Will your non-profit be a ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ during Trump era?
Two days ago, I published a post titled “What will Trump’s impact be on the non-profit sector?” and I followed it up yesterday with “How is Trump ushering in renaissance for non-profit sector?” Today, I’ll end this series by talking about your non-profit and sharing a few readiness tips for your consideration.
President Trump is famous for talking about “winner” and “losers.” He is also a self-described conservative who campaigned on shrinking the size of the federal government. In the administration’s first budget to Congress, there are a number of programs he proposed reducing or eliminating that has a direct impact on non-profit organizations. In just the last few days, I’ve heard my clients chattering about the following few proposed cuts:
- 21st Community Learning Centers
- Meals on Wheels
- Community Development Block Grants
As our society enters a new era where government starts tightening its belt, those non-profit organizations that are heavily government funded and have little experience with private sector philanthropy will likely be “losers” in my estimation.
Similarly, if your organization has strong relationships with individual donors, then I believe you are well positioned to be a “winner.” I believe this is especially true because of the reasons I provided in yesterday’s blog post.
However, you may want to start changing the way you speak to your donors in this new era. As Tom Ahern is famous for saying, properly utilizing the right emotional triggers will be your key to success. You won’t simply be able to get a away with shouting the word “Trump” and sitting back to watch the money roll in.
The following few sections are just a few thoughts I’ve had on how you can start tapping into a new generation of engaged donors.
Increase your non-solicitation communications to donors
Donors want to know how those you serve are being impacted by the changing world around us. So, help them see it.
Doing an informal audit of your last few newsletters is a great place to start. Pull those communications tools out of that dusty archive file and ask yourself:
- How much of your content is about your organization (e.g. upcoming fundraisers, your organization’s needs, etc)?
- How many times are you using the word “WE” and “US” versus “YOU”?
- Do your stories focus on how your donors are heros? Or do they talk about your successes?
- Is your content focused on seeing the world through your clients eyes or your eyes?
If you are talking more about your organization, then you want to change that practice and figure out how to make your donors the hero and reasons for those successes.
More importantly, check to see how many of your donor communication pieces are solicitation oriented compared to cultivation and stewardship oriented. You will want to change that ratio to lean more towards sending more cultivation and stewardship pieces (with small hints here and there about where the donor can contribute).
Talk about client needs and not about Trump
It is easy to point at Trump and blame everything on him. It is “shorthand” and he is an emotional conduit for some donors’ emotions. However, it is too easy for people to shrug their shoulders and say, “He’s the President. I’m just a little donor. I’ll try to make a difference in a few years when I go to the ballot box.”
It is a far better strategy to highlight the issues donors care passionately about and pull on those emotional heartstrings. Sure, feel free to point at policy changes being proposed that you feel will worsen the situation, but don’t rely on it as your case for support.
Explain how one donor’s contribution can and will make a difference in the lives of those you serve.
Pay more attention to small and mid-size donors
Over the last decade we’ve seen politicians prove this point. How much money did Obama, Sanders and even Trump fundraise in smaller donations of $25, $50 and $100 gifts? They talked about it constantly, and it is time non-profits start following suit.
After all, today’s small annual campaign donor is tomorrow’s lead gift in your capital or endowment campaign.
This means evolving your resource development plan. Don’t add more special events, which are labor intensive and costly. Look at peer-to-peer solicitation opportunities such as annual campaigns, monthly giving programs, a-thon style events, targeted mail and online peer-to-peer giving opportunities. These things don’t happen organically. They require thought and strategy. So, take the time to think it through on paper with your board members and fundraising volunteers.
Add more personal contact with donors
It is easy to send a piece of mail or an email to large groups of donors and potential supporters. However, there is a lot of that going on from many different organizations. Information overload is a real thing. So, tweak your approach to increase the effectiveness of your message.
Don’t stop sending mail and email. But think about adding some in-person opportunities. Here are just a few thoughts:
- Host a series of town hall meetings focused on the issues your clients face
- Host special (e.g. exclusive) donor receptions to meet those you serve and let them tell the story
- Invite donors to periodic coffee meetings with your organization’s executive director to talk about the issues
Encourage donor advocacy
Remind your donors they can and will make a difference by contacting your local, state and federal legislators about issues impacting your clients. Send out periodic notes talking about proposed policy changes that directly effect your clients. Encourage them to attend meetings, pick-up the phone or write a letter. And make it easy for them to do so. (off-handedly mentioning that a contribution will also help might not be a bad idea, too)
A note to those non-profits who are heavily government funded
OK, your organization might not be experienced in doing these things. You might be one of those organizations I indicated earlier in this post that are heading for that “loser” label.
Don’t fret! It isn’t too late to change your approach.
Here are a few suggestions you might want to look at:
- Gather your board members together and develop a short list of individuals who you think are like-minded and supporters of your issues
- Pick one or two of the things I mentioned above and start executing those strategies. Start small and make adjustments as you go
- With your volunteers, develop a small resource development plan that adds two or three small individual giving strategies. Start small and be realistic. It might be as simple as sending targeted mail to 50 individuals a few times a year and hosting a simple fundraising event. Dedicate yourself to growing it steadily over the years.
If you need help convincing board members, I suggest giving them a copy of the book Who Moved My Cheese, encouraging them to read it, and facilitate a boardroom discussion about what it means for your organization. There is wisdom in your boardroom. Trust me. All you need to do is tap into it.
