Have a Heart-Filled, Colorful Year!

Top 10 Countdown: Most Popular Clairification Articles of 2021

This was another year of adaptation. Settling into some things, while feeling decidedly unsettled in others. Opening our eyes, minds and hearts to see, and be, things clearly.

This year continued to mark a shift in the direction of my content, as “business as usual” seemed out of sync with the times we found ourselves in. Much of the heart of fundraising remains constant, while much of the practice and culture is evolving. It is a time in which feeling our humanity, and coming from a place of love, seems more important than ever.

Today I summarize my writing of the year by sharing the articles that most resonated with readers out of the 70+ I created for 2021, including some popular oldies.

In case you missed them, here are last year’s blog posts with the most views, according to Google Analytics.

Plus, at the end, I’m sharing some photos I hope you’ll enjoy!

Counting Down…

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Two people hanging out together

Getting to Know You

Two people hanging out togetherTRUTH BOMB:

The key to successful fundraising is knowing your donors.

If you don’t know them, you can’t nurture them.

If you don’t nurture them, they won’t grow.

Simply staring at your bare patch of land waiting for flowers to sprout and blossom doesn’t work 99% of the time.

Why are you waiting to ‘get lucky’ the winds will just blow some seeds your way?

Likely, this won’t happen.

Even if it does happen, the seeds may not take root and grow.

Unless you do something to help them along.

In fundraising, the best way to nourish supporters is to know them better.

So you can give them what they explicitly need, not what you think they need.

You need to engage in “getting to know you” activities so you’re basing your work on knowledge, not just opinion.

Why Don’t Fundraisers Reach Out to Get to Know Donors Better?

There are all sorts of excuses.

Many come from a sense of ‘donors’ being primarily identified that way, rather than as the complex people they truly are. Staff are often afraid of, or at least uncomfortable with, ‘donors.’ Even many volunteers, who aren’t major philanthropists themselves, feel this way.

Have you ever heard (or felt):

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R.I.P. Donor Pyramid?

Swirling fractalThe modern model is more like a vortex — an energized circle where everyone is equal. People move in and out as needed, and your job is to keep the energy flowing.

NOTE: My article on the topic of moving away from the donor pyramid model for donor acquisition, cultivation and major gift solicitation recently resurfaced on social media dialogue, so I thought it was time for a reprint.

Why do we always think of donors with pyramids? The pyramids were built in Egypt. On the backs of slaves. It took a very, very long time. The cost, in human terms, was untenable and unsustainable.

That’s why you don’t see many pyramids being built these days.

Except in nonprofits, where building the donor pyramid is still the holy grail. Get ’em in. Move ’em up. Acquire through direct mail. Convert to monthly donor or sustainer. Acquire through events. Convert to mail. Up, up, up … to the pinnacle of major and planned gifts!

Except for one tiny thing.

It doesn’t work.

Pyramid building is so 2630 BCE. Nobody’s got 100,000 workers (aka direct-mail donors) building a solid pyramid anymore. Many so-called pyramids really look like hourglasses. Or upside-down pyramids. Or plateaus. Even the pyramid-shaped ones are resting on shaky foundations of donors who move in and out, in and out — eight out of 10 newly acquired bottom-of-the-pyramid donors leave — making the “foundation” more like a river than a solid, secure slab of mortar. The days of the donor pyramid model are gone!

Digital toppled the donor pyramid. Actually, it crumbled it … slowly, surely … until there was nothing left but an empty frame. A triangle on paper. The donors no longer fit inside of it.

R.I.P. donor pyramid. You had a good run.

The donor pyramid (sometimes call the donor ladder) was a great model for linear thinkers like me. It was neat and orderly. Engage folks from the bottom up, level by level, one step at a time. It was stable.

Or so we thought,

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Hold these 4 Nonprofit Fundraising Truths to Be Self Evident

DeclarationOfIndepenceI’ve created for you a little “Declaration of Fundraising Independence” to help you become a fruitful philanthropy facilitator from this day forward.

