Random Thoughts on Life and Work

April 1, 2015

Know Your Donors – The Value of Age Demographics

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 10:00 am
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Knowing your donors is a major step in targeting your communications effectively. There are a number of ways to slice your donor list and evaluate how you might craft communication across segments or groups of donors. Maybe your list isn’t large so segmentation may not be very efficient but to the extent that you can understand who your donors are, the better you will be able to communicate with them.

One easy way to understand your donor is to gather age demographics. Including a birth date field (even just month and year can be effective) on every response device is a simple addition that can pay off in a number of ways:

  1. Knowing your donor’s birth dates can provide you an opportunity to add a high touch to your donor communication. Sending birthday cards lets your donors know you are paying attention to them.
  2. Knowing the age demographics provides necessary information when considering the launch of a planned giving program. If you have a large portion of your donor file that is over the age of 55, planned giving marketing can be provide donors with an additional way to support the organization that they love.
  3. Understanding the proportions of your donors in various age ranges will allow you to tailor your communication language and style to those groups. Language and idioms that young people use will not resonate with older populations. Preferred color palettes are also different.
  4. Want to generate volunteer opportunities? Different age groups will respond to different opportunities. For example, older adults may appreciate the opportunity to volunteer in your office while younger adults will want to do “field work”.


These two charts can be used to evaluate some basic statistics on your age demographics. Determine the range groupings that make the most sense for your organization. Organizations with larger donor files can probably slice their segments into smaller ranges than organizations with smaller files.

Understanding the age demographics of your donor file will provide you with strong information about the profitability and lifetime value of various segments and ranges. It will also provide you with some indicators of the health of your donor file based on the spread of donors across the age ranges.


March 25, 2015

Effective Donor-to-Project Links

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 10:40 am
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Donors today want to know where their gift was used and what impact it had. The days where donors simply trust an organization to use their gifts where it knows best are rapidly disappearing. Organizations like Charity Water that do such a fantastic job of tracking donation to project have set the bar high. Child sponsorship organizations like Compassion International and World Vision have demonstrated the ability to show the direct impact of an individual’s gifts to a beneficiary.

Tracking individual gifts to a specific project is often problematic. Interestingly, larger organizations seem to struggle with this more than smaller organizations – usually due to the sheer volume of transactions that the larger organization is handling – both income (gifts) and expenditure (projects).  The volume results in the organization struggling to effectively say, “your contribution was used on XYZ project and provided services to this many people”.

There are three options for linking donor contributions directly to a project:

  1. Acknowledge the realities of your organizational dynamics and set a minimum gift amount for which you will link projects to donations. This means that your chart of accounts will cover the general categories (e.g. medical services in Africa) but not specifics (e.g. Hospital Construction in Liberia) unless the project is large enough to warrant its own restricted account. A major donor who funds a significant project would then be linked manually or through the restricted account.
  2. Set up your chart of accounts so that specific projects can be tracked within major segments. This allows donors to give to a specific well or to a specific farm, etc. This takes a little more thought and planning ahead of time but in the end, the results can be powerful. Without care though, the chart of accounts can become unwieldy and difficult to manage.
  3. Configure your donor management software to provide you with a sponsorship system. This then allows your field team to work with finance and development to specify projects that can be “sponsored” by an individual or groups of donors. Reporting and tracking becomes simplified as your donors sponsor a project and the project is removed from inventory.

Since few donors will be able to travel to see your projects first hand (especially in the case of international non-profits), effectively creating systems to link donors to projects enhances the connection the donor has with your organization. Segmenting the communication about missional projects becomes more efficient and effective. The greater detail you can provide increases the chance the donor will be a vocal ambassador for you. It also improves the trust level that donors have as they can see how their gift was used and the impact that they were able to have.

March 18, 2015

Stewarding the Legacy Donor

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 7:36 am

Current donors tend to receive all of the attention. After all, they are “active” and their gift(s) is useful today. The legacy gift won’t be useful until sometime in the future.  Yet, the legacy donor – the donor who makes their ultimate gift to your organization – might be your most committed, connected, and valuable donor. As with all other donors, the more you know the donor and the deeper your relationship, the easier the stewardship process becomes.

So how do you go about recognizing the legacy donor and their commitment to your organization? Here are five steps to consider:

  1. The first and obvious question is – do you know who your legacy donors are? There may be many donors on your file who have designated you in their will or estate plan and not yet told you. The first step then is to regularly ask your donors to self-identify.
  2. Recognize that legacy donors are making the ultimate gift to your organization. You are important enough to them that they are ensuring that their final wishes include you. When a legacy donor is identified, send them a PERSONALIZED acknowledgement.
  3. Provide your legacy donors with an insider contact. This can be challenging for smaller organizations, but it will pay dividends. This doesn’t require that you have a formal planned giving/legacy development office – just a relational individual who is willing to answer questions or provide information and learn more about the donor as the conversations continue.
  4. At least once a year make contact with this group of donors. This contact doesn’t have to be intensive but the more personal you can make it, the better. This contact can range from a personalized letter from the CEO to a special report about some aspect of your organization.
  5. Finally, when the gift matures (the donor passes), effectively managing the relationship with the executor/attorney/personal representative will build goodwill for your organization. Remember to acknowledge the gift to survivor family members praising the generosity of the donor. Handle this with care though as family may not be so supportive.

Spending a little bit of time to encourage legacy giving and establishing a process of relating to this group of donors will pay dividends in (continued) current giving and potential ambassadorship on behalf of your organization. Use these simple steps as a launch pad for your own organization.

March 11, 2015

The Value of Systems Planning

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 11:35 am
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When you hear the word “system” what do you think of? Computer networks? A methodology of completing a task? reflectionSome kind of mathematical formula?

All of these in a way are correct but maybe incomplete. I’d like to posit a different perspective.

Systems planning is the act of analyzing various structures and processes, efficiently integrating them together as part of a larger picture, to achieve the mission of the organization. To be effective, systems must have a feedback mechanism to inform when variation occurs and to provide necessary adjustments.

For an understanding of this, take the dynamic of the human body. Our physical selves consist of a network of systems – muscular, skeletal, nervous, circulatory, etc. Each one of these systems is designed to work efficiently to produce a desired outcome within itself. However, each system cannot, and does not, work alone. Each system interacts with, and depends on, the other systems of the body. Feedback (e.g. pain, exhaustion, out of breath) tells us when something is out of adjustment.

In our non-profit organizations, we have various systems – financial, human resource, information, marketing/communications, development, programs, social, etc. Each one of these is designed (intentionally or otherwise) to support the mission of the organization through efficiently working on its own processes. But pull one out and try to have it stand on its own and it fails. There is no mission. There is no support.

All too often, with charismatic leaders and entrepreneur types, there is a quick development of a goal or desired outcome without giving thought to the supporting systems necessary to complete said goal. The end result can be frustrated and burned-out staff or complete failure to reach the target. I believe that when a strategic plan does not meet its desired outcome, a large part of the blame rests on the failure to deal with the systems and structure issues.

Allowing the various systems (IT, Finance, Development, etc) to develop and function independently of each other leads to the creation of the proverbial silo. The resulting internal conflict and competition over resources leads to inertia, poor internal communication, and higher turnover.

We need to move beyond the linear design of processes and recognize that interrelationships come into play in our complex organizational world. Successfully dealing with systems development and integration will lead to healthier work environment, a smoother operation, and a stronger, more adaptable organization with greater capacity to meet the demands of the change.

*Picture attribution: aman_geld CC2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/4173210620/in/photostream/

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.

December 3, 2014

WestJet Does It Again

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 2:14 pm
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Congratulations to WestJet again for going above and beyond expectations.


August 19, 2014

Looking for Work? Here’s What You Can Expect

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 11:33 am
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Nothing! What did you expect – the job was just going to be handed to you? Sorry, doesn’t work that way.

On the other hand, here is some of the communication you might get from organizations as a result of your application submission:

  • Nothing
  • An automated email – We have received your application. If there is a match, we will be in touch
    • Then nothing, or
    • A phone call or email to schedule further action
  • An automated email – Thank you for applying. Please go to this web address to complete some more information
    • A web survey that has little to do with the job and a lot to do with behavior – all of which is “gameable” if someone just thinks about it
    • Then nothing or
    • A phone call or email to schedule further action
    • Sometimes an email saying there was not a strong enough match
  • A postcard response from a mailed in application
  • An email requesting the completion of a standardized, impersonal video “questionnaire”

And the list goes on and on in terms of style and communication methods. I’d like to think there is a better way. A much better way. We know organizations receive a large number of applications for open positions. Many of the applicants will have no match to the required skill set. Many others will have at least some match. It doesn’t take much to humanize the process and make the organization look good and make the individual feel good about him/herself. Let me throw out some thoughts:

  1. Reply to EVERY applicant. Even the automated email is better than nothing and confirms to the applicant that the information has been received.
  2. If an applicant is not going to be selected for further action – send another email. In today’s world of HR database systems, it shouldn’t be difficult to flag individual applicants for a response.
  3. If the job posting has a deadline, don’t wait for the deadline to start your response process – you might lose the applicant to another organization. If the submission isn’t even close to what  the organization needs, put them in the reply pile and send the closure email immediately.
  4. If the organization does insist on waiting until the job posting closure date, keep applicants informed that the process is continuing. Again, this shouldn’t be difficult to automate. At least it is something that the applicant receives.

Don’t be the organization that develops an arrogance that says, “Everyone wants to work here so we can treat applicants however badly we want to.”

We can do better at following the “golden rule” and treat people with dignity and respect.

April 1, 2014

Effective Meetings

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 9:55 am
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Is this how some of your project meetings end up? Do you come out of them with a sense of, “what just happened?”

Thanks to FastCompany for pointing me to this.

February 19, 2014

Organizational Structure vs Fluidity

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 11:53 am

I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with the concept of organizational structure. Some variation of the following question always seems to come up, “how do we organize our staff to optimize our output?”

The interesting thing is, there is usually no right or wrong answer. The answer needs to be based on the needs of the entity at the time. Ultimately, whatever arrangement is proposed will likely be built on concepts of command and control rather than on efficiency and fluidity. And this is where the frustration comes in. Our concept of “organization” requires a logical, ordered process with clear lines of responsibility and ultimately the perceived ability to control the result or at least control those who have impact into the result.

Structure vs Fluidity

Structure vs Fluidity

While I doubt we will ever be able to get away completely from the traditional organizational chart, what would happen if we begin to think fluidly? Staff move in and out of roles based on need, project description, skill sets, etc. At times they serve in multiple areas.

One of the things that I have observed over the years is that the reliance on command and control systems negatively impacts cross-channel/cross-departmental communications. If one department has need of a service from another department, there is no ability to ensure that the service or project is completed short of a control function or the good will of the department leader. Creating a fluid, cross-functionality group removes that tendency and provides enhanced communication, better scheduling and quicker response times.

A colleague once said to me, “Re-organization is a panacea for effectiveness. We need to look busy and in control so we re-organize the (XYZ) department.” In general I agree with the sentiment. Most re-organizations are predicated on a perceived need. And while homage may be given to “being reactive” or “being fluid”, the end result in most cases the still pays homage to command and control structures. Who will manage this group or that individual?

Let me issue the challenge for a new way of thinking. I dare you to throw out the organizational chart and start over. Think strategically and plan fluidly. Build teams to solve challenges or develop new products rather than structures to serve the HR and Payroll functions.

February 10, 2014

The Introvert, The Extrovert, and The Office Culture

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 3:41 pm
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An introvert and an extrovert walked into a meeting. The extrovert was praised and promoted. The introvert smiled.

Okay, that’s a short, abbreviated story that makes little to no sense. But just maybe it will prompt a thought process that will lead to some great things.

The extrovert dominated the meeting, and was perceived to provide lots of input and value. The introvert quietly listened, left the meeting, wrote a detailed project proposal to his boss, and saved the company millions.

Does your working culture encourage all employees to thrive? Is your floor plan flexible enough to be conducive to various working styles? How well do your staff collaborations (otherwise known as “meetings”) work to get the most from your staff?

Thanks Lisa Evans at FastCompany for this great article.

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