Rally Community Support for Civic Assets With an American Tradition

Construction WorkersFaced with shrinking budgets, many local and state governments have been forced to reduce or eliminate grant support for programs in the arts, recreation, and education. How are communities responding? They are bringing together citizens, civic organizations, nonprofits, foundations, businesses, and unions to make up for the funding shortfalls. To be successful in the long run, says Gareth Potts, who studies urban and regional policy in the United Kingdom and the United States, these coalitions need to build community awareness of the benefits of these civic resources, establish stable funding sources for programs and overhead, and rally a corps of dedicated volunteers.

Potts has found a model for such civic coalitions in the all-American tradition of the barn raising, in which neighbors living in frontier communities gathered together to help farmers build new barns. Barn raisings were — and in Amish and Mennonite communities, still are — as much social affairs as they were construction projects. And because the buildings themselves often served communal functions, it was in everyone’s best interest to help build them.

“Like the communal barns of the frontier United States, our libraries, parks, recreation centers, and art museums serve as key anchors to communal, social, and cultural life,” Potts writes in The New Barn-Raising: a Toolkit for Citizens, Politicians, and Businesses Looking to Sustain Community and Civic Assets (available as a free download at www.thenewbarnraising.com). “In the new economic frontier of public spending cuts, government has a much less dominant role in overseeing the funding, managing, and delivery of community and civic assets. Instead, citizens, foundations, non-profits, and businesses are asked to pull together to do more.”

Potts, the former director of research and policy at the British Urban Regeneration Association, traveled across the United States in the summer and fall of 2012 as an Urban and Regional Policy Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (www.gmfus.org). He interviewed people from local nonprofits and foundations, government agencies, and academic institutions in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, and Baltimore in an effort to find out what made those cities’ innovative projects and policies for sustaining civic assets successful.

Potts identifies three strategies for sustaining community assets:

  1. Raising awareness by making convincing cases to stakeholders and forming alliances;
  2. Raising money by identifying and cultivating local and regional funding sources; and
  3. Raising help by growing a base of volunteers who can bring their unique knowledge and resources to bear.

“There’s no magic bullet,” Potts explains by telephone from Detroit, where he now lives with his wife. “It’s really about people pulling together and recognizing the parts that each partner can play.”

Potts has designed The New Barn-Raising to be a comprehensive toolkit, with detailed case studies and examples as well as abundant anecdotal and statistical evidence, all of which local alliances can apply to achieve successes like those in the three cities profiled in the book. Potts supplements this resource by hosting webinars, free article downloads, and other resources on the book’s website. It’s all part of his effort to build an international grassroots community of practice around the barn-raising philosophy.

Potts says that the response to The New Barn-Raising has been positive and is growing slowly but steadily as word spreads. “I’ll keep doing this as long as there are good ideas to talk about,” he explains.

This post was adapted from “The Domino Effect: How Community Foundations are Teaming Up With One Another and With Local Nonprofits Businesses, and Government to Innovate Solutions in Their Communities,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Fall 2015 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Ken Burnett’s Tips for Great Stories

j0309629I’ve been reading — and rereading — Ken Burnett’s indispensable guide to writing for nonprofits, Storytelling Can Change the World, for an upcoming article in Advancing Philanthropy (you can read my interview with Ken on relationship fundraising in the Spring 2016 issue here.) As a writer, I’m always looking for ways to improve my craft. Ken’s book includes a useful list of questions that every writer should ask before they start writing their story:

  • Is it about the reader, best place to order soma online rather than about your cause, case, objective, or, heaven forbid, organization?
  • Is it interesting, surprising, unexpected?
  • Is it believable? Real? Accessible?
  • Is it a good, gripping story? One person, talking to another?
  • Is it simple, visual, memorable, and friendly?
  • Does it truly grab the emotions?

I’m going to print these out and put them over my monitor so that I can review them whenever I’m about to start writing a client’s story. You might want to do the same!

