Recently in Donor pledges Category

December 15, 2010

Fundraising Kudos to the Friends of the Packard Library

. . . for its creative spin on the walkathon idea, and one that non-athletes can get involved in. This Friends group had volunteers line up sponsors for guerrilla readings of poems by Emily Dickinson, at unlikely spots throughout the town of Marysville, California -- such as a bar, gas station, and laundromat.

The amount earned wasn't overwhelming -- $1,000 -- but it no doubt raised the library's visibility, and it got some press coverage, to boot -- read all about it in the Sacramento Bee, here.
July 12, 2010

Fundraising Blind Spots: What Are Yours?

I recently saw a fascinating play, "In the Wake," by Lisa Kron, at Berkeley Repertory Theater. It centers on a group of friends living in New York, post 9/11. One of the major themes is the characters' struggle to discover what assumptions are so ingrained in them that they can't even see how these affect their personal lives and political opinions.

For example, one character, July, who does international humanitarian work, shocks another (and the audience) by explaining that she never votes in U.S. elections. Her rationale turns out to be one of the most thought-provoking moments in the play: It's because she didn't grow up with the level of economic privilege that gives her friends a blind faith in their ability to effect societal progress. From her and her family's perspective, she has truly never seen voting make a difference.

The other blind spots explored by the play didn't seem as clear-cut or satisfying, at least after a single viewing (I haven't read the script). But the play has left me "seeing blind spots" everywhere I turn. And where better to ferret these out than in one's fundraising plan?

An example turned up in a book I read recently, called Effective Church Finances: Fund-Raising and Budgeting for Church Leaders, by Kennon L. Callahan (Jossey-Bass). Callahan says that many U.S. churches conduct their primary drive for member pledges in October -- despite the fact that, statistically speaking, October has been shown to be one of the most difficult months in which to raise money, as people pay off their summer vacation expenditures and parents cope with the expenses of the new school year.

Why October? It dates back to when our economy was based on agriculture, and farmers would have just brought in the autumn harvest. By now, probably few church fundraisers remember that fact -- while the need for an October pledge drive has become their particular blind spot.

Does your organization have its own blind spots? Asking questions like, "Why do we always do things this way?" is a good way to start finding out. Another way is to think of ways you can test your assumptions about what works. For example, let's say you've always sent four-page letters in your direct mail appeals to potential new donors. You can test the effectiveness of this strategy by dividing the mailing group in half and sending a two-page letter to some and a four-page letter to others. Then compare the results. If you're surprised, congratulations -- your vision just got closer to 20/20.

February 16, 2010

Giving Via Mobile Text Message: Can It Work for Your Nonprofit?

I was having dinner with friends recently, and out of nowhere, one of them began excitedly describing her experience of having donated $10 to a Haiti-related charity via a mobile phone text message. Her words, more or less, were: "It was so easy! I didn't have to call a number or fill out a form -- all those steps that might normally make me feel like I'd taken on a chore and might want to give up in the middle. Within seconds, I'd made the donation, and felt good about it."

For readers not familiar with this form of giving, here's what the mobile phone donor literally experiences: They're told (via various marketing means) that, by simply typing a numeric code into their mobile phone, and then typing in a word, they can make a donation of a particular amount -- usually $1, $5, or $10 (the max).

For the American Red Cross's Haiti efforts, for example, donors were advised to text the word, "HAITI" and send it to 90999. Donors then get a message asking them to confirm their wish to donate, to which they'll hopefully respond by typing the word, "yes" back, at which point they get another automated confirmation message. When their mobile phone bill comes, they'll see the extra charge representing their donation.

My friend isn't the only one who's finding it easy and satisfying to give via text message. If you look at recent press reports, a number of charities -- particularly those raising funds for Haiti -- are making good use of donors' urges to do something to help right now, immediately, with no unnecessary steps. As Verizon spokesman Chuck Hamby said to Richard Mullins for an article in The Tampa Tribune, "People want to do the right thing and give. When you make it as easy as tapping out a one-word message, people respond."

The numbers are, in some cases, eye-popping -- especially given that the mobile donation systems limit people to $10 per text message or $25 per cause (apparently to protect people from having their kids start happily pressing buttons on their phone). The American Red Cross reported as of January 14, 2010 having raised more than $5 million for Haiti via text-message donations. (See Consumer Reports blog.) 

Of course, such big numbers are partly explained by the fact that fundraising for emergency relief efforts tends to dwarf (or even take away from) fundraising for ongoing needs. Meanwhile, Consumer Reports noted that the American Red Cross's intake was more than three times the amount of money that all U.S. charities had raised via text in the last two years combined.

Nevertheless, the success of the American Red Cross's effort may have awakened audience awareness that texting is an available and easy way to give. What's more, texting as a giving method is reportedly helping charities reach potential new donors who are otherwise hard to connect with, particularly young people or those in minority communities.

Okay, so how realistic is this as a fundraising method for small-ish nonprofits? The numbers still look a bit iffy. The widely acknowledged go-to place for setting up such arrangements is the MGive Foundation. It currently charges a one-time setup fee of $500, plus $399 a month (at its lowest program level) for ongoing services with a one-year minimum contract, plus a per-transaction fee of 35 cents and 3.5% of the donation. This obviously works best for large nonprofits with a big public presence. (In fact, to sign up, MGive requires that your revenues be at least $500,000 per year.)

The fees would be worth the price even for a smaller nonprofit, of course, if the dollars coming in swamped the up-front investment -- but the case studies shown on its website don't indicate that any small or local nonprofits have seen dramatic results. In fact, one of the success stories mentions Defenders of Wildlife (a nonprofit with overall annual revenues of $31 million in 2008) having raised around $2,000 via texting within a two-month period, also during 2008 -- nice, but hardly an avalanche of money.

We're just at the beginning of learning how to use this giving method, however. As more nonprofits get on board, no information will no doubt be developed about how to engage donors' interest and get the maximum return on a text message campaign. It's probably worth keeping your eyes on this emerging possibility -- especially so that you don't try to get on board after its usefulness has peaked! 
November 5, 2009

Fundraising Kudos to: The Nature Conservancy

I'm always on the lookout for a good way to convey the notion of "planned giving" to your donors. It's hard to find a middle ground between vague, circular statements like, "Plan a planned gift today!" and overly direct statements like, "At least leave us something when you die!"

That's why I was impressed by a recent ad in Nature Conservancy Magazine, which displayed a number of gorgeous landscape and animal photos, and read:


Clever, huh? And the "If you will it" was in orange (which unfortunately I don't know how to reproduce on this blog screen). This little tag line manages to convey the positive side of planning for one's demise -- making a lasting difference to the best parts of this world -- while actually getting the word "will" in there.  

Of course, now that they've come up with this word combo, other nonprofits can't simply copy it. But it's a great illustration of the infinite combinations that words offer -- play with the possibilities long enough, and you may come up with a great tag line of your own.

September 16, 2009

Can Nonprofits Break the Cycle of Skimping on Overhead?

This new study and report in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, by Ann Goggins Gregory and Don Howard, probably won't surprise anyone in the nonprofit sector -- you've probably long gotten used to working on an ancient computer at an even more ancient desk -- but it sure is nice to hear some sympathy from a respected source. And some acknowledgment that there's only so much that nonprofits can do themselves to shift resources toward basic infrastructural needs (and thus greater efficiency down the line), when every nonprofit knows that the funders have their eye on the nonprofits' spending ratios.

It's the funders who need to wake up and realize that, in order to prevent a few nonprofits from misusing donors' funds, the vast majority are toiling away in conditions that border on the Dickensian. Take it from someone who -- not that long ago -- had to take a disk to her home computer every time she needed to print out a grant proposal.
April 8, 2009

Relying on Charitable Pledges Can Be Dicey

Check out law professor Vaughn E. James' description of the disastrous sequence of events leading to a possible bankruptcy filing by the Children's Museum of Los Angeles. And here's my even shorter version of the story:

New building constructed but needing millions more to finish and furnish + big pledge that seems like it will save the day + donor assets then frozen due to alleged corruption = big problem for nonprofit
As if we needed further reminders that rich and successful people aren't always what they appear to be... but perhaps this is a lesson in needing to look further and not pin the entire success of one's plans on one pledge.