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209 posts categorized "Fundraising"

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:

"As we reported in our last newsletter…"

“As you know from our website…”

“As you may have heard…

You think everyone loves your cause. This is a pretty common mistake. Your organization is your baby, and you want to believe everyone loves your baby as much as you do. I recently met with a nonprofit board member who asked me why, if they are so popular on Facebook, more of their "fans" were not making donations. Sound familiar? The reality is that most of the individuals who decide to "like" your Facebook page are in the "I am curious" stage -- and are likely to remain there. They may have an interest in, even an affinity for, your cause, but it doesn't mean they are hopelessly in love with your organization or its work. It's your job to explain why your organization is worthy of their respect and, yes, even their love. They need to view it as a conduit for their values and their desire to make the world a better place. So try to avoid language such as:

"We know how important our organization is to you…"

"You support our mission because…"

"You know our work matters…"

You forget that I respond to emotion. Etymologically speaking, philanthropy means "love of humanity." The human aspect is so important here. We are emotional beings, and when we see an individual in need, we are likely to want to lend a helping hand. When you fill your solicitation letters with lots of numbers and statistics, you are forgetting that because I am a human being, I am predisposed to help other human beings. You are appealing to the analytical side of my brain and ignoring the side where my compassion and empathy are located. That's the side you want to appeal to. So try to avoid dry statements of fact like:

"Did you know that 33 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 11 and 24.5 percent of young people between the ages of 13 and 18 have reported…"

"We serve more than 2,700 people in fifteen communities across three counties..."

"Your gift means that 326 people will receive much-needed services between September and the end of the year.…"

You confused me for a foundation. Thank you for thinking I make philanthropic investment decisions on a daily basis. And you flatter me when you think I employ an elaborate process when deciding where to allocate my charitable dollars. The reality, however, is a little different…and the language in your fundraising appeals should reflect that fact. You're not applying for a grant, you're asking me for a donation (of time or money). I tend to get excited when you tell me about an individual who was helped by your efforts -- and what I can do to make that happen for someone else. Systemic change is good, but helping real people is better. So try to avoid language like:

"Your gift will help us become more sustainable by…"

"When you donate, your gift will have an impact on the field for years to come…"

"Giving to our organization means you will be joining forces with countless others to…"

You forgot I haven't heard from you since the last time you asked me for money. With apologies to my nonprofit colleagues who work so hard on retention issues, should you really assume I've heard from you since the last time I made a gift to your organization? Did you thank me? I hope so. (And I won't mind if you thank me again.) But chances are, I didn’t respond to your previous appeal with a gift, so you should avoid language like:

"In our last update, we shared stories of how your gift changed…"

"You've given before, but your gift today will mean more than you know..."

"Let's be honest: We can't do without loyal supporters like you…"

And most important of all…

You think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to giving. This is probably my biggest gripe with fundraising appeals. Too many organizations, for some mysterious reason, seem to believe that everyone gives in the same way and for the same reasons, that donors all work through the same processes and make the same decisions you hope they'll make. Nothing could be further from the truth. Giving is an intensely personal thing. It means something different to each and every one of us. Similarly, how I define the impact of a gift is bound to be different than how you define the impact of that gift. I'm not saying I am right and you are wrong; I'm simply pointing out that people are different, so don't write fundraising appeals that assume they are all alike. In other words, avoid phrases like:

"Like me, you know that…"

"Our donors support us because they know…"

"We know what matters to you…"

I know, a rose is a rose is a rose. But at the end of the day, all of us are trying to achieve the same thing: copy that really speaks to the person on the receiving end of our solicitations. If you absolutely have to use abstract language, impenetrable jargon, and loads of statistics in your solicitations, may I recommend you send them to yourself. But if you truly want the average person to not only make a donation, but to deepen their understanding of your work, tell them about that work in the most direct and personable way you can. And remember, it's not about your organization; it's about rallying people to a cause they already care about.

Derrick Feldmann is president of Achieve, a creative research and campaigns agency based in Indianapolis. In his previous post, he urged readers not to be distracted by fundraising one-offs like the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge.

