Asking donors for advice? Buckle up!

I have a number of different bloggers who I really enjoy reading. One of those “favs” is Gail Perry who writes “Fired-Up Fundraising”. Last week, I received an email notice from Gail announcing that she published a blog post titled: “5 Insanely Successful Ideas for Getting in the Door to See Your Prospect“.

I just love her advice, and I suggest you click over and read her tips, too. While there isn’t anything there that you haven’t practiced, it really is great to see all of this written in one place.

However, Gail’s second tip — “Advice visit” — stopped me in my tracks.

The gist of this tip is:

  • Pick-up the phone
  • Ask the donor if you can have some time because you’d like to secure some “advice”
  • Set the appointment

I totally agree with Gail that this is a great way to get some “face time” with your donors. There is nothing more flattering than getting asked your opinion. Right?

So, where is the catch?

In my experience, I’ve found that asking for a donor’s opinion goes beyond just asking their opinion. It includes acting upon that advice or being able to explain why that advice was not acted upon.

Don’t believe me?

Imagine a situation where you ask a donor to help evaluate a special event. They offer some advice that just doesn’t align with your vision for the event, and you decided to ignore the suggestion. However, the donor is very excited about being asked their opinion and can’t seem let go of it.

What do you do?

This might cause some fundraising professionals to take a pass on asking donors for advice; however, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are a few suggestions for those of you wanting to engage donors by using the “Ask Advice” tactic:

  • Be genuine at all times.
  • If the advice isn’t what you expect, share your thoughts in a respectful manner.
  • If the ideas shared are complicated or seemingly unrealistic, ask them to help you explore their suggestions. You might be surprised. Or the donor might just learn more about your agency.
  • Always circle back with the donor and share with them what happened (or didn’t happen) as a result of their advice.
  • If their advice isn’t used, be able to explain why not.

Do you remember the last time your opinion was asked for and it wasn’t used? If so, I suggest you keep that memory close to your heart before employing this donor engagement tactic. It will serve as a great compass that should keep you on the path to success.

Have you ever found yourself in this situation? How did you handle it? Please use the comment box below and share your experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

And the Oscar goes to . . . Take Two

Yesterday, we talked about how donors are like a Hollywood movie and act as a mirror for your non-profit organization (e.g. reflecting what you’re about, who supports you, what messages resonate and which ones don’t, etc). If didn’t get a chance to read that post, click here and check it out. Today, I want to extend this conversation and talk about the power of testimonials and using video to capture them.

If you watched the Academy Awards on Sunday, then you may have noticed the myriad of “testimonials” sprinkled through out the television production. There were short little snippets showing Brad Pitt or George Clooney or Angelina Jolie or Sandra Bullock, and they were talking about their love of making movies. While watching those testimonials, here were some of the things I noticed:

  • Their words seemed “powerful” and captured my attention. They caused me to reflect upon why I love movies.
  • There was a sense of honesty in their words. It felt like they were bearing their souls.
  • I felt a connection to that person. It was almost an intimate conversation you have with a friend or family member.

That was my experience . . . I’m not sure if you felt the same thing. Did you feel it or was I drinking too much wine?

This experience got me thinking . . . why can’t non-profit organizations do the same thing? Interview donors on video. Ask them to recount the first time they were asked to donate to your organization? Why did they do it? Why do they continue doing it? What about your mission inspires them?

Sure, I can hear many of you already mumbling about costs and time, but does this need to be something really expensive or time-consuming? I own a flip camera and tripod. Microsoft MovieMaker isn’t that hard to use. Hasn’t technology come far enough where almost anyone can produce something like this without it looking like a train wreck? I think so. Don’t believe me? Then go spend a little time on YouTube. Sure, some of it is crap, but some of it isn’t all that bad either.

As I contemplated all of these thoughts yesterday, the most amazing thing happened. It was almost like the blogosphere gods were listening to my thoughts because one of my favorite bloggers — Jeff Brooks at Future Fundraising Now — posted his blog titled “How to make nonprofit videos that people share” and it landed in my email inbox. WOW!

