Mobilize Donors Fast to Respond to Breaking News

©  Eugenio Marongiu - Fotolia
© Eugenio Marongiu – Fotolia
Nonprofits should always be ready to capitalize on “overnight sensations” — such as the social media storms that catapulted the Bard Prison Initiative’s surprise debate victory over the national-champion Harvard team and the University of Mississippi’s 2014 upset victory over the University of Alabama — to promote other programs that donors might want to know about too.

That’s what the Washington, D.C., based Humane buy propecia online hong kong Society of the United States (HSUS) did following the public outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion by an American big-game hunter in Zimbabwe in early July, 2015. Within two days of the story’s breaking, the Humane Society’s social media, email, website, video, and photo advertising channels launched a coordinated effort to encourage people to sign a petition calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place African lions under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. The initial Facebook post, for example, reached over 3.8 million people and was shared 34,000 times. “Trophy hunting is an issue that HSUS has been working on for a very long time,” explains Carie Lewis Carlson, director of social marketing at the Humane Society. “But until this tragic incident it was never brought to the forefront.”

The Humane Society seized the opportunity to build momentum for some of its other core issues as well. For example, it encouraged people to call on airlines and UPS to ban the transportation of hunting trophies; ultimately more than 40 airlines worldwide agreed to implement the ban. The Humane Society also alerted its supporters and social-media followers to legislation being considered in Congress that, among other things, would permit the importation of polar bears killed by hunters.

Carlson explains that the Humane Society was able to launch these campaigns quickly, while the killing of Cecil was still being widely discussed, because it already had the pieces in place for just such an occasion. “The best thing to do is to be prepared with a plan if something goes viral,” Carlson says. “You should always be developing campaigns, creative, and messaging that you think people will love and glom on to, though you never know what is going to resonate.”

The Humane Society’s plan broadly follows these lines:

  • A vice president instructs staff to drop what they’re doing and prepare a response to a breaking story.
  • Communications and program staff meet to hammer out the organization’s messaging.
  • The organization issues a press release and sends out an initial tweet.
  • An action alert or donation form is created and made available to supporters.
  • Staff prepare and roll out a formal marketing plan that includes assignments for all communications channels.
  • Strategies are shifted in response to daily reports.

“An opportunity can happen to anyone at any time,” says Carlson. “Nonprofits should be prepared with an outline of how to activate when an opportunity arises to insert their brand into breaking news, something that is going viral, or a trending topic.”

This post was adapted from “Expect the Unexpected,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Summer 2016 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

Be Prepared to Launch Campaigns Fast to Capitalize on Breaking Events

© Sergey Nivens -
© Sergey Nivens –
Development officers know how to prepare for the uptick in giving that accompanies planned events, but sudden and unexpected surges in publicity like the one that hit the Bard Prison Initiative following its debate victory over the national-champion Harvard team last October can send staff scrambling to capitalize on them before the moment passes and people’s attention shifts elsewhere. “The vast majority of nonprofits don’t consider what will happen when something unexpectedly goes viral,” says Justin J. Ware, Vice President for Digital Fundraising Strategy at ScaleFunder, a Los Angeles-based digital fundraising platform for universities and nonprofits. “And when it does happen, they don’t know the first place to start.” Ware says that nonprofits can avoid that problem by taking three steps right now.

  • Ensure that you have, or can call on, enough people to staff up in response to a surge.
  • Develop a formal response strategy that identifies who is responsible for doing what and when.
  • Employ a multi-channel communications approach for mobilizing stakeholders and staying in front of the story as it spreads.

“When you build that capability, it’s not just there to catch lightning when it strikes,” explains Ware. “It should be part of a comprehensive plan that involves direct mail, phones, social media, a strong crowdfunding platform, and other resources.”

That plan should include taking photos and even video of events. Not only will you have something to distribute through your own social media channels, but you will also have something ready for the press should it come calling. Also, prepare background materials such as participant bios and histories of the organization and its mission to hand out when needed. The responsibility for curating these materials should lie with a person whose is tasked with anticipating media needs.

