Random Thoughts on Life and Work

January 8, 2016

The Effects of Giving

PBS Newshour had an interesting segment during the show on January 7. A University of British Columbia research team conducted a small study on the effects of giving in toddlers and then carried it beyond to college students and adults. In the study, they found that even young toddlers express happiness when giving something to others.

I suspect anyone in fund-raising/fund-development will tell you, “duh” to the concept that it is actually a pleasurable experience to give. One of the interesting (and again, not new) findings in the study is that people who have the opportunity to see and/or experience the impact of their giving are even happier than those who just gave to a general “fund”. However, how often do organizations get caught up in trying to raise funds so that “we can accomplish our mission.”?

You likely saw the UNICEF and/or ASPCA commercials during the holiday season. What struck me about those efforts was the fact that there was no impact of my gift. All I saw was a portrayal of a very negative situation with a statement – help us help them.  I have to confess, I was extremely turned off by the ads finding them very ineffective at telling me how either of these organizations do anything positive. Where were the impact/results pictures?

Watch the PBS segment and then consider your own communications. What are you telling your readers/listeners/site visitors? Are you telling them why they should support you? Or are you telling them that their gift has changed the life of Samuel who now has his own bed or Mary who can go to school because now there is clean water right in her village?

March 5, 2015

Stewarding the Mid-Level Donor

Most of us are well aware of the 80/20 rule of fundraising – 80% of your income will come from 20% of your donors. Major donor programs are built to focus on the 20% of donors who can and do supply that high level of giving. This is good. But how do you increase the number of donors that fit in that 20%?

The logic would lead us to understand that if you add a donor to the 20% group then that will increase the dollar amount that makes up the 80% of income. The goal of moves management in development is to move donors from their current involvement to a higher level involvement. However, the majority of your donors, those in the lower tier, will be resistant to moving. And in general, their annual giving is so low that it probably isn’t efficient to invest a lot of resources to move them up. Does that mean you ignore them? Certainly not. However, you also should not overly invest in efforts to increase their participation. But monitor them along the way and watch for natural movement.

8020DonorPyramidI would contend that there is an optimum zone of opportunity to move donors upwards into increased giving. Often referred to as mid-level donors, these donors are giving at high levels but not enough to be counted in that top tier. They are often overlooked as they fall between the major donors and the “direct mail” responders. If your organization provides opportunities to support specific program areas, these donors will likely take that opportunity rather than support the general fund. “Unknown” major donors will often test an organization by giving an initial gift that falls in this tier. They have heard good things about the organization and think they may want to support the mission at significant levels but want to make sure that the organization is capable of responding to them appropriately.

Larger organizations often have sophisticated donor groups (President’s Circle, Insider’s Round Table, etc) but smaller organizations can also gain from just a little bit of extra effort. Here are some simple steps you might consider to steward this group in particular:

  1. Watch for first time gifts that fall in this tier. Establish an acknowledgement process for that first gift that is similar to what you typically do for the top tier.
  2. Consider special insider reports that are different from that which major donors receive but are higher quality or more detailed than the standard direct mail or newsletter that the lower tier receives.
  3. If you have created recognition societies, consider an annual invite to upgrade their membership.
  4. Monitor this group in particular for lapsing donors. If their giving pattern changes, consider a special contact to re-engage them.
  5. Consider special planned giving/legacy giving communications to this group of donors, especially if you have donors who have given in this tier for a significant length of time.

Each of these are suggestions and are contextual to your organization in the sense that the giving levels for each organization may be significantly different. I have seen organizations that don’t quite match the 80/20 principle (they might be 80/10 or even 90/10) so you will also need to analyze your database to determine how many donors you have in each tier and how close your organization matches the 80/20 rule. Find the zone of opportunity within your particular organization.

If you have any questions about how to proceed with the analysis of your database or establishing a special program for acknowledging your mid-level donors, feel free to contact me and let’s start a dialog about how I can help.

March 5, 2011

When Too Many Are Involved . . .

