Category Archives: Second Gift

Predictive Analytics: a nice overview infographic

How nonprofits use analytics for fundraising.  An infographic on Twitpic
Thanks to the fine folks at Bentz Whaley Flessner (@BFW_Social) for this great infographic. Yay Donorcast!


Mom always said: “Use your inside voice.” Mom was wrong.

Fundraising language for different audiences

Do donors get your inside voice?

I’ve been thinking about a blog post called “Down With Donors” by Kevin Schulman on the topic of transactional versus relationship fundraising and the implications for language associated with the uses of the word ‘donor’ and other perceptions of the relationship.

I’d like to frame the discussion in a different way, one of practical application.  When my then-preschool sons ran around the house yelling in typical pre-tackle-each-other boy rough-house fashion, I would say: “Use your inside voices, monkeys!”  And then I’d suggest an equally rambunctious outside activity for an area where skulls would hit soft earth and not hard tile during the wrestling part of the fun.

So there is a time to use your fundraising inside voice and your donor outside voice.  My feeling about the long-running donor and/or relationship debate comes with a pretty practical and down-to-earth application.  Nay, it’s not just an issue of marketing and sales research, and I get that it has philosophical implications too. (And it’s increasingly described as an emerging trend — it’s been an issue for me in my 20+ years fundraising, so if it’s an emerging trend, I feel pretty freaking emerged)

What, with all the ‘donor-centric’ (by the way, someone actually owns the copyright on this lovely phrase) this and ‘donor-focused’ that, we’ve crossed a more important line in the professionalism of fundraising management.  I’m guilty — my company focuses specifically on donor retention and predictive donor analytics — but as a consultant, I’m not wrong (and THAT, my friends, is consultant bravado!).

Anyone who has worked with volunteers who fundraise on behalf of an organization knows this: do you call your donors ‘donors’ in front of volunteers? Do you use your inside lingo when you talk to people outside your organization? In my pre-consultant days as a professional fundraiser for annual funds, major and regional giving, campaigns and principal gifts, I managed large 200+ member volunteer groups and small 5-person volunteer groups.  If I dared slip and say ‘donor’ or ‘prospect’ or ‘suspect’  or ‘lybunt’ or ‘sybunt’ or ‘never-givers’ or ‘lost’ or ‘constituent’ or (I kid you not — I’ve actually heard) ‘kill’ or ‘ATM’ in front of a gathering of volunteers, I knew I’d screwed up. I had negated their experience as partners in our mission by labeling them as something other than human.

Labels mean a lot in fundraising, and we can have internal labels, an inside voice. When my lovely Gantt chart accounts for the execution of segmented direct mail or social media outreach (be it solicitation, cultivation or stewardship), I don’t pass that out a colorful longitudinal planning document in a volunteer meeting.  I share it with my colleagues for feedback and implementation.  But we can’t-can’t-can’t use the same segmentation and process labels externally with our friends.  Don’t get me wrong — some of my most effective volunteers understand the internal language and understand their role as friend and donor.  But most external constituents think of themselves as, I don’t know, maybe ‘people’.  And, just as one prepares nice and accurate name tags at events because the only thing that every person owns is his or her name, you’ve got to call them by name or in a language that gives them a supportive role, not a reductive label that implies that they are each a production entity.

In a training session with a client’s board last month, I had to think about the material I was putting up on the wall for their review.  Do I use a Venn diagram to explain the priorities assigned to wealth, giving and engagement variable in their specific predictive model?  To quote the hash tag bard and late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon, #awwhellno.  I found examples of actual people who were more or less interested in their cause, and I said “Let’s talk to more of the ‘more interested’ people! And here are some ways to help you do that! Woot!”

So here’s what I recommend. Draw a chart on the white board. Label one column: “These are OK to use outside our office.” Label one “Let’s not say this outside our office.”  Bring in your fundraising staff AND your administrative staff AND your executive staff. Have a nice 15 minute training session on the application of these words in different settings.  What should we say about giving and our donors in front of our volunteers, to the press, on a fundraising call, to our vendors, in a personal letter or direct mailing or newsletter? Ask them for scenarios when they have to talk about giving, and figure out what words and phrases might be best.  And be kind — everyone screws up and says something that might be perceived in a way we can’t expect.  It would be so sad to scare your colleagues away from helping you with your fundraising mission because you were a scold.  But every screw up is a chance to find new ways to say that we like each donor, lybunt, sybunt, never-giver, lost, or constituent as a person, not as an ATM.

I want my two dollars!*

My friend Jonathan put this question up for discussion: “As a ‘development’ ploy, a charity sends a two dollar check, asking that the recipient not cash it and donate instead. Cash it or not?” 

One friend said, “I cash it and donate double.” 

Another said, “Stupid fundraising method. If I am the charity, I 1099 the people who cash the checks.”  

Yet another wrote, “I think that the fact that a charity is using any of their assets to send out checks to anyone other than the stated benefactor of the charity, calls into question their management practices and their ability to responsibly manage donated funds. Think twice before donating to them; find another charity to donate to & I wouldn’t cash the check.” 

My first answer?   I said cash it, keep the money, and make the gift that the direct mail piece was too silly to ask for outright. Send a note with the gift to comment on the concern he felt about this appeal type and ask that they exclude him from this type of scheme in the future.  All fundraising techniques work for somebody sometime, and my guess is that Jonathan had been micro-segmented based on prior giving or some other variable. (Or maybe they thought he’s a little old lady with church-based guilt issues. If he was a knitter or crochet-er or quilter, maybe the charity bought a stitch craft magazine mailing list, or maybe it’s just a big ol’ zip code drop…). 

The charity’s appeal might work.  The yield for investment might actually be pretty good, and they may end up putting more money into their programming to benefit their mission.  However, I doubt it is a well-thought-out endeavor since Jonathan received and questioned it. My suggestion that Jonathan give is based on a presumption that he cares about the mission of that particular charity, not because the solicitation warranted a response. 

I have never recommended this appeal technique.  My understanding of  the logic behind this type of appeal is that the check amount (or a $1.00 bill — I’ve received that appeal before) is of a size  that the donor will write a bigger check back — $2 barely pays for postage and printing from the charity and the effort of cutting a check and postage from the donor.  Regrettably, this sets the scale of the ask too low too.  But my main problem with this appeal is not that it doesn’t work — it does — or that the gift size is likely to be quite small, but guilt and trick giving is no way to build a relationship with a donor. For every $6 raised in a given year, non-profits typically retain only $5 the following year due to donor attrition.  Why create extra tension for the donor about deciding to give if there is likely already a problem with keeping donors engaged? Why lead the donor to wonder at all about the motive of the solicitation?

Regarding the comment about management practices and the charity’s ability to responsibly manage donated funds,  I am generally critical of the arbitrary measurement of 10-20% of budget maximum as an indicator of successful nonprofit fiscal management. Although it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should, a critical look at a 990 is a better way to gauge the charity’s fiscal health against one’s own values. Tell a for-profit company that, in any given year, they shouldn’t invest more in sales if it’s warranted, and they’d likely consider the request to be uninformed and insulting. 

* quote from the 1985 movie “Better Off Dead,” one of my least favorite movies of all time and one with seemingly inexplicable cult appeal.

Why didn’t he give this year?

In response to a question posed about best practices for donor reclamation, I did not address appeal methodologies.  Instead, I addressed a common fundraiser response I see all the time. Sometimes fundraisers hesitate to contact a lybunt/sybunt personally to ask for a gift renewal — we wonder if the past donor is no longer interested in our mission, or is not satisfied with something, or doesn’t want to be contacted.  We use appeal methods that do not best match our intention, like direct mail or e-mail, methods that make it harder for donors to engage in an active dialogue about reasons for giving, or for not giving again.

It’s a big step to approach a lapsed donor with a clear perspective; it is very easy and natural to apply our own values to others’ actions. Is he not renewing his support because we addressed his envelope incorrectly, didn’t plan to include more racquetball courts in the new athletic facility, doesn’t like the organization’s alignment with a political initiative, etc., etc.? My advice is: Do not presume that the donor lapsed because of something your organization did or didn’t do. When it’s all said and done, very few of us have the psychic abilities needed to guess why he didn’t give.  Many donors lapse for reasons we might never know, like big purchases, lifestyle and work changes, and new priorities in their giving plans.

In my experience, nothing beats an in-person meeting for re-engaging a lapsed donor and further understanding donor motivation. My advice is to revel in the opportunity to ask ‘will you renew? why or why not?’  It is a chance to ask direct questions and get answers you can use to create the case statement that will help the donor, and other lapsed donors by extension, make a renewed commitment. If you can’t meet in person, try personal phone and personal mail — your response should reflect your ability to handle the scale and cost of the recapture program.

Crikey! Help us help ourselves!

Short rant-y bit.

Some of the methods we fundraisers use to get information out to our audiences are developed to showcase what we want the audiences to know.  Blergh.  We have to develop pathways that provide what the audience wants to know.  Big difference.

H-to-the-r is working on a project.  She’s on-line, looking for contacts and contacts’ names at a bunch of universities.  The contacts work in areas related to alumni activities.  H has worked in university environments for years.  She knows how to look for people on pages and directories.  H has a wonderful new computer.  H is way smart.

It’s bad enough that some of the universities’ pages won’t load quickly (do they think home and international computer users have the same university-speed load times?).  Some won’t load at all (ack!).  But if she gets on a site, and if she finds that the department site she needs exists, she is finding it a very difficult task to find Phone Numbers on these sites.  Phone Numbers.  Come on.

It’s fairly easy to find links to click or ‘contact us’ forms.  It’s harder to find actual names of individuals with certain responsibilities.  H can’t find basic phone numbers, or department phone numbers even!!

So props to the streamliner universities who don’t infest their pages with long download time gadgets, sound files (Peaches & Herb, really?), flashkibbles and moviebits.  Props to those that list alumni and development staff, that add photos of staff members, that have phone numbers and e-mail addresses for actual staff members.  Props to those who let the audience ask the questions it wants to ask, and ask directly.

Isn’t the point of relationship-building  to help prospects and donors know who we are, what we do and why we’re there?  Shouldn’t we be prepared to deliver the information the audience is going to need?  Aren’t we suppose to help them help us raise the ducats? 

So I am wondering if the distance that a poorly-messaged (is that phrase way wack?) website creates between the audience and the fundraiser is an institutionally acceptable way of telling the audience what we want them to know.  The acceptance of this delivery method gives us the freedom and distance to decide when we will talk to someone who needs an answer, or gives us the excuse of an increased response time to an e-mail message to a general mailbox.

You know I loves me some social technologies, even basic ones like a website.  I just don’t like them to serve as a barrier to real talkings.  Real talkings is the only time we get to provide an immediate answer to the questions the donor wants to ask, provide what the donor wants to know.

<<shaking it off>>

HAHD Kick-off … and I’m already filching from other media …

I was asked to post a little bit about myself for a conference website.  It’s fitting, I think, to kick off my ‘hundred article in a hundred days’ with a note about fundraising worldview.  Here tis:

I worked in higher education fundraising and public affairs in some capacity for 16 years.  During that time, I had a bunch of snazzy titles.  I really enjoyed my work, traveled the world, asked for millions of dollars in person, and raised a hella lot of money, always making or beating my goals.  And I burned out.  *sizzle*

So in 2006, I started my own firm so I could take the best of the “old skool” fundraising techniques, add meaningful ROI-proven Web 2.0 (am I a dunderhead because I don’t know what that phrase is meant to represent?) strategies, and increase the number of retained donors and dollars for my clients. The company works with npos in the US and Europe – we’re small but happy, and we drink a lot of overpriced frou frou coffees.

Here’s my deal:  I am a member of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) committee, an initiative started by the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy and the Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP) …props to Bill Levis and Cathlene Williams…, and co-sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Council for Resource Development (CRD), Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and the National Committee on Planned Giving (NCPG).  My role thusfar has been to lead the creation of education programs to be used by organizations and chapters world-wide.

Here’s the goal:  Change the path of fundraising in a fundamental way.  In its 2008 report across 26 sub-segments of the nonprofit market, the FEP results demonstrate that, essentially, five out of every six dollars raised will be lost the subsequent year due to attrition.  This is Horrible ROI — it costs more to acquire donors than to retain them.

So I like to consider social network constructs for nonprofits with a clear mission — how will these approaches, in concert with more traditional methodologies, help us treat our donors well enough to increase loyalty and lifetime donor value, to think analytically to predict who of our present donors and prospective donors will likely give more and more often, and to change the fundamental appeal and retention strategies we use to keep the donors we add.”

Post-AFP International Conference 2009 – notes & observations

The 2009 AFP conference in New Orleans is but an 8-hour old memory.  But I am already thinking about its agenda and execution, and I am ready to drop a few notes here, just to clean out my brain:

People who know me will understand that my first thought runs to the epicurean:  Serve Food!  Make it the first priority for sponsorship next year, and advertise that food will be served.  This is a basic Hierarchy of Needs issue — the attendees were hungry and, in a city of wonderful cuisine, did not stay in the marketplace to eat $10 boxed sandwich lunches and the random Twix bar (mmmm, Twix).  Vendor booth staff stood idly by during the lunch hour.  This is why fundraisers serve a nice bowl of cubed cantaloupe at their events, to encourage people to attend and entice them to stay.  Basic fundraising rules apply to events run by trade organizations too, so as a service to the vendors, keep the attendees nearby.

And, on the subject of vendors, reconsider closing the marketplace after the plenary and late-afternoon events.  We were re-directed out of the general meeting hall to the lobby, not through the marketplace.  Lots of unstomped purple carpet is a waste in Any environment, but justifying the cost of a booth is easier when the first-day energy is high and traffic is heavier.  And as a side note, tell the guards asking for a vendor permit to chill, man.  No need to go all ‘Cops’ on me when I was making a purchase at a booth!

Cafe du Monde beignets and mocha lattes.  Nuff said.

Please add a full track on social networking and technology integration, and don’t try to do it alone.  Team up with NTEN or the SXSW event coordinators to put a full-day pre-conference session together.  Not only will the average age of attendees drop (a nice batch of potential retainees and future attendees here, my friends), but we fundraisers who have used a lot of traditional and “ROI-proven ” appeal and managerial approaches with great success will now have the opportunity to include some of the “tech-only-all-the-time” devotees in discussions about these same techniques and the traits they share with the new media.  I see a marketplace-wide hand-holding and Kumbaya moment here, people!  In addition, let’s give those of us who might feel overwhelmed by the pace of new social networking concepts get a chance to invest in intensive training in a safe and comfy environment.  I’m here to serve as a generational bridge, people!  Six lanes, even.

Give Josh Birkholz his own session, or three or four.  Bring in more analytics vendors and consultants.  Josh is a great speaker, and he needs more time to answer the volumes of questions that completely monopolize the Q&A sections of our sessions.  Attendees want to know more about what the analytics folks are doing.

And we need a better  understanding of new IRS positions as revealed by commissioner speeches and legislative (fed and state) interpretations and rulings — our boards deserve an advanced education for our EDs and development directors.  Some interesting stuff going on out there with implications for all of us…  I know a great potential speaker — high-level and rapid presentation awaits.

What does it say about us as fundraisers that there are attendees lining the walls, sitting on the floors, during sessions on basic major gift solicitations?

Props to AFP for adopting the FEP reporting module as the very first standardized report for all segments of all sizes!!!!  Credibility for the field is only increased by improving ROI assessment methodologies and, as FEP research proves, retention appears to be one of the leading challenges to the industry as a whole.  Rock on, FEP!  Special props to Bill Levis, Cathy Williams, John Joslin, Wes Lindahl, Lilya Wagner, Josh Birkholz, Adrian Sargeant, the software companies and their committee contacts and their tremendous investment of time and money, the Urban Institute, CASE, APRA, and all the other players in making this project a reality (I know I’m forgetting people and organizations — apologies with a promise to update this post later).

Nice hotels, great shuttles, awesome AFP staff (Joanna Heilig saved my butt!), thoughtful consideration and restraint in use of promotions and session materials and trinkets during this economy (glad to see my speaker gift expense go to the AFP Foundation instead of plastic-ware this year — but the crow in me really does like shiny things on my desk, so when times are better…), wonderful weather, attractive space, a warm congenial feeling all around.  And New Orleans people are such great hosts — go spend tourism dollars there!

I want to speak again next year … look for my proposal, dear program committee.