Jeff shares 10 tips on how non-profits can produce great videos. I urge you to read Jeff’s post, and then circle back here to DonorDreams blog and share your thoughts and experiences using the comment box below. Has your agency done a similar project? What were the results? Were the time and money obstacles too high to overcome? What are the obstacles keeping you from doing something like this? Please remember that we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

It’s a party! Non-profit special event tips and tricks

Welcome to non-profit special event season. At least that is the case where I live. Over the course of this last week, we’ve examined FOUR very special and unique special events. Today, we’ll end all of this “party talk” by discussing a few tips and tricks.

However, before we start, please read this quick disclaimer:

“If your agency is small (e.g. too few staff, too few board members, too few volunteers, too few donors, etc) and you need to raise some SERIOUS money, then STOP thinking about throwing a party to raise money! Remember, studied the return on investment (ROI) question and found that the average non-profit will spend $1.33 (direct & indirect costs) to raise $1.00 using a special event vehicle.”

So, if this disclaimer describes your non-profit agency, then I urge you to round-up a small group of volunteers (e.g. those who REALLY believe in what you’re trying to do) and organize them into a group that asks their friends-neighbors-family for direct contributions. Yes, this approach is scary for a lot of people, but it is more effective and you’ll raise more money with less effort.

With that disclaimer out-of-the-way, the following are a few special event observations, tips and tricks for those of you who aren’t quite so desperate and might already have a comprehensive resource development program in place:

  • If you look around the table and see more staff than volunteers during the planning phase, then please STOP and go recruit more volunteers. This isn’t hard. There are so many people out there who love to plan and participate in a party (at least more so than there are people dying to work pledge cards).
  • Remember, special events that make crazy sums of money typically do so because of corporate sponsorship and not because a lot of people purchased tickets. Yes, you need people to attend, but make sure to focus your energy on selling sponsorships.
  • Speaking of sponsorships . . . make sure there is VALUE in those sponsorship packages. Remember . . . companies give you money for different reasons than individuals. So, sit down with your corporate prospects and figure out what they value. Once you figure that out, you’ll easily be able to sell them a sponsorship or craft one around their needs (e.g. marketing impressions, employee involvement, etc). The key here is talking to them in advance AND listening to them AND giving them what they want and need.
  • The first three letters in fundraising are F-U-N, and special events should personify this word. If you and your volunteers aren’t having a blast planning, organizing and running a special event, then you need to STOP and figure that out! There are so many ways to inject fun into your event: theme, contests, recognition, etc. However, it doesn’t happen accidentally. Non-profit and fundraising professionals set the stage with their demeanor, attitude, approach and ideas.
  • Infuse mission into your fundraising event. Your special event is a great opportunity to “cultivate” new prospects and “steward” existing donors. This is your moment to shine and educate. Sure, playing 18 holes of golf is fun, but if you can’t find fun and ways to talk about your mission and get people excited about what you do, then I suggest not doing the event.

I don’t have unlimited space to share an infinite number of ideas with you. So, the following links are just a few additional fundraising professionals and organizations I suggest you check-out and read as you strive for creating bigger and better special events: Joanne Fritz, Convio & Event 360, and Andrew Olsen.

If your “fundraising strategy” is predicated on using special events to bring money into your agency, then you’re heading down the wrong fundraising road. Special events don’t make you much money when it is all said and done. I’m not saying “don’t throw a party;” however, I am saying “throw a party for the right reasons.” Sure, you’ll bring some cash into your bank account (not accounting for indirect costs, of course). However, special events are very effective when there is another step (or two or three) in your resource development program that you can transition your event donors (e.g. annual campaign, mail campaign, etc).

Here’t to your health!

Choo! Choo! All aboard the philanthropy train

On Tuesday of this week, I climbed aboard a train and made my way to downtown Chicago for a meeting with a former co-worker and current marketing consultant. It was on that train trip that I was thunderstruck by a revelation . . . trains are an amazing metaphor for non-profit organizations when it comes to resource development.

It starts at the train station. If you look around at those waiting for the train, you’ll observe people from all walks of life. There is a lot of diversity standing on that train platform, which also holds true for the average non-profit agency’s pool of prospective donors. Those who are interested in supporting your agency are young and old, white-collar and blue-collar, and rich and poor.

Non-profits who are successful at resource development recognize their mission is something everyone wants to climb aboard, and those agencies are very good at offering seats to everyone on that train.

