a strategy like this because donor database technology is very affordable and powerful.

I, too, was once an executive director of a very small non-profit organization. Back then, I am sure that I would’ve read that database-related comment and immediately come up with more reasons as to why he is wrong: staffing, budget, time, etc, etc, etc.

So, here is my challenge to you today. Rather than focus on the WHY NOT, I challenge you to focus on the HOW. I challenge you to engage board members in this discussion. I challenge you to engage donors in this discussion. While I won’t predict that it will get you to a specific place when it comes to donor-centered fundraising, I will dare say that it will get you closer to answering the question: “How can your organization demonstrate loyalty to donors so that they’ll be better positioned to reciprocate the gesture?

There must be a million ways for your non-profit organization to show its loyalty to donors. Please scroll down and share a few of the things you’re implementing from a donor loyalty perspective. We can and should be learning from each other. Please share just one idea today!

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Gail Perry shared a link to a great resource . . . a sample dashboard that resource development teams could use to measure and capture important donor loyalty metrics. Click here and you will see the two slides by Peter Drury that Gail shared in her blog post. A good friend of mine at Boys & Girls Clubs of America used to say: “Inspect what you expect”.  (I suspect he borrowed this quote from someone more famous. LOL) However, the point is still valid . . . you need to have a monitoring and accountability strategy in place as you start heading down these roads that aren’t traveled often enough by non-profit organizations.

Good luck, and as I always: “Here’s to your health!”

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

Marketing does not equal resource development, usually

A very good friend of mine from Ohio emailed me last week and said that her soap box topic for the month of March for any non-profit who would listen was: “marketing is not resource development“. Oddly enough, I too spent the month of March telling many people the exact same thing. So, this morning I decided to climb to the top of my online soap box and yell as loudly as possible that “Marketing does not equal resource development, usually“.

First, let me address the issue of why I used the word “usually”. Simply stated in two words . . . “Cause-related Marketing”.

For those of you who are still wrestling with what cause-related marketing is all about, I point you in Joanne Fritz’s direction. She has written a number blog posts on the subject including “Five Best Cause Marketing Programs For Local Nonprofits“. In this instance, cause-related marketing is a solicitation tool and can become a part of a non-profit organization’s comprehensive resource development plan.

So, what exactly is “resource development”?

Without looking up definitions in a Fundraising 101 textbook, I’ve always thought of resource development as a big machine with a number of cogs that work together. Those cogs have the following names:

  • Prospect identification
  • Prospect introduction
  • Prospect cultivation
  • Prospect solicitation
  • Donor stewardship

In recent months, I have come across a number of non-profit organizations (esp. board volunteers), who believe that their agency simply needs to invest in more marketing to solve their revenue problems. The implication is that there is a direct relationship between dollars coming in and the agency’s visibility.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not “hating” on marketing people today. In fact, I love the marketing profession and spent three years working as a newspaper journalist. I love my marketing friends; however, I really want them to stop telling my non-profit friends that they have the cure for their revenue ills.

Yes . . . yes . . . yes . . . It is true that better marketing will improve an agency’s visibility in the community, which can impact resource development activities like identification, cultivation, and stewardship. It is also true that in some instances like “cause-related marketing” that marketing becomes a solicitation tool. However, in the end, the reality is still:

Marketing ≠ Resource Development

 Let me share a few examples of how marketing professionals and fundraising professions look at the same resource development issues and think differently:

Example #1: How to improve your existing annual campaign?

Marketing professional — give the donor something they really value (like a really nice premium gift). This will change the ROI calculation and result in more donors and increased dollars raised.

Fundraising professional — revise the agency’s case for support, provide better training and support to volunteer solicitors, recruit more solicitors to make more asks . . . these things collectively will allow for a higher quality solicitation as well as more solicitations all of which will result in increased dollars raised.

Do you see the difference in approach?

Example #2: How to engage more prospects?

Marketing professional — purchase advertising (or secure it for free using a public service announcement strategy) in local newspapers, radio and cable television. Tell people about your agency and those who are interested will opt-in using a telephone number, email or website address provided in the ad.

Fundraising professional — engage board members, volunteers, and existing donors in helping you identify their friends who share a common passion for your organization’s mission. Once those prospects are identified, ask those same volunteers and donors to invite their friends to participate in mission-focused activities like an open house, reception, event or cup of coffee with the executive director.

Do you see the different in approaches?

