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March 2007

"New philanthropists" seek more involvement -- are you ready?

Are you ready for a new kind of donor who wants to do more than write a check? If you aren't, you might want to read this New York Times article: Write a Check? The New Philanthropist Goes Further/ The gist is this:

Donors are showing more focus, more urgency and a desire for more involvement in their giving, compared with their predecessors ...

This is another sign of the Boomer generation entering their donor years. More than previous generations of donors, Boomer donors want giving to be experiential. Just dashing off a check is less satisfying, at least for some of them.

This is tremendously good news.

Because a donor who experiences your work will give more, stay with you longer, and tell others about you. And those hard-to-sell projects you struggle to fund? Experienced donors will be much more likely to grasp and value them.

So the only question is, can you handle the logistic challenges of having donors walking around your projects?

It should be worth it!

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Consumers shut the door -- what can you do?

Perhaps the sky is falling. You might get that impression reading this article at AdAge.com: Do-Not-Mail Movement Lurks in State Legislatures

... consumers are hanging up no-trespassing signs at most points of media entry. They simply don't want marketing messages thrust at them -- no matter how clever or engaging or empowering those messages might be -- and, thanks to a mix of technology, government intervention and old-fashioned indifference, have plenty of ways to live lives that involve engagement with brands only on their terms.

Consumers are saying no to marketing. They're figuring out ways to block pop-up ads online, watch TV without ads, keep marketers from calling them (especially on their cell phones ... and even (gasp!) limiting the amount of direct mail that comes into their homes.

More power to them, I say.

Because what most people want when they limit the amount of marketing that comes into their lives is less stupid, interruptive, irrelevant crap. And if they succeed at having less of that -- they'll have more time and attention for on-target, helpful, relevant messages.

(A telemarketing exec recently told me that people who have registered for the national do-not-call list respond to telemarketing at a higher rate than those who haven't. Because they get fewer telemarketing calls, and more of the calls they do get are relevant.)

The trick is to be in the relevant category. We need to be welcome visitors to our donors' homes, not annoying crap.

Three things you can do that will help:

  1. Be smart with your data. Apply models, CRM, whatever you can marshal to minimize contact with those unlikely to respond, while targeting those most likely to want to hear from you. This can make a huge difference, saving you money by lowering mail quantities in a smart way without sacrificing net revenue.
  2. Specifically ask donors what, when, and how you can communicate with them. Then follow their instructions. Your relevance level skyrockets! As do response and retention rates.
  3. Actually be remarkable, so people are proud and happy to hear from you and be associated with you. (This is the hard part.)

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Do more by doing less

With cell phones, Blackberries, free wifi nearly everywhere, and small computers we can easily carry around, you can just work all the time.

Isn't it great?

Probably not.

An article in Adweek looks at the ways being "always on" could be hurting us by never giving us down-time to recharge and let the subconscious attack our problems: The Unprofessionals

We all have to create the time and space for thought, to respond to e-mail when it suits us, not as soon as it arrives, to find the "off" button on our cell phones and Blackberries, to get out of the office once in a while, to create some distance. And when we leave work, we should leave work. Our brains will carry on working whether we like it or not; we will simply be more effective if we are relaxed and reenergized.

If you care about your work, you won't do it all the time. Be on when you're on, but off when you're off. Take vacations (no email allowed!). Consider taking a whole day all the way off every week (a Sabbath); it really helps, and more than makes up for the time off in added productivity and energy.

The work you do with nonprofit organizations matters. Don't let that truth blind you to your need for rejuvenation.

Thanks to Think Personality for the tip.

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Boomers can become your competitors

Two fellow bloggers have recently taken a look at the explosion of new nonprofits: The Agitator, in Top 10 Reasons To Start A New Nonprofit and The Nonprofiteer in Should you start your own nonprofit?

Good or bad? Does this proliferation of new organizations create more people doing good deeds, or does it dilute donor (and other) support?

Some of both, probably. Good or bad, it's not likely to go away any time soon. Because it's driven by Baby Boomers. These idealistic, individualistic, entrepreneurial people love to do things in new ways -- and now many are turning their sights on charity.

I know a guy (a Boomer, yes) who started his own nonprofit. He takes portrait-quality photos of mentally handicapped people -- folks who are poor and marginalized and are seldom treated as beautiful and dignified.