Upgrade Loyal Donors to Offset Your Lapsed Ones

j0289379“As fundraisers, we have come to accept a lapsed donor as an end result,” says L. Gregg Carlson, chair of the Giving USA Foundation (www.givinginstitute.org/giving-usa) in Chicago and president of Carlson Fund Raising LLC (www.carlson-fundraising.com) in Henderson, Nevada. Instead, he argues, “organizations need to be asking themselves, ‘Where is our money coming from, and how do we find more like them?’ In other words, ‘What does my donor look like?'”

Carlson says that fundraisers can improve their chances of identifying loyal supporters by making a point of reaching out to them through their preferred communication channels, and by being creative and flexible in how they ask donors to consider giving. While these methods are time- and labor-intensive, the payoff in the long run is likely to more than offset the investment. Carlson says that in his experience, roughly half of donors are willing to consider sustained giving. However, says Carlson, “Many nonprofits are not graduating their donors to higher end methodologies. By not graduating them from direct mail to phone to face-to-face, they’re putting their donor base at risk.”

Laura Goodwin, Vice President of The Osborne Group (www.theosbornegroup.com) in Mount Kisco, New York, agrees. “Our clients who have a multi-channel approach to engagement really do better,” she says. However, those channels have to be used for a broad range of messages of interest to the donors. “If you’re only doing soliciting on your multiple channels, you will probably seem grabby,” she points out. Therefore, nonprofits should seek feedback from donors to ensure that the channels facilitate two-way involvement and encourage them to feel like they are part of a community.

Goodwin identifies three building blocks for turning what she describes as a “messy process” into an effective workflow for cultivating and upgrading individual donors:

  • A table of gifts
  • A clear vision of the goals and objectives
  • Accountability and outcomes measurements

“I’m always surprised by how few people are using a simple name-by-name table of gifts,” Goodwin says. “There’s no better way to identify the need, the gap, and who we’re going to talk to.” The table of gifts must also be accompanied by a clear statement of what these gifts will enable the organization to accomplish in the community. “When we arm fundraisers with this knowledge, it becomes a lot easier to identify donors who might be motivated to help us achieve those goals. It helps answer the question, ‘What donor am I looking for?'”

Along with a clear vision of the objectives, fundraisers must also be able to present outcomes to donors. “If we’re not sure what we’re doing in the world, if we’re only focused on telling people news about the organization, then what does that add up to?” Goodwin asks rhetorically. “We need to demonstrate accountability for the changes that we’ve accomplished and that we’re on the way to accomplishing.”

Veteran fundraisers know that while such high-touch approaches are more effective at retaining donors, they are time-intensive; that’s why they have traditionally been limited to major-gift donors. Thanks to today’s sophisticated donor tracking software, though, proven high-touch techniques now require less time and effort, and as a result they can be broadened out to a larger segment of the donor pool regardless of their giving level.

Jay Love, co-founder and CEO of Indianapolis-based Bloomerang (www.bloomerang.co), finds it useful to invoke the Pareto Principle — the idea that a majority of a given outcome is the result of the efforts of minority of a given population — when explaining why it makes sense to use high-touch methods to retain loyal donors instead of acquiring new ones. “One of our clients had 16,000 records in their database,” recalls Love. “We asked them how many of those people had made a gift in the last three years, and their answer was 2,000.”

In addition, Love says, the client’s last direct-mail campaign targeting the lapsed donors netted just two gifts. “Why would they still be spending money trying to get the other 14,000?” asks Love. “They would be so far ahead if they would just concentrate on their two thousand confirmed supporters and let those people be the connectors who bring in others.”

Love recalls the rule of thumb from the world of direct mail that says a donor who informs you about a change of address is 10 times more likely to make a major or legacy gift to your organization. “When that happens, you should be calling them and asking what your organization can do for them,” says Love. “Instead, it’s usually treated as a purely administrative function and not passed up the line.”

This post was adapted from “Semper Fidelis: How Strategically Stewarding Your Loyal Donors Will Help Your Organization Succeed With the Ongoing Shifts in Charitable Giving,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2014 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Steve Jobs on Creating a Culture of Excellence

In fundraising, a lot has been written about the importance of creating a culture of philanthropy in your organization. Along with that, it seems to me, nonprofits also need to create a culture of excellence that motivates and inspires people to set higher standards for themselves and their organization.