In the for-profit world, those corporations sell “things” (e.g. widgets), and those products are valued by consumers. So, when someone sees a marketing pitch around something they want, then it triggers this impulse to purchase. In my humble opinion, this is not the same dynamic at play when it comes to donors who make charitable contributions to non-profit organizations.

This is not to say that an impactful marketing program isn’t important because it surely is. However, I really want board volunteers to stop pinning their hopes of increased revenue solely on marketing efforts because:

  1. “hope” is NOT a strategy, and
  2. there is no substitute for board members and fundraising volunteers participating in a comprehensive resource development program.

I understand that sitting down and asking people for money can be scary, but it is the only thing in the universe that has ever worked. So, let’s stop “hoping” and looking for ways around it, and let’s start building a resource development machine that is supported by an effective marketing program.

So, do you disagree with me? I know there are tons of people out there who do. If so, please scroll down and share your thoughts using the comment box. Do you agree with me? If so, please scroll down and use the comment box to provide additional examples of how marketing professionals and fundraising professionals approach similar resource development questions from different angles.

We can all learn from each other. I am open-minded and willing to consider other viewpoints.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit lessons from the Illinois primary election

It is Tuesday, March 20th, and for those of you living in Illinois it means that Election Day has finally arrived. For me, it couldn’t have some sooner. While I am one of those strange birds who loves the act of voting, I am also really ready for all the political yard signs to come down. I guess I am just visually tired of them. Or, perhaps, I’m just getting old and cranky.

While walking the dog yesterday, I was reminded that politicians don’t really have a corner on the yard sign market. As a matter of fact, some non-profit agency’s have found creative ways to integrate yard signs into their marketing efforts. Here are just a few examples:

  • Many moons ago when I ran a rubber duck race fundraiser, I used yard signs to help promote online adoptions.
  • The Boy Scouts of America sometimes use yard signs during “Back to School” time to support recruitment and encourage kids to register for the Cub Scouts in their community.
  • While walking the dog yesterday, I came across a non-political yard sign in someone’s yard advertising Easter Sunday services for one local church.

While I don’t think yard signs are the most effective marketing tool in your non-profit toolbox, I do believe they can be effective in some circumstances. Here are just a few suggestions for those of you contemplating their application:

Use yard signs in a cross-channel marketing approach. For example, how many politicians do you see ONLY using yard signs? Slim to none! Those candidates lose. Successful candidates use yard signs in conjunction with television, radio, door-to-door brochures, etc. When it comes to messaging, don’t use this marketing tactic to “generally” promote your agency. You use yard signs to promote something specific and actionable like a special event, prospect cultivation open house, recruitment drive, etc.

Focus  . . . don’t scatter your yard signs. You can’t buy enough yard signs to sprinkle them throughout your community on small streets in little subdivisions. Identify the busiest streets and ask residents on those main arterial routes to proudly display your sign in their front yard. You do this by knocking on their door and asking permission (even if you don’t know them or have a previous relationship). This will maximize how many people see your signs and keep your costs down.

K.I.S.S. — Keep it simple. Remember, less is more when it comes to small yard sign design. People are likely traveling by in their cars anywhere from 30 to 45 mph. They won’t be able to read small text. A few key words and a web address or phone number is about all you can do. This isn’t a mini billboard (and even if it were, most effective billboards also follow this same principle).

Sure, many of us find yard signs obnoxious, but this shouldn’t deter you. Why? Because everyone reads them. How do I know this? Because politicians wouldn’t be using them if they weren’t effective. The only catch is that you need to use them effectively.

Has your agency every used a yard sign approach to promote something? If so, how did it work? What lessons did you learn. Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health! (And happy election day, Illinois)  😉

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

Kony 2012: How Viral Video Messaging Can Make an Impact

Last Wednesday, I woke up to see the same video posted countless times on Facebook and Twitter. It was a 30 minute documentary about the leader of the Lords Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, and what he has done to the people of Uganda. This seemed strange to me because I can’t think of the last time I discussed the situation in Uganda with many of my friends. What was it that suddenly got a large number of people interested in what is happening on the other side of the world? So, I watched the video.

Video is a powerful medium that can be used to raise awareness about your mission. But how do you make a video that people want to share?

Make it personal

KONY 2012 starts off, talking about the world and how “humanity’s greatest desire is to belong and connect”.

Who cannot identify with that? We are all human. We all want to belong. In fact, the reason why I watched the video in the first place was because I wanted to belong to the community of people that knew what this video was about.

