Topic: Rants

Side by Side

It is raining on our last morning. A warm spray from the fat Caribbean raindrops that hit the louvers at the foot of my bunk mists my feet. Through the night, the wet air magnified the smell of cinnamon wafting from the kitchen below. This was the sweet scent that engulfed us all evening, instead of chicken poop, it was a welcome relief.

Our team leader leans into her daughter’s bunk next to mine, waking her gently.  Then I overhear her speaking in low tones to another member of our team.  She shares there was a terrible car crash involving a drunk driver as they drove home. They were on the new (unopened) freeway heading back to the school when the driver crossed into them. They avoided a head-on, with the drunk driver just barely skimming their car. But the truck behind them was not so lucky, although they did see the driver get out of the truck after being hit. We are grateful they are ok. Further conversation about the crash reveals that no one involved seemed to stop, at least not as far as our team leader and others in her car could see in their rearview. And it seems to be the norm, we uncover as we speak with others later about the incidence. Someone probably called 911 but it’s not a full-on disaster reaction like we would find in the US. This island is on the razor’s edge of primitive. Such a juxtaposition of Christ-like love and self-preservation. More primitive than I anticipated.

We pack as we get up, wash up, and dress. Breakfast is at 7am and the van arrives at 7:30 for our departure to La Romana. I pull the band from my hair- I’m still trying to tame this mess in this climate and condition- and peer one last time into the single mirror in our dorm room. Seeing keenly through the foggy glass, peeling mercury back, and the grime, peering back at me is someone I maybe remember. Someone who once didn’t require thirteen different hair products and designer face wash. Someone who spent warm summer days barefoot in the New England grass, digging her toes into the dirt pushed up by earthworms into little mounds. The face of a girl who braved cold mornings to muck a stall, feed, and water a horse, before even brushing her teeth. Someone who was connected to more spiritually revealing and soul-nourishing things- like listening to others chatter about nothing of any importance and yet knowing it truly mattered. She blinks back at me and smiles. I invite her to stay.

Down in the dining hall, the morning’s breakfast is rushed, as the guys are moving quickly to pack the van. We peek into the kitchen to hug Mari and others goodbye. The morning seems anti-climactic.  After last night’s let down- no departure talks, no debriefing from the week-  I’m sad it ends like this.

Yada enters the hall, smiles hello and says “I go with you today!” I notice her little black wheelie suitcase, and Neomi and Emanuel and Jadiel in tow. I’m thrilled she and others will join us at the resort. I look forward to sharing fellowship in downtime with them all. It’s funny how quickly you can make an attachment to people, desiring to know more about them and seeking their friendship. Especially with so little in common on earthly comparisons.  God-driven.

We fill our water bottles one last time from the bubbler, the rush of clear water from Juan Tomas for our trip. I reflect on my arrival just a short week earlier, I was so concerned about the quality of the water in Juan Tomas. It felt like potential poison, pain, and distress.  Little did I know that the Juan Tomas water at the Fountain of Life school would be so sweet. So fresh, so thirst-quenching. So reliable. I take two big swigs and refill my bottle. For the road.

Our bags get tucked into the trailer attached to the now-familiar white van. The same van that spirited us away from the Santo Domingo airport. In reverse play, we now load back into the van, with a few extra. A van that I thought was built to hold 15, held 17 on the way here, no holds 21 on our departure with Richard, Yada, her niece Haiti, their daughter Neomi and sons Jadiel and Emanuel, as well as Pumpa. I marvel at how but leave that little miracle to God. We are full.

The van is now surrounded by villagers. Now our friends. Yoan. Willi. Anabelle. Ingrid. Rosmery. More than I can name gather around the van. As we pull away, they smile and wave and step forward. We arch our necks to continue our goodbyes and then turn to settle into our long ride.  We still have a full day of visiting a mission in La Romana before we can rejuvenate ourselves at the resort. We guard ourselves for the final stretch.

Soon we turn off the red dirt-packed road and onto the tarmac. The narrow-paved street widens and then we are back in the Santo Domingo city center traffic. It’s even crazier than it was last week. Slowly, as I watch the passing traffic and buildings in various states of disrepair, the pillars of the overhead highways, and the crowds of people passing by, I am reminded of the Bronx. The similarity is now undeniable and for a moment I think I am driving under the el on Jerome Ave near Yankee Stadium. I realize that our immigrant citizens recreate the land of their comfort and familiarity. My grandfather did the same at one time. I close my eyes to the swirl of activity outside my seat window and the rocking, jolting images through the front windshield and try to rest for the two-hour ride east.

An hour in, I have to pee. I open my eyes and see the ocean ahead. As the van veers left, the ocean is vast and the small narrow park that runs along it is empty. How is no one there—it’s beautiful. The day is sunny. The water is sparkling. The sand looks like sugar. Every metaphor known to man about the blue ocean is true here.  I reflect that we immortalize the Caribbean ocean and yet it is just home to the people of Hispaniola. Just the saltwater that surrounds this hot rock in the middle of the south sea.

I lean forward and ask if we can possibly stop somewhere. Richard translates to Javier our driver and they talk for a minute. I receive no response, but I am confident we are ok.  Soon we are pulling into a Sunoco on the left side of the highway that runs along the ocean. We pile out, aware of how much we look like tourists. Except for our hosts. This is the first time in seven days we have seen commercial food. It looks pale and weak in its bright packaged cellophane and foil bags- Doritos, Sour Cream Chips, Gummy Bears. Cokes. The young girls gather bags of chips and soda, thrilled at this chance. I spend time waiting in line for the bano thinking about how fortunate we truly are to be able to obtain such food at will. Or maybe not.

