Being Genuine

TY noteThis past summer the father of a good high school friend of mine passed away. He spent the last few days of his life in hospice, where he and his family received comfort and care. He passed peacefully, and the family asked that memorials be given to the hospice home in his memory.

Shortly after his passing and my donation to the hospice, I received a brief and thoughtful receipt from the hospice home, recognizing my memorial gift and explaining their mission briefly. I filed the tax receipt and thought that was the end of that.

Months later, I received a phone call from the hospice home. The woman on the phone simply thanked me for my generous gift; no solicitation for a second gift, just a thank you. It seemed odd to me to receive the call months after I had made my gift.

A few days later, I received their year-end appeal in the mail, and it all made sense then. I felt like the timing of the call was to butter me up for their year-end appeal. Had I received the phone call a few weeks after I’d made the gift, it would have felt more genuine.

I suspect that hospices, just like hospitals, have a challenging fundraising model, with a significant percentage of donors making one-time gifts in memory of a loved one and then never giving again. Turning those first-time donors into long-term committed donors is their biggest challenge and the key to their fundraising success.

A well-timed stewardship call to each first-time donor would be helpful to convert more one-time donors into committed donors. Saving up all the calls and then making them once, in advance of an appeal, feels disingenuous and almost manipulative.

I was disappointed by the way this small hospice, which is filling a great need in their community, handled this relationship. It would not take any more time or money to instead make those thank you calls in a more timely basis, and would make all the difference in how donors feel about supporting their mission.

Next post, I’ll tell you about a hospital that I think did an amazing job after receiving a memorial gift.

Are We Expecting Less from our Donors?

BFG screen captureI’m in the middle of reading “The War for Fundraising Talent” by Jason Lewis. The book is about more than just attracting and retaining talented fundraising professionals, it’s about how nonprofits are addicted to “cheap” money, to chasing a fundraising ratio and not creating deep relationships with their donors, which leads to fundraising talent looking for opportunity elsewhere.

This book was on my mind as I opened multiple emails from many organizations on March 1st announcing their participation in “Brackets for Good.” BFG is a 501c3 organization based in Indiana, whose mission is to “activate new donors and increase awareness for other nonprofit organizations through competitive, online fundraising.”

MN brackets

The competition looks like any bracket you may see this time of year, except that instead of college basketball teams they pit nonprofits against each other. Each week, whichever nonprofits raised the most money online goes on to the next week’s bracket.

This sounds good, right? Attract new donors, raise awareness, all using a smooth, online marketing machine that none of these nonprofits had to pay for.  It’s a win-win, even if you lose.

Yet, if the goal is to attract new donors, then why did I receive emails from the 4 or 5 organizations I currently support, asking me to get involved in Brackets for Good?

If I were to participate in this competition on a chosen charity’s behalf, I need to see where they’re at in the brackets and give just enough each week to make sure they advance to the next bracket. If I typically give a $100 donation to a nonprofit, I need to strategically choose when and how much of that $100 I’m going to give each week.

As a donor, helping a nonprofit move ahead in the brackets is not much of an incentive to give more than the $100 that they would’ve gotten anyways. Unlike Giving Tuesday or Give to the Max Day in Minnesota, nonprofits who move on are not eligible for additional grant or matching money.

Are many donors actually incentivized to give more by these contests? I would rather give more by hearing from the organization on what their goals are and why they need more, then I would feel like my gift was really doing good. Just helping them move ahead in a bracket isn’t enough of an incentive for me to give more, maybe it’s just me.

So now I’ve divvied up a single $100 gift into small amounts, trickled over several weeks, and will feel like I did my part to support a nonprofit.

According to Jason’s book, this is exactly the kind of shallow relationship nonprofits are developing with donors, what he calls “arms-reach fundraising.” Are online competitions and giving days helping or hurting fundraising in the U.S.?

Direct Mail vs Junk Mail, Part II

Earlier I wrote about a piece of unsolicited advertising I had received in my mailbox (the technical definition of “direct mail”). I considered that piece to be “junk mail” — poorly targeted to people who have no use for the product.

The next day, I received a piece of direct mail.

This piece was significantly smaller, a 3.5″ x 5″ folded 4-color postcard, to be exact. Part of the outside messaging had been ink-jetted and smeared in the mailing process, not as pristine as the piece I had received the day before.

Even though it didn’t originally catch my eye in the mailbox, this is definitely an offer I will be acting on.Vista Print postcard.jpgIMG_9346.JPG

I recently opened my own business, which means I filed my business with the State of Minnesota. This company selected the names of new business owners and offers them a deal to get business cards printed. They bulk-printed the creative to get a volume discount and then ink-jetted on the offer deadline, promo code and address before mailing.

I have to believe they’ve got a warehouse of thousands of these cards waiting to get mailed. If they were even smarter (which is absolutely possible), they performed a gender identification on the list of business owners and for the men inserted a sample business card featuring a man’s name and masculine colors.

They wisely chose their audience — new business owners — and offered them a service they believe they could use, business cards.

Brilliant.

The creative may not be a glossy, over-sized “hey look at me” piece, but they will be getting my order because they got two critical pieces right: audience selection and timing.

Imagine how these pieces would have been received if they had been delivered at different times: the offer for window replacements when we filed a permit for a remodel would have been direct mail, and the offer for business cards to a non-business owner would have been junk mail.

Nonprofits should be asking themselves if they asking donors to give when donors  are looking to contribute, or when nonprofits need to raise money? Are you sending direct mail or junk mail? The answer is not in a new snazzy envelope, great graphics or a well-written letter, it’s in the audience selection and timing.

Direct Mail versus Junk Mail

For years I’ve had to explain to my family what I do for a living. The minute I say that I partner with nonprofits and mail to their donors or prospective donors my relatives say something along the lines of, “oh it’s YOU who sends me that junk mail!”

Excuse me, I do not send JUNK mail, I send direct mail.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Direct mail is targeted to people who may find the information in the mailing of interest. Junk mail is not targeted to its audience, and often falls on deaf ears because people have no interest in the product or service.

Take this, for example. (I intentionally cropped the top so you can’t see the logo of the company.)IMG_9340.JPG

This most definitely got my attention. Let me give you an idea of proportion:

IMG_9341.JPG

This thing is huge. It was folded in half to fit into my mailbox, and even then the box couldn’t entirely shut. (The dimensions are 9.5×13 inches. I know, fellow geeks, because I measured it.)

The mailer had to pay the flat postage rate (which is more expensive than letter rate), put it on heavy card stock to make it through USPS machines and made sure the four-color glossy print did not rub off on pieces around it. In other words, this was not cheaply produced or mailed.

Only problem? We replaced every window in our house last year as a part of a major remodel. So…thank you for the information on how much I could save by replacing my windows with your product, but I don’t need your product.

Junk mail.

They could have possibly avoided this by pulling permit information and suppressing everyone on their file who had a permit pulled within the last 24 months. Better yet, they could try to target those who had a remodel but did not have windows replaced, though I’m not sure if that level of data is available on publicly filed permits.

How about select people whose houses were built or remodeled 20 years ago, and then mail to them to consider window replacements? They would end up mailing fewer people, sure, but the people they mail would more than likely actually be interested in their product. Costs would decrease, response rate would increase, and all would be right with the world.

Unfortunately many of us are very familiar with junk mail. When’s the last time you got a piece of direct mail? I got one recently, and I’ll tell you about it soon.

 

Top Talents of Nonprofit Staff and Teams

TeamIn my career, I have worked with dozens of nonprofits. From those raising millions of dollars annually to those working to raise their first $1,000, I’ve seen many different business models of how organizations are working to change the world. Some rely heavily on events and peer-to-peer fundraising, others were built on direct-response fundraising, while others rely primarily on major gifts from the founding of the organization.

I’ve learned that there are some traits of nonprofit staff members that are the same, no matter the mission or the size of the organization.

  1. Nonprofits are run by passionate, compassionate, engaging people. Back in my agency life when I had a mix of for-profit and nonprofit clients, my nonprofit clients were my favorite people. There is something about what drives people to work for a place that is trying to change the world, not just please shareholders, that makes them especially engaging. (No offense to those who have to please shareholders.)
  2. People who work at nonprofits are innovative and creative problem-solvers. They have to be. They are often tasked with meeting impossible budgets with few resources, turning a dollar into ten, working with less-than-ideal tools. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and scarcity is her little sister.
  3. There is no shortage of business savvy at nonprofits. I have heard that nonprofits are the “B” team, those who couldn’t cut it in the business world. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What motivates a person to work for a nonprofit has little to do with a purported lack of abilities but with making a difference and, for some, leaving a legacy.
  4. Nonprofit teams need to be lean, their staff multi-talented. “Other duties as assigned” takes on a new meaning when working at a nonprofit. From the administrative assistant who doubles as a volunteer coordinator to the prospect researcher who runs an employee giving campaign, staff members are often asked to stretch out of their comfort zone to meet a short-term need.
  5. The seasonal nature of fundraising makes staffing challenging. Considering that most money is raised in the last quarter of the year, nonprofits cannot afford to hire a full-time person to meet a 3-month need. Donation processing, stewardship calling, event planning and follow-up are all at their busiest at the same time of year for most nonprofits. Unless every nonprofit has a team of trained volunteers waiting in the wings, organizations struggle to meet these needs each year.

By using consultants, nonprofits can expand their teams seasonally, build strategies without paying for a strategist year round, and rely on people with different skills for short periods of time. Yet at the same time, consulting fees are line-itemed on 990s, as if relying on consultants is a strike against a nonprofit.

For those who are committed to nonprofit work as a volunteer, a donor, board member or others, learn about the needs of your favorite nonprofit. Are those needs being met internally, and at what cost? Does it make more sense to outsource some elements to experts who can flex their time seasonally? Consultants should be seen as an extension of the internal team, just as committed to the mission and results.