Weekend Link Roundup (December 13-14, 2014)

December 14, 2014

Nutcrackers-christmasOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Agriculture

On the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation blog, David Festa, vice president for ecosystems at the Environmental Defense Fund, suggests that if "we're going to meet growing needs for food and water,...[b]usiness as usual just isn’t going to cut it." But, adds Festa, there are reasons for optimism, as retailers, food companies, agribusinesses, farmers, and ranchers all rethink their roles in the food supply chain to do more with less while improving the ecosystems on which they, and all of us, depend.

Civil Rights

Interesting look by the New York Times  at police shootings in New York City in 2013, the last year of the Blo0mberg administration. According to an annual NYPD report released early in the week, shooting by officers, "whether unintentional or in the course of confrontations with suspects," fell to 40, from 45 in 2012, and were down from an eleven-year high of 61 in 2003.

Communications/Marketing

Guest blogging on Nancy Schwartz' Getting Attention! blog, Allison Fine, author of the recently released Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media, suggests that the secret to succeess in today's social media-driven world is to communicate with people instead of at them.

Speaking of a "world gone social," what are the attributes of CEOs who "get" social media? Ted Coiné and Mark Babbitt have the answers in the Harvard Business Review.

Data

On the Markets for Good site, Beth Kanter shares ten ideas about how to find to data-nerd types to help enhance your organization's data collection and analysis capabilities.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 6-7, 2014)

December 07, 2014

9626_Northern_Cardinal_02-10-2010_2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

On Beth Kanter's blog, Jay Geneske of the Rockefeller Foundation announces the launch of Hatch, a digital platform that connects nonprofit practitioners with resources designed to help them "craft, curate and share impactful stories."

Diversity

Writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Derwin Dubose, co-founder of New Majority Community Labs, a social venture that works to empower communities of color to identify and solve their own challenges, argues that the nonprofit sector has a "Ferguson problem" of its own: too few people of color in positions of leadership. As a result, writes Dubose, "people of color are relegated to being mere recipients of philanthropy rather than becoming active partners in their communities' success."

Education

NPR, which seems to be doing a lot more reporting on the social sector of late, takes an in-depth look at Teach for America as the controversial organization celebrates its twenty-fifth year.

Giving

Nice piece by Peter Sims, co-founder of Fuse Corps, a social venture that gives up to twenty professionals a year the opportunity to help governors, mayors, and community leaders across the country bring about social change, on the origins and evolution of the #GivingTuesday movement. CauseWired president Tom Watson, who has been a "friendly skeptic" of #GivingTuesday in the past, also has some interesting thoughts about the success of the movement and how that success may portend a major shift in the way we give, volunteer, and organize around social causes.

No matter how you slice it, #GivingTuesday 2014 was a resounding success. If your nonprofit failed to capitalize on the buzz and good feeling surrounding the event, now is the time to start planning for #GivingTuesday 2015, writes Nancy Schwartz on her Getting Attention! blog.

What's driving next-gen giving? On the Forbes site, the Northwestern MutualVoice Team shares some findings from a 2013 survey conducted by 21/64, an organization that studies generational giving, and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 29-30, 2014)

November 30, 2014

Advent_wreath2Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

On her Philanthropy 2173 blog, Lucy Bernholz asks some important questions about the purpose of civil society -- that peculiar space which "stands alongside, interdependent with the private and public sectors" -- in a democracy, and provides some answers of her own.

Fundraising

The December Nonprofit Blog Carnival, which is being hosted by Joe Garecht at the Fundraising Authority, is open for submissions. This month's roundup is dedicated to getting nonprofits (and the people who run and govern them) to think bigger about fundraising. To have your post considered for inclusion, it must be submitted by the end of the day on December 29. Good luck to all!

Writing on the Huffington Post's Impact blog, Ritu Sharma, CEO of Social Media for Nonprofits, argues (unsurprisingly, perhaps) that social media "has democratized fundraising so that deep pockets are no longer required. Anyone with five dollars and a smartphone can be a philanthropist."

With #GivingTuesday right around the corner, it may be too late to take advantage of the fundraising advice Hilary Doe, a vice president at NationBuilder, shares on the Huffington Post, but, as she makes clear in her post, truly effective fundraising is all about year-round engagement with your supporters.