Nobody else does this, as far as I know. And to my inexpert eyes, it looks like valuable, needful work that makes people's lives meaningfully better.

This tiny nonprofit has a few donors. Is it slicing into the territory of an established organization, peeling away donations. Or is he making the pie bigger, getting donations that wouldn't have gone somewhere else?

My guess is if he were persuaded his work were doing more harm than good in any way, he'd stop it in a minute. But otherwise, he's going to pursue it wholeheartedly.

People who in previous generations might have been happy to be donors have the wherewithal and ambition to do it on their own. It's just a fact of life.

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We're going to have to learn to write differently

In his always-worthwhile Monday Morning Memo, Roy H. Williams takes a look at the words we use in marketing: The Faded Color of Empty Words.

Talking about commercial spots on the radio, he notes declining effectiveness. The reason: People's media consumption has changed, and that's leading to a change in the way we perceive messages:

  1. Internet surfing has trained us to disregard empty words.
  2. Relevance has become more important than repetition.

Bottom line: Meaningful messages are working better than ever, especially when the fundamental premise of your ad is clearly stated in the opening line. Ads full of unsupported claims and overworked "image-building" phrases are being rejected before they ever enter the brain.

Unsupported claims are those phrases we throw around like "best" and "leading." They don't actually impart any useful information -- they're just empty bragging.

Copywriters have been trained to write that way. (I remember an early mentor telling me, "Never miss a chance to pump up the value of what you're selling." That meant pack in the positive adjectives; I got very good at it.)

But "pumping up" is losing its persuasive power. Worse than that, it signals to many people that the content at hand lacks value. So empty phrases have the exact opposite affect from what they used to have.

Is it time for us to go out and change everything about the way we do fundraising?

Not quite. Remember that direct mail, the bread and butter of most fundraising programs, is driven largely by older donors. They are much less impacted by changes in media habits. The old stuff still works, and will for some time yet.

But not forever. Start testing now. For the poor old copywriters among us, there's some serious un-learning to do. And in online fundraising, the change is already upon us.

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Celebrities save Africa

You'll enjoy this.

Thanks to The $5 philanthropist for the tip.

Want donors to do your marketing for you?

Wouldn't you just love to have an army of donor-evangelists who are so dedicated to your organization that they not only give to you, but also find and motivate others to give?

Before you answer that, consider this:

  • Your donor evangelists are not likely to confine themselves to your brand-approved fonts.
  • They'll probably stray from your official color palette.
  • Don't count on them using your logo correctly.
  • Do you think they'll use your approved style guide?
  • And your hard-earned mission, vision, values, and value proposition? Forget it!

As The Viral Garden put it, Control is Evangelism's Kryptonite:

The challenge for companies is to reach that point where they are sharing, and then shifting marketing control, to their community. When that tipping point is reached, evangelism can begin to grow and spread.

Evangelism, word-of-mouth, donor-generated media: These things can rocket an organization to beyond-belief levels of success for little or no cost. But they take place outside of your control.

You may have spent a lot of time and money sharpening your brand and messaging to perfection. If it's important to you to keep everything said about your organization square on target, you're not going to get much donor evangelism.

Having no control doesn't guarantee you a crowd of excited evangelists blogging their hearts out about you. But tight control on your marketing pretty much guarantees that you won't have that.

What's more important to you?

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You owe your donors focus

End the war!

Are you glad I'm taking a stand, courageously using my little soapbox to push this important cause?

Or are you here because I talk about fundraising, a subject you're also interested in -- and you're not all that interested in what I have to say about the war?

I'm guessing the latter.

I could work up a pretty good rant about the Bush Administration. I also have strong opinions about the ways they teach math and reading in primary education, about microsoft, and about the type of bow a bass player ought to use.

But you're not here for those things. You're here for the discussion about fundraising. If I started using this space to push my other agendas, you'd probably stop coming here. And you'd be right to do so.

Apparently things are different in the nonprofit world. At least according to a steady buzz on this subject, best represented by Mark Rosenman, writing at AlterNet: Nonprofits in a Time of War. The argument is that the war is so outrageous and harmful, the nonprofit sector has a responsibility to speak out against it:

... we also have the responsibility of outrage when vulnerable people are suffering and when government policy creates and exacerbates misery. Today, silence is an abdication in the face of an abomination. Charities need to speak up and demand that Congress get Washington's foreign policy and its financial priorities in order.

