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January 2007

The two ways to listen to your donors

Is there a down side to listening to your donors? Some business thinkers say there is. When you really pay attention to what they want, you risk blocking breakthrough innovation.

Read about it on the Living and Working in the Creative Sector blog, at Are Current Customers Innovation-Inhibitors?:

Asking customers about what they like or dislike about the current product or service will cause them (and you) to focus on incrementally improving what's current. . . . this focus won't lead to innovation. To innovate, we need to focus the customer on describing their needs and aspirations. We need to know what it is that they hunger for at very deep levels.

Think about it: Your current donors are the group for whom the status quo works (assuming it works). Chances are, paradigm-busting innovation will mess things up for this group. If your donor cultivation program is humming along with good levels of net revenue, a good ROI, and sufficient growth, you should be listening to them and focusing on incremental growth.

Here's when you need wild innovation, the kind the comes not from studying what's okay and not-so-okay about your marketing, but what beliefs and needs are close to donors' (and prospects') hearts:

  • If your program is broken -- you're losing donors faster than you're gaining them.
  • If some old reliable source of donors has dried up.
  • If you want to grow revenue at a rate that's beyond what's achievable now.
  • If the marketplace shifts under your feet -- as it probably will in the coming years with the generational change in donors that's just around the corner.

Small, incremental innovation -- the kind you can get from knowing your current donors inside and out -- is good. Don't snub it.

But huge, off-the-charts innovation, in addition to being rare, is necessary in certain situations. That's when you move away from what you and your donors know. When you ask deep, tough questions about what it means to be human.

It's the two kinds of innovation -- and the two ways of listening to donors -- that build a great fundraising program.

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It walks and quacks like a duck -- but what is it really?

My daughter thinks ducks are cool. You know how kids are. Now, there's no way I'm getting her a pet duck. But I can "buy" a duck for someone who could really benefit from owning a duck and have a card sent to my daughter saying so. That's almost as good as a pet duck in her eyes -- and way better than one in mine.

Gift catalogs that let donors do that kind of thing have exploded in the past few years. No wonder: They're fun, useful, and donor centered. They let donors give very narrowly to fund things they like for whatever reasons of their own.

Or do they?

A quick look at some of the leading catalogs shows that most have disclaimers about what donors' gifts actually do. Read these:

Heifer International

The prices in this catalog represent the complete livestock gift of a quality animal, technical assistance and training. Each purchase is symbolic and represents a contribution to the entire mission of Heifer International. Donations will be used where needed most to help struggling people. (From the online gift catalog)

Oxfam America

Oxfam America works in 26 countries around the world. This catalog contains gift items that symbolically represent our work. The items selected represent project goals from grants disbursed by our seven offices around the world. The purchase of each gift item is a contribution toward Oxfam America's many programs, not a donation to a specific project or goal. Your donation will be used where it is needed the most--to help people living in poverty throughout the world. (From the online gift catalog)

World Concern

Items shown in this catalog illustrate World Concern's comprehensive ministry to provide help, hope and healing to people in need. Each purchase from this catalog is symbolic and represents a contribution to the entire mission of World Concern. (From the online gift catalog)

In other words, if I buy a duck from one of these catalogs, I'm not buying a duck. I guess I'm okay with that. But I wonder how other donors feel. Apparently -- given the runaway growth of these (and many other) catalogs, they're okay with it too. Or they haven't read the disclaimer. (If you've ever done response testing on minor copy details like this, you get the distinct feeling nobody reads it; hardly anything you do in small print budges the needle in any direction.)

One blogger, on noticing that a duck from Heifer isn't a duck, called it "the crummiest possible Christmas present."

There's another type of disclaimer that handles the issue differently. Like these two:

Samaritan's Purse

Items shown in this catalog are for the sole purpose of illustrating goods and services used in ministry programs. All contributions designated for specific projects will be applied to those projects, and up to 10 percent may be used for administering the gift. When we receive more contributions for a given project than can wisely be applied to that project, we use those funds to meet a similar pressing need. Contributions are solicited with the understanding that Samaritan's Purse has complete control over the use of all donated funds. (From the 2006 Christmas gift print catalog)

World Vision

World Vision considers every gift a sacred trust and promises to use your donation in the most effective way possible. The item costs in this catalog reflect the average cost and need of items in World Vision projects at the time of writing, but these costs and needs can change over time. And sometimes we receive more money than is necessary for a particular item. If the ministry need or situation has changed, World Vision promises you that we will honor your generosity and fund a project that is in the same gift category. (From the 2006 Holiday print catalog)

If I'm reading them right, these two are telling me if I buy a duck, I might be buying a duck, unless too many other people already bought ducks. That feels a little better, doesn't it?