Here’s to your healthy!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Another book that every non-profit professional should own
For those of you who are keeping score, it has been three straight days of posts. And the entire week has been “all Mazarine … all of the time!” I think it should be fairly obvious at this point that I’ve become a big fan and I think you should be, too.
Let’s take a moment to recap where we’ve been and where we’re going:
- Two days ago, I reviewed one of Mazarine’s books in a post titled “One book that every non-profit professional should own“
- Yesterday, I shared with you a virtual interview with Mazarine. In that post, she talked about her upcoming Fundraising Career Conference, which does not require any travel or lodging expenses because it is an online virtual conference
- Today, if you keep scrolling down, I will talk briefly about another one of Mazarine’s books that I absolutely loved
- In a few months (sometime this summer), there will be a fourth and final blog. I will share with you another virtual interview with Mazarine. We will talk all about her other online virtual conference in September — Nonprofit Leadership Summit
Are you new to the fundraising field? Do you fundraise for a small to mid-sized organization? Are you expected to know a little bit about a lot of fundraising things? Is your resource development plan full of diverse revenue strategies? Then I think I’ve found a great book for you — The Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising.
In fact, if you are an experienced fundraising professional, who has already raised millions of dollars throughout your career, then I suspect you, too, might really appreciate this book. (Teaser . . . I’ll explain this a little more later in the post)
From the very beginning in the foreword section of the book, Mazarine captured my sense of curiosity when she wrote:
“Why I wrote the Wild Woman’s Guide to Fundraising?
- The world needs more realistic optimists
- There are so many good causes, and so few fundraisers
- You can change the world with these tools, and the world needs some big changers right now
I wrote this book to be a fun primer to fundraising I never had.”
Seriously? How could I not keep reading?
- I wanted to know more about what she meant by “realistic optimists” as it pertains to the fundraising field.
- I completely agree with her about too few fundraising professionals and the power to change the world using a philanthropy paradigm.
- But most of all, I was super curious about how she intended to transform a book about fundraising into a “fun primer.“
Most of the fundraising books I’ve read throughout the years, immediately start off in chapter one with technical, wonky resource development concepts. With all due respect to those authors (and I really love those books, too), it can sometimes sound like Ben Stein’s teacher character in the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
But Mazarine started off completely different.
- Chapter 0 (not a typo … indeed she has a chapter zero) is titled “All About YOU! Your Family Background“
- Chapter 1 immediately tackles the myth that fundraising is about money. She titled this chapter “Development is about communication“
- Chapter 2 is about finding a fundraising job that it a right fit for you. And even if you already have a great job, I think you might find some of the resources in this chapter really fun and helpful (e.g. link to her presentation on ‘your fundraising personality,’ instructions on how to write stories using a ‘What-How-Wow structure,’ etc)
I expected the first three chapters to be about special events, grant writing and annual campaigns and trudging onward into major gifts, capital campaigns and planned giving. This formula is fairly typical for most entry level fundraising books. But Mazarine is far from typical. She threw me a curveball, and the first three chapters were all about ME. Needless to say, I was hooked. Go figure. LOL
It is worth noting that Mazarine tips her hand by starting her book in this way. The fact that the first three chapters are all about ME and not about her (or about fundraising strategy) sends a clear signal that her teachable point of view on resource development aligns with Penelope Burk’s Donor-Centered Fundraising books and school of thought.
Before I give you the wrong impression about this book, there is lots of material written on traditional fundraising topics. Here is a list of just a few chapters (and yes, these are her actual chapter titles):
- Building Relationships: How to find & cultivate donors
- Events (AKA Kicking Ass and Throwing Parties!)
- Appealing (Ever want to write beautiful letters for a living?)
- Phone-a-thons (Yo, what’s your ring-tone?)
- Putting it all together: Your Wild Development Plan!
There are 17 chapters in all. None of the chapters are very long. Every chapter is packed full of suggestions and resources. Most importantly, nothing reads like an Econ 101 textbook (not that there is anything wrong with that).
There is a lot about this book that I like, but the one thing that I LOVE is how she distills big ideas down into simple nuggets and surrounds them with easy to implement suggestions. It is what makes this book so AWESOME for new fundraising professionals.
As I teased earlier at the start of this blog post, I think this book is a treasure for experienced fundraising professionals in the following ways:
- It is a fun way to “refresh” your point of view on many fundraising ideas (and there are links to resources in this book that I appreciated as a long-time fundraising professional)
- It is a great resource to use during a new employee orientation, especially if the newbie to your development department is kinda new to the profession or nonprofit sector
- It is a great resource to give to the volunteers serving on your organization’s resource development committee
Learn more about Mazarine Treyz
If you can’t tell, I’ve quickly become a fan of Mazarine Treyz. She is one of the more genuine people who I’ve met in my travels, and I’ve quickly become a fan. Like me, Mazarine is a blogger and you can learn a lot about her by visiting her blog and sifting through her posts. You can find her at Wild Woman Fundraising. But if you do nothing else, you should go buy a copy of this book. I promise that you won’t regret it!
Are we starting to see year-end solicitation letters v2.0?
A few years ago I noticed some of the letters being sent to me by non-profit organizations were getting less wordy. In fact, these next generation donor communications pieces were mostly featuring a big photograph of someone/something that was supposedly mission-focused.
At first, I really didn’t like this new approach to donor communications. Don’t get me wrong . . . I disliked the blah-blah-blah letters. Like most readers, I would read the old solicitation letters like this:
- Salutation (e.g. did they spell my name right?)
- First few sentences (e.g. how much do they want and what’s the case for support this time?)