Ware understands that it’s not easy for development and communications staff to make a winning case for developing a strategy to respond to extreme-case scenarios that may never come to pass. In an era of tight budgets, “better safe than sorry” just isn’t persuasive enough. Ware counsels clients to try buttressing their arguments with persuasive data, such as the overlap between the organization’s programs and popular trends, or accounts of recent media attention elsewhere.

To illustrate, Ware shares what can happen when you have the staff, strategy, and outreach tools in place to capitalize on an unexpected opportunity. Following the 23-17 victory of the University of Mississippi’s football team against longtime rival the University of Alabama on October 4, 2014, jubilant fans stormed the field and tore down the goalposts, resulting in a $75,000 fine against Ole Miss Athletics, which it promptly paid. Hours after the event, however, Ole Mis Athletics director Ross Bjork tweeted a photo of the celebration and joked that the people in the photo should help cover the expense. The tweet went viral, and donations immediately started flowing in, accompanied by significant media attention. The Ole Miss development office decided to capitalize on the response by launching the Victory Celebration Fund campaign on the fly.

Fortuitously, at that moment the development office was putting the final touches on its new crowdfunding platform called Ignite. “We had to hurry up and finalize everything for the launch of the campaign,” recalls Angela Avery, annual giving coordinator at Ole Miss. “We finalized the layout and testing of the platform on Monday, October 6th and we started planning the campaign with the Athletics Department at 3:30 pm the same day. The project launched the next day at 1 pm” — less than 72 hours after the game had ended.

The results were impressive: the $75,000 goal was met in less than four hours, and when the campaign was suspended two days later it was funded at 140 percent.

Taking advantage of the campaign’s momentum, the department simultaneously launched another campaign, “I Wear 38” (after the jersey number of the late defensive back Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins) to raise funds for the Chucky Mullins Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to students with physical disabilities or exceptional financial need. This campaign raised just under $103,000 in its first day, and reached its full $150,000 funding within a week.

“I think the key is that you have to be ready to seize opportunities when they present themselves,” says Avery. “If we had done the prudent thing and waited a week and planned more thoroughly, we probably would have lost all the crazy enthusiasm and excitement that followed that momentous win.”

Based on the lessons learned from the two impromptu campaigns, Avery and the development staff now encourage project teams to build in time to prepare a campaign while also timing them to coincide with significant events that are likely to have significant audience response. “It’s all about creating a personal connection with the donor to inspire them to be a part of the campaign,” Avery explains.

This post was adapted from “Expect the Unexpected,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Summer 2016 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

After Harvard Debate, Bard Prison Initiative Sees Jump in Giving

Thumbs up!When the debate team of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., defeated the national-champion Harvard team in a friendly contest last October, no one at Bard was shocked by the outcome. After all, the Bard team, a trio of of inmates at the nearby Eastern New York Correctional Facility who participate in Bard’s rigorous educational program for incarcerated men and women, had won its first-ever debate when it went up against West Point. “We know how talented our students are,” explained Laura Liebman, director of development for the Bard Prison Initiative. “The outcome was not surprising at all.”

What was surprising, however, was the sensation the story caused when it unexpectedly went viral several weeks later. At first, when an article about the debate in the Wall Street Journal briefly spiked as the site’s number-one story, BPI’s small staff was able to easily field the media and donor inquiries that followed. But then word began to spread on social media. First, there was a brief Twitter exchange about the Wall Street Journal story between then-Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, who is producing a film about the Bard program. Then, the news website Vox published a feature on the debate that was widely shared. From there, the story exploded on Facebook and Twitter and on other media outlets, catching Liebman and the rest of the Bard staff off guard.

“Our understanding was that if the story was going to go viral, it would have done so right away,” Liebman recalls. “So we weren’t anticipating more attention. But by Monday morning, we were being flooded with media inquiries. It suddenly felt like the whole world was calling.”

In addition to reporters seeking interviews, the calls included donors eager to make gifts and grantmakers inviting BPI to apply for grants. What had started out as simply an inspiring underdog story morphed virtually overnight into a tremendous fundraising opportunity for the institution. But would BPI’s staff have the time and capacity to take advantage of it?

“It was ‘all hands on deck’ for a few days,” Liebman recalls. “As is typical for any small nonprofit, we don’t have a large staff. Initially, we were just answering phones and responding to emails as fast as we could.”