We are all packed into the van and continue our trek east. Another forty-five minutes and we arrive at La Romana. This part of the trip is mostly for the two volunteers who have been our team leaders here. They support a school and church and hospital here with another mission trip in which they participate. The countryside here is so vastly different- the jungles of Juan Tomas and the parched, fauna-less, pale pink dust and cement of La Romana.  The streets are not so dissimilar, they are the same narrow, hilly, and pothole-filled paths that crisscross Juan Tomas. But as you gaze over the landscape you can see farther, sightlines uninterrupted by the palm trees and brush with which we have become accustomed.

The van lurches forward up a steep hill, past a landfill and some whitewashed factory looking building, Recycling Factory I am told.  We turn right and merge left, resting briefly along a curb in front of a gated schoolyard, with a looming cement building at its center, the color of Band-Aids. The name of this school stands out in contrast against its flesh-colored walls, “Colegio Evangelica Joe Hartman”.

The gates roll back and our van enters into the courtyard, coming to a halt. We pile out in groups, our leaders first in eager anticipation of seeing their friends once again. I think I get that now. I’m not even gone and I already anticipate with joy my return to Juan Tomas.  As I step down onto the white crushed rock driveway, they are greeting everyone at the school. Our leaders are thrilled to see their friends.

Escorted into the building, which is pristine compared to Fountain of Life, we are greeted and quickly given the history of the school. This building is much more contemporary than Juan Tomas. It is a self-contained, single building with three floors, with a central courtyard open to the sky, and outside hallways around the perimeter. Our guide continues with her tour, and we follow along class to class. It is strikingly beautiful when I compare it to Fountain of Life.  But it doesn’t feel like family here. It feels like a school.

The children are sharp in their uniforms. The teachers are friendly. We move from the school building to the preschool area. Children rush forth out the classroom and scramble in the yard way, their eyes scanning the crowd, seeking out someone to grab onto and hug. I’m not sure how to react and so I hang back. It doesn’t feel authentic. But then again, this is a sharp juxtaposition from where we have just spent seven days. The tour moves on, some of my teammates peeling arms and children off from around their waists. We enter the newly built cafeteria. It is gorgeous and big and empty. It was finished last year, and our leaders seem momentarily surprised that it is not in use. The director of the school mentions that they cannot use it until they have something in place in the kitchen that the government demands. Before this particular thing, it was something else. And before that something else again. At that moment I am happy for the little Fountain of Life school, hidden from government eyes in the jungles of Juan Tomas. Richard and Yada talk to the school’s director about the new and gleaming cafeteria.  I can see their eyes dreaming.

Today, thanks to the coordination of our volunteer leaders, we are serving lunch to the 198 kids at this school. While our team waits, sipping our bottles of Juan Tomas water at pristine tables in the new cafeteria, our kitchen team from Fountain of Life arrives with tubs of beans and rice, chicken, pasta, and salad. We are called into the kitchen space, empty except for a sink and a line of small tables, groaning under the weight of the tubs of food, now uncovered and steaming into the damp air. Some of our team are organized into an assembly line and begin to make massive plates, bugger than I can imagine any child of the age of 10 and under could eat! Each plate has no less than a cup of rice, a cup of beans, a large chicken leg, a cup of pasta with a creamy red sauce and a cup of dressed salad. A large slice of bread is tossed on top for good measure. I turn to my teammates and question the size of these portions- how can such little people eat so much I wonder?

Kids begin to file in, in orderly lines, directed by their classroom teachers. We won’t see this in Juan Tomas, I think!  They are seated at tables by class- pre-K, 1st, 2nd, all the way up to 8th grade. I notice sadly this last class level is much, much smaller than the elementary classes.

The noise level slowly rises and soon exceeds 100 decibels! We scurry to place plates in front of children. Someone hosts to extra-large Gatorade orange-colored water coolers onto the new granite counter. We shift it closer to the edge and begin to pour fruit juice from the spigot into plastic cups. Pretty soon we are scurrying behind plate fetchers, dropping cups of juice in front of hungry children.  

Within minutes everyone is served. We retreat to the kitchen central and grab the last of the stack of plates once piled high a few shorts minutes ago.  We look to make our own lunch plates, but the buckets once heaped with beans and rice and chicken are now clearly empty We scrape some rice from the edges and bean and chicken juice from the corners and eat, observing the noisy, joyful, Festa happening just on the other side of the service window. A line begins again at the Gatorade cooler and we move to help out, pouring until the cooler is dry. I just can’t imagine this happening in America’s schools for lunchtime. I’m still fretting about the size of the dishes, waste is such a present concern for me now when I see a young boy, no older than 6, ask for an empty plate. A teacher scrounges up a clean on and he carefully covers the remains of his dish and, balancing it between his two small hands, goes to stand in line with his class. I look around and notice more teachers helping more students to do the same.  Aside from the piles of rice and beans that hit the floor, none of these plates will be wasted These precious gifts are for Moms, and maybe Dads or siblings, back home. No sense worrying about refrigeration or careful packaging. If just a portion makes it home, that is a feast. Food is scarce in this community, and it is not only appreciated by shared.