Once the train pulls up to the platform, the doors open and the conductors come down out of the train onto the platform. They greet commuters, provide valuable information, and assist those who need help getting up into the train. After everyone is seemingly aboard, they look around and make sure there are no stragglers.

Successful fundraising organizations use fundraising professionals and fundraising volunteers to identify, cultivate, educate, inform and help prospective donors.

On the train, conductors are punching pre-purchased tickets as well as selling tickets to those who need them. Everyone pays to ride and no one goes without a solicitation. This all occur while the train is chugging along to its destination. After the solicitation period is over, the conductor stops and chats with passengers. They answer questions and talk about the “expected outcome,” which of course is arriving safely at your destination. The focus isn’t on the solicitation, it is on the outcomes (e.g. talk about the journey, reminders about safety, and the final announcement at the end of the trip that the ultimate outcome has been achieved).

Non-profits who make fundraising look effortless understand that fundraising isn’t the focus. They work hard to keep their donors and supporters focused on the journey, the outcomes and the impact. The message is never “we need your money” . . . it is always “we’re making a difference because of everything you do to support us.”

As the train pulls into Union Station, the conductor makes the following announcements:

  • We’ve arrived on time (e.g. we delivered on our promise)
  • Thank you for riding Metra (e.g. appreciation and acknowledgement)
  • Have a great day, watch your step getting off the train, and be safe
  • Remember to buy your ticket at the station for your return trip because you’ll save money

Stewardship is more than just thanking donors for their money. In addition to thanks and appreciation, the effective non-profits share return on investment information with their donors and take a genuine interest in their lives.

If you’re reading today’s blog post and think I’m exaggerating to make a point, then I think you need to take a train trip. For me, the proof is in the pudding when I see how many commuters appear to personally know their conductors and look happy to see them.

Non-profit organizations who want to improve their resource development programs and make them more donor-centered should climb aboard the philanthropy train and enjoy the ride. None of us are ever too old to learn a thing or two.  😉

Who are the “conductors” for your resource development program? No everyone is cut out for that job . . . how do you identify and recruit those individuals? Are you strategic in your efforts or is it more organic? What does your agency do to keep the focus off of fundraising and on the outcomes and impact (while ensuring donors are still contributing)? Does your fundraising program feel like a fun journey or is it just a series of unconnected stops?

Please use the comment box below to weigh-in. I promise that it is a warm and nurturing place. It will not bite you.  😉

Here’s to your health!

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

Wise words from a frog on donor recapture initiatives

This week we’re looking for non-profit and fundraising advice from one of my favorite books — “It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider” — written by Jim Henson, The Muppets, and Friends. In yesterday’s post, we examined song lyrics from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band and the importance of training your annual campaign volunteer solicitors. Today, we look at a quote from Kermit the Frog and the concept of re-engaging lapsed donors.

The following passage is something Kermit said in one of the muppet movies. I think these words are inspirational for non-profit and fundraising professionals who are looking at a long list of lapsed donors and contemplating how to re-engage them.

“Look at all those people out there. Lots of people. But my friends . . . my friends are all gone. Well, I’m, I’m going to get ’em back. I’m gonna get ’em back! ‘Cause the show’s not dead as long as I believe in it. And I’m gonna sell that show. And we’re all gonna be on Broadway. You hear me, New York? We’re gonna be on Broadway! Because, because I’m not giving up! I’m still here and I’m stayin’! You hear that, New York? I’m stayin’ right here. The frog is stayin’.”

While every non-profit organization’s donor recapture initiative will likely look a little different due to circumstances and available resources, they are all rooted in the following foundational approaches:

  • Identifying which lapsed donors are the best candidates for your recapture activities,
  • Assessment to determine if there were systemic reasons for the donor disengaging,
  • Developing a case for support specifically focused on why a donor should come back, and
  • Creating a plan that involves varied cultivation, solicitation, stewardship and testing strategies that uniquely speak to a family member who has been away from home for a while.

Doing all of this falls into the category of “good strategy,” but what Kermit speaks to is something entirely different — good attitude.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve opened a letter, taken a phone call or visited with a fundraising professional who wants to engage me in a conversation about renewing my lapsed financial support. For me, it is all about tone and energy. I can tell if you really care about me or if you just care about my dollars. I can tell if you believe in your heart that I’m a member of your non-profit family.

