Jerry’s Trip to Abilene
By John Greco
Originally published on March 15, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
That July afternoon in Coleman, Texas was particularly hot — 104 degrees according to the Walgreen’s Rexall’s thermometer. In addition, the wind was blowing fine-grained Texas topsoil through the house. But the afternoon was still tolerable; even potentially enjoyable. A fan was stirring the air on the back porch; there was cold lemonade; and finally, there was entertainment. Dominoes. Perfect for the conditions. The game requires little more physical exertion than an occasional mumbled comment, “Shuffle ‘em,” and an unhurried movement of the arm to place the tiles in their appropriate positions on the table. All in all, it had the makings of an agreeable Sunday afternoon in Coleman. That is, until my father-in-law suddenly said, “Let’s get in the car and go to Abilene and have dinner at the cafeteria.”
I thought, “What, go to Abilene? Fifty-three miles? In this dust storm and heat? And in an unconditioned 1958 Buick?”
But my wife chimed in with, “Sounds like a great idea. I’d like to go. How about you Jerry?” Since my own preferences were out of step with the rest, I replied, “Sounds good to me,” and added, “I just hope your mother wants to go.”
“Of course I want to go,” said my mother-in-law. “I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”
So into the car and off to Abilene we went. My predictions were fulfilled. The heat was brutal. Perspiration had cemented a fine layer of dust to our skin by the time we arrived. The cafeteria’s food could serve as a first-rate prop in an antacid commercial.
Some four hours and 106 miles later, we returned to Coleman, hot and exhausted. We silently sat in front of the fan for a long time. Then, to be sociable and to break the silence, I dishonestly said, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?”
No one spoke.
Finally, my mother-in-law said, with some irritation, “Well, to tell you the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it much and would rather have stayed here. I just went along because the three of you were so enthusiastic about going. I wouldn’t have gone if you all hadn’t pressured me into it.”
I couldn’t believe it. “What do you mean ‘you’all?” I said. Don’t put me in the ‘you’all’ group. I was delighted to be doing what we were doing. I didn’t want to go. I only went to satisfy the rest of you. You’re the culprits.”
My wife looked shocked. “Don’t call me a culprit. You and Daddy and Mama were the ones who wanted to go. I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to go out in heat like that.”
Her father entered the conversation with one word: “Shee-it.” He then expanded on what was already clear: “Listen, I never wanted to go to Abilene. I just thought you might be bored. You visit so seldom I just wanted to be sure you enjoyed it. I would have preferred to play another game of dominoes and eat the leftovers in the icebox.”
After the outburst of incrimination, we all sat back in silence. Here we were, four reasonably sensible people who — of our own volition — had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in furnace-like heat and a dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in Abilene, when none of us had really wanted to go. To be concise, we’d done just the opposite of what we wanted to do. The whole situation simply didn’t make sense.
— Jerry Harvey, The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management.
My first exposure to this story was as I was unknowingly about to experience it…
Three colleagues and I were all out-of-towners in Memphis for business. After a stressful day at work we had just had a nice dinner. While leaving the restaurant Don suggested “You guys want to continue our discussion while we drive around Memphis a bit? Jude responded with a lukewarm “okay;” I said I’m up for it, even though I was tired and wanted some down time. Then mild-mannered, soft-spoken Laura chimed in with “sounds like we might be taking a trip to Abilene …”
I didn’t get the reference.
Thankfully, Don knew exactly what she meant, and we went back to our respective hotel rooms for the evening.
The lesson never has left me.
That might be because I have since seen teams of smart and committed people going on their own trips to Abilene… and some of these teams included me. None of them, quite obviously, included Laura.
Yes; I have been in Abilene-bound meetings and I have been on Abilene-bound teams. Have you as well? Have you seen some of these trips being taken, and perhaps you might admit your participation as well? … Odd, isn’t it?
Odd, unsatisfying, and unhelpful.
