Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What Fundraisers Can Learn from Whales (and the people who care about them)

We are all about saving the whales in our house.

During a rainy day at summer camp, my 9 year old daughter and her friends watched the movie "Free Willy." She came home wide-eyed, on fire, wanting to know what she personally could do to protect the endangered whales. 

That was a year ago.

Since then, she's conducted a mini-fundraising drive, soliciting donations from our friends and family in order to protect the whales. (Like mother, like daughter ... and this fundraising mother had to explain to said daughter the concept of the small return on direct mail appeals when she was dismayed that everyone didn't immediately respond with wallets wide open.)  Undeterred, my daughter then created a blog called Orcas and Stuff ("so people would know about the whales and would donate" - her words, not mine) and mini-posters to give to her friends.

And then, we adopted an orca.

For my daughter's 9th birthday, my mother-in-law gifted her princess only granddaughter with Princess Angeline, a whale that is part of The Whale Museum's Orca Adoption Program.  She was enthralled, delighted. 

And the people who coordinate the Orca Adoption Program (Connie, Jeanne, and Nikki) have become her new best friends.

How do I know their names?  Because my daughter has been writing to them ...

Dear Whale Museum Here is another email from me. As I said in my last email to you guys I have adopted Princess Angeline J 17. I wanted to ask you guys how do you know which whale is who?

... and writing to them ...

Its me again! I know you said you can tell who is who by the saddle patch but what happens when a whale is spyhopping? How can you tell who they are then?

... and Connie, Jeanne, and Nikki have been writing back. 

In my professional capacity as the PR person for various nonprofits, I've been the recipient of several emails like my daughter's - and I'll admit, once upon a time I might not always have been as quick (or as thoughtful) with the reply as Connie, Jeanne, and Nikki have been.  That was before becoming a parent (which changes your outlook on a great many things) and realizing that there are adults attached to these kids, adults who have the capacity to be donors and sustaining supporters of organizations that our kids believe in, wholeheartedly. 

As development professionals, we talk a lot about engaging with our donors. Many of us struggle mightily with this, get frustrated when it seems like we're talking to ourselves, are puzzled about the best ways to use the newest social media tools (I'm so loving Google +, BTW) to connect more deeply with our constituents. 

This morning, when I saw Connie's latest patient, ever-so-gracious emailed response to my daughter, I realized that The Whale Museum is an example of an organization that has this donor engagement thing down pat.  Whether it's deliberate or not, they've successfully made my daughter believe that she and Princess Angeline, her beloved orca, are the most important thing in the world to them.  She eagerly awaits their replies to her emails, prints them out, and saves them for when she becomes an orca trainer herself (or a veterinarian, depending on the day).

When you think about it, The Whale Museum is simply implementing the basics of donor engagement in their successful cultivation of my daughter as a supporter, and they're tenets that can work for your organization too. 

1. Be Quick. When communicating one-on-one with your constituents, be prompt with the replies. We usually see a response from The Whale Museum within 24 hours of sending them an email.

2. Be a Human Being.  The emails aren't signed from the impersonal "The Whale Museum."  They're signed by Connie, Jeanne, and Nikki from the Orca Adoption Program of The Whale Museum.  My daughter asked me if they were the women who look after her orca, Princess Angeline.  They just might be.

3. Be Real. One of the oldest whales, Ruffles, has not been spotted for a long time and is presumed to be dead.  My daughter has been constantly checking The Whale Museum's website as well as other Internet sources in hopes of receiving news that he is, indeed, still with us.  Alas, it doesn't seem to be so - and when she discovered a YouTube video "in memory of" Ruffles, she immediately emailed  The Whale Museum with her concerns that he was prematurely declared deceased.  (This also prompted a timely lesson on how you can't always believe everything you read online.)  Connie et al replied with a compassionate email in kid-appropriate terms about how they too were saddened over Ruffles' apparent death. 

