383 posts categorized "Fundraising"

5 ways to use your donor data for #GivingTuesday

September 04, 2020

Donate-now#GivingTuesday is a global day of generosity that usually takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. In 2019, $1.97 billion was raised on that Tuesday alone. And this year, nonprofits have an opportunity to build on that success and generate even more support for their programs and mission.

As you and your colleagues begin to prepare for this year's event and start to brainstorm strategies to maximize your organization's success, consider how donor data can help. From conducting prospect research before the big day to analyzing the data afterwards, there are many ways that donor data can be used to elevate your #GivingTuesday results specifically and overall fundraising results more generally.

Below, we consider in more detail some of the most effective ways to utilize donor data, including:

  1. keeping your data clean
  2. identifying your best prospects
  3. segmenting your donors
  4. optimizing future outreach
  5. looking for opportunities to match gifts

Let's take a closer look at each of our recommendations for putting donor data to good use this #GivingTuesday.

1. Keep your donor data clean. We've found that it's easier to use donor data when that data is clean. Strategizing and designing a #GivingTuesday campaign with incorrect data can negatively impact relationships with donors you've spent so much effort cultivating. If you're looking for an in-depth explanation about the importance of data hygiene, check out this article from AccuData.

The easiest way to create and maintain clean data is to use a CRM (constituent relationship management) database. A CRM compiles information about each of your constituents in individual profiles, enabling you to easily access any donor's giving history, communications activity, and relationship status.

With a CRM, you can also do the following to clean your data:

  • remove duplicate profiles
  • verify that a donor's contact information is up-to-date
  • remove the profiles of donors who haven't given in many years (although you should send a final appeal to them before removing their profiles from the system)
  • search for donors who have passed away since your last communication
  • egment your donors into relevant groupings

Once you've cleaned the data, analyze it for insights that can help you craft an effective outreach strategy. #GivingTuesday only comes around once a year, so make sure your planning for it is based on the best data you can get your hands on.

2. Identify new prospects. After you've cleaned your donor data, take the time to analyze it. Part of that process is what we call prospect research. Simply put, prospect research is the process of researching your would-be supporters to see which of them is most able and willing to donate to your organization. Some of the prospects you identify through the process will become regular supporters of your organization and a few of them could even have a significant impact by contributing a major gift.

Major donors should always be a priority for your organization. Some fundraising professionals even go so far as to say that 89 percent of a nonprofit's fundraising revenue should come from just 14 percent of its donors. That's why it's important to start cultivating these relationships as soon as you can — major donors tend to give their biggest gifts to organizations that consistently and authentically engage with them.

Determining which of your supporters is most likely to be a major donor before #GivingTuesday gives you the chance to approach them ahead of time and see where they stand.

To conduct prospect research efficiently, start by filtering your donor data using wealth and charitable indicators:

  • Wealth indicators. Things like real estate ownership, stock holdings, business affiliations, and so on will give you an idea of an individual's capacity to give.
  • Charitable indicators. A donor's past giving patterns, his or her relationship to your cause, his or her political contributions history, and so on will give you an idea of his or her willingness to give.

While you can conduct prospect research manually, your best bet is to invest in a tool built for the purpose. To learn more about how all these factors can be brought together to create useful profiles of your donors, check out our Essentials for Prospect Research guide.

3. Segment your donors. You can also use donor data to segment your donors. This is a great marketing strategy and is something you should do both before and after #GivingTuesday. Why?

Donor segmentation helps you better communicate and reach out to supporters in ways that are most likely to catch their attention and encourage their engagement.

You already know that donor data is key to beginning and sustaining valuable relationships. And, as we've noted, a good CRM will store and organize all your data for effective management.

Once your data is organized in your CRM, you can start grouping supporters. Segment your database into different lists based on key metrics and then formulate different communication strategies for each one. You can, for instance, segment donors by:

  • donation frequency
  • preferred method of giving
  • engagement preference or history
  • location
  • age
  • business affiliations
  • volunteer history

All of these factors (and more) should influence how you reach out to supporters before #GivingTuesday (and afterwards). For example, you might find that younger people in your audience prefer to be communicated with via social media, whereas older folks prefer email or even direct mail.

4. Optimize future outreach. One of the best ways to increase response rates, build deeper connections, and improve donor retention is to personalize your outreach. Simply sending a thank-you email with a donor's name and the size of her gift size will help her remember you the next time she decides to make a donation.

And after #GivingTuesday is over, you're likely have a whole batch of new donors, as well as data about them that will come in handy for your future fundraising and stewardship efforts.

You can use that data to retain some of these new supporters and broaden your donor base in the long run by doing the following:

  • sending personal, targeted appeals asking for a specific contribution amount based on your donor analytics;
  • automating personalized gift receipts and acknowledgments, which can be done by using a mail-merge tool in your CRM;
  • using templated donor letters to explain to supporters how their gifts have advanced your mission and how their future gifts will continue to make an impact.

These and other ideas can help you close out the giving season on a positive note and set up additional donor-cultivation efforts in the new year.

5. Look for opportunities to match gifts. The relationship between nonprofits and for-profit businesses is changing as corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies are adopted by more and more corporations and companies step up to match donations that their employees make to nonprofits.

Unfortunately, many gifts go unmatched simply because donors are unaware that their gifts are match-eligible.

It's estimated that the nonprofit sector misses out on $4 billion to $7 billion in matching funds every year.

This #GivingTuesday, don't leave money on the table. The best ways to incorporate matching gifts into your strategy and ensure you leverage your donors' support to the maximum include:

  • embedding a matching gift database on your donation page that allows donors to look up their company and access any information it may have provided about its matching-gift policies.
  • using software that allows you to automatically look up email address domains provided by donors. If an email address is associated with a company that matches gifts, the donor will be notified of his or her eligibility.