- Skip to the signature (e.g. do I know the person who signed the letter?)
- Post script (e.g. don’t know why, but I always read the P.S.)
- If this five second review hooks me, then I’ll go back to the beginning and start skimming (honestly probably paying more attention to bullets, highlighted text and anything in bold/italics)
It was even worse with gift acknowledgement letters, which I would read like this:
- Salutation (e.g. did they spell my name right?)
- Did they get my pledge or gift amount right? (e.g. this is for the IRS and I can’t afford an error)
- Is there a personal notation on the letter (e.g. did my gift merit a little love or was this just a transaction?)
- Is the boilerplate IRS verbiage about the value of any goods or services being received by me from the non-profit as part of my contribution correctly listed (e.g. as I said earlier . . . I don’t wanna tangle with the IRS)
The first few times I received what I am describing as “next generation donor communication pieces,” I simply didn’t like it because it represented change. It threw me off my reading routine, which is silly reason to dislike something. Right?
However, the first time one of these letters was used to acknowledge my contribution by a local non-profit organization, I was upset for a few reasons:
- In their haste to use as few words as possible, they got wrong the boilerplate IRS verbiage about the value of any goods or services being received (this was a technical error)
- I felt slighted because it was as if “my gift didn’t even rise to the level of deserving a handful of kind words” (by the way, the letter couldn’t have been more than three or four sentences with a giant cute picture of a client)
And then . . . I changed my mind after recently receiving the following year-end solicitation letter from my alma mater
Three short paragraphs. One large picture. Lots of wonky ways to give my money.
Here is what appealed to me and changed my mind about this style of donor communications:
- The picture took me back to my college years. I know exactly where those four students are standing. I’ve stood there before. I suspect that I felt that same way they appear to be feeling. This picture created an immediate emotional connection for me in a way that words never have.
- The logo at the top of the letter also created an immediate emotional connection. It is a picture of the iconic Alma Mater statue. For many students, this artwork at the entrance to the Quad symbolizes many things (e.g. a sense of welcoming, nurturing, school pride, etc). Many students have fond memories attached to this statue.
- The shortened fundraising verbiage cut to the bottom line and the three most important things to me and most other donors: a) the university is grateful for my last contribution; b) my gift made a difference in the life of a student; and c) they want me to continue my support. All three of these messages are emotional in natural (e.g. they love me, they flatter me, they want me back).
- The multitude of choices is appealing (e.g. cash, credit, EFT/ACH, monthly giving options, gift restriction options). This makes me feel “in charge” and not like I’m giving money to a large, faceless organization that is going to do whatever it pleases with my financial contribution. Again, another emotional message (e.g. providing choice implies trust and respect in our society)
I’ve been a fan of Tom Ahern for years. I think he is one of the smartest donor communications experts in the field. In his videos and e-newsletters he often takes about the the six most powerful emotional triggers that marketers use to get people to do “something” like purchase a product, vote for a candidate, make a charitable contribution, etc.
Just in case you’re wondering, here are those six emotional triggers:
Tom also talks about the 13 strongest words used by marketing professionals. Here is a list of those words:
I love Tom, but I do cheat on him from time-to-time by reading other donor communications and direct mail experts like Mal Warwick. 😉
The following are five positive triggers that marketers use to emotionally move us to do something:
As you review these lists of emotional triggers and powerful words offered by some of the smartest thought-leaders on this topic, can you identify which trigger the University of Illinois wove throughout its letter? Can you see how they did it? If you look really hard, you’ll be surprised at how much more is actually going on in this very short and powerful letter.
Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and observations. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
How you can stop the vicious cycle of trading donations with your friends
Just the other day, I found myself in a boardroom facilitating a training on how to make a textbook-perfect, face-to-face solicitation. Discussion topics focused on all the usual suspects including fears, begging, best practices for getting on someone’s calendar, the 12-step process for making the actual ask, etc etc etc. However, at the end of the training and facilitated discussion, one board volunteer asked the following question:
“If you ask friends to contribute to this organization, then how can you stop them from coming back and asking for reciprocity for their favorite charities?“
I get this question all of the time, but I’ve never blogged about it. So, I thought I’d tackle this issue today by providing a few simple solicitation tips/tricks/suggestions that I’ve seen work.
Stop worrying about it!!!!
Does “quid pro quo solicitation” occur? Sure it does. Does it happen often? Well, it depends on how you solicit other people. However, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you think it does. This is a classic example of how fear manifests itself and makes things seem bigger than what they actually are.
I titled this section “Stop worrying about it” because control is an illusion. There is nothing you can do that will stop your friends from doing anything in this world, which includes asking you to make a pledge, buy some cookies or volunteer a little time.
This is a mindset issue, which is why I encourage you to start with changing how you look at this.
Of course, there are other things you can do to minimize how often you get asked for charitable reciprocity. So, please keep reading . . .
Stop asking for “favors”
Over the years, I’ve heard volunteers say all of the following things when trying to fundraise:
- “Hey, I need a favor. Can you find some time in your busy calendar to sit down with me to talk about [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity]“
- “Thanks for agreeing to sit down with me. You know I wouldn’t be here asking for a contribution if I wasn’t an expectation for board members to do fundraising. I would consider it a favor if you’d make a pledge to support [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity]. Anything you can do would be appreciated.”
- “Do you remember the time when you asked me to make a pledge to [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity]? I need to call in that favor because I’m raising money for [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity].”
If you stop asking for “favors” during the solicitation process, the number of “return favor” requests will go down. It really is that simple.