If you're going to launch a giving program like this -- and it's worth at least considering -- you should ask yourself these questions about what you offer and how you offer it:

  • Is it scrupulously true?
  • Does it honor our donors' wishes?
  • Are you prepared for "too much" success?
  • Can you proudly explain it to you mom?

Done right, these catalogs are donor-powered dynamos. Done wrong, they're trouble waiting to happen.

(Thanks to my Merkle|Domain colleague, Curt Weigel, for help researching this.)

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Get blogging, maybe

I have an article in the current issue of Fundraising Success Magazine. It's on whether or not a nonprofit organization should have a blog. I'm for it . . . or maybe against it. You decide. It's at Blog Heaven.

In the same issue, there's also a column by my Merkle|Domain colleague, Tim Burgess, about the six reasons people give to nonprofits. Read it at Why People Give.

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Why you should care about giving

Book review: Who Really Cares by Arthur Brooks (2006)

As a fundraiser, you probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of charity. You're much more concerned about the specific giving that comes your way (or doesn't). What does a fish know of water?

That's why you ought to read this book. It takes a close look at charity in the U.S., and it can help you understand the medium you work in. The insights you'll get will help you appreciate it more -- and just maybe do it better.

Knowledge is power, and this book will give you some cool knowledge about donors, including:

  • The working poor are the most generous Americans, giving the greatest portion of their income to charity. They are followed by the wealthy. The middle class comes in well behind.
  • Race and ethnicity are not good predictors of charitable giving. Giving is an equal-opportunity virtue.
  • On the other hand, age and sex are good predictors: Women give more than men, and older people give more than younger people. (I bet you knew that already.)
  • But the biggest predictor of giving is religious belief. Religious believers are much more likely to give, and they give more.
  • Donors are far more likely to be politically conservative than liberal. This is the fact most often trumpeted in the media about the book. It's a product of the previous fact: More religious believers are conservative than are liberal. Believers on both sides have high levels of giving -- and nonbelievers on both sides have low levels of giving.

A lot of the book is about what giving does for givers, such as:

  • Every dollar given to charity returns $3.75 in extra income for the giver.
  • In fact, a dollar given to charity stimulates better than $19 for the economy as a whole. A rising GDP pushes up giving while giving pushes up the GDP!
  • Givers are more happy than non-givers. They're 43% more likely to say they're "very happy," while non-givers are 3 1/2 times as likely to say they're "not happy at all."
  • Givers are more healthy, too. 25% more likely to say their health is excellent or very good than non-givers.

These things ought to tell you that fundraising isn't just a way to get money to do good deeds -- it makes things better for everyone! If the fundraising-as-necessary-evil virus is loose in your organization, you should let folks know these things.

Give Who Really Cares a read. You can get it at Amazon, at Powell's and in airport bookshops.

(Feel free to take what I've said here with a grain of salt; the author is my brother. Not in the figurative sense. He's my actual brother.)

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'Agency of the Year' -- your donor

Going Time one better, Advertising Age says everyone is not just the person of the year but the ad agency of the year. Who could ask for anything more? Check it out: Agency of the Year: The Consumer.

Their example is the Diet Coke and Mentos guys. They make an amusing video of what happens when you put the mints in a bottle of diet cola. They post their video on the web. Millions of people watch the video. Mentos experience a reported 15% spike in sales.

You could spend several boatloads of money with the very best ad agencies and never see a 15% spike.

And you could have made that video. Because anyone who cares about something, has a little time on their hands, is blessed with a little creativity and access to the Internet can create "compelling content" -- more compelling than the stuff ad agencies are doing. And that's why we kicked the agencies' butts this year! As Ad Age put it:

. . . "compelling content" represents a lot of things, including sticky websites that are fun to tool around on; informative, no-bullshit blogs that inform consumers rather than snow them; and plain old funny or moving video snippets that people are eager to pass on to their friends.