My water bottle is empty and I check on the water tub next to the kitchen, to ensure it is good to drink. I’m feeling dehydrated, tired, and somehow lacking purpose. I look around to be productive and see the cleanup crew from this school in action. I join in to begin to clear tables and chairs and sweep floors. Piles of rice and beans collect in mounds across the shiny tile floor. I see a plastic garbage bag filling up with the remains and ask how this will be used. Animals I am told. I feel satisfied that this is sound. It’s such a unique concern for me, I guess.

Soon we are called outside as our volunteer leaders hand out gifts from large trash bags to the children and teachers assembled. It starts to rain.

I sneak a peek at my watch and see it is only 12:30 pm. Just an hour and a half has passed since we arrived. The team is being encouraged to go visit the director’s new house, built last year by the mission our leaders were on. I want to be excited and pleased, but I am just not connecting. My mind wanders back to the orange crème homes of Richard and Argenis, across the red dirt path road, and feel that anything new and shiny just wouldn’t feel grounded right now. I check in with God- is this judgment on my part?  Jealousy? I pray for him to clear my heart and reveal my purpose as I sit out the house visit. Argenis, who also has passed on the home tour, sits down beside me and the few other teammates resting on the low stone wall next to the school courtyard and we begin to talk.  I’m not so eager to move on from Juan Tomas.

Argenis suddenly asks me to pray for him as his role changes in the school. He feels more drawn, more inspired to be the school advocate, the one reaching out to mission leaders, and churches, and donors, to help grow, through God’s grace, the finances and facilities of the school, church, and medical mission. We discuss how to connect with people who want to help the school, who desire to support their mission. He asks me to read 1Samuel 3:9 to understand what he is feeling. Later in the night, I do. It reads in part “If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’.  So, Samuel went and lay down in his place.”

God’s word revealed to a woman, in a foreign land, struggling with purpose in the moment, by a man struggling with his own purpose in his role. Speak Lord for your servant is listening. I pray that God will shout into my ears and glean my path of everything NOT in his will for my purpose. Dangerous, risky, and bold prayers with abandon!

As we chat, Argenis disciplines Emanuel, Richard’s son, and I’m amazed again at how fluid parenting is in this community. Everyone is a parent to anyone. Argenis reveals that it’s because they are all grounded on God’s word and trust each other. They all have the same foundational belief and they all believe that God, in this community, is leading their thoughts and actions every day. Dear Lord, please lead me to this.

The house tour group returns and we reload people into our van for the hospital tour. Our travels through La Romana are narrated by Javier our driver. He shares that it is the hotspot of the area, these narrow city streets with boutiques and bodegas, next to trimmed parks and classic stone sculptures. Just 40 minutes from the slums in which the school sat, we arrive at a tall hospital in a city that is decidedly more civilized than Santo Domingo and certainly much more than Juan Tomas. We enter an open-air lobby and are guided on our tour by a man known well by our volunteer leaders. The hospital has no working elevator it appears, so we slowly trudge up one, two, four, five flights of stairs. We lose half our team on each floor as they choose to sit the tour out. This day doesn’t feel connected to the purpose of this trip at all, and I think the team all feels that now. Just a few more hours until we can rest.

The hospital is lovely and it is very meaningful to our leaders who helped build it. It is shiny and new and still being built. The raw construction is happening right next to the patient rooms, exposing sky, bird, and bacteria to everything in reach. So close to quality and yet so far.

The hospital guide is asked if the group can see a room. The first room he shows us is occupied, but that doesn’t stop him. I remain in the hall. A second room houses an infant child born with hydro encephalitis. He has a bacterial infection. The very young parents ask us to come in and pray for him. Of course, this we will do, it has a purpose. Yada leads us in prayer. She speaks with the parents once we are through. It turns out they live near Juan Tomas. Yada invites them to her church. I am reminded that I should not stress when this trip seems to brush against the grain of my moral fibers. God knows what he is doing and uses all things for his purpose.

The hospital tour completes and we are back in the van for the hour and a half ride back to the resort we will stay in tonight, courtesy of Richard and Yada. For the entire ride, the van is deathly silent. We have reached the end of our resiliency as a team. We need to rest.

The van exits in Juan Dolio, drives 10km east then does a u-turn and drives 5km west, exits again and we turn off the exit ramp amongst the hotels that cover the shoreline of the Dominican Republic. Things are decidedly commercial here. Bursting floral plants in brilliant oranges, and pinks, and greens, overflowing from ceramic tureens four feet high. Amber glass front stores and neon signs compelling tourists to come inside. Soon we pull into a small gate with the name of our resort. We are here.

In an instant, we can see that our van and trailer are a stark visual contrast to the black SUVs and silver Mercedes sedans pulling into the Porte Cochere of the resort. Javier squeezes the white box van for 15, seating 21, into a space between two luxury cars. He jumps out of the driver’s seat and begins to open our passenger doors. We disembark, blinking into the sun and the glare of the commercial space surrounding us: tropical print fabrics against dark wood wicker settees, glass ball lamps hanging from brass chains, planters and ceramic tile screening the electrical boxes of the resort from the eyes of guests. In Juan Tomas, the metal box covering the well mechanics is home base in stickball. We gather under the outside seating area for resort arrivals. Richard takes the copies that have been made of our passports and heads inside, telling us to wait. Time passes. A hotel waitress mingles around the Porte Cochere, greeting new guests with a tray of mesmerizing ruby pink drinks. But she avoids us. Our clothes are markedly more camp counselor than camp. And our hair and nails are in desperate need of a wash and trim.