Here’s how Apple co-founder, chair, and CEO Steve Jobs described it:

“If [employees] are working in an environment where excellence is expected, then they will do excellent work without anything but self-motivation. I’m talking about an environment in which excellence is noticed and respected and is in the culture. If you have that, you don’t have to tell people to do excellent work. They understand it from their surroundings.”

New Study to Spotlight Fundraising Success Stories

j0227558The following post is adapted from “The Corner Office — Full Speed Ahead: How Development Directors are Taking a Leadership Role Through Vision, Resilience, and Commitment to Mission,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, the 2013 survey of executive directors and development directors conducted by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services (www.compasspoint.org) and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund (www.haasjr.org), identified a “vicious cycle” of conditions within many nonprofits that was not only driving frustrated development directors out the door, but also making it difficult for organizations to bring in new development directors to replace them. The cause of the cycle, the survey concluded, was the lack of a “culture of philanthropy” that encouraged staff and volunteers to see themselves as donor-focused ambassadors of their organizations.

Having identified the problem and its causes, the Haas, Jr. Fund,
CompassPoint, and Klein & Roth Consulting (www.kleinandroth.com) in Oakland, California, has since undertaken new research to study nonprofits that have been able to avoid, or break, the vicious cycle and, in so doing, achieve breakthrough successes with fundraising. Prior to the release of the report in early 2016, CompassPoint is able to share some illuminating preliminary insights in advance that will no doubt be of interest to fundraisers eager to achieve similar outcomes in their own organizations.

The new study employs positive-deviance analysis, also called bright-spotting. Bright-spotting focuses on identifying organizations that have attained better generic klonopin price results than their peers by using available resources in better ways. The goal is to provide nonprofit leaders with case studies that are replicable across a broad range of nonprofits, says Marla Cornelius, MNA, Senior Project Director at CompassPoint. “We wanted to find case studies that are not just interesting, but that are practical,” she explained.

CompassPoint began by inviting nonprofits to nominate social justice and social change organizations with budgets of between $500,000 and $5 million that had experienced significant sustained growth over the past several years. From the 100 organizations nominated, CompassPoint selected 12 on which to focus. At each of the 12 organizations, CompassPoint then conducted five in-depth interviews, one each with the executive director, the development director, a program director, a board member, and a donor. The goal was to identify how each organization’s successful fundraising program began, what its strategies and results were, and what lessons could be extrapolated from their experience.

“The largest source of funding for many small organizations, particularly social justice organizations, has traditionally been foundations and government grants,” Cornelius explains. “These bright spots are different in that they’ve been able to raise significant funds from individuals in their communities.”

Cornelius says that despited the focus on organizations of a certain size and mission, nonprofits of all kinds will find something of value in the results, whether related to culture or infrastructure or fundraising practice. “There will be important lessons here,” she promises. “Everyone will pick up something of value.”

Rethinking the Ask, Part 2: Storytelling, Not Selling

“The market for something to believe in is infinite.” — Hugh McLeod

Ken Burnett (www.kenburnett.com), managing trustee for the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII, www.sofii.org) and author of the classic handbook Relationship Fundraising: A Donor Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money (Jossey-Bass, 2002), loves that quote.

Burnett believes that fundraising could be on the cusp of what he calls a “golden age,” but it will not happen unless donors’ experiences become consistently and continually very much better and more desirable. However, will the profession be willing or able to come together as a whole to make the kinds of sweeping fundamental changes that will permit that era to come to pass? It could, Burnett explains, if there is a confluence of three distinct factors:

  • The enormous untapped potential represented by improved donor retention;
  • Dramatic demographic changes resulting in an increase in donors age 65 and up who are looking for fulfilling activities that nonprofits can provide; and
  • Opportunities to engage the corporate sector, which is increasingly wants to be seen as contributing to the social good.

“What prevents us from making the most of all these opportunities, tragically, is the nature and quality of the experience that we’ve traditionally offered our donors and that, in our current paradigm, we seem unable to change,” Burnett writes. This is why he has come to see storytelling, not selling, as the essential activity of fundraisers.