Read more about corporate matching-gift programs and learn how you can maximize your fundraising potential by reviewing Double the Donation's corporate matching gift guide.

There are many ways to analyze and use your donor data. Whether that means identifying prospective donors, segmenting donor profiles, or just keeping your data clean, everything you do with the information you collect will have an impact on your fundraising efforts going forward. But don't take our word for it. Maximize your donation revenue this #GivingTuesday by trying out some or all of these techniques!

Sarah Tedesco_DonorSearch_PhilanTopicSarah Tedesco is executive vice president of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company.

Leading and succeeding during a crisis

September 02, 2020

Diversity_business_people_hands_pxfuelIn the summer of 1999, Michigan State University launched the Campaign for MSU with the aim of raising $1.12 billion, the most audacious fundraising campaign in its history. A few months in, I was recruited to lead fundraising efforts for the university's Libraries, Computing, and Technology department.

I had been working in Los Angeles for several years in various development roles at the California State University system and saw the position at MSU as a logical next step, one that afforded a number of career development opportunities. As I began to get comfortable in my new role, it became clear that the traditional fundraising playbook was no longer as relevant as it had once been. The department needed an approach that combined equal parts creativity, entrepreneurial risk-taking, and a willingness to experiment. After all, we were competing with other departments and professional schools at the university, each commanding a unique loyalty and importance in the eyes of their alumni. So during football season, we capitalized on our prime location within earshot of Spartan Stadium by inviting alumni and established donors and prospects to a tailgate party. Librarians from the university would be on hand to answer questions, marketing materials and campaign flyers would be distributed, and relationships with new and sustaining donors would be forged and strengthened.

And then September 11 happened. Until then I had never been in a position to lead others during a crisis. It's one thing to come up with a creative campaign and see it through from start to finish, accepting the risks and owning the results. But what had been a competition of sorts with other university departments for scarce dollars changed abruptly after the attacks.

As I worked alongside colleagues in other departments in the days that followed, my mindset shifted from competition to collaboration. Regardless of the task at hand, the question I kept asking myself was: How can I fulfill my duties and help my colleagues be successful?

One of the keys to success in higher education development work is traveling around the country to meet donors in person and earn their trust. But in the weeks and months after 9/11 some at the university were understandably reluctant to get on a plane.

Our solution to the problem was to pursue an approach that emphasized fundraising for the university as a whole, as opposed to fundraising for individual departments. And what quickly became apparent in my in-person visits and phone calls with high-net-worth alumni was their deep, unabashed appreciation for the fact that departments that sometimes competed with each other for precious resources were now collaborating. We were a single team with a single mission: strengthen the university we worked for and loved.

Learning to collaborate during a crisis was a key building block in my leadership development. And taking collective action to achieve a unifying goal while keeping the best interests of one's colleagues in mind has never been more important than it is today.

At the Gary Sinise Foundation, where I serve as chief operating officer, the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to adapt our business model to ensure continuity in our mission — serving the nation's military, veterans, first-responders, and their families. In coordination with the marketing and communications department, we launched a dedicated campaign called Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service. Donations made to the campaign have bolstered our First Responders Outreach program and enabled us to increase the number of grants we award to underfunded fire and police departments. Since we launched the campaign on April 1, we've raised and distributed more than $1.43 million, enabling sixty-one first-responder departments to purchase 5,650 pieces of personal protective equipment and gear. Financial assistance, grocery gift cards, and other forms of support have reached countless individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.

We've also expanded our Serving Heroes initiative, delivering thousands of additional free meals to healthcare workers at hospitals across the country as well as service members and their families at military bases in the U.S. and overseas.

The ongoing success of the campaign is largely attributable to our employees making a seamless transition to working remotely. We decided at the outset of the pandemic to shift staff and resources to departments in need; for example, our events team was called on to support the outreach department, which fields dozens of calls a day and supports an untold number of veterans, Gold Star families, and others seeking various forms of assistance.

In the months since COVID-19 upended our routines, many of our employees, empowered by leadership, their peers, and their own initiative, have developed new skills, revealing unknown talents and interests that benefit not only the organization but their future careers.

As the public health emergency continues to impact communities across the United States, nonprofit organizations are dealing with multiple crises affecting not only their day-to-day operations but their internal and external stakeholders as well.

Although the economy is slowly recovering, millions of Americans remain unemployed and Americans' mental health and well-being remains precarious. And with recent protests reawakening the nation's conscience, some kind of tipping point seems to be near.

Working to address these crises at both the individual and organizational levels has forced me to evolve as a leader — one who grounds her actions in empathy — and has reinforced for me the values of collaboration and personal empowerment. As was the case some twenty years ago, the question I continue to ask myself is: How can I fulfill my duties and help my colleagues be successful?

(Photo credit: pxfuel)

Elizabeth_Fields_PhilanTopic

Elizabeth Fields is COO and Brandon Black is  senior communications writer at the Gary Sinise Foundation.

How to work effectively with an outside consultant

July 13, 2020

Working with a ConsultantAs your nonprofit adapts to new realities created by the COVID-19 pandemic, strategic guidance from expert consultants can provide invaluable insights for refining your strategy planning, revamping your brand, or rethinking your fundraising strategy. There are a few considerations to keep in mind, however, to ensure that any relationship with an outside consultant produces outcomes that meet your needs.

Here are some tips for working with a consultant or consulting firm:

Don't be stingy with information. Hiring a consultant can provide expertise you may not have in-house, but that doesn't mean you can take a hands-off approach to the project. No one knows your organization as well as you do. To ensure that a consultant fully understands your organization, you'll want to share as much information with him or her as is reasonable. While a good consultant will elicit ideas from team members and pull information together in new ways, he or she will want to review lots of organizational documents and talk to lots of people, from frontline staff to board members. Make sure the relevant documents are ready to go, and be sure to ask key stakeholders to set aside time for a sit-down.

