February 17, 2011

Know What You Want to Say Before You Write

pen and paper.jpgThat title is actually one of my cardinal rules for writing, whether we're talking about a nonprofit grant proposal, a book, or a letter to Mom. When I'm having trouble putting words on the page, a little looking inward often reveals that the real problem isn't in the writing process, it's in the thought process. In other words, I don't really know what I'm trying to say.

So it was nice to see an articulate reminder of and expansion on that topic, by Rebecca Leet, as guest blogger for Nancy Schwartz's Getting Attention blog, with her article, "Can't write the message? Maybe it's not your fault."

Rebecca addresses the added complexity of trying to get all the key players in an organization united around its core message -- no small challenge, with fundamental issues at stake!
February 10, 2011

The Groupon Super Bowl Oops

Little did I know that the REALLY Big News from the Big Game would not be the lack of Pepsi ads (as I discussed in my last blog), but the misguided Groupon ads. By now, you've probably seen them twelve times over, but if not, here's where to view their oddly combined, wannabe satirical melding of real causes and flippant consumerist appeals to "Save the Money."

It's a sad tale, because humor invariably involves risk. When someone tries to be funnyChicken Feathered.jpg and fails, it makes the rest of the world --particularly the nonprofit fundraising world, which is already prone to an excess of seriousness -- chicken out (with all due respect to the chicken) and stick to the tearjerker appeals, which can be real yawners.

When done right, humor is a great way to make donors smile -- and then give. But how to do it right? Here's a helpful article, "When Humor Can Be Very Effective in Fundraising Marketing Campaigns," by MP Mueller, for the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

February 4, 2011

Pepsi Chooses Nonprofits Over Super Bowl Advertisers!?

Even I, who never comes within 25 yards of a television that's showing a football game,Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for superbowl2.jpg knows what a big deal the Super Bowl ads are. Heck, I think I've even visited websites that compile the best ads after the game, just for the fun of watching what America's most creative marketers can do with a big budget (or whatever budget is left over after actually paying for the air time).

So, it's clearly Big News when Pepsi announces that it's pulling its ads from this year's Big Game -- and bigger news still, for anyone interested in charitable fundraising, when the reason turns out to be a shift in focus to its program of giving grants to nonprofits that muster up the most online support via social networks like Facebook and Twitter. It's called the PepsiRefresh Project.

Get the details in The New York Times article, "Pepsi Bets on Local Grants, Not the Super Bowl," by Jennifer Preston. And if you're with a small group that's thinking, "We'll never win one of those grants," read right to the end of the article, where it describes how a high school marching band got a $25,000 grant from Pepsi for its uniforms. Yay team! (By the way, who's playing this year?) 
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!

December 29, 2010

A Lot of Charitable Donation Decisions Happening Now!

It's staggering to contemplate: More than 20% of all charitable giving for the ENTIRE YEAR occurs on December 30th and 31st. (That's according to the "Online Giving Study: A Call to Reinvent Donor Relationships" recently completed by Network for Good and TrueSense Marketing.)

One out of every five people -- or at least people allocating one fifth of their annual charitable giving dollars -- are currently asking themselves, "Hmm, which causes are closest to my heart, and where will my donations have the strongest impact?" (Or they're doing as my sister-in-law did, and asking "Where would you like me to donate in your name as a holiday gift," a question I love!)

As an aside, could there be any clearer indication that the charitable deduction impels people to make contributions? Even if they'd been planning to donate anyway, the prospect of losing the deduction is probably a great kick in the hindquarters for those who'd procrastinated.

At this point, your nonprofit has probably done most of what it can to attract these last-minute donations: fostered connections year-round, sent a holiday appeal (which may be sitting on people's desks right now, for consideration), and perhaps held a recent event or phon-a-thon.

But there are still a few things you can do in these final hours -- which I say apologetically, because vacations are important too -- but the Darwinian truth of the matter is that every other nonprofit in town is trying to curry the procrastinators' favor. My email box is full of the evidence, with as many nonprofit appeals as post-Christmas sales.

