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38 posts categorized "author-Derrick Feldmann"

This Giving Season, Make Sure You Stand Out

November 30, 2015

Pencil_standing-outDo you feel like you’ve been on the receiving end of the same marketing advice for years? Or that the outdated marketing tactics promoted by fundraising blogs, websites, and experts isn't relevant to your fundraising strategy – and might actually be killing your results?

Here's one I hear pretty often: "If you show them the logo three times, they’ll remember it."

Whenever someone offers advice like this, my first impulse is to ask: "Do you have a study you can point me to that offers evidence in support of that claim?" As you might imagine, the conversation usually turns pretty quickly to other subjects.

So what does it really take for your organization's brand to resonate and be remembered by donors at this time of year?

Here are five things that will help:

1. Stand for something. In general, donors care more about the cause or issue you represent than your organization. Which means you need to boldly promote what it is your organization stands for and then empower your audiences to support that mission. Your messaging should use emotion, clever wordcraft, and compelling images to separate your organization from all the other organizations out there. And remember: You can't be everything to everyone. Or, as my dad used to say, If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.

2. Communicate with your donors throughout the process, not just at the end. Through our research, we've discovered that donors want to know what organizations are doing with the resources donated to them. In other words, it's imperative that you help individual donors understand how you're using their donations – and that you don't wait twelve months to tell them. As soon as you receive a donation, tell the donor about the person or project his or her gift will benefit, and then make an effort to communicate on a regular basis the change his or her support for your organization is helping to create.

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5 Reasons the Public Is Losing Interest in Your Cause

October 26, 2015

StethoscopeWhat can you do when interest in your cause begins to wane?

It's a scary question, and one that many fundraisers and nonprofit marketers will face at some point.

Perhaps you're already familiar with this scenario: Your fundraising results are okay, but the number of individual donors making gifts to your organization is beginning to decline. Your biggest donors may be giving a little more, but you're left to wonder why many others are giving less – or aren't giving at all.

This kind of situation is usually the result of bigger, deeper problems. So, before you rush to launch your next big campaign or event, take a step back and think long and hard about whether any of the things below could be causing you to lose traction when it comes to generating awareness for your cause.

1. You've become too focused on internal stakeholders. I've run into several nonprofit organizations that had cultivated a highly professional mentality over the years, causing leadership to take a blinkered approach to their organization's relationship with its stakeholders. Often their strategy involves putting highly experienced staff to work on problems with little input from the community. Unfortunately, an all-too-common outcome of this approach is the loss of external engagement, which is critical to your long-term sustainability.

If the number of closed-door meetings at your shop is going up while public engagement in your services is declining, it may be because you and your colleagues are shutting out the community you're supposed to be supporting. The solution: Always make sure your staff is looking beyond the walls of the organization and involving your constituents and outside stakeholders in its work. The more voices you allow to be heard around the table, the stronger your organization will be.

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Why Are We Obsessed With Social Media Fundraising?

October 07, 2015

Social_media-fundraisingWe all have guilty pleasures. Whether it's a favorite show on Bravo, the tabloid magazine we read in the checkout line at the grocery store, or that box of Girl Scouts cookies hidden in a desk drawer, there are certain things we become attached to and will not give up, on pain of death.

In fundraising, many of us share a guilty pleasure: social media fundraising.

We dream about it, discuss it with colleagues, and love reading articles and blog posts about it. Whether it's a platform highlighted in the latest issue of our favorite trade publication or a conference that always has at least one session on the topic, we just can't help ourselves.

Why? Why do we spend so much time obsessing about an activity that, in reality, doesn't generate all that much income – in fact, just 1 percent of total revenue from online donations?

The answer, I suspect, lies in our own use of social media, our often-overzealous boards, and misguided expectations.

You enjoy social media...

...and why shouldn't you? It's a great way to stay in touch with friends and family members, who entertain you with their pictures and videos, share things you like, and keep you informed of their career moves. As long as it's not abused, social media also provides a convenient, low-cost respite from the daily grind.

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The Future of Fundraising Is Peer-to-Peer

September 24, 2015

Headshot_derrick_feldmannPhilanTopic is on vacation this week. While we're away, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts from the last year or three. This post was originally published in January 2015. Enjoy.

When I was leading fundraising efforts at a national nonprofit, the focus of everything I did was the individual donor. From coming up with new ways to get donors to give to creating messaging that resonated with their interests, I spent pretty much every minute of every day thinking about how I could gain donors' trust and confidence and persuade them to support our organization.

After a while, I realized our donors had value beyond what they gave (in money or time), that in fact we could use them to introduce us to people who weren't supporting us – although I never would have asked a donor to physically make an ask on our behalf.

A few years have passed, and my thoughts on this score have changed. That has a lot to do with the emergence of social networking and peer-to-peer (P2P) models.

You can see this in our industry, which over the last three years has moved quickly to embrace peer-to-peer fundraising. I know: many nonprofit professionals argue that online giving is the hot thing in the fundraising space. It seems to me, however, that the rapid growth of online giving owes much to the emergence of peer-to-peer tools and platforms that make it easy to find and give to causes or individuals who may be many degrees of separation removed from us.

How has this changed the job of the professional fundraiser? In the past, fundraising was an activity based in part on the willingness of fundraisers to ask for support from friends, family, and deep-pocketed individuals with whom they had a personal connection. Today, in contrast, the professional fundraiser has at his or her disposal a range of options, from social media and dedicated websites to personalized giving pages and text messaging services, that enable him or her to reach many more people, in many more locations, than was possible before.

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3 Things to Know About Donor Behavior

September 02, 2015

Donor_brainWhen I first got into fundraising, I executed campaigns without worrying too much about donors or spending a lot of time thinking about why or how they responded to particular strategies or appeals.

Eventually, I realized that if development professionals really want to make a difference in their organization's ability to raise money, they not only need to think about their donors, they need to understand how the donor brain works. Let's face it: the brain is an economic weighing machine that makes hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunity-cost calculations a day. Rather than choosing the most difficult thing, it tends to nudge us down the path of least resistance.

What does that mean for the fundraising professional? It's simple. Donors are drawn to actions that, psychologically speaking, are low cost but yield a satisfying result. We need to build that recognition into our appeals and the way we communicate about our organizations.

The 'Me-Too' Effect

Imagine walking into a museum and at the entrance coming across three buckets. Bucket #1 has a sign asking you to donate the change in your pocket. You notice the bucket is almost full of coins. Bucket #2 has a sign asking you to donate $5 and is maybe half full of one- and five-dollar bills. The last bucket, bucket #3, has a sign asking you to donate $50 and has a few bills crumpled at the bottom.

Which approach is likely to raise the most money?

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Tell People What You Believe In

July 24, 2015

Share_your_passionHow often does this happen?

You're at a gathering and someone asks you what you do. As soon as you say you work for a nonprofit, the next question is, "What does your nonprofit do?"

This is the point where most nonprofit professionals recite their organization's mission statement. Tailored to the person you're talking to, your response probably sounds something like:

"We educate and empower people who lack resources and opportunities…."

Or:

"We provide basic services to those in need…."

While that kind of generic description might be totally appropriate when you're making small talk, it probably doesn't convey the passion you actually feel for your organization and cause. And it should never find its way into your solicitations.

I know, it's only July. But the end-of-year fundraising season is just around the corner, and I'm already looking forward to the many direct mail pieces I expect to receive listing the reasons why I should give to this cause or that. But while almost all those letters will tell me what the organization does, only a handful will tell me what the organization stands for.

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What Does It Really Mean to Be an Engaged Donor?

April 29, 2015

Headshot_derrick_feldmannI interview donors, young and old, all the time to learn why they support and give to the causes that are dear to them.

One question in particular generates interesting responses every time I ask it:

How involved are you with the organizations you support?

You might expect responses to that question to be pretty similar, and in fact I've found that they generally fall into one of three categories:

Response #1: I am fairly involved in the organizations I support and closely follow what they're up to on social media and through their newsletters.

Response #2: I am very involved with the organizations I support and try to help out as a volunteer at least once a month.

Response #3: I am heavily involved with the organizations I support and make a point of attending their annual galas and writing big checks.

What's the common thread here? The donors all believe they are actively engaged with the organizations they support. The sad reality, however, is that the organizations themselves probably see many of those donors as disengaged.

My conversation with donors and fundraising executives over the years merely confirms that view.

Why is that?

It's an interesting question, and I believe the answer has a lot to do with fundraisers' perception of their donors.

I recently had the chance to bring in and talk with fundraisers at five different organizations with which my firm works. Once they were settled, I asked each of them to answer the question: What does it mean to be an engaged donor? Here's what they said:

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Are You Taking Your Donors on a Journey?

March 10, 2015

Headshot_derrick_feldmannI spend a significant amount of time talking with donors about the things organization and causes do (or should be doing) to attract and engage them. That doesn't mean I don't have colleagues and friends on the for-profit side of the fence. In fact, that's where I get a lot of my ideas.

At the meetings and cocktail parties where I run into those colleagues and friends, I hear a two-word phrase over and over again. That phrase is customer journey – the idea that every point of contact between a company and its customers is important and should flow organically from one point to the next. As they explain it, it starts with a customer's first glimmer of interest in a product or service and extends to the point of purchase. But it doesn't end there; the journey continues as long as the customer remains engaged with your brand.

The same dynamic exists in the cause world. We just don't realize it.

It's time we did. It's time to focus on the donor journey – on how donors interact with your cause, from the moment you manage to get their attention to the call to action that leads to a gift – and beyond.

"But, Derrick," I can hear you ask, "why the change in terminology? Isn't donor journey just another term for stewardship?"

Yes and no. You can't expect a person to support your cause or organization if you don't ask them. But asking is no guarantee that support will follow, and it's not the same thing as inviting someone to take a journey with you.

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The Future of Fundraising Is Peer-to-Peer

January 31, 2015

Headshot_derrick_feldmannWhen I was leading fundraising efforts at a national nonprofit, the focus of everything I did was the individual donor. From coming up with new ways to get donors to give to creating messaging that resonated with their interests, I spent pretty much every minute of every day thinking about how I could gain donors' trust and confidence and persuade them to support our organization.

After a while, I realized our donors had value beyond what they gave (in money or time), that in fact we could use them to introduce us to people who weren't supporting us – although I never would have asked a donor to physically make an ask on our behalf.

A few years have passed, and my thoughts on this score have changed. That has a lot to do with the emergence of social networking and peer-to-peer (P2P) models.

You can see this in our industry, which over the last three years has moved quickly to embrace peer-to-peer fundraising. I know: many nonprofit professionals argue that online giving is the hot thing in the fundraising space. It seems to me, however, that the rapid growth of online giving owes much to the emergence of peer-to-peer tools and platforms that make it easy to find and give to causes or individuals who may be many degrees of separation removed from us.

How has this changed the job of the professional fundraiser? In the past, fundraising was an activity based in part on the willingness of fundraisers to ask for support from friends, family, and deep-pocketed individuals with whom they had a personal connection. Today, in contrast, the professional fundraiser has at his or her disposal a range of options, from social media and dedicated websites to personalized giving pages and text messaging services, that enable him or her to reach many more people, in many more locations, than was possible before.

Continue reading »

How to Improve Your Mediocre Fundraising Copy

December 16, 2014

Headshot_derrick_feldmannFor most of us, the month of December generally means two things: fundraising letters and holiday parties.

Okay, maybe that's just me.

Still, end-of-year gifts and donations account for a substantial amount of the money raised by nonprofit organizations, which, in an effort to capture every bit of potential support before January 1, typically kick off the end-of-year fundraising season with a series of direct-mail appeals and then move on to email solicitations.  

I'm sure you can relate, but at this point in the year, both my mailbox and my email inbox are stuffed with solicitations from nonprofits. But here is where I'm different from most of you: I actually read every letter I get so as to better understand why I should pay attention and why I should (or shouldn't) give to an organization. In other words, the fundraising nerd in me comes alive!

That said, a funny thing happened to me recently: As I was reading through a stack of direct-mail pitches, I began to feel grumpy, agitated, a little Scrooge-like.

I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me and then it hit me: I've grown impatient with much of the fundraising copy I read. Some of that impatience has to do with all the numbers and statistics I'm asked to process. A few of the letters include language I haven't heard since my high school economics class. I've also noted a growing trend of organizations tossing my name around as if it were a magic incantation. (One solicitation I received included at least ten "Derricks" in the body of the text.) And then there was the solicitation signed by the CEO of the organization which insinuated that only a gift to his organization would make a difference this year and that no organization, anywhere, has the kind of "impact" his does. 

As I was reflecting on the effectiveness of these different approaches, I had an epiphany: there is an alarming amount of bad fundraising copy being written these days. And what's worse, I suspect the people responsible for that copy, and the people in leadership positions who sign off on it, think it's pretty good. 

Why do so many fundraising and development pros write bad copy? And why are so many executives content to let it out into the world? I don't really have answers to either of those questions, but I do have some thoughts about why so many of the fundraising solicitations we receive are just plain bad.

You assume I read your last solicitation. I hate to say it, but there's a good chance I never finished (or even glanced at) your previous solicitation. Fundraising copy writers often make the mistake of assuming that their target audience has read every word they've ever written. As you sit down to finalize your next fundraising appeal, remind yourself that most of the people on your mailing list probably haven't read your previous solicitations, and be sure to remove from your copy any phrase like:

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Slow and Steady Wins the (Fundraising) Race

October 22, 2014

Headshot_derrick_feldmannAre you suffering from "ice bucket" envy? Most nonprofit fundraising professionals and development officers are, whether they admit it or not. During the conferences and conventions I've attended over the past few months, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has dominated many of the conversations I've been part of. And it's easy to see why.

To date, the viral phenomenon has raised a jaw-dropping $115 million for the ALS Association. And its success has led other organizations to ask, Why not us? But should organizations try to replicate the Ice Bucket Challenge? And if they do, should they expect to see equally amazing results?

There's a phrase, "Fear of Missing Out," for what many of these organizations must be feeling. Regular users of social media will see it hashtagged a lot as #FOMO – that anxious feeling you get when your train (or plane) is leaving without you on it. Professional fundraisers often experience FOMO when we see other organizations' causes going viral. Yes, we're happy for them, but we'd almost certainly be happier if it was our cause that was breaking through the noise and becoming the focal point of everyone's attention.

Let's face it, too many fundraising professionals make the mistake of investing precious organizational resources to replicate other organizations' successes. What these professionals fail to realize is that organizations with causes that go viral don't follow repeatable rules. Instead, in almost every case, their success is rooted in being the exception to the rule.

Your cause is unique, just like you and the members of your fundraising team. Replicating someone else's idea is simply not "authentic," and when your donors and potential donors figure that out, they're not likely to be impressed.

My colleagues and I host an annual conference called MCON, a national event that highlights the future of cause engagement. At last year's conference, Jeffrey Raider, co-founder and -CEO of Harry's, spoke about the company's mission ("we make shaving a little better every day") and business model. For those of you who don't know it, Harry’s makes well-designed shaving products and ships them to the customer's home at a reasonable price. They've achieved a lot of success in a short period of time, and lots of organizations are trying to replicate their success.

During the Q-and-A following his talk, Raider was asked about this. Here's what he had to say:

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'Thoughtful' vs. 'Thoughtless' Giving

September 19, 2014

Headshot_deriick_feldmannAre you a thoughtful giver? A simple question, right?  But think about it. How much thought do you really put into your charitable giving? And what about other donors? Would you say the majority of donors are "thoughtful" givers? Or are they "thoughtless" when it comes to their giving?

Okay, let's back up a bit. When I say "thoughtless,"  I don't mean that they're boorish, rude, or insensitive. On the contrary, if they're giving to a charitable cause, it's a pretty good indication that they are more than willing to think about and empathize with others. In other words, they are thoughtful people. But how much thought does the typical donor put into his or her giving?

Let me tell you a story. A friend of mine recently received a nice raise. Feeling like she wanted to share some of her good fortune with others, she decided to add a couple of new charities to the list of organizations she regularly supports. But she wanted to be methodical about it. So, she made a list of the five causes she cared most about – not just nonprofit or charitable causes, but any cause – and then researched two or three organizations, local and national, that were active in each. At the end of the process, she had between ten and fifteen organizations that she felt were good candidates for a donation. After narrowing the list down further based on things like the difference each organization claimed to make, their communication efforts, and their transparency and stewardship practices, she selected two nonprofit organizations that she hadn't previously donated to and decided to become a supporter of their work.

Any strategic philanthropy professional or donor advisor who looked at my friend's process would immediately consider her a dream client; she should be the poster child for any conference with strategic philanthropy or highly engaged grantmaking on its agenda.

Which brings me back to my original point. There are two types of donors:

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The Paradox of Direct Mail

August 01, 2014

Headshot_derrick_feldmannDirect mail has become a polarizing topic in the nonprofit fundraising world. Many bloggers and development veterans feel that it's one of the most important tools in the fundraising toolbox. Others – many of them focused on targeting a younger demographic – want to change or do away with the practice altogether.

For what it's worth, approximately 90 percent of the direct mail I receive winds up in the recycling bin, unopened and barely glanced at.

And I'm not alone. For many new and younger donors, direct mail is viewed as intrusive, messy, and a waste of resources. So why do so many organizations continue to embrace it? The answer is simple: It works.

According to the 2012 Channel Preference Study from Epsilon, a full-service ad agency headquartered in Irving, Texas, more than seven out of ten (73 percent) consumers said they prefer direct mail for brand communications, in large part because it allows them to consume information at their convenience. Okay, so that only demonstrates direct mail's relevance to brand and product marketing. What about fundraising?

Well, here again, recent studies show that direct mail works. For example, Blackbaud's 2012 Charitable Giving Report found that 93 percent of overall giving comes from traditional fundraising methods, with online giving accounting for the rest (7 percent).

It's a paradox. For most people, direct mail is utterly annoying, and yet it still gets the job done.

Does that mean fundraisers should ignore the preferences of their donors, especially the younger ones, and hold on to the practice for dear life, acting on what donors actually respond to rather than what they say they want?

I'm not so sure. Traditional industries of all types and sizes are being disrupted by new, innovative business models based on digital technologies. Take a look at these examples and see if you can spot the common denominator:

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Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Play a Leading Role?

July 14, 2014

Feldmann-headshotIs our organization relevant?

If you work for a nonprofit, you've probably asked yourself that question more than once. Concerns about relevancy stem from the most challenging aspect of organizational sustainability. Unfortunately, even when your cause is viewed as "relevant," your organization may not be viewed in the same way. And while the activist in you may feel that relevancy is overrated and that you didn't dedicate your life to a cause so that you could spend your days worrying about who's "hot" – and who’s not – the fact of the matter is that organizations perceived as "relevant" typically are the ones that receive the most attention, the most financial support, and the most acclaim.

Relevancy, by definition, means being closely associated with a topical cause or issue. A relevant nonprofit is a nonprofit that can speak to an issue with authority and has its thumb on the pulse of activities around that issue.

In other words, an organization is relevant if:

  1. it is a leading voice in the ongoing conversation/debate around its issue or cause
  2. it is recognized as a connector/convener with respect to its issue or cause.

I often tell my clients to think about their particular issue or cause as if it were a play, complete with actors in lead roles and a supporting cast. If an organization wants to be relevant, it needs to do whatever it can to ensure that it has a lead role in the play.

Playing the Lead

There's no shortage of nonprofit organizations or causes worth donating to in the world – a fact that goes a long way toward explaining the fierce competition that exists among organizations in the social sector.

With so many organizations vying for dollars and attention, it's to be expected that a few will emerge from the crowd and be recognized as the leading voice on their respective issue or cause. How do you know who they are? When funders convene, those organizations are usually in the room and/or a part of the conversation. They're the ones new donors are most likely to be familiar with and trust. They're the ones other organizations look to for their cues and people expect to be persuaded and moved to action by. They lead and others follow.

And if an organization has the chops to play the leading role, it usually has at least two or three people in roles that are critical to projecting its competence and capacity:

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Has the Word 'Impact' Lost Its Impact?

April 23, 2014

(Derrick Feldmann is president of Achieve, a creative research and campaigns agency based in
Indianapolis. In his previous post, he shared a design strategy for resource-constrained development pros.)

Feldmann-headshotTwo years ago, I wrote an article about the use of the word innovative in our field. The gist of the article was that those who trumpet the fact they are innovative probably aren't, and that, conversely, truly innovative organizations aren't in the habit of publicly defining themselves as "innovative."

In this article I want to look at another word that is getting a workout. It's not sustainability, community, or empower -- although our sector could walk away from all three of those and not be any worse for it.

No, the word I want to consider is impact.

March and April are conference season in the nonprofit sector, which means I have plenty of opportunities to hear what other fundraisers and nonprofit marketers are doing to inspire donors to give. Recently, I got together with some fellow fundraisers at one of these conferences to talk about our different approaches to asking for money. During our conversation, I heard the word impact (in its various forms) used at least five times. In fact, when I think about it, the word was everywhere at that particular conference, from exhibit booths, to program materials, to live Twitter feeds from sessions with titles such as:

  • Impact Investing
  • How to Get Donors to Understand Your Impact
  • Impact Fundraising – Truly Getting Donors to Give to Your Cause
  • Marketing Impact to Your Volunteers
  • Training Your Board on Your Mission and Impact

I mean, if the word had a publicist, she'd be getting rich from a job well done!

As you might imagine, after a couple of days of this I began to examine my own use of the word. Surrounded by others who spoke the language fluently, I realized I had adopted their patterns of speech and even used the word five times in the presentation I gave at the conference.

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