People still care about nonprofits and the causes they were created to address, but they want to be engaged by them in more meaningful ways, and on their own terms. Ken Burnett believes that the way to do this is through relationships in which shared storytelling is used to convey the need. Otherwise, if fundraisers don’t change their approach themselves, change may be forced on them.

“People are going to have to want to listen to us,” says Burnett. “We have the best stories to tell and we have the best reasons to tell them. Right now, people can hang up on us or cross the street to avoid us, so we have to find ways to make people cross the street to come to listen to us instead. And no one pretends that’s going to be easy.”

Dramatic changes in technology have made it possible to reach more people using certain techniques, most importantly the rise of the World Wide Web. “Communications have changed completely since the first edition of my book came out,” says Burnett. “I fundamentally believe communication is the core of fundraising, and given that it has changed so much, I think it’s remarkable that my book is still relevant.”

It’s easy to see how today’s fundraisers can use social media channels, e-newsletters, email blasts, interactive websites, and mobile apps to accomplish those goals more readily. But at the same time, does Burnett feel that relationship fundraising is in danger of becoming passé in an age where many relationships are conducted primarily through tiny screens?

“I do think that things are becoming more superficial, that you need to have a shorter attention span now,” Burnett admits. He notes that the boomer generation is aging out of the prime giving age bracket, and the generation that is moving into their prime giving years have different expectations about how they want to be approached and be engaged. “We can’t just keep asking the younger generation the same way as we asked their elders,” he says. “We have to find a better way that is more inspiring and less obvious.

“I’ve never met a donor who wants to be marketed at,” he concludes, “but I’ve met many who want to be inspired.”

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.

Nonprofits Can Build Risk Tolerance By Permitting Failure

Question markThe following post is adapted from “What’s After Next?: How Innovative Chief Executives Use Entrepreneurial Techniques to Lead and Motivate Their Staff and Volunteers to Succeed,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Hybrid nonprofits—organizations that blend business management principles with mission-driven social outcomes—are a natural fit for energetic, visionary leaders. Their emphases on accountability, transparency, and measurable outcomes are in sync with today’s business-savvy, data-driven donors who are more likely to view their gifts as social investments. And increasingly, business leaders are encouraged to join nonprofit boards as much, if not more, for their fiscal and managerial acumen as for their wealth and connections. Successful leadership of hybrid organizations requires executives to possess a different suite of skills than they were required to have just a few decades ago, and that can be a challenge for even the most visionary leader.

One of the most important requisite skills for an entrepreneurial leader, and one of the most important concerns raised about hybrid nonprofits, is a tolerance for risk. Investors give their money to for-profit companies knowing that the venture may fail and that they may not see a return on their investment. Donors, on the other hand, have traditionally given their money to nonprofits with the expectation that their gift will see a return—not for them personally, but for the program they have chosen to support and, by extension, the community at large. Is it therefore unethical for a nonprofit to take risks?

“Probably one of the most important things for a leader to do in order to encourage risk taking is to allow people to fail,” says Lisa Petrides, Ph.D., CEO and founder of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (www.iskme.org), a nonprofit research organization in Half Moon Bay, California, that supports the development of innovative teaching and learning practices through continuous learning and collaboration. Petrides calls it the “WD-40® approach,” after the popular lubricating and water-displacing spray whose name refers to it having been the 40th attempt at a successful product. “They embraced their failures,” Petrides observes. “They built the story of their failure into the success.”

Similarly, Petrides argues, entrepreneurial nonprofit CEOs should encourage a culture of risk and accountability throughout their organizations. Accountability is important. Leaders must still be able to demonstrate impact to donors, as they always have done. With sound metrics in place, an organization can use the outcomes of both its successes and its failures. “Metrics have to have built into them enough flexibility to encourage learning from your mistakes,” says Petrides, who credits the approach with sustaining the organization through the recession, as well as through a shift to create a sustainable business model for the nonprofit. “Successful or not, I always ask, ‘What worked, what didn’t work, and what have we learned because of it?” she says.