You can put together the most strategically sound donor recapture initiative and still fall short if you don’t take Kermit’s words to heart about:

  • Being perseverant and demonstrating sticktoitiveness,
  • Believing in a cause, and
  • Understanding the concept of salesmanship.

Jerry Juhl was a good friend of Jim Henson and a puppeteer associated with the muppets. He said, “Kermit is the eye in the middle of the hurricane. And, you know, he’s always in control. And the interesting thing about it, of course, is that he created the hurricane.”

Every fundraising professional should take these words to heart because: 1) you are at the center of your agency’s fundraising program, 2) you need to always exude a sense ofbeing  calm, cool and collected, and 3) you likely created the situation that you’re currently dealing with.

Has your agency every created or invested in a donor recapture initiative? If so, please share what it looked like? If you created a special case for support, what were some of the messages and themes you hit upon? How did you infuse emotion into your efforts? Please scroll down and share your thoughts using 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!/eanderson847

Are you and your non-profit agency a fundraising leader?

This week at DonorDreams we are talking about what it looks like to be a fundraising “LEADER”. Today, we will frame the issue using a few of Noel Tichy’s ideas around leadership. The rest of the week we will examine other points of view on the subject as well as examples of good leaders.

Noel Tichy is an iconic figure in the field of leadership. He has authored and co-authored the following books on this very popular subject: Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will, The Leadership Engine, and Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls. While it would be impossible to summarize all of what Tichy believes about leadership into this very small blog post, I believe the following key principles from chapter three of The Leadership Engine captures some of it nicely:

  • Leaders accomplish their goals through the people they teach
  • Leaders teach others to be leaders, not followers
  • Leaders consider teaching on their primary roles
  • Leaders use every opportunity to learn and to teach
  • Leaders have clear ideas and values, based on knowledge and experience
  • Leaders articulate those lessons to others

In that same chapter of the book, Tichy quotes former Honeywell CEO, Larry Bossidy, as saying:

“How am I doing as a leader? The answer is how are the people you lead doing?”

Hmmmm . . . all of this got me thinking! If leaders teach and if leaders can be evaluated by those they lead, then would Tichy advocate that a non-profit and fundraising leader be evaluated through a “donor lens”?

After some careful consideration, I think Tichy would probably agree and I think the following questions can shed lots of light on whether you are leading or just raising money:

  • Do your donors know what the goals of your agency are?
  • Do you know what your key donors’ personal goals are with regards to their philanthropy?
  • In your efforts to cultivate new prospective donors, do you teach them what to expect as a donor to your agency and how to engage your organization in being accountable to them and their fellow donors?
  • Do your donors know what your  agency’s values are? Do they see and echo your edge and emotional energy around your mission?
  • Do your donors enthusiastically go out into the community and teach others about your mission and enlist the support of new prospective donors?

If you can answer ‘YES’ to many of these questions, then congratulations . . . “You very well might be a fundraising leader.” If you fall a little short, then there might be a little bit of work for you to do.

And what does this work look like? Well, I’m happy to say it is probably something you should fold into your existing donor stewardship efforts (e.g. focus groups, donor surveys, stewardship receptions with a mission-focus, engaging donors in prospect cultivation efforts, etc).

How do you propose we take measure of whether or not you and your agency are non-profit and fundraising leaders? Does it even matter to you or do you think it is more important to just focus on fundraising outputs (e.g. cash raised, goals attained, etc)? Are you trying to create what Tichy refers to as a “virtuous teaching cycle” with your donors? If so, what does that look like?

Please scroll down and share your thoughts on some of these questions in the comment box because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Strategic special events?

Back in October, I outted myself as a fundraising professional who isn’t very fond of special events when the purpose of the event is to raise money. I don’t know how many times I’ve shared the link to Charity Navigator’s 2007 Special Events Study with subscribers to this blog. I’m sure it has been too many times, but I’ve haven’t seen anything else that more convincingly makes the case that special events cost more money than they raise.

However, my position on special events does change when the objectives associated planning and hosting an event are more inclusive than: “let’s make some money.”

