Category Archives: General Fundraising

What Fundraisers Can Learn From Ben Franklin

benBen Franklin is quoted as having said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” This quote is often tossed around by telemarketers, teaching one another the not-so-gentle are of pushing a customer just far enough toward closing the deal . . . but not so far that the customer hangs up in a panic.

Your average fundraiser does not, of course, go to telemarketer school. (Many telemarketers, in fact, seemed to have skipped the lesson mentioned above, but that’s another story.)

The thing of it is, I sometimes wonder whether fundraisers would be better off studying telemarketing tactics. By doing so, they could also understand when to back off, and why prospective donors — who are also consumers — are prone to feeling railroaded.

Why is this on my mind? Because some overeager fundraisers recently showed up at my front door, and despite the fact that I was literally holding cell phone to my ear and talking to my parents, they WOULD NOT LEAVE until they’d delivered their entire, long spiel. (They probably thought I was lying about being on the phone. I wasn’t.)

If anything, selling a product leaves more room to convince someone against their will than “selling” a cause does. We all buy lots of things we don’t really need, sometimes just to try something new. But when it comes to supporting a charitable effort, studies have shown that even those who donate to charity tend to choose a limited universe of causes to give to, based on very personal reasons. (See my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits — just out in its 4th edition — for more on that.)

So, there are some people out there — goodhearted, charitable people — who will not support your cause no matter how hard you try. Or maybe they’ll give a few bucks, but ignore all follow-up appeals, and resolve never to pick up the phone or open their door again.

Ben Franklin might have been interested to hear the results of a recent study of fundraising techniques, which found that telling targets that they were free to refuse the request actually increased the likelihood that they would donate. People felt “less threatened” by the whole interaction. (Will we be hearing such messages from telemarketers soon?)

It’s PTA Collection Time as the School Year Begins!

Can you feel the excitement in the air? Kids are finding out who their teachers are, buying their back-to-school wardrobes, and signing up for activities.

Parents, however, may be a little less excited. Whether the kids are attending public or private schools, this is the time when many are asked to write a big check — knowing that without parental support, the school will literally go without an arts or music program, a librarian, after-school tutors, and so on. The “suggested donation” levels can run into the thousands of dollars.

This raises the annual conundrum: Should the PTA or other volunteers organizing these fundraising efforts ask for the full, needed lump-sum up front, or plan to spread out their requests for funding over the school year, sometimes packaged up as special events or fundraising sales?

Two mothers I recently spoke with debated this very point. One said, “I helped with school fundraising last year, and noticed that some people just won’t write a check unless they get something in return — they hold out for the silent auctions and other sales.” The other said, “But I get so sick of having to attend events like that, and I’m sure things like wrapping paper sales don’t net the school more than a few bucks — I’d rather just add that to my check at the beginning of the year. Yes, it hurts to write that big a check, but at least I get it over with.”

FLIBThere’s probably no final answer, though if you’re a PTA fundraiser, it’s worth keeping an eye on whether parents are developing a “mass sentiment” toward fundraising. Here’s an excerpt from my book, The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising, that will help illustrate:

[D]onor sentiment has cycled at South Mountain Elementary School in South Orange, New Jersey. PTA copresident Laura Reichgut describes, “We sent out a survey last year to get a sense of how the school community was feeling about fundraising, programming, and so forth. A lot of the feedback suggested that parents had had their fill of the various smaller fundraisers, such as giftwrap sales or walkathons. So the PTA decided to eliminate some of those this year—or at least take a break from them—and replace them with what we call the ‘No Frills Campaign.’ We sent out a simple letter asking
for donations and including a reply envelope. Our pitch was that this is an opportunity to support all the great work of the school with 100% tax-deductible donations. . . . [A] mere week into the campaign, the South Mountain PTA had already reached its minimum monetary goal for the No Frills Campaign, and the donations continued to come in during the following weeks.”

Hey, Nonprofit: Are You Talking to Me?

armyI just received an email from a nonprofit with the subject line, “We Need a Tiny Fraction of You to Donate.” Exactly which fraction of me are they after? My pinky? My appendix?

All kidding aside, this awkward construction, using the plural “you,” is all too common among writers at nonprofits and elsewhere. The writers unconsciously picture themselves as addressing a crowd.

They forget that, by the time the email reaches my inbox, it’s just me. I’m expecting a personal touch — a direct appeal for funds based on a supposedly one-to-one relationship between the nonprofit and me.

But with a subject line like the one above, I quickly notice that the nonprofit is not really talking to me at all. It’s talking to a whole bunch of people. In that case, all I have to do is step aside and let the others make the donations, right?

