November 2008 Archives

November 28, 2008

Fundraising a Good Career for Tough Times

It seems like everyone these days is asking, "What if?" What if their job is cut and they get laid off, or their whole organization or company goes under? Will there be another job out there, or is it time to explore grad school or figure out how to claim unemployment?

But there's good news for nonprofit fundraisers. As described by Mark Harden in the Denver Business Journal, people with fundraising skills and experience are more sought after than ever. (See the November 28, 2008 article "Fundraising pros in demand.") And no wonder -- with less money than ever to go around, nonprofits need people who can bring money in.

Of course, there's going to be some new competition from newly laid-off marketing, writing, and other professionals from the for-profit or corporate sector. Should we permit ourselves some resentment of these folks, who may think they're going to be snapped up as they "lower" themselves to the nonprofit world? For a minute, sure -- I'm not above a little snarkiness, and I've certainly met people who have so little idea of what it's like to work with extremely limited resources that they just assume that nonprofit staffers are bumbling and inefficient.

Okay, got that out of my system. And oops, I just remembered -- I did spend two years as a corporate lawyer, so I haven't exactly stayed on one side of the supposed aisle. But hey, if those corporate aisle-crossers bring in new skills and talents, eventually we all win. (The great thing about working in a well-funded operation is that you have time to get some great training under your belt.) The ones whose hearts aren't in it will go running back to their business-suit existences as soon as they can find an opening. Meanwhile, the community need is great enough to make room for anyone who can raise money to fill it.
November 10, 2008

Bye-Bye Bake Sales?

A November 8th article in The New York Times called "Bake Sales Fall Victim to Push for Healthier Foods," by Patricia Leigh Brown, raises a question that was probably inevitable: When will general concerns for healthy -- not to mention non-allergy-producing foods -- undo bake sales' once inevitable profits?

Nonprofit111108.JPGAccording to the article, the traditional school bake sale is "fast becoming obsolete" in California, where state regulations forbid selling snacks to students that don't meet certain nutritional guidelines regarding saturated fat, other fat, and sugar. Other states' school districts seem to be headed in the same direction Kentucky, for example, was listed as having especially tight school regulations.

Still, if you're planning your next bake sale, I wouldn't panic yet. For one thing, even the school group featured in the article managed to do an end-run around the rules by holding their bake sale across the street from the school. The taste for sweets will probably never go away.

For another, the great thing about food is that it's endlessly versatile. Let's take the sweet issue: I held a bake sale recently (yes, in California), where I asked someone to bring cheese bread as an alternative to all the sugar. It turned out to be a popular item. Even sweet treats can be created using bananas, fruit juice, honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar in place of the sugar -- all you have to do is check the right cookbooks or websites (try ones dedicated to people with allergies or diabetes). Or if that sounds like too much work, how about creating baggies of trail mix, including colorful additions like dried cranberries? 

Also, as someone with food allergies, I can guarantee you'll have more customers if you put a sign next to each baked good explaining what's in it. Delicious baked items can be made without many of the common allergens including eggs, dairy, wheat or other gluten-containing flours, and peanuts as well as other nuts. If you really want to make an effort on this one, it's easiest to start by finding a volunteer who's experienced in baking for people with allergies.

With steps like these, you'll not only bring in profits, but feel good about what you're doing -- providing nutritious, home-baked foods in a world of junk calories.
November 3, 2008

Fundraising Emails From Obama Campaign a Good Model

Well, with the election now hours away, it's hard to blog about anything else. And I can't decide whether to follow every news tidbit or just tune it out until it's over. Meanwhile, my email inbox offers no lack of election-related reading material -- most of them ending with a pitch for money.

But I must say I've been impressed at the Obama campaign's ability to produce email subject lines that ignite curiosity. As another fundraising commentator pointed out (I'm sorry, I can't remember who gets the credit), one method that the campaign has used is to have the emails come from different sources -- Joe Biden, Michelle Obama (I usually open those), various campaign staffers, and Barack Obama himself. Even if they're really written by a communications person, that added sense of individual perspective goes an amazingly long way toward making me want to hear what they have to say.

Many of the emails' subject lines are also cleverly suspenseful -- things like, "Last chance," or "Our best shot in Ohio." Or they offer videos, or other special features.

Obviously, their campaign didn't invent these techniques, but they've provided a look at how any nonprofit can, despite emailing people on an almost daily basis, keep those emails from becoming an unwanted and repetitive barrage.