There’s a powerful social dynamic at play here. I need to bone up on what exactly that is, but, for now, I just know that I do not want to take any more trips to Abilene.
I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with my graduate degree in Urban Planning in 1994. In the summer immediately following graduation, I received my first fundraising appeal from the university. So, this story started almost 20 years ago, and it ended last night in an Applebee’s restaurant in Roswell, NM. In my opinion, there are lots and lots of little lessons throughout this story that every fundraiser should internalize.
I graduated at the height of the Chief Illiniwek controversy. For those of you who don’t know the story, it is akin to what the Washington Redskins are currently going through. It is simply a question of whether or not a sports team mascot can be a racist and insensitive symbol.
I came down on the side of the argument that “racial stereotypes dehumanize people“.
So, when my first fundraising letter came in the mail, I responded with a letter asking the university to stop soliciting me until the board of trustees addressed the Chief Illiniwek issue.
Believe it or not, the letters stopped.
Almost 13 years later, The Chief danced his last dance at a football or basketball game.
I couldn’t believe it when the fundraising letters started arriving in my mailbox again. Wow … 13 years later. I kinda thought they would’ve forgotten about me.
Not only did the letters start coming, but it felt like I got something every few months.
And then the phone calls started coming.
And then the email started coming.
I almost caved at first. After all, I kind of felt obligated to give to a fundraising solicitation that was 13 years in the making. Yet, I held off on making my first contribution. Our charitable giving budget was big back then and we had lots of charities we liked to support.
I decided that my alma mater would have to earn it just like the other charities did.
On September 17th of this year, I blogged about the Urban & Regional Planning Department at the University of Illinois and their 100th anniversary. I used their event to talk about how your agency should use anniversaries to engage donors as well as do some fundraising.
In that post, I shared some of the activities and communication strategies being employed by the university. I openly wondered if I would attend the big weekend celebration or make a contribution.
Fast forwarding to last night . . .
I am on the road for business and find myself in Roswell, NM. Across the street from my Holiday Inn Express is an Applebee’s restaurant, which is where I found myself for dinner eating alone and reading a white paper on monthly giving campaign best practices. (LOL . . . isn’t my life glamorous?)
While I’m on the road, I forward my home phone to my cell phone because I hate weeding through tons of voicemail upon returning from the road.
In the middle of my wedge salad, my phone rings. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered it anyway. Of course, it was a student from the university asking if I would like to make a contribution to contribute to a scholarship fund as a tribute to the Urban Planning Department’s 100th anniversary.
Six years of countless mail . . . a steady stream of email . . . and diligent phone calls from students . . . and it finally happened last night.
She asked me specifically for $300. I declined, but countered with my first $100 contribution to the University of Illinois. It is perhaps the hardest earned $100 contribution any non-profit organization has ever received.
Why last night? I have no idea. The spirit moved me? The ambiance of Applebee’s set the stage? The case for support language included support of a scholarship fund and had a tribute angle? Who knows!
I think this story is ripe with lessons for fundraising professions. Here are just a few
- Persistence is an important element for a successful fundraising program
- Donor databases (when used appropriately) are powerful tools
- Multi-channel communication is the wave of the future (e.g. mail, email, phone, etc)
- The case for support is important
- What your agency does on the front line impacts donor perceptions (e.g. Chief Illiniwek impacted my charitable giving; whereas, bad press or not offering certain programs may impact your donors’ appetite for giving)
For the record, I am excited to now see how the university stewards its donors. Stay tuned! ;-)
Are there other lessons that you see from this story. Please use the comment box below to share. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health! (And congrats to the university for a job well done)
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
It wasn’t even a year ago when the CEOs of BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Guidestar and Charity Navigator all signed a letter encouraging donors to stop looking at the concept of “overhead” to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of non-profit organizations. This letter was the culmination of many efforts and lots of voices including Dan Pallotta, who is the author of “Uncharitable”. Bloggers and non-profit professional everywhere heralded this as a campaign that will put an end to what is commonly referred to a “The Overhead Myth“.