The movie continues with a home video from the birth of the director’s son. How much more personal can a person get? We all were born and some of you are parents. Because of that, this clip does wonders for connecting the audience to the cause and once the audience is connected. They are instantly more interested in what comes next.

How can you achieve this in your video? Go straight to the source. Talk to the people who are impacted by your organization. Show your audience how you make a  difference in both your client’s life as well as for the community.

Make it special

There are a couple of key points in KONY 2012 where the narrator lets the audience know they are special. He states, “99% of the world doesn’t even know who Joseph Kony is”. He is letting you in on a secret; giving you information a lot of other people don’t have. People love to feel like they know something that someone else doesn’t. This works to the filmmaker’s advantage because a lot of people wanted to tell their secret after watching the video.

You might not have a mission that is as unique as stopping a Ugandan warlord, but you can define a unique problem that needs solving and tell people about it.

As a nonprofit staff person, it is easy to think that everyone knows about your mission and what you are trying to achieve because you personally live and breathe it every day. But what about those who don’t?

What specific part of your mission do you want them to focus on in order to become more interested in your organization? What don’t they already know?

Make it urgent (and give directions)

KONY 2012 is titled KONY 2012 for a reason. The organization behind the film, Invisible Children, wants Joseph Kony arrested by the end of this year. That’s not a lot of time. They want you to get involved now. Invisible Children has organized an action day in April of 2012, which creates even more urgency for your involvement. The film gives the audience four specific actions they can take to get involved now — one of which is very simply is to share the video.

People want to help. You just have to tell them how they can. In my exerperience, people are more willing to do something if they are given clear and easy instruction (e.g. “share this video”)

One more observation . . . KONY 2012 is 30 minutes long. At the time of writing this post, it has received over 71 million views on YouTube. This is incredible since most videos that go viral are under four minutes long. Take the time to tell your story to build your community. If you connect with your audience, they’ll be sure to stick around. More importantly, they will want to share it with others.

Hopefully, you find my observations about KONY 2012 helpful as your non-profit investigates online video as a way to extend your social media messaging.  You might also want to check out YouTube’s Nonprofit Program.

Do you currently use videos in your social media messaging? If so, is it more for an awareness campaign or as a direct call for donations? What methods do you find to be the most successful? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Cookies, honor and Rush Limbaugh

I trust that most of you are up-to-speed on the controversy swirling around Rush Limbaugh and his recent comments about feminism, contraception, and prostitution. If not, I encourage you to Google it because I won’t waste another inch of space talking about it here on this blog. However, I will spend a little time this morning talking about what every non-profit organization in America needs to walk away from this news story learning.

Last night I was watching some “opinion-based programming” on one of those alleged cable news stations. When the Rush Limbaugh story aired, I started looking for the remote control to change the channel, but I changed my mind when I saw a graphic showing all of the sponsors who recently pulled their support over this controversy and one of those sponsors was the Girl Scouts.

I must admit that my first reaction was “WTF” . . . why were the Girl Scouts paying Rush Limbaugh to air cookie commercials? My second reaction was “I need to re-think my support of this organization”.

Your brand is important, and it represents something. In the case of the Girl Scouts, this is what their brand represents to me:

  • empowering young girls to believe they can do anything they put their minds to doing,
  • positive self-image and self-esteem,
  • feminism,
  • equality,
  • non-discrimination.

In my community, the Girls Scouts were one of the first youth development agencies to develop a nondiscrimination policy banning discrimination against kids and adult leaders based on their sexual orientation. Nationally, the Girls Scouts took the word “God” out of their pledge and made it optional for kids to say because they didn’t want to discriminate against girls who didn’t believe in God.

It was these issues that helped me form the aforementioned conclusions about the Girl Scout brand.

In a matter of just a few minutes last night, one news story called everything I believed about them into question.

The lessons that every non-profit organization needs to take away from this example is:

  • Your brand is important and it defines you.
  • Each of your donors holds a mental image of what you stand for in their mind.
  • When a donor sees something that doesn’t match up with their image of you, it can have devastating effects.
  • Everything you do provides an opportunity for the community and your donors to see your brand at work.

In the case fo the Girl Scouts, they made a mistake. They purchased radio ads and didn’t realize that some of their ads would air during “opinion-based programming” like The Rush Limbaugh Show. Ooooops!