The problem for a big-shot creative director in 2006 was that the most compelling content wasn't made by highly paid ad-agency teams and aired on TV. Nobody did it better than amateurs working with digital video cameras and Macs, and uploading onto YouTube -- just going to show you don't need a big medium or production budget to create catchy work.

So here's how you can get some of their high-octane (free) creative mojo from your donors:

  • Make sure you have a "product" that's cool, powerful, and exciting enough to make them want to get involved with it.
  • Make sure the language you speak with donors is English (or whatever is your primary spoken language), not Nonprofitese.
  • Have a lot of Web presence. Make your website useful and interesting. Consider blogging. Do viral email things.
  • Be flexible about your brand. Have a brand that exists in he minds of your donors, not in a booklet.

So now that you have the Agency of the Year working for you, let's see what they can do!

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Giving dropped last year?

Did you have a tough year in 2006?

Maybe you aren't alone. A recent Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive survey, Survey: Giving Softened in 2006 found these things (among others):

  • 83% of those polled said that they gave to charity in 2006
  • Average annual giving was $1,220, down from $1,352 during 2005.
  • Religion, food/hunger, and health/disease organizations were the most likely to receive checks during 2006.
  • 70% of people ages 18-34 reported giving to charity during 2006, down from 74% in 2005.

(Please remember that these numbers come from what poll respondents said, not what they did. Reality can differ significantly!)

But 2006 was hard for many nonprofits. Two-disaster 2005 was a hard act to follow -- with the tsunami and the hurricanes, each of which set records for disaster fundraising. Then the super-heated political season last fall siphoned away a lot of nonprofit dollars and mind-share.

If you ended the year down, don't kick yourself.

(For what it's worth, many Merkle|Domain clients did better in 2006 than in 2005.)

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Where does good copy come from?

Good copy is a precious and powerful thing. It crystallizes your thinking. It clarifies your goals. It mobilizes others to join you.

Given all the good things well-written copy can do, why do we see so little of it in the world around us?

Well, excellent writers are rare. But there's more to it than that. Even the best writers can produce bad copy. The Bad Language blog takes a look at some of the reasons this happens in Why good writers (occasionally) produce bad copy.

While it's sometimes the writer's fault, there are some outside forces, including:

  • Dirty briefs. (i.e., lack of clear direction)
  • Group-think.
  • Brand Nazis.
  • Editing by committee.
  • Death by redlining.

(There are more. Go read it.)

Copy is never produced by just one person. Forget the image of the lone writer in a garret, pounding out inspired prose in a steady stream. In any marketing endeavor, copy is just one link in a long chain that includes:

  • Content. The writer needs to have something good to write about.
  • Strategy. Doesn't matter if the copy is brilliant if the strategy is flawed. The world's fastest runner will lose the race if he's running the wrong direction.
  • Offer. The call to action needs to be something people actually want to do.
  • Alignment. Everyone who's involved in the project should have the same goals. (This is one of the hardest parts to achieve.)
  • Good design. The design should be pulling in the same direction as the copy, with the same emotional message. And it should be readable.
  • Error-free production. Stuff that's printed wrong or lost in the mail doesn't do much good.

If you appreciate the power of good copy, you'll not only hire a good writer -- you'll get the other stuff right too.

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Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants #27

Npcarnival_1Lots of excellent, very meaty posts to choose from this week, including some that I didn't select. Keep up the good work, fellow bloggers! And check out these all-stars:

Building trust: Who's going to pay the bills?

Do donors want their gifts to cover your light bills? Staff salaries? Consultants?

The short answer is no. Thanks to some of the watchdogs, who monitor overhead expenses, and to some bad apples that were abusing their donors' trust, some donors -- from individuals to institutions -- now hate overhead.

So if you truly honor donor intentions and allocate their gifts to programs only, you're going to be in trouble. Right?