So, some of you might be asking: “What other objectives could there be?” Well, try some of these on for size:

  • Engaging new volunteers from a different social circle in your community.
  • Introducing yourself to a new set of prospective donors from a different social circle in your community, and cultivating new prospective donors for your individual giving annual campaign.
  • Stewarding existing donors by providing them an enchanted evening awash in mission-focus.
  • Marketing and getting your agency’s brand into the media marketplace.

I think it is great if your agency wants to run a few (e.g. one, two or three) special events as part of its annual resource development plan. However, I encourage you to ask the following questions before doing so:

  • How does this event support other aspects of your fundraising plan?
  • Who is the target audience for each of your special events? Does this event really do a good job of engaging that segment of the donor marketplace?
  • Are you just sending invitations out to those who attended last year? Are you just blasting invitations out to your entire donor database? Or are you thoughtfully engaging your event committee in identifying new prospective attendees who fit within the target audience parameters you’ve set?
  • How are you injecting “mission-focus” into each of your events so new prospective donors are getting cultivated and current donors are getting stewarded?

There is something very powerful about throwing a party focused around your agency’s mission. If it is done haphazardly and all in the name of “raising some money,” then you most likely didn’t raise the money you thought you did (read the Charity Navigator report and look at both direct and indirect costs) and you also missed an opportunity.

However, if you are strategic in your approach to special events, then I suspect you are seeing improvements in your overall fundraising program and starting to attract new donors.

Is your non-profit organization “strategic” in its approach to special events? If so, how? Please use the comment box below to answer these questions. The one or two minutes it takes for you to comment might make a huge difference in another fundraising professional’s life.

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

Online giving: Evolve or else?!?

Welcome to Wednesday of individual giving week where we’re looking at different individual giving strategies as a way to replace dwindling pools of government funding. We’re using characters from the movie “Finding Nemo” to look at various individual giving strategies. Monday’s post was all about “Crush the Turtle” and the thrill seeking mentality of special event fundraising. Yesterday’s post focused on direct mail. Today, we’re looking at ePhilanthropy through the eyes of “Dory” (the regal tang fish whose voice you recognize as Ellen DeGeneres):

“Give it up old man, you can’t fight evolution, I was built for speed!”

There is currently a debate raging in fundraising circles between traditionalists and futurists.

Futurists argue that giving trends all point to donors giving via your website, email, social media, text messaging, and e-video campaigns.

Traditionalists sound more like Jeff Brooks who said in his recent blog post titled “The case against innovation“:

“When you get bored with letters and change everything so it’s cool and innovative, you force people to spend energy and time figuring out your new conventions.  That’s energy and time they don’t have, or don’t care to spend on such a stupid task.  No matter how cool you’ve made it, you’ve put a wall around whatever you’re trying to communicate.  You might think it’s a very low, easy-to-climb wall — but it’s still a wall, and that means fewer people are going to get your message.”

I personally find middle ground between these two camps:

  • Online giving increased by more than 30-percent in 2010 compared to 2009.
  • It is estimated that approximately 7-percent of all charitable giving was secured online in 2010.
  • Average size gift statistics for online giving is starting to look remarkably similar to direct mail data.
  • The trend arrow over the last decade is unmistakable.

(Note: A special thanks to Blackbaud and their analytics division for keeping an eye on these trends. You can find a Blackbaud widget that links to similar kinds of information at the bottom of my website.)

The reality is that it can be somewhat expensive for many non-profits to get into individual giving strategies involving technology. However, the good news is that they don’t need to live on the “bleeding edge of technology”. Agency can and should start to take small steps towards the future. For example, even small organizations can add a “donate now” button to their webpage, set-up a Facebook and Twitter account, and start experimenting with both listening to donors and nudging them toward online giving opportunities.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I recently read somewhere (I honestly can’t remember where or I would cite the source), that there is likely lots and lots of “cross pollution” between different individual giving strategies. Here are a few examples to illustrate this point:

  • A donor gets a letter in the mail and they are inclined to make a contribution. However, they see your agency’s website address embedded in the letter and go online to make that donation out of convenience.
  • A donor is solicited using a face-to-face solicitation strategy. They sign the pledge card. When the pledge reminder arrives, they go online to pay their pledge because it might be more convenient.
  • A donor receives an email (doesn’t matter if it is for solicitation or stewardship purposes). They then receive a visit by a fundraising volunteer who asks them to make a pledge. They sign the pledge card because it is convenient rather than dig through their cluttered email inbox for that donation link.