When the dust settled, BPI calculated that the media attention had resulted in a 40 percent increase in gifts and a 40 percent increase in new donors. Not only that, but the geographic distribution of the donor base has widened dramatically as a result of the international attention. “It looks like I’m going to be doing a lot more traveling!” Liebman says.

The BPI-Harvard debate may also prove to be a turning point in the growth of the organization. “There’s absolutely no question that that the Harvard debate and the media explosion around it has had a major effect on our efforts to secure stable revenue,” says Max Kenner, BPI’s founder and executive director. Though the donor base has grown dramatically, Kenner, who makes a point of sending a handwritten thank-you note for every gift regardless of its size, believes that this will not change the organization’s approach to donor relationships. “Our community is made up of individuals and institutions across the country to whom our work represents something meaningful,” he says. “The result has really been an affirmation of what we do here.”

What are the major takeaways from the experience? “Events like this are when it’s really critical to have a strong team in place, people you can trust and really rely on,” says Liebman. “When you’re tested, that’s when you really see the strength of your team and your commitment to the mission.”

This post was adapted from “Expect the Unexpected,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Summer 2016 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

Powerful Fundraising Appeals: Advice from Two Advertising Masters

writing-that-worksThe elements of a compelling fundraising letter are timeless — but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to explain to writers. That’s why I like the advice offered by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson in their long-out-of-print guide to good business writing, Writing That Works.

The authors of this slim, strikingly designed book worked for Ogilvy & Mather, the renowned advertising firm famous for such legendary ad campaigns as The Guinness Guide to Oysters, Rolls-Royce, and the Man in the Hathaway Shirt — to name just a few.

In other words, Roman and Raphaelson know how to persuade people to part with their money.

“To raise money for charitable, educational, or political causes, you must appeal to the emotions,” they write. “People can have strong feelings about a community fund or a church or a candidate. They can want to give.”

Whether writing a sales letter for a business or a fundraising letter for a nonprofit, there are certain elements that are universal in getting people to give you their money willingly — and happily. Here are Roman’s and Raphaelson’s tips for successful sales letters, which apply to fundraising appeals too:

  1. Have a strategy. “Successful advertising starts with clear thinking on what to say — and to whom.”
  2. Project a personality. “Sometimes the tone of your letter can be as important as what you say.”
  3. Make sure the offer is right. “The offer is what gets the action.”
  4. Get people to open the envelope. “If the sales letter is an advertisement, the envelope is the headline, serving to attract the reader to read on.”
  5. Start fast.Involve your reader in your first sentence, or your second sentence may never be read.”
  6. Favor long letters over short ones. “Remember that your reader is looking for information, not for reading pleasure. Every sentence must work for its living.”
  7. Give something away. “A simple pamphlet, perhaps one you’ve already printed for another purpose, can be an effective free offer — and a cheap one.”
  8. Make it inviting to read. “People won’t read long letters that look formidable, with solid blocks of text.”
  9. Make it look like the real thing. “Letters should look like letters, not like advertisements.”
  10. Give your reader something to do. “Don’t let your reader nod in agreement, but do nothing. Your enemy is inertia.”
  11. Don’t let your reader off the hook. “People procrastinate. You must create a reason for your prospect to act now.”

Here are a few more tips that apply explicitly to fundraising appeals:

  • Tell the prospect how much money you want. “The reader does not know how much you expect. Suggesting the amount is up to you.”
  • Make it emotional. “People don’t give to institutions; they give to other people.”
  • Make your donors members, not just givers. “An effective fundraising letter gets people to identify with your cause. It makes them feel part of it.”

Writing That Works is full of valuable, succinctly expressed advice about many other kinds of business writing that are relevant to fundraisers too, such as reports, speeches, and newsletters. Although a second edition came out in 1995 and a third in 2000 in order to address the advent of personal computers and the early internet, the advice in the first edition is as sound today as it was 35-plus years ago — plus, I think the design and layout are more aesthetically pleasing than those of its successors.

If you write for nonprofits, it’s worth tracking down a copy of any edition for your reference shelf. Properly applied, it can truly help your communications stand out from the crowd.