A recent article in Philanthropy News Digest, Charities Make Case for Funding Administrative Costs looked at this issue:

. . . many donors have become extremely selective about the kinds of charities they will support, often supporting only those which spend a tiny fraction of their budget on administrative costs. Charities have countered by seeking gifts specifically to help fund overhead, arguing that such gifts are vital to their ability to grow, attract quality staffers, and deal with rising costs.

You can make a good, strong argument for supporting overhead costs. But as I hope you know, "arguing" gets you nowhere in fundraising. Your case is pretty much moot unless it's an emotional case. And the emotional pull of a consultant's hourly fees just somehow doesn't have the magic.

There's one away around this: Trust.

If a donor trusts you, she's not going to have a problem with some of her gift (maybe all of it) going to overhead costs. Because she'll know overhead is a necessary part of the work, and she'll believe you're spending every dollar wisely.

How do you build trust? Here are some thoughts:

  • Be trustworthy. It's not just about appearances; it's about what you actually do.
  • A regular newsletter that shows the results of the donors' giving at work.
  • The "where needed most" option on reply devices, which puts the trust decision in donors' hands.
  • Offer their money back to donors who have given to over-funded programs. How close to zero do you think will be the number who want it back?
  • Send donors who've been with you awhile a letter, asking their permission to use a portion of their giving to support overhead costs.

(I haven't yet tried these last two. There are obvious complications with both. If you manage to pull it off, let me know! You'll get some kind of Donor Power honor, for sure.)

Put building donor trust at the center of your thinking. It'll pay off, both in getting you the overhead funding you need, and in overall results.

Thanks to the AFP Blog for the tip.

(See also 5 donor-friendly ways to raise unrestricted funds.)

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Learn more about technology

There are a lot of blogs out there now about the nonprofit world. I think the technical term for how many there are is "really, just a ton of them." One that's worth a look is The Wild Apricot blog. Its focus is on ways nonprofits can use technology. It offers clear, hands-on, understandable advice on a range of tech issues.

The Wild Apricot Blog, and many other excellent blogs by and about nonprofit organizations, are members of the Nonprofit Blog Exchange.

The topic of all good fundraising: the donor

A piece of direct mail from an organization called KickStart arrived in the Donor Power Fortress of Charity. I'm showing it to you because it's a good example of what a lot of nonprofits do when they try to talk to donors: They talk about themselves.

The package includes these things:

  • Small closed-face carrier envelope with 63¢ first-class stamp (Necessary because the package weighs just over an ounce. Ouch.)
  • One-page letter.
  • Four-color insert featuring photos of happy people with a piece of equipment that looks like pump of some kind.
  • Nice four-color blank greeting card (also featuring the pump).
  • Small, not personalized reply device.
  • Courtesy reply envelope.

Here's the letter. (Click on it if you want to see an enlarged and readable image.) As far as I know, I'm not a donor to KickStart.

The letter is all about KickStart and their great accomplishments. Starting with the sentence "It has been another great year for KickStart!" it goes on to sing its own praises in great detail. Only toward the end does it mention me: "We're proud of our achievements and owe you a great deal of thanks for making this possible." But by then, it feels a bit late: It's like the guy who says, "But enough about me; what do you think about me?"

The ratio of first person pronouns (I/we) to second person pronouns (you) in this letter is 12:4. That kind of tells the story. This isn't a letter about the donor.

Other than this poorly conceived fundraising letter, I have nothing against KickStart. I'm sure they're a competent, reputable organization that's making the world a better place. That's why I hope they will learn to talk to donors and motivate more of them to join the cause.

The temptation to brag is strong. But it doesn't work. In personal conversation or in fundraising. If you want to bring people on board, talk to them about themselves, and show them how you can further their dreams and aspirations.

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How branding destroys your brand

If you've always suspected the "brand police" were up to no good, you're not alone. Brands Create Customers (an excellent and clear-thinking blog) goes as far as to say branding -- as opposed to brand building -- damages your brand.

Check out Adios, "branding." Your day is done:

. . . "branding" burns the value out of brands. It metaphorically assumes the brander has total dominion over the poor wretch about to be seared. While this may be a tonic for sharp stabs of inadequacy affecting those wielding the brand stick, the resulting "brand" never grows beyond its initial mark. More often than not, those who do "branding" sear their own limitations into customers, perhaps permanently.