Don’t beg for money. Frame your ask as a social investment in the community.
Make your passions known
When soliciting friends to make a contribution to your favorite non-profit organization, make sure to share your commitment and passion right before making the official ask for support. It might sound something like this:
- “As you know, my non-profit passions are 100% all about [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity], which is why much of our household’s charitable giving is dedicated to this organization. I wouldn’t be asking for your consideration today if I wasn’t all in.”
- “I believe so strongly in [insert name of organization and their fundraising activity] that this is only one of a very small number of charities we support and focus our philanthropy on. We wouldn’t be asking other people to invest if it wasn’t something we believed strongly in.“
Sharing your commitment during the solicitation call does two important things from a psychological perspective:
- It is a reminder to yourself that you’re personally invested and not begging for money and definitely not asking for favors
- It is a direct message to the person you’re soliciting that your philanthropic priorities are set, which is a subtle message about what you may or may not consider in the future if they choose to solicit you on behalf of other charities
Be prepared to say NO
Saying NO is a difficult thing for most people. It usually comes with a number of fears. However, if you are afraid of friends coming back to you to leverage their contribution to your favorite organization for your contribution to their favorite organization, then you need to start practicing the art of saying NO.
Of course, the challenge is saying NO the right way.
The following are key messages you’ll deliver during that quid pro quo solicitation call with your friend:
- You’ll remind them of what you said during your solicitation visit with them about your philanthropic portfolio (e.g. priorities, preferences and household charitable giving budget)
- You’ll remind them that you asked them to support your charity of choice because you felt like it was a good fit with their philanthropic passions.
- You’ll gently tell them that you didn’t ask them for “a favor,” but rather offered them an opportunity to invest in a great organization with a great mission and community impact.
- You’ll appreciate them for their passion for their organization. You’ll ask them to share their stories and ask questions along the way.
- If you end up saying NO to a financial contribution to your friend’s charity of choice, hopefully you’re willing/able to engage in a brainstorming session about who else in your shared social circle might be willing to consider involvement or financial contribution.
Saying NO involves an explanation, compassion, and gentleness; but it isn’t as hard as you think. While this might sound silly, I suggest practicing this conversation in the mirror or in your head in order to become comfortable. If you need more advice on saying NO, I suggest clicking through to Alexandra Franzen’s blog post — How to Say No to Anyone (Even a Good Friend).
Have you had experience with charitable reciprocity and your friends? How have you dealt with it? Please us the comment box to share your experiences, thoughts and practices. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Working with fundraising-phobic non-profit boards
Organizational culture is a difficult dynamic to change. After all, birds of a feather flock together, right? It is for this reason that simply changing the people sitting around your boardroom table is likely a very difficult strategy to employ (albeit not impossible or wrong). While this strategy is the most commonly suggested one by non-profit consultants, I recently found comfort and inspiration from Susan Howlett’s book Boards on Fire! Inspiring Leaders to Raise Money Joyfully.
In Howlett’s easy to read paperback book, she recounts a story about working with a board that was resistant to fundraising. After trying everything, she simply asked everyone if they would be willing to call two of their friends and engage in a discussion about:
- why they decided to serve on the organization’s board of directors
- what the organization’s mission is and what it does
- a recent organizational success story
At the end of the phone call or coffee meeting, board members were coached to ask their friend if they would mind receiving periodic updates (e.g. email, phone call or in-person visit) about what is going on.
If the board volunteer’s friend was agreeable, then in the subsequent months board volunteers were provided the following shareable things:
- short emails with snippets of good news or links to online articles about the organization
- requests to do something on behalf of the organization (e.g. call legislators or city council representatives)
- invitations to attend something (e.g. facility tour, reception, etc)
In the end, Howlett’s strategy changed board culture and resulted in what she describes as a “board on fire.”
If you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend adding this book to your summer reading list. I suspect it will be a game changer for you if you’re grappling with the question of “how to inspire and engage your board in fundraising success?”
After reading this joyful little book, I was reminded of the following basic truisms:
- fundraising is a learned skill and not something people are born to do
- engagement (e.g. cultivation) is important to fundraising volunteers because when it comes time to asking for money it feels like the pre-solicitation groundwork has been laid (e.g. they’ve earned the right to ask for money)
- cultivation doesn’t happen without significant staff support (e.g. feeding volunteers materials to share, organizing informational house parties, etc)
If your board is resistant to the idea of fundraising, I encourage you to first take a good hard look in the mirror and ask yourself the following questions:
- What boardroom trainings and generative discussions have you helped add to the board meeting agenda and support?
- What cultivation materials have you provided to board volunteers with instructions on how to share with others? (e.g. stories, videos, articles, advocacy opportunities, newsletters, annual reports, etc)
- What cultivation events have you organized? (e.g. lunch-n-learns, facility tours, house parties, etc)
- What individualized coaching have you done with especially resistant board volunteers? (e.g. teaching others how to tell better stories)
- How many cultivation visits have you gone with board volunteers on to model effective storytelling and information sharing? (e.g. modeling for others how to tell better stories)
I know it might be a bitter pill to swallow, but the reason your board might not be excited about fundraising could be because you aren’t excited about it or you aren’t supporting them effectively.
If you have done these things, you might want to ask yourself a different question, “How could I tweak these strategies to make them more effective?”
Have you had success in changing your boardroom culture around the idea of fundraising? If so, what strategies did you employ to create a “board on fire?” Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Is it time to eliminate the charitable giving tax deduction?