We wander a bit to view the pool, bars, restaurants and coffee shops of this all-inclusive. Soon Richard emerges and calls us into the cool lobby. It is understated and filled with foreign languages, guests speaking amongst themselves in German, Dutch, French, Spanish. Richard is at the desk speaking with a friend who helps book these rooms for mission workers on their last night in Juan Tomas. As a thank you for their work. Grace and Mercy received, thank you very much!

One by one, we are called up to the lobby desk to get registered and receive our keys. We sign, get wristbands and are set free. My roommate and I head up to our VIP suite on the beach overlooking the bars and pools. We enter, drop our bags and shower. Forever.

My roommate and I have booked massages at the resort spa for 6PM. With glowing skin, scrubbed free of red dirt in the powerful and warm shower, almost too warm for me, we wander through the resort toward our muscle rejuvenation. The quietness of the spa sinks into our souls and we are in meditation for the next two hours.

Our crew is at the buffet when we emerge and we join them for some interesting cuisine. Shortly after, Argenis approaches our table and invites everyone out to the beachfront for an evening meeting. Argenis leads us in a sharing circle to debrief from the week on blessings, God’s insight, and our dreams. There under the yellow light circles cast from the palm tree floods, with beetles, and palmettos, and other bugs hopping around the sand at our feet, the spirit that is Juan Tomas is unpacked and shared. The trip feels complete.

Donor Relationships

By Melanie Cecarelli

When I’m in a social setting and people learn I’m with a nonprofit consulting firm, it’s like being a CPA being asked a tax question or a physician being asked, “Does this look infected to you?” I usually get questions or comments about how nonprofits are missing an important feature when it comes to their donors, and that is the relationship.
A colleague shared their recent experience with me. They contacted a nonprofit three times within a three month period regarding a restricted gift they wanted to make to the organization. Now one would think the organization would jump at a non-solicited gift coming across their desk. There was no ask, no cultivation or stewardship involved. It was theirs for the taking. Then why would they let the offer stand idle? Is it because the nonprofit didn’t understand the need and the importance of a good donor relationship?
As nonprofit leaders, you know it takes time and energy to cultivate and build a relationship with a donor, especially one that you hope will grow into a major gift. Little stumbles like this have a lasting impression. Remember the saying it takes years to build a good reputation and only takes a minute to ruin it? Think about that when you ignore your donor or just see them as a means to an end to help you get achieve your philanthropy goals.

So, how do you think this story ends? Was the donor persistent in trying to make their gift? Did the organization finally contact them? And what did the organization do after the gift was received? Sounds a bit like a cliffhanger for a TV serial. At the end of the day, it’s up to nonprofits to embrace donors for their value and your worth…but that’s a topic for another day.

Ask yourself these questions.
How do you view your donors? Are you treating them as a one collective group? What are you doing to cultivate your repeat donors from a transactional into the translational relationship, especially when comes knocking at your door? Do you know the art and science behind the cultivation process?
It’s much more than frequent communications and the request for a gift. It’s about connecting the donor to your organization, and not to what you think is important to you but what is important to them and being sure it aligns with your overall goals. A donor suggested a “buy a brick” concept for a walkway at an art gallery and the program director ran with it. The few donations they received were outweighed by the actual cost of the materials and labor to install, and didn’t align with the gallery’s overall development initiative. Yes they had donors, but at what cost? And were these opportunities that could have been cultivated for something else?

How do you know what’s important to your donor? By listening and connecting with them, and not just once but multiple times. It’s not about coming out of the gate and asking for their gift, but understanding what motivates them to give to your organization. Are they interested in the outcomes or more interested in how the program operates? Do they want their dollars going to a program or are they more interested in capital improvements or longevity through an endowment or planned gift? It’s all about helping the donor grow alongside your organization. Cultivation.
And most of all, be responsive to your donors. Don’t keep them waiting especially when they come to you with a gift. Opportunity may knock more than once, but it’s not going to keep on knocking until you are ready to answer.

Give Back Tuesday

By Melanie Cecarelli

With the holiday season upon us, how many emails, text alerts, and Facebook ads did you receive for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales? And now there’s “Give Back Tuesday”, a way for nonprofits to maximize year end giving with donors.

On “Give Back Tuesday”, I’m struck by the number of appeals that are flooding my inbox and social media pages. I think I received as many requests on “Give Back Tuesday” as I did for all the store and online sales. Many are from friends or colleagues who perhaps sit on a particular nonprofit board or maybe have given to the organization in the past.

Does it work? Some of the organizations are brave enough to post their progress toward a goal, and there’s little to no movement for donations. One organization tried “Give Back Tuesday” when it was first introduced as a concept. Out of the hundreds of emails and posting sent to their donor and membership base, only one gift was received. Why? Because organizations are reaching out to their donors who in turn are reaching out to individuals who have little or no knowledge of them. And a short 140 byte message isn’t going to move someone to give ‘sight unseen’ to your cause.