No argument from me about the harmful impact of the war. Big argument about nonprofits' "responsibility" to speak out about it.

Unless your organization's mission is to specifically address this issue, you have no business using organizational resources, clout, or voice to address it.

To do so is flat-out betrayal of your donors. Even if they may agree with you on the issue. (And don't count on that: Donors to nonprofits are a widely diverse group -- and they skew conservative.)

Your donors are standing with you because they agree with your mission. Not because you have smart opinions about other things. Those who want to end the war will align themselves with organizations that have that as their purpose. You have no business deciding for them to shift their support in that direction.

If you decide to expand or shift your mission, you really need their permission. But until you have that, respect for your donors demands that you honor the contract you made with them in the first place.

So go ahead and work for peace, justice, and the American way. Just don't force your donors to join you.

(There's also some cogent commentary on this topic at The Nonprofiteer: Should all nonprofits be antiwar?)

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Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants

This week's Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants is hosted at Aspiration Tech blog.

Next week, the carnival moves to Getting Attention. Topic: the best professional development resources for nonprofit marketers, and your strategy for sustaining your learning, inspiration and information sharing in the field. Submit your post here. Deadline is Saturday noon (EST), March 24th.

Two ways to make blogs work for you

Have Fun • Do Good has a good post on nonprofit blogging: 10 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Blogs and Bloggers to Support Their Cause. Here are the ten ways (you need to go read the post, because there's a ton of how-to with each one):

  1. Include Bloggers on Your Press List
  2. Use Your Nonprofit Blog to Create Your Own Media Coverage
  3. Provide bloggers, and your supporters, with an RSS feed of news related to your organization so that they can spread the word for you.
  4. Include outreach to bloggers as part of your online fundraising campaigns.
  5. Use Your Nonprofit Blog to Raise Money
  6. Use Your Nonprofit Blog to Involve Volunteers and Supporters
  7. Use Your Nonprofit Blog to Report Back From an Event, Trip or Disaster
  8. Use Your Nonprofit Blog to Work Smarter
  9. Use Your Nonprofit Blog to Build Trust with Supporters
  10. Use Your Nonprofit Blog to Build a Broad-Based Movement

A key point here is that there are two distinct ways a nonprofit can use blogs to accomplish good things: You can launch a blog or your own, or you can work with the blogosphere -- and, of course, you can do both.

Items 1, 3, and 4 above are ways to effectively work with the blogs that exist. That's a lot less expensive than doing your own. In fact, if you plan to launch a blog some day, here are some things you should start doing now:

  • Find the blogs that cover your topic.
  • Follow them closely.
  • Comment on them (not anonymously, but under the flag of your organization).
  • Get to know the bloggers: Who's reasonable? Who's always throwing bombs? Who's likely to admire your organization most?
  • When you know them, think about contacting the right ones about issues of mutual interest. (But don't, don't, don't send press releases! You can hardly imagine how annoying that is!)

It's a big conversation, and you can be part of it, even without a blog of your own.

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Your most dangerous department

Do you have a marketing department that's dragging you down?

Let's put it this way: If you have a marketing department, it's probably dragging you down.

That's not to say that your marketing department is staffed with incompetent, loutish goons. (Though it may be.) The real problem is the very fact that marketing is segregated into its own area, rather than the job of everyone.

Read this great post in the Unconventional Thinking Blog: The Most Dangerous Term In Business (the term: marketing department).

... a marketing department effectively balkanizes marketing ideation and implementation from the development and execution of the company’s core business strategy. This cannot be allowed to happen. Marketing is the process of growing a business. To separate it from the development and execution of business strategy means that you are effectively diminishing the impact marketing can have on the company.

Nonprofits can have the same problems with balkanized marketing. By putting it in its own department, you let everyone else off the hook, when they should always be thinking of donors as well as their core duties. Not only that, but marketing departments, when divorced from reality, tend to spiral into irrelevancy, spending their energy on how many logos can dance on the head of a pin, rather than actually helping build a marketable organization.

(And if you have marketing and fundraising living in two separate departments, as some organizations do, you're inviting truly astounding wastes of money and energy on irrelevant work.)

You do need the professional disciplines that traditionally live in marketing departments -- people who know how to write motivating copy, people who do great design, people who understand media channels. But make them part of the larger organization. Make them (and everyone) accountable for marketing and program success.

As long as the two things are separate, you're two steps away from the powerful innovations you need.