Prospect Research Can Boost University Fundraising Success

two-men-laptopIn an increasingly competitive giving climate, it is not enough for skilled researchers to provide information about just the wealthiest prospects. “The things we know about the people who will take a meeting with us are probably not true for the majority of our constituents,” says Shelby Radcliffe, Vice President for Advancement at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. “They are less than 1 percent of our constituents. Prospect research analytics can help us develop an understanding of the other 99 percent.”

This is especially important for institutions of higher education that are experiencing far more competition for the philanthropic dollar than ever before. “I think where institutions can add that competitive edge is on the prospect research side,” Radcliffe says. “Do we know where the next $100 million is coming from? That’s not a question you can answer one prospect at a time.”

In a previous position, Radcliffe administered the private phase of a capital campaign by having five full-time researchers meet with fundraisers at least monthly to review data and, often, after each prospect visit. Radcliffe’s researchers were encouraged to accompany fundraisers on visits as part of their training, and they were required to spend at least one evening soliciting gifts with the student calling program. While it took time for Radcliffe to bring enough researchers on board and for the fundraisers to develop confidence in the data, the results were worth it, she says.

In its 2012 survey of educational institutions, Best Practices for Prospect Research in Higher Education Fundraising, Second Edition, prospect research firm WealthEngine found that high performing organizations invest more in research resources than their lower performing peers. The most successful institutions have up-to-date strategies for screening, collecting, implementing and safeguarding prospect research data and integrating it into the fundraising workflow.

The challenge, Radcliffe points out, is that prospect research technology has not kept pace with the communications revolution. Ponderous relational databases often lack the flexibility to allow fundraisers to update them right after a prospect meeting while key information is still fresh. “As an industry, higher education institutions and nonprofits in the United States are raising a lot of money, but we could be raising more,” she says.

When Radcliffe speaks at conferences, she often meets people who manage hundreds of staff and millions — even billions — of dollars in gifts, but have only the most basic knowledge of sound prospect research practices. “People are meeting their goals, but I think they’re setting their goals too low,” she says. “We need to be more effective in using information management tools to maximize our effective- ness, but it’s hard because we’re an industry that’s built on handshakes and relationships. We’re in a time of transition, and we have a long way to go.”

This post was adapted from “More Than Data: How Prospect Research can Help You Fine-Tune Your Ask, Allowing You to Raise More Money More Cost-Effectively,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, January-February 2011 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

What’s in Your Donor File?

spreadsheetAs people conduct more and more of their lives online, they are putting a great deal of personal information about themselves in places where others — including prospect researchers — can find it easily. This can lead to misunderstandings about what prospect researchers can find and use. For example, the article “Is Your Favorite Charity Spying on You? (The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2010) claims charities are “using increasingly sophisticated technology [to] survey your salary history, scan your LinkedIn connections or use satellite images to eyeball the size of your swimming pool.”

As unsettling as it is to imagine a cadre of satellite-snooping prospect researchers monitoring everyone’s promotions and portfolios, the reality is fortunately much more mundane, says Justin Tolan, chief fundraising adviser at AMPERAGE in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “The primary reason you should be seeking information is to determine the interest before determining the wealth,” he explains. “Interest is paramount.” However, researchers routinely overlook much of what’s publicly available simply because it does not tell fundraisers about a prospect’s philanthropic interests.

At the same time, there are also legal boundaries as to what researchers can obtain and use. Anything spelled out in legislative privacy provisions, such as Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) privacy laws, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), is strictly off limits. Furthermore, the information that is collected must be kept strictly confidential with controlled access. The APRA Code of Ethics identifies four fundamental principles that members must abide by:

  • integrity and honesty in the conduct of research
  • accountability to applicable laws, standards and levels of discretion
  • accuracy, appropriateness and confidentiality of the work
  • avoidance of conflicts of interest

The line for charities, especially for quasi-public institutions such as state universities and public libraries that have access to vital statistics, is quite clear: information such as student grades, medical histories, fines and/or legal violations has no bearing on gauging interest. As for information about bank accounts, loans and credit card debt, that is strictly unavailable. Researchers may learn about many of a prospect’s assets, but not his or her liabilities.