Filed under: Non-Profit,Philanthropy,Strategy — Darren Mullenix @ 8:41 am

Had an interesting experience a few days ago that I thought I would share.  I’m still working through the thought process and haven’t completely decided if I am irritated or just shrugging my shoulders.

We brought in a guy to interview for a development position that we have open.  The position is a bit of a hybrid as it has to work within the development office but also interface with one of the specific ministry areas.  So the interview process is a bit weird to begin with.

The schedule was set for the day with the candidate meeting with different small groups of staff.  Now here is where it got strange.  The first meeting, which I was part of, was set with three of the development team and one person from our HR department.  Doesn’t sound too bad yet.  A couple of opening questions from the HR person.  Not too bad still.  More questions from the HR person.  And more.

And as he kept asking questions, he lead into areas where he really has no expertise and background.  I think overall, the development staff, who will have to work with the candidate, got about three questions in during the hour that we met.

I spoke afterwards with at one of the other development staff in the meeting and he expressed the same frustration.

Some suggestions for interviewing prospective staff:

  1. Set up a schedule that make sense, taking into consideration the nature of the position for which the candidate is being interviewed.
  2. Compartmentalize.  Allow the working team to meet with the candidate.  If other departmental areas will be meeting with the candidate, do that on their own schedule.
  3. Spend adequate time on a debrief afterwards.  Thoroughly discuss strengths and weaknesses that different members of the working team discover.
  4. Develop some baseline questions but allow the discussion with the candidate to flow in what I would call “directed natural” conversation.
  5. Make sure the staff who are involved in the interview process are appropriate for the level of candidate (i.e.  a receptionist should probably not be involved in the interviewing a vice-president).  That seems like a “duh” statement but you’d be amazed at what some people think is an appropriate 360 interview.

Actually, truth be told, I am a bit annoyed about the process this week.  I realize, in this situation there was much happening behind the scenes that many of us weren’t aware of.  But I hate wasting my time!

April 22, 2009

Allowing Donors To Be Creative

Okay, so I haven’t posted in “like forever” as my daughter would put it.  Part of that challenge of getting to it.  I just lost all sense of creativity and drive. 

But that’s not the point today.  

Quite a while back, I posted about allowing your donors to tell your story.  Finding ways to facilitate that provide opportunity for them to advocate for you.  Here is an example of what I am talking about:

I am developing a great appreciation for the development of the “friends asking friends” concept and the power that brings to spreading the message.  As I continue to work with individual donors, I hear more and more frequently the desire to let others know about their passion.  

Spread the word.

October 25, 2007

The Wired Advocate

Michelle Martin over at Bamboo Project has written a great post about the “Wired Fundraiser.” 

Point #2 – Not Every Wired Fundraiser Is A Champion – is important to note.  However, I would add a correlary that additional storytelling in the marketplace is a good thing.  No matter if one person or 50 people hear it.  And the advantage to the ‘wired process’ is its cost effectiveness.  In the end, what has it truly cost the organization to have someone tell the story for them? 

She hits the nail on the head with point 4.  Smart Charities Embrace the Wired Fundraiser.  Many charities struggle with the issue of control of the message.  It is difficult to lay your message in the hands of others and let them tell your story.  But done correctly, this can be a huge gain for your organization, more than offsetting any potential minimal damage that might be done.

Check it out.

I’m Back

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Non-Profit,Philanthropy,Promotion — Darren Mullenix @ 9:45 am

Okay, haven’t posted in a while (make that a long while) but that isn’t to say nothing is happening.  Been busy with Combined Federal Campaign event activity, travels, and general life stuff.

Just a note about something I learned during the CFC time period.  I went to an event in Houston to hand out material to Houston municipal employees.  Really poor event.  Outside, 90+ degrees, no shade, poorly attended, etc.  Maybe met about 60 – 90 people.  However, the flight home may have been worth it all. 