In other words, if your brand consists of a logo, some prescribed font choices, color palates, and a list of forbidden phrases -- that's all it's going to be.

And that's not just neutral; it's destructive.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Slavish devotion to brand guidelines tends to eliminate real thought. And I can almost guarantee you that anything you do that's radically pro-donor will violate the consistency of the brand!

Your brand is what you do and who you are. What you look like is the smallest part of that. Most branding guidebooks pay lip-service to this fact, but none of them do anything about it. And that's no surprise, because they can't. A brand is bigger than a set of rules you can put down in a spiral-bound book.

If you have a great brand -- one that aligns with the beliefs, hopes, and self-image of your donors -- you can laugh at the puny efforts of the brand police to achieve consistency.

Old-school branding is a lot like the thing it's named after: You burn your logo onto your donor's butt with a red-hot iron. Whether he likes it or not.

New-school brand building is almost exactly opposite that. You discover how you fit into your donor's dreams. Then you articulate that with passion.

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Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants

This week's Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants is hosted at the Data-Scribe Blog.

Next week, the Carnival will be hosted here at Donor Power. I'll consider anything that's going to help nonprofit organizations be better. Here's what to do: send an email to npc.carnival AT yahoo DOT com with your name, your blog’s name, and the URL of your post. Or fill out the easy form at BlogCarnival.com. Deadline is Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET.

What your tagline should do for you

Does your organization have what it takes to write a tagline? If so, you're in a minority.

A tagline is a pithy phrase that instantly tells people what you're about. It's very important, as a recent OnPhilanthropy article, Tag, You're It: Benefiting From a Memorable Tagline points out:

Taglines can strengthen and reinforce your brand essence, help describe what you do (beyond your name), and cement your organization's name or mission in the minds of your prospects and supporters.

Absolutely. But a quick spin through the Philanthropy 400 (subscription to The Chronicle of Philanthropy required) shows that most major nonprofits don't have taglines (or if they do, they aren't very proud of them).

For shame! Really. It's a great opportunity to remind donors why they're with you. Like these taglines do:

A close second in my book are the purely descriptive taglines. While not exactly sexy, they have the huge advantage of clarity. These organizations are not playing mind games:

Some taglines are inspiring, but a bit vague. It's as if they aimed high and narrowly missed the target.

Others are just plain vague. (Hint: If the word "hope" is in your tagline, take that as a sign that you aren't zeroing in on anything specific enough.)

Then there's the occasional "Tagline by Committee"

  • Making positive, lasting change in the lives of children in need in the United States and around the world (Save the Children)

It's not easy to do it well. But you should try. The process of creating a tagline may well uncover your organization strengths and dysfunctions. And when you hit it right, it's a real boost in fundraising.

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Why advertising is so bad

Ever wondered why so many ads are so bad? Why, especially in TV and print, are strange visual koans lacking a call to action or even a specific message?

There's a reason it's that way.

I got some evidence in the mail a few days ago. Enclosed in a ad industry publication was a music CD from Sony BMG Music Entertainment. It was a promotional piece for the music and musicians they license, a useful service for ad people who want music in their ads. The name of this CD:

Music To Win Awards By

The promotional copy inside said:

As you (and your headhunter) know, winning awards is good. Our recording artists know it too; they've won thousands of them. ... So contact us today. What have you got to lose? Except another award.

The sad thing is, this is not inept marketing!

The folks who packaged the CD know their audience. They understand that for many in the ad industry, the top motivation is winning awards and advancing your own career. Not creating success for your clients. And an ad that works wonders for your client is darn unlikely to win an award. It's almost surely not cool enough.

Why anybody hires award-driven ad agencies is a great mystery. But they do. And they get weird ads that don't accomplish anything. Except awards and improved resumes.

Nonprofits are fortunately immune (mostly) to the ad/awards scam. But sometimes, like a stranger with candy, an agency will offer pro-bono work to a nonprofit. They must figure Hey, it's free -- what harm can come of it?

The harm can be significant, actually. Because you'll end up with a campaign that muddies your brand and conflicts with your bread-and-butter direct marketing.

