Don’t Put the Fundraising Cart before the Friendraising Horse:Think Inbound 'Pull' vs. Outbound 'Push'

It can’t all be about ‘push’. We’ve also got to ‘pull.’ Recently I’ve been writing a lot about social media. It’s an important tool for engaging with our supporters.  But let’s not forget that what makes technology sing is not the technology; it’s the people behind the technology.  Successful technology is about bonds, not bells…

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3 Little Understood Factors Affecting Your Nonprofit Blog Readership – and How to Quickly Fix Things – Part I

C.P.A.  That’s the three things.  Huh? Your accountant?  Well…. sort of.  What do you want from an accountant?  My guess is that you want someone who is:

  • Passionate about helping you.
  • An authority on their subject.
  •  Focused on you and your situation.
  • Working from a plan; knows how to help you.
  •  Accessible to you; easy to understand; there when you need them.

Gosh, golly… that’s exactly what your blog readers want from you! So if you’ve got passion and authority (and I certainly hope you have that about your mission and the work of your organization) then you’re already ahead of the game. Woo-hoo! Now you just need to package everything, and make sure you’re Constituent-centered (focused on your readers); Planful (you know what your blog’s goals and objectives are and how you can use your blog to be of value to your constituents), and Accessible (folks can easily connect with you and understand what you’re sharing with them).

Once you understand the principles of C.P.A. you’ll be well on your way towards having a blog with content that knocks the socks off your readers. Today, let’s begin with how to put the ‘C’ in C.P.A.

Photo of a cobweb

What Does Early Spring Mean for Nonprofit Communications Strategies?

Photo of a cobwebThis week the groundhog told us it’s going to be an early spring!

Spring is always a good time for re-awakening, rebirth and just plain dusting away the cobwebs.  And what a dreary, grave, cobwebby period it’s been.

We’ve got a lot to clean up, reorganize and rethink. So much, in fact, it’s downright overwhelming. So, as I sat down to write today’s article, I thought about what you actually have within your power to do. Right now. And all throughout the coming months.

I know it’s been pretty hard to focus with everything going on in the world.

So I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and tried to pull together the various challenges I’ve seen nonprofit leaders, fundraisers, and marketers grapple with in the past year. Actually, the past years. Through elections, pandemic, climate catastrophes, shootings, war, unprecedented demonstrations of cruelty and inhumanity, and more. It’s a LOT.

But, the show — your good work — must go on. 

In  other words, your mission must move forward. People rely on you to do the critical work of the social benefit sector.

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 may seem early to think about this, but it’s never too soon to put your best foot forward.

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

  1. Big Picture
  2. Your Role as Helper
  3. Practical Guidance
  4. Strategic Advice

4 Timely Nonprofit Fundraising and Communications Strategies

1. BIG PICTURE: Message Confidently During Uncertain Times

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

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Which Song from Fiddler on the Roof Describes a Nonprofit Fundraiser’s Job?

While you might be tempted to guess “If I were a Rich Man,” that’s not it.

Because that would be making fundraising mostly about money.

And, actually, fundraising is mostly about love.

So the correct answer is “Matchmaker.”

That’s right. Your job is to make the perfect match between the values your organization enacts and the values your donor shares.

Because when people connect, and care about one another, our world tips ever more slightly back into balance.

Right now we live in troubling times, where the world seems wildly out of whack and people seem further and further apart.

Philanthropy provides a perfect opportunity to bring people together.

And who knows the most about making people fit together?  Matchmakers!

And today’s matchmakers have more tools than ever before at their fingertips. Hence the success of online dating services. Though it would’ve been easy to assume matchmaking is such a personal endeavor technology could never touch it, that’s not the case at all.  Because the digital revolution means people today are more connected than ever. Successful matchmakers don’t eschew technology; they embrace it. So should you.

Emulate These 6 Things Matchmakers Do

Texting from mobile phones

10 Reasons Your Nonprofit Needs to Be Texting

Texting from mobile phonesFrom time to time, I host guest posts from professionals with niche expertise. There are just some things others know a lot more about than do I, especially when it comes to technology. Today’s article is one of those, from someone who really understands the ins and outs of text messaging and fundraising. Here’s what he has to say.

Nonprofits today face many challenges.

You do too! You’re busy and overworked, and the prospect of adding a new channel to your plate is daunting. But what if texting is a strategy that can help your nonprofit overcome some of the problems causing you stress?

  • Are people not paying attention to your messaging? People read texts.
  • Are your email numbers declining? Text messaging stats are rising.
  • Do you need to make things simpler? Texting is as basic as it gets. 

You can future-proof your nonprofit by embracing text messaging. Everything is going mobile, and putting a strong texting strategy in place puts you at the center of the action.

