Recently in Recession strategies Category

March 10, 2011

Hawaii Library Shows Link Between Fundraising and Volunteerism

The headline in American Libraries' magazine aptly reads, "The Little Library That Could." The article, by Brian Matthews, describes how the largely volunteer-run Makiki Community Library in Honolulu manages to stay afloat even without collecting library fines for overdue materials!

What I'd like to know is how, beyond the "aloha spirit" mentioned, the library manages to do such a great job keeping volunteers interested. They've got some volunteers willingly cleaning the bathrooms, for God's sake! That sort of commitment doesn't come without effort on the part of the organization, and good leadership -- which it sounds like the Makiki Library has, in the form of a former librarian turned Friends group president, Wendy Maxwell. 

In any case, it's a fine example of how rallying volunteers can supplant some of the need to raise straight cash.

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 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!

November 16, 2010

A One-Woman Fundraising Pitch That Worked

I always enjoy The New York TImes' annual "Giving" section, and this year one theme that stood out was the power of individual action.

Take, for example, the article, "Pooling Small Contributions Hoping for Big Results." It profiles a 20-year-old volunteer named Kelsey Warner, who got involved in a charity in Waltham, Massachusetts called Small Can Be Big. This organization tries to reach the young, wired generation, inpsiring them to solicit modest donations to help with individual cases of need, via social networks.

Warner got interested in the case of a single mom named Raquel Rohling, whose child had developed cancer. Rohling had, as a result, become unemployed and was living in a homeless shelter.

In 400 words, Warner wrote a brilliant summary of the issue and the case for support -- one that more experienced fundraisers could learn a thing or two from. Here's my annotated excerpt:

"Mrs. R was once employed, with an apartment, a car, and furniture." [Good way to make the reader think, "Oh, she's just like us, not someone looking for a handout."]

"When Little R was diagnosed with (leukemia), everything changed. Mrs. R sold all of her belongings to pay for treatments . . . " [Uh oh, she's just like us but with unimaginable bad luck -- and she's a sympathetic mother figure, sacrificing everything for her child, to boot.]

"Putting this mother and son into a safe apartment would be one step in a long process of returning to the life they once knew." [Warner points to an achievable solution -- this isn't just another hopeless news headline for us to turn away from.]

"$1,500 by December 20th gives this family a very happy New Year, and a place to call home. How can you help?" [Brilliant! A sense of time urgency, and a way to make a major change in this needy woman's life -- who wouldn't want to donate?]

In fact, this pitch was highly successful -- 18 people from across the United states donated enough to reach the $1,500 goal, and Ms. Rohling moved into her new apartment. Now, how can you craft your pitches to reach similarly achievable goals?

June 15, 2010

Record Rise in Volunteerism: Is Your Nonprofit Ready?

A whopping 63.4 million Americans (age 16 and older) volunteered for charitable causes last year (2009), despite -- or perhaps in response to -- economic hard times.

As if that weren't impressive enough, it represents an increase of almost 1.6 million volunteers since 2008, and the largest one-year increase in the volunteer numbers since 2003. Women, particularly working mothers, were among the most active.

For more details and numbers, see the Volunteering in America 2010  report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In the meantime, the key question is, ARE YOU READY? Volunteers can perform a number of valuable tasks for an organization, from the menial to the skilled professional, in some cases reducing the need for paid staff.

Yet because many volunteers report being turned away by groups unable to handle them, or worse yet, quitting on their own because they didn't feel their time was being meaningfully used, you've got to think ahead of time about how to best choose, train, assign, and supervise them. I've learned this lesson the hard way, having had volunteers walk out because they were bored by the tasks assigned them -- and I've myself quit volunteer jobs because I felt my time was being wasted standing around waiting for instructions. 

Creating a volunteer program that both helps your organization and satisfies the volunteer's desire to feel needed, well used, and perhaps reach other goals such as learning new skills -- or even meeting other single volunteers (see previous post, "Volunteering for Charity May Lead to Romance!") -- isn't easy. But there's a lot of good advice out there on how to make it work, starting with this article, "Nonprofit Volunteers: Top Five Tips to Keep Them Coming." 
May 12, 2010

Charitable Instincts and Kids

The June, 2010 issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine contained an intriguing statistic (among many stats about people's current thoughts concerning their financial situation):

Among parents age 35 to 44, the financial virtue they'd most like to pass on to their children was generosity! The 31% who chose that virtue were followed by 29% who chose thrift and 25% who chose business sense.

Doesn't that seem a mite counterintuitive, given today's tough times? Especially since the same survey found that 41% of this group said their financial situation was worse today than two years ago, with a majority of them "struggling." And it's a safe bet that this group has reduced its charitable giving, as has occurred pretty much across the board.

But maybe it's actually a matter of cause and effect, and these struggling parents want to make sure that their belt-tightening doesn't dampen their kids' sense of generosity.

If so, it raises an interesting question: How can the nonprofits of the world best help them -- and thus foster the next generation of donors?

The first thing that comes to mind is to think about kids and families when planning volunteer opportunities. I've observed many nonprofits treat young volunteers as an afterthought, or even an inconvenience, with little more welcome than a demand that they be accompanied by a person over the age of 18. How about creating a family day of volunteering with your group, or coordinate with schools for particular projects?

Another possibility is to address the matter of kids' awareness of charitable giving in your newsletters and website. I know of families that decide how much they'll give to charity, then involve the whole family in the decision of which charities to choose -- or even require the kids to set aside a portion of their allowance for the charity of their choice. You can educate and encourage parents about such possibilities.

While we're at it, for the kids who are actively engaged in choosing where to donate, could you create a separate kid-friendly Web page explaining where their donations go, and what a difference they make? You might think that your donation pages are already clear enough for anyone to understand, but look again -- many websites offer a confusing array of options, assuming a certain level of financial sophistication, with language like, "Please consider an unrestricted gift," or "tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law."

I'll start keeping my eyes open for charities that do a good job at this, and report back!

April 9, 2010

New Ways to Recognize Donors

Don't miss today's post on The Agitator. It describes some ideas adapted from the commercial marketing world for heightening one's focus on existing customers/donors, and relationships with them, as a recession-combating strategy.

Tom gives two good ideas for how to achieve this. These include specially acknowledging donors who've been with your organization a certain number of years as well as acknowledging ones who've given certain amounts.

What I like about his ideas is that they're original (not that I know what every organization out there is doing, but I personally haven't seen this twist yet), they're easy, if you're already keeping decent records, and they're the very opposite of what feels like the more common if perhaps unconscious approach: that is, the one where donors get endless appeal letters in which the organizations practically hide the ball, not telling you how much you've donated of late, as if afraid that once you notice, you'll turn off the tap and say, "Forget it, I'm not giving a thing to this next appeal!"

Why not celebrate how much a donor has given, and foster their pride around that -- especially if you can send them a tailored letter explaining what has been achieved during their three years of membership or using their total funds? I'll be curious to see the responses to Tom's post . . . .

March 31, 2010

How Many Donors Are You Calling to Thank?

At a panel I recently attended, the president of a Friends of the Library board explained that one of its ways of cultivating donors was to have a board or staff member personally call and thank everyone who'd made a contribution of $100 or above.

Not too surprisingly, he said that this goes over very well, even describing people as "thankful" for the call.

But this part's more surprising: He added that many of them say, "Yours is the first organization that's ever called me!"

To me, that indicates that a lot of organizations are missing the boat. Making thank-you calls to donors is easy, a perfect task for new or fundraising-averse board members, and doesn't cost much if anything to carry out.

Maybe some organizations make such calls to donors that have given amounts greater than $100 -- but why not lower the bar, especially during a recession, when even a $20 gift may be a big stretch for some? Creating this degree of personal contact with a donor may turn that person into a friend -- and contributor -- for life. 
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! 
February 8, 2010

Give Your E.D. a Break! Sabbatical Grants

During a recession may seem like the last time your nonprofit would want to go without the services of its executive director or other key managers -- but such thinking just means you haven't read the report, Creative Disruption: Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector, published by Third Sector New England and CompassPoint.

Based on surveys of nonprofit executives who received grants to go on sabbatical, the report shows how their absence (of about three months) can help them recharge their batteries and return with new ideas and energy around managing and raising money for the organization. It can also help other staff learn new skills and perhaps get ready to assume higher-level roles within the organization.

The grants themselves (available from sources detailed within the report) typically cover the executive's salary during the absence (which could allow your organization to hire some temporary help) along with, in some cases, travel and related expenses, plus help for the organization itself during the transition. Sounds like a great way to avoid burnout and shake things up a bit!