Let’s face it. Our government is broke. We The People have accumulated almost $20 trillion in debt. As government leaders wrestle with this issue, the non-profit sector continues to rally from time-to-time insisting every other sacred cow in the tax code should be scrutinized except for our own. Putting aside the fairness and hypocrisy questions, I’m left wondering: 1) why do we cling to this entitlement so strongly, 2) what is the real effect of this tax policy on our sector and 3) what would really happen if lost this tax status?
Why do we cling?
In my opinion, I think the non-profit sector is afraid of change. It might be as simple as this.
The reason I come to this conclusion is that I cannot find any compelling research-based evidence that clearly proves that giving taxpayers a deduction for their charitable giving has any significant effect on whether or not your organization receives support.
How I did come to this conclusion? There are many stories in the Wall Street Journal, Nonprofit Quarterly and Stanford Social Innovation Review that speak to this issue. While there are opinions on both sides of this debate, the following facts remain:
- More than half of the deductions being taken for charitable giving comes from a very small percentage of taxpayers (some say this gives taxbreaks to people who don’t really need them)
- Taxpayers who don’t itemize their taxes (a very large number of people) still donate to charities
- Review of the history books demonstrate, despite tax code tweaks and changes, charitable giving has remained constant at around two percent of GDP
- Eliminating this tax deduction amounts to $51 billion more dollars in tax revenue
These are simply facts. (Note: many people come to very different conclusions around these facts)
However, when I set aside the facts and look back over my 20-years of non-profit and fundraising work experience, I can only recall ONE PERSON who was strongly motivated to make a charitable contribution because of the tax code. And for those of you are wondering, “Was that donor and accountant?” the answer is “Of course, he was.”
I don’t want to muddle this point. So, let me be clear. I’ve spoke with many donors (both large and small) who mention the word “tax deduction.” It is usually in reference to needing documentation for their accountant. Only one donor actually pushed the pencil and said he needed to make a donation of a certain size to minimize the amount of tax he would pay to Uncle Sam.
Based on the facts and my experience, here are the opinions I hold:
- Donors who take advantage of the tax deduction do so because it is available to them
- Many donors don’t determine how much they plan on giving to you because of the deductions (of course, there are exceptions and most are probably related to estate planning and in some instances NAP credits in certain states)
- Donors don’t decide if they will donate to you because of the tax deduction (I believe they donate to you because they support your mission and the people closest to your mission)
- No one really knows if charitable giving will go down (or go up) if the tax deduction is eliminated (and anyone who claims to know probably thinks they know who will win the next election or what next year’s crop yields will be)
So, based on facts and opinions, I can only conclude our sector’s resistance to eliminating the charitable giving tax deduction is largely based on the fear of an unknowable future.
What is the real effect of this tax policy?
Again, this is hard to quantify and know for certain, but the following are a few guesses:
- It helps push a large quantity of charitable giving from individuals into the fourth quarter of the calendar year (because fundraising messages focus on “giving before the December 31st deadline”)
- It can muddle case for support messaging (e.g. instead of focusing exclusively on community needs and your organization’s solutions/programs language about taxes and non-mission focused based rationale creeps into the discussion)
- It can hamstring non-profit organizations from engaging in robust lobbying and public policy efforts on behalf of your organization and clients (e.g. IRS rule about public charities only being allowed to engage in a limited amount of legislative lobbying or risk losing their non-profit tax status)
What if the deduction disappeared?
I am not a fortune teller. I cannot predict the impact of such a policy change. However, I can confidently say a few obvious things:
- Eliminating the charitable giving tax deduction would be a “market disruptor” and result in change
- Recent disruptions in other sectors has produced winners and losers
- Market disruptions oftentimes results in innovation
- Non-profit organizations who are unskilled or simply bad at basic fundraising best practices such as developing a compelling case for support will most likely struggle until they adapt, innovate or go out of business
- Non-profit organizations who are donor-centered, relationship-builders, collaborative, innovative and good at fundraising basics (e.g. case for support, prospect identification, cultivation, solicitation, donor stewardship, etc) will likely survive and quite possibly thrive
I suspect many readers have strong opinions on this subject, and you’re invited to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. I’m also curious what, if any, market disruptions you might be able to think of (e.g. if you could hit the reset button for our sector) that would spur change, innovation and growth. Please feel free to weigh-in with those thoughts, too.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Using house party events to advance your non-profit interests
I try to keep an eye open for opportunities to learn new things every day. Last week, I learned something about house party events that was so simple, but potentially game changing if you take it to heart. What I learned was . . .
House party events aren’t just a fundraising strategy.
As a young non-profit professional, who was just learning his craft, I was first introduced to the idea of a “house party” event format as a fundraising technique. The idea was simple. Ask someone to host a small party in their home. Work with them to identify a guest list of potential donors from their list of friends and colleagues. Make a group ask during the get together and collect pledge cards. My former employer used to call these “leadership circle” events.
Personally, I didn’t like the house party strategy for fundraising. Early experiences demonstrated to me that donors were very effective at hiding in group settings. For example, someone who had the willingness to support your organization and the capacity to do so with a substantial gift, usually ended up making a smaller contribution when asked as part of a group in contrast with a one-on-one in-person meeting.
Fast forward to much later in my career, when I was working as an internal consultant for a large national non-profit organization. I was re-introduced to house parties. Instead of using it as a solicitation vehicle, local affiliates where encouraged to use the strategy for new prospect identification and cultivation. At first, this tool was branded “House Party of Hope,” and later it was re-branded “A Party with a Purpose.”