So if the ad agency candy man comes to your door, just say no. Make him win his award with somebody else's equity.

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How to live with skeptical donors

We don't believe what we're told any more. At least that's what some authorities are saying. '07 is all about you, trend-spotters say looks at top trends for the coming year and says Americans will stop believing what they're told and instead seek out their own information:

Skeptical Americans who were burned by large institutions are making up their own minds and searching for a "new authenticity," say top trend-spotters.

Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich marketing research. . . [says], "People want good information. They want to use the Web better. It's almost like they're saying, 'OK, I've got access; now I want good stuff. I want to find real experts, real knowledge, people who know what they're talking about.'"

To the extent that this trend takes hold among donors it means this to us: We no longer control the message. We can work all day and night on fine-tuning our brand and messaging platform, but people will be getting their information about us from sources other than us.

A quick look at who donors are -- mainly people over 60 -- tells us that trends like this aren't likely to wash over our industry in one-year waves. But every day, more donors are joining the ranks who are skeptical and net-savvy. We're going to have to deal with them.

Here are some ways you can thrive in this skeptical environment:

  • Be completely ethical and above-board. Don't let a lapse or scandal happen. And if it does, don't even think about trying to hide it -- you'll be found out. Deal with it quickly and openly.
  • Have the coolest, most effective, most talk-worthy programs around.
  • Make sure your service to donors is flawless. Obey their wishes (quickly), respect them, and don't make mistakes.
  • Make information of all types easily available.

Another trend spotted by the experts, and I know this will break your heart as much as it breaks mine: Rap is on its way out.

Thanks to Sea Change for the tip.

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3 little-known best times to ask a donor for money

#1 3 to 6 weeks after they've given

Hands down, without question, this is the best time to ask a donor to give. The #1 predictor of likelihood to give is recency of the last gift. A lot of nonprofits operate on the opposite assumption -- that recency predicts unwillingness to give again. If you're avoiding contact with recent donors, you're losing significant opportunities to bond with happy, involved donors.

#2 When you urgently need the money

Donors want to be wanted. A chance to save a program (or the whole organization) from oblivion is an attractive, exciting offer to most donors. Real and urgent need -- with dire consequences if the need isn't met -- is the very best fundraising proposition there is. Admitting you need help doesn't -- as some think -- signal your failure or mismanagement; it tells the donor she matters, and that her gift is significant.

#3 After 8 to 9 months with no gift

A lapsed donor is much less likely to give to you ever again than a current donor. And the big drop-off point for giving is around eight or nine months. If they haven't given in that long, there's a good chance the relationship is going cold; it's time for a last-ditch effort to save it. Some donors give on an annual basis, and it behooves you to know who they are (as they're generally clustered at the high end of your file). But most don't. A frequency of two to five gifts per year is normal for most donors, most nonprofits. Nine months without a gift from them means trouble.

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Unleash the power of giving

A nice article at The Motley Fool on the non-monetary reasons for making charitable donations: Overcome Your Inner Scrooge.

. . . learning more about the charity you choose for your gift can show you what life is like for groups of people you may not interact with on a regular basis. . . . In addition, getting to know the people who dedicate their lives toward charitable missions can open one's eyes to the most positive aspects of human nature. . . . As you dig more deeply into understanding the work your chosen charity does, you may also gain some humility.

These are just three good things giving does for givers -- and there are many more (more of them here. Notice that they have nothing at all to do with the good work the giving makes possible. Giving is just plain good for you.

So, as a fundraiser, you can hold your head high. You are helping people become better.

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Boomers want to be in control

Canadian Baby Boomers want donor power. At least that's what a study reported in The Vancouver Sun says. Boomer phenom even hits charities says that 74% of Canadian Boomers "want to know exactly where their charitable dollars are going before they hand over their cash." (In Quebec, 86% say this.)

"This is the biggest change I've seen in the past 10 years in philanthropy," said [Marvi Ricker, vice-president and managing director, philanthropic services at BMO Harris]. "And its very much a baby boom phenomenon." She added that in previous generations, people trusted institutions more and were happy to hand over their money to them. "Baby boomers have grown up questioning authority, defying it and wanting to do things themselves and being very hands-on."