International Affairs/Development

How much of the money pledged by donor governments for Ebola relief efforts has been delivered to date? The answer, according to a report by Abby Haglage on The Daily Beast, is "not much."

A text message about a commercial jetliner hitting a water buffalo on takeoff is the point of departure for Zia Khan, vice president for strategy and evaluation at the Rockefeller Foundation, to reflect on India's past, present, and future.

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Tips for End-of-Year Foundation Fundraising

November 18, 2014

End_of_year_fundraisingThis is the time of year when every nonprofit CEO sinks or swims. Either you secure the last of the grants needed to balance your organization's budget or risk running a deficit and ruining its balance sheet. But while you might think it's too late to save 2014, the last six weeks of the year are actually an excellent time to pursue foundation grants. Here are a few tips to help you do so:

Foundations are like people. At the end of the day, whether it's a small family foundation or a large independent foundation,
it takes people to make a grant, and, when it comes to deadlines, most people procrastinate. In other words, an awful lot of grants get made in the last quarter of the year, and a surprising number of those grants are made in December.

Meeting the payout requirement is trickier than you think. Foundations are required by law to spend 5 percent of their assets annually for charitable purposes. This can include a portion of their own operating costs, but most of it tends to be paid out in grants. Many foundations base this 5 percent minimum on a rolling three-year average of the value of their investments. With the fairly constant oscillations of the stock market, you can imagine this is something of a moving target for most foundations. Add to that the fact that grants sometimes don't materialize, organizations implode, and stuff happens, and foundations often have to scramble to make last-minute grants to achieve their mandated 5 percent payout.

The stock market is on a tear. Though 2014 has been a bit bumpy, the markets are up and have been very good to foundations over the past three years. This means that foundations will be calculating their 5 percent payout on an asset base that is larger than at any time since before the Great Recession. It's the reason why U.S. foundations will pay out nearly $60 billion in grants in 2014.

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 8-9, 2014)

November 08, 2014

GOP_waveOur (slightly abbreviated) weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

Pooja Gupta, a writer at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, reviews the findings of a 2014 study published in Psychological Science which found that Americans' trust in each other and their institutions (the military excepted) has hit all-time lows in recent years. According to the authors of the study, "Trust in others and confidence in institutions [are] key indicators of social capital," but that kind of "capital"

was lower in recent years than during the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s; the Iran hostage crisis and "national malaise" of the late 1970s and early 1980s; the height of the crime wave in the early 1990s; the Clinton impeachment of the late 1990s; the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and the financial crisis and recession of the late 2000s....

Climate Change

Not that the new Congress will have any interest, but here are ten facts about climate change from the UN's new climate report that should give everyone pause.

Fundraising

The host of this month's Nonprofit Blog Carnival, fundraising consultant Pamela Grow, has issued a call for submissions. As has been the case for the past few years, this month's roundup is looking for submissions that detail how nonprofit organizations around the world are creating an "attitude of gratitude" (i.e., celebrate the donors who make their work possible). Here's how to submit:

  1. Write a blog post, or choose a recent post that fits the theme.
  2. Submit the post via email to: nonprofitcarnival@gmail.com – be sure to include your name, your blog's name and the URL of the post (not your blog homepage).
  3. Get your post in by the end of day on Sunday, November 23. You can check back on Monday, November 24, to see if your post made the cut!

Global Health

The hysteria around Ebola in the U.S. may be fading, but the ignorance and misconceptions that fueled it in the first place are still very much with us, Angélique Kidjo, a singer and songwriter from Benin, reminds us in in an op-ed in the New York Times.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2014)

November 01, 2014

Lots of good posts here on PhilanTopic in October. Didn't catch them all? No worries. Here's a look back at the posts that were especially popular during the month. Have a post you'd like to share? Drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

What have you read/watched/listened to lately that surprised, delighted you, or made you think? Share your finds in the comments section below....

A Message From GuideStar President/CEO Jacob Harold

October 27, 2014

Headshot_Jacob_HaroldIn 2013, I joined with partners at the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Navigator in writing an open letter to the donors of America explaining that "overhead ratios" are a poor way to understand nonprofit performance. We named this campaign "The Overhead Myth."