Finally, there are professional and ethical boundaries governing what should be collected. Tolan says that researchers traditionally follow a “golden rule” principle. “You should not seek details on a person’s private life if you would not want him or her seeking the same about you,” he advises. (The AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards and A Donor Bill of Rights also apply; both are available on the AFP website.)

Joshua M. Birkholz, a principal at Bentz Whaley Flessner in Minneapolis/St. Paul and author of Fundraising Analytics: Using Data to Guide Strategy, sees a trend in both the quantity and quality of information being collected. Rather than compiling extensive biographies of prospects, nonprofits are collecting less, but more relevant, information. “It’s actually more costly and inefficient to do detailed research up front,” he says. Initial research should describe a prospect as likely to have a compatible interest with the organization, which a fundraiser can then build on during the initial contact. “Once you meet the donor,” he adds, “all the information you got before the meeting may go out the window.”

For their part, experienced donors understand and even expect that researchers are collecting information about them. However, having too much information up front can get the relationship off on the wrong foot. “It’s awkward to have a conversation in which I know more about them than they think I should know,” Birkholz explains. “Fundraisers should take the high road in the relationship.”

This post was adapted from “More Than Data: How Prospect Research can Help You Fine-Tune Your Ask, Allowing You to Raise More Money More Cost-Effectively,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, January-February 2011 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

Donor Relationships and Marketing

rolodexIn my previous posts, I have discussed some of the most important implications of Regulating Fundraising for the Future: Trust in Charities, Confidence in Fundraising Regulation (aka the Etherington Report) on the future of fundraising. The catalyst for the Etherington Report was what the report described as “public concern over intrusive or aggressive fundraising methods” resulting from “high-profile cases of malpractice” particularly the death of 92-year-old Olive Cooke, who, it was widely reported, had been hounded by nonstop fundraising calls and letters for years.

The report noted that Britain’s Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) had received 48,000 complaints against charities in 2013, mostly regarding excessive mail solicitations. While the report pointed out that this was out of an estimated 20 billion donor contacts that year alone, Ken Burnett, managing trustee for the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII) and author of Relationship Fundraising: A Donor Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money, believes that it’s still 48,000 too many — and he’s not alone.

“We need to focus less on repeated requests that are designed to wear down our donors and learn more about being inspiring,” Burnett says.

Burnett has long championed an emphasis on marketing approaches that are based on “shared emotions, truth, and commitment” — in other words, using marketing techniques not to secure gifts but to secure relationships that lead to gifts. It is a subtle distinction that Burnett says many fundraisers often overlook. It also requires nonprofits to reframe fundraising expenditures in terms of the lifetime value of a donor, rather than the average cost per gift. And in a post-recession economy in which fundraising costs are on the rise and nonprofits are increasingly looking to individual giving to offset declines in grant funding, that can be a very tough case to make.

Twenty-five years ago, Burnet hoped to counter the then prevailing “churn and burn” paradigm that focused on the money rather than the people sending it. “But my fundraising vision was still not based on what the donor wants,” Burnett has written. “I ran a direct marketing agency. Though I tried to switch its focus toward communication, I still described our enterprise as marketing and communications specialists, putting marketing first. Why was marketing a mistake> Because our very success at it had enable us to downplay the donor experience, which is what we should have focused on to build the long-term, 40-year-plus relationships we need. As a result, we’re hemorrhaging our lifeblood while paying a fortune in acquisition just to stand still.

“The escalating cost of acquisition has now, in places, reached proportions impossible to justify unless we succeed in keeping donors a lot longer,” Burnett adds. “Yet, despite persistent protestations of being donor-let and a few inspirational examples of relationship fundraising, our sector seems locked into the ‘you give, we get’ mindset, with the fundraising equivalent of persistent hard selling the norm and brilliant customer experiences the hard-to-find exception.”

Fully aware that many people will see his change of heart as biting the hand that has fed fundraising so well for so long, Burnett points out that the biggest argument against marketing is a simple one: donors don’t like being marketed to. The difference is, donors now have the means to express their displeasure in ways that directly — and immediately — affect a nonprofit’s bottom line.

The ubiquity of “Unsubscribe” buttons has made it easier than ever for donors to terminate their relationships with charities on impulse — even when they continue to care about the cause. And with many nonprofits struggling with donor retention, every loss of a committed and passionate donor is a blow to the bottom line.