So, here are a few ideas (which, even if I don't mention it outright, should all include info on how to donate at the end -- and don't be afraid to ask for large amounts):
  • Email a summary of what your organization achieved this year. If you haven't done this already, it's a fine way to tap into people's year-end spirit of reflection, while reminding them of the great work you do. Try to put the summary into colorful terms, using more stories than statistics. Post this on your Facebook page, too.
  • Find a fun photo that donors haven't seen yet. Post this on your Facebook page, or if it's got a good enough story to go with it, email it too. If enough people are in the office, you could even take a group photo, with new-year greetings from all.
  • Send a thank-you email. Remind donors of how all they've given so far has made a difference in the world.
  • Identify a discrete, immediate, and still unmet need. For example, if you can spotlight one family who could start the new year with warm coats with your group's help, or one animal that needs surgery in order to find an adoptive home for the new year, send a quick email about it.
Not too surprisingly, most of these channels are online -- nothing else will reach people as quickly at this late date. If your group hasn't already established a long list of email contacts and a social networking presence, then let that be one of its New Year's resolutions.

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.
December 13, 2010

Is Your Nonprofit Choosing Whether to Start Networking With Facebook or Twitter?

If so, you'll be interested to hear the results of Pew Internet Research's recent study, as reported on by Tom Belford in his always-readable-and-relevant Agitator blog.

Bottom line: Facebook, to this point, has a lot more readers than Twitter.

My two cents: Facebook is also easy to use, and you're not restricted to expressing your thoughts in 140 characters or less!
December 7, 2010

Is Your Nonprofit on Jumo Yet?

I don't pretend to understand Jumo -- in fact, the name reminds me of a fictional African dictatorship on the TV show 24 -- but I do believe in trying to keep your nonprofit's Web presence up to date, and taking advantage of social networking tools.

To that end, here's a clear and helpful description of what Jumo is about, and how it can help nonprofits make their place in cyberspace, from the folks at Nonprofit Tech 2.0. Take particular note of the description of how, if you don't get on their and manage your profile, someone else might!

November 28, 2010

Fundraising Oops of the Week: Dull Opening Sentence

The holiday appeal letters continue to stream in. And here, I'm sad to say, is an opening sentence that was good for an instant yawn:

Right now, hundreds of dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens in our shelters are awaiting adoption into new homes.

What's wrong with it, you ask? I can name at least five reasons that the average reader wouldn't be inspired to read any further.

1) It says nothing new or surprising. Anyone could have written that sentence, with no access to inside information. In fact, it confirms many of our sad suspicions that we're up against some long-term, insoluble problems.

2) It's mind-numbingly general. The word "hundreds" doesn't evoke any images in my mind, and "dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens" sounds more like part of a children's book rhyme than a reference to real animals. Where's the unique story, perhaps of an actual, named animal waiting to be released from its cage into a loving home, or a volunteer who works with them? And while we're at it, what does "our shelters" mean? If it had named the city or neighborhood I live in, I might have felt a greater sense of connection to the issue.

3) It doesn't reach out to the reader. The voice of the writer is completely absent, and there's no reference to a connection with me, the reader. It could have been a public service announcement. (Just a reminder of why many appeal letters are written from "I" or "we" to "you.")

4) It lacks any sense of urgency. Why should I pay attention to this now, rather than later? By the sound of it, the shelters are accustomed to housing these animals.

5) It doesn't give me a reason to believe I can be part of bringing about change in the near future. Dropping another donation into the endless bucket of need isn't very satisfying, and there's ample evidence that the appeals people respond best to are the ones that tell them, "All we need is $X amount today and we can find homes for xx animals tomorrow!"
I don't mean to say that every one of these things should be encompassed within an appeal letter's opening sentence. But if none of them are, that's trouble -- a guaranteed free ride to the recycle bin. But hey, at least it's grammatically accurate!
November 20, 2010

Fundraising Kudos to: Alameda County Community Food Bank

It's the season for holiday appeal letters, and given the flood of them, it takes a lot for one to stand out. But I received an appeal card from the Alameda County Community Food Bank recently that took a clever approach.

The front of the card showed an incredibly cute smiling baby, with the words "'Tis the Season." Upon opening the card, you see the words, "To Fill Hungry Tummies." But here's what I thought was the kicker: The next line says, "Before you read any further, look at the little guy on the front one more time."

And you know what? I did. With that one simple command, the writer stopped me in my usual tracks -- which normally involve tearing up these letters -- and got me to look into the face of a (presumably) needy kid. (Actually, he looks about as well fed as a kid can. But as I said, he was cute!) Drawing the reader's attention in for a closer look has to be the number one goal of charity appeal letters, and this one did that admirably. The rest of the letter was pretty darn good, too.