Have a clear process in place. Whether developing a strategic plan or a brand revamp, it's important to know what you're aiming for and how you'll get there. A good consultant will be able to provide a plan for engaging your team that includes stakeholders. That plan should include the key activities, milestones, and outcomes for each step in the process. It should be clear, too, who will be involved in each phase, the decisions that need to be made, and what the deliverables are. Your job is to provide appropriate information, context, and ideas to inform the plan; provide feedback on the work presented; and make the decisions needed to keep the project moving forward.

Understand how decisions will be made. Decisiveness is essential to keeping projects moving forward. Put a plan in place that ensures decisions are made in a timely manner. That means deciding in advance who will give feedback and through what mechanism, who makes the final decision, and how that decision will be made (including considerations with respect to the board's engagement). You'll also need to determine whether key decisions can be made if not all stakeholders are able to present at a critical meeting and what a quorum might look like in such a situation.

Presenting to the board. Even if midstream decisions have been delegated to a committee or staff, keeping the board involved as the project moves forward increases buy-in and will help pave the way for final approval. At Red Rooster Group, our clients have found it helpful to have us make a presentation to the board at key points in the project. Getting information from an outside expert can help busy board members focus on the problem or issue at hand.

There's a flipside to this. For some organizations, the better choice is to have members of the project committee, not the consultant, make presentations to the board, the idea being it will help build trust between board members and staff. Having a board member who has bought into the concept present to the board can also be an effective way to demonstrate stakeholder support for a project. You know your organizational culture and board better than anyone, and a good consultant will defer to your recommendations when it comes to building trust and securing buy-in.

Build your project team. For small nonprofits, a project team may be one or two people. For larger organizations, team members should be drawn from different organizational levels and functions (e.g., executive-level staff, board members, frontline staff members). Members of the team should understand and support the overall goals of the project and be willing to express their ideas and listen to those of others. Meetings and material reviews will take up time, so make sure every team member is given the time needed to do the work.

Designate a point person. At the beginning of the project, decide who will be your organization's liaison to the consultant. The point person may be asked to contact people who are to be interviewed, provide background information and documents, arrange meetings, and make sure that information is shared with key stakeholders.

Establish a schedule. A consultant will need to know in advance about events that may affect the availability of team members. Organizational events, board meetings, vacations, maternity leave, and so on can all affect project workflow and timely feedback and approvals. Working out a schedule in advance will go a long way to eliminating delays and reduce stress for both your team and the consultant.

Have a plan for communicating progress. To facilitate a smooth process, determine who will be included on the project and how you'll communicate with your group — email, phone calls, a project management system, Zoom, Skype, etc. — and how you'll exchange documents and comments on the documents (whether PDFs, Google docs, or Word documents). It's also a good idea to schedule a weekly standing call for quick status updates. This can help reduce the kinds of meeting scheduling problems that often delay the completion of a project.

Avoid stumbling blocks that raise costs. Delaying feedback or reversing decisions can stall or even sink a project. And rethinking or revising decisions that have already been made can lead to additional costs and even undermine a project's viability. This often happens when the plan calls for the executive director to make the decisions but, come time for final approval, board members jump in and start to second guess or reverse decisions made earlier in the process. To avoid those kinds of costly delays, provide the board or a committee with regular updates and lots of opportunities to provide feedback. Any serious concerns should be discussed with the consultant and team so a satisfactory resolution can be reached to avoid costly backtracking later.

The consultant is your partner. Defining how that partnership will work can make it — and your project —more successful.

(Photo credit: Red Rooster Group)

Howard_Adam_Levy_Red_Rooster_Group_PhilanTopicHoward Adam Levy is the president of Red Rooster Group, a brand strategy firm that works with nonprofits, governments, and foundations.

Young Americans, racial equity, and the pandemic

June 29, 2020

2020-06-07T082928Z_1842925027_MT1AFL127122807_RTRMADP3_BLM_RALLY_IN_RESPONSE_TO_DEATH_OF_GEORGE-FLOYDRecent events have galvanized tens of thousands of young Americans of all races into becoming active and vocal supporters of Black Lives Matter — a vigorous, positive, can’t-be-ignored movement rooted in the efforts of countless others who have worked hard over decades to address and eliminate racial inequality in American society. The fact that the protests erupted in the midst of a public health crisis that required people to physically distance themselves from others has merely served to reinforce the shared experience of the protestors and made many feel as if they are part of an unstoppable global movement. Most young Americans (ages 18-30) now believe real change is at hand and inevitable.

The research initiative I lead under the Cause and Social Influence banner has been tracking the actions of this cohort in real time since the pandemic began, so when the first protests broke out after the killing of George Floyd, we were able to quickly add research questions specific to the issue of racial inequality. The result is four Influencing Young Americans to Act 2020 reports that reveal the kinds of actions young people have taken since Floyd’s death, as well as some of the other factors that have influenced young people since March.

Here are five key takeaways from the reports:

1. Charitable giving by young Americans is up. At the end of 2019, we asked young Americans what action they preferred to make when they supported social issues; only 9 percent said making a charitable gift. That number had inched up to 10 percent by the time a pandemic was declared in March, and ticked up again, to 12 percent in April, where it stayed in May. We expected this number to continue to tick up as social distancing guidelines remained in place in populated urban areas. Instead, as the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death grew in intensity in late May and early June, we began to see proof of what we have long believed and shared with our readers: passion drives participation. Indeed, during the first week of the protests, one-fifth (20 percent) of survey respondents who self-identified as either white, black, or a person of color made a charitable gift. And the passion we are seeing around the issue has sparked support beyond financial donations, including higher levels of volunteerism and advocacy.