So ask yourself, “Is the squeeze worth the juice?” Are you putting time and resources toward an appeal that isn’t yielding results?
Like most things, one organization may have tremendous success with crowdsourcing and everyone jumps into the game. As a friend once said to me, “You need to know how deep the pool is before you jump in with cement shoes”. And that goes for “Give Back Tuesday”. How big is your social media footprint? Are these individuals who are connected to your work and mission or are you just jumping into the pool without knowing your audience? And what is your strategy for keeping the one or two new donors connected to your mission.

Many organizations see “Give Back Tuesday” as a way to close the gap for their overall development fund. While it may work for some, more attention needs to be given to creating a culture of philanthropy that engages donors and prospects throughout the year. Loyal donors are going to respond to your annual appeal and the cultivation you work on throughout the year. You don’t want to wait to year end to close gaps. The time to plan for next year is now.

So, how did Give Back Tuesday work for you?

Nonprofit work is all about the money

I was lacking motivation for this weeks blog post, as I tapped away on my keyboard under the weight of research reports, feasibility interviews, resume reviews, re-branding our website, launching the tech start up Donorfull….. I needed something to fire me up.

And then it hit me.

I’m reading idealist.org’s latest report on jobs. According to their recent Job Seeker Report for 2012 , 68% percent of nonprofits are seeking Program staff while only 36% of nonprofits are seeking Fundraising staff.

And there it was. Really? Program staff gain twice as much height on the needs scale for nonprofits filling positions as fundraisers? So explains the current financial state of the nonprofit sector.

When fundraising is relegated to the nice to have, but first focus is that we help people position within the organization and not the ‘essential revenue stream for our ongoing survival and growth, show me the MONEY!‘ position it should be, then the whistle you hear is not the finish line of success, but the train of demolition.

Now, possibly, it could be that the nonprofits who were interviewed as part of this study, are fully booked and have the BEST fundraising teams imaginable. Maybe their philanthropic coffers are over-flowing and they have to turn donors away to sister organizations down the road, just because they don’t want to eat all the cookies.

Possible, but unlikely.

In our experience, the number one issue we hear from our clients is “we need good fundraising staff and we need more of them”!

And I have to imagine that our clients are not the only ones. I always respond the same. Fire More, Hire More.

It’s a simple equation, that moves you beyond the agony of wrestling with under-performing, poorly experienced or overworked development people.

So my question is, how long do you suffer, doing the same thing, operating the same way, before you see the light? What has to happen to bring the solution to focus- that better and more fundraisers equals more money equals more programs and clients served?

Innovate your organization by flipping your staffing on its head. Hire more fundraisers than program staff and email me the results. I want to know.

Kill me with just one click….

“Hi, thanks for following. Please support us”, read the direct message recently from a new twitter friend.
I dutifully clicked on the link, which transported me to the online fundraising portal Justgive, where I was presented with a picture of a sick infant, a hoped for amount to be raised ($500,000) and a donate button. Nothing more. No mission statement, vision statement, no list of projects. No paragraph on what the org does, where they reside, where they operate. Nothing to stimulate my interest or inspire my passion. Nothing but a Just Drop Your Money In The Box On The Sidewalk appeal.
What have charities been driven to? Who told them this type of Fundraising was a good idea?? Someone needs to be held responsible for the demise of the charitable solicitation.

We hear much about the indecency and greed of the American corporation. It is characterized as a company’s lack of soul, its depersonalization of its customer, its demoralized expectations of its sales staff in pushing its products on the consumer. The evil empire of corporate greed, where money is more important than the moral fiber of its relationship with its market.
I think our nonprofit industry needs to check itself here.

When asking for my money is the first thing an organization does when meeting me, we’ve lost our center. And that organization has lost its ONLY chance to win me as a supporter. I’ll never look at them again as more than a beggar on the street. Their programs, should I ever learn what they are, will be tainted with the belief that, “hey they just want my money anyway.” I’ll never pass their work on, ask a friend to help or volunteer to advance their mission. Because as far as I am concerned their mission is to get my money.

Please, stop the madness. The internet is an amazing and fantastic tool. When used as an extension of the cultivation and solicitation and stewardship we practice everyday, the relationship building that is essential to our sustainability, it can be incredible. However, as with all powerful tools when used incorrectly or recklessly, when wielded with disregard for others, when seen as nothing more than a means to an end, it can kill our efforts with just one click.

Raising money online: Fact or Fiction?

I recently read a study that indicated of the 180,000 “Causes” on Facebook, the avg funds raised through this online method for each charity, over the course of a year, was only $1000.

Really?

This seems slightly outrageous given the hype and passion circulating about using Facebook by NPO’s for online fundraising. It seems everywhere you turn we have charities urging us to “like” them, to support their efforts. Daily my news feed blows up with requests from friends to give to the –> insert cause here<– organization to help them cure, fight, win, save, grow or change.

Before I get angry posts here by those who might find these comments slightly adverserial, I am NOT disparaging the NPO’s for trying. Good things do come from visibility and advocacy in this way.

It just doesn’t look like any of those good things include $$$$$$, and I wanted to know why.