This Declaration incorporates what I consider to be essential fundraising truths — four pre-conditions which must be met before you’ll be able to successfully exercise your fundraising strategies. Within these four pre-conditions are additional hidden truths (don’t worry; I’ll call them out for you).

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that not all charities are created equal, that they are endowed by their constituencies with certain unalienable visions, missions and values, that among these are visions, missions and values that some, but not all, members of the public share. That to secure these visions, missions and values, charities are instituted among the public, deriving their just powers from the support of the public. That whenever any form of charity becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to fail to support it, and to instead support those institutions as to them shall seem most likely to effect the safety, happiness, goodwill and public benefit of the populace.

Fundraising is not an end in itself. It serves noble ends.

(1) When those ends are ones valued by the people, and

(2) When folks trust you’re doing an effective job meeting needs they believe must be met, then

(3) You earn the privilege of fundraising and, in fact,

(4) You assume the responsibility to fundraise to assure those who rely on you to meet these needs are not left high and dry.

So… this is where you get your Declaration of Fundraising Independence.  You are ‘free to fundraise’ once you’re able to make a case to enough people that you deserve to exist.  For this to be the case:

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Philanthropy is a Team Sport

Team huddleNo one can do it alone, sitting in their own little corner.

Not the E.D. Not the development director. Not the development committee of the board. Not the fundraising consultant.

One-person shows don’t work in fundraising.

This isn’t tennis, figure skating or golf. You’re not one person trying to be the best you can be, with all the glory accruing to you. You’re part of a team, all pulling together in the same direction, with the glory accruing not just to your team but also to your fans and your community.

Siloes don’t work in fundraising.

You aren’t saving up grain for the winter. Besides, simply hoarding won’t help enough. Development operations must figure out how to grow and harvest as much grain as possible so you can feed more and more people in need. Hoarding in siloes is a scarcity, not an abundance, mindset. A status quo, not a growth mindset.

If you have vision and big goals you need a team to see you through.

How Do You Build Your Development Team?

Begin with recruitment of stakeholders.

Look around you. Who do you see? You see internal and external stakeholders. People who care about your organization winning.

Generally, you’ll see:

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Girl dips toes in the water

12 Top Tips to Broaden Your Nonprofit Donor Community

Philanthropy should not just be about big checks.

That’s why you should never eschew small gift fundraising. Today I’m offering some tips for building and mobilizing your community to find, sustain and grow smaller gifts.

This is important, because a donor’s first gift is seldom their largest.  It’s a starting point.

The majority of your gifts will be small, but the majority of your income will come from a small group of major donors.

You have to grow this cadre of loyal, passionate philanthropists by building relationships with supporters over time.

The lion’s share of major gifts come from previously small gift donors.

A client I’m working with told me 50% of their major donors began with very small gifts.  How about tracking this for your organization? Sure, some major donors come in at the top. But I’ll bet you a majority start by dipping their toe in the water. How can you get folks more fully immersed?

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Clouds and sky

How to Kon Mari Your Nonprofit Work Plan

This year it’s been easy to hoard.

You had all the strategies that worked for you in the past, PLUS you had to add a bunch of new ones when faced with the realities of the pandemic economy.

Then you had to add things to be relevant to supporters who were thinking about a million news stories. You needed to be relevant, and consider your stance on BLM, BIPOC, DEI and a range of political and social justice issues.

The extraordinary times could not be ignored, so strategy got piled upon strategy, got piled upon…

And your nonprofit work plan got super crowded.

Time to clear out some space!

You’re likely wondering if you have to do everything virtually as well as in person. You’re wondering if your messaging needs to change to be more inclusive? You’re wanting to connect with folks in ways they’ve come to expect, and to offer meaningful engagment opportunities, but… where is everything going to fit?!?!

Never fear. Help is here!