Everything is getting more and more interconnected. For this reason, I am all for investing a little time and money in ePhilanthropy because the decision isn’t about which tool to use with individuals. The decision involves which tools to use in concert with each other.

Don’t go crazy by focusing exclusively on lots and lots of new technology. Start small. And by all means, don’t use technology to replace your existing solicitation tools (e.g. mail, pledge cards, fundraising volunteers, etc).

Remember, the more tools you have in your toolbox to connect with individuals the more likely it will be that you are able to engage what is clearly the largest slice of the charitable giving pie chart — INDIVIDUAL DONORS.

What is your organization doing right now in the arena of ePhilanthropy? Website? Email? Text? Electronic video? Social media? Do you have a written ePhilanthropy plan in place that delineates which online tools you’re using and which tools are used for cultivation vs solicitation vs stewardship? Please take one minute to share using the comment box below a nugget about where you’re at because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Whoa! Special events and individual giving

We ended the last week with a close-up look at what many non-profit organizations are doing to adjust to a restriction in government funding. Click here to read the post titled “Sir Isaac Newton was right about nonprofit organizations“. I ended Friday’s post with a promise that we would look at individual giving strategies from different angles this week. Today, we will look at special events as an individual giving strategy.

I thought it might be fun to look at individual giving through the eyes of those Disney characters from the movie “Finding Nemo”. Why this movie? Because this movie was all about a father who in his search for his lost son learned how to take risks and also discovered his son is capable of taking care of himself. In some ways, I think that individual giving for non-profit agencies kind of follows the same storyline.

Let’s take that scene in the movie where Marlin (the father clown fish) is talking to Crush (the turtle) about Marlin’s experience with jellyfish:

  • Crush: “Oh, I saw the whole thing, dude! First, you were like, whoa! And then we were like, WHOA! And then you were like, whoa.”
  • Marlin: “What are you talking about?”
  • Crush: “You, Mini-Man! Takin’ on the jellies. You got serious thrill issues, dude.”

LOL . . . I think special events are a little bit like this scene from “Finding Nemo”. They are fun. They are not for the faint-of-heart. Too many might actually be dangerous for your organization. However, they are something you probably need to do if you want to “find” donors.

As we talked about on Friday, there are many fundraising volunteers who are fearful about asking friends to make a direct charitable contribution. However, special events feel different from asking for direct contributions because there is a trade involved — you give me $50.00 and I giving you a ticket to a dinner. Quid pro quo.

Unfortunately, there are too many non-profit organizations who just kept adding more and more events to their resource development plan every time there was a shortfall in revenue. Now, they have an unbalanced resource development program, and much like a car with unbalanced tires this can be a recipe for danger.

I won’t go into a long diatribe about how special events aren’t a very efficient way to raise money from individuals. This is a well-worn path, and you can find countless blog posts from me on the subject. However, you may want to click here to read Charity Navigator’s study on special events and how they cost (direct + indirect costs) the average non-profit agency $1.33 to raise $1.00.

All that being said, every non-profit organization needs to have one or two well-run special events built into their annual resource development plan because:

  • They will bring in some money for your agency (if you factor out indirect costs like staff time),
  • They are a soft way for new prospective donors to learn more about your agency,
  • They are a fun way for your agency to engage new volunteers, and
  • They have a cultivation and stewardship effect for many prospects and donors especially if the event has a “mission-focus”.

However, please keep in mind that too much of a fun thing is never good for anyone.  I recent had an opportunity to interview more than 40 donors. I asked the donor if they prefer to make a charitable contribution using an event vehicle or a direct solicitation from a friend armed with a pledge card.  In EVERY interview, the donor came back and said without hesitation that they would prefer the friend and the pledge card.

Remember . . . events have their place. Keep them to a minimum, but do those few events very well. Keep the event mission-focused with an eye to introducing new prospects to your agency and demonstrating to existing donors that their contributions are making a difference. Most importantly, keep in mind that special events are only one of many solicitation strategies you will employ in your efforts to secure more individual giving to compensate for the receding tides of government funding.

How does your agency ensure its special event program doesn’t get out of hand? Do you evaluate every event? If so, what metrics do you use?

Here’s to your health!

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