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?


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”.


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.

February 6, 2014

Are You Gaining the Correct Talent

Filed under: Non-Profit — Darren Mullenix @ 4:43 pm
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Recently read a great article on Forbes.com about the ways that companies drive away talent. What I appreciated about it was the hard look at hiring practices and the way that potential employees could be driven out before they even start.

There is one concept I’d like readers to give some thought to though. In the article Liz Ryan speaks to the Black Hole Recruiting Portals. Specifically at issue is the number of questions that could drive people away. If you are concerned about this possibility on your own job application site, let me pose these thought considerations for you.

  1. Are the questions legally necessary?
  2. Are the questions job relevant?
  3. Is your layout friendly and inviting?
  4. How many “pages” are there and does your applicant know where they are in the process?
  5. Have you included questions to separate the resume broadcasters from the truly mission interested?

This last question is especially critical in today’s job market. With a potentially high number of applicants for any one position in your organization, do you have a quick way to weed out those that are not a great fit? An applicant who is desperate for a job may not truly be interested in what you do and why. Their long term success with  you will be limited by their calling to the mission.

Give some careful consideration to the way your online application is designed and how you might save yourself a bit of time by asking the right questions in the right way. Find the balance and hire the skilled “evangelist”. Don’t drive away the truly skilled by creating a monster of an application process.

January 5, 2012

It’s About Choice

I had an experience recently with an online services provider that illustrated the point about providing choice to your client base.

The company supplies a service to charitable organizations that facilitates third-party fundraising – allowing constituents to raise money for charity. We pay the company for an account with branded landing pages and then there is also a charge assessed to each transaction. We have been generally happy with the service though it is maybe not as robust as it could be. We have a large number of individuals who use it to raise money for us while participating in athletic events in particular – including myself.

They recently implemented a change to the way that donations are displayed on the fundraisers’ pages. The page now displays only the “intended donation” rather than the full donation. And here lies the challenge. When a donor makes a gift on a page, they are provided with the option of covering the fee that the company normally charges to the transaction. If the donor chooses to cover that amount, then the only amount shown is the gift amount. So for example, if I make a gift of $25 and chose to cover the fee, the additional $1.92 is not shown on the page. It does however come across to the charity as part of the gift when we download the weekly gift report.

Here is where I think they made the mistake:

  1. They assumed that every charity wanted the exact same thing from the software.
  2. They assumed that the fee charged to a gift when the donor covers the fee is less of a gift than when the amount is not covered by the donor.
  3. They assumed that all charities calculate their fundraising campaigns the same way.
  4. In applying the change to active pages (rather than just new pages) they placed the onus on the fundraiser to have to explain to donors why their totals changed.

In today’s world, it is about options and choice. If you don’t make your systems flexible, you lose the ability to effectively serve. You may retain customers who can’t afford to leave but those who can won’t put up with less than effective systems.

Needless to say, we are looking at making a major change.

December 5, 2007

First Response

Your switchboard.  Your receptionist.  The first visible/audible face/voice that a person interacts with when contacting your organization.  (For purposes of this post I am not going to deal with response center issues.)  How many of us in the non-profit world give much thought to that donor/constituent experience.  I think we often default into two camps – the first being technology driven (let’s install systems with automated attendants) and the second being lowest common denominator thinking (let’s just get an entry level person to answer the phone).

We had a unique opportunity presented to us to reposition the switchboard/receptionist team from under the facilities department to the donor care department.  Needless to say, we jumped on it.  Our focus is to provide a top flight experience for any caller or visitor to the organization.  Now, I will admit that for many organizations budget does play a role in determining the strategy that is taken.  But I would make the argument that this is one area that you can’t afford to cut corners.  An individual who calls the organization to ask a question, make a gift, talk to a counselor, etc. and receives poor treatment will not be inclined to call again.  And it doesn’t have to be a rude response on the phone.  It can be a simple sigh as the call is answered, a confusing jumble of menu options, or a heavy accent that can turn someone away.

Think about it.

November 2, 2007

Blogging Employees

One of the challenges that organizations face with the growth in social media and the blogosphere is the issue of employees blogging about their work.  I had an interesting discussion with a staff person from an international non-profit.  This person raised the issue from a security perspective.  There is a certain amount of risk in allowing an individual to blog about their work from a country that may have security issues.  The knee jerk reaction was to create a policy that would govern what blogging was allowed, what wasn’t, or would cut it off altogether.  I think after some discussion, I was able to share some insights about the value of training rather than policy and the value to the organization to have staff tell the “real-time” story of what is being accomplished.  Here are some points to consider:

  1. The personal voice of a staff member can have huge impact to their immediate circle and beyond.
  2. Be cognizant of the potential danger for staff who live in risky areas of the world.  Communicate that danger to those who are headed to those areas of the world.
  3. Train your team members to communicate clearly.
  4. Consider providing a centralized avenue for blogging with minimal controls.
  5. Be clear about what is not acceptable. 
  6. Recognize that short of termination, you really can’t stop the blogging. 
  7. Remember, that for many, blogging may be cathartic and a way of releasing the stress of the work place.

I hope that helps.

October 26, 2007

The Wired Advocate – A Follow-up

Overcoming inertia in a nonprofit can be particularly difficult.  This stems from many sources but is most often expressed in the sentiment, “We’ve always done it this way.”  As a good friend of mine often says, “The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over expecting different results.” 

Starting small with some test runs can be a great way to get past the initial ‘disbelief’ that making use of new tools will have value for the organization.  Here are some thoughts to consider:

  1. Recognize that you will likely make a mistake along the way.  The initial run may not be perfect.  That’s okay.  Learn from it, remember it, move on.
  2. At the same time, remember that quality is still important.  You can’t have a poor appearance and expect great results.
  3. Determine what you want to measure to determine success.  Dollars raised may not be the correct measurement.  Especially with your first few attempts.
  4. Remember, your audience is going to be different (probably) than your organizational website.  That’s why you are doing this.  Expanding your reach.
  5. Because of #5, don’t just repeat your website.  Provide something different, in a different tone, different appearance, etc.
  6. “Build it and they will come” is not necessarily true.  You will need to promote your applications.  Expand  your reach.  Think outside of the box.

Plan on building slowly.  Once you have established your metrics, go wider.  Determining who in the organization will be ‘responsible’ for the ongoing development and management of the interaction will come with experience.  Successful 2.0 applications will likely develop conversations with your constituency.  You need to be prepared to respond so somebody should be the designated communicator.

Hope that helps.

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.

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