2. Interest in online influencers is up. In the initial stages of the pandemic, family and friends were the major influencers in terms of how young Americans perceived and responded to the public health threat. By mid-April, young Americans were more likely to take their cues from local government, while 60 percent of members of this cohort said they were not looking to celebrities or online influencers/content creators for virus-related information. That started to change in mid-May, by which time the percentage of respondents who aid they were not relying on celebrities or online influencers/content creators for COVID information had fallen to 48 percent. The Black Lives Matter protests drove that number down further, especially among young Black Americans. During the first week of June, the percentage of respondents who said they weren’t turning to online influencers/content creators for information had fallen to 33 percent; broken down by racial group, we found that 43 percent of white respondents and 58 percent of young black respondents were looking to social influencers for news about race-based discrimination, racial inequality, and social injustice.

3. Young Americans trust nonprofits and distrust Donald Trump. As the protests were spreading in earnest in early June, nearly 50 percent of young Americans said they felt President Trump was not addressing racial issues “well at all,” with only 16 percent of white/Caucasian respondents saying he was handling the situation “moderately well.” Majorities of both white and black respondents also said they trust social movements and nonprofits more than the president or government to do what’s right with respect to racial inequality, race-based discrimination, and social injustice — a change from the early days of the pandemic, when local government and nonprofits garnered the highest trust rankings.

4. Purchases and companies can influence change. Over a decade of research, we have watched young Americans use their purchasing power to influence companies and brands to support the causes and social issues they care about. But how and where this cohort spends its money became much more obviously intentional after the 2016 presidential election. In the weeks after the election, we found that more than a third (37 percent) of young Americans had shifted their purchasing patterns in significant ways to align more with their positions on social issues. By 2018, a majority of this group believed their purchasing decisions represented a powerful form of activism, and by this spring, as shutdowns and stay-at-home orders became the rule, young Americans were focused on the economic sustainability of local businesses and the things they could do to help business owners. At the same time, eight out of ten (80 percent) young Americans believe companies can influence public attitudes with respect to behaviors that can help limit the spread of the virus. The same belief is reflected in our June survey, with 74 percent of respondent saying companies can have “a great deal” or “some” influence in addressing race-based discrimination, racial inequality, and social injustice.

5. Young Americans are creating new channels of influence. Younger millennials and Gen Z are the most educated young Americans the country has ever seen, and thanks to technology they have the kind of reach that activists in the past could only dream about. With those tools, we see them working to bring about change by petitioning political representatives, mounting advocacy campaigns, and turning out like-minded voters. They also are supporting brands that embody their values, calling out brands that only give lip service to those values, and directing more money to local and small-business owners. And they are giving to the causes they are passionate about.

The coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd are showing us how rapidly a fundraising and marketing strategy can be turned upside down. How well nonprofits respond in the months to come will depend on their familiarity with and connection to their audiences and their willingness to adjust their fundraising tactics and appeals to meet the moment.

(Credit: Keiko Hiromi/AFLO)

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence. You can read more by Derrick here.

Maintaining a consistent fundraising stream: lessons learned from COVID-19

June 01, 2020

Top_keyboard_red_donate_button_GettyImagesOver the last few months, the staff at Valleywise Health Foundation has witnessed astounding levels of empathy and generosity directed toward healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Maricopa County. Many nonprofits and public charities are hurting right now, so it's especially uplifting to see how charitable people can be in the face of hardship and uncertainty. Like many organizations, we continue to face challenges, but as we like to say around here, with challenges come opportunities.

During these unprecedented times, we've found three approaches to be critical to our ability to maintain a consistent funding stream and ensure continued support for healthcare workers in the Valleywise Health system: adapting critical programs to new formats; appealing to donors' sense of humanity; and utilizing new channels to reach donors and supporters. We believe all three approaches are something other philanthropic organizations can benefit from as they work to secure support for critical services that are likely to become even more essential in the weeks and months to come.

Adapt to a "new normal." Social distancing requirements are forcing the cancellation of public gatherings and events nationwide. This new reality is a challenge for nonprofits and foundations that rely on events to raise awareness of and funding for their programs. But instead of despairing over the cancellation of your gala fundraiser or summer meet-and-greet, try to think about it as an opportunity to pivot to something new. All it takes is a little flexibility, creativity, and patience.

Valleywise Health Foundation's "Night of Heroes" event — an annual fundraiser that celebrates "heroic" patient stories and recognizes Valleywise Health's doctors, nurses, and employees — was scheduled to take place on April 23, with Isabella McCune, a 10-year old who suffered second- and third-degree burns over 65 percent of her body in a 2018 accident but whose courageous spirit remains undimmed after more than a hundred surgeries and procedures, as our honoree. As it became clear, however, that we would not be able to hold an in-person event this year, we decided to convert the night into a virtual livestreamed event for invitees and others. The results exceeded our expectations, and we raised a record $225,000 — significantly more than last year's total — for the new Arizona Burn Center and COVID-19 emergency needs in the county. The online nature of the event also enabled us to reach a far larger audience of potential donors than our original venue would have accommodated, and our cost-per-dollar-raised fell to 24 cents, well below the national average of 50 cents for in-person events.

Make a human connection. In times like these, it's imperative that you continue to reach out to your donors and supporters. While the depths of a global pandemic may not seem like the best time to fundraise, many people are reflecting more than ever on what is truly important to them and looking for new ways to support their communities. In fact, this is a great time to tell them how their generosity can lift up their community and the causes they care about.

At Valleywise Health Foundation, we are communicating with our donors on a regular basis about the ways in which their support strengthens the efforts of local healthcare workers to provide the best possible care to all who need it. By making sure to include a touch of the personal in all the stories we share, we also make it clear to current and potential donors that their gifts are helping real people with real needs. Even if you're not making an ask today, you should be looking to show current and potential donors how important your organization's work is to the community and how critical their support for that work is.