Despite what its name might suggest, relationship fundraising is very much a traditional data-driven approach. Marketing is, and always has been, about treating people as individuals, not as numbers. That is because the best marketers know that if you focus on the gift, that’s all you’ll get. If you focus on the donor, you’ll get all the gifts that the donor has yet to give. And the data prove it.

According to the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report, the median donor retention rate was 43 percent in 2014. That is, only 43 percent of 2013 donors made repeat gifts to participating nonprofits in 2014. When looking at new donor retention, for donors giving less than $100, the retention rate was only 18 percent compared with 47 percent for those giving more than $250. The same trend was seen in repeat donor retention: Donors giving less than $100 had an average retention rate of 53.5 percent over the last seven years compared with donors giving more than $250, which demonstrated an average of 76 percent retention. Does this say something about the way the different donors are stewarded or their relationships with organizations?

In his article “Relationship Fundraising and Marketing: Friends or Foes?” major-gifts fundraiser Roewen Wishart, CFRE, addressed what he called the “false dichotomy” that many fundraisers believe separates donor-focused fundraising from marketing. Relationship-based campaigns rely just as much on strategies, goals, quantitative data, and outcomes as transaction-based ones; where they differ is that a relationship-focused campaign necessarily requires a longer-term view of the return on investment.

“Relationship fundraising does not mean abandoning or neglecting how we ask for money,” Wishart writes. “It does mean that the transaction is the result, not the goal — and being careful with steps that reduce donor choice or favor quick returns over higher long-term returns, even where there is short-term cost.”

This post was adapted from “Inspiring Better: How Relationship Fundraising Can Win Back Skeptical Donors and Change the Way Fundraisers Think about Approaching Them” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Spring 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Are Your Gifts the Result of Relationships, or Merely the Reason for Them?

gearsIn my previous post, I discussed the publication of Regulating Fundraising for the Future: Trust in Charities, Confidence in Fundraising Regulation (aka the Etherington Report) in response to public concerns about fundraising tactics employed by some UK charities that many people felt were overly aggressive.

Even though the Etherington Report doesn’t have the force of law outside the UK, fundraisers in other countries have been hearing similar calls for increased government oversight of charitable activities. Concerns over how donor advised funds are managed in the United States, for example, have led many observers to urge that laws be changed to require greater transparency and even mandatory time limits. In Canada, the threat of federal legislation that would impose salary caps on nonprofit executives recently galvanized over 500 charities to convene a summit to hammer out a common strategic roadmap and implement a nationwide educational outreach campaign that succeeded in forestalling the proposed law.

Ken Burnett, managing trustee for the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII) and author of Relationship Fundraising: A Donor Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money, believes that, along with the concerns about oversolicitation that prompted the Etherington Report, these and other calls for increased regulation are an inevitable result of the widespread perception — accurate or not — that fundraisers cultivate supporters just to gain access to their wallets. It’s the antithesis of the philosophy that Burnett spelled out in 1992, in the first edition of Relationship Fundraising.

In the book and when speaking to fundraisers and stakeholders alike, Burnett defines relationship fundraising as “a donor-based approach to the business of raising money.” The relationship, he elaborates, can be “remote, slender, and distant, or it can be intense, close, warm, and even intimate.” The choice, he says, ultimately belongs to the donor. Whatever type of relationship the donor chooses, ideally it should be mutually beneficial, “where both [the donor and the organization] can see direct, tangible benefits that will encourage their relationship to continue by mutual consent and even grow.”

This mutual commitment is what sets fundraising apart from other types of marketing activities that also seek to motivate people to show their support through financial means.

The difference between the two methods is really just a matter of perspective. In Burnett’s view, a financial gift from a donor is the result of a relationship, not the reason for it. Put another way, an emphasis on the financial tramadol cod saturday need of an organization or a cause is analogous to “pulling” a donor toward your desired goal. In relationship fundraising, you strive instead to motivate people to want to give, in effect “nudging” them toward finding that goal for themselves.