I sat next to a gentleman who was genuinely curious about what we do and how.  Somewhat familiar with our organization but only certain aspects.  As I talked with him a very valuable lesson was driven home – You had better know your mission and a good bit about what you do.  Especially if your organization has a wide reach as mine does.  And better yet, you should be prepared with something that will grab the heart of your listener.  Typically, I don’t talk to people when I travel on airplanes.  I like to withdraw and relax.  Especially after a long day of meeting people.  However this was an opportunity that was placed in my path for a reason.

I don’t know what will come of that discussion.  I was able to send him some follow-up information about one of our projects and since he is a person of influence he may be able to carry that out to others.

Always be prepared to tell your story.

August 7, 2007

Choosing Donor Software

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Donations,Management,Non-Profit,Philanthropy,Software — Darren Mullenix @ 8:10 am

Admittedly this is kind of a “drive-by” posting.  I will try to expand more later.

I met with a couple of people over the last couple of weeks from different small organizations.  During the conversation with both of them, the discussion came around to the topic of choosing a donor database.  There are many choices out there and each one plays a role for the organization that chooses it at the time it is chosen.  It is worth considering periodically whether or not the software you are currently using continues to meet the needs of your organization.

Here are a few that are worth looking at if you are in the market for a database solution:

  • Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge
  • e-Tapestry
  • DonorPerfect
  • Donor Direct
  • Pledgemaker

This is hardly an exhaustive list as there are many more out there.  Some good, some bad. 

There are many things to consider when looking at a solution for your organization.  I am not sure that I could do justice to the discussion here but let me lay out just a few things to consider when evaluation new software:

  • Ease of use
  • Data retrieval
  • Organizational resources
  • In-house vs hosted
  • Your internal business rules

Maybe this helps.  Maybe it muddies the water a bit.  Comments?

June 20, 2007

Control vs Enablement

In “enablement” even a word?  Hmmm. 

I recently ran into the wall (again) regarding the issue of control of how donations are “collected” and how donors are acknowledged.  I am a little puzzled by the response but I do understand it in a way. 

A donor recently set up a fundraising page using FirstGiving.  The donor and her spouse were off to run a marathon and thought it would be a great way to raise money for their favorite cause.  I would hazard a guess that many readers are quite familiar with FirstGiving and similar sites.   Their goal was a modest $3,000 and I think to-date they have raised about $2,500.  The event was in early May.  (A minor critique of FirstGiving – I didn’t know the donor had done this until the first check arrived.  FG should set a notification system to help charities be aware of what is being done on their behalf.)

So now we have money coming in, opportunity to respond to the supporters of this couple, but I am trapped in procedure.  Our Finance staff is concerned with how we account for the fees that are taken by FirstGiving.  Our legal office is concerned about the lack of a formal agreement between us and FirstGiving for facilitating the activity.  There is the question of FirstGiving being a “paid fundraiser” for us since they are taking a fee for “raising money”.  And a couple others are asking why we can’t set up our own similar service through our website.

Now, I am not saying that these are not valid questions to ask.  The issue has more to do with perspective than with the questions themselves.  I have tried to explain that FirstGiving is not the entity making “the ask”.  It is the individual who sets up the page.  They are just using the technology that FirstGiving supplies.  However, this seems to be falling on deaf ears. 

I offer this case study as a lesson for others.  While most of us understand how we can take advantage of this kind of web technology, there are others who are focused on “typical fundraising”.  Be aware that you will run into the occasional wall or resistance to new things.  Build your case for why this new technology is a good thing.  Focus on the advantages for donors and secondarily on the benefits to your organization.  Point out the relationship building that can be done with donors by allowing (facilitating) them to help you. 

One other thing.  Think through the issues about acknowledging donors to a fundraising activity organized by one of your donors.  Remember that they are supporting their friends and may not be connected to you at all.  You probably don’t want to automatically put them on your mailing list.  But you do want to offer them the opportunity to be involved with your organization if they choose.  Provide enough information to interest them and maybe raise their curiosity.  Then let them choose how they want to interact with you.

June 15, 2007

Project SharePoint

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Management,Non-Profit,nptech,Philanthropy,Software,Strategy,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 8:47 am

One of the challenges that we face (and I am sure we are not alone) is the rapidly changing “project status” reports.  For those that deal with gathering information and writing status reports for funders, you will probably shout a loud “Amen” to this challenge.  The challenges often come from two sources:

  • different information received from different project sources
  • different information needed by various funders (i.e. individuals vs foundations vs organizations, etc)

So a couple of us started brainstorming quite a while ago about how we best manage the information that we have at our fingertips and the reports that are generated by our creative team.  We started with a simple document library concept thinking that if we put our reports in folders organized by subject we would be able to cut and paste as needed.  We quickly learned that this wasn’t going to work.  So we continued to limp along a little while.

We began to realize that one of our biggest problems was not the accumulation of reports.  That was easy.  The hard part was the gathering (and dissemination) of consistent, accurate information.  Often, if one staff member called their source for an update about a particular project, they received one packet.  If a different staff member called a different source, they might get a different packet and not even realize that a) information was already available and b) what they were just given might be different from what the first person received.  (Okay, I realize that this may point to a much large systemic issue that we will get to later.  But for now stick with me.)

Then, thanks to the blogging of some of my peers such as Michele at Bamboo Project and Beth at Beth’s Blog, the light bulb came on.  Why not use a wiki to manage the information?  After setting some simple rules for how information is formatted when it is added to a page in the wiki, we should be off and running.  The fluidity of a wiki is really perfect for keeping track of the most recent information about the various projects that we have at any given time.  In addition, it allows the staff who write reports to gather the information that they need quickly and share new information with other staff just as quickly.

So then the question became – what platform?  So I went to our IT team to see what help I might get for a hosted solution.  Being somewhat familiar with what is available I knew we could get something that would work well for us.  But I received a rather surprising response – “Why not try Microsoft’s SharePoint?”  Not knowing much about it other than conceptually I agreed to at least consider it.   After spending some time in quick review, I realized that we may have stumbled on a great solution!  (Notice I didn’t go so far as to say the “p” word . . . perfect.)

And so, Project SharePoint is born.  I’ll try to post more details as we complete the setup but for now, here is a brief synopsis:

  • SharePoint has built in shared document functionality
  • SharePoint has a built in wiki which (so far) seems to be very easy to set up
  • SharePoint runs on the corporate intranet and can also be configured for remote access
  • Calendar, task, and communication duties in SharePoint can be integrated with a user’s Outlook

Much of this we are still working on so I’ll keep posting as we go. 

March 14, 2007

Key Result Areas – Project Part 7

Filed under: Charity,Management,Non-Profit,Philanthropy,Strategy — Darren Mullenix @ 9:58 am

Do you know what your Key Result Areas really are?  Does your staff know what they are?

One of the interesting parts of this project has been to ask each staff member during the interview process to list the top three to five things that the department must do well in order to effectively serve our donors.  What has been interesting to me, is that there has been a great deal of consistency with the answers.  Some minor variation but most of that might even be considered word choice more than anything else.

Here is the list as it develops of the key areas that the department must focus on:

  1. Be available to donors/inquirers. 
  2. Treat our donors with respect and appreciation.
  3. Provide them with timely, accurate information that answers their question or meets their need.
  4. Know the “product”.  Be familiar with the various aspects of the work the organization is engaged in.
  5. Keep the lines of communication open between the donor/development department and other departments in the organization.

Reading through that list might make you say, “Duh!”  But stop for a moment and think through how you care for and respond to your constituency.  What policies do you have in place for how your phones are answered.  What training do  you give your staff who are on the front lines of the phone response?  How well do you work with other departments to gather information about what your organization is doing and where the success stories are? 

Smaller organizations probably have an easier time with much of this.  The larger an organization gets, the easier it is to become less personal and the harder it becomes to be timely.  And yet it is in the personal response where relationships are built.  Ask your donors why they give to you and I would be willing to bet that high on the list will be a statement about how they have been treated. 

See my earlier post on inadvertent messages that we send. 

We continue to walk through our reorganization project.  It is an enlightening process for sure!

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