Pay close attention to what Boomers say about their giving beliefs. Because they're moving into the ranks of donors. Age overlays on new donors for some of the organizations I work with show nearly half of new donors are under 60 -- that is, Boomers.

Personal significance is a defining characteristic of the Boomer generation.

The best thing you can do about it: Give them information, power, and choice. Specific fundraising offers. The ability to restrict their giving. Choices about how you'll communicate with them and about what.

Without roughly 8,000 Boomers turning 60 every day (that's in the US alone), they are a more significant audience every time we turn around! Don't miss them by sticking doggedly to old assumptions about donors.

Thanks to AFP Blog: Recent News of Note for the tip.

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Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants

Npcarnival_1This week's Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants is hosted at The Nonprofit Consultant Blog.

If you blog on nonprofit themes and would like to have a post considered for the carnival, send an email to npc.carnival AT yahoo DOT com with your name, your blog’s name, and the URL of your post. Or fill out the easy form at BlogCarnival.com. Deadline is Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET.

How to earn donors' trust

Do donors trust you?

The short answer: No.

Of course, you've built trusting relationships with many, many donors. But among those you're prospecting, those who have lapsed in their giving, and even those who've given to you once but not twice, you should assume lack of trust is a meaningful issue.

It's true also in the business world, as noted in the Own Your Brand blog's recent post, The Truthiness About Trustiness. Trustiness, a take-off on "truthiness" is ...

. . . that “not quite sure I am being told the facts” feeling clients have just before they write the check or open their pocketbook. It’s the alarm bell going off in their minds which produces the inner dialogue, “I’m not so sure this is a good idea, but the salesperson seems to be telling me the truth.”

It's a huge deal for nonprofits. Our donors and prospects fairly tingle with trustiness when they consider giving to you. And that hesitation costs you a lot of gifts.

We live in a world of charity scandals. And skepticism is a normal frame of mind. How is a donor to know you'll be effective with her gift. How can she be sure you aren't a sham organization?

The burden of proof is on you. Own Your Brand suggests five things for businesses that want to overcome trustiness:

  • Always assume the customer or client knows the truth.
  • Recognize that trust starts with you.
  • Disclose your agenda to your customers and clients.
  • State the good you hope to do for your client.
  • Ask for permission.

(Read the whole post; it's worth your time.)

Don't forget what it feels like to be a donor: You want to do the right thing, you want to make the world a better place. Can you be sure this particular gift is the right way to do that?

If you can answer those questions, you're well on your way to a gift.

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What do wealthy people owe to charity?

With 30,000 children dying every day from poverty-related causes, what should Americans be giving?

The New York Times takes a look at that question in What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You?

Author Peter Singer takes a close and extended look at the question, and proposes a complex formula where the top 0.01% of US taxpayers (14,400 of them, who earn an average of nearly $13 million a year) should give away one-third of their annual income -- on down to the top 10% (13 million people, who average a measly $132,000 a year) give 10% of their income. (He doesn't mention what the other 90% should give.)

If everyone cooperated with this scheme, it would yield $404 billion. That would sure be nice.

My hat is off to Mr. Singer and to the Times. Talking in public about this is important, and they've done a real service to the nonprofit sector, donors, and causes in need of support. So my disagreements with this article are really just quibbles. And one important purpose of an extended philosophical essay like this is to raise quibbles.

  • While obligation (even guilt) has a legitimate role in motivating people to give, the question of what people should give is off point. One of the things that makes charitable giving so powerful is that it's driven by compassion, love, and altruism. Your gift matters more because you can freely choose not to give. More important is how can we spread compassion, understanding, and big-heartedness to more people choose to give more?
  • 30,000 children dying a day creates a huge (almost unbearable) sense of urgency. Even so, poverty-reduction in the developing world is not the only legitimate and needful cause.
  • The wealthy aren't the only ones who should give. Everyone should. Even the poor. (And the poor do -- as a percentage of their resources, they are more generous than everyone else.)

Your brand is too small

Many nonprofits have spent enormous sums of money and organizational energy on "branding." The lucky ones are able to have it done pro bono by a powerhouse commercial ad agency -- though judging from the work you typically see from them, they're giving the job to the interns.