Again, house parties were still being used as a resource development activity. So, I never saw this strategy in any other light. That is until just last week when we hosted a house party in our basement.
The purpose of our house party was to introduce the newly hired CEO for a statewide organization to our circle of friends. The stated purposes of this get together were:
- Introduce the new CEO to his organization’s constituency
- Introduce the organization’s constituency to the new CEO
- Use a facilitated question/answer format with the group to collect stories to help the organization craft a shared vision, set goals, and develop a new strategic plan
Last week’s experience helped me see house parties in a whole new light. No longer was this strategy simply a tool in a non-profit person’s resource development toolbox. The more I thought about it, the opportunities seemed to be endless. Here are just a few of my thoughts:
- Host a house party to validate a final planning document with any number of stakeholder and constituency groups
- Host a house party to engage potential collaborative partners in a discussion about what is possible
- Host a house party to engage staff, build team dynamics, address workplace challenges, start a new program, etc
- Host a house party to collect stories from clients/constituents to gauge your organization’s impact, develop a marketing campaign, identify additional needs, etc
- Host a house party to educate the community and initiate a call to action focused on your organization’s public advocacy agenda (Note: I believe I once read the American Medical Association did this in the 1950s or 1960s to defeat national healthcare legislation moving its way through Congress)
- Host a house party to identify new potential board volunteers as a precursor to the board development committee building prospect lists
I literally believe the sky is the limit with regard to how a house party strategy can be used to advance any non-profit organization’s agency.
If you are interested in learning more about house parties, click-through the following links for a treasure trove of resources and reading materials:
- Boys & Girls Clubs of America: A Party with a Purpose
- Facebook: The Fundraising Houseparty
- Convio: Using House Parties to Engage Constituents
- Ramparts magazine: “Huelga! Tales of the Delano Revolution“
Has your organization ever used a house party strategy? What were your objectives? Were your objectives met? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
What should you do when a board member quits fundraising?
This certainly seems to be the topic of the month for non-profit people running in my circles. I’m not sure why this is the flavor of the month, but I’ve been asked this question so many times recently I took is as a sign from the universe (or the fundraising gods) that I should blog about it.
Why do board members quit on you?
Oh, well let me count the reasons . . .
- They feel lost when it comes to asking for charitable contributions (aka lack of training)
- They feel uneasy about asking friends for money (aka they are asking inappropriately due to a lack of training which results in any number of FEARS and the feeling that they’re begging)
- They feel unsupported by staff (aka staff aren’t going out with them to help and model best practices)
- They sense there is a lack of organization behind their efforts (aka meetings are poorly attended or poorly organized, acknowledgement letters are sent late or sporadically, etc)
- Prospective donors are assigned to volunteers by staff without input from volunteers (aka they aren’t asking people with whom they are comfortable soliciting)
- They are busy people and there aren’t accountability tools being used by staff to keep everyone focused (e.g. report meetings, dashboards, scorecards, campaign reports, peer-to-peer phone calls)
- Fundraising efforts lack urgency (aka deadlines always seem to be extended, goals seem to shift/change, etc)
- They weren’t recruited appropriately and didn’t know what they were saying ‘YES’ to when joining the board (aka your board recruitment process lacks “expectation tools” like volunteer job descriptions, commitment pledges, etc)
I could go on and on and on with this list, but that wouldn’t be productive. Suffice it to say, if any of the aforementioned reasons describe your organization, you need to address it. Quickly! Otherwise, no matter how many new board members you recruit to replace the ones who quit on you, the problem will continue to recur.
All of this begs the question, “What can and should be done about board volunteers who quit on their fundraising responsibilities?”
Step One: Have a heart-to-heart discussion
I have no idea why this is so scary for so many non-profit staff and board volunteers. It doesn’t have to be a confrontation. Here are a few talking points:
- Describe what you are observing (e.g. a reluctance to fundraise)
- Assure them that it happens in the case of many board volunteers
- Ask them what the trouble seems to be
- Listen – Listen – Listen (empathize where appropriate)
- Ask them how you can help
- If there is nothing you can do to help, then ask them how they’d like to move forward
Unfortunately, I’ve seen it too many times. Board members disengage and no one asks them if everything is OK and if they are in need of assistance.
It is troublesome when non-profit families start acting this way, which is why Step One is always to sit down and listen.
Step Two: Engage in cultivation & stewardship
If the reasons given by your board volunteer aren’t things beyond anyone’s control (e.g. family member illness, work-related challenges, etc) and they simply don’t feel comfortable with solicitation, then ask them to get heavily involved in cultivation (e.g. engaging new prospective supporters) and stewardship (e.g. showing existing donors gratitude and return on investment) activities. (Note: don’t simply let them focus on other non-fundraising activities like programming or marketing)
The following is a partial list of things you can ask of reluctant fundraising volunteers:
- Host a house party with people who don’t currently support your organization (e.g. party where staff briefly talk about the organization and the host follows up with participants to see if they are interested in learning more)
- Invite people who don’t currently give to your organization to tour your facilities and see the mission in action
- Invite people who aren’t donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee and simply chat about the organization (e.g. it is important for the board volunteer to share reasons why they are involved and passionate about the organization)
- Hand write letters to donors to express gratitude for their support
- Make phone calls to donors in the middle of the organization’s range of gifts chart to express gratitude, engage in a discussion about their reasons for support, and share a piece of organizational good news
- Invite larger major gifts donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee, share a copy of the most recent annual report, share any recent pieces of good news or programmatic results, and talk passionately about the future
I’m not suggesting you ask a reluctant fundraising volunteer to do one of two of these things. I am suggesting you immerse them in these activities. You might try asking them to complete five handwritten letters, five phone calls AND five in-person contacts every month for the next year.
