Random Thoughts on Life and Work

December 13, 2016

Building on Relationships

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 8:10 am
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In the marketing and sales world, the term “relationship based marketing” is often thrown out as a somewhat trite phrase. Many marketing and sales professionals think that what they are doing is relationship based when in actual fact it may only be based on the information in the database.

  • What does relationship marketing really mean?
  • How is it defined?
  • How should it be defined?
  • Does it really make a difference?

What does relationship marketing really mean? I suppose at its bedrock, it is knowing your audience. That will mean understanding the data set that is behind the name and address: birthdate, gender, wealth demographic, affiliated relationships, interests, etc. Based on that information, the organization begins to understand the person behind the record.

But is that information enough? It depends. Are you selling screwdrivers or are you selling a relationship with your organization? Selling screwdrivers is easy. You market to the dataset that will be most interested in the product. They buy the screwdriver and the transaction is done.

But why not take a longer term approach. That is where true relationship begins. It isn’t a one-way transaction – “what can our organization get from this individual”. It now becomes a two-way interaction – “how can I help the individual solve the issue that they are facing.” And if done well, with integrity, it becomes a relationship with a longer vision.

In a recent conversation I heard an individual comment – “nobody else would talk to us but (organization) came and met with my team and helped us put a plan in place to get to where we needed to be.” That is the essence of relationship. Ask yourself how you can help a customer/client/prospect solve an issue that they are dealing with. It stops being about closing the deal and becomes a mutually beneficial and satisfying interaction. And it is built on a long-term perspective.

Get past the numbers and focus on the individuals. It is a challenge that many managers wrestle with and takes a unique focus. General marketing will help to identify prospects. Relationship building will turn those prospects into lifetime members of your tribe.

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January 21, 2016

Audience, Purpose, And Clarity

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 3:46 pm
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There are two things (among others) to keep in mind when creating your communications piece. I’m making the assumption here that segmentation is not an option (for whatever reason) and we are dealing with print (physical or electronic) media that is delivered to the audience. However, these two items also pertain to other visual media as well.

  1. Audience – who are you communicating with? This can have great ramifications on the text and design of your piece. Age, gender, occupation, location, etc. All of this comes into play when writing your text, designing the graphics, and determining delivery methods.

    If you are not segmenting, your group will potentially cross a number of demographics. This is fine as long as you keep #2 in mind.

  2. Purpose – what do you want this audience to do? If you want one particular action from them, don’t muddy the water by including extra details or offering other options. If it is purely informational, don’t ask them to do something (except maybe to share it with others). If part of your audience might be interested in some other aspect of your product or services, avoid the temptation to add those options. Leave that for another day and another communications opportunity.

Remembering these two items in particular will help you keep your communications clear and concise and will increase your effectiveness.

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 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.

April 14, 2008

ROI – Does it exist?

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 11:38 am
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Business people are used to talking about Return on Investment.  And many times we try to apply some measurement of ROI in the non-profit world as well.  I would contend that within the development arena, ROI is particularly challenging to measure.  Some efforts produce an easy to measure statistic.  Others – not so much.

Take direct mail for instance.  95% of ROI can be measured easily.  Costs spent on the mailing vs donations returned.  The other 5 % might be goodwill, name recognition, or just plain informing.  Of course, if done badly, this 5% might be negative and actually hurt the organization. 

What about donor events?  Vastly expensive in both direct expenditures and staff impact.  Especially if the organization makes every attempt to run lean.  But how do you measure ROI?  Do you absorb the costs knowing that your donors have been impacted (hopefully positively) by the event?  Is the information that you have shared with them enough?  Does the fact that this group of donors has received a special invitation to a special event serve as enough motivation to keep their engagement with the organization?

Now I realize that donor events come in all flavors of size and purpose.  But I just want to throw out some thinking surrounding this development activity. 

I would contend that maybe ROI for donor events is not truly measurable.  But the events themselves can be powerful connectors for donors.  So in that sense, they shouldn’t be ignored entirely.

Just a thought.

April 10, 2008

A Reflection On “Idol Gives Back”

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 8:30 am
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I imagine this week’s show will be discussed ad naseum throughout the blogosphere today and tomorrow.  Oh well.  Thought I would add my two cents.

While I am impressed with the effort that is put forth into highlighting the plight of so many in Africa and here in the US, I still can’t help but wonder how the mix of celebrity “pitchmen/women” truly feel about the situation.  I suspect that combining one year’s income from 3 or 4 of them would outstrip the GDP of one country in Africa.  And yet they continue to appeal to “common” America to open up the purse strings and give.  Just seems a little disingenuous to me. 

Which leads me to a question.  Is it the cause, the pitch, or the show that leads people to give?  In development we often quote the phrase, “People give to people not to projects.”  But how does that play out in this case?  Are people giving because of the images they see on tv or because of the celebrity pitch?

Which leads to another question.  How do we in the non-profit world truly feel about the celebrity pitch?  A number of organizations use them to great effect.  But where do we draw the line and say, “Put up or shut up!”  Where is the break even point between the value of their giving and the value of their name associated with a cause? 

Okay, I am done ranting for the day. 

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