The end product is usually a document -- brand guidelines -- the prescribes fonts, color palates, design practices, and often a short copy stylebook for the organization. The smarter documents also discuss the meaning of the brand. But even that is generally taken care of in a paragraph or two.

In the end, branding -- as practiced in real life by nonprofits -- is just packaging.

Same is often true in the commercial world. And the Brands Create Customers blog takes a useful look at the issue in Don't build a brand. Build a movement.

In building brands you have to look beyond the wrapper. Brands command a canvas that knows no edge. As a brand builder, you use this canvas to connect customers with themselves in new and vastly better places. While fine-tuning the wrapper is important, it's not the most important part of the brand. That distinction goes to where your brand leads the customer—in that vast and fertile canvas you provide.

If a commercial brand is a movement, how much more so is a nonprofit brand?

While commercial brand must struggle to position the shoe, soft drink, or widget they sell as larger than life, your cause is, by definition already a superhuman, larger-than-life thing. Every nonprofit that does fundraising is a movement of idealistic people who want to make the world a better place and put their money where their mouths are.

Is that evident in your brand guidelines? Is your branding energy about building, describing, and sustaining a movement? Or do you have a whole book dedicated to packaging?

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When the Boomers retire: are we in trouble?

Now that we have a full year of Boomers turning 60 behind us, it's time to think ahead to the coming wave of boomer retirements that's a few years out.

A recent survey by Fidelity Investments gives us some insight into what may be coming: Boomers On Track To Give 20% More To Charity Than Average Donor.

The survey headlines with the finding that Boomers say they intended to give an average of $6,000 in 2006, nicely up over 2005 and higher than other demographic groups.

But even more interesting was the finding about Boomers and their coming retirement years:

While the greatest share of working donors (43 percent overall, and 47 percent of Baby Boomers) believe they will have to cut back their giving amounts after they retire, only 20 percent of retirees (age 60 and over) actually had to do so, and another 32 percent were able to donate more. Donor concerns over their ability to give in retirement come at a time when individuals are increasingly being burdened with financing their own retirement, which could include higher retiree health care costs and uncertainty around pension and Social Security benefits.

Cause for alarm? Maybe, but don't sell the farm. This study shows that 80% of retirees are able to give the same amount or more than they gave before retirement. Some studies say Boomers are less prepared (financially) for retirement than their elders. Others say they'll retire later and work after retirement.

So what we have is this:

  • The largest generation of donor-aged people in history.
  • Today, retirement doesn't have much negative impact on giving; what it will mean when Boomers retire is uncertain.

Is our glass two-thirds full, or one-third empty?

Thanks to About Nonprofit Charitable Orgs for the tip.

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Embrace the information age -- let donors see it all

In a recent article in Fundraising Success Magazine titled Turn Increased Scrutiny Into Opportunity, Jeffrey Solomon, president of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies talks about how more people are paying attention to nonprofit operations and ethical practices:

The message of the trends of these last years is that integrity and ethical behaviors and practices are the sine qua non for success. . . . Good governance, management and absolute transparency are the best insurance for growing at a time of increased scrutiny. . . .

Today, the combination of changing views and the power of accessible information dramatically change the landscape -- a change that effective organizations can use to better tell their stories, demonstrate their impact and create new loyal supporters. . . .

Eventually, donors will have easy access to those "don't tell the donor" things. Are you ready? Is it going to be a shock to them and an embarrassment to you?

You can whine about and fight the trend toward more open information -- or you can turn it into a strength and a distinctive.

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What is this blog all about?

If you're serious about raising money from donors, you need to get serious about donors. More than ever before, donors are insisting that you share power with them, not treating them like passive ATMs. This blog is about the ways you can do that -- and the rewards that await you and your donors when you do.

About the Blogger

DonorPower Blog is penned by Merkle's Power Blogging Team, led by Greg Fox, our senior vice president of strategy. Working with Greg is a police line-up of guest "artists", fundraising pros all, who like to pose as blogatorialists when the sun goes down. You can reach this blog, and any of our regular contributors, at
donorpowerblog [at] merkleinc [dot] com. See this blog's policies.

A great partner for the nonprofit that wants to get donor-powered and grow revenue like crazy!
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