Philanthropy is emotional. Is your agency embracing this reality?

philanthropyI was on the phone yesterday talking with Pamela Grow over at The Grow Report about a toolbox project I’m currently work on. During that call, she shared an emotional donor story, and my response was simply “philanthropy is emotional“. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to get neither Pamela’s story nor my simply conclusion out of my head. Whenever something like this happens, I always take it as a sign from the “blogger gods” that I need to write about it.
So, that’s what you’re getting this morning . . . a handful of stories and examples from my life to prove the point that philanthropy is emotional and ask what you’re doing about it. Hopefully, you can share a few stories and examples of your own.
What exactly is philanthropy?
I know that when I think of “philanthropy” my mind immediately wanders to non-profit organizations and charitable giving. However, the concept of philanthropy is much more expansive than just money being donated to agencies. The following is a simple definition that Google spit out at me when I asked:

Philanthropy is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.

When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, “promoting the welfare of others” includes volunteerism, advocacy in addition to charitable giving.
live unitedOur United Way friends totally get an A+ on this one because they’ve been running around for a decade now telling us to LIVE UNITED which encompasses the following ideas:

  1. Give
  2. Advocate
  3. Volunteer

I guess when I step back and look at the bigger picture of philanthropy, I can’t help but wonder how it can’t be an emotional activity. After all, the act of reaching out to help someone else and expecting nothing in return is a selfless activity that is rooted in love and caring. Both of which are emotional. Right?
My first tearful national conference
youth of the yearMy first Boys & Girls Club national conference was in New York City in 2001 literally months before the terror attacks.
During one of the general sessions, the 2001 National Youth of the Year stepped to the big stage and told his story, which included:

  • a father who had died
  • a mother who was addicted, in prison and infect with HIV
  • a Boys & Girls Club that became home
  • hope and inspiration

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
His story illustrates the power of philanthropy and demonstrates how emotional it is for people.
A donor’s tears
tears2Fast forward to one of my first engagements as an external consultant. I was assisting with an organizational assessment and conducting interviews with board members, volunteers, collaborative partners, donors, former donors and various other stakeholders.
The organization was experiencing a number of pain points and found itself under scrutiny by the newspaper, television stations, and its supporters. As if this wasn’t bad enough, those who the agency served were starting to organize and protest.
I had the privilege of interviewing someone who had “done it all” including:

  • program volunteer
  • fundraising volunteer
  • board member (I believe two different stints on the board)
  • donor

There she sat, sharing her perspective on the current state and desired future state of the agency, and there were lots of tears.
Why was she crying?
Simply said, she understood the importance of the agency. She had witnessed and participated in the transformational gift this organization provides its clients. Her tears were rooted in frustration and fear.

  • Frustration that the current issues haunting the agency were getting in the way of fulfilling its mission.
  • Fear that the current issues might permanently close the doors and impact clients.

Her story illustrates the power of philanthropy and demonstrates how emotional it is for people.
An executive director’s tears
tearsI often find myself standing in parking lots after meeting “kicking stones” with staff, board members, volunteers, etc.
After one meeting, there I was in the parking lot with the executive director and their eyes started to pool with tears. It would be simple for me to chalk those tears up to:

  • being “sideways” with the board president
  • tight cash flow
  • inability to expand services
  • pressures being brought by partners to build organizational capacity
  • powerlessness to be able to give hard-working staff a raise

In reality, this executive director was thinking about opening up a job search and leaving the agency because they weren’t sure that they were the right leader to solve these challenges  The stress was eating them up.
The tears stemmed from the fact that they saw program staff, volunteers, and clients as part of their extended family, and the thought of leaving was akin to divorce or death.
Non-profit staff dedicate their lives to promoting the welfare of others. They are usually donors. They typically work for a lot less than what they could earn in the for-profit sector (by choice). They see, touch, hear, and feel “mission” on a daily basis.
This executive director’s story illustrates the power of philanthropy and demonstrates how emotional it is for people.
What are you doing?
Are you on the same page with me now? Do you believe that philanthropy is emotional? If so, then what are you doing to infuse emotion into the following functions at your non-profit agency:

  • marketing and PR?
  • resource development and fundraising?
  • board governance?
  • staffing?
  • programming?

