August 2010 Archives

August 30, 2010

How Your Nonprofit's Volunteers Can Improve Your Image in 5 Minutes

Have you trolled the Internet lately for sites that review nonprofits? They're out there. And unless you take steps to manage what's posted there in regard to your group, your sole review may be from the person with an attitude who got a rise out of your normally charming receptionist.

Sites such as GreatNonprofits (, Guidestar ( and even Yelp ( allow people who aren't directly paid by a nonprofit -- such as donors, volunteers, board members, and customers or recipients of services -- to post their opinion. And as always, the complainers often seem to be the loudest, or the most motivated to vent.

Take a look, and don't freak out if you see any negative comments. It's as an opportunity to fix things before they bother someone else. But also get the word out to the people who know and love your work that you could use some reviews from them -- honest ones, but hopefully also bringing attention to the best of what you do. It will take them a mere few minutes for each one. That's a lot of marketing bang for the buck.  
August 24, 2010

Donors Avoiding Mailing Lists: How Serious a Phenomenon?

In the last week, I've heard at least three people expressing some version of the following: "I would've donated, but I don't want to end up on another mailing list." In one case, the person solved their dilemma by giving cash (at a benefit concert) -- but not without some grumbling, because no receipts were available, and that means no tax deduction.

This certainly isn't a new problem. But it feels like the degree to which donors are getting fed up with the volume of appeals they receive is reaching a critical point -- not too surprisingly, as the amount of information we all receive via traditional as well as social media has gone beyond overwhelming. And I suspect that nonprofits who wait around for this to be confirmed by a major study may lose out. (Or maybe there's already been a major study, but my  Google search failed to turn it up.)

It's a tough situation, because building a mailing list is a crucial task for a nonprofit. One-time donations are usually small and don't get you very far. The goal is to inspire repeat donations, hopefully of increasing size, from donors who've gotten to know your work and with whom you build an increasingly close relationship. But to do that, you've got to know who they are and how to reach them.

Okay, so how to combat this donor fed-up-ness? Unfortunately, the only answer that makes sense is to not only acknowledge the issue, but offer donors who want to opt out of your mailing list the opportunity to do so. You've probably heard this advice before, but I still don't notice many nonprofits who implement it -- or implement is successfully. (I've been trying to get off the appeals-mailing list of a major environmental organization for months now.)

This is where the wide array of communication methods can be your friend. You can offer people who make a one-time donation the opportunity to receive your newsletter, your email updates about news issues relevant to your work, or other substantive communications. Some will realize that they're interested enough to say yes. (Some of the others, you probably weren't interested in anyway -- for example, the aunts and uncles who sponsored the walkathon out of family loyalty, and would never donate to your cause otherwise.) If your content is interesting, and your messages are powerful enough, the recipients will step up and start making donations without receiving a traditional appeal.

August 19, 2010

Fundraising Kudos to: Monterey Bay Aquarium's Free Desktop Wallpaper

FIrst, a confession. When I'm bored at work, I surf the Web in search of a new and fabulous image to decorate that glowing screen at which I stare for untold hours.

Which is why I was so pleased to come across the Monterey Bay Aquarium's selection of free desktop wallpaper. Cuddly otters, surreal jellyfish, and even a Pacific spiny lumpsucker are all there, in high quality photo form.

What does this have to do with fundraising, you ask? It's easy -- one of the cardinal rules in making connections with donors through your website is to give them a reason to keep coming back, and this wallpaper does just that. In fact, in the Aquarium's case, it may have already have driven other people to the site, who came into my office and said, "Ooh, cool jellyfish, where's that from?"

Interesting visuals are always a good way to give your site drawing power, and have the added bonus that you don't need to spend time drafting and proofreading them. I read a recent account of a real estate agent who writes a blog; and one of his most popular entries was a mystery photo, where he asked people, "What is it?" (That has the added bonus of being interactive, another way to establish a sense of connection with Web visitors.) You could do that too!

For more comprehensive advice on making your website serve your fundraising goals, see the free article on Nolo's website, "Using Your Nonprofit's Website to Help Fundraise."
August 14, 2010

Fundraising During Ramadan: Special Challenges

Today's Washington Post had an interesting article by Michelle Boorstein on what Muslim charities face during Ramadan. On the positive side for the fundraisers, it's the holiest month within the Islamic faith, when Muslims are expected to not only fast from sunrise to sunset, but to additionally purify themselves through contemplation, abstaining from smoking and sexual relations, and performing charitable works.

On the other hand, it's reportedly not so easy to fundraise when your prospective donors are hungry, tired, and possibly going through nicotine withdrawal.

Upon first reading this, I thought, "Well, at least all the non-Muslim charities can be grateful that's not on their list of challenges." But then I had to utter a Homer Simpson like, "D'oh!" Almost any group that addresses secular issues concerning, say, poverty,the environment, arts, or health might count practicing Muslims among its donors and members.

Does that mean you should figure out who the practicing Muslims are, and address them accordingly during the month of Ramadan? That's probably impractical and overly personal, unless you're dealing with a major donor with whom you've developed a close relationship.

This line of inquiry seems more useful to me as a reminder that, in dealings with any donors, there's always a good chance of catching them at a time when their minds and energies are otherwise occupied. I'm regularly approached by well-meaning fundraising volunteers in shopping areas, who ask whether I "have a minute." After I say no, I usually feel guilty that I can't even spare that much time.

But the truth, which I'm sure they don't want to hear me going on about, is usually not that I lack for 60 seconds. It's more often that I'm at the end of a long work day, couldn't even concentrate on the words coming out of the radio on the way home, and am trying to figure out what dinner will take me 30 seconds to cook so that I can gulp it down before rushing off to the gym. There's just no mental space in that scenario to learn about a good cause. 

All of which is a roundabout way of saying:

1) Don't take the no answers personally, or assume that people who instantly say no are callous and uncaring, and

2) Make all your fundraising appeals short and sweet -- we're almost all busy, or tired, or hungry!
August 9, 2010

Fundraising Kudos to the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

I wasn't planning to think about fundraising while on vacation in Tahoe last week -- but in another illustration that nonprofits are everywhere, and an integral part of our enjoyment of life, I happened to take a hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail. It's a trail that wouldn't exist but for the Tahoe Rim Trail Association.

Of course, I wouldn't have known that if they hadn't cleverly posted a sign at the trailhead explaining the association's history. It's an interesting account of how the founder, Glen Hampton, started out with a dream of a trail that circled the ridges of Lake Tahoe.
Thumbnail image for tahoe rim sign.JPG
Hampton was an avid hiker and Forest Service employee, who pursued that dream while a grad student and then a guest instructor at the University of Nevada-Reno.

The association was officially begun in 1982, and had to raise over a million dollars in order to complete the trail -- which it did, in 2001. Now the Association continues to maintain the trail, as well as sponsor hiking trails, discussion boards, and other events of public interest.

trail box.JPGAfter reading the Association's inspiring story, I thought, "Ok, so where's the donation box?" I was getting mentally ready to write a "fundraising oops" blog -- until I got about fifty feet up the trail, and there was a big green box.

I guess they didn't want to seem grabby, or at least wanted us to appreciate a little bit of wilderness before pulling out our wallets.

And what wilderness it is . . . below is a view from further up the trail, looking down toward Spooner Lake.
tahoe rim view.JPG 
By the way, the Rim Trail Association website does a great job of advising people how to get involved, including stories of other donors and what moved them to pitch in.

And if you thought only children or animals could be "adopted" by donors, don't fail to notice their "Adopt a Vista" program!