Tag Archives: fund-raising effectiveness

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!


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.

NTEN asks: What’s holding your technology back?

When it launched its new Facebook fan page, NTEN (the Nonprofit Technology Network) offered participants a chance to win a free registration for the NTEN On-line Technology Conference, or a registration discount for a serious post, on its discussion tab (…still trying to figure out if I’m seriousish but it’s guaranteed to be a great conference and you should totally go so it’s worth it to get serious…). 

The question for discussion?  What’s holding your technology back?  Here’s my reply, quick and dirty.

Our parent company, called ROI Philanthropy Partners, Inc., is effectiveness-focused. I was all ready to say ‘undefined intentions,’ or not knowing the difference between communications ROI and fundraising ROI, or department use silo-ing.

But then I got stuck thinking about a Steve Heye tweet this week: “What if we all stopped working to keep our org growing and started working to make a difference?”  To his comment, I would say now that a pretty consistent problem we see is ‘when is enough enough.’  This is the crux of the effectiveness problem in NPOs right now, measuring the difference made in program reach, in fundraising success, in operational efficiencies. Who needs to see information delivered in this way, versus another delivery method? Which segments of our constituencies care about a fan page vs. a twitter account vs. purl mailings vs. a phone call vs. a mailed brochure — or a combination of any or all of these?

According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project (disclosure: I’m on the committee), for every six dollars given to an NPO in a given year, the NPO will lose five dollars through attrition and reduced support. For every six donors in a given year, NPOs lose five the following year.

What’s holding technology back?  As a whole we are slow to justify its reach to any given constituency, so as an industry segment we are still in the ‘putting feelers out’ phase of methodology uses. Add to that the onslaught of new products every year, and we have varying degrees of authenticity measures to factor into the equation each year — how to apple-to-apple effectiveness in the shifting sands of product availability?

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.

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.

Body vs. The Machine: The ‘Can Jan Scan’ Test

In my past life as a fund-raiser, before e-mail, before WYSIWYG, I remember writing a butt-load of solicitation and acknowledgement letters in DOS every year.  It was the top-of-the-line technology — and in a few years, we might be able to move donor records from index cards to ADIS!  Fear not, visitor from the future: we still licked all the tasty stamp glue we could eat. 

Dark ink against light-colored paper is one of the purest visual technologies of all time.  Have you ever read a whole book on a Sony or Kindle portable book reading device?  I have, and I missed good old light refraction by the fifth chapter (and I missed a coherent plot-line, and a set of consistent characterizations, but that’s another post for another day…).  The light source in the readers is coming from behind the text, and light from outside the device can inhibit readability with glare.

Where does biology meet fund-raising technology and methodology?  In the simplest terms, it means that the font on your Powerpoint presentation is large enough to be seen from the back of the room by middle-aged eyes.  It means that your board meeting food spread includes low-fat protein options for the South Beach dieters and caffeine-free tea for the jittery mortgage brokers in the room.

In more expensive terms, it means real attention to the human-computer interface.  Of particular concern to me is the increasing default to a solicitation/networking format like those in use by almost every illness-based charity in the U.S.  The standard interface of some of the most market-pervasive social networking solicitation products is filled with small-font text-filled boxes and links that are hard to distinguish from the color fill around them.  The contact import function is more text-driven than graphically designed.  Often, one must re-enter the edit pages by re-entering a password, or by going through the entire process of starting from the homepage (stepout.diabetes.org Convio site, I’m looking at you…).

As a demographic litmus, I have created the “Can Jan Scan” test.  My mom Janet, a smart cookie in her 70s, is afraid of her shiny new laptop computer.  She received the laptop as a gift my one of my sisters for Christmas 2007, and she has used it about 35 times.  I have to sneak out of her house to trick her into putting her computer in stand-by mode by herself.  It is unlikely that she will navigate screens and send solicitation e-mails to her friends when all of the screen options are so overwhelming.  So I interviewed her as she took a social networking software test-drive.*

Jana:  Mom, how does this page look to you?

Jan:  I don’t like the colors, but you know I don’t like primary colors.

Jana:  You could change the colors.

Jan:  Oh, then it’s just fine.

Jana:  By ‘just fine,’ do you mean you would create a page and send an e-mail message to your friends to ask them to give?

Jan:  Oh no.  I think the colors could be prettier, and that’s fine.  The other colors glared at me.

Jana:  Glare from the colors and light reflection on the screen, or colors that assume anthropomorphic glaring abilities?  To whom would you send a message about this page?

Jan:  Jana, don’t be a smartaleck.**  I’d send it to people for whom I have an e-mail address — would you write the addresses down for me so I can type them in (my hands are really tired, though, so could you type them)?  But I wouldn’t send it to [names didacted because Mom is a really polite person] because they will turn around and ask me to give right back to something for one of their kids.  I don’t want to owe them anything.  You didn’t ask them to give did you?  You’ve got to tell me about these giving things so I don’t ignore them when I get them.

Jana:  When was the last time you checked your e-mail to see if you’ve been asked to give?

Jan:  About 2 months ago, when you fixed the computer after the screen went blank.

Jana:  For God’s sake mom, you have a better laptop than I do!  How can you not use it for 2 months?  It’s such a waste.

Jan:  Tell me about it.  I wanted a dual-power stove-oven so I can have a cooktop with gas and an oven with electric.  Do you think I should put hard-wood floors all the way into the kitchen?

My whiz-bang tech brain said yes to the wood floor.  But the Can Jan Scan test failed the basic interface presented.  I’ve heard the research — the older crowd is adopting web use faster than any other age group.  Sure, but these folks have physical challenges that will limit their interest and their patience as they try to use high detail density interfaces. 

* I may or may not have spiked her iced green tea to loosen her up, a sort of a grandma truth serum if you will…

** She didn’t say ‘smartaleck,’ if you know what I mean…