One of my favorite non-profit PSA commercials is the one featuring Denzel Washington talking from his heart about the roots of his philanthropic spirit. Every time I see this commercial it brings tears to my eyes. Click the video or YouTube link to view this iconic public service announcement and bear witness to another emotional example.

Please take a minute or two to scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences about an emotional philanthropy story. It is the holiday season and a time to give. So, why not give the gift of inspiration to your fellow non-profit colleagues?
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Scandal, crisis and abusing your non-profit brand

crisis2Sometimes I think the universe speaks to us, and lately it has been begging me to write this blog. Over the last few months, I’ve spoken with a good handful of non-profit professionals who have shared stories of scandal and crisis that would make your toes curl. These stories have ranged from incidents on the front line that made the local newspaper to outright embezzlement.
The tipping point for me was last week when I was visiting a client and prior to the start of our meeting a board volunteer brought up the name of William Aramony.
Now before I proceed let me say that a number of my United Way friends are rolling their eyes right now. I can almost hear them saying, “Come on, Erik. Give us a break. Do you have to tell that horrible story again? It is so 20th Century and stuff for the history books.
crisis3For the record, I agree with my United Way friends. If you don’t know about William Aramony, what you need to know for this blog post is:

  • He was an iconic CEO of United Way of America
  • He was accused of wrongdoing
  • It was a national news story for a long time
  • He ultimately resigned and served a little jail time

The details of the scandal aren’t important here. What is important is that this scandal occurred in 1990, which is more than 20 years ago. Heck, Bill Aramony died in 2011. But this story has legs as they say in the news industry.
The board volunteer who raised the specter of Bill Aramony last week did so almost as if that news story had just happened recently.
I am trying to make the following points:

  1. People have long memories
  2. Donors are often not very forgiving
  3. Scandals can do long term damage to your brand

Perhaps, I am a cynic on this subject, but I believe that all non-profit organizations are likely to experience scandal at least a few times in their organization’s life span. There is bound to be an incident where accusations are made and lawsuits are filed. When you deal with employees, there is likely going to be a messy HR issue from time to time.
I think Abraham Lincoln put it best when he said:

“You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

So, what should a non-profit do to prepare itself?

  1. You should have written policies designed to minimize your liability and exposure.
  2. You should have plans designed to help guide your agency through crisis (e.g. crisis communications plan).
  3. You should review yours plans and policies every year.
  4. You should be sitting down with your top donors every year just to touch base and see what they’re thinking.

Plans & Policies
crisis1You can probably spend the rest of your life writing policies, but let’s not get carried away. Here are a few questions I suggest you ask as you start going down this road:

  • Do you have a criminal background check policy when it comes to your employees, volunteers and board members?
  • Do you have policies pertaining to the safety and security of your clients?
  • Do you have policies that address the subject of injuries?
  • Does your organization utilize technology? If so, do you have policies addressing the use of technology?
  • Do you have an employee handbook or employment policies?
  • Do you have a written crisis management plan? If so, do you review it often with staff and clients? (e.g. fire drills, etc)
  • Do you have a crisis communications plan?
  • Do you have appropriate insurance coverage? How do you know? How often do you review it?

I suspect you have some of this in place and the rest is on a to-do-list somewhere.
This is not work for your board to tackle. It is committee work. If you don’t believe in standing committees of the board, then it is task force work.
But the bottom line is that it is WORK. Work to develop them. Work to regularly review them. Work to monitor them and assure compliance.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work because it only takes one good crisis or scandal to do series damage to your non-profit brand.
If you don’t believe me, go ask your local United Way executive director to tell you about William Aramony. Just be prepared to get an earful.  😉
Has your organization (or another one in your community) ever had to dig out of a big hole created by crisis or scandal? If so, how long did it take? What did you do to reset the playing field? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Election 2012 can be called “The Year of the Donor”

I really try not to talk about politics on this blog platform because: 1) it is about non-profits, fundraising, and donors and 2) readers come from a variety of political persuasions and I don’t want to offend anyone. However, sometimes I see trends that I feel are important to share because there is a teachable moment or lesson to learn. Today, I’m going to dissect the 2012 Presidential election with regards to fundraising and donors. I think there are many interesting things happening that should give the average non-profit professional an opportunity for reflection and thought.

Gingrich demonstrated the power of major gifts

During the Republican primary season, it was well reported by most media outlets that the Gingrich campaign was able to sustain itself for longer than anticipated because of one very large donor — Sheldon Adelson. Fredreka Schouten illustrated this point in USA Today’s blog “On Politics” when Mr. Adelson and his wife each donated $5 million in January 2012.

A good friend of mine who works with Boys & Girls Clubs says that every non-profit organization needs a major gifts strategy even if they’re a small organization and it is just for one donor. Gingrich’s campaign certainly places an exclamation point on this piece of advice.

If your organization doesn’t have a major gifts strategy, I think Gail Perry at Fired Up Fundraising does a nice job talking about this issue as well as the trends she sees associated with major gift fundraising in 2012.

Donors are powerful and getting more influential every day

Recently, a Romney spokesperson said something that angered conservatives. I won’t go into the details because they aren’t relevant to my point; however, click on this YouTube video of MSNBC re-broadcasting Ann Coulter’s comments from Fox News and watch the first 20 seconds or so of the clip:


Did you catch that?

Ann didn’t ask people to call the Romney campaign to express their outrage. She didn’t suggest conservatives flex their muscles in the voting booth. Nope . . . she specifically asked that donors flex their muscles and “not give another dime unless . . .

I’m not suggesting that non-profit agencies don’t understand how influential donors are; however, I do see a trend where donors are becoming more vocal when they see things that upset them.

For example, last year I blogged about a local donor in Elgin, Illinois who became very upset when his charity of choice started running deficits. He resigned from their board of directors. He pulled his financial support. He went to the newspaper, made a lot of noise, and suggested that other donors make noise and demand more accountability and change.

Is your non-profit prepared for a donor revolt?

Obama 2008 vs 2012

Team Obama certainly shouldn’t be crying poor because they have raised a lot of money; however, the following quotation caught my attention in an article by Julie Pace at

In an email to supporters after the July numbers were announced, the Obama campaign said, ‘‘If we don’t step it up, we’re in trouble.’’

I’ve talked to a number of donors who wrote checks to the Obama campaign in 2008 and asked them to explain the perceived enthusiasm gap by some donors. I think it is fair to sum it up like this . . .

  • The first time a donor makes a contribution to your cause, they are investing in promises.
  • The second time a donor makes a contribution, they are investing in results.

According to many studies on the topic of donor loyalty, it is common for many donors not to renew their support. I’ve read studies that suggest the average turnover rate is in the neighborhood of 50 percent.

If this is the case for your agency, then I suggest you look at your program outcomes data and how you’re communicating that to your donors. You might also want to talk to those lapsed donors and ask them about their expectations after making their first contribution and what happened in the months leading up to the unsuccessful renewal solicitation.

You can bet that Team Obama has done this, which might be why we saw overt outreach efforts throughout the summer to specific special interest groups including women’s groups, Latino groups and LGBT groups.

Super PAC trend gives hope to United Way

Traditional political action committees (PAC) and the new Super PACs are playing a huge role in this year’s election. Paul Blumenthal wrote about it last week in his Huffington Post column.

I look at this trend and wonder why some individual donors aren’t  just giving their money directly to the campaigns. Why give it to a “middle man”?

While I am sure there is a number of reasons to explain this trend, I wonder if one of those reasons is that bundling money together allows donors to speak with a louder voice and bigger stick.

Non-profit professionals should pay attention to this phenomenon because it might explain the increasing popularity of “giving circles“. It might also become what re-energizes donor enthusiasm for supporting their local United Way.

Are you paying attention to the 2012 election cycle from a fundraising perspective? If so, what are you seeing that might be relevant for non-profit and fundraising professionals? Do you sometimes take a step back and look at what’s happening around you and your agency? What do you see? Please use the comment box below and share those observations with your fellow non-profit professionals.

Here’s to your health!

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

A parade of fundraising leaders and role models

This week at DonorDreams we are talking about what it looks like to be a fundraising “LEADER”. Today, we cap the week off by looking at one smart teenager and a few organizations that provide “thought leadership” in the area of charitable giving. I hope this week’s series of blog posts on fundraising thought leadership inspired you to become a teacher in your little corner of the world when it comes to philanthropy.

I’ve spent most of my life working in the youth development field. If there is one thing I know, it is that kids know everything. Just ask them!  LOL  So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that at 14-years-old Freddi Zeiler wrote a book that “teaches us” how to: give time and money, donate goods, and organize charity events.

The book is titled “A Kids Guide to Giving“. I highly recommend that every fundraising professional secure a copy because we can all learn a lot as fundraising leaders from Freddi’s TPOV.

In Wednesday’s post titled “What is your teachable point of view around fundraising?” I talked about the importance of leaders developing their TPOV. Apparently, no one had to teach Freddi the importance of this idea because her TPOV came through loud and clear. To give you just a little taste, here are a few of the “ideas” she puts forth on fundraising:

  • Look into your heart.
  • Support a cause you love.
  • There are lots of ways to help!
  • You can make a difference.

It takes some non-profit professionals and volunteers a very long time to learn these inspirational and fundamental fundraising lessons.

As we talked about in Tuesday’s post titled “Are you and your non-profit agency fundraising leaders?” Noel Tichy believes that leaders are teachers. This aligns with what I think and how I end most of the posts here at the DonorDreams blog when I say: “we can all learn from each other”. It is for this reason I highlighted Freddi this morning as a fundraising leader. However, leaders don’t necessary have to be individuals . . . they can be organizations that embody and bring to life inspirational ideas, values and emotional energy and edge on the topic of philanthropy and fundraising.

Two such organizations in my mind are The Robin Hood Foundation and United Way of America.

The Robin Hood Foundation has been in operation since 1988 and focused on eliminating poverty in New York City. What I love about this foundation is their TPOV:

  • The foundation focuses on attacking the “roots” of poverty and not throwing money at alleviating the symptoms;
  • The foundation doesn’t just write a check and walk away from the project. They roll up their sleeves and partner with their grant recipients by providing and securing technical assistance to help maximize the potential of the program they just funded.
  • The foundation is results-oriented and helps their partners set goals, measure progress, collect data, and benchmark success. After working with their grantees on these parts of the project, they then hold them accountable to achieving all of it.

United Way of America is the grand-daddy of all philanthropic thought leaders in America. For the last 125 years, they have helped donors collectively find their philanthropic muscles and tackle difficult social problems in communities all across America.

I could spend hours talking about United Way’s workplace campaign. I could also spend days talking about their community impact model that focuses on big goals like improving education, helping people find financial stability during tough economic times, or promoting healthy lifestyles and communities. While all of this is inspirational, the thing that most inspires me as a fundraising professional is how United Way empowers many individuals with its message around giving, advocating and volunteering.

In my non-profit work throughout the years, I’ve bumped into too many people who are not wealthy and see themselves as tiny actors on the very large stage of life. These people have a hard time seeing themselves as philanthropists because they don’t think their ability to make a small charitable contribution will change anything. United Way works tirelessly as a “fundraising teacher” every year to empower donors.

The message that “even a few dollars per paycheck, when combined with everyone else’s few dollars, can change the world” is an empowering message and something we should all take to heart and learn to teach. We all need to dedicate ourselves to teaching donors how to make their money and time turn into something impactful. If every fundraising professional in America took this to heart, can you even imagine what those charitable giving pie charts published every year by Giving USA would look like? OH MY!

So, are you ready to embrace your professional calling as a non-profit fundraising professional or volunteer differently? What is your teachable point of view? What individuals (e.g. Bill Clinton or Freddi Zeiler) or organizations (e.g. Robin Hood Foundation or United Way) do you look to for inspiration to develop and inspire your TPOV?

Please scroll down and use the comment box to share your thoughts on these questions because we can all learn from each other”.   🙂

Here’s to your health!

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

The Great Oz, Community Impact, and Snake Oil

I’ll never forget the day after watching “The Wizard of Oz” for the umpteenth time that I finally realized that the Wizard character was a snake oil salesman. He could sell ice to Eskimos, and he indeed sold the Tim Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow exactly what they wanted in this final scene of the movie. It is exactly for this reason that I believe non-profit organizations need to hire the “Great and Powerful Oz” to sell donors on the idea of “community impact”.

In the nonprofit community, everyone is going nuts over this idea. We need to “measure our impact” so we can demonstrate to stakeholders and donors that change is being made. Even I have gotten wrapped up in this Kansas tornado from time-to-time on this blog. Please don’t misunderstand. I firmly believe that every non-profit organization needs to create an impact agenda, measurement tools, and indicators. How else can they ever be sure that they are fulfilling their mission?

However, what I am starting to worry about is how carried away everyone seems to be getting with this idea. It gets bigger and bigger with every passing day. Here is the progression that I’ve seen recently with one national non-profit whose mission focuses on helping kids reach their full potential by offering after-school programming:

  • It started a few decades ago with a program focused on helping kids do better on their homework. Impact conversations focused around the simple idea of “are they doing better with their homework assignments now compared to before they started participating in the homework assistance program?”
  • It then morphed to High Yield Learning Activities (aka fun games with educational objectives like Math Bingo). Impact conversations evolved and started involving the idea of designing and implementing a pre- and post-test strategy to actually measure change and improvement.
  • The conversation then quickly jumped to “collecting report cards” and claiming credit for kids who participate in these after-school program and who also seem to be maintaining or improving their grades in school.
  • Today, the impact conversation is now focused on three HUGE “priority outcomes,” one of which is for their clients to “graduate from high school ready for college, trade school, military or employment”.

Again . . . you will get no argument from me that an impact agenda and outcomes measurement are important. However, at what point does it get too big and impossible to measure? At what point are we selling snake oil to donors and supporters just like the Wizard of Oz did?

There is NO WAY one non-profit organization can guarantee that even one of their clients will do better in school or even graduate all because that child walked into their facility and participated in their programs. When non-profits set an impact agenda that is wide enough to fly the space shuttle through it, then they set themselves up to be exposed. Just like the Wizard of Oz did in this YouTube clip.

The reality is that it takes one huge massive collaboration and partnership of many different non-profit organizations, schools, teachers, parents, and even taxpayers to all be pulling in the same direction if you want to achieve an impact like: “graduate X% of kids from high school who are ready for college, trade school, military or employment”.

There are so many variables that go into these HUGE impact agenda outcomes that I begin to wonder if funding one non-profit organization or one school district to do one small program with one small subset of kids makes any sense? Is it the right strategy? Or should non-profits and schools and parents and teachers be financially incented by donors to “collaborate”?

I am not smart enough to know what that looks like . . . however, I know when a dialog needs to be opened and I suspect it is this subject at this point in time.

I applaud the United Way for tackling this issue because impact assessment is the right thing for non-profits to be doing and talking with donors about. However, who is going to step in and moderate this discussion because this path feels too big and too wide for the average size agency to walk down. Perhaps, it will be the United Way that finds its voice and leads everyone down the yellow brick road to a collaboration-based solution rather than focusing on individual programs.

Is your nonprofit in the impact agenda and outcomes measurement business? What is working for you? What isn’t working? Are you honestly measuring things that demonstrate your success around mission? If so, how? Is there another road for the United Way to go down rather than funding odds and ends programs and claiming that this approach is helping close major gaps in our communities (e.g. academic failure, homelessness, joblessness, health care, etc)?

I’ve heard too many people in the last few months complain behind closed doors about this subject. It is time to bring the discussion into the open because we can learn from each other. Why not use the comment box below to start the conversation?

Here is to your health!

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

Attention Tweeps: Twitter me this!?!

I just returned from the Boys & Girls Club conference and I’m back in the blog saddle again. Wow, I missed all of you! I hope you enjoyed reading Nathan Hand’s 5-part series last week on Twitter. I really think he is a wickedly smart resource development professional and blogger who we will all hear a lot from in the future. As for today’s post, I want to put a bow on everything Nathan wrote about last week by answering this simple question:

What should my non-profit Tweet about now that I know how to do it?

I think Nathan did a nice job last week of describing Twitter as a cocktail party, and my best advice is to Tweet about similar sorts of things you might chat about at such party. Please don’t gossip or tell the world what you just had for lunch. Perhaps, it would be best for us to look at a real life example from my hometown — United Way of Elgin. The following are just a few Tweets they posted in the last few weeks:

You can see from these three examples, that my United Way does a nice job of: 1) promoting causes that align with one of the issues in their impact agenda (e.g. education), 2) pay tribute to and provide a sense of “connectivity” and “family” between volunteers and donors (e.g. the passing of Steve Munson), and 3) support other non-profits with whom they collaborate and are aligned (e.g. YWCA Elgin).

United Way of Elgin — otherwise known as @UnitedWayElgin in the Twitterverse — is not perfect. They could do a better job of Tweeting more content on a daily basis and refining their voice and online personality. However, they certainly are further ahead of the curve than most other non-profits in my community. They are learning as they experiment and refuse to be left behind on the information super-highway.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter is still very new and evolving. I’ve seen non-profits use Twitter for prospect cultivation, donor solicitation, and stewardship. Everyone seems to be using this social media platform in different ways, and I think we can all learn from each other. Here are just a few tips I have for those of you who were inspired to jump into Twitter by Nathan’s 5-part Twitter series last week:

  1. Try to read posts about Twitter best practices for non-profit organizations once per week (simply use Google). Click here to read a good article I found this morning when I searched teh following key words: “Twitter nonprofit best practices”.
  2. Some of the best advice I ever received was from following Beth Kanter, who once suggested actively “listen” for awhile before starting to Tweet. So, open your account . . . follow a handful of other organizations you think do a good job with Twitter . . . and take good notes on what you like and dislike.
  3. Speaking of Beth Kanter, subscribe to a blog or two that specializes in social media or Twitter. You will learn a lot in a very short period of time . . . and it is FREE!!!
  4. Be strategic with your organization’s social media strategy. What will you use Facebook for? Twitter? LinkedIn? YouTube? Each social network can serve a different function in your ePhilanthropy strategy. I wouldn’t waste time duplicating information on each of these platforms. Take time to develop individual strategies for each niche. Perhaps, Twitter is where you cultivate new prospective donors AND Facebook is where you steward existing donors (aka Friends) AND your website is where you drive people for online solicitation purposes. I don’t know . . . but I suggest you figure it out.

My best advice is don’t get too carried away (like you can see when clicking on this funny YouTube video) with social media technology. If you get totally consumed by “cutting edge technology” before the market figures out best practices, then you run the risk of bleeding to death. However, it makes sense to set-up your account, start listening, and experiment so that you aren’t left behind in the cyber-dust.

How is your organization using Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? YouTube? What response have you received from donors and volunteers? Has anyone used these social media tools to help add more connectivity between your annual campaign volunteers or manage your campaign? Please use the comment box to weigh-in with your thoughts because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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

Fundraising lessons from Team Obama

Since starting this blog back in May, I have twice posted articles about Team Obama because I firmly believe that non-profit organizations can learn a lot from what our political fundraising cousins are doing on the other side of town. Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t just mean that through careful observation non-profits will be able to steal all of their strategies and best practices. I also mean that we can learn from their mistakes.

For example, let’s look at what happened in my household just yesterday . . .

My phone rings. I answer it, and the person at the other end identifies herself as a someone working for an independent fundraising firm who is raising money “on behalf of” the Obama campaign.

Lesson #1: Think twice about farming out your fundraising to external firms. Keep it internal and recruit volunteers from your board of directors and the community to help solicit prospects and donors. There was nothing this woman could’ve done to prove to me over the telephone that she was actually representing the Obama campaign and not some kind of scam. Volunteers have more credibility than any staff person or hired gun.

Without getting into lots of boring political talk, let me just say that I explained to this solicitor that my partner and I won’t be making a direct contribution to Team Obama’s 2012 re-election efforts. Instead, we’ve decided to shift all of our political contributions to a national political action committee (PAC). I told her to go talk to them if she wants our money.

Lesson #2: My partner and I have changed our giving strategy because we feel powerless and unable to hold national politicians accountable to the things they promised (non-profit translation: the talking points from the campaign’s 2008 “case for support” that inspired us to give in the first place because we wanted to invest in that “impact agenda”). So, here is the lesson for non-profits . . . don’t make promises you cannot keep. Not only will it disenfranchise donors, but they might very well shift their charitable giving to third party funders like United Way in an attempt to attach more accountability to their contribution.

After explaining my position to the telephone solicitor three different ways, she started arguing with me. In the middle of her diatribe, she blurted out her solicitation: “Would you consider making a $5,000 contribution today?” I politely said no. She continued with her rant, and then blurted out “Would you consider making a $2,500 contribution today?” I politely said no and referenced all the reasons I gave 5 minutes earlier. Believe it or not, she continued onward and asked if I could just make an exception and contribute $250. Finally agitated, I firmly said that I wouldn’t even consider $25 and that she needs to go talk to the PAC I referenced earlier. I also asked her to update her donor database records so that I can stop getting these phone calls, emails and direct mail appeals.

By the way, this YouTube video does a nice job capturing what that phone conversation looked like. Check it out if you need a good chuckle today.  🙂   However, I think I just cast myself into the role of the “goat” in that video. Oh well!

Lesson #3: When a donor says “NO” there are two things you need to train your volunteer solicitors to do: 1) don’t argue with them and enter into a auction-like bidding war for their contribution and 2) shut-up, listen, take good mental notes, pass the info back along to staff, and enter the conversation into the donor database as a contact record. Hopefully, staff have developed good systems to address these kind of disenfranchised donors with intense cultivation and stewardship efforts before re-soliciting them in the future.

I used to think that United Way’s best days were behind them, but taking a step back and looking at my household’s new political giving strategy has me re-thinking this position. I suspect that if non-profits don’t start investing in measuring program outcomes and implementing an impact agenda, we might be looking at a time of re-birth for United Way.

What are your thoughts about third-party fundraisers and fund distributors like United Way? Am I way off base in my thinking? What about your thoughts on the three lessons I’ve highlighted? How do you train your volunteer solicitors to deal with donors like me? What systems do you have in place to secure donor conversations and react to a failed solicitation?

Please use the comment box below to weigh-in with your thoughts because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Symbols and philanthropy

Yesterday was June 14th and that can only mean one thing — Flag Day — which got me thinking about the importance of “symbols” in philanthropy.

Quite simply, symbols are things that help us quickly and clearly understand for what something stands. For example, the American flag represents the historic formation of our country (e.g. 13 independent colonies) and stands for the values put forth by our Founding Fathers (e.g. freedom, justice, democratic principles, self-determination, etc).

Symbols are powerful communication tools for organizations according to Anat Rafaeli and Momica Worline in their paper titled “Symbols in Organizational Culture“.  The following are a few examples of symbols that I’ve seen non-profits use effectively:

  • Boys & Girls Clubs use a logo of two hands gasping each other. It is commonly known as “The Knuckles”.  It symbolizes hope and opportunity as well as a partnership between kids and those willing to extend a helping hand in partnership.  Donors see the logo and immediately understand in what they are investing.
  • The Boy Scouts integrated the fleur-de-lis into its logo. This symbol has had many meanings throughout human history; however, within a scouting context it is supposed to make donors think of a compass, which symbolizes scouting’s power in a person’s life to always keep them pointed in the right direction.
  • Getting back to Boys & Girls Clubs … this organization effectively uses its alumni assets as “symbols” and a way to effortlessly communicate to donors that the Club is 1) an effective after-school program that yields success stories, 2) all about lifting people up, 3) about forging positive kid-adult mentoring relationships, and 4) lots and lots of fun. Check out this Denzel Washington commercial and see if you can see those messages embodied in their spokesperson.