Over the years, I have written a number of blogs on this subject including:
- July 17, 2012: “Does your non-profit make a difference? Americans don’t think so!“
- July 18, 2012: “Why is the non-profit sector hamstrung?“
- July 19, 2012: “Stop thinking. Stop planning. Start doing!“
- June 27, 2013: “Ending the ‘overhead myth’ is everywhere“
- July 26, 2013: “Is your non-profit only living for today? Then you need Picasso!“
At the end of my June 27, 2013 post, I wrote the following:
“I personally don’t think anything is going to change as a result of this “overhead myth” campaign push. I think donors are set in their ways. I believe Dan Pallotta was right about the Puritan influence on our culture. I don’t think “culture” and “values” and “habits” are easy to change. AND I think talk is cheap.”
As you can imagine, I was roundly criticized for being a “negative, glass-half-empty” kind of person. That’s OK . . . I have thick skin.
Besides, I knew I was right which always goes a long way when it comes to swallowing criticism. ;-)
As they say, the proof is in the pudding which is what inspired today’s blog post. The pudding, of course, is an article that washed into my email inbox from LinkedIn on November 30, 2013. The author was John Wasik and the article was titled “Digging Into Non-Profit Finances: Four Things To Check“.
In his post, Wasik talked about illegitimate non-profit organizations and the lack of real oversight for our sector. He shared four tips with readers/donors on what they should look for before making a charitable contribution.
Yep . . . you guessed it. He points to the classic definition of “overhead“. Here is what he said:
“What percentage of the non-profit’s income went towards it mission? This is also a key red flag. This percentage is also known as ‘the overhead ratio,’ which tells you how much was spend on non-program expenses such as fundraising and administration. A fairly well-run non-profit will spend at least 80% on its mission.”
The truth of the matter is that this morning’s blog post isn’t really a victory lap or an “I told you so…” article. The reality is that I am annoyed at my fellow non-profit professionals.
Did we really think that an open letter to the world was going to suddenly change everything?
I certainly hope not!
As I said back in June, “I don’t think “culture” and “values” and “habits” are easy to change. AND I think talk is cheap.”
All of this leads me to wonder . . . what have you been doing on the front line to educate your donors and bring an end to “the overhead myth“?
Ohhhhhhhhh . . . you don’t know what to do about it? Well, here are a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing:
- Post the open letter from BBB, Guidestar and Charity Navigator to your website.
- If your agency runs a blog aimed at a donor audience, then blog about it.
- During your year-end stewardship meetings with your top donors, figure out a way to talk about it.
- Organize a focus group of board members around reading Dan Pallotta’s book “Uncharitable” and talking about it.
- Stop highlighting and reinforcing “the overhead myth” in your annual report documents with pie charts showing how much you spend on programming vs. administration vs. fundraising. STOP!
OK . . . I got the ball rolling for you. Please scroll the down and use the comment box below to share additional ideas with your fellow non-profit professionals.
Not only can we learn from each other, but we can also inspire each other to solve bigger problems together. Please take 30 seconds out of your busy day to share one idea. Please?
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Keep your non-profit email marketing out of the Trash Can
By Rose Reinert
Chapter three of “The Social Media Bible” by Lon Safko did not just hit home for me, but it provided some phenomenal insight on how to increase the likelihood that your e-news will make it past the Trash Can and make an impact.
E-mail is so common, sometimes its power as a marketing tool is overlooked as the new and flashy social media trends continue to emerge.
What are the benefits of utilizing e-mail for marketing? Let’s take a look:
- What other marketing medium allows you to reach 5,000 to 50,000 of your potential customers for (nearly) free or a very small cost?
- What other marketing tool allows you to count how many impressions, responses, conversations, and pass- alongs your e-mail had?