We’re not talking complex grammar here. All anyone has to do to avoid this problem is to look twice at every use of the word “you” in addressing prospective donors. Make it singular, as if talking to just one person.

Then, don’t forget to carry this usage throughout the email or other missive — another common place where writers go wrong, as illustrated by another email that just landed in my inbox. It had such a promising, personal-sounding subject line: “My work with you.”

The writer proceeded to blow it within the first two lines: “Ilona, I’m writing to let each of you know about an important change at [our nonprofit.]” Each of me? Oh dear, I didn’t know my multiple personalities were that obvious.

Got Milestones to Celebrate?

childrenThe East Bay Children’s Book Project recently announced to its email followers that, “We are getting ready to celebrate an amazing milestone. We will give away our millionth book sometime this year.” In recognition, the group is sponsoring a contest to guess the exact time they give away that millionth book, collecting one million pennies, and otherwise inviting publicity.

Let’s think about that milestone for a minute. It’s impressive, and it’s legitimate. But unlike, say, an organization’s tenth anniversary or the graduation of its first class, “millionth book” is not a milestone that stares you right in the face. This group basically had to decide to measure, mark, and announce it. And kudos to them for their nonprofit marketing savvy.

Milestones are an excellent way for nonprofits to engage with their members and supporters on topics that don’t scream desperation. Even if a group doesn’t build an event around them, they can be fodder for email campaigns and social media. And some milestones will, in fact, be worthy of a special event. Let this be inspiration for you to think about what milestones your group is reaching, beyond the obvious ones, and make the most of them.

For free tips on how to hold a special event, and how to engage with supporters via social media, see the Nonprofit Fundraising section of Nolo’s website.

 

 

It’s Actually Okay If Your Nonprofit Doesn’t Hold a Golf Fundraiser

golfTo hear all the ads and emails, you’d think that any nonprofit that hasn’t started planning its spring golf tournament — right now, this instant — is putting a permanent divot into its fundraising budget. Doesn’t it make you feel a little nervous, hearing about how other groups are raising money in ways that yours hasn’t even contemplated?

Relax, take a deep breath, and remember the fundraisers’ mantra: Your fundraising plan should be based on your nonprofit’s assets and capacities. If you don’t have a fundraising plan, now might be a good time to get going on one. But chasing after ideas like golf tournaments is only going to postpone that process, probably without much of a budgetary boost in the meantime.

There’s a reason I’m picking on golf tournaments, too. I’ve never met a fundraising method more famous for insinuating itself into a nonprofit’s activities — usually because one founder or board member happens to love golf — and then occupying oodles of staff and volunteer time, despite the fact that the number of participants hasn’t grown much and it has absolutely no thematic tie-in with the nonprofit’s work or the interests of most of its members.

For help with identifying your nonprofit’s core assets and developing a fundraising plan that best utilizes those, see “Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits: Real-World Strategies That Work” (Nolo).

What “Fundraising” Means Depends on the Type of Organization

CAKEThe dictionary defines fundraising as simply, “the act or process of raising funds.” But what that literally means depends on what sort of organization you’re working with. In particular, fundraising techniques, cycles, and cardinal rules look very different depending on whether you’re with:

  • a small or volunteer-led effort such as a start-up nonprofit or a school, church or temple, or community group, or
  • a nonprofit that’s big or established enough to have at least one development staffperson (or perhaps an executive director committed to fundraising efforts).

What’s different about the fundraising experiences of these two types of groups? Here are some of the biggest variations:

  • Volunteer-led efforts may lack continuity. Particularly in schools, where the population of parents changes every year, it can be difficult to plan beyond the next 12 months. While a few people may stay on, other key participants may drop out, and vital information about previous activities or donors may be lost. The constituency may change, as well, making it difficult to develop and maintain relationships with donors. Larger more established groups, by contrast, can and should develop an annual fundraising plan and foster long-term relationships with donors.
  • Volunteer-led efforts rely on what volunteers are willing to do. That sounds obvious, but if you look at how it plays out, the significance is huge: Most volunteers hate asking people for money directly. They may eventually learn that it’s not so bad, but on the whole, this tendency leads to a huge proportion of volunteer-led fundraising activities that are special events (bake sales, pancake breakfasts, auctions, fairs, carnivals, benefits, and so on). Special events are the least efficient way to fundraise, as the larger more established groups have mostly learned (sometimes the hard way). But for certain types of groups, special events not going to go away anytime soon.
  • Volunteer-led or smaller groups may have a constituency with a direct, personal interest in the cause. It can certainly be easier to get people involved when they are the literal beneficiaries of the group — the parents of kids in school or on a sports team, the patrons of a local library, the members of a house of worship, and so on. Not everyone will feel a sense of responsibility or be able to follow through, but many will “get it” that if they don’t take part in fundraising activities, the service will go away. This can be good for fundraising via methods that involve large numbers of people, such as a walk-a-thon or auction.
  • Smaller or less established nonprofits may face greater challenges obtaining grant funding. Foundations and corporations like to see that a group has a track record of using funding wisely, and that’s hard to show if you, uh, don’t. Then again, a nonprofit that’s new may at least be able to show prospective funders that it’s doing something exciting and different, instead of just trying to continue last year’s program.
  • Smaller or less-established groups may lack infrastructure, resources, and storage space. They’re often going without a donor database, a dedicated office space, a place to put the goodies for their next auction, and so on. Individuals often end up borrowing their own homes or even office space for the cause.
  • Larger groups must raise larger amounts just to cover the basics. With various commitments such as rent, salaries, and other operating costs, a larger organization may find that a big part of its fundraising efforts serve just to keep the lights on. They have a harder time being nimble in responding to change.

No doubt this list could go on. In the meantime, you can learn more about each of these two different fundraising universes by reading one of the two books offered by Nolo: The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising; Raise Money for Your School, Team, Library or Community Group; or, for the larger, more established groups, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits; Real-World Strategies That Work.

What Can Other Nonprofits Learn From Community Radio Station Pledge Drives?

radio_mikeI don’t know about you, but where I live, it’s been all fund drive, all the time, from virtually every nonprofit, community radio station in the Bay Area. No matter where you turn the dial, there’s someone reminding listeners about the great service the station provides, the costs to run it, and the great thank-you gifts we’ll get in return for pledging particular amounts.

As someone interested in nonprofit fundraising, I perhaps listen to the pitch sessions of the programs longer than is average. (Or maybe it’s just that I’m usually listening in the kitchen, with hands too wet or slimy to touch the radio.)

Since I happen to know a few radio programmers, however, I also know that I’m not the only one who sometimes listens all the way until the end of a show, even when the last 20 minutes are all fundraising. In fact, my programmer friends say that, in general:

  1. most donations come in the last few minutes of the program, and
  2. overall, most donations come in during the last day of the fund drive.

What’s up with that, and what does it mean for other fundraisers?

I haven’t seen any studied analyses of this phenomenon. It actually seems doubly surprising given that experts who have studied on-air fundraising consistently say that urgency, desperation, statement like “We’ve got to meet this goal!” and “The phone lines are empty!” are a turnoff. (See, for example, John Sutton’s “Listener Focused Fundraising” report.) Positive messages about the listener’s part in supporting excellent media work much better.

So, I’ll have to speculate a bit. Here are my best guesses:

  1. Everyone procrastinates. All fundraisers have learned to expect a last-minute rush of donations in late December. But that’s just one of many possible deadlines during the year. Any time potential donors know there’s a deadline ahead, they may perhaps mentally put the item on their “deal with later” list.
  2. Even the people who say they’re turned off by urgency and desperation may eventually be moved by it. I believe the prevailing fundraising wisdom that it’s best to keep the message positive — but I’m starting to suspect that either there are some people who prefer the “S.O.S.” messages, or that no matter how donors respond to surveys, they actually respond to the cries for help more than anyone recognizes. I’m on an email list for a nonprofit that regularly gets into public debates with donors who say, “Cut it out with the strident distress cries, already,” to which the nonprofit invariably answers, “But it’s the only thing that works!” Are they deluded? Is it just their donors? Impossible to know.
  3. The comparison shopping urge takes over. Almost all radio pledge drives involve thank-you gifts. Some people may simply be waiting to hear what all the gift options are! Of course, they then miss out on opportunities to get limited-offer thank-you gifts.

Assuming I’m not totally off base, the first two items on this list may be worthy of any type of nonprofit’s consideration, radio or not. So, for example, if someone’s newsletter is about to run out, you’d want to give them advance notice, but also make abundantly clear, later on, that THE DEADLINE IS COMING. It’s also worth paying attention to the tone of your messages (which may slip into “distress” mode even without your intending it) and how your donors respond.

As for the third item on the list, it’s a useful reminder that, even in the charitable context, people’s consumer side can take over. Whether at an auction, bake sale, or something else, be sure to remind people early and often that the main purpose is to support a nonprofit, not to pick up a goodie.

Real People Trying Crowdfunding Discover What Nonprofits Already Knew

coinThe field of artists, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, dreamers, freelancers, travel buffs, scientists, and folks in need who are trying out crowdfunding as a way to raise cash is getting a bit, well, crowded. Distinguishing one’s pitch from all the others takes all the creativity and marketing skills that one can muster, as seen in the article “Generation ASK,” by Lauren Smiley, in the May, 2013 issue of San Francisco magazine.

Experienced fundraisers will nod knowingly at the marketing lesson arrived at by one such seeker — Michele Turner, on her way to raising $14,000 to cover basic costs (rent, gas) associated with her time spent in chemo. In order to tap into people’s passions rather than mere guilt, Smiley explains that Turner needed to “sell[] benefactors on the experience of being part of her recovery, not just on alleviating her poverty.”

Sound familiar? In fact, the various crowdfunding sites advise people seeking funds to post updates and thank-yous, “keeping [donors] abreast of every morsel of good news.” As Smiley explains, “All this can be exhausting for someone fighting a serious illness.”  But the good part of this is that “With so many people invested in her recovery, [Turner] can’t shake the feeling that she’s on the hook to heal . . . .”

The parallels aren’t entirely surprising, but notice that, even when the first people who will be viewing the pitch for cash are your own friends and family, sheer neediness and desperation remain a turnoff. Hope sells, as does the chance to be part of the solution.

For more information on nonprofit uses of crowdfunding, see Nolo’s new article, “Using Crowdfunding to Raise Money for Your Nonprofit.”

Before a Nonprofit Can Publish Its Stories, It Needs to Gather Them

book pagesIt used to be that two or three inspiring stories about a nonprofit’s work could supply all the material it needed for mail appeals and newsletters — with any luck, for months at a time.

But with the growth of blogging and social media, nonprofits are developing an unrelenting hunger for new, publishable stories about their own work.

Even if it’s for just a quick photo or blurb about recent activities, the communications or development arm of a nonprofit organization needs to hear from the program people and volunteers. The trouble is, many of the latter folks are either too busy to talk or don’t understand the value of passing information along.

The organization Share Our Strength, with its well-known No Kid Hungry campaign, has plenty of stories to tell: for example, about the volunteer who drives around in a non-air-conditioned truck to deliver summer meals to hungry children, or the mother who declared that, thanks to the Cooking Matters class, she could triple the value of her WIC check.

But the organization also realized a few years back that gathering such stories wasn’t going to happen by chance.

I spoke with Jason Wilson, Associate Director of Digital Communications, who explained, “We set out to deliberately create a culture of storytelling within our organization. This involved identifying members of each department or team and making story transmission part of their responsibilities. They are literally asked to set aside time to tell the story of the work that’s happening, and then to connect with the people who are putting this information together for the Web or other materials.

“Once we got this culture built, and staff people began to see their stories presented—perhaps in an email campaign or as online content—they realized the double satisfaction in not only accomplishing something through their day-to-day work, but also through the telling of that story.

“There’s no set schedule for sharing. Either the staff will pass news along, or the people in charge of content may approach them with questions like, “We’re looking for stories about X, what do you have to share?”

“An effort like this really needs to be organization-wide, and involve accountability. For our team members, storytelling is a formal part of their performance goals.”

How Nonprofits Increased Charitable Donations in 2012

Kitts1_025Hopeful news for nonprofits just came out in the Nonprofit Fundraising Study: Covering Charitable Receipts at U.S. and Canadian Nonprofit Organizations in 2012.  According to the study, 58% of the nearly 1,2oo organizations surveyed said their fundraising receipts had gone up in 2012. That’s an improvement over the 53% who saw a rise in 2011 and a paltry 43% in 2010.

The increase was relatively uniform across the four regions of the United States and among different types of organizations (covering issues such as arts, culture, humanities, and religion).

We could attribute the rise to improvements in the economy — but given that this rising tide still didn’t manage to lift 42% of nonprofits, it’s worth taking a closer look at the successful ones. How did they do it?

Most explained their fundraising success in 2012 to such factors as:

  • the addition of new staff (10%)
  • a jump in receipts from bequests (6%), and
  • a successful event (3%).

It’s worth noting that all three of those factors require advance planning and investment, of a sort that’s all too easy to jettison when an organization is underfunded, understaffed, and feeling insecure. Thus it’s not too surprising that larger organizations saw more growth in charitable receipts than smaller ones.

Nevertheless, the overall message is a positive one. In the words of Nancy Raybin, with the Giving USA Foundation, “With a better economy, charities generated results by looking again to the future, not just for meeting day-to-day needs.”