However, your brand is also at risk every time you take your clients out in public. I once talked to a donor who saw his favorite charity at a Chicago Cubs game. As you can imagine, some of that non-profit’s clients were misbehaving and the donor openly questioned whether or not his contribution was having any impact.

Your brand is also at risk if your facilities or vehicles are poorly maintained. Both of these things are a direct reflection on who you are and what you stand for. Driving clients around town in a van or bus that doesn’t look safe tells donors that you either don’t value safety or don’t allocate their contributions wisely.

We all make mistakes, and the Girl Scout council in Portland, Oregon made a mistake that landed their national brand in a national news story. It can happen to you, and it can happen even if you are very careful. The best suggestion I have to offer is to make sure your agency operates with a written crisis management plan. If you are looking for a good resource to guide your efforts, the Colorado Nonprofit Association offers a nice white paper and template that you can access by clicking here.

Has your agency ever found itself in a similar situation as the Girl Scouts? If so, how did you handle it? Do you have a crisis management plan in place? If so, what does it look like and how often does the board of directors review it? Please use the comment box below to share your experiences and thoughts.

Here’s to your health!

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

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

Welcome to a new philanthropic era: The Age of Women Power!

I used to jokingly say to various board members at my former agency that if our non-profit needed to get something done (e.g. organize a special event, put together a strategic plan, etc), then we should recruit a bunch of women to help us do it. I’d usually finish making my point by saying, if you want to talk an issue to death and get nothing done, then put a bunch of men in the room. (Note to readers: Whenever I said this it was always said “tongue in cheek” and I was kidding. Of course, I was only kidding slightly because I think there is some truth to it.)

I share this story today because my good friend, Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh Development Coordinator Anne Lemke, sent me a fabulous email a few days ago about “What Women Want” which is whitepaper written by Katherine Swank from Target Analytics, a Blackbaud Company. After reading the paper, I just could resist sharing a few of the highlights with you today:

  • nearly half of the top wealth-holders in the United States are women,
  • women have increased their combined wealth by more than fifty percent  in the last 10-years, and
  • women have a net worth of over $6 trillion.

Katherine does a masterful job of profiling what an affluent woman looks like. I suggest you read the whitepaper and burn that picture into your head because it is surprising. In fact, you probably know a number of women who fit the profile. Having this profile picture burned into your non-profit brain is important because as Katherine says so perfectly:

“Affluent women may also be identified by their willingness to both donate and volunteer at higher levels than their male counterparts. Women, on average, donate twice as much to charity and make three times the number of donations as men.”

So, some of you might be reading this post and thinking to yourself: “OK, I just need to start asking women for money and I’ll be fine.” If this is what you’re hearing me say, then please stop yourself! The reality is that women are different from men, and you’ll need to change your resource development strategies and tactics if you are going to appeal to this very powerful donor segment. Again, Katherine puts it best when she said:

“While I can’t claim to know what all women want in every situation, over twenty-five years in philanthropy has taught me that what women want is simple: to be asked their opinion and for their answers to be listened to and acted upon. They seek equality in the workplace, an ever-equal sharing of the ‘load’ from their male partners and counterparts, and to make the world a better place, both close to home and halfway around the world. Elementally, women want their lives to make a difference in the lives of others. To accomplish this through philanthropy makes women feel empowered.”

Translated into language men might understand better: “You need to cultivate, solicit and steward women different from.” Oh heck, who am I kidding . . . let me translate this even more clearly for my non-profit male friends out there: “Go hire and recruit some women to help you with this incredible important and transformational shift that your non-profit agency needs to make.”

I suspect this trend will change more than just your agency’s approach to resource development. It will also likely affect your board development, marketing, and volunteer recruitment & management efforts. Right?

Oh yeah . . . go download Katherine’s whitepaper and read it. Click here to get your copy. It really is a great read!

So, what are your thoughts? Are you already seeing this philanthropic trend in your community? How are you responding to it? Have you addressed it in your strategic plan or resource development plan? If so, how?

Please take a quick moment and share your thoughts using the comment box below. After all, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Meredith Hilt is no zombie

So, we’ve all had a lot of fun this week talking about the City of Elgin’s upcoming zombie-inspired Nightmare on Chicago Street, using this Halloween event to shed some light on the serious nonprofit subjects of return on investment, volunteerism and special event fundraising. I wanted to end the week talking about the same things, but in a kinder and gentler way. So, I invited Meredith Hilt to be a guest blogger today.