Well, there you have it! This e-newsletter is important, can make a difference, and is trackable and affordable. Eureka!
But wait . . . there are tricks to the trade that you need to learn in order to maximize the effectiveness of your agency’s email strategy.
Content is King
The most important question in all marketing is one we broached in last week’s blog – WIIFM — “What’s In It for Me?”
With e-mail you have to convert the WIIFM for your reader quickly, and I mean within seconds.
Many times, just with a glance of the subject line, you are asking your recipient to quickly calculate their investment in reading your message.
Think about your organization, and how you communicate with donors. Every time you ask them to open a piece of direct mail, look at an e-mail or visit your website, there is a transaction. It is not a one-time thing either, every time you have to convince them of their WIIFM.
This entire concept is presented by Safkow in this passage:
“Suppose for some reason, that you really wanted to read the newspaper advertisements today. Your eyes are scanning over the pages of many ads, one of which catches your eye. You decide to not turn the page, but to look at the heading for that ad. How long do you think you are willing to spend to determine if the WIIFM is worth your stopping to read further? A study showed that people are willing to invest or spend only 1.54 seconds of time to make that determination.”
Wow! As I read on, Safko unveiled some great information to help maximize my e-mail efforts.
Your subject line has to convince your recipient in roughly 1.5 seconds whether he should move on to the next stage of investment.
If they decide to continue reading, you now have a whopping 5 seconds! Although much more time than 1.5 seconds, it only allows a person to read about one sentence.
So, within the first seconds of reading your e-mail message, your reader must find WIIFM to remain engaged. If you successfully do this, you move into the third phase which is conversion.
Your reader is likely to read on and follow your call to action, or click-through to your website.
Always remember . . . your e-mail message should always be about building and strengthening a relationship with the reader.
Practice makes Perfect
As you work to perfect your strategies, it is important to take some time to test it through what Safko calls segmenting.
Segmenting is no more than splitting your distribution list. Split the list into five and send the exact same body of the message, but with five different subject lines. When doing this, remember to:
- Pay close attention to the nouns, verbs and adjectives you use.
- Take your time and be deliberate.
- Send it out and see if there was a difference in the open rates or click-through rates.
Next, test the first line, again taking care with how you craft it. See the results and keep doing what seems to work.
Finally, test some different times of the day in sending the e-mails.
Ultimately, after about a year, you will have perfected your delivery to maximize your efforts and engage your readers.
Sprinkling the Pixie Dust
By John Greco
Originally published on March 25, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog
I was very new to the company.
I was in a meeting with the regional vice president and the regional staff. The region was underperforming. We were a few months into the new fiscal year, and we were already trending far short of our productivity target. It was time to act, to get back on track.
And then I heard the action that I immediately knew had absolutely, positively no leverage.
“We’ll just have to raise everybody’s goal then!” the RVP spouted.
Huh? I thought I had misheard. Raising a goal will help improve performance when performance is already short of the goal?
How can we make sense of this? I only have one theory —the RVP and staff must believe that his management team and perhaps his associates are not putting forth their best effort. Somehow raising the goal to increase the gap between actual and expected will kick everyone in gear, and boost performance. It would be the increased dissonance that would provoke improved productivity.
I wouldn’t bet on it, would you?
What I think was really going on (I didn’t have this insight then) is that RVP and his staff didn’t have any idea how to improve performance. They felt helpless; powerless. But they did have the power to set the bar. So they did what they could.
So, when on the national conference call he was asked about the disturbing early trend, he could confidently say: “Yes, I’m on top of that; I’ve already taken action.”
Action without any leverage. Might as well sprinkle a little pixie dust!
But, beyond the fact that there’s no way that action will prove effective, there’s another consequence, a more insidious, more harmful, consequence.
This kind of leadership produces a loss of confidence; it produces a loss of hope by employees in the ability of their leaders to make decisions and take actions that make a difference.