Rethinking the Ask

Community support and helping  children concept with shadows of a group of extended adult hands offering help or therapy to a child in need as an education symbol of social responsibility for needy kids and teacher guidance to students who need extra care.I’ve been writing about the nonprofit sector for fifteen years. In that time, I’ve covered everything from best practices in event planning to the effects of mobile communications on our ability to decipher nonverbal cues. Recently, whenever I’ve written about some aspect of donor behavior, I’ve noticed a common thread. Consider, for example, the following trends:

  • In the UK, lawmakers have responded to the public outcry over “aggressive” and “invasive” fundraising practices by calling for increased regulatory oversight of nonprofits.
  • Donors are giving more money to fewer charities, and are doing a lot more research before making their gifts.
  • Survey after survey reports that donors feel oversolicited, even by the causes they believe in.
  • Donors are increasingly insisting on having “a seat at the table” in determining how their gifts are used, and expect personalized, tailored interactions with the organizations they support.
  • Donors expect nonprofits to be able to quantifiably demonstrate the effects and outcomes of their gifts.
  • Donors increasingly are turning to third-party wealth-management vehicles, such as donor-advised funds and private foundations, that allow them to manage the disbursement of their funds.

The common element in these trends is that more and more, it is the donors, and not the fundraisers, who are setting the terms of engagement with nonprofits. This is a significant, but not wholly unpredictable, change in the fundraising dynamic.

The ubiquity of mobile devices has enabled us to take unprecedented control over the details of our lives. Apps have allowed us to “game” the way we drive, the temperature of our homes, and even our health, in turn providing us with an endless stream of data and feedback with which to interact. We’ve quickly become used to the idea of being in charge. The goal of technological intermediaries, such as smartphones and smart watches, is to give us timely information that’s easy to understand and act on.

So perhaps it’s only natural that we are coming to expect the same from our physical intermediaries, like fundraisers.

I predict that over the next decade and beyond, these and other similar trends in donor behavior will radically redefine the basic unit of fundraising: the ask. It’s my belief that eventually, instead of fundraisers asking donors for help, it will be donors who ask fundraisers how they can help.

And as that day draws closer, the most frequently asked question by fundraisers will be, How can we get our donors to make the ask?

This dramatic shift will require fundraisers to play a different role than the one they’re used to playing. Instead of asking, fundraisers will be answering. Instead of persuading donors to make a gift, fundraisers will be persuading donors to want to make a gift.

That may sound like semantic hair-splitting, but a veteran salesperson will tell you that there’s a world of difference between asking someone to give you money and persuading that person to ask you to take their money. It requires a whole different approach to communicating with donors.

In upcoming blog posts and articles, I hope to explore this idea and its implications, and start finding some answers to the question. I invite you to offer your thoughts as well, so that we can start setting the terms of the discussion in these earliest days.

Image: iStockPhoto.com

Tips for Writing a Gift Policy

TrustThe following post is adapted from “Put Your Money in Trust: How a Gift-Acceptance Policy Can Guide Your Fundraising, Reduce Your Risk, and Help Steward Your Donors,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, v18n3, May-June 2011 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Developing a truly helpful gift acceptance policy involves more than simply downloading a template from the Web and filling in the name of your organization at the top, although an organization doesn’t have to begin from scratch, either. A tailored policy reflects a consensus among not only the executive leadership and board members with financial and tax expertise, but also the development staff and volunteers who will have to implement the policy, says Katherine Swank, J.D., a senior consultant for Blackbaud Analytics in Charleston, S.C. Because of the importance of achieving that consensus, it’s not uncommon for the policy-development process to take 18 months or longer.

Swank says the policy-development team should focus on answering some key questions up front:

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Tips for Tailoring Your Research

Blank NotepadThe following post is 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, v18n1, January-February 2011 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

Researchers today have access to more information, more quickly, than ever before. But are they looking for the right information in the right places? Are fundraisers making the best use of the information? Making sure that the wheat is being separated efficiently from the chaff has become a crucial management function for today’s fundraising executives.

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