4. Be There.  As part of the Orca Adoption Program, we receive a monthly e-newsletter about the well-being of all the orcas.  It's highly anticipated in this house, with my daughter eagerly devouring every issue. It's timely, without any outdated information. 

(And as a donor, it's a reminder each month of my support and encouragement to continue ... which we will absolutely be doing, since when you're 9, it's hard to top getting your own orca for your birthday.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Fundraiser's Report Card (or, What the Giving USA Foundation's 2010 Report Means for Nonprofits)

Each year on the last day of school, my kids bring their report cards home in a sealed envelope.  This is always a big deal in our house, mainly because they are anxious to see if they've been promoted to the next grade. 

(I'd imagine that their father and I would know if that wasn't happening well before report card time. Regardless, their anticipation of how they did over the past year is kind of fun to see.)

With the release of Giving USA Foundation's 2010 results on charitable giving, today is kind of like report card day for us fundraisers, isn't it?

As those in the nonprofit sector know (but others reading this - hi, Mom! - may not) Giving USA is a highly reputable survey in the philanthropic world and taken seriously, as it should be. 

(I admit to being a little like my kids and myself as a parent on this day:  I'm eager (and optimistic) to see the results, to gauge how we as a profession are doing and where the giving is going, but I'm also usually not all that surprised about the results.)

This year's report doesn't have too many surprises, in my view.  "[T]otal charitable contributions from American individuals, corporations and foundations were an estimated $290.89 billion in 2010, up from a revised estimate of $280.30 billion for 2009. The 2010 estimate represents growth of 3.8 percent in current dollars and 2.1 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars."

It's encouraging to see an increase - albeit ever so slight - but this shows that the economy is still slamming charitable giving, which translates into countless nonprofits still struggling to provide services to the very people who were once their donors in better times. I hope that this means that giving is on the road to recovery.  It will be interesting to see if the 2010 numbers are revised downward next year, as the previous years' numbers have been.

What I always like to look at in the statistics is where the money is going, and who is giving it.  Again, not too many surprises here. As has been the case in the past, giving by individuals leads the pack (with those holding bequests, no less).  Corporate and foundation giving follow.

Religion still leads (and we know why: because their constituents are asked to give weekly) but is followed by education for the first time in recent years.  That's encouraging for those in that subsector.  Human services is still shaky - and worrisome, especially given how these groups tend to be impacted by volatile state budgets and whatnot. 

So, what does this mean for nonprofits and their fundraising?  Three words.  The same three that we've been chanting since the Great Recession started. 

Individuals, individuals, individuals. 

The big bang for the bucks might be in the corporate coffers, but a bigger bang can be had with the individual donors.  It shows that just as many resources on the nonprofit end need to be devoted to the individual donors and cultivating them for potential bequests.  (Making for another reason why attending the 2011 Millennial Donor Summit is a good idea.)

Again, the need to focus on individuals isn't surprising, but all too often its not where we direct our time. We don't always call at least three donors each day to say thank you or wish them a happy birthday. We don't always follow up after special events. And thank you notes are oftentimes considered the bane of a development officer's existance.

These sorts of tasks are a fundraiser's homework. And if we do our homework right (and every night), there won't be many surprises on our end-of-year report card.

Link to the Giving USA report on the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University's website.

What Other Fundraisers and Nonprofit Professionals are Saying:

Mitch Nauffts of the blog PhilanTopic has a good summary of the Giving USA report's highlights and links to other commentaries about it.    

On her blog Talisman Thinking Out Loud, Barbara Talisman provides fundraisers with ways they can use the report right now.

Jocelyn from Marketing for Nonprofits gives her insightful take.

Andrew Watt, CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, says that the Giving USA report indicates we have a long road ahead.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

That Ain't Workin': Comments for Nothin' and Your Clicks For Free

I'm not a Dire Straits fan (in fact, I despise the song with the skewed lyrics in the subject line above). But it's the first thing I thought of when I noticed a few questions posed by some nonprofits in my Facebook News Feed this morning. 