Meredith has her own blog on WordPress — “mhilt” — that focuses on corporate giving and sustainability. Recently, she posted a blog that addressed Seth Godin’s recent event-critical blog post titled “Gala Economics“. After reading Meredith’s post, I knew I couldn’t have said it better. She really brings some balance to what I’ve been saying all week and sums everything up nicely. So, I invited her to re-publish her post here on DonorDreams, and she graciously accepted. Let’s learn a little more about Meredith before reading what she has to say about Seth Godin’s opinion on Gala Economics and special event fundraising.

Meet Meredith Hilt . . . She is a former grantseeker turned grantmaker. Currently, the executive director of the Tellabs Foundation and senior manager of corporate responsibility, she started a blog on WordPress for those of us who are interested in corporate giving and sustainability. Her teachable point of view is concisely captured on her “about page” when she says: “Many times we work alone. Development officers, grantmakers and sustainability managers are often part of small departments. It’s important for us to work together and stay connected.  We’ll test ideas, share advice and shed light on good work. Hopefully, even more good will result.”

I love Meredith’s blog. I recently subscribed to her blog using her RSS feed. I hope you will do the same. Without further ado, here is her guest post:

Galas: good or evil?

Marketing wizard Seth Godin made waves with his recent post, Gala economics. He describes galas as “a ridiculous way to efficiently raise money for a good cause.”

Ouch. The truth hurts.

It’s hard to argue that events are expensive. Consider the cost of the food, decorations, invites, entertainment and (here’s the biggie) staff time. It’s a big bill. Then add what individual attendees might spend on shoes, tuxes, accessories and dry cleaning – it’s even bigger.

Seth also contends that “…the gala is actually corrupting. Attendees are usually driven by social and selfish motivations to attend, and thus the philanthropic element of giving–just to give–is removed.” But, in a room full of 500 people, there are a lot of motives. Some pure, some not. Same is true for any form of giving.

Personally, I’ve had similar reservations about events. Back in my fund development days, I coordinated several fundraising events each year. I preferred grantwriting, which seemed much more efficient. And I didn’t have to wear heels and a headset.

However, I believe galas have their place in the nonprofit community.

Event fundraiser Shannon Doolittle, responds to Seth with a thoughtful post, Stop with the gala bashing already. I agree with her view that events should be mission-driven, unique and donor-centered.

Events do good by celebrating both donors and the nonprofit’s clients. I’d add that galas give your donors an opportunity to introduce new people to the cause. Good events can also create media opportunities.

If I could change just one thing about nonprofit events, I’d have fewer of them. Stop doing the ones that are barely breaking even. Or are indistinguishable from everyone else’s “rubber chicken” dinner.

Each organization should have one or two really good events, and drop dead weight. Because quality, worthwhile events strengthen the nonprofit community.

I feel manipulated!

I wake up on Sunday mornings, brew a pot of coffee and tune into my favorite Sunday morning news shows like The Chris Matthews Show and Meet the Press. However, this last Sunday morning I woke up to a parade of coverage focusing exclusively on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. So, I sat on my couch all morning, sipping coffee and fought back the tears and horrible memories.

Like most Americans, I have vivid memories of those difficult days. I can tell you exactly where I was when the first news broke. I can give you a blow-by-blow accounting of my day. I couldn’t stop watching the news coverage in the weeks after Sept. 11th, and those videos of the planes crashing into the towers and people wandering around the New York streets with pictures of their fallen loved ones are just haunting. In fact, I am getting teary right now typing about it, and I have goosebumps on my arms. UGH!

So, as I watched television on Sunday morning, I found myself getting angry whenever a network would cut away from their coverage and some company’s commercial exploited 9-11  as an opportunity to sell their product. They masterfully pulled at my heart-strings and tapped into raw emotions all in the name of consumerism. Check out this Budweiser commercial to see what I mean.

Unfortunately, the beer company wasn’t the only ones doing it. Stephen Colbert did a nice job nailing a number of these culprits. Click here to check-out his comedic report.

You might be asking right about now: “What does this have anything to do with non-profit organizations, fundraising or donors?”

As I processed my thoughts and feelings in the wake of Sunday’s emotional coverage, I came to two very strong conclusions.

  1. This kind of marketing is manipulative, feels really yucky and makes me not want to buy those products.
  2. Non-profit organizations sometimes do the same kind of thing.

What?!?! Huh?!?! Where did THAT come from?

Come on! You know what I mean:

  • Please sir . . . won’t you please make a contribution? Without YOUR support we will have to close our doors and throw those kids out onto the street.
  • Please ma’am . . . for just the cost of that “Triple Venti Skinny Cinnamon Dulce Latte” you can feed a village of starving people for a day.”
  • Please make a donation today to remember the 9-11 victims, which will allow our organization to invest in a “get out the vote” effort. (This really was a fundraising pitch. Don’t believe me? Click here!)

I know, I know . . . appealing to people’s emotions is very effective and is considered a best practice for all good fundraising and marketing campaigns. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that we need to strip the emotion out of our messaging, but I am saying that we need to be very careful about not crossing that line and using FEAR to motivate donors.

Knowing where that emotional line is can be difficult and different when deal with individual donors. For example, my partner detests the fundraising commercials for the ASPCA, and he swears that he will never give to that charity because he feels manipulated by them.

So, how can you and your agency know where that line is? While it is a tough question that probably doesn’t have a good answer, you better figure it out if you’re committed to a donor-centered fundraising paradigm.

The one suggestion I can offer is . . .  get your donors engaged in the process. Before sending out an emotional mail appeal (or for that matter any piece aimed at cultivation, solicitation or stewardship), what would be so wrong will convening a donor focus group to review the package and provide feedback?

What are your thoughts? What does your organization do to minimize the possibility of tripping over your donors’ emotional-point-of-no-return? What is the most manipulative thing you’ve ever seen a non-profit organization do? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Hooking fish but not landing them

I am dedicating this week’s blog posts to exploring ePhilanthropy related topics. Since this field of resource development is still cutting edge (or should I say bleeding edge), I encourage everyone who is dabbling, experimenting and playing with tools in this field to please weigh-in using the comment section of this blog. Today, I turn my attention to websites.

Well, here we are … back at square one — “The Beginning”. I can imagine that this entire ePhilanthropy thing started a long time ago at the start of the digital revolution when one resource development professional asked themselves: “Hmmm … my donors online are all hanging out online. I wonder how I can using my agency’s website to raise money?”

So, talking about websites seems like a very anti-climatic way to end the week. Right?

If you responded in the affirmative, then I beg to differ because the issue with ePhilanthropy is how quickly technology changes. In my opinion, there is a real danger is in forgetting about one of the most basic building blocks (e.g. website) and getting distracted by the new shiny objects (social media, online videos, etc).

Still skeptical? Think of it this way … your organization’s website is like “home base” for your entire ePhilanthropy program. Your social media, online video and email strategies are like a “fishing pole, line and hook” is to a fisherman.

Let’s take an example from my blog post yesterday about online videos. I posted a YouTube link to an online video solicitation from Chris Salvatore on behalf of the Gay American Heroes Foundation. I talked about the effectiveness of the video and admitted that immediately after viewing it, I had wanted to make a donation, but I never did. The reason I didn’t donate was because of the foundation’s website. Click here to check it out.

Do you see what I mean? Their website is a mess. It is full of emotion, but it was hard for me to quickly determine what they plan to do with my donation and what the “return on investment” would be.

Your organization’s website is your face on the information super-highway. You can hook all the fish you want using tools like Facebook, Twitter, online videos, and email; however, you will never land those fish if you cannot instill confidence and clearly communicate your case. Online donors turn to your website to find this info. If it looks like you just vomited a website into cyberspace, trust me when I tell you: “it kills the mood as well as the will to donate”.

Creating your organization’s website is complicated because it involves skill sets in the following areas: technology, marketing & communication, and internet practices (e.g. search engine optimization, etc). However, if you want to be “donor-centered” in an online environment, then you need to be really good at ALL of these things (or outsource some or all of it to professionals who can help you).

With that being said, I strongly believe in life-long learning. You might not able able to be an expert in all things pertaining to websites, but it is possible to become knowledgeable enough. This is important because only you can make the strategic decisions that are important to your resource development and ePhilanthropy programs. For this reason, I was so excited to find all sorts of free online resources (e.g. articles, trainings, etc) from Network for Good on their online learning center website. Click here to see all sorts of resources pertaining to websites.

I bit off more than I can chew with this topic, so I will carry it over into part of next week.  Do you have any best practices to share with regards to your website? How do you fit your website into a comprehensive ePhilanthropy strategy? How does your ePhilanthropy strategy fit into your comprehensive resource development plan? In what ways have you exported the ideas of  “Donor-Centered Fundraising TM”?  We can learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC