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.

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Point Exactly

Remember that point that I made in a prior posting about planning for the best use of charitable dollars in humanitarian efforts? And about the possibility of setting aside charitable dollars to help with some potential long-term implications of 9/11, oh say, the possibility of the health impact of the debris surrounding the 9/11 area?


From the Associated Press:

Ground zero workers in court on 9/11 settlement

NEW YORK – A federal judge wants to hear from ground zero workers about a multimillion-dollar legal settlement for people sickened by dust from the World Trade Center.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein is trying to decide whether to approve a deal. It would pay $575 million to $657 million to about 10,000 police officers, firefighters, utility workers and laborers.

The judge has scheduled a Friday afternoon hearing on the settlement, which was signed last week.

Some workers involved in the suit have signed up to address the court. Hellerstein says a select number will get a chance to speak.

Workers have three months to accept or reject the deal. At least 95 percent would have to say yes for it to become effective.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Someone thought this was a GOOD idea?

From the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

In the Arts: Former Bear Stearns Boss Spearheads Public-Theater Campaign

Wearing a white hardhat and wielding a gold-plated mallet, Warren Spector, the former co-president of Bear Stearns Companies, symbolically broke ground Tuesday on a two-year, $35-million expansion and renovation of downtown New York's Public Theater, reports Bloomberg.

Mr. Spector, the theater's unpaid chairman, is leading a campaign to raise the remaining $7-million for the project. The famed arts group, founded by Joseph Papp, has $28-million in hand for the work, most of it provided by the city government.



Someone at the New York Public Theater thought it was a good idea to have a former executive of a company that benefitted from one of the the biggest corporate bailouts in modern times to head up a fundraising campaign? How trustworthy does this make the New York Public Theater to donors everywhere?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unspent Virtue: Disaster Funds Still Not Depleted

I read an interest article in the Nonprofit Times about prior disaster relief funds which still have money in them.

Some examples:

--The America Red Cross (ARC) has 10% of its 2005 tsunami disaster relief money still remaining. How much money is that, you ask? Well, 10 percent of $581million would be $58.1 million.

--The Salvation Army has a little less than 12% of their tsunami relief fund left to spend from the money that was raised after the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004. That 12% is a nearly $3 million.

--The ARC also has $1.4 million left in their Liberty Fund -- they have already distributed the $2.1 billion that was donated to that fund. The catalyst for that one? The 9/11 terrorist attacks of nearly 9 years ago.

I remember speaking with some of my then-clients right after 9/11, when the ARC had a public relations nightmare on their hands in regards to how they had handled much of the donations, and that most of the donations had not yet been distributed months after the attack. One person explained it to me this way, and I liked her way of thinking.

As a humanitarian organization, the ARC wants to plan for the highest and best use of the charitable dollars for the victims of 9/11. Let's say that 5 years after the disaster, they determine that much of the population living in lower Manhattan is developing a horrible lung disease as a result of breathing in all of the debris that was in the air weeks after the disaster. But now those dollars are spent and gone, and there is no money to help these people. Is that a better use of the charitable dollars than making millionaires of the survivors of 9/11's victims?

Where does the responsibility of the city and state begin and end in terms of the response to the attack? Should the ARC re-imburse the city for the use of their equipment to respond to the disaster, to use those charitable dollars to relieve a potential tax burden from the populace for the great expense that was incurred that day?

Outside of the immediate needs of food and shelter for victims, sometimes it takes a while for the true cost of a humanitarian crisis to be known. Responsible charities want to make sure they are using those dollars to ease the greatest need, but sometimes those needs aren't readily known. Not that I'm saying that the ARC is the most responsible one out there, but because of the amount of money involved they are under greater scrutiny, some deserved and undeserved.

As Laura Howe, Senior Director, Disaster Public Affairs of the ARC said in the Nonprofit Times article, "It’s never a question of whether or not we have money in the end or money that’s left over, but how can we get help to people in most efficient way possible.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Personal Connections...and Interconnections

I am currently working with a team of writers on the next issue of Gillette's donor-focused newsletter. While others are doing most of the heavy lifting on the writing, I volunteered to write a column in which we spotlight a donor and why that person has chosen to support Gillette. This has turned out to be an incredible experience, one of the reasons why I made the leap to work at a nonprofit.

I picked this particular donor because she contacted Gillette out of the blue and asked how to become a monthly sustaining donor. Once I gave her instructions on how to accomplish this, she gushed via email about Gillette and how its impacted the lives of children she knows. None of her children have ever been seen here, she was never seen here as a child herself, but she sees the work we do and wants to make sure we're around for every child.

Wow -- an unsolicited endorsement. Mind if I publish that for the rest of our donors?? Perhaps we can convince some of them to become monthly sustaining donors, too.

From there, the interconnectivity began:
  • -- the donor blogged about being highlighted in a future Gillette newsletter
  • -- we contacted a patient family whose story had inspired this donor's giving for permission to mention them in said story
  • -- the patient family blogged about how happy they are that their story can inspire others to do good
  • -- the donor who will be highlighted was contacted by the patient family and thanked for spreading her kindness
  • -- a regular joe who knew the donor through third parties started his own blog inspired by the donors' blog
And thus the wave begins.

I left work yesterday with a warm feeling in my heart, amazed that the donors' words have come true -- "Making little ripples of kindness will cause a tidal wave of happy people in our community." And the article hasn't even published yet.

Can't wait to see what happens when it comes out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The case for unrestricted funding

Trust. It's at the heart of charitable giving.

Abuse by some nonprofits have lead to a high level of mistrust of nonprofits by the very donors they rely on. This is why donors are demanding that they be able to better direct where their charitable dollars go. Instead of going to a general operating fund, which donors often interpret to mean "the CEO is going to give himself a big fat bonus," they want their funds to go to exactly the cause they wish to support.

Thus the reason why the American Red Cross is currently swimming in approximately $100 million in their International Response Fund. These are dollars that were raised in response to the Haitian earthquake crisis.

That's good news for Chileans.

Now an 8.8 magnitude earthquake has hit Chile, and while, as this article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review points out, Chile is in a better position to respond to this disaster, there is still a need for an international response. People have already opened their wallets to give in response to Haiti; there are fewer who are willing to give as generously to respond to another natural disaster on the heels of the first.

Now the American Red Cross can divert the funds initially raised for Haitian relief to fund Chilean relief -- immediately. After all, donors gave to the "International Response Fund." While this money was raised under the pretext of use in Haiti, it can easily be sent to aid another country suffering another natural disaster.

Imagine the pickle the ARC would have been in had the funds been restricted to use ONLY in Haiti. They would have had to contact each and every donor and ask permission to divert funds to Chile, a time and resource-intensive endeavor, one which would not have been a good use of their charitable dollars. And what would ARC have done with $100 million in Haiti? What is the true cost of responding to a natural disaster? Does the ARC have the resources to occupy the country for years, to help re-build its intrastructure and systems, to improve it better than that which existed prior to the earthquake? Does that kind of response exist within their mission, their charter? I suspect not.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Helpings with your own two hands

In January when Haiti was hit with the massive earthquake that killed thousands and destroyed many more people's worlds, my daughter Lindsey was personally impacted by the media coverage of the tragedy. Any time she watched a snippet of the news she would comment on how sad she was for the people of Haiti and how she wished she could help.

Eventually she saw the messages to text a donation to Haiti, which we did, and she felt good about helping them -- for a while. Two days after we texted the donation she asked when our money was going to make a difference, because she was still seeing video of families suffering and of children dying. If you think 20-year-olds today want instant gratification, you haven't talked to any 6-year-olds lately.

So I told her that while we couldn't go to Haiti ourselves to help them, we COULD do something for all the people here in Minnesota who don't have enough to eat, by volunteering to help serve a meal at a local Loaves & Fishes site. A friend of mine organized the volunteer efforts to serve dinner to people who are what Feeding America calls "food insecure," meaning people who are struggling to put food on their table. At Loaves & Fishes you don't have to be on welfare, you don't have to be unemployed, you can just show up and eat, no questions asked. We signed up and last night we served the dinner.

We arrived about 15 minutes after they had begun serving the dinner meal. We put on plastic aprons, hairnets and gloves and got to work. First Lindsey got to dish out pudding -- after a while she handed out bananas while I served up salad. She had a smile on her face and loved every minute of the experience. She got to see people from all walks of life -- families with young children, elderly people and homeless people. She smiled at every one and took their comments in stride, when they told her how nice it was to see such a young person there helping out. She even spoke to a few, an amazing feat if you knew how shy my little child is.

Afterwards we took off our temporary gear and she skipped out with me, wanting to know when we could do it again. So now we're on the rotation -- we'll be there every month, helping to serve food to those who might not have eaten had it not been for us.

I am continually amazed at how big Lindsey's heart is. She has taught me so much about what it means to be caring and charitable. I typically am one to be philanthropic from a distance -- I'll help raise the money, someone else can go do the mission. Except for my trip to Honduras, I have had rare opportunities to speak directly to those who are helped by charities, and to be honest have had little desire to do so. Perhaps it's because I feel so deeply for them, I have a heard time hearing about their plights without putting myself in their shoes. Lindsey seems to embrace this, though, and instead of getting wrapped up in how hopeless a situation may seem, she involves herself in how to make it less hopeless.

As a child I was never charitable in the same way she is. I am so proud of her and cannot wait to see what she's going to do as she grows up.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Text Donations for Haiti Relief: A New Channel Has Arrived

The whole phenomenon of the fundraising that occurred via texting in response to the Haiti earthquake was amazing. And what a telethon -- $57MM raised from the telethon alone at last count, with $25 million raised in text donations (outside of the telethon).

People may not remember this but the 9/11 event was the first time that there was an outpouring of donations via online giving. The American Red Cross website actually shut down for a day after 9/11 because they couldn't handle the amount of traffic of people trying to make online donations to them. It cost them many millions in lost donations when that happened, and opened up the whole new way to give: online.

Prior to 9/11, online donations were possible but not likely. Nonprofits often didn't have a way to accept online donations and the security of the credit card transactions was inconsistent based on the technology. After 9/11, nonprofits tried everything they could to get people to migrate to the web -- it's much less costly to get people to donate online than to create a direct mail piece, print it, stamp it, send it out, then process the paper donations upon their return. What a way to open up to a whole new generation of donors, people for whom the internet is an integral part of their lives, including shopping, purchasing, entertaining, ultimately living.

After 9/11, nonprofits finally made in-roads in their attempts to drive people to the web. Trust in online giving increased and a breakthrough was made.

The millions that were texted to the American Red Cross in response to Haiti is yet another break through in giving.

A way of transacting that was previously known to a small subset of the population has gone mainstream. People like myself, who have never texted any kind of financial transaction, and have hardly texted at all, gave via texting for the first time. The intrastructure which allows for this kind of donating was already in place -- no systems went down, no donations were rejected, all went smoothly.

A new channel for giving has been opened up.

Now the question is, what will nonprofits be able to do with the new channel? Will they once again go through the process of trying to drive people to give via texting, only to find that generating content and reasons to migrate to the nonprofit will be immensely more powerful than pushing people there? Only time will tell. I'm excited to be a part of this new world in philanthropy, to be able to test things out and see what works.

Thursday, February 11, 2010 THAT'S a smart idea...

I work with a woman who is passionate about animals. Passionate. She makes Sarah McLachlan, singer/songwriter and spokeswoman for the ASPCA, look like a hater.

As such, she generously supports multiple animal and environmental organizations including the ASPCA, National Wildlife Federation, Humane Society and others.

This has the potential to also make her an anti-environmentalist, in that all of these organizations use direct mail aggressively to renew donors and raise revenue. And for a while there her mailbox was inundated with mail -- labels, calendars, chatchkas of all kinds, and she had a hard time determining which ones she was going to donate to and which she was going to throw away. Which need was most pressing? Most urgent? Most important? She would wait for the next mailpiece, weigh all the options and then decide where to make her donation.

Finally, one year she assessed how much she gave to each organization and arranged to become a monthly sustaining donor for those who could accommodate it. Each month, the organizations ding her credit card for a pre-specified amount. She doesn't even notice it's gone.

This had two added benefits:

1. She started receiving less solicitation mail from the organizations she chooses to support, and instead only gets the kind of communication she's really interested in, namely, what their latest project is and progress they've made on prior programs.

2. Because she is a highly valued sustaining donor, these organizations are protecting her closely and her name is not being sold to every other animal/environmental organization out there, so she stopped getting mail from organizations that she had never supported previously.

She's happy because she's getting less mail; her chosen charities are happy because they are spending less to get the same amount of revenue. They also have the added benefit of knowing exactly how much she plans on giving and when to expect it.

A win-win for all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Recession forcing nonprofits to merge and close

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article regarding the impact of the recession on nonprofits which I found fascinating.

WSJ Article: Recession forces nonprofit mergers, closings

It's a triple whammy:

1. Foundations have had to cut back on grants because the investments which are their revenue sources have performed so badly that they need to preserve principle.

2. Government funding has been slashed due to budget cuts and attempts to reduce spending.

3. Individuals have had to cut back on giving due to..yep, same reasons enumerated above.

While charitable giving in response to the earthquake in Haiti has been incredible, natural disasters have typically resulted in a short-term spurt in giving which sometimes has long-term negative implications for non-humanitarian organizations which do not benefit from those donations.

The article speculates that the economic prosperity of the last few decades has generated an excess of nonprofits. there's something worth considering.

To prove this point, here's a test. Which of the following organization(s) is a made up name?

1. The National Breast Cancer Coalition
2. The National Breast Cancer Research Center
3. National Breast Cancer Foundation
4. Breast Cancer Fund
5. Breast Cancer Action Network

How about if I told you none of these? Yes, these are ALL nonprofits whose mission relates in some way to breast cancer, either research, patient advocacy or patient services. All of them various levels of management, be it a president, vice president, often multiple VPs of development, marketing, events, communication, and so on and so forth.

How much further would we be in the fight against breast cancer if some of these joined forces, pooled their dollars and focused their research?

Now, I am not advocating that the government should stop issuing 501(c)3 status to anyone who wants one. I am not advocating that any organization be mandated to join forces with others. But I do have a thing for Darwin:

Survival of the fittest, baby.

That's why it's so important that to survive a charity make compelling reasons why donors should support them. That they show donors in tangible ways how those dollars are fulfilling the mission, are being put to good use and not being squandered. That's why trust in an organization is key.

Just like in the rest of the business world.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Beginning (at least for me)

So which one was it? you may ask. Which nonprofit finally made a difference for you, made you realize that there was a deep desire within you to help others?

It is not who you think it is.

My first experience which truly turned me on to fundraising was a field visit I made with a then-client of mine, Children International.

At this point in my career I had already been working exclusively with nonprofits for some time. But up until then, they were just marketing plans, profit/loss projections, forecasted performance, numbers on a page.

In 2002, I had the privilege of going to Honduras to see first-hand some of the work that Children International did, where the dollars that we were working so hard to raise were being spent. It was my first travel out of the country since a one-week trip to Europe in college, and I was excited and nervous at the same time. We were warned about malaria, about kidnappers, about the importance of safety and long slacks to keep the bugs (and the men) off your skin. My Spanish was (and unfortunately still is) nothing more than thank you's, please's, and an understanding of words here and there without the ability to respond.

I remember while traveling on various planes to our destination that someone from Children International who accompanied us said that poor people in the US did not know what it was to be poor.

"What a heartless statement," I thought to myself, "How can you say that?"

And then I met poor people.

People for whom there was no societal safety net, no welfare or public housing to be had, no food stamps to ration out. They made shelters of cardboard and garbage bags in the ditches of the roads. When it rained too hard their houses washed away. They simply watched them go, gathering up the important belongings like the pots and pans and the next day would find new rubbish to make a home from and start over.

These same homes had roofs made of the same cardboard or garbage bags, or, if they were lucky, they found a sheet of tin to put across the top of it. And while the tin was better at keeping the moisture out, the heat within these shelters during the day was unbearable.

I saw square miles of open land that had been claimed by squatters, people who built makeshift homes nearly on top of each other. The land was owned by someone else, someone who tolerated their presence but who had the right to clear away the houses and plant whatever crop he wanted, with no warning and no requirement to find new homes for those he displaced.

Our group broke into two smaller groups and were escorted by those who worked at the local CI affiliate, where we were ushered into the homes of various families and told of their plight. I remember during one of these visits a little girl who couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 cried the entire time, but was too prideful to be caught crying. She kept rubbing her eyes as if she had sand in them, and would look around the room at us white-faced visitors with a defiant face. A few within our group did speak Spanish, and the girl singled out a Spanish-speaking woman in our group and begged to come back with us, and told her that she would make her a wonderful daughter.

And despite their desperate poverty, the kinds of traumatic events that happen to us who have better tools to deal with such occurrences happen there too. We heard one woman speak of her husband who had died of cancer and the terrible pain he had been in in his last days, but there was no money for painkillers. In the meantime, their children were getting sick from the cesspool that was literally out their front step. When it rained all the garbage and raw sewage from the other families ran down to a low spot in front of their home, creating this cesspool.

Just imagine taking away everything you currently have, EVERYTHING, and you have no means of earning them back. I think I've painted the picture. I could go on for about 5 more posts.

Then we saw the communities that Children International was creating for these people. They would negotiate purchasing the land from the landowner so that the people living there did not have any fear of being forced out. They would put in sewer lines that connected all the homes, and a water tank on a nearby hill for fresh, drinkable water. And while a cement block home that's 12 feet by 12 feet doesn't sound like much to us who are accustomed to so much more, it was paradise to these people, because there was a BATHROOM  inside the house, and there was RUNNING WATER!