Many non-profit organizations also develop “signature fundraisers” or publicize “signature programs” that become symbols of their organization. I can specifically think of the United Way’s fundraising thermometer, poppies to support veterans causes, and cookie sales to help the Girl Scouts. Think of how powerful it must be for a donor to instantly understand in what they are investing.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge for your organization is integrating a sense of “mission-focus” into the symbols you construct. This is especially true for those non-profit organization’s pursuing cause-related marketing efforts. Who can ever forget when Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure affiliated their “symbol” (aka brand) with KFC’s brand (greasy, unhealthy food)?

Jump in and comment on other non-profit symbols that you’ve seen used very well or poorly by a non-profit organization in their resource development program. And enjoy this final link to the Chinese symbol for “philanthropy”

Here is to your health!

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

Generational transition and philanthropy

Jessica Journey’s blog post about the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit  is in my head and I cannot stop thinking about Baby Boomers, Generation X and The Millennials.

While on the track this morning at my local gym, I was thinking about what happens when one generation passes the torch to the next generation. My thoughts immediately wandered back to the 1960s when Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” passed the torch to the Baby Boomers. While there were fun cultural changes like the introduction of  rock-n-roll music, there was also tumultuous and violent changes like the Vietnam War protests and The Civil Rights movement.

Statistically speaking there is a similar passing of the torch happening today. Don’t believe me? Just go add up the numbers of the Baby Boomers and their parents’ generation and compare it to the combined numbers of Generation X and The Millennials. Still don’t believe me? Just open up a newspaper or tune your television to one of the countless news stations. There is all sorts of conflict over gay marriage, the future of Social Security & Medicare, and America’s role in the world.

I personally believe that these generational conflicts during times of transition are the result of two different sets of generational values systems clashing. It can be like tectonic plates sliding against each other producing cultural earthquakes.

So, what does this have to do with non-profits and philanthropy? I am afraid the answer is — EVERYTHING!

  • How do you think Gen X and Millennial donors will react to Catholic Charities in Illinois when they find out they have discontinued their adoption program in order to avoid compliance with the newly passed Civil Unions legislation (something these two generations value and respect)?
  • How do you think Gen Xers and Millennials will see the Boy Scouts of America as they learn about their restrictive membership policies pertaining to atheists, gays, and girls?
  • How will charities recalibrate their relationships with Baby Boomers (who have been the mainstay of most resource develop programs for a few decades) now that they are starting to retire and live on fixed incomes?
  • What will Boomers do with all this time on their hands after retirement? Could this be the start of the golden age of volunteerism? Or could part-time careers in non-profit work become a second career for Boomers looking to supplement retirement income?
  • How will the cynicism that is pervasive throughout the Gen X community impact non-profit organization’s ability to satisfactorily demonstrate “return on investment” and “return on investment” to Gen X donors?
  • How will Millennials’ technology preferences impact cultivation, solicitation and stewardship efforts?
  • As Boomers, Xers, and Millennials all start sharing space in the workplace, how will their different value systems interact and clash? How will non-profit managers balance these competing workplace approaches?

Rather than engaging in conflict and fighting, wouldn’t it be great if non-profit thought-leaders like the United Way took the lead during this transition? They could bring different groups together and engage us in a shared values discussion. They could also help local non-profits see the future and build organizational capacity to meet those challenges. Perhaps, our hope also rests with conferences such as the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit!?!?

How is your organization being proactive in preparing for this demographic earthquake? Please weigh-in and share.

Here is to your health!

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