In my experience, there is something curative when board members have substantive encounters with others that focus on community need, mission, vision, and impact.
I’ve seen a heavy dose of this approach help many volunteers get over their cold feet or malaise when it comes to fundraising.
Step Three: Finding a New Seat on the Bus
Sometimes we can’t fix the problem. Board members are people, too. Their parents get sick. Their marriages falter. They end up with a new boss who demands more from them.
When these things happen, the first order of business is empathy. This is what you’d do for a family member going through the same thing. Right? And board members are your non-profit family.
But whatever you do, you cannot make exceptions for individual board volunteers with regards to their fiduciary responsibilities. It is an all or nothing proposition.
I’ve seen it too often where one board member is given a pass (usually for good reason). It’s a slippery slope. Others board members start identifying reasons in their life why they can’t participate in fundraising. Worse yet, a schism materializes in the boardroom between “those who fundraise” and “those who don’t.” When this happens, resentment and ugliness aren’t far behind.
So, what does finding a new seat on the bus look like? It could be any number of things including (but not limited to):
- Taking a short sabbatical from the board
- Resigning from the board and moving into a new role (e.g. joining a committee, becoming a program volunteer, helping with small projects, remaining on as a donor, etc)
- Acting as an advisor (e.g. monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly coffee meetings with the CEO or development director)
- Becoming a community ambassador (e.g. speaking periodically at service clubs, etc)
We don’t banish or fire board members (unless of course it is a toxic/destructive situation). People who support our mission are valued and important. We keep them involved, but we do so in roles that are mutually beneficial and fulfilling.
How has your organization dealt with and addressed board members who quit fundraising (or maybe never really got started)? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Report meetings are the key to better fundraising campaigns
If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it over and over again. An organization puts the right people around the table and engages everyone in developing the right written plan for their fundraising campaign or event. They recruit the right people in the right way to work pledge cards or solicit event participants or secure sponsorships. They even go about assigning prospects/donors to volunteer solicitors very effectively. And then it happens . . . solicitation materials are distributed and everything comes to a screeching halt.
Why does this happen?
In my experience, the following principles must be in place for volunteer solicitors to thrive:
- The campaign must feel well-organized
- The case for support must be mission-focused and consistently messaged
- Volunteers must be trained and feel supported by staff
- There needs to be a written plan, and those asked to implement it needed to have some part in developing it
- A sense of urgency (positive tenacity not crisis or consequence focused) needs to be genuinely felt by everyone
- Everyone needs to feel accountable to doing what they said they would do
Having two or three of these principles in place isn’t good enough. If you lack one of these “engagement principles,” your fundraising efforts are likely to experience a hiccup of some sort.
One strategy that helps with two or three of the aforementioned bullet points is integration of routine “report meetings” throughout the duration of your campaign timeline.
What is a report meeting?
A report meeting is simply a face-to-face meeting of volunteer solicitors, who come together to report their progress to each other.
How these meetings are facilitated is important. An ineffective report meeting is when volunteers give a simple report comprised of a few broad statements. Here is an example of such an ineffective report:
“I’ve called a few of my prospects, and left voicemail messages, but no one has called me back yet. I should be able to get all of my initial calls done by some time next week or the the week after.“
Effective report meetings are:
- Facilitated by one person (which can be a staff person or the volunteer chair of the campaign)
- Volunteers are asked to give their report one at a time
- Volunteers go through their list of prospects/donors one at a time and provide a short progress report on each prospect
- The entire team is invited to provide suggestions, offers of assistance and encouragement at the end of each volunteer solicitor’s report
Here is an example of an effective report:
“Last week, I called Sally and set-up a lunch meeting with her for this Friday. Yesterday, I met Joe and his wife at their lovely home and asked them to consider increasing their pledge from last year. They need some time to think it over, and I have a follow-up meeting schedule with them two weeks from Wednesday. As for John, I’ve called him three times both at home and the office, and he isn’t responding. If anyone sees John this week, please give him a friendly nudge and encourage him to give me a call.“
Keep these meetings focused and organized
If you’ve recruited the right volunteers with the right skill sets and experiences to work on your fundraising campaign, then these people are likely very busy.
There is no better way to disengage a busy person than by wasting their time. So, these report meetings need to be well-run and efficient.
One person designated as the facilitator can keep the meetings on track, gently move the group along if they end up off-track, and give the entire experience an organized feeling.
Create a sense of F-U-N
Yes, busy people typically dislike nonsense in their meetings, but there are ways to still have fun without it feeling like a waste of time.
One way I’ve seen fun injected into report meetings is by using a campaign theme to organize the report meeting.
For example, I once saw an annual campaign adopt a horse race theme. They met at the racetrack. Each volunteer solicitor was assigned a paper horse on a paper racetrack hung on the wall. There were point values assigned to various activities (e.g. securing a meeting, making an ask, securing the pledge card, etc), which translated into how far your horse moved along the track.
Of course, there were fun prizes and recognition involved in this friendly competition.
I’ve seen these strategies range from highly organized — like the one I just shared — to very simple (e.g. rewarding the number of completed pledge cards turned in at the meeting).
Whatever you decide to do, a little bit of fun can go a long way in making these meetings palatable for busy people.