What if you were to look at your work plan this year from the KonMari perspective?

If you’ve been living under a rock, Marie Kondo’s KonMari is the art of “tidying up to transform your life.” It’s a popular book that’s become a Netflix sensation, and it may not be your cup of tea, but…

What if, through some simplification and organization, you could transform your life (at least at work) as well as your nonprofit’s life — so all involved felt greater inspiration and even serenity?

You. Can. Do. It.

Alas, I’ve participated in many a planning session, and seldom do I recall – if ever – really focusing first on what we could stop doing to make room for new endeavors.  If this sounds familiar, you’re likely also familiar with the unfortunate consequences.

There are some things that really should not be part of your work plan moving forward. Or, at the very least, they should be pared down. Quite. A. Bit.

Here’s how you know you need, as Marie Kondo might say, to tidy up.

  • Do you try to stuff too much into your work plan and end up doing nothing as well as you’d like?
  • Do you allow daily clutter to crowd your inbox so you’re often responding to the little issues rather than the big ones?
  • Do you keep working on things that no longer have the payoff they once had, causing you to miss out on newer and more cost-effective opportunities?
  • Do you allow inertia to divert your focus towards ‘make work’ transactional stuff that satisfies your need to feel ‘busy,’ while you know it’s not really transformational work?
  • Have you allowed your job to become overloaded with tasks you don’t enjoy, to the point where you feel a bit like a lobster in a pot?
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Truth: newspaper headline

Fundamental Fundraising Truths: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Truth: newspaper headlineThe Lilly Family School of Philanthropy projects total giving will grow by an estimated 4.1% in 2021. So you can’t use the pandemic as an excuse for raising less money in the year ahead.

Nor should you ever adopt a sky-is-falling stance of “we can’t compete in this environment, so let’s lower expectations and cut back.”

Did your organization cut back on development expenses last year?  Did you lay off fundraising and marketing staff? Did you send fewer appeals?

If you did, chances are you didn’t tell, and sell, your case for support.

At least not as effectively as possible.

That’s a sure-fire recipe for raising less money than you could or should.

Here are three evergreen, fundamental fundraising truths:

1. It Costs Money to Make Money

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Photo of a cobweb

4 Timely Nonprofit Fundraising and Communications Strategies

Photo of a cobwebSpring is always a good time for rebirth and dusting away the cobwebs.  And what a grave, dusty, cobwebby year it’s been.

As I sat down to write today’s article, I found my mind jumping from idea to idea. After all, it’s been pretty hard to focus with everything going on. So I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tried to pull together the various challenges I’ve seen nonprofit leaders, and fundraisers, grapple with in the past year.

I thought: what can people do now to set themselves up for success as we move forward into high fundraising season at the end of this coming year.

It’s not too soon to be thinking about this.

I ended up with four tips I hope you’ll find relevant and timely.

1. How to Message During Uncertain Times

Whether it’s a marketing or fundraising communication, keep these four basics in mind.

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PB&J

Nonprofit Marketing & Fundraising Are Like Peanut Butter & Jelly

They’re meant for each other. Yet it may take a while to bring them together.

Here’s what I mean:

Peanut butter was first introduced at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. It didn’t get mixed with jelly until 1901, when the first PB&J sandwich recipe appeared in the Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. It was served in upscale tea rooms, and was exclusive food. Until the world changed.

The 1930 Depression made peanut butter, a low-cost, high-protein source of energy, a star. But not the combo sandwich. Not yet.

Then…WWII.

Peanut butter and jelly were on U.S. Military ration menus. Soldiers added jelly to the peanut spread to sweeten the sandwich and make it more palatable. When soldiers came home from the war, peanut butter and jelly sales soared.

Suddenly this marriage became the norm. Why separate them?  After all, they went together like… PB&J!

We never looked back.

How is Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Integration like the Marriage of PB&J?

They didn’t start out married, but they belong together.

Here’s what I mean:

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