As Burnett has written, “Instead of building the long-term relationships we need, fundraisers often opt for the low-hanging fruit of short-term money now, chasing the easiest bucks they can find to hit their quarterly or even monthly targets. At conference halls and seminars, there’s talk of buying donors in volume. We’ve commoditized fundraising and devolved the job of talking to donors and prospects to commercial third-party contractors who ration out among us the fruits from their sites. For this short-term saving, we’ve sown the seeds of our own downfall. Many are brilliantly talented and committed fundraisers, and we couldn’t and shouldn’t do without them. But the way we oblige them to work for us may not be what we need now.

“It seems to me and others, too, that what’s missing is the emphasis on the why and the pleasure of being a donor.”

Burnett believes that the most successful way to emphasize the why, to rekindle the pleasure of giving, and to nudge a donor to want to make a gift is through storytelling. In the quarter-century since the first edition of Relationship Fundraising, Burnett has become so convinced of the central importance of storytelling to fundraising — and of the need for fundraisers to embrace it passionately — that his latest book, which he calls his most important so far, is titled Storytelling Can Change the World. While the idea of storytelling is not new to fundraising, Burnett argues provocatively that fundraisers often don’t know how to identify the best stories to tell, or how to tell those stories effectively.

Burnett seeks to establish — or restore, depending on your perspective — the creative process to donor outreach.

As Charlie Hulme, managing director of Donor Voice and a former creative director for a major marketing agency, wrote in his review of the book, “We’ll never change the world unless we change the way we tell our stories.”

This post was adapted from “Inspiring Better: How Relationship Fundraising Can Win Back Skeptical Donors and Change the Way Fundraisers Think about Approaching Them” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Spring 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Rethinking the Ask, Part 3: Changing the Wrong Mindset

MicrophoneWhen is too much simply too much? For donors, it is too many asks from too many fundraisers for too many causes.

Relationship fundraising has become the foundation of successful fundraising, with many development professionals worldwide hard at work finding new and interesting ways to engage people with the causes they care about. However, a report released late last year in the UK is forcing fundraisers there to rethink how they define and build relationships, and the implications of those changes are likely to spread far beyond national borders.

Regulating Fundraising for the Future: Trust in Charities, Confidence in Fundraising Regulation, also called the Etherington Report after the chair of the panel that wrote it, was published in response to public concerns about fundraising tactics employed by some UK charities that many people felt were overly aggressive. The issue received extensive press coverage — some of it highly sensationalized — and sparked an often-heated public debate over whether nonprofits had crossed an ethical line.

Concluding that fundraisers and the public alike had lost confidence in the UK nonprofit sector’s ability to regulate itself, the Etherington Report made several sweeping recommendations that, if enacted, would have the force of law, including the establishment of a national registry for people who choose not to be solicited by charities. The major fundraising bodies in the UK, the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association and the National Council for Voluntary Organizations, have endorsed the report’s recommendations. Nevertheless, some commentators have predicted that such a registry would effectively starve nonprofits of new revenue.

Ken Burnett, managing trustee for the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII) and author of Relationship Fundraising: A Donor Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money, disagrees. He argues instead that the “do not solicit” list is an inevitable outcome of a fundraising mindset that assumes that the best way to get more money is to simply ask more people more frequently.

“In taking regulation out of the hands of fundraisers in the UK, the review body, while chastising British fundraisers for being overly aggressive, has insisted that fundraisers must put donors, not financial targets, at the heart of fundraising practice,” says Burnett. “We’re going to have to review how we do asking.”

Nor is donor dissatisfaction with oversolicitation limited to the UK. The Burk Donor Survey 2014, for example, found that in 2013, 64 percent of U. S. respondents and 71 percent of Canadian respondents reported that they had reduced or even canceled their financial support of nonprofits that had oversolicited them.

The proper course of action in response to this donor backlash should be clear, Burnett believes. As he wrote in a recent blog post, “The upshot of the past horrible half year is that in future fundraisers are going to have to be a whole lot less persistent in asking. Which seems to suggest, logically, that we’re going to have to get a whole lot better at inspiring.”

This post was adapted from “Inspiring Better: How Relationship Fundraising Can Win Back Skeptical Donors and Change the Way Fundraisers Think about Approaching Them” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Spring 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Fundraising: Much Ado about Salesmanship?

handshakeThe differences between the nonprofit sector and the for-profit world have become something of a mantra among fundraisers. Charities work for a greater good, you say, while businesses are only interested in their own profit. Fundraisers are motivated by a desire to change the world (or at least a corner of it), while salespeople are only interested in raising their company’s bottom line. However, nonprofits and businesses share some important things in common — most obviously, the need for money. Because fundraisers and salespeople seek to achieve vastly different ends, fundraisers argue, their means must differ as well. Otherwise, fundraisers fear, what are they except a salesperson by another name?

“We’re both trying to encourage someone to make a decision, but for very different reasons,” says Brian Saber, president and co-founder of Asking Matters ( “What we’re ‘selling’ in the nonprofit world is helping others and goodwill.”

A major difference between fundraisers and salespeople, Saber points out, is motivation. “In for-profit sales, you learn to love the product and you go sell it,” says Saber. “In the nonprofit world, you believe in the organization and you sell it, but your reasons for doing so are much more personal.”

As the person in charge of training for the silent phase of a major capital campaign, Matthew S. Cottle, CFRE, director of advancement planning and special projects at California Polytechnic (Cal Poly) State University (, had to confront the issue of fundraiser motivation head-on. Because of a dearth of available development officers with major-gift experience, Cal Poly has been recruiting people with commercial sales backgrounds and training them to understand the differences between the transactional approach used by salespeople and the relationship approach preferred by fundraisers.

Explicating the differences between fundraisers and salespeople, Cottle says, has helped him to understand more clearly the role of the fundraiser in the donor relationship equation, as well as the risk posed by the cultivation of a transactional mindset that values the fundraiser’s need to secure a gift above the donor’s desire to join a group that shares the same passion “A donation indicates a shared aspiration and a shared emotion,” says Cottle. “If we don’t understand our own emotional responses, we run the risk of allowing the relationship to veer off in unanticipated directions.”

Another crucial element is the fear of rejection. If a fundraiser’s fear of rejection were to prevent him or her from securing a major gift from a high-net-worth individual, the result for the organization’s bottom line could be disastrous. That crucial difference, Saber believes, can sometimes be a hindrance to fundraisers. “Because you care so much, it can feel like a personal rejection if a donor turns you down,” Saber says. “It becomes a reflection on you. and that gets in the way of asking.”

Not only can fundraisers learn from salespeople how not to take rejection personally, Saber suggests, but they should also seek to minimize the risk of rejection by taking a more strategic approach to the way they identify and cultivate prospects. And that means taking advantage of knowledge that’s already out there.

“Good fundraisers know that money is a byproduct of putting the right opportunity in front of the right person at the right time,” says donor communications expert Tom Ahern ( “And that’s straight out of sales and marketing.”

Ahern, whose background is in commercial sales and marketing, points out that his field is built on a century of empirical research into human behavior that allows people to predict the outcome of a marketing campaign with a high degree of accuracy. Furthermore he argues that, whether or not fundraisers realize or admit it, fundraising is a specialized kind of sales and marketing. The difference, of course, is the use to which fundraisers put that neutral data — the reasons that they seek to place a suitable philanthropic opportunity in front of a strong prospect at a moment that is opportune for both the donor and the organization.

Both salespeople and fundraisers are in the business of persuading people to part with their money, but for very different reasons. Whereas a salesperson can promise a tangible benefit for the person with the money to spend, a fundraiser instead can only offer an intangible benefit to the donor, in exchange for the promise of tangible results for other people. And if sales is about persuading people to do something they may be in some way resistant to doing, fundraising is about encouraging people to do something they passionately want to do.

“My motivations are to alleviate suffering and help people better their lives through education,” says William F. Bartolini, Ph.D., senior advisor for principal giving at George Washington University ( “Earlier in my career, when I sold shoes and kids’ clothes, the sales were transactional. I provided a service, people bought the product, and I got a commission. It was a job. But that’s changed now.”

In providing a donor with an opportunity to achieve self-actualization, a fundraiser achieves self-actualization as well. “I’m sharing my passion and my enthusiasm with donors,” Bartolini adds. “I’m helping change lives. How great is that?”

This post was adapted from “More Than the Sum of the Parts: What Makes a Fundraiser?” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Fall 2014 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.