To be more clear on this subject I recently undertook a (very unscientific) research project of online fundraising  by US NPO’s. I researched Web 2.0 portals designed to help nonprofits raise funds online. Here is a list of those I identified and used in this study:

  1. Causevox.com (Beta)
  2. Changingthe present.org
  3. Connecttocharities.com
  4. crowdrise.com
  5. Donorschoose.org
  6. firstgiving.com
  7. Fundrzr.com
  8. give2gether.com
  9. giveo.com (Beta)
  10. Globalgiving.com
  11. Independentcharities.org (givedirect.org)
  12. Jolkona.org
  13. Jumo.com (Beta)
  14. justgive.org
  15. mtdn.com (MakeTheDifferenceNetwork)
  16. networkforgood.org
  17. Pledgie.com
  18. Razoo.com
  19. sixdegrees.org
  20. tuttidare.com (Beta)
  21. yourcause.com
In addition to these, I discovered four more sites currently in beta to be launched this year (2011), including one called ‘Supporter Wall’ – I presume to model itself after Facebook’s Causes (which we now know works so well, lol)
This list is in no way exhaustive, nor as I said scientific, so all you data wonks, don’t go all geeky on me 🙂

Some observations.

Most of these vendor developed online fundraising sites have a short life history, from 2000 to the present. One site started and closed within a few years (Make the difference network). Firstgiving.org, which also has a U.K. version called justgiving.org,  and Network For Good have the longest history with the years 2000 and 2001  claimed as launch dates on their sites.

When a gift is made through one of these fundraising portal sites to your charity, the gift is held in a donor advised fund owned by the company. Despite the web address extension of .com on some of them, most of these vendors have a 501C3 status organization as an affiliate, which handles the donations, for tax relief purposes. When a gift is made to your charity, the tax receipt is from the vendors 501C3  organization, not from your charity. Of course you are encouraged to send a thank you, but the receipt is not from you to your donor, it is from Network for Good. This might mean something to some donors who want to be ‘counted’ as having given to your cause, but for most they may not notice. The distribution of your gift from this donor advised fund is not instantaneous- most are scheduled as a once or twice per month distribution. These donor advised funds are presumably managed by investment firms. No information could be found on where the interest from these temporarily held funds goes. I would imagine they might be part of the revenue stream for the portal vendor. In one interesting case, the corporate officers of a certain portal vendor, were found to also be the principals of the  investment firm that manages that particular portals donor advised fund. Hm?

The big gorilla, based on longevity and reach with NPO’s is Network for Good. They have an interesting B2B model that probably helps with their revenue stream for operations. Many of the newer and beta sites listed above, indicate that they use Network For Good to process and manage their donations (as the 501C3 donor advised fund), for which a “grant” of 4.75% is paid to Network For Good, presumably by the charity receiving the donation. It raised the question, “Then how are these particular portal vendors earning money?”.   Probably through Data Analytics, like Facebook, and through ad sales. If you are not paying for a service, you are not the customer, you are the product.

One interesting site is the Independent Charities of America (ICA) site at givedirect.org, which offers individuals the ability to create a personal foundation, to which they can invest an initial low amount of $250, all contributions being tax deductible and distributions can be made at the donors convenience with only 5% of the foundation $$ needing to be distributed annually. It does not have any social networking capacity or connections with charities, although it links to an outside source for charity information. Beside ICA, the other vendors reviewed are set up to offer multi-cause, multi-organizational opportunities, most of whom (but not all) require a charity to be a registered IRS entity, with a position on Guidestar or BBB.  Only two that I reviewed allowed anyone to raise money for anything – personal causes (a new boat??), medical bills, weddings, etc.

I then reviewed the number of nonprofits each fundraising portal vendor had as ‘registered’ on their site or the number of charities which they had distributed funds to last year, as well as the total amt of money raised through their portal. As expected those vendors who were .org or had listed the .org affiliate who managed their funds, were easier find data on, getting it directly from their 990’s off of Guidestar. The few corporate sites had limited data available for review. Of those portals where data on number’s of charities served and amount raised could be found,  the avg raised per year / per charity through their online portal revealed the highest amt was just about $30K per charity on avg. and the lowest was $470. In going back a few years, spikes can be seen that I can only assume correlated with global disaster fundraising, for which online giving seems the go to measure.

Let’s pause for a moment here.

If the Network for Good is eleven years old, has a breadth of experience and professional technicians leading its efforts, has a global reach, and it cannot help the NPO to raise more than $30K per year on avg……whats wrong with this picture? A good annual appeal direct mail campaign would be more successful.

Ruminate on this for a minute and we will review the fees charged to charities for this privilege.

In the list reviewed, fees range from a low of 3% per transaction  to a high of 15%. One site took no fees but required a $9.oo per project fee from the charity. Some sites also required credit card processing fees on top of transaction fees. Some sites asked the donor to consider covering  these costs for the charity. All told, the fees charged are, as with everything, buyer beware for charities when it comes to choosing to engage in online fundraising using these portals.

I don’t know about you, but if I had to pay $199 per month for my charity to be listed and an additional 3% per donation, plus credit card transaction fees, not to mention the back office costs of staffing for management, gift processing, stewardship etc. I would want evidence of a significant return on my investment.  *Side note- nowhere on these portals did I find any pitch to support the financial value proposition of charities using such a site for fundraising.

Back to our review.  Given the advent of Facebook, Myspace, Friendster, LinkedIn and other social networking sites into our culture, I expected to see a lot of these vendors offering a social networking aspect to their services. And they did not fail me, although they are not as advanced as I would expect, nor as would be beneficial. While 1/3 have no social networking aspects, 1/3 have what I would term a simple or basic social networking component to their sites, while 1/3 use existing Facebook linkages and – yes – Causes, exclusively. Some include a game of collecting or placing badges on current social networking sites like Facebook, twitter etc.

