Tagged: development

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.

Data Rich $$$

In philanthropy management, data is the key to godliness.  And accurate, complete and usable data is the food of Gods.

When I began in fundraising…many years ago…our data on donors was kept on index cards. Yes, little white cards, or color coded, depending on your offices level of sophistication. We kept demographic data: name, address, career related information on these cards. We kept the donors financial information on these cards.  We kept information on the donors interests on these cards and their latest donations.  And we kept a documentation of our interaction with the donor on these cards.

Maintaining these cards was easy. One file box. A few scribes. No one could use the card at the same time. No one could ‘erase’ the data without leaving evidence of it. If you referred to the card, unless it was not written on the card to begin with, you knew exactly who was speaking with whom. The worst that could happen was the box was lost, or the card.

Pulling data from these cards in any batch effort was impossible, or nearly so. It would require days of man hours to collect a report of who was interested in pediatric surgery, or who made a gift in the last year.

Then enter the computerized database. What a joyous feeling it was to actually have a system to collect data to and query reports from!

We jumped into using the database with both feet and soon learned that our headaches had only just begun. I don’t know of one philanthropy professional who is without a war wound, horror story or hairball of a database system, because of a rush forward into technology without restraint and with ignorance to the outcomes.

What I’ve learned on the battle field is summarized here in four key mandates. (more…)

Be Accountable

From the Hartford Courant, October 7th, 2009

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Wednesday asked the governor for an accounting of funds from specialty state license plates, saying at least $500,000 has been illegally diverted to Connecticut’s General Fund to help balance the state’s troubled budget……Usurping donor intent after the state solicits and receives such contributions is forbidden by constitutional law, fairness and common sense, Blumenthal said.”

http://www.courant.com/news/local/statewire/hc-ap-ct-licenseplatefundsoct07,0,2140204.story

And so it goes. Not that this is new. Too often, as highlighted in my post of Sept 25th, the ones raising the money and the ones spending the money in an NPO, have mutually exclusive goals. This tension always exists, but appears to increase as the economy forces nonprofits to make some critical operating decisions. And when the decisions are driven by personal gain it becomes all the more egregious. Not that Rell has personal gain in this, but the lack of respect and the hubris in assumption of donated funds as a free checkbook is disturbing and all too common.

If you are on a Board of Trustees you need to become more empowered in your governance role. Ask questions and expect answers. And if it’s still not clear ask some more. Do not allow administration to appease you with arguments of their managerial control and administrative duties vs your role in governance. Ensuring the intent of donor funds is honored is governance.

If you are administering an NPO, check your intentions. If indeed decisions need to be made about donor funds, and the use of such funds that is not in compliance with donor intent, you still have recourse. Go back to the donor or donors and explain the need. Ask permission. Seek counsel from the AG’s office. And if you find you still cannot use the funds to solve the financial issue, then build a case for more donations to meet your need.

Yes its hard work, but thats our role.

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.

Here is the promise

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