Here are 10 reasons why your nonprofit should use text messaging:

1. It’s Where People Are

Watches, phones, tablets, and more—so many people have them, and not only do they have them, they take them everywhere. These little devices have invaded our lives.

  • 97% of American professionals are within 3 feet of their mobile devices 24 hours a day.
  • 89% check their phones within the first 10 minutes of waking up.
  • 75% take their devices to the bathroom, sometimes even falling asleep with them.
  • 69% have texted someone in the same room as them.
  • People look at their phone 144 times a day.
  • 35% said if they could only have one, they’d rather keep their cell phone than their car!

People are on devices, so reach them on a device. After all, a classic marketing mantra is “if you want to reach people, go where they are.” And texting is the best way to do that:

Just look at the open rates: 90-95% for texting vs. 30-35% for email.

To do: Generally, more than half of web traffic is from mobile devices. In a mobile world, you need a mobile-first strategy. To persuade yourself and your leadership you should really prioritize this, take a look at your website’s analytics and compare mobile to desktop traffic. It’s time to reach people where they’re at.

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Why are Good Nonprofit Fundraisers Hard to Keep? RESPECT

I can't get no... satisfaction...

I can’t get no…   Oh, I can’t get no…   satisfaction…

Fundraisers report money is the number one reason they leave their jobs [See Part I of this two-part series here]. Hmmn… hmmn… hmmn…

Is it really all about the money?

While I do believe too many fundraisers are underpaid relative to their skill sets and performance, I’ve a hunch it’s not the real chief culprit for fundraiser dissatisfaction. What is?

The real reason fundraisers leave their jobs, and the sector, is very similar to why donors leave you. Today’s article will help you learn both:

  1. how to keep more fundraisers, and
  2. how to satisfy, inspire and retain more donors.

Ready?

I gave you a hint in the title. Yup. It’s what Aretha Franklin famously sang about:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

It’s not just respect for fundraisers as individuals that’s lacking. It’s respect for their profession. For what it takes to succeed with development in a nonprofit organization. For what it means to be a part of a team — all working together towards the same goal — and why it’s impossible to succeed without a supportive infrastructure and culture.

And, by the way, donors won’t thrive absent a supportive culture and infrastructure either. They’re looking to be a part of your community, your family, your way of life. If you won’t give them this warm, fuzzy, connected feeling — they’ll find someone else who will.

So what pre-conditions must be in place for fundraising staff, and donors, to want to stay?

Money.jpg

Why are Good Nonprofit Fundraisers Hard to Keep? MONEY

 

Money in hands

Money is only part of the story of why fundraisers leave

 

If you’re a fundraiser, does the following statement sound like you?

Show me my money!!!

According to five years of research by Penelope Burk (culminating in her book, Donor-Centered Leadership) as well as a much-talked-about study, Underdeveloped, by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, half of chief development officers plan to leave their jobs in two years or less and 40% plan to leave fundraising entirely. 

The number one reason fundraisers give for leaving is to earn more money.

What’s going on, and how can you fix it?

Is it about money, or something else?

A heartfelt story to tell

5 Guaranteed Ways to Raise Money Through Storytelling

A heartfelt story to tell

Want content that raises money? Tell more stories.

Storytelling today is ‘hot.’

And why not?  It’s the fundamental human activity – we even talk to ourselves!

We tell ourselves stories all the time to inspire, goad, cheerlead and persuade.

“I’ve been knocked down, but I’ll pick myself up.”

“This cake will be even better than my mother-in-law’s.”

“The deck seems stacked against me, but I’m going to fight; I’m going to win.”

“Tomorrow will be a better day.”

Storytelling is something people naturally gravitate to. We’re wired that way.

Stories connect the dots.

They are the connective tissue that turns otherwise random acts into important sequences.

  • Stories invite us in.
  • When we add our own imagination, stories begin to acquire personal relevance.

Does this sound like something that might be useful for your content marketing strategy?

Three San Francisco Hearts: Beyond the Horizon; Eons of Love; Secrets of the Heart

Evolving Top Nonprofit Storytelling Practices

Three San Francisco Hearts: Beyond the Horizon; Eons of Love; Secrets of the HeartEveryone knows storytelling = good. Humans wired for stories. We want to enter into them … become part of them… see ourselves, in some way, expressively reflected in the characters, plot and struggle. Everyone responds, all ears, to “Shall I tell you a story?”

Yet there’s been a brouhaha of late around so-called “donor-as-hero” stories. I’ve long been a proponent of encouraging donors to jump right into the narrative to give it a happy ending. Yet, today, people worry these stories reinforce “white saviorism,” especially in cases where donors are perceived to be in positions of privilege and power. In such situations the impression is donors unfairly get to feel good about helping those less fortunate. And it’s unfair because donors are part of, and contribute to, an unfair system — even if unconsciously. And this unfair system keeps people in need in their disadvantaged state.

