Making the Mission the Goal of Your Fundraising Campaign

When talking about a fundraising campaign the first question usually is, “What’s the goal?” The higher the number the more impressed we are. I have enough grey hairs to remember when a billion was a big deal. Now a billion seems quaint as USC continues its quest for $6 billion. In the hyper-competitive world of higher education fundraising can the $10 billion campaign be far off? In the middle of all of this “my goal is bigger than your goal” activity I came across a campaign with no goal at all: The Great Give at Florida State University. A 36 hour on-line campaign, donors could select from 24 programs. There was no overall goal - only a cost next to each program. Despite the campaign having the misfortune to be launched at exactly the moment the world was focused on the police closing in on the Boston Marathon bombing suspects (April 18-19), it raised nearly $114,000. $57,000 a day is not too...
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Unrelated Income and the Unexpected Consequences to Your Mission

The IRS report on unrelated business income at colleges and universities reminded me of the potential perils of creating revenue from activities unrelated to your mission. I am not thinking about the tax consequences; I will leave that to the folks in Washington. I am pondering the consequences to the mission, and by association, fundraising. This issue first came to my attention while I was working with a well-known university. We were discussing the giving patterns of affluent alums when a major gifts officer lamented about people who only made a gift in a year when they went on the alumni trip. These were not ordinary trips. They were 10-14 day adventures combining exotic locations and encounters with famous people. Faculty who were experts in the areas being explored rounded out the experience. Soon after this I was at a museum delivering their screening results and heard the same comment. Edu-cations had become all the rage and it certainly made sense for the...
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Distance Does Not Cause the Giving Heart to Grow Fonder

The recently released study by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and CCS - The Million Dollar Gift Next Door - revealed that 50% of the donors lived in the same state as the organization they supported, and another 10% in the same region. So 60% of all top gifts come from people who are thinking local. Good news for local organizations, and schools with a lot of alums nearby. For everyone else it is a wake-up call to find ways to bridge the distance between their missions and the hearts of their donors. On the face of it there is an easy answer as to why - people want to keep their money close to home. Certainly makes sense, but is there something deeper at work? Are donors saying they don't trust organizations they can't see? Is the connection between their mail box and the mission not enough? Is social media failing to make the digital connection? Has face-to-face...
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Philanthropist Speaks and Fundraisers Would Do Well to Listen

The reaction to the Dan Pallotta TED talk has been cause for hope and frustration: Hope, as people begin to accept philanthropy as we have known it is broken; frustration, with so many defending the past for fear of an unknown future. Reading the back-and-forth about Pallotta’s presentation I’m reminded of the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen becomes so fed up with a person in line pontificating about Marshall McLuhan’s work he brings McLuhan out of the shadows to confront the man.   For all the people believing Pallotta is off track (and his rocker) I give you the opinion of a well-known philanthropist: “We need to better comprehend this environment and learn how to participate in it. The arts are slow at developing donors online, where much fundraising now happens. We have been slow to attract the new money—the hedge fund and social-media crowds, the new inheritors of wealth. We need these people in the arts, but we are not getting...
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Free Range Donors

Fundraisers love to fight over who “owns” a donor. In the nonprofit world the battle is between direct response and major gifts with some organizations throwing in membership to liven things up. Behind the castle walls of education there is the eternal struggle pitting friendraising (alumni relations) and fundraising (advancement). I have found in working with people who give of their time and/or treasure they don’t like the term donor (makes them think of missing kidneys and blood loss), so I’m thinking the idea of being “owned” would not go over well either. Sears once thought if you wanted appliances, toys or hardware they owned you. GM and Ford at one time were so thoroughly convinced of their ownership of car buyers they treated Japan more as a novelty than a competitor. Home Depot, Toys R Us, and Toyota are among the many companies born in no small part because of the arrogance of the former leaders of their industries. As fundraising bumps...
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Donor Retention Begins at Home

Reading Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising was a sobering event. I have heard all of these complaints over the years, but seeing how truly pervasive they really are transformed them from anecdotal stories into systemic problems. It was certainly disturbing to learn how many development directors want to leave their jobs:   But this chart was downright terrifying:   Even in high performing organizations a culture of philanthropy is only present in 36% of organizations, and for everyone else 12%. It looks like we have created a culture of unhappiness, and it’s coming through to donors as they stop giving, or don’t start at all. No matter how good you are at compartmentalizing your life, if you are unhappy then your donors (and prospective donors) will pick up on it. This is why we included a special session on the topic at our upcoming Donor Retention Bootcamp: It’s Coming Through!  Politics, silos, dysfunctional teams, and demanding donors are just a few of the reasons...
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Cost-of-Fundraising is the Kryptonite of Philanthropy

When the conversation turns to cost-of-fundraising I can almost hear the collective sigh of missions across the globe. It is a knowing sigh, one that understands when the focus is on quantitative measures, the qualitative aspects of missions suffer. The cost-of-fundraising madness is truly the kryptonite of philanthropy. It turns the mission from a bold and daring venture into a meek shadow which only comes to life as a photo in direct mail or a website surrounded by copy extolling the virtue of how little was spent to send the photo or to receive an online donation. If you have been reading this blog lately you know I’m on a bit of a rant about the need to move away from the transaction-based culture of giving to a mission-based culture of philanthropy. Making this move will require that cost-of-fundraising be encased in lead and buried in the cave with other ideas which seemed good at the time, but not so much on...
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Donor Retention – All You Need Is Love

At some point during the 9 WOW Institutes I was a part of my great friend and colleague Jay Goulart would say, “It’s all about the love.” A lot happened during those 4 day-experiences in beautiful Henniker, New Hampshire, but when all was said and done it really did come down to love; loving your donors; loving your mission; loving what you do; and equally important is for you and your team to love being at your organization. If you nailed the love, then you had the opportunity to create a culture of philanthropy that turns donors into lovers of your mission. But how do you measure love? Is it money? Time? Those certainly can be indicators of commitment, but people can, and do, give of their time and treasure without so much as a smile on their faces. Rather than love, fundraisers can use guilt, peer-pressure, or a sense of obligation. Do any of those warm your heart? There are a number...
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The Mission Demands Fundraisers (of All Persuasions) Come Together

When your father is a fundraiser, and that fundraiser is Doug Lawson who wrote Give to Live, you are definitely going to have a bias towards major gifts. I don’t believe it is just pride talking that my father is one of the best face-to-face askers on the planet, and I’m sure as you read this he is either asking or on a plane to an ask. In this environment I grew up thinking if you needed a million dollars for your cause then you found a person with a million dollars to support it. This simple idea led me to create a series of donor profiling and screening companies the last 25 or so years. Early in my career I met Roger Craver who can write direct mail copy which almost puts the money in the envelope all by itself. For Roger if you need a million dollars get 50,000 to give $20 each. Then you have 50,000 supporters who...
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Creating a Culture of Philanthropy by Being Mission-Centered

A lot of ink – real and digital – has been expended on the topic of being donor-centered. After all the conferences, white-papers, books, and blog posts it boiled down to a simple message – listen to your donors and respect their individuality. This certainly seemed like sound advice which dovetailed beautifully with increasing the level (and quality) of stewardship in the fundraising process. Unfortunately as the idea of being donor-centered gained popularity, the level of donor retention fell. What happened? I got a clue a few years ago while presenting at the WOW Institute, an experiential conference of which I was part for a number of years. A well-known philanthropist, who was speaking about his experiences as a donor, commented that he did not want organizations to be donor-centered – he wanted them to be mission-centered. His comment got me thinking about how the donor-centered philosophy was part of a culture of giving where everything revolved around either asking for money or...
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