All of those vendors reviewed offer or require a pitch page that charities use to highlight their organization or their project or, in two cases, requests for funding for very, very specific needs: pencils, books, etc. This allows the donor to get most of the info right on the vendors portal without having to bounce off to the charities site, although most offer the option of placing a link to your organizations homepage on your pitch page.

Donorcentric?  Many of  the sites offer intent options to the donor during gift processing, but not the majority. This is, in my humble opinion, a great defect in these portals. It undermines what we in the industry know about donor giving- that it is specific to the interest of the donor, NOT the need of the organization. I guess they rationalize this, by considering the potential for massive volume of  possible donors- like throwing **** against a wall and knowing some of it will stick.  Some limit the gift intention choice for the donor by project as defined by the charity. The newest contender Jumo.com (by Chris Hughes the co founder of Facebook) does not currently offer donor intention option, but it is in beta and soon could.

One other *missed* opportunity by these portals in being donorcentric, is in offering to the donor (or requiring of the charity) gift use reports for each donation.  Very few offer this option, although some do require charities to show evidence of their project completion as defined on their pitch page. Donor intent is a very hot topic and something that quite often will keep donors from contributing, out of fear that their gift wont be used as intended. Currently, there is no system to screen for that through the checks and balances surrounding NPO’s in the US. The annual tax audit NPO’s are required to have only ensure that accounting methods are followed accurately and that the gift intention was followed when depositing and allocating the money, not necessarily that the gift was then used to purchase the product or build the building. Would the benefit and value of required gift reports bring more donors to the online system of giving?

Conclusions? These vendors mean well and I applaud them for trying. Most of these portals are built on direction from nonprofit industry experts, but they fall short of being technologically cutting edge. Others are developed by Techstars, who have no inside knowledge of how a donor thinks, feels or acts, or what best practices exist in raising money from individuals for a charitable group.  All portals are directed toward the relationship between the vendor and the charity – and all but ignore the needs  of the donor!

Online fundraising needs to continue to be examined and manipulated. How are we currently using social media and to what end results? How can online fundraising better mimic and support our real world relationship building efforts with our donors? Is there a niche for online fundraising that we haven’t uncovered yet? I personally don’t believe we are there yet with any of this stuff- online giving results we are currently seeing are abysmal. We need to keep shaking it up, reformulating and evolving to determine what ‘IT’ is that might make this a productive and supportive tool in our arsenal.

Fluid like water

Ever try to coordinate a meeting between yourself and another person? Between you and two other people? How about between you and five to ten others?
What a flippin, nightmare!! Everyone’s schedule is fixed and no one can bend.
What makes me crazy about times like that, is the obliviousness to missed opportunities it represents. People who are rigid with their schedules, are rigid in other areas as well. Strategy and Relationships among them.
If we hold too TIGHT to our documented plans, so much valuable stuff is allowed to float by like flotsam and jetsam. And you lose.
Let go and grab the great treasures. They won’t float by again!

1 in Five Million Billion Trillion

I was twittered about a direct mail letter someone received from St Jude’s Hospital, asking them for a renewal donation. This mass produced letter had a return tear off, preprinted with three separate boxes, in which the recipient was to mark off which donation they would like to make. We all get them. Usually they say $25, $50,$100 or some such combination.

In this case, the tear off read $0, $0, $0. The twittee indicated the letter made the same mistake, asking for a $0 donation like last year.

What?!?!

Clearly this is a mass produced request. Nonprofits like St Judes are the Big Box Store of the nonprofit world. Processing and manufacturing donors in mass production. Quantity over quality. They have to, to feed their gianormous budgets for personnel and S+E costs.

We all use mass mailing companies. What was most objectionable, in this case, is when the twitee called St Judes and questioned the mistake, the hospital said yes it was an error, the mail house did right by them by rebating some money for the production, but the hospital had no intention to follow up with the donors who received the incorrect request, there were just too many.

I dont know about you, but I would NOT want to feel like I was one of so many that a phone call or follow up letter could not be sent. If my dollars are so small to be insignificant enough to justify correction, then I’m not giving to the right organization.

I would bet among those who received the incorrect letter, and were NOT contacted in follow up, were some who would have and could have been life long and major donors potentially sharing millions, if given the attention and respect a letter or phone call would have cost St Judes.

We have come too far from what npo’s were- local, personal, compassionate, respectful companies, helping people with money and intention connect with need.

Never, EVER let your size dictate your stewardship. Find a way or go local.

internet down!

Don’t you hate that? That’s my current state. No internet access from my home network.
So that’s a predicament. The problem is how to stay connected.

“Focus on identifying and solving the problems, not the predicaments, for problems can be mastered.”

Too often in life, we lose sight of what we are dealing with- a predicament or a problem.
A predicament is something over which you have no control and for which you can have no affect on changing. Internet down. Rainstorms. A spouse that is an early riser when you are not.
We lose sleep over predicaments. We worry and grow irritated over predicaments. We can’t fix a predicament.

But with each predicament comes associated problems. That we can fix! The problem I’m dealing with right now, over the internet down predicament, is how to stay connected. Many answers exist: library access, Blackberry, phone calls. Focusing on solving the problems surrounding the predicament, gives us more to work with, and in working with, maintains our sense of strength, empowerment and control. Calming us down considerably and giving us positive feedback on our competency and confidence.