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch came through Honduras and devastated much of the country in the same way that other natural disasters have been more destructive to the poor than to the rich. Within 3 months, Children International had mostly finished construction on a community called "El Milagro" -- The Miracle. While Unicef, CARE and others were still figuring out what to do with the millions they had raised to bring relief to the area, CI had already mobilized their local affiliates, made the necessary negotiations and began construction.

Cost to sponsor a child through Children International at the time of my tour was $18 a month.

It truly was a miracle to see what those $18 could do. They were and still are the least expensive of all the child sponsorship organizations, and I believe that because of the dedication of the people they have on the ground in all the countries they operate, they make those 18 dollars do the work of 50.

I returned from the trip a changed woman.

I walked into my home after the trip, physically exhausted and emotionally drained, but my spirit had been filled anew. I thanked my higher power every time I turned on the water. I marveled at being able to turn on a light switch. I was grateful for my vehicle which allowed me transportation to get to a job.

And the marketings plans that I continued to work on for Children International were no longer filled with numbers. They were filled with faces, with images of children and families whose lives I could affect, I could change, just by convincing one more person that s/he could afford $18 a month.

That was the beginning for me.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

It IS personal, isn't it?

It's a personal decision that each one of us makes to be charitable. For some, it comes from a religious or spiritual place. For others, it comes from a feeling of being a member of the family of man, that we are all one race, one people, and we have an obligation to support each other. And others of us do not get "the bug" until we are personally touched by events that compel our bodies to act on behalf of our hearts.

For me, it's a little of all of these reasons.

I began my career working 14 years at a direct marketing firm -- 12 of those years my clients were primarily nonprofit clients who looked to us to help them raise money, so they could fulfill their various missions.

Prior to focusing on nonprofits, I can honestly say I felt a little...slimy. A little disingenuine. I was putting my brains to work figuring out how to sell consumers the next gadget from the upcoming catalog, to convince people to subscribe to a magazine they could live without. But when I began putting those marketing brains to work for nonprofits, I felt better about what I was doing. At least I was working to convince people to give to a cause, to help others, to fund research, to save animals, to do whatever it was our clients' missions were.

Yet through this experience, I was also supporting nonprofits whose missions meant little to me on a personal level.

I found some of my clients were not good stewards of the money that was given to them, that much of it was wasted or spent for the sake of spending money, because money had been budgeted to them and they weren't going to NOT spend it or they wouldn't get it budgeted to them the following year. And others were such incredible stewards of their donors money that every dollar that they received did two dollars worth of good.

After more than a decade of sitting on the sidelines, of observing and evaluating what I would and wouldn't do, I've decided to join the nonprofit forces. I can't say how many times I've sat in strategy meetings with my clients and thought, "If I were in their shoes, here's what I would do." Now, I have that opportunity.

And I am only beginning to understand first-hand the challenges facing nonprofits.

That it isn't as easy to turn the internal tide of thought -- that while as a consultant I could say, "Just walk 'The Board' through these numbers, how can they not see the reasons why they need to invest in acquisition?" it isn't as easy when you're the person sitting in that seat.

That I can't make people not give to Haitian earthquake relief so they give to my organization instead. And I understand that people don't have the funds to do both.

In my past life I withheld writing about my professional work because I did not want to accidentally disclose company secrets. I didn't want to air dirty laundry, the same kind of dirty laundry that every company (and nonprofit) has within its walls. I wanted a clear separation between my professional life and my personal life.

But now, my professional life and my personal life are closely aligned. People who know me best know I have "a soft heart." I feel, truly feel, for people going through troubling times. It takes me not two seconds to put myself in their shoes and empathize with their plights. At times this empathy is a blessing and a curse.

This blog is about the reasons why charity as a whole is so important.

It's about what compells my six-year-old to want to give money to help Haiti, and then two days later wonders why her money didn't make an impact, because she still sees news coverage of suffering there.

It's about the personal connection, the face-to-face discussions with the people who benefit from our charitable acts, that mean so much to us that we take those experiences home with us...for days or weeks. Or years.

It's about the tactics used  that help further a nonprofit's goals, that make them savvy marketers and ultimately successful organizations, who now have success stories to tell. Or those unwise tactics which resulted in the loss of revenue, some bad press, a lost opportunity, a decision we can learn from.

So look for stories both little and small, personal and professional, to litter these pages. I hope you find them helpful, or if not, truthful. Perhaps you will find your heart is in fundraising as well, and you didn't even know it.