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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Philanthropy is an Unstructured World

According to IBM 90% of all data has been created within the last two years, and 80% of it is unstructured: documents, videos, images, e-mails, etc. No wonder Big Data is a Big Topic of conversation these days. This all sounds amazing, but to me it feels like technology is just catching up to reality. Most of the world’s data has always been unstructured: thoughts and memories in people’s minds; carvings on stone; or printed on a piece of paper. The concept of structured data came along when databases appeared and data was required to fit neatly within distinct fields. Numbers, dates, names, and addresses were welcomed. Notes, comments, and documents were exiled to live either outside of the database or in unsearchable (and often seemingly unreachable) places within it. Every time you log-on to your favorite donor management system you experience the consequences of this “Unstructured Data NOT Welcomed” legacy. You search for a person’s name, and if that person is...
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For Nonprofits Change Will Do Them Good

The 2013 State of the Sector Survey, conducted by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, has a wealth of data regarding where nonprofits are today – and more importantly – where they are heading. Today I want to focus on the survey question pertaining, “Finance & Operations Actions in the Last or Next 12 Months," and in particular the 39% which answered yes to “Change the main ways in which you raise & spend money” in the last or next 12 months. While 39% is impressive, what I found even more striking was the year-over-year change – 15%. Clearly nonprofit leaders are getting tired of doing the same things and being disappointed when they don’t get different results. What kinds of changes can we expect? A clue is the number one answer – “Attend conferences or network to build relationships.” People are hungry for answers, but they are also looking for fresh ideas and perspectives (or at least 58% of them are). The 46% planning...
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For Philanthropy the Answers Are All Around Us

One of my favorite lessons about faith is the story of a man caught in a flood praying to be saved as the water rises. Two boats, and a helicopter, come and are sent off as he trusts that his prayers will be answered. When he eventually drowns and goes to heaven he asks - why did you not answer my prayers? The simple answer, "I sent two boats, and a helicopter." I am reminded of this story when I hear about what fundraisers, and others involved in philanthropy, say is needed to be successful. There never seems to be enough information, technology, personnel, and good donors. Imagine telling this tale at the pearly gates. I'm not sure a sympathetic audience awaits. Do you really want to make the case for information being in short supply? Is the technology available not amazing enough for you? Good people seem hard to find, but how many good people have left your organization in frustration? And with...
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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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For Fundraisers It Is Best Not to Mix Love, Intentions and Money

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of Marts & Lundy introducing the fundraising world to automated prospect screening. Their Electronic Screening® service, programmed by my old friend Charles Headley, changed forever how organizations found their best prospects. The goal was simple: find people in your database who have the capacity to give more than they are now, and the propensity to make a gift. You would think the reaction to this was universally positive. After all, the classic peer review sessions were breaking down under the weight of the volume of people, and the growing diversity of wealth. But it turned out the first thing people wanted to see was their current top prospects. If they were not at the top then it must not work. This is a challenge screening companies have faced ever since. Grenzebach Glier came along and solved the problem by heavily weighting past giving as the measure of affinity. Voila! Your current best donors were your future best...
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The Excitement and Anxiety of What Big Data Could Mean to You

I was thinking of ways to describe the challenges of Big Data adoption, and I remembered an incredible video of a woman hearing her voice for the first time. Her reaction was an overwhelming mixture of joy and fear. When you fully embrace Big Data you will experience the joy of seeing all your data, and the fear of what it might mean. For years we have dreamed of being able to bust through the silos and bring together all of the databases and documents into one place. More recently we have even dared to imagine bringing in all of the external data including the treasure trove of social media. Now this is actually possible, so what's holding us back? The easy answer is cost, but as companies roll-out more and more applications at lower and lower prices we will need a new excuse to hide the real reasons. Here are a few: What if the data reflects badly on me or my...
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