So, if you’re with me, what started as a leader and his staff being helpless to correct underperformance led to an action that actually produced a helplessness in his people.
Less than zero leverage. Not no effect; negative effect.
Pass the pixie dust please?
Have you ever heard of the “dowsing“? No? Then what about “divining,” “doodlebugging” or “water witching“? Oh, come on . . . I am sure you have heard these terms, but you probably don’t recall. All of these words describe a process whereby someone uses a Y-shaped stick to locate groundwater. In fact, sometimes people use this process to locate gems, ores, metals, oil, and even graves. Don’t believe me . . . click here and read about it on Wikipedia.
If you want to see what water witching looks like, you can click on this YouTube video and check it out.
For the record, there is no scientific evidence that proves that water witching works.
I’ve been thinking about water witching a lot for the last few days after a conversation with a fellow fundraising professional. Here was the gist of that discussion:
- Wow! We have lots of money in our community.
- I need help identifying who has that money.
- I need access to tools like WealthEngine and Target Analytics to identify who has money?
- Once I get that prospect list of wealthy individuals put together, I will ask all of them for money and life will be good.
What I am bristling about this morning is the assertion that affluent people will give to you just because you’ve identified them and asked them to share their wealth with you.
I hate to be the party pooper here. But neither tech tools or a Y-shaped stick will ever take the place of good old fashion relationship building.
Here is a recipe I suggest you consider when it comes to your prospect identification strategy:
- Use your network, your current donors’ network, and your board members’ circle of influence to identify other individuals and companies who like your agency’s mission.
- Sit down with those individuals and companies. Talk about your mission, vision, goals, programs, outcomes and impact. Tell them stories about your clients and the impact you’re having on their lives.
- Invite these prospects to tour your facility. Help them see you in action.
- Ask these prospects to get involved. Join a committee. Do some volunteering.
- Invite them to one of your special event fundraisers. And down the road engage them in your annual campaign pledge drive.
- After these people renew their contribution and support a few times, then you may want to invest in a donor screening or donor profiling project using WealthEngine or Target Analytics.
Oh heck . . . if you don’t want to follow this simple, sound and proven advice, then hire me. I am happy to be your water witch. Just give me a moment to run out back and pick a fresh Y-shaped stick off of my magic fundraising tree.
How does your agency find new prospective donors? There are many different strategies. Please use the comment box below and share. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Events, Grants and Individual Giving
By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofitevolution blog
I was having breakfast this week with a friend and fellow consultant and we were discussing resource development efforts, including events and grants. By now I’m sure you are well aware, I’m not a huge fan of organizations hosting multiple events. Events are expensive, labor intensive and don’t usually generate a lot of income.
I can hear you out there saying “No Dani, they’re fun!” And they are, at least some of them are.
One signature event a year is a wonderful way to engage new donors, connect with current donors and showcase your programs while raising significant money. Even signature events that don’t raise significant money may still be a good use of your resources. However, more than one signature event is too much.
More than one event (two, if you must) may be a sign that your leadership, board or executive, is reluctant to raise money in other ways.
Leadership that doesn’t want to embark on an annual appeal or a major donor campaign will often advocate more grants be written or additional events be introduced. Not only will more events not raise more money, more events will cannibalize your signature event and may yield less income for more work. Any process that doesn’t get you to your goal is a bad process.
“The Executive Director is the Chief Development Officer” of any non profit that seeks contributed income. (Erik Anderson Donor Dreams blog) Whether they want to or not; whether they’re good at it or not; whether they have a development director whose job it is or not, the Exec is still responsible for fund raising and one of the responsibilities of a governing board is to raise money. Neither is a role that can be abdicated.
Events are often 5% to 15% of an agency’s budget and generally net 50% of what they cost, sometimes less. Most attendees would be appalled to know that, but it’s true. It’s too high! I recommend events net 75% of what they cost. There are other, better, avenues to raise money.