Utilize new channels for reaching donors. With millions of Americans currently sheltering in place, social media has become an even more important fundraising and awareness-raising channel for nonprofits. At our foundation, we've also turned to various apps to help expand our capabilities. For instance, we used Fund Duel, a gamified online fundraising platform, to support our virtual "Night of Heroes." The app allowed us to collect and share donations in real time, reaching even more donors than we could have during an in-person event. Embracing new technologies and platforms can add a layer of complexity to your fundraising, but more often than not they will provide opportunities to reach even more people with your message.

While online tools and platforms can help you reach a bigger audience, keep in mind that the key to creating a deep connection with members of that audience is to keep your message local. In an emergency, people want to be assured that their support is helping their neighbors and community. In other words, when communicating through a variety of channels, keep the message focused on the impact your donors are helping to create.

It's important that philanthropic leaders remain patient and flexible during this public health emergency. There is a lot we don't know about this virus, and the entire world is trying to adapt to our new reality as quickly as it can. We're all in this together, and while we may be facing a new normal on the other side of it, we can take steps now to adapt, pivot, and make ourselves stronger and more resilient as a sector.

(Image credit: GettyImages)

Kevin_Neal_for_PhilanTopicKevin Neal serves as board chair for Valleywise Health Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that supports Valleywise Health, a comprehensive healthcare system serving Arizona's Maricopa County. To view the Night of Heroes livestream, digital event program, and film premiere, visit www.valleywisehero.org.

The Reinvention of the Nonprofit

May 14, 2020

Communications_treeLike many of you, I've learned new ways of doing things over the last month and half. For instance, I have:

  • participated in a virtual board meeting with a nonprofit that, pre-pandemic, would not allow board members to call in to board meetings — a significant obstacle to participation for me and many of my fellow board members;
  • attended a virtual event for a nonprofit I support;
  • toured a museum gallery (virtually, of course); and
  • designed a new movement strategy with a tech team for an organization seeking to move in-person engagements to a virtual model. 

Some of these innovations had been on the back burner for some time at the organizations in question. But they hadn't been operationalized because nothing at the organization or in its operating environment was forcing a change in the organizational mindset. Even when pitched by bright, forward-thinking staff, innovative ideas were often shelved in favor of more pressing  programmatic needs and strategies. 

Then COVID-19 happened, and, like that, everything changed. Ideas that sounded good but didn't seem necessary a year or two ago were suddenly thrust to the forefront. Almost overnight, the attitude of nonprofits shifted from "Let's not rock the boat" to "What can we do to keep ourselves afloat and/or make a difference, and how fast can we do it?"  

While there is never a bright side to a pandemic, it's true what many pundit-types have said: crises tend to accelerate trends that were already in place, and things that seem new and innovative today are likely to be widely embraced and taken for granted before you know it. 

That said, let me add a note of caution: nonprofits' embrace of innovation and technology should not merely be focused on substitution — Zoom events for in-person events, for instance — but should aim instead to develop entirely new experiences. They should expand the engagement we already have with our constituents and supporters, giving them more ways to be a part of our work and to keep that work relevant and impactful for even more people. 

I was reminded of that recently by three conversations I had with funders about a virtual conference I created ten years ago. MCON, the Millennial Impact Conference, was a day-long virtual event sponsored by the Case Foundation to bring together individuals in the nonprofit sector who were starting to focus their engagement efforts on the huge, rising millennial cohort. The convening was the signature event of a larger initiative, the Millennial Impact Project, a decade-long research effort designed to help nonprofits, causes, and companies engage what was then America's largest and youngest adult generation.

People signed on to that first event in 2010 not really knowing what to expect — and neither did we. As it turned out, some twenty-five hundred people attended (virtually), an astonishing number as far as we were concerned, having no benchmarks against which to measure. And when it was over, we heard from dozens, if not hundreds, of attendees who, while they might have had a hard time articulating why, simply loved it. "I don't know…you just had to experience it," was a common refrain. In the years that followed, attendance at MCON continued to build, peaking at twenty thousand for the 2018 event, at which point we sunsetted the initiative and the event.

What the three funders I spoke to wanted to know was how we managed to create a virtual conference before people really knew what a virtual conference was. And my answer was simple: when we created MCON, we didn't try to replicate something that already existed. We came up with a model for what we hoped to achieve, and then refined it. It was never intended to replace an in-person gathering; instead, we created a standalone experience through which guest speakers from across the country and many different industries and disciplines could share their research and knowledge and, crucially, interact with attendees in new and different ways. 

Virtual events shouldn't be about forcing grantees, constituents, or supporters to make a choice between engaging virtually or in-person. They should be about creating something new. In my experience, that means they should be shorter and move more quickly, be peppered with stimulating visuals, and feature plenty of opportunities to engage with both presenters and other attendees in short bursts. Don't expect see a lot of backroom networking, as you would at an offline event. And don't worry, that's okay! Use the opportunity to ask the most creative members on your staff to create something special that serves not as a replacement for the event that would've been but as a unique complement to your usual communications/fundraising/marketing efforts. 

Of course, every cause and nonprofit will have to decide for itself how to do that. That  said, here are some things for you to keep in mind as you look to innovate and start to plan to bring back your in-person events/programs:

  • A virtual event is just a new way to move constituents and supporters from point A to point B.
  • Your event should focus on new and different opportunities for constituents and supporters to engage with your organization or cause.
  • Adopt a digital perspective focused on delivering experiences and helping attendees learn things, in real time, that wouldn't be possible in an offline setting.
  • Think "small," and use the tools at your disposal to let your virtual attendees drive the bus. 
  • Create small breakout groups for each main content block to make it easier for attendees to compare notes, share ideas, and meet new people.

I urge causes and nonprofits to refrain from returning to business as usual after this crisis is over (and who knows when that might be). What you are learning and doing today to reach constituents and supporters absolutely must inform your future communications/fundraising/marketing efforts. As a wise person once said, never let a crisis go to waste. Good luck and stay safe!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Nonprofits Need Certainty in Uncertain Times

April 30, 2020

People_connectedThere are people who thrive on uncertainty — people who enjoy the rush of facing challenges with limited information and even less planning. I'm the other sort of person.

For those of us who prefer process over improvisation and who like to base strategy on data and experience, this is an especially difficult moment. The COVID-19 crisis has upended just about every part of our work. Nonprofit staff suddenly have to figure out how to work remotely, donors are dealing with an extremely precarious economic environment, in-person events are canceled, and that's not even the half of it. We are surrounded by uncertainty.

And yet so much of what we've learned about sound strategy and effective direct response is just as relevant now as it always has been. Our nonprofit partners are adapting to this moment in all sorts of creative ways, from virtual events to TikTok engagement to Zoom trainings for organizers. This kind of nimble adaptation is inspiring, but the most successful efforts share a few things in common.

For all the volatility and uncertainty in this moment, the latest edition of our annual Benchmarks Study identifies long-term trends that can ground nonprofits' strategy and guide their decisions.

Let the data guide your response in this moment

Given the challenges of suddenly working remotely and the overwhelming nature of the current crisis, many nonprofits are scaling back on their communications. Don't. Your cause still matters, even if it's been pushed off the front page. And your supporters still need to hear from you, to know that you value them, and to provide guidance in stressful times.

If you are a social media manager, that means you should be posting more, not less. Consider starting a social media group to help supporters maintain a sense of community — anything from a weekly Zoom check-in to a What's App group for your top donors. Do whatever it takes to stay connected: collect stories, bring joy, reach out to your influencers and ask them to do something meaningful. And there's plenty they can do — the nonprofits in our recently-released study reported that Facebook accounted for 3.5 percent of all online revenue last year and nearly 10 percent of all online giving to health nonprofits.

If you are a fundraiser, by all means, fundraise! Be transparent about how COVID-19 is affecting your cause, your nonprofit, the people you serve. Be honest about your fears for the future and about how much your donors matter. Consider going beyond simple mobile optimization and start looking at tools that make mobile donating easier and more attractive such as Apple Pay and PayPal. As the share of desktop users relative to mobile continues to decline, the average value of a mobile user increases. In fact, users on mobile devices accounted for half of all nonprofit website traffic and a third of all online donations in 2019.

Before the crisis, the key to effective digital fundraising was to communicate timely, emotionally relevant appeals designed to motivate supporters to feel like they can make a difference. That hasn't changed a bit. With many corporations scaling back on digital ads due to COVID-19 disruptions, there is even more space and opportunity for nonprofits to reach bigger audiences. Nonprofits invested 17 percent more in digital ads in 2019 than in 2018. That growth reflects a shift in priorities as well as the effectiveness of digital ads for lead generation, new donor prospecting, retention, and re-targeting.

Find ways to take your offline efforts online. Your annual gala is canceled? You can postpone or skip it this year — or you can find creative ways to let donors mingle, celebrate, and be inspired from the safety of their own homes. Your canvass operation is temporarily derailed? Double down on peer-to-peer texting.

With many in-person events canceled and supporters looking for ways to do socially-distanced good, the Facebook Fundraisers peer-to-peer platform, which generated 97 percent of all Facebook revenue for nonprofits in 2019, could be just what you're looking for to supplement lost revenue. The May 5 #GivingTuesdayNow event is the perfect moment to experiment, but nonprofits should consider creating their own peer-to-peer moments. Just don't forget that if you rely on Facebook Fundraisers, Facebook keeps most of the data, not you.

Remember: you know what your supporters respond to, you know why your cause matters, you know how to do good. Don't let logistics and tech get in the way of applying that knowledge and experience.

Plan for a return to "normal"

This is where we worriers, we planners, we lovers of certainty can really shine. Because while we don't know how much longer we'll be sheltering at home, we know that eventually it will end. Use the time now to be ready for that day.

For many nonprofits, long-term planning is the hardest thing to do well. There's always so much going on now that it's nearly impossible to make a long-term plan, let alone stick to one. But with so many limits on what we can do in this moment, this is the perfect time to re-articulate your vision, create your checklist, and commit to making real progress on the other side of this crisis.

That may mean developing a road map to optimizing your homepage for donor conversion. It may mean a shift toward a fundraising model that prioritizes monthly giving and long-term retention over short-term acquisition. Whatever the big, scary, complicated problem you've been waiting for a chance to address — now is the time to tackle it.

None of us know what the future holds. Right now, most of us don't even know what tomorrow holds. But we don't have to be helpless in the face of uncertainty. We have the power to leverage what we know, to inspire the people who are looking to us for hope and guidance, and to create certainty in this most uncertain of times.

 For more free resources designed to put your nonprofit on a firmer footing, see the complete 2020 Benchmarks Study at mrbenchmarks.com or visit our blog at mrss.com/lab.

(Image credit: GettyImages)

Sarah DiJulio is managing partner at M+R.

Why Philanthropy Can't Forget About CBOs in a Public Health Crisis

April 21, 2020

Gathering_for_justice_march_kidsIt's become clear over the past few weeks that these are unprecedented times. And the fact that philanthropy has stepped up quickly to fill gaps and protect vulnerable populations — the homeless, farm workers, day laborers, people who are incarcerated — is testament to the increased diversity, in terms of both background and experience, inside our philanthropic institutions.