Related to this are the ethics of making poster children of clients. Program staff may fear the commodification of stories as “sales products” for fundraising.  There’s tension between departments, fueled by misunderstanding and mistrust.

I’d like to address (1) the overarching storytelling challenge, with specific attention to both the (2) white saviorism and (3) ethics conundrums. Let’s begin with.

(1) How to Meet the Challenge of Doing Good, without Doing Harm?

How Do You Keep Former Nonprofit Board Members Engaged?

Heart hands

Sustain the positive energy of love and connection

Are you throwing your former board members out like yesterday’s trash?

This may not be your intention, but you’re kind of guilty of this if you don’t continue to (1) let them know how special they are, and (2) build personal relationships with them. After all, one of the foundations of Penelope Burk’s groundbreaking work in Donor-Centered Fundraising is the finding donors want one thing first and foremost: “Show me that you know me.”

Are You Showing Former Board you Know, Love and Feel Specially Connected to Them?

CONSIDER THIS:

  • As board members, they got used to being treated as “insiders.”
  • Now that they’ve stepped off the board, you’re treating them as if they mean less to you.

Every single communication with a former board member should let them know you know who they are.

If you treat them like they’re toast, don’t be surprised when they start sending you little bread crumbs instead of the whole slice – or loaf – they once sent. People want to be appreciated. It’s just human nature. And facilitating philanthropy (the word literally means “love of humankind”) is a very human endeavor.

Don’t stop loving your former board members.

Stop blaming them for stopping to love you. Blaming is a cop out. Instead, look in the mirror and see what part you may be playing in their changed behavior.

SPECIAL TIP: You can apply much of the suggestions in this article to former staff as well.  I often marvel at the hands-off way I’m treated by some of the places where I once worked, sometimes for many years.  Places where I donated too, because I believed in the mission. Now I’m just a “prospect” or “lapsed donor” to them, and the communications I receive come across a bit infantalizing. After all, I know this stuff.  I wrote a lot of this stuff!  It just feels like they’re telling me “since you don’t work here any more, you mean nothing to us.”

Why Former Board Merit Their Own Engagement Strategy

Former board should be one of your top segments for cultivation!

IN A NUTSHELL:

  • They have a deep understanding of your vision, mission and values.
  • For years, they made your nonprofit one of their top philanthropies.
  • They have numerous connections with your cause, including relationships with staff, each other, and even beneficiaries.
  • At one point you were part of their identity and family.
  • You likely have a special place in their heart.
  • They may even have included you in their estate planning!

Don’t stop making beautiful music together! Continue to treat them personally, unless they specifically ask you to stop. Don’t simply relegate them to your impersonal e-news mailings or mass annual appeals. Treat them like major donors and develop a love and loyalty strategy that invites them to stay engaged with you, albeit in a new way.

8 Strategies to Build a Former Board Member Love and Loyalty Strategy

Three San Francisco Hearts: What-We-Do-for-Love; Tales-of-the-City; ColorFall-of-Hope

4 Types of ‘PERSONAL’ Your Nonprofit Must Adopt Today

Three San Francisco Hearts: What-We-Do-for-Love; Tales-of-the-City; ColorFall-of-HopeEarly in my career I received a piece of fundraising advice that has stuck with me to this day:

People are all people.

And what do you do with people if you want to build a relationship?

You get PERSONAL!

In fact, if I had to tell you how to win over donors with just one word, “personal” is the word I’d choose.

This One Word, ‘Personal,’ Should Become Your Mantra

Let it underscore everything you think about and do.

Your annual appeal writing. Your special events. Your newsletters. Your blog posts. Your proposals. Your reports. Your social media. Your donor cultivation.

If you take just this one word to heart — PERSONAL — you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

  • This one word that can set you apart.
  • This one word can help you build relationships like nothing else.
  • This one word can sustain you, through thick and thin.

Also Make ‘Personal’ Your Spiritual Discipline

Though we we give lip service to the importance of practicing empathy and donor-centricity, truly valuable tools in building donor relationships, these terms are subsumed by the umbrella of the ‘person’ to whom they apply. Start there.

Visualize your person, and before engaging in any strategy or tactic, ask yourself:

Is there a more personal way to deliver this message?

Begin to build a PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE into your planning.

Make sense?

GETTING PERSONAL has always mattered.

Today, in a still-disrupted, socially distanced, increasingly virtual environment, with striving for greater diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront, how you get personal and how you define people are more important than ever.

Today I’d like to flesh out the multiple meanings of this word, and discuss how getting personal can help you achieve your nonprofit fundraising and marketing goals.

Three-San-Francisco-Hearts-Gilded-Individual-Delight-Corona-Circus. S.F. General Foundation benefit.

Don’t Leave a Voicemail if…

Three-San-Francisco-Hearts-Gilded-Individual-Delight-Corona-Circus. S.F. General Foundation benefit.I generally counsel nonprofits to call and thank their donors.

It’s personal, unexpected and just plain nice.  We could all use a little more “nice” in our lives.

But there’s a right and wrong way to express gratitude

One is authentic and meaningful.

The other is robotic and meaningless. Maybe even off-putting.

A Thank You Phone Call/Message Gone Awry

Here’s a transcription of a voicemail left for me last week from a well-known national charity with local branches:

Person holding AI post-it note

Should Your Nonprofit Jump on the Artificial Intelligence Bandwagon?

Person holding AI post-it noteI confess I know virtually zip about artificial intelligence.

But I’ve been learning. Fast.

Because it’s hard these days to travel anywhere in the world, including the social benefit sector, without hearing enticing things about it.

  • How it can do all sorts of things faster and better than humans.
  • How it can create cost savings.
  • How it enables greater personalization.
  • How it leverages effective use of data for marketing and fundraising purposes.
  • How it tracks engagement and predicts future behaviors.
  • How it creates efficiencies for program purposes.

At first blush this sounds good. But… the devil is in the details, right?

Which is why people are equally thrilled or unnerved at the prospect.

I wondered if using it could create unintended consequences. New tools used as blunt instruments could cause unintentional harm. So, I thought I’d do a little research to know whether I should advise fundraisers to jump on the AI bandwagon.

Transform Annual Reports into Gratitude Reports for the Best ROI

Grateful signAnnual reports don’t have to be dry as dust. In fact, the most effective ones are not financial reports; they’re a story with the donor at the center. And they inspire action.

When you consider all the blood, sweat, tears and money that go into them, you want to assure they:

  • Resonate with people emotionally.
  • Paint a picture people want to jump into.
  • Showcase the value of philanthropy and what it does to create change.
  • Shine a light on how much the donor is needed.
  • Include specific areas where donors can help.

Towards getting the biggest bang for your annual report buck, consider renaming them (or at least thinking about them) as Gratitude Reports. Make them all about your donors, how grateful you are to them for making your work possible, and how appreciative you are for all the accomplishments they enabled.

Rather than “2023 Annual Report,” consider a more donor-centered title like “Generosity Report,” “A Gratitude Report,” “The Year of the Donor,” “Impact Report.” or “You Make it Possible.” I’ve seen all of these; feel free to get creative and let your title guide your content!

Top 5 Gratitude Report Strategies

Strength Weight Lifting

Play to Your Strengths: Where Do You Add Most Value?

Strength Weight LiftingHere’s the deal: When you match people to environments or roles congruent with their skills, knowledge and strengths, they’ll do better.

Reading this statement, it appears patently obvious. But… how many businesses operate this way. Does yours?

This post was inspired by one of Seth Godin’s thought-provoking, minimalist posts. As always, he manages to convey something important and provocative in very few words. This time, he got me considering the way nonprofits structure job descriptions and conduct performance evaluations. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about this, as in my three decades of in-the-trenches practice I wrote a lot of the former and conducted a lot of the latter.

In the early years, I made the mistake of putting people into rather rigid boxes. This was not good for the people stuck inside, nor was it good for the organization as a whole.  Later, I learned to be more flexible and play to people’s strengths.

Before I get specific, here comes the Godin post that stimulated this little rant.

Building, breaking, fixing

We spend some of our time building things, from scratch. New ideas, new projects, new connections. Things that didn’t exist before we arrived.

We spend some of our time breaking things, using them up, discovering the edges.

And we spend some of our time fixing things. Customer support, maintenance, bug fixes… And most of all, answering email and grooming social media. The world needs fixing, it always does.

You’ve already guessed the questions:

— where do you personally add the most value?

— how much of your time are you spending doing that?

What follows is a bit of thinking out loud.  I hope it will inspire you as well. If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

The “Peter Principle” Problem

If you look at a nonprofit organizational chart, too often you’ll see job titles that no longer describe what the folks in them are doing.  Sadly, the “Peter Principle” is alive and well. Folks rise to the level of their incompetence, and the function they are supposed to be performing gets shoved to the back burner.

This can lead to hidden organizational inefficiencies. For example:

journey over rope bridge

6 Steps to Fuel Your Major Gift Journey

journey over rope bridgeThe major gift journey is a synergistic one. You see, it’s both your journey and your donor’s journey.

If you want to follow along the most direct pathway to sustainable philanthropy, you’ll want to consider the two-fold nature of the expeditious endeavor known as major gift fundraising. Or, as I prefer to call it, passionate philanthropy.

First understand it’s not just about the money;  it’s every bit as much about the experience.

Strive to become your donor’s favorite philanthropic journey guide.

If you do your job as guide well, they’ll find meaning, purpose and happiness being engaged with you.

  • If you make the experience a joyful one, your fellow traveler will become your donor.
  • If you continue to make the experience joyful, they’ll continue to travel the road with you by renewing and upgrading their support.

Major gift fundraisers, essentially, are in the happiness delivery business.

That’s right! It’s both  (1) a business, and (2) a donor journey toward joy.  You’ve got to treat it like a business if you want to make money. That means clarifying goals, setting specific objectives, planning strategies and tactics, and holding yourself accountable. Otherwise you’re just occasionally taking folks along for a stroll, without being thoughtful about what’s in it for both of you. And if you haven’t concretized what the benefits are, it’s hard to deliver on them!

Let’s take a look at the 6 steps you must take to build and sustain a winning major gifts program.

Expeditious Steps to Fuel Your Pathway to Passionate Philanthropy

Sign: Good News is Coming

How to Raise Money with Nonprofit Newsletters

Sign: Good News is ComingYes, nonprofit newsletters can raise money!

And they should delight, retain and upgrade donors too.

How does this work?

It works by using your newsletter to give credit where it is due.

To your donors!

  1. Great newsletters are the opposite of all about you and your organization.We did this.” “We’re planning to do that.”
  2. Great newsletters sustain the joy donors felt at the moment of giving by confirming for them their decision was a good one.You made this happen.” “Your gift gave a happy ending to this story.”

You see, a charitable gift is not the same as a purchase of a product or service. With the latter, you have something tangible to continue to appreciate (e.g., you use your laptop daily; you continually admire the new paint job on your house). With the former, you’ve got nothing but an initial shot of dopamine … and then a memory. For most donors, this becomes a distant memory.  Because most nonprofits don’t consistently and repeatedly report back. With donors, out of sight truly does mean out of mind.

Use newsletters to show authentic gratitude and demonstrate how the donor’s gift made a difference.

You see, once is not enough.  Research shows for gratitude to be deeply felt it must be repeated. Repeat gratitude and reporting back accomplishes the following:

  • Donor feels good

  • Donor trusts you’re good to your word.

  • Donor feels inclined to give again.

  • Donor retention increases

  • Average gift size increases

  • Your raise a lot more money over time

Be guided by the “virtuous circle.”

Flexible worker

How to Keep Nonprofit Employees Longer with Flexibility

Flexible workerIn my last article I talked about providing employees with praise, recognition and meaningful feedback in order to retain staff and build the type of job satisfaction and longevity that creates a sustainable nonprofit.

For nonprofit fundraisers, the “Great Resignation” was happening long before the pandemic. In fact, per Penelope Burk at Cygnus Applied Research, the average amount of time a fundraiser stays at his or her job is just 16 months.

“Oh, well” you say?  “No big deal” you say?

Need I remind you fundraising is a relationship-building business? Relationships happen people-to-people, not people-to-institution.

All that work I’m constantly exhorting you to do to personally nurture, reward and develop bonds with your constituents as you support them on their donor journey matters.

You can’t afford the typical nonprofit staff turnover, and you need to do whatever it takes to make working for you a positive experience.

Lose a Fundraiser; Risk Losing a Donor Relationship

Fundraiser turnover results in the ongoing work of reporting back, asking for feedback and offering praise getting abridged or abandoned altogether. Trust me, this is a genuine real world concern. I work with countless nonprofits, and staff turnover leads to downgraded and lapsed gifts. You may think this won’t happen to you, but it will. When a donor doesn’t get the meaning they need, they drift away to other causes offering them a better return on their engagement. Don’t blame the donors; it’s just human nature to want to feel connected to other human beings.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking you can’t afford to keep your fundraiser by providing a better salary and other benefits, such as additional vacation time. Penelope Burk surveyed 1,700 fundraisers and 8,000 nonprofit chief executives, and found it would cost just $46,650 to keep a good fundraiser happy.

The direct and indirect costs of finding a replacement are $127,650. Hmmn… being pennywise and pound-foolish is not what I would call working smart.

Employee retention costs a fraction of employee recruitment, training and on-the-job learning. So seriously consider what you can do to work a lot smarter by treating your employees like the true treasure they are. As noted in my last article, a decent salary matters. I’m all for offering living wages! But many more things than money are motivators.

It’s time for a closer look at how flexibility in the workplace will help you shine.

Retain More Nonprofit Employees by Being Flexible

A recent guest essay in the New York Times,

Photo of Claire

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…

How Do You Keep Former Nonprofit Board Members Engaged?

Heart hands

Sustain the positive energy of love and connection

Are you throwing your former board members out like yesterday’s trash? You are if you don’t continue to build relationships with them and let them know how special they are.

Every single communication with a former board member should let them know you know who they are. One of the foundations of Penelope Burk’s groundbreaking work in Donor-Centered Fundraising is the finding donors want one thing first and foremost: “Show me that you know me.”

If you treat former board members like they’re toast, don’t be surprised when they start sending you little bread crumbs instead of the whole slice – or loaf – they once sent. People want to be appreciated. It’s just human nature.

Stop blaming board members for stopping loving you. Instead, focus on not stopping to love them!

8 Strategies to Build a Former Board Member Love and Loyalty Strategy

Former board should be one of your top segments for cultivation! They have a deep understanding of your vision, mission and values. For years, they made your nonprofit one of their top philanthropies. They may even have included you in their estate planning!

Former board have numerous connections to your cause; don’t lose them! They may have relationships with staff or even beneficiaries. They also have connections with each other. At one point you were part of their identity and family. You likely have a special place in their heart.

Don’t stop making beautiful music together! Continue to treat them personally, unless they specifically ask you to stop. Don’t simply relegate them to your impersonal e-news mailings or mass annual appeals. Treat them like major donors and develop a love and loyalty strategy that invites them to stay engaged with you, albeit in a new way.

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):

Building - motto about knowledge and stability

Top Planned Giving Myths and Truths Revealed

Building - motto about knowledge and stabilityWhat the heck are “planned gifts?”

For some reason, this term remains largely mysterious for many nonprofits. There’s a feeling planned giving is complicated. Not for the faint of heart or the small of budget.

This couldn’t be more wrong.

People wonder:

  • Are they deferred (i.e., you won’t receive them until after the donor dies)?
  • Are they outright (i.e., you’ll receive money now)?
  • Are they only for building an organizational endowment?
  • Are they just another term for major gifts?
  • Are they gifts where donors receive benefits like life income and tax avoidance?
  • Are they legacy gifts?

The Truth about “Planned Gifts”

They’re all of the above!

If there’s any overarching guideline, the truth is that planned gifts generally represent the largest gift a donor will make to you.

Top 10 Questions to Answer before Asking for a Nonprofit Major Gift

You can’t just call someone up out of the blue and ask them for a major gift to your campaign. Period. Full stop.

This won’t work any better than building a house before you’ve found the right location, created a blueprint, laid a foundation and brought in just the right crew to build according to your specifications.

In both cases, first you must lay the groundwork. I like to think of this as making sure all the pre-conditions to a successful ask are in place before I make someone an offer I know they won’t be able to refuse.  And I’ll know I’m ready to pop the question because first I’ll have answered “Yes!” to all of the ten questions that follow.

10 Critical, Powerful Questions to Lay the Groundwork for Successful Asks

1.  Is this the right prospect? 

Man jumping over mountain

How to Transform Reluctant Fundraisers into Ready Philanthropy Facilitators

How do you help people afraid of fundraising become comfortable in what should be a mission-aligned role for everyone associated with your nonprofit organization?

After all, everyone benefits from increased philanthropy.  Not just development staff.

Increasingly, successful nonprofits are adopting cultures of philanthropy where everyone involved – administrative staff, program staff, board members, committee members, direct service volunteers and even beneficiaries – comes together as ambassadors, advocates and askers on behalf of furthering the organization’s mission, enacting its values and fulfilling its vision.

Facilitating philanthropy is not rocket science, yet folks unaccustomed to the relationship cultivation and solicitation required to land major donations are fearful because they don’t know how to do it. Actually, they do. They just need some guidance, hand holding and support along the way. Reluctant fundraisers tend to think fundraising is just about money. It’s a lot more than that.

It’s the job of a nonprofit’s leadership to work with insiders (staff and volunteers) to help everyone feel both passionate about the cause and confident in the fundraising process.

There are barriers to be overcome; first and foremost is fundraising fear.  This fear takes many forms, and is perhaps best expressed in some of the questions I frequently receive.  So I’m endeavoring to answer a few of these questions below.  Hopefully this will help you address these challenges within your own organization so you, too, can transform folks from fearful and reluctant “fundraisers” to joyful and ready “philanthropy facilitators.”

Big earred deer

4 Strategies to Listen so Others Will Talk

You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.

Ever hear that?

It’s the secret to building authentic, lasting relationships. Full stop.

Whether you’re dating, parenting, teaching, attending a conference or hosting a dinner party, the ability to be fully present – in listening mode – will impact so many things. For good or ill.

  • Whether people want to keep talking to you, or don’t.
  • Whether people feel relaxed and open, or anxious and stressed.
  • Whether people want to tear down walls, or build them up.
  • Whether you learn something, or don’t.
  • Whether you’re perceived as compassionate, understanding and helpful, or not.
  • Whether people like you, or don’t.

Donor loyalty and love are earned, and it begins with YOU listening.

If I had to boil down Penelope Burk’s two decades of groundbreaking research in donor-centered fundraising into one thing donors want, it would be this: SHOW ME YOU KNOW ME. There are lots of ways to do this, but we sometimes miss out on the most obvious one.

Become a Donor Coach

Your job – as fundraiser, nonprofit professional and philanthropy coach – is to help your donors see the way to greatness. Think of this as part and parcel of your job as a philanthropy facilitator. In donor coaching mode, you need to listen so you can find “coaching moments” – opportunities to motivate donors to engage with, and act on, their passions in a way that brings them meaning and joy.

“Coaching is a worldview that is driven by the intention to be of service to others.”

— Dianna Andersen, Cyliant

Your job is to guide folks over the river, through the woods, up the mountain and

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?

"Conscious Soup" street art

Stop Writing Unconscious: Secrets to Inspire Action on Your Nonprofit Appeal

"Conscious Soup" street artYou want to raise money with your fundraising appeal, right?

Guess what?

However you feel when you sit down to write is how your readers will feel when they sit down to read.

Feeling anxious? Unprepared? Bored?

Your feelings come through in your writing. Or not.

So… first put a smile on your face! Think about what inspires you about your mission. What are you passionate about? What drew you here and keeps you here?

Passion is contagious.

You can do this – it’s just like talking to a friend about how important your cause is.

Yup.  Your donor is your friend.

Talk to them exactly that way.

Becoming a writer is about being conscious.

“When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader.” 

– Ann Lamott

7 Key Secrets + 16 Blooming Tips to Appeal Success

Transactional Nonprofit Work vs. Transformational Donor-Led Progress

Transactional Nonprofit Work vs. Transformational Philanthropic Progress

Greg Warner of Market Smart writes a lot about the difference between “work” and “progress.” I appreciate the distinction, both professionally and personally. I think you can use this notion, so I’m going to suggest a way to extend this idea to your nonprofit fundraising.

Warner notes in Why You Should Never Get a Job and Go to Work: “work” is tedious and negative; “progress” is inspiring and positive.

This is about being intentional about where you’re going.

It’s somewhat about perception and desitnation, but I’d argue it’s largely about the journey.

Your journey. Your donor’s journey.

And how everyone feels about the endeavor.

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What Causes so Many Fundraisers to Leave their Jobs?

Fundraisers report money is the number one reason they leave their jobs. While I do believe too many fundraisers are underpaid relative to their skill sets and performance, I’ve a strong hunch it’s not the real chief culprit for fundraiser dissatisfaction.

What is causing so many fundraisers to leave their jobs? Or leave the nonprofit field entirely?

Support. Culture. Infrastructure.

Or, to be specific, the lack thereof.

  • Too little support.
  • Toxic culture.
  • No organizational infrastructure to facilitate philanthropy.

Alas, in interview after interview with fundraisers working in the trenches, I find these essential components of a productive and joyful work environment sorely lacking. This situation doesn’t usually arise out of malice. It’s born of a desperate lack of understanding about what it takes to manage people well. Of course, that’s a topic unto itself. But there’s something else that happens with people hired to work as development staff. And that’s what I want to address here.

Money.jpg

Money Matters: Why a Good Nonprofit Fundraiser is Hard to Keep

What’s love got to do with it?

Show me the money.

Some year’s ago the Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article about the need to Shake Up Development Offices and Curb Turnover. The article cites Penelope Burk’s five years of research which culminated in her groundbreaking book, Donor-Centered Leadership, as well as a revelatory study, Underdeveloped, by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund that found half of chief development officers planned to leave their jobs in two years or less. And 40% planned to leave fundraising entirely.

What’s going on, and how can you fix it?

Is it about money, or something else?

calendar

9 Things Your Nonprofit Needs to Know About Monthly Donations

It’s the time of year when nonprofits are evaluating their recent fundraising results and making plans to bring in more contributions in the coming year. But… how?

What will move the needle for you this year?

This question came up in a recent call I was on, and the subject turned to this organization’s monthly giving program. It was doing okay, but they weren’t persuaded it was worth the time and effort compared with focusing on major donors. What I tried to tell them was that many monthly donors are major donors or major or legacy donors in waiting!

If you’re not thinking about your monthly donor program this way, this year is your opportunity to reframe how you think about it.

CONSIDER THIS: A $50 monthly donor is a $600 donor. A $100 monthly donor is a $1,200 donor. PLUS… monthly donors are exceedingly loyal. One-time donors renew, on average, at a rate of 45%. Monthly donors renew, on average, at a rate of nearly 90%. And the fact they give consistently over time means they truly identify with your charity. You are so important to them you are like one of their children to whom they give a monthly allowance! So there’s a good chance they may also leave you a legacy gift.  Wouldn’t it make sense to double down this year to try to grow and cultivate more of these loyal supporters?

On my recent call with the charity feeling uncertain about how much resources to devote to monthly giving, I remembered this conversation I had a few years back with expert, Bill Sayre, CEO of Merkle RMG. Since he works with hundreds of organizations to help them build and manage their sustainer programs, I’d asked him to give me his thoughts on what you can do to begin and/or better manage your monthly giving program.

Chances are you already have some sort of monthly sustainer program.  But… is it the best it can be?  Could it do more heavy lifting for you?

Today I’m re-running this article in the hopes it will help you plan for the year ahead. You’ll learn not only why monthly donor programs are a good idea, but how you can put management systems in place, grow your revenue, keep donors happy and maximize return on your investment.

LOVE sign

4 Strategies to Dramatically Increase Nonprofit Donations

LOVE signTo be a donor-centered fundraising expert, you must:

(1) Know what donors love, and

(2) Offer these lovable things to them.

There are three things I’ve found donors love when it comes to making donations.

  1. To leverage their money.
  2. To be part of a winning strategy.
  3. To be in control of how their money is used.

Got it?

It’s that simple; yet very few organizations successfully offer these things to their donors. Instead, they fail their supporters by doing one or more of the following (take a look at your current appeal and see if you may be guilty of any of these sins):

  • Asking donors to do things they don’t want to do.
  • Offering limited giving options.
  • Making folks wonder where their gift will really be applied.
  • Failing to demonstrate to the donor what’s in it for them.

This is all wrong!

Today I’m here to tell you what works. I’ve not only found these four things to be true anecdotally, based on personal experience with a range of different charities, but there’s also research to back this up.

Ready to learn the four secrets that will dramatically ramp up your fundraising this year?

Let’s begin with the research.

Message painted on stairs - We are in this together

Nonprofit Social Media in Time of Coronavirus – and Any Other Time

Message painted on stairs - We are in this togetherThis is one place you don’t have to social distance.

In fact, this is perhaps the most opportune time ever to do exactly the opposite.

But, not to worry.

Getting up close and personal… getting connected to your supporters and potential supporters in an authentic way… this is among the safest things you can do to give people warm, virtual hugs. At a time when folks are missing human contact the most.

And guess what?

It will make people feel good!

And when you make people feel good, they’ll associate that good feeling with you.

This sets the stage for them to be receptive to your call to action when you’re ready to make it.

Social Media is Not a Stand-Alone Strategy.

Yet it can significantly increase the depth and breadth of your marketing reach.

You might think of social media as the new nonprofit advertising.

Per fundraising expert Tina Cincotti, donors are more likely to give, and stick with you, if you connect to them through multiple points of contact. In fact, they give at least 20% more than those connected through only one channel.

You don’t have to be everywhere, do everything, all the time.

When you think this way, you’ll never start.

Begin at the beginning.

4 Sculptures of torsos, Kristina May, Filoli 2020

4 Types of ‘PERSONAL’ Your Nonprofit Must Adopt Today

4 Sculptures of torsos, Kristina May, Filoli 2020Early in my career I received a piece of fundraising advice that has stuck with me to this day:

People are all people.

And what do you do with people if you want to build a relationship?

You get PERSONAL!

In fact, if I had to tell you how to win over donors with just one word, “personal” is the word I’d choose.

This word should become your mantra and underscore everything you do. Your annual appeal writing. Your special events. Your newsletters. Your blog posts. Your proposals. Your reports. Your social media.

If you take just this one word to heart — PERSONAL — you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

This is the one word that can set you apart.

That can help you build relationships like nothing else.

Though we talk a lot about empathy and donor-centricity, truly valuable tools in building donor relationships, these terms are subsumed by the umbrella of the ‘person’ to whom they apply.

Make sense?

Today I’d like to flesh out the multiple meanings of this word, and discuss how getting personal can help you achieve your nonprofit fundraising and marketing goals.

This is something that has always mattered. Today, in an era of social distancing and striving for greater diversity, equity and inclusion, how we get personal and how we define people are more important than ever.

Playground art alien robot

Is Your Nonprofit Inadvertently Creating Stranger Danger Due to Coronavirus

Playground art alien robotI’ve been writing since this pandemic began about the importance of staying connected to donors right now.

Especially right now.

Empathically connected.

Humanly connected.

Dependably connected.

Now is no time to go dark on folks.

Not when they most need social connection!

Please take heed and, when it comes to your donors, don’t be a stranger.

Social Distancing Does Not Justify Donor Distancing

There are many aspects of staying connected with donors during this pandemic, and I’ve covered a lot of them in past articles. [See here, here, here and here for just some ideas; I have more!] Holding virtual events. Making thank you calls. Calling supporters to check in. Offering participation opportunities like town halls, community conference calls, zoom focus groups, engagement surveys and so forth.

But there’s one area I haven’t covered, because I didn’t think I needed to. Apparently, I do. Why? Because social isolation is changing us in unforeseen ways. And it’s messing with our minds in a way that comes out in our verbal expression.

Because there is so much emphasis on staying separated from others, and taking care of ourselves, this ‘separation mindset’ is creeping inexorably into our psyches. What do I mean?