Grants, which are often 30% to 50% of an agency’s budget, more if they receive United Way funding, are one way. Yet, they too come with a cost. Most agencies get somewhere between 50% to 80% of the grants they submit. That means that the time spent on writing the 20% to 50% of the grants that don’t get funded is time lost. For the grants that are secured, there are reports to be written, dollars to be tracked, objectives to reach and programming to introduce. All of which is as it should be, and none of which is without cost.
As I mentioned in the Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising post, according to “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process” (1999) individual giving offers the highest rate on return for the lowest cost (5% to 10%) to the organization. It is also the largest post of money given in this country and usually only reflective of the percentage special event income in most agencies’ budgets. In other words, 80% of the philanthropic dollars in this country are given by individuals yet 10% to 15% of most agencies budgets are received from individuals. Like the post says, “opportunity is knocking. Get the door!”
Your board, staff and major donors will be the foundation of any individual giving program and the program should be introduced in just that order: Board giving should come first with the Board setting and then meeting a giving goal. Staff should then be asked and then major donors. Individual giving is about one on one relationships that are cultivated — and later, stewarded — and require intentional asks for specific dollar amounts.
Once those asks are made, as mentioned in the Sustainability by Descending Order of Love post:
“If you have the time and the volunteers, consider asking your larger mid level donors and prospects in person. Those with the potential to become major donors should also be asked in person as should anyone who is committed to your organization. While we follow the path of descending order of love in planning, we love all of our donors equally. If someone would like to see you in person, even if it will be a small gift, go. It is fun to thank someone in person and is worth keeping a committed donor engaged. When that is not practical, the next best thing is a phone bank or phone calls.”
There are a lot of ways to raise money and some will generate more money in less time than others. Nonprofit leaders are busy. Get the best bang for your buck and get on the individual giving path. It will be scary, and also worth it!
What have you done to increase individual giving? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email.
The turkey has been consumed (and so have the leftovers). Black Friday came and went with only a few bumps and bruises for Americans. Cyber Monday also came and went with consumer dollars flying all over the information super highway. Are you ready for one last hurdle? Today, is #GivingTuesday, which is the day that the non-profit sector is trying to establish in the minds of Americans as the day to make online charitable contributions of time and money to your favorite charities.
Two years ago, DonorDreams blog featured this ePhilanthropy inspired holiday in its “Mondays with Marissa” series with a post titled “Five ways your non-profit can participate in #GivingTuesday“. In 2013, we spotlighted this special day in a post titled “Is your non-profit ready for the homestretch of 2013?“
This holiday is so new that I almost forgot about it this morning until I opened my email inbox.
My first #GivingTuesday solicitation came from an organization named A Safe Haven. Their email highlights a “challenge” that ends tonight to instill a sense of urgency among its donors.
The second email solicitation this morning came from Mikva Challenge. This organization is promoting a link to a video featuring one of their members. The video highlights their client participating in a program they call Project Soapbox.
Out of curiosity, I went to Google this morning and did a search on #GivingTuesday. Believe it or not, there are three paid ads featured at the top of my screen for the following agencies:
My magic crystal ball broke a long time ago, and I normally have a hard time predicting the future. However, it looks like #GivingTuesday, which is only a few years old, is starting to take root.
Of course, none of my favorite local charities appear to be participating this year. As I soaked this thought in, it got me wondering:
- Is your agency participating in #GivingTuesday this year? If so, what do your efforts look like?
- What strategies are you using to attract online donors?
- Did you participate last year? If so, what did you learn and what changes did you make between last year and this year?
- If you decided not to participate this year, why not? What went into making that decision for you?
- If you are looking at next year as your first foray into #GivingTuesday, what do you need to do in order to get your agency well positioned?
- Are you doing other things online at the end of the year that don’t correlate to #GivingTuesday?
Please scroll down and use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences.
Here’s to your health! (And Happy #GivingTuesday)
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC