January 2011 Archives

January 30, 2011

Business and Corporate Donors Deserve Followup Too!

I spoke recently to the owner of a small business who says that, despite the down economy, he has actually increased his contributions (cash and in-kind) to certain nonprofit groups in his community -- but dropped others off his list. The nonprofits in the latter category were those that never followed up to him to tell him, for example, whether his item sold at their silent auction (much less at what price), or how they'd used his contribution.

This isn't retribution. Like any donor, he explained, he'd like to build a relationship with the groups he supports, not feel like they only run to him as the guy with the checkbook. Worse yet, he sometimes feels like a second-class donor. For example, he described his dismay when attending a nonprofit event and reading through the program, which listed everyone's cash donations -- but made no mention of the in-kind donations from himself and others. Oops.

Is the problem partly that the word "corporate giving" has made its way into common usage, leading people to confuse the local business owner with some faceless multinational conglomerate for which charitable giving is merely a drop in its promotional budget-bucket? I hope not, and I wish every nonprofit fundraising staffer could have heard this man speak. But I'll simply have to assure you that he wasn't faceless, and he probably represents the views of a number of other frustrated business donors. So keep in touch, and build those relationships!  
January 26, 2011

Many Wealthy Donors Might Yet Add a Charity to Their Will

Nearly half of the affluent household surveyed by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University say that they've already included a gift to charity in their will. That's good news in and of itself -- it shows public awareness of legacy giving as a meaningful and a readily accomplished estate planning option.

But perhaps even more significant is the 12% of survey subjects who said they'd consider including a charitable gift provision in their will within the next three years. There's room there for your nonprofit, using the principles described in Nolo's free article on "Nonprofit Fundraising Through Inherited Legacy Gifts." (And as further incentive to making sure your nonprofit is seen as a viable recipient of legacy gifts, consider the wealth levels of the households in this survey: incomes of at least $200,000, and net worth of at least $1 million.)

Here's the full 2010 Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, which contains numerous other intriguing and enlightening statistics -- more on those later.

January 19, 2011

Make Your Charity Appeal Return Envelope Look -- Unprofessional?

While you were busy worrying about the content of your next appeal letter, researchers were testing out what kind of return envelope stamps would get people to donate.

stamp3.jpgThe verdict, as reported on by Anne Kadet of SmartMoney in her December, 2010 "Tough Customer" column, is this:  Don't just stick on a single first-class stamp, but go for a combo of little stamps that add up to the correct postage.

According to the column, donors will assume that "some sweaty volunteer made a big effort." Instead of perceiving your mailing as just part of a mass, automated process, they presumably visualize a real person, laboriously counting out postage just for them. I wonder if the donors also worry that the charity is so underfunded that its volunteers, getting sweatier by the moment, must spend time pawing through desk drawers in search of old stamps, unable to go out and buy new ones. (Maybe desperation sells after all!)

Perhaps you could even do as my parents used to, and go to stamp stores that sell
stamp12.jpg historical U.S. stamps, unused, for very little more than their face value. Those always inspired comments in the mailroom of my college dorm.

Then again, last I heard, donors didn't mind supplying their own postage for the return envelope. So why waste the 44 cents in the first place? But maybe you could put all those stamps on the outer envelope . . . .oops, we'd better wait for someone to study that one.
January 7, 2011

Not Every Nonprofit Needs to Issue a Calendar!

I had no idea how many nonprofits were sending 2011 calendars to their donors until I saw the pile on Nolo's conference table, free for the taking. Many of them were supplied by the relative of a staffperson, who is apparently very generous to charity -- but perhaps hasn't gotten the memo about how you're more likely to make a difference by focusing your gifts on a select few groups, rather than giving a little to each one, thus prompting all of them to follow up with endless and expensive mailings.

In any case, looking at the array of calendars, and at which ones got snapped up first to grace people's walls, has led me to a few conclusions:

1) Too many calendars! Many groups are wasting their money, producing calendars that will only compete with other groups' calendars, and possibly end up in the recycle bin. Each donor has only so much wall space, and is going to choose carefully which images to look at every day. Sure, maybe some people will pass the calendars on to friends, thereby increasing the nonprofit's visibility, but given  the pile of "No one wants 'em" leftovers on that table, I wouldn't count on it.

2) Depressing images don't sell. There's a calendar sitting there from a veterans' memorial group, where each month's photo features a flag-draped coffin or a grieving relative. Are these photos important and relevant for people to see? Yes. Might they work in a newsletter or as Facebook entries? Absolutely. But I have trouble imagining who would, given a choice between a calendar with cute puppies or the one with coffins, choose the latter.

3) Photos of clients' faces don't sell well, either. This one's a little harder to explain, but it's clear that calendar choosers aren't drawn to looking at the faces of anonymous people being served by a nonprofit. Maybe it's because you have to read the text to "get" what's going on, or maybe it seems unfair to have this face take up a lot more wall space than photos of one's kids or grandkids. In any case, the cute puppies are clearly winning out again.

What does sell? Animal and nature photos are the big winners. I snagged a calendar from the California State Parks Foundation, where each month features a beautiful photo of a park -- allowing me to imagine, or actually plan, which parks to visit next. It will replace the calendar I picked up last year, by a nonprofit that serves kids with cancer -- but chose to feature photo of birds each month. It's not entirely logical, but I put it on my wall! Happy 2011 to all . . . . 
January 4, 2011

Fundraising Oops: The Susan G. Komen Foundation's Use of Donor Funds to Sue Smaller Groups

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has done an admirable job bringing the phrase "For the Cure," and the color pink, into people's consciousness.

Unfortunately, its efforts to stop smaller nonprofit groups from using any similar branding seem less than admirable. According to reports in the The Huffington Post, the Komen folks are spending big bucks (originally, donated money) to sue groups that use the phrase "for the cure," any variations thereof, or even the color pink, in their own marketing efforts.

I predict it's going to backfire, as others echo the sentiments of one nonprofit director facing legal action from the Komen Foundation. She told the The Huffington Post, "They seem to have forgotten what charity is about."

In fact, their protectionist strategy has already backfired, if you believe that Stephen Colbert wields any influence; here's his pithy sendup. Let's hope we see a shift in course from this group soon. 

January 3, 2011

Good Fundraising News to Start the Year

The recent press-release headline by GuideStar and the National Center for Charitable Statistics is an auspicious one: "2010 Fundraising Results: The Worst May Be Over."

According to their October 2010 survey of over 2,000 charities and 163 private foundations, donations have been picking up compared to the same time last year, and nearly half the organizations expect their 2011 budgets to be higher than 2010. No one's rolling in dough yet, but it's nice to have some breathing room!