Integrate mission into the meeting
We need to keep in mind that no one likes fundraising just for the sake of getting their friends to give them money. The reason volunteers sign-up to do what many people consider difficult and intimidating is because they are truly bought into your mission.
So, use these report meetings to remind them of why they agreed to do this in the first place.
This can simply be done by dedicating two or three minutes at the beginning of each meeting to a mission moment. It shouldn’t be too long and can be as simple as a:
- short story
Recognition is important
If your report meetings start to feel like beatings, then people will stop coming. In order to avoid this phenomenon, one of my clients started having a little fun with their recognition items. The following pictures are just two examples of inexpensive and creative recognition items you can use.
If the pictures are too small, hopefully you can see that the recognition items are as simple as a bag of Goldfish Crackers and a package of Reese’s Pieces with cute puns attached that recognize the volunteer’s accomplishment. What fun!!!
What if people cannot attend?
I’ve seen a few organizations successfully pull off report meetings via conference call, but not very often. Why? probably because it is too difficult to instill fun, mission-focus and urgency into a phone call. If you want my opinion, I prefer in-person meetings.
If someone absolutely needs to miss a meeting for a good reason, you should ask them to send a written report to be read at the meeting. But these absences need to be rare. Otherwise, everyone else ends up backing out of future meetings.
The best way to ensure good attendance is to set expectations up front during your initial recruitment visit. Clearly explain what you are asking of the volunteer and include report meeting attendance as of those expectation. It is best if you can actually share those meeting dates with the volunteer prospect during the recruitment meeting. (This should also be included in the written job description that you will leave behind after your initial meeting.)
For those potential volunteers who tell you upfront that they are happy to help, but cannot make your meetings, I strongly suggest you thank them for their consideration and not take them up on their offer. Obviously, don’t scorn them . . . but explain how important report meeting attendance is for success and then suggest a different opportunity for them to be involved in the campaign or your organization.
What does your organization do from a campaign strategy perspective to help create accountability, urgency and engagement from your fundraising volunteers? If you’ve used report meetings as a strategy, then what best practices have you used? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
What should your non-profit learn from Great Britain’s Brexit vote?
Last week, British voters stunned the world in a number of different ways. First, they voted in a non-binding referendum to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which triggers a process to disentangle Great Britain from the European Union (EU). Second, global financial markets have reacted poorly to this news because it injected a large amount of uncertainty into all things financial (apparently there is now a projection by some economists that there is a 30% to 50% chance the United States will now enter into another recession because of this vote). Finally, and most importantly, many people were stunned by reporting in the days following the referendum that there appears to be a growing number of voters who felt misinformed and regretted their vote.
As I listened to last week’s news coverage, I couldn’t help but worry about what this all means for the American non-profit sector.
Of course, the risk of another recession obviously spells trouble for non-profit organizations who are still digging out from the 2008 economic crash. However, this isn’t really what concerns me the most.
The fact that voters felt misinformed and ignorant about what they were voting on is a chilling realization and one that should concern every non-profit professional.
If you stop and think about this phenomenon for a few minutes, it isn’t really surprising.
- People are busy
- Many people report feeling as if our world is getting faster and faster
- Information pours into our lives at breakneck speed (e.g. network television, radio, Google, Facebook, Twitter, cable television, data reports in the workplace, email-email-email, etc)
- There appears to be a blurring of the lines between opinions and facts in the media
- There is a media outlet (and internet link) validating every point of view . . . so if you believe it, then you can reinforce it thus hardening your opinion and becoming less likely to hear opposing viewpoints
Communications experts refer to this experience as “information overload.”
You may be asking yourself, “So what?”
Well, there are consequences . . .
- Decreased productivity
- Tuning out and unplugging
I’m sure some of you have heard the old marketing adage that it takes at least seven times of someone hearing/seeing an advertisement before it actually breaks through the noise and registers with them. This is a concept called effective frequency.
OK, so now you might be asking yourself, “What does any of this have to do with my non-profit organization?”
Let me attempt to answer this question with a few questions for you to consider:
- What are the consequences of your donors not hearing your post-solicitation stewardship messaging?
- What problems could result if your board members aren’t reading the reports and materials you send them prior to making decisions in the boardroom?
- What could happen if staff aren’t processing and reacting appropriately to outcomes data, properly reading/implementing program curricula, or understanding the deliverables written into grant agreements?
If your answers were:
- increased donor turnover
- fewer dollars raised
- bad decision-making
- poor programming
- decreased productivity and performance
. . . then you are likely on the same page with me.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is absolutely happening in your organization, but I am asking you to weigh the possibilities.
There are more theories and studies showing us the internet is rewiring our brains and changing: a) how we read and b) how we process information. (If you want to read more, click here … here . . . and here)
So, if you are still with me, you might be wondering what can be done to improve the likelihood that donors, board volunteers and staff are hearing (and understanding) what your organization needs them to know. While I am not a communications expert, here are a few thoughts:
- Use more pictures and graphics
- Tell more stories to convey your messages and contextualize your outcomes data
- Segment your donors and do a better job at targeting your messaging
- Use multiple communications channels (e.g. in-person, phone, mail, email, outdoor advertising, Facebook, Twitter, etc) and stop over reliance on email and mail
- Integrate infographics, dashboards and scorecards into your boardroom materials
- Redesign your meetings (board and staff meetings) to be more interactive / participatory
How does your organization communicate with its stakeholders? How do you know if your key messages are being properly received and understood? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC