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.

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.

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?

November 11, 2015

When Need Meets Budget Reality

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 11:58 am
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I’m working with a small non-profit that had a unique need for donor management. The organization is only about 3 years old and has just a hand full of donors. Not enough to warrant expenditure on a donor management package. Yet, they still need to track income, contacts, etc. At the moment it is all done in the president’s head. To their credit, they want to be positioned for the future and so we needed to do something.

I tend to be an advocate for not reinventing the wheel and getting software that works. However, it is hard to argue with very limited budgets and so . . .

Solution – created a rather unique Excel workbook that I think will serve the needs for the time being. At least until the donor pool is on a significant growth curve. It isn’t terribly difficult to add new donors or new giving opportunities. However, it is challenging to provide the treasurer with the needed detail so it gets a little complex at that point.

Nothing fancy (no fancy macros or special data entry windows) but I think a good short term solution for a non-profit startup. I don’t think I would recommend it beyond about 40 donors or so.

Anyway, if you are interested in seeing it, I am happy to share. Just comment and we can connect.

April 8, 2015

Scriptural Stewardship

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 1:19 pm
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I have been thinking a lot about the scriptural principles for Christian stewardship and life applications. As I wrestled with my own understanding, and searched the Biblical texts, I have boiled it down to the following 5 principles that I believe are at the core of Christian stewardship.

  1. God, as creator, owns it all. In the beginning of Genesis, God creates the world and everything in it. He then creates Adam to steward, or care, for creation. (Genesis 1:1)
  2. Money management is only part of Stewardship. Our call to be wise stewards includes our time, our talents, our relationships, and our finances. (1 Corinthians 4:2) “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (NIV).
  3. Our possessions are temporary. During life they may be destroyed or lost. At death they cannot be taken with us. Therefore, what we do with them today becomes even more important. (1 Timothy 6:7)
  4. Every spending decision will be, at some level, a spiritual decision. Our checkbooks provide a story of where our priorities lie. Biblical stewardship does not require that a Christian despise money or discontinue earning it. Money is a necessity for basic living. The Bible does warn, however, that the love of money creates evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
  5. Giving is not about the Old Testament tithe (or 10%). It is about the heart. The story of the widow who gives her two small coins in Luke 21:1-4 is the demonstration of this principle. The amount seemed trivial but it demonstrated her devotion to God.  2 Corinthians 9:7 continues this theme: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (NIV)

I hope that in some small way this list encourages you and is a basis for your own journey of understanding.,

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”.

AgeDemographics1AgeDemographics2

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 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.

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.

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