Friday, June 4, 2010

A Term That I've Never Liked

Best practices.

When someone says to you that "best practices" recommend that you do something a certain way, what does that imply?

That they know more than you.

That they have more experience than you.

That this has been tested in the most thorough and objective manner and results show that a certain methodology is most effective time and time again.

In the words of my friend and mentor, "Show me the data."

I cringe every time a consultant tells their client that a certain tactic is "best practices." My reply is always, "Based on what criteria?"

In my experience, every program is different, every audience is different, and every offer is different. It isn't best practices until it works for YOU.

I recently put a test in place to gather data about the "best practice" of using a 3-ask script in telemarketing. I recommended telemarketing for a certain offer and was getting some resistance because, shocker, telemarketing has a bad reputation. There was significant concern about requiring a 3-ask script. This is a tactic by which the telemarketer pitches the offer, pitches it again using slightly different language, and then pitches it again with a softer offer before finally giving up, thanking the person for their time and hanging up. This was seen as too aggressive and possibly troublesome to our donors.

Let's put it to the test, I said: let's test a 2-ask script versus a 3-ask script. If we get a lot of complaints about the 3-ask script, we'll switch to the 2-ask script. If one script outperforms the other, we'll switch the entire campaign over to the winning script.

Awesome -- let's test it.

My telemarketing vendor strongly urged against testing the 2-ask script -- best practices, I was told, is that a 3-ask script is much more effective at raising funds.

Too bad -- if we want to do telemarketing at all, we're going to test both asks and see what performs. With some reluctance, they agreed. I could tell that they were anxious for the results so they could show me that indeed, their recommended "best practice" was the way to go.

Guess which is winning?

Neither -- they are both performing equally well.


Guess what our next step is?

We're going to test the 2-ask versus the 3-ask in our next campaign. Until you can repeat the results a couple of times, it's not enough to base a recommendation on. There's definitely an incentive to be able to have shorter phone calls, fewer complaint calls and still raise the same amount of revenue, so it's worth pursuing.

Until one tactic works for my program consistently better than another tactic, it is not a best practice...for us.

So unless you can tell me that you have 10 clients who have tested this methodology and 7 out of the 10 clients had a specific result, which is now their recommended tactic, don't try to sell me a "best practice."

Show me the data.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Is Your Nonprofit Starving to be Politically Correct?

I recently came across this article in the Nonprofit Times talking about food banks changing the way they refer to their audience, while trying to raise funds to serve that very population.

Don't call them poor - they are economically challenged.

They aren't starving -- they are food insecure.

Guess which cause people are willing to donate to? The one that helps poor and starving people, not the one serving economically-challenged, food-insecure people.

The author's point is that we shouldn't focus so much energy on how to phrase your mission and those you serve, worry most about serving them. Because whether or not they are food insecure or starving, they are in trouble and need your help.

This could be expanded out to so many other nonprofits than just food banks. Easter Seals, Courage Center, Gillette and so many others are challenged in talking about our collective audience, people with disabilities. Note that they are not disabled people (the disability does not define the person), and never used the "h" word (handicapped). I am still becoming immersed in the way in which we speak of our patients and the crafting of the language in speaking of the challenges they face.

This is the dichotomy that many nonprofits face, be it serving the poor (economically-challenged), the handicapped (gasp), the illiterate (are they literacy-challenged?), the blind (non-seeing), etc. There is a way in which the organizations need to address their service population and another way that they need to talk about them in gaining donors support for them.

Make sure you don't spend all your day talking the talk without walking the walk.

Monday, May 10, 2010

This is How Quickly Social Media Is Changing

In March of this year I attended the Nonprofit Technology conference put on by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. The first session of the day was Social Media 101, where I learned that I was definitely beyond 101.

Hey you never know, it's all relative.

One of the questions they posed to the audience was whether or audience members checked Facebook more than once a day. If you checked it multiple times a day you were considered to be a more "savvy" social media consumer.

They also said that six months ago, that question used to be "Do you have a Facebook profile?" but they found that nearly everybody did, so they had to change the question to how many times a day you check that profile to be an indicator of how well you knew social media.

Six months.

I wonder if perhaps six months from now the question will be "Have you de-activated your Facebook profile yet?" It seems that I've been seeing/hearing a lot of buzz with a backlash against Facebook and all of their revised "privacy" policies. Or as one person wrote, she got tired of "being forced to opt out of yet another shady invasion of privacy thinly disguised as a service."

I've had a couple of FB friends make a statement that they were de-activating their accounts.  Their take was that if people felt strongly enough about keeping in touch w/them, they should already have their cell phone number.

It will be interesting to see what the next six months bring.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Through My Child's Eyes

Tonight I attended Gillette Children's Children's Art Showcase.  Whoopee, you say, right? Yet another event, schmoozing with people you don't really know, etc, right?

Guess again.

This was an event put on by Gillette showcasing artwork from many of our patients. For a $25 ticket people could show up, enjoy some hors d'oeuvres and drinks and bid on artwork completed by a Gillette patient. Each piece of art was accompanied by a little bio talking about the artist -- the oldest artist was age 12.

I could enjoy this evening because for one, I am not the vendor (as I was in my prior life). And...since I'm also not the relationship person who has to schmooze with people there, I got to show up with my soon-to-be 7-year-old.  I asked a few people at work if it would be okay if I brought my daughter; after all, it is a work function. But I knew that the children who did the artwork would be there, and I knew that my daughter would like to meet some of the kids who are treated at Gillette, for as shy as she sometimes is. And since I didn't have any goals for the evening, I felt okay bringing Lindsey.

When we first arrived we helped check people in as they came in -- Lindsey loved helping cross their names off the list. Then after the majority of people arrived, we got to go in and see the artwork and meet the artists.

Lindsey wanted to bid on a couple of pieces, and honestly, the artwork was pretty awesome. It was also beautifully framed and well presented. The bios could bring tears to your eyes as you read each artist's story of their various diagnoses, how they came to be at Gillette, and the incredible care that they receive there.

The best part was that Lindsey got to connect with Lila, one of Gillette's patients who is also featured in the hospital's Cure Pity campaign. (Photo above.) She was born with no right hand for no known reason -- God apparently decided that that was how it was going to be. While she used a prosthetic from Gillette for some time, she now chooses not to use one, and it is truly amazing to see how much she can do with her "little hand," as she calls it.

By the end of the evening, the two girls were playing tag on the back lawn of the art center, running around with a handful of other little girls, all in their little party dresses or skirts, some with disabilities, others without, but all having fun on a beautiful spring evening.

I know that my camera did not capture the moment.

The best part was that as we were leaving, Lindsey commented on how much she liked Lila. I knew that she would for some reason -- from what I knew of her she seemed like the kind of girl my daughter would like, someone with spunk and tenacity. Lindsey was wishing that Lila went to her school, and said how amazed she was at how well she used her little hand.

As we got into the car, she said, "People should really not look at Lila's hand, but look at Lila and see her."

Wow, that is so smart. "You know," I said to her, "Some people live their whole lives and never know that, and here you are, a little girl, and you understand that already."

I learn so much from my daughter every day. I am so proud of her.

Monday, April 19, 2010

If you don't think fundraising's changing...think again

Every year I walk for the March of Dimes. They have an annual walk the last Sunday of April which raises millions of dollars for the organization. I have walked in rain, in slushy snow, on beautiful 70-degree days, on sweltering 90-degree days, all in April in Minnesota. (Note to any brides who may be reading this: don't plan an outdoor wedding in April in Minnesota!)

I've also walked with my dog, with a baby, with a baby and a toddler, with just a toddler, with my friends, with my co-workers, and once with my husband. (That was the same year we walked with said dog.)

This is my 12th year walking for March of Dimes' March for Babies, previously called WalkAmerica. Here's a picture of how I may have fundraised my first year, back in 1998:

1. I could have written letters using language MOD provides to their walkers to write to my friends and family, asking them to help me raise money. (I know I didn't though, I just emailed them.)

2. I emailed friends and family, telling them what I was doing and why, and asking for their donations to help.

3. I would have received checks or cash from friends and family, which I collected in an envelope and turned in on the day of the walk, along with a sponsor sheet that I filled in by hand, showing who all the donations came from. In most cases I simply provided a name and dollar amount of my sponsors.

4. It would take March of Dimes months to tally all the revenue from all of the walk sites -- in about 3 months they would have an idea of how much money had been raised.

Here's how I fundraised this year:

1. I activated my fundraising webpage from 2009 and updated it for 2010. I told a new story and put up a new picture.

2. I used one of their "badges" to put on my blog, showing the photo I had uploaded to my personal site and where I was at against my goal ($0 of $900).

3. I also put another badge on my Facebook page.

At this point the fundraising began -- I hadn't sent out a single email, hadn't sent a link to my page to a single person. But I received a $25 donation from a friend of mine who had seen my badge on my Facebook page, and decided to donate right away instead of waiting for me to ask her. (Thank you, Tad!)

4. A week or two later, I changed my Facebook status to post a link to my fundraising page, asking people to help me with my campaign.

5. A month before the walk, I sent an email to friends and families with a link to said fundraising page, asking for their support.

6. A week before the walk, I sent an email again to my friends and families reminding them that the walk was coming soon and asking them to help.

7. I am currently creating a fundraising e-card which I can send to friends and families, and can also post to my Facebook page, which uses my personal photos to create an entertaining animated card.

As of this Thursday, I'm going to turn in my online sponsorship form and the three physical checks I received -- all other funds were raised online. The name and address of every person who has donated to me online has been collected, which helps MOD in future communications. I will receive my t-shirt ahead of the walk on Sunday, and won't have to worry about handling a large amount of cash on the day of the walk.

March of Dimes already knows how many millions have been raised nationwide, and can project how much more money will come in on walk day and in the weeks following. Thirty days after the walk they will probably have a tally of all the money raised, and will be able to plan their research spending appropriately based on this revenue.

A quick "shout out" to all the people who have donated so generously to my campaign. While I probably won't reach my big hairy audacious goal of $900 this year, I am sure I will reach the $500 level, all to go to a cause that means a lot to me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Loaves & Fishes Experience

On Tuesday of this past week my 6-year-old and I did our second monthly volunteering gig at Loaves & Fishes. Lindsey's enthusiasm is inspiring -- she woke up in the morning and the first thing she said was, "Today we get to volunteer!"

We got there just as they were beginning the meal service. We donned our plastic aprons, latex gloves and hairnets, said a prayer and got to work serving the meal.

Just before we were going to start cleaning up, a lone woman walked in for the meal. She was probably in her mid 60's with gray and white hair tied up in a bun. She wore loose clothing like what you might wear to work out, athletic shoes and a backpack, and looked a bit flushed.

Turns out she walked for an hour to get there.

She told us how her bus pass had just run out and she didn't have any money to get it re-filled. She didn't want to miss her one meal of the day, so she set out walking, not realizing how long it would take her. I am hoping that she was able to catch a ride back to her place from one of the volunteers or other patrons there, I'm not sure.

As Lindsey and I drove home we talked about this woman's experience, how it was so important for her to get there because she wouldn't have a square meal all day otherwise, and how she didn't have a car and sometimes didn't have money, all foreign concepts to both of us. It reminded both of us of how very lucky we are and how much we truly have in our lives.

Monday, March 22, 2010

That's smart marketing

Sometimes things come together so well, so seemingly coincidentally, that you know that there is actually some smart marketers making that happen.

Take this past weekend's Get Lucky 7k, for instance.

This was added "late" to the roster of 2010 events -- it was only added in late January, with a March 20th run date. That's pretty late by event standards.

One of its major sponsors was Kieran's Irish Pub, who just moved to a new location last weekend. Not surprisingly, the after party for the run was at Kieran's, so now everyone could check out the new digs. Everyone would be every one of the 3,000 runners who joined this "last minute" run, and all of their friends and supporters.

Not to mention, it was basketball play-off weekend, which means that downtown is generally busier than usual for a Saturday morning, what with all the parents and families of high school basketball players in town to watch the kids play. Since Kieran's new location is just minutes away from the Target Center, where some of the action for the tournaments was, there were lots of families walking by Kieran's, with all of their green banners out, the crowd lined up out the door to get in, the celebratory mood happening all at 11 o'clock in the morning. I am sure that more than one parent thought, "After the games, I'm going to stop by there and see what all the hoopla is about."

All this for a "last minute" event add, which filled all 3,000 slots within 2 weeks of being announced.

Whatever the owners of Kieran's paid as the sponsorship for this event, they will definitely get their money back in terms of buzz and increased publicity of their location.

That's some smart marketing.