It shows, among other things, that the hundreds of foundation staff members across the country who once worked at community-based organizations (CBOs) before making the transition to philanthropy are being heard. That said, it's critical right now that philanthropy engage with CBOs, bringing us into planning conversations as thought partners who can help reframe who is considered "vulnerable" in an even more inclusive way.

We are still in the phase of this public health crisis in which "vulnerability" is framed in terms of who is getting sick and who is not. Such framing is necessary if we want to "flatten the curve" and prevent the exhaustion of our healthcare resources. But "sick or not sick" does not capture the full scope of the problems people are, or will be, facing. Because of the intimate, community-focused nature of the work we do, CBOs are uniquely positioned to help philanthropy as it thinks about and continues to provide resources to address the long-term impacts of the pandemic.

In our community of Stockton, California, CBOs have taken up the calls of community members and pushed for their concerns in a coordinated way. For instance, Justice League CA, a volunteer organization powered by The Gathering for Justice, advocated forcefully for the city to close its schools in response to the spread of COVID-19 but urged it to continue to provide free lunch and work plans to students and families who needed them. The Gathering also is one of the CBOs working with Mayor Michael Tubbs on Stockton Strong, a city-sponsored webpage that is constantly updated with information about mental health, housing, and food assistance resources, emergency funds, and other critical services. We've also led calls for San Joaquin County to release youth held in juvenile facilities for low-level offenses, as well as adults held in jails and prisons, in order to reduce density among the county's incarcerated population, and we continue to advocate for additional funding of reentry services.

We've always been intentional about making our work accessible to the communities we serve. But CBOs like ours urgently need philanthropy's consistent support as we work to meet communities' short- and long-term needs. Even as the number of COVID infections nationally rises, staying at home is not an option for many Americans — whether it's because their economic situation forces them to live in cramped quarters with others, they are victims of domestic violence, or they must navigate stressors such as drug abuse. Similarly, many of the outlets that young people take for granted like playing sports or music have been put on hold. This can lead to an increased risk of encounters with police as structured time turns into unstructured time — encounters that often are dangerous and even deadly for young black and brown people. Individuals who cycle through our jails, detention centers, halfway houses, foster care group homes, and other institutional environments — where frequent handwashing or keeping a safe distance from others is difficult if not impossible — also are more likely to come into contact with the virus.

Unfortunately, it's becoming clear that, as resources are prioritized for and shifted to address the public health emergency, CBOs aren't going to receive the same amount of funding they've come to rely on. Most CBOs operate on extremely lean budgets, stretching dollars and regularly "making miracles happen" as they work to meet needs in their communities. During the 2008 financial crisis, many CBOs went under, resulting in adverse consequences for low-income people, migrants and undocumented individuals and families, LGBTQIA+ young people, people formerly or currently incarcerated, people with disabilities, and other groups often struggling on the margins of society.

Now, as then, COVID-19 is forcing us to look at how we show up for each other. What does dignity look like when parents working two and often three jobs have to scramble to replace the child care and nutrition provided by local schools, or are forced to stand in line outside a food pantry as bags of desperately needed staples are passed through a door? What does community healing mean when a public health crisis leads to the mass closure of "mom-and-pop" businesses that millions rely on? What does "beloved community" and restorative justice look like as we all try to navigate a period of increased social and economic stress?

As the Federal Reserve and federal government move to support small businesses with lower interest rates and paycheck protection programs, it's essential that philanthropy step up to support CBOs struggling to keep their heads above water. At this critical moment in our history, we urge philanthropic organizations to think of us as not only as vital community resources but as thought partners who know what vulnerable populations want and need. We will do more with less if we have to, but our capacity to help is critical if marginalized communities are to survive this public health crisis. In the coming weeks and months, we need to be with at the table with philanthropy so that the strategies it crafts to help these communities survive are more comprehensive, holistic, and just.

Carmen Perez_Jasmine_Dellafosse_for_PhilanTopicCarmen Perez is president and CEO and Jasmine Dellafosse is senior regional organizer at The Gathering for Justice.

Nonprofits and COVID-19: No Money – No Mission

April 09, 2020

Foodbank_feeding_americaWith more than 12.5 million employees and over 1.3 million organizations, the nonprofit sector is the third largest private-sector employer in the United States, after retail and manufacturing. Nonprofits touch the lives of one in five Americans, helping to feed, heal, shelter, educate, nurture, and inspire them. 

Over the last month or so, however, COVID-19 has laid bare the reality of the nonprofit mantra "No Money – No Mission." In our current volatile environment, some nonprofits will thrive, some will be forced to close, and some — with the help of smart, speedy planning — will survive.  

Nonprofits on the front lines of the coronavirus response, including nonprofit hospitals, social service providers, and food banks, need immediate funds to scale their operations. The good news is that many of these nonprofits will come out of the crisis stronger than ever. 

Other nonprofits are at real risk. Smaller, local nonprofits that have meager or nonexistent reserves are already feeling the strain — especially museums, performing arts groups, botanical gardens, and other cultural organizations that depend on ticket sales and walk-in donations for revenue. Meanwhile, nonprofits that rely on galas, special dinners, and events such as walkathons, bikeathons, "mudfests," and other large-scale gatherings are in trouble. 

Even before the emergence and spread of COVID-19, the situation for most nonprofits was fairly dire. In 2019, the vast majority (92 percent) of nonprofits in the U.S. had revenues of less than $1 million, while approximately half (50 percent) had operating reserves of less than a month. These small and often local nonprofits are especially vulnerable to the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders that have been imposed by governors and mayors across the country — and the deep recession  likely headed our way.