I had dinner last night with a recently widowed friend who shared remarkable stories about her late husband, a man of conviction and gentle encouragement. He had a ‘can do’ attitude and would not allow anyone he knew to have the ability to succeed, to slack. Her memories included his often used phrase “yes, you can”. And he meant it.

And so I am blogging from my Blackberry. Its certainly not pretty nor easy- fat fingers and poor editing abilities will make the visual of this blog interesting. But I’m doing it and overcoming the problem that the predicament brought on.

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.  ~Albert Einstein

The revolution in ‘fundraising’ EVENTS – how not to raise money

Nonprofit fundraising has become known to the common masses for its ‘fundraising’ events and its sale activities. Talk to any layperson about being in ‘fundraising’ and they respond “Oh, you must be good at planning events!” or “I was never good at selling cookies”.

Events are commonly misunderstood. Possibly the misunderstanding comes from the saturation affect: the daily arrival of invites, ads and press releases on what black tie gala, or hayride and cookout is being hosted for which group, how much they raised or plan to raise, and who attended. The misunderstanding is that events are hosted to raise funds.

Too often the reality is, the money raised is minimal compared to the expense, the attendees learn little about the organization as beneficiary, and the event is seen as a burden on the supporter- an obligation that must be born to show support and that most donors would just as happily support the nonprofit in other ways, ways more lucrative and efficient to the nonprofits mission.

Disagree? See, as evidence, the recent results of the cancellation of such ‘fundraising’ events due to economic stress. One nonprofit board member, Nancy Jarecki, speaking in an article in the Nonprofit Times, observes “It’s kind of strange, when people are almost not required or obligated to get that event invitation in the mail, that expectation that they feel like they’ve got to do it, they still write the check,” Jarecki said. “They tended to still give, but on their own. They didn’t have the pressure of buying a $1,000 ticket”

In the same article, Carol Kurzig executive Director of the Avon Foundation notes “In general, in our experience, individual donations are holding very well and have increased significantly this year”

And in a study conducted in 2007, the nonprofit watchdog group, Charity Navigator concluded “…special events are inefficient in comparison to overall fundraising activities” and “Many health charities would benefit from shifting their fundraising focus away from special events.” Most disturbingly, the report went on to discover “A large percent of charities are reporting their special events data incorrectly, with no recourse from state or federal regulators.” But that’s a topic for another post, I digress.

So, the question then becomes- Why? Why are nonprofit leaders across the nation continuing to perpetrate this crime on the donating public? Why do they continue to reel head long onto the path of wasted money and large headaches in pursuit of raising funds, if the results are poor return on investment, bad donor feelings and a weak economic model in a stressful economy?

1. Perception

Unlike our corporate sisters, nonprofits have been indoctrinated into believing that they must perform to the expectation of the masses, allowing the public to lead the development and performance of the NPO, rather than driving performance and perception from their core product line. Public opinion sways management more than outcomes when it comes to fundraising. Maybe it’s because many fundraisers come from the service delivery field, where public need and opinion rightly DOES drive program. Maybe it’s because our Board of Directors often do not have sufficient experience in philanthropy to be governing such decisions. Maybe we just don’t know how to stop.

2. It’s easy

Okay, hosting events is not really easy. They’re a heck of a lot of work- volunteer coordination, set up, break down, mailings, registration tracking, and more mailings. And all of those decisions. Hours and hours of time and resources, for months on end, to produce a three hour event. But what makes them easy and attractive is the group nature of the solicitation. No one is on the end of the limb. No one is in the spotlight asking for the gift. The ‘ask’ is not from a philanthropic place, it’s from a sales place. And a sale is an academic activity, it’s understandable, it’s American. I give you this, you give me that. It seems fair. But compared to cultivating and building a relationship with a real person – mano a mano – to ask them for money, well bring on the flower choices and dinner menus. Let’s have a party.

3. It draws daily attention

Show me the society page that has picture upon picture of Mrs. Jenna Moneybags and the Executive Director of the We Need Your Help nonprofit organization with the head line “Years of Cultivation and Stewardship Pays Off: Large ask gifts WNYH organization with $100,000 for their children’s ward.” Valuable philanthropy just doesn’t get that kind of everyday publicity or pictures and smiles. It doesn’t market.

4. It feels good

Volunteers want to help. Planning events gives them something to do.

All of which, while being valid and understandable, still doesn’t answer the question why do we continue.

I propose we place a moratorium on all new ‘fundraising’ events, all expansion of  ‘fundraising’ events, or even, the continuation of dying ‘fundraising’ events. The economy seems to be helping us do just that.

I next propose we educate our boards in a way that helps them become more effective in governing philanthropic decision. Let’s start with the wasteful nature of events as fundraisers.

In tandem, we need to provide academic educational opportunities and tracks of learning and growth for fundraising professionals. More academics on developing relationships, cultivating constituents, stewarding donors and less of the ‘how to host an event’ training is needed. And it needs to be qualified in a tiered way that allows the development of professionals along lines of experience, from entry level to experienced professional.

Finally, let’s develop a mental picture of what events can actually do for us: engage volunteers, bring awareness, and satisfy public perception. But they don’t raise money and so therefore are not ‘Fund Raisers’. If we build our events using these three core beliefs, I reason that waste will be reduced, donor market share will increase and philanthropic profits will rise.