I'm glad to report that the response to the campaign, including the original Overhead Myth letter to the donors of America, far exceeded our expectations. More than one hundred articles have been written about the campaign. It comes up every time I hold a meeting or give a talk. For many in the field, it's been a deep affirmation of something they've long known. And, indeed, many leading organizations — the Donors Forum, Bridgespan, the National Council on Nonprofits, and others — have been working on the issue for years. 

But we also know we have a long road ahead of us. The myth of overhead as inherently "wasteful" spending is deeply ingrained in the culture and systems of the nonprofit sector, and it will take years of concerted effort for us to move past such a narrow view of nonprofit performance to something that fully reflects the complexity of the world around us. That effort is essential, however, if we want to ensure that we have a nonprofit sector capable of tackling the great challenges of our time. 

That's why last week the CEOs of Charity Navigator and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and I released a second Overhead Myth letter — this one addressed to the nonprofits of America. In that letter, we suggest a set of steps nonprofits themselves can take to help dispel the Overhead Myth. We all share responsibility for allowing things to have reached this pass. And it will take all of us to fix it.

We direct this letter to nonprofits not because we feel they are the originators of the Overhead Myth but because they are in the best position to communicate with their donors and funders. We want to recruit nonprofits to help us retrain donors and funders to pay attention to what really matters: results. In the end, that means nonprofits have to throw away the pie charts showing overhead versus program — and  step up to the much more important challenge of communicating how they track progress against their mission.

In simple terms, we must — collectively — offer donors an alternative. In the letter, and on the accompanying website, we call on nonprofits to do three things as their part of this evolution:

  1. Demonstrate ethical practice and share data about their performance.
  2. Manage toward results and understand their true costs.
  3. Help educate funders (individuals, foundations, corporations, and government) on the real cost of results.

We have provided a list of tools and resources related to each of these  goals. These tools give nonprofits tangible steps they can take to engage their stakeholders around this critical issue. As the sector develops new resources and tactics, we will add them to the website.

We believe it will take a shared effort to focus donors' attention on what really matters: nonprofits’ efforts to make the world a better place. It doesn't matter whether you work at a nonprofit or donate a few dollars to a favorite charity every year, please join us as we seek to move from the Overhead Myth to the Overhead Solution.

For more information, or if you have a resource related to this issue that can help advance the cause, email overhead@guidestar.org.

GuideStar, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that connects people and organizations with information on the programs, finances, and impact of more than 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofits, serves a wide audience inside and outside the nonprofit sector, including individual donors, nonprofit leaders, grantmakers, government officials, academic researchers, and the media.

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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Four Cornerstones of Online Fundraising

October 18, 2014

Headshot_john_kenyonMany tactics contribute to successful online fundraising, but there are four elements that I consider to be essential cornerstones of success. Whether you are just getting started with online fundraising or are an old hand at it, they bear reviewing:

1. User-Centric Donation Process. Make your online donation process simple and easy for donors to use ― one click to the donation page from anywhere on your organization's website. If you have recently revised your donation page or are switching vendors, make sure to have actual donors test it out to identify any issues. Do the same if you suspect there is something off-putting or confusing about your existing online donation process. Ideally, your donation page should provide options for giving via mail, phone, and online. Also provide options for monthly giving and memorial/tribute gifts, as well as links to information on planned giving, stock transfer options, and even volunteering.

2. Ongoing Engagement. Provide interesting, useful content in a steady stream throughout the year, not just in your year-end appeal. Offer a variety of content that increases knowledge and awareness about your programs, results, contributors (staff, volunteers, board members, donors), and the communities you serve. Be thoughtful about the way you move prospects along your ladder of engagement, from not knowing anything about your organization to becoming a friend, donor, and more.

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How Community-Based Fundraising Can Relieve the Financial Burden of a Health Crisis

October 11, 2014

Headshot_david_bakelmanEven for people who have health insurance, a health crisis often can turn into a financial crisis. Traumatic injury or illness can lead to transplants, extensive rehabilitation, and/or a lifetime of expensive medications. Uninsured expenses add up over the long term and place a significant financial burden on families who are already facing tremendous challenges.

Many people don't realize how severe this financial burden can be. But, in point of fact, it's a major problem affecting thousands of Americans and their families every year. Annual costs for a C-6 quadriplegic, for example, can range up to $111,000. Transplant patients regularly have to cover $600-$1,000 per month in out-of-pocket medication co-pays. Many patients who find themselves paralyzed after a catastrophic injury may be unable to continue working and may need to make renovations to their homes or find new transportation options. Others may need lengthy stays at specialized treatment centers or to relocate for an extended period of time.

For many patients and their families it can be uncomfortable to ask relatives and friends for financial support. That's understandable. But members of the patient's local community are often eager to help and welcome guidance on the best ways to do so. Professional organizations like HelpHOPELive provide the support necessary to help community fundraising volunteers launch and sustain successful fundraising campaigns that can help patients and their families over many months or years as they face long-term challenges with uncovered medical expenses.

With that in mind, here are a few steps for organizing a successful community-based fundraising campaign to help meet the uninsured medical expenses of someone who has experienced a catastrophic illness or injury:

Identify a support network. A support network includes a patient's family members and friends, of course, but it should also include co-workers, neighbors, and members of local clubs, schools or community faith-based organizations. For example, HelpHOPELive held a transplant fundraiser in honor of Allen West ("Wes") Edgar at his church in Alabama. More than three hundred people came together for a benefit concert and silent auction that helped raised $15,000. The funds raised helped Wes get listed for a transplant, and he received a kidney in March 2013.

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Boards and Fundraising: 3 Things Everyone Can Do

October 04, 2014

Headshot_andy_robinsonIf you ask fundraising professionals to describe their deepest and most enduring fantasy, the answer would sound something like this: "Give me a wealthy board filled with wealthy people who will ask their wealthy friends for money."

Sure, those boards exist, but they are very rare. Unless you work with a legacy institution like a university, hospital, or major cultural organization, you are unlikely to have that board. Ever.

Fantasies can be fun, but they distract us from what we can realistically achieve. The good news: your board, wealthy or not, can still raise money. To help them succeed, you need to set clear, simple expectations and give them the tools and training to do the work.

#1: Give Money

Everyone on your board needs to make a gift based on their financial ability. This is essential because:

  • There's karma in fundraising, and you can't ask others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself.
  • It's a litmus test. If people are unwilling to invest in your organization, do they deserve to lead it?
  • Many grantmakers and major donors will ask, "Do you have 100 percent board participation? Is everyone on the board giving?" You really want to be able to answer, "Yes!"

To be clear, I don't believe in giving quotas that require board members to contribute a specified amount. Your board must represent the diversity of the community you serve, and you don't want to price people out of board service. But I strongly believe that everyone can give something, regardless of their financial circumstances.

My recommended language for your board agreement: "We expect to be one of your top three charitable commitments while you serve on the board."

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'Name That...'

September 26, 2014

Once in a while, a news item here at PND generates a comment that makes us smile, think, or both. Samuel Prince, director of development at Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, appended such a comment to an item in today's news hole titled "Donors, Nonprofits Get Creative With Use of Naming Rights."

The item, which is adapted from an article that first appeared in the Financial Times, considers the "creative use" of naming rights by nonprofits looking to boost their fundraising revenue. But as Mr. Prince notes in his comment, "the naming of physical items by donors has been going on a very long time and dramatically pre-dates the mid 1990s." To illustrate his point, he shares the following:

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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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Four Key Indicators of Nonprofit Success

September 03, 2014

Headshot_richard_brewsterHave you ever "ghost dialed" someone? You know, when the phone in your purse or pocket accidentally dials a number? Well, that recently happened to me with a board member of a human services nonprofit. We were surprised to be talking to each other but continued. The organization was well known in its community and had been successful, but our conversation ended up being pretty depressing: the nonprofit was in the process of shutting down.

I did some research and discovered that the organization's budget grew from $5 million to $10 million in just five years. Then a crisis came, they lost a major source of revenue, and there followed a painful five-year decline.

Why did this happen? A little more research and some reflection on others' experience suggests that four key conditions need to be met in order to survive a crisis like the loss of a major funder:

1. Sustainability isn't just about dollars. A nonprofit's programs need to be relevant today, not for situations or problems that are five or ten years in the past. The human services group above offered only housing, even as other agencies in the area began to provide services such as day care to low-income people, enabling them to keep their jobs (and pay the rent).

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