Perhaps you've noticed this sort of thing, too. 

Status update from a local, grassroots organization that supports people with disabilities:

"It's a hot one out there today!  Where does everyone go to stay cool?"

Followed by this, from an educational group:

"Tell us the SPF level on your sunscreen!  Share with us ... we want to know!"

Really?  I mean, do you really want to know such trivia?  And, um ... why?

This sort of question would make sense if this was an organization with a mission having something to do with skin care or preventing cancer, but it's not. Or if the query about places to stay cool was followed up with a listing of summer recreational activities that are conducive and amenable to people with disabilities. That would be informative, interesting, interactive.

Instead, what these general questions represent is mindless chatter disguised as "engaging with our audience."  And for quite awhile now, it has been one of my pet peeves of how nonprofits are using social media - Facebook in particular.  I've noticed this becoming more and more prevalent ... and as a fundraiser and a donor, I don't really get it. 

Or maybe I do.  Maybe one explanation is this:  many of us have had to sell our bosses or our boards on this newfangled notion of "doing social media."  In the best scenarios, they were merely hesitant.  Worse case, they were downright obstinate, refusing to go where everyone had gone before. (I've had the experience of working for both.)  But we sold it to them (because that's what we do) under the guise of "engaging with our audience."  We believed that the masses of people Liking and Friending us would rush home from our galas and our donor recognition dinners to spend the wee small hours of the morning breathlessly awaiting our photo uploads.  And that they would gush over them, making us feel like we were, indeed their number one nonprofit. 

We believed that our Fans and our Friends would engage us in meaningful dialogue, that they would become evangelists for our cause, spreading the word to their friends and family.

And part of us knows ... they're not. 

So we fundraisers/PR directors/development coordinators start feeling a bit desperate, thinking that maybe this isn't working, wondering if we screwed something up with our profile or our settings. We start counting likes and Friends, in case of that moment at a meeting when we're asked how many "friends" our organization has.  How many people we are engaging with, even if we're ... um, really not.

We start floundering, getting off course and off strategy. 

And from a donor's perspective, well ... I think these casual snippets of conversation, as if we were standing around at a fundraising event (talking about our preferred sunscreens?) have the dangerous potential of disenfranchising our donors.  In the case of the two organizations I mentioned above, there aren't any comments on those questions and that isn't a surprise now, is it?  Who can be bothered with answering such drivel?

I think it also communicates what could be perceived in the eyes of our donors as a lack of focus on the goal or mission. We who do social media know that these status updates really only represent nanoseconds of time in the scheme of millions of other to-dos throughout our long days, but our donors might not recognize that.  They see what they see, and if our board members are seeing a barrage of questions about sunscreen and inquiries of "so, what's everyone up to this weekend?"  then it becomes eyebrow-raising, a potential turn-off in terms of interest and support. 

It comes back to the stories, the stories, the stories.  Social media (and don't get me wrong, I adore this Internet thing of ours) is tailor-made for stories galore. I believe it has so much potential but yet so much of that is squandered with the banalities.  The story about your client, that kid your organization helped in that new program, that volunteer who has been an unsung hero for 20 years ... the substantive content gets sacrificed for constant crap.  It's always been quality over quantity, in all of our fundraising communications.  Social media is no different. 

The compelling status updates that link your Friends and Fans to the mission of your organization or what your organization is about are going to be the status updates worth remembering - not forever, no. But my money's on it lasting longer than even the strongest level of sunscreen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

"Whenever I see a "best practice" example it is usually a larger nonprofit organization. What are small nonprofits doing right? Do you have some examples?"

That's the question my friend Pamela Grow asked the other day on her Simple Development Systems Facebook page.

(Pamela is someone with development savvy I admire - and have used often. I also consider Pamela a friend since - many years ago - we both overlapped at the same nonprofit organization.)

As I was thinking about examples of small nonprofits doing "big best practice things right," I saw a status update from a former board member of mine. He was excited about a gala tomorrow night, and was asking his contacts if they were attending.

And with that, I had my answer to Pamela's question.

You see, when I was the development director for the nonprofit hosting that very gala, that event was our largest fundraiser of the year. (It still is.) As with many of these sorts of things, the Gala is the prime opportunity to see donors and potential supporters.

And one of the most important to-do's for such an event is the simplest: know your guests' names.

Here are two ways we helped make this happen with our staff:

1. Give Them Pizza and Photos. A day or so before our Gala, I ordered pizza for lunch and invited our stressed-out group of hard working staff members into the conference room. (This event was all-hands-on-deck for this organization ... which is another blog post altogether.) Then, I presented a PowerPoint slideshow of the Who's Who of the Gala, complete with photos and all.  One year we even added a Donor Trivia Contest with small prizes.  It was a great stress reliever during a hectic time.

2. Glue Yourself to the Registration Table. When your guests are walking in the door with Mr. and Mrs. Prospective Donor (and they absolutely should be), that's not the time for you as the development director to be elsewhere futzing with silent auction snafus or bitching with a coworker about what a volunteer did or did not do. Your job - and I'd venture to say it's the most important one you'll do all night - is to plant yourself right there at registration/check in/whatever you call it and greet every single one of your donors by name.

Yep. Every single one. (Or as many as you can.) Bonus points if you know their guests' names too.

You know why? Because this simple practice helps to burnish your organization's image in your donor's mind as an organization that cares about them. That knows them.

To me, this simple and best practice is an essential function. I absolutely believe that the person you put in this capacity for your event is vitally important. Registration is not the spot for the summer intern who joined your staff two weeks ago, unless he or she has a photographic memory from your PowerPoint pizza slide show. (Yes, include them in that lunch too. You never know who is going to strike up a conversation with your major gift prospect en route to the restroom. Trust me, it happens.)

This is so easy to do, but is a special event detail that is neglected. I can't think of the last time my husband and I walked into an event and were immediately greeted with, "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Firman! So glad to see you tonight!"

Can you?

When you do this, the look on your donors' faces will be priceless. I've had donors come up and express surprise and gratitude that I remembered their guests' names.  Normally, I would joke that I'd looked at the Excel spreadsheet of attendees so often that I was reciting it in my sleep (which wasn't far from the truth).  But the message was conveyed that ours was an organization where everybody knows their name.

And I'm betting that this made them pretty glad they came to our event.

copyright 2011, Melissa M. Firman, The Firman Group. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

You'll Find Out Who Your Friends Are

Think back to the last time you made a charitable donation. 

Now, think about how you were asked - and who asked you to write that check or whip out that credit card to sponsor their participation in that 5K for cancer or autism. 

I'm betting the request you answered came from someone you know, right? 

That's the subject of David Simpson's article today ("Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Deserves Top Level Focus and Resources") in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  In it, Simpson cites the eNonprofits Benchmark Study 2011 that "found that the email fundraising response rate in 2010 was less than .08 percent," a decrease of 20% over the past year. 

This doesn't come as much of a surprise to those of us familiar with the open-rates and responses to e-communications, does it? With every nonprofit having some version of an e-newsletter these days (and if yours doesn't have some semblance of one, you really should), these communications are competing for attention in our mailboxes with free newsletters from brands and companies - as well as our social media time LOLing with long-lost friends on Facebook. 

Simpson is right when he says that these peer-to-peer fundraising initiatives (the request from the friend's husband to sponsor him to shave his head for childhood cancer, the former intern's participation in a bike-a-thon to help find a cure for MS - all of which I personally received recently and made an online donation to) are ones worth looking more closely at.  Development professionals need to become more aware and savvy of who among their circle of supporters are activating their personal networks and begin to steward, cultivate, and recognize them for doing such. 

(They also may be an untapped source of your next fundraising chair or your special events coordinator.  After nonstop promotion of her participation in a special event for a local beach house for children fighting cancer, a friend was recently brought on board as the foundation's Events Coordinator.  You couldn't go more than an hour recently without a mention of this organization in her Facebook stream ... and you know what? It worked, because otherwise I would have never heard of this organization.) 

It also solidifies a belief that I have that peer-to-peer fundraising is going to become an even stronger force in how nonprofits will raise a significant chunk of their individual giving revenue. And for those organizations that are entrenched in the a-thon culture of various 5K races, walks, bike and toddler trike rides, etc., this might already be part of your revenue stream.  

With what we development professionals like often call "a-Thon Season" now in full swing, now's the time to do just that - and to plan to do such for the fall fundraising season, too, and beyond.

Have you noticed more requests to support friends' fundraising efforts in your Facebook stream or your email? Have you made a gift to help them out in their quest? If so, what made you do so - the cause, your relationship with the person asking, or perhaps something else? 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink (Book Review)

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
by Daniel H. Pink

Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group
242 pages

You need to read Drive if you fit into any of these categories:

1. You supervise or manage people. (If you're a parent, that includes your kids. If you're a teacher, that includes your students.)

2. You want to supervise or manage people.

3. You've ever been supervised or managed.

Did I miss anyone?  Good, because Drive is a book that almost everyone can benefit from reading.  And Daniel Pink just so happens to have written an enjoyable nonfiction read. 

After reading Drive, there's no need for traditional management books.  The theories we learned in Management 101 on how to motivate people are obsolete, outdated, and oh-so-nineteenth and twentieth century. As the book jacket says, "most of us believe that the best way to motivate ourselves and others is with external rewards like money - the carrot-and-stick approach."   I have a job that needs to be done.  You need money.  I pay you.  If you don't do the job the way I expect and to my exact specifications, there are repercussions.  Hence, you become a cog in the wheel. You do as you're told without any creativity or innovation.  Your attitude becomes one of resentment.  Your motivation and morale is shot to hell. 

This is old-school thinking, a mindset that was fine and worked well back in the manufacturing and industrialized economies of the day.  But our jobs (the ones that are left, anyway) are ones that have evolved into ones that demand more higher-level skills and thinking, more interaction with people and more on-the-spot judgment calls. 

Managers fail to see that the traditional management theories aren't working because they don't know any better.  Managers believe (and many still do) that this is the way to keep people in line, to get them to work harder, to earn their loyalty.  As an example, how many of you have a boss who practices "management by walking around"?  That sounds all fine and well and good, all progressive and in touch with one's employees and their issues, but what does this really accomplish?  Nothing - except making you feel like you're on a leash, that you can't possibly leave work at 4:45 p.m. instead of 5:00 in order to catch your kid's school play because the boss might choose that exact moment to stop by.

Tell me how that motivates people to do their best work again? 

Pink says there's a better way.  "The secret to high performance and satisfaction - at work, at school, and at home - is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world." (from the book jacket).  We need autonomy (over our task, our time, our technique, and our team), mastery, and purpose.

I happen to believe this is true - and truthfully? That this isn't really all that surprising of a concept. 

In Drive, Daniel Pink gives real-life examples of companies and CEOs who have figured this stuff out.  He shows us corporations that not only allow their employees to telecommute or work truly flexible schedules, but who embrace concepts like FedEx Days and 20% Time. These are initiatives, endorsed by top leadership, where employees are given the freedom to spend 20% of their time on a project of their choice.  He argues - and proves - that some of the most innovative products (and ones that often have a very positive effect on the corporate bottom line) are ones that were developed not because a boss said "I want you to produce this widget, in this certain size, in this color, etc. etc.) but instead because someone had the time and the freedom to create, to tinker, to explore possibilities. 

Pink drills down even further. He gives very practical examples of how these practices can be implemented in any organization - specific to the business world, the classroom, and the household.  He provides reading lists and websites.  He even provides a Twitter-ready summary of the book ("Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, and  purpose.")

This will go onto my list as among my best nonfiction books I've read this year. 

Have you read Drive? If so, what were your thoughts?