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (February 15-16, 2020)

February 16, 2020

Diamond princessOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Fundraising

Everything in the world of fundraising is based on relationships, or should be, right? Well, sort of, writes Vu Le on his Nonprofit AF blog. "[O]ur reliance on relationships is...problematic, as it often creates and enhances inequity and thus undermines many of the problems we as a sector are trying to address" — for example, by further marginalizing people and communities that don't have the same access to relationships as better-resourced communities and nonprofits, or by reinforcing our natural bias toward people who look, think, and act like us. 

Giving

On the Alliance magazine blog, Alisha Miranda, chief executive of I.G. advisors, considers the pros and cons of curated approaches to giving.

Grantmaking

PEAK Grantmaking has released a set of resources designed to help grantmakers operationalize the second of its five Principles for Peak Grantmaking: Narrow the Power Gap. Within that frame, the organization has three very specific recommendations: build strong and trusting relationships with your grantees; rightsize the grantmaking process and implement flexible practices that reduce the burden on your grantees; and structure grant awards to be more responsive to grantee needs. Elly Davis, a program manager at the organization, shares more here.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (January 2020)

February 02, 2020

Novel-coronavirusA verdict in the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, the growing threat of a global coronavirus pandemic, and the much-anticipated results of the Iowa caucuses — there'll be no shortage of news or headlines to track in the week ahead. But before we turn the page on January 2020 (already?), we thought we'd take a last look at the most popular posts on the blog in the month just passed. Be safe out there.

Interested in contributing to PND or PhilanTopic? We want to hear from you! Drop us a note at Mitch.Naufts@Candid.org.

Nostalgia and Social Change

January 29, 2020

Time-machineRecently, I put my finger on a social sector trend that's been lodged in my brain but that I was having a hard time articulating: call it nostalgia.

Let me give you an example.

In many of the conversations I've had over the last year or two, people usually express a clear interest in changing how we engage with social issues and causes. They want to see Americans give more, volunteer more, vote more, or otherwise be more civically engaged, and they have certain expectations about what that looks like and how it should happen.

In many of these conversations, the person I’m speaking with often "benchmarks" the change they'd like to see, and that benchmark often references the past, as in "Derrick, Americans used to give more," or "Derrick, Americans used to know more about the way our political system works." They often cite statistics to back up their point and then will say, in so many words, "We need to return to…" and will launch into a narrative about a time when "we were less polarized as a country," when "people were more willing to help a stranger in need," when there was no "us and them, only we."

Now, it's not my job to argue with people and point out where they might need to rethink some of their ways of looking at things, and I'm not going to do that here.

Instead, I'll share what I often say at this point in those conversations:

Continue reading »

Weekend Link Roundup (January 25-26, 2020)

January 26, 2020

Trump_Impeachment___Roberts.7Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Fundraising

It's the end of the world as we know it...and most of us feel fine. "Starting this year," writes Jeff Brooks on his Future Fundraising Now blog, "there will be no new Boomers entering the most-likely-to-donate stage of life. Now, they can only leave that stage...the hard way."

Giving

Did you get a few fundraising solicitations over the holidays? Looking for a way to cut back on all the mail/email you receive from charities at the end of the year? Charity Navigator's Kevin Scally and Ashley Post share a few tips designed to help you regain control of your mailboxes.

Health

Writing on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health blog, Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, professor and director of the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, looks at how the latest iteration of the Child Opportunity Index, which she and her team at Brandeis first developed in 2014, can be used to help researchers and policy makers understand how children are growing up today in any neighborhood in the United States.

On the Commonwealth Fund's To the Point blog, Los Angeles Times reporter Noam Levey movingly describes the "lightbulb" moment that happens for people who experience a strong, patient-centered health system.

Continue reading »

Marketing Tech for Nonprofits: A Refresher Course for 2020

January 20, 2020

SocialNetworkIconsTeaserAs we start a new year, marketing has never been more important for nonprofits. And when it comes to growing and expanding your audience, your nonprofit needs the right digital marketing strategy if wants to make progress.

Unfortunately, too many nonprofits struggle to maximize the impact of their marketing efforts c and often it's because those efforts are an incoherent, unfocused mess. An effective digital marketing strategy should accomplish some, if not all, of the following:

  • reach new audiences that support your mission
  • convert more website visitors and/or supporters into donors
  • convince your existing donors to continue their support
  • support other goals such as boosting registrations, securing recurring donations, and obtaining signatures for petitions

Perhaps most importantly, your digital marketing strategy should aim to "make your donor an action hero" (as fundraising consultant Claire Axelrad puts it) by centering his or her experience in your organization's broader work. Donor- and constituent-centric messaging can be extremely effective in motivating support and keeping audiences engaged with your mission. And the best way to ensure it does is to have a clear game plan at the start of the year and/or before each campaign is launched.

Ready to get started? Let's begin with a quick review of some of the marketing tools at your disposal and then look at hot they fit together.

Continue reading »

How Philanthropy Can Benefit From Tapping Into Instagram Communities

January 13, 2020

Instagram_logoJudging from media coverage and online conversations, it's clear we're living in a time of heightened social consciousness ("wokeness"). Whether that sentiment is driven by genuine concern for the fate of the planet and the welfare of others or a simple desire to be part of a collective is unimportant: people being willing to live less selfishly is a good thing.

That said, changing attitudes and ways of seeing the world don't automatically translate into economic or cultural impact. If we hope to drive meaningful action and change the world, this emerging way of seeing things needs to be broadened, deepened, and communicated as widely as possible. And the key to all that is social media.

When you strike the right tone and activate the right influencers, social media can transform a disparate group of strangers into a unified force for good. And if you were asked to pick one social media platform to focus your organization's resources on, it would have to be Instagram. While the image-friendly platform doesn't have the broad reach of Facebook, it's a powerful platform in its own right and has been growing in popularity, especially among millennials and their younger siblings.

Intrigued? Here are some things to keep in mind as your organization starts to think about using  Instagram to bolster its social-change efforts:

Continue reading »

Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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