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Everyone should know about this!

Do you want everybody to know the good news about what you do?


Everybody doesn't care, and won't respond, ever. Only some people are worth reaching. I know this may be obvious, but many fundraisers (and commercial marketers) are sadly prone to believe in reaching everyone. It's the poison candy that ad agencies offer, trying to make massive TV-spot buys or other huge and inappropriate media expenditures.

That's what Spyro Kourtis says, writing in DMNews: And the Oscar for smart marketing goes to...

We think everyone should hear about our brand. Maybe they'll need us later and remember the commercial. Maybe they'll recommend our brand to a friend someday. Good luck.... It comes down to this. Do you want millions of eyes on your company brand or would you prefer thousands of new customers?

No matter how cool your mission is, it's not of interest to everyone. Frankly, it's only of interest to a small slice of everyone. And even their interest level is only passing compared to yours.

The ad world talks about "impressions." They like to throw around huge numbers of impressions. But the numbers mean next to nothing: it's the number of people (sometimes households) that have access to a message. Not actually saw it, or paid attention to it, or were motivated to act by it: could have seen it. That does you no good whatsoever.

Remember: Don't take candy from strangers, and don't try to reach everybody.

Find your audience and work to motivate them to action. That's not as glamorous as a Superbowl TV spot, but it gets the job done.

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GiveWell: another front opens in the donor revolution

Here's a group that should probably make you nervous: GiveWell. It's a group of donors who are seizing power.

As noted in the Tactical Philanthropy Blog, it's the "pissed-off donor model." These guys want to give, but they want to know in detail whether and how their giving impacts the world. And, by gum, they're aren't giving until they find answers!

Here's how they put it:

... unlike for-profit corporations, nonprofit organizations generally attract investment through emotional appeals rather than by demonstrating results. We aim to change that, by providing a single place where you can see all the information we have about the world's best nonprofit organizations....

This is the flaw in GiveWell's model. They aren't going to change the way people decide to give. Not unless they figure out how to re-wire the human brain. Because giving is overwhelmingly an emotional decision. The no-emotion model just isn't going to spread very far, because it's swimming upstream in the broad and swift river of human neurology.

But that's a small quibble, really. Because they can fix that and apply their donor-powered approach in a more realistic, right-brained way. And if they don't, somebody eventually will. We'd better get used to it.

GiveWell is doing two amazing things:

  1. They insist that nonprofits be accountable to donors -- on donors' terms. They ask some stringent questions of nonprofits. Are they the right questions? It doesn't matter: They're their questions. GiveWell is shifting the power into the donors' court. (Read how this sometimes plays out on the GiveWell Blog: Where I’m coming from.)
  2. They're slicing up the charitable giving world by cause, not by organization. The current fundraising model pretty much forces donors to accept all of an organization, not just those things they care most about. GiveWell explodes this: They start with causes (like the fight against malaria) and then seek the organizations they believe do them best. If this catches on, fundraising could become a very different kind of activity. Can you say "restricted funds"?

Can you afford to ignore GiveWell? Yes. But not for long. The approach is likely to get refined and to grow. Now is the time to get ahead of the curve.

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Night of the Brand Shamans

I write a monthly column in Fundraising Success magazine. It's called "Easier Said Than Done." This month it's on bad nonprofit branding, a topic regular readers of this blog will recognize as a favorite rant of mine.

You won't be able to read next month's column ("How to Love Fundraising") online though, as it will be only in the print edition of the magazine. But you can subscribe to this excellent magazine for free. Which is more than worthwhile, even if you're boycotting my column.

It's not a popularity contest

In an act of stunning, jaw-dropping stupidity, CareerBuilder has lost its ad agency, Cramer-Krasselt, after the agency's Super Bowl ads fell short of the top 10 in a USA Today viewer poll.

The viewer poll, representing nothing but the stated opinions of a few hundred self-selected people, was apparently more important to CareerBuilder than the fact that they got a 148% increase in traffic to their website on and after game day (as reported in Adweek. So they put their account up for review, and the agency resigned in disgust.

Read more about the sorry spectacle in Advertising Age: Cramer-Krasselt Resigns as CareerBuilder's Agency. Or check out the incredulous buzz around the blogosphere at Technorati.

I could get in line with all the others who want to slap around CareerBuilder. Heaven knows, they deserve it. But I'd rather take a shot at the "wronged" agency, Cramer-Krasselt. For them, this is a clear case of live by the sword, die by the sword.

When you visit their website, you are treated to these emphatically presented words:

Yes ... it is a popularity contest. The brand with the most friends wins.

Sorry, Cramer-Kasselt, you served up a steaming heap of ad agency bull -- and your client believed it!

When they lost a popularity contest, struck out with a few "friends" in a stupid poll, they thought their agency had failed them. And why not? That's what their agency told them what it's all about.

That's the problem with the ad industry. They're promoting a huge lie: that "popularity" is the most important thing. It's a fragile and crumbling lie, but a lot of businesses still believe it -- and pay for it. And so do a few unlucky nonprofits.

Inoculate yourself against the ad agency lie. Follow something more like this:

It's not a popularity contest. The organization that actually motivates people to act positively wins.

The big winners are quietly, humbly, and happily influencing people. They tend not to do as well in bogus polls, focus groups, or other popularity contests. But they win where it matters.

(More on this favored rant topic here: Why advertising is so bad.)

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Talk about your donors, not yourself

The top reason fundraising efforts fail: They're not about donors. They're inwardly focused, usually obsessing about:

  • How effective we are.
  • How respected we are.
  • How unique we are.
  • How urgent our need is.

If that's what you're telling donors, you're missing the point. If you want to motivate a donor, you need to talk to her about herself:

  • How effective she is.
  • How unique she is.
  • How your urgent need aligns with her values.

Future Now, home of the A Day in the Life of a Persuasion Architect blog offers a quick, neat way to see whether your talking about your donor or yourself: the Customer Focus Calculator.

Check it out. You can either enter a URL or paste in a block of copy. You'll get a score of your Customer Focus Rate. You might be amazed by what you learn.

Shifting your focus from yourself to your donor will improve results. Every time.

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Yet again: scientists show that giving is good

Giving is good. It just feels good. Scientists will back me up on that. A recent NIH study looked into people's brains with MRIs while they made decisions to give.

(The story is making the rounds in the press. Here's a good article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune: There's a reason you feel better when you give.)

Dr. Jorge Moll, the lead researcher on the study, said what they saw "strongly supports the existence of 'warm glow' at a biological level. It helps convince people that doing good can make them feel good; altruism therefore doesn't need to be ONLY sacrifice."

Here's what the MRIs found:

... giving activated two areas of the brain: the part that is activated by reward reinforcement, which also is activated by sex, drugs and money, and the part that influences social attachments, trust and economic interactions.

You see, when you're raising funds, nature is on your side.

Are you afraid fundraising is in some way harmful to your donors? Don't be. They want to give! Let the good times roll!

(See also Donors know: giving creates ecstasy.)

Thanks to Think Personality for the tip.

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Are you delusional?

Some research by Bain & Company uncovered evidence of widespread delusions in US business leaders: 7 things firms need to know. Here's the delusion part:

When Bain & Company recently surveyed executives of 362 firms, we found that 80 per cent believed they delivered a 'superior experience' to their customers. When we asked customers, however, they told a very different story: They said only 8 per cent of companies were really delivering.

In this study, nearly three-quarters of these executives harbor a delusional belief that their customers are getting something good -- when their customers are not.

And whose opinion counts in this admittedly subjective question? Not the executives!

The roots of this delusion are simple: The executives want to deliver a superior experience to their customers. They likely have programs in place to deliver superior experience. They probably even have elaborate measurements of customer experience. Above all, they want to believe they're successful.

But it's not working. And they don't even know it. They're lost in a delusion.

Nonprofits can suffer a similar delusion. We know what we do is good, so we think everyone knows that. But it ain't necessarily so. If donors don't agree, it might as well be a big fat lie.

Don't let it happen to you. Get out of the fog and find out what donors really are experiencing. You might be surprised.

Thanks to Make Marketing History for the tip.

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Online or off, mind the generation gap

Are older people (that is, donors), active online? Yes and no. A post at The Agitator looks at internet use among older Americans: Old Codgers Online.

People over 65 are using the net quite a lot, and more so all the time. But, according survey research, only 14% of men over 65 feel comfortable using a credit card online. That's compared to 35% of the population as a whole.

What does that mean? That the internet may already be a great way to communicate with donors, but it'll be a while before it's a truly powerful fundraising tool. But even that is changing, and fast.

The Agitator's conclusion, given this evidence:

Our advice: don't let the youngsters plotting your nonprofit's online presence get away with design features, gimmicks and tactics that only appeal to fellow youngsters! The online audience is far more multi-generational these days.

That's good advice. So let me take it one step further: Keep an eye on your youngsters, no matter what you're asking them to do. They've been the death of many a fundraising campaign, because they tend to write, design, and plan as if they are the audience. That, of course, doesn't work.

Maybe I'm a middle-aged codger. But I've seen it happen over and over again. It seems the ability to think outside one's own frame of reference comes with experience.

Don't get me wrong -- I know younger people are smart. They're generally smarter than the rest of us. But that blind spot, that poor grasp of the fact that you are not your audience, is more common the younger you are. There's probably a brain-science explanation.

So when you design websites, or create marketing of any kind, watch what your younger people do.

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Charitable gift catalogs ignite blog buzz

Synchronicity in the nonprofit corner of the blog world. In the past few weeks there have been many, many posts on the topic of the charitable gift catalogs.

Spare Change and makehope both discussed what a wonderful, tangible offer the catalogs have.

But most of the buzz has had a decidedly more grumpy flavor. In fact, it's been virtually a backlash against Heifer International over the disclaimer in their catalog that says, in part, Each purchase is symbolic and represents a contribution to the entire mission of Heifer International. (Many gift catalog charities have a similar disclaimer, but not all of them.)

It seems to have started on Philip Greenspun's Weblog, in a short post titled Water buffalo: Worst possible Christmas present? --

. . . it turns out that there is no actual buffalo and no actual family and you won't get a photo of your family and your buffalo. The money simply gets dumped into the common fund at the charity. We are trying to decide if this is the crummiest possible Christmas present.

This post was answered by Robert Thompson, an American musician who lives in China, who actually went out and bought a water buffalo and presented it to a poor family in China. He documented it on film, which you can see: The Water Buffalo Movie. This short piece is a must-see if you want to get a sense for the kind of power we need to be creating for donors.

Much of the commentary focused on the lack of literal truth in gift catalogs:

  • A Whole Lotta Nothing said, "It's not entirely dishonest but it sure feels like something different than what their site describes when you give money."
  • Philanthromedia, in Do Donor Shopping Guides Really Give a Cow?, said, "When you make a contribution, you want it to be used exactly as you were told it would be. That's accountability."
  • NFP 2.0, in More than just the bacon, said, "OK, so it's there in the small print, but try explaining that to your five-year old daughter."
  • The $5 philanthropist, in Ethical Gifts Are Unethical?!?, said, "At the best case, this is just lazy and unimaginative and at the worst case . . . isn't it some relatively dark shade of outright dishonesty?"
  • Don't Tell the Donor was more tolerant in A load of buffalo?: "I personally have no problem with the type of campaign Heifer is running. . . . if a symbolic item helps provide a visual reminder of an intangible fundraising campaign - more power to them."
  • My post on this topic, It walks and quacks like a duck -- but what is it really? looked at the various disclaimers found in different gift catalogs.

If you search Heifer International at Technorati, the overwhelming majority of posts are people either raising money for Heifer or raving about the gifts they got through them.

What do we learn from all this? Seems to me the Heifer approach, where they offer something specific but your gift is pretty much unrestricted, is not well liked (when it's noted at all). It just feels too much like not telling the truth. Put yourself in a donor's shoes: How does it feel?

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Donor Power Award: Donors Choose empowers donors

A rarely bestowed Donor Power Award to Donors Choose, an organization with a very descriptive name that puts all the power in donors' hands.

Here's what Donors Choose does: They raise money for teachers in public schools to enrich their work with their students. Not in a big, national way, but at the classroom level. Teachers make pitches for projects they need funded. Donors connect with projects they like and fund them.

Many of the proposals are pretty raw -- very real, direct from real teachers. No marketing BS here. The funds needed for projects vary from under $200 to a few thousand dollars. A donor of average means can fully fund a project. Or give whatever they want to partially fund a project.

(An organization with a similar fundraising model is Kiva, discussed here.)

Another very cool and donor-honoring feature: Donors Choose is totally open about their overhead costs, which are 15% on top of the cost of the proposed projects. Donors can choose not to pay for overhead. According to the website, 90% of donors elect to include overhead costs with their gift.

When you give, the feedback is excellent: an email right away. An email from the teacher whose project you've helped a while later. And, reportedly, letters from the kids after that. It's just a stream of feel-good stuff!

Is it any surprise Donors Choose is growing -- fast?

Visit this interesting organization. Check out how it works. Fund a project and get a first-hand donor experience. This is the Donor Power Revolution in action!

Previous Donor Power Award winner: Smile Train.

Thanks to dot-org for the tip.

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Who owns a nonprofit organization?

In an article in the Chronicle-Tribune of Anderson, Indiana, Lois Rockhill, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana, asks When profit isn't a measure of success, what's the bottom line? As a business is accountable to its owners (or shareholders), so is a nonprofit. But who are a nonprofit's owners?

Our owners are the people in the region who care about hunger issues and who have a stake in ending hunger in our eight counties. People in education see how hunger affects learning. Those in the medical field see the impact of hunger on health. Our legislators see how poverty and hunger undermine our economy and our work force. Local, state and federal government and the people who run associated hunger-relief programs care about hunger relief success in the private sector.

I love the idea of a nonprofit having "owners," to whom all our efforts are directed. But there are two groups missing from this list of owners: clients (hungry people), and donors.

Compared to those two groups, everyone else is a bystander.

You can't go wrong if you think of your donors as your owners. They've invested in you, and demand some kind of return for their investment. Not money, but a better world. It's something you need to deliver -- and clearly let them know you've delivered.

If donors are owners, it all comes down to two things:

  1. Your work needs to be effective at shaping the world in the ways your donors want to shape the world. There can be no compromise on this point.
  2. You need to report back often and with great vividity on the good work their giving makes possible.

Then you'll have happy owners who keep on investing in you.

(See also Treat donors as shareholders.)

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

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Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants: It's about communication


This week's carnival is co-hosted here and at The Giving Carnival at Tactical Philanthropy. The topic: What donors wish nonprofits knew about them, and vice-versa. Lots of good posts, with a wide array of thoughts:

Next week the Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants goes to Zen and the art of Nonprofit Technology.

Your dream donor



What donors wish nonprofits knew about them

Maybe you've seen the top-selling book by the inimitable Dr. James Dobson: What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women. Men who were persuaded to read it often did so with jaws dropping: That explains everything!

Maybe nonprofits need a similar book to enlighten them about donors. Until someone gets around to writing it, here's a short list of a few of the things donors wish we know about them:

Donors wish nonprofits knew their name. It just doesn't feel right when someone gets your name wrong, does it?

Donors wish nonprofits knew they gave. Duh. Yet far too many nonprofits fail to acknowledge gifts. That tells the donor either her gift didn't matter, or that you're sloppy (which, if you're not receipting, you are).

Donors wish nonprofits knew they're capable of making smart decisions. They get choices in other areas of their lives; they should get it in their giving. Let them designate, undesignate, partially designate, choose programs, choose communication channels and schedules. Donors know what works for them. They'll reward you when you respect that.

Donors wish nonprofits knew what they really care about. They tell us what matters to them by what they give to. You need to keep the topics they respond to in front of them.

Donors wish nonprofits knew what they don't care about. It's smart to offer donors the opportunity to become more deeply involved with what you do. It's stupid to insist that they do so.

Donors wish nonprofits knew they don't need to be "improved." "Donor education" -- i.e., making donors more like ourselves -- is a pernicious force in many nonprofits. Donors are fine the way they are. Attempts to re-make them in our own image are unnecessary -- and futile.

Understanding your partner matters in marriage. It also matters in fundraising.

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Are you wasting your energy selling crap?

Seth takes on ad agencies. In Did I say that?, he says:

The problem is that ad agencies have defined themselves as the people who take the mediocre products and add interesting ads to them, and washed their hands and say, we can't do anything about what the factory brings us.

Yes, that's the problem with ad agencies. (One of them, anyway; see Why advertising is so bad.) It's also the problem with marketing in general, including fundraising, whether agencies are involved or not.

Whether you're agency, in-house, freelance, or whatever -- what do you do when you get the assignment of selling crap? When you have to raise funds for a program that lacks merit, or an offer that's a lame cookie-cutter imitation of everyone else's offer?

You probably do the best job you can -- at selling crap!

I'm guilty of this. And I'm pretty sure you are too. Maybe we lack the leverage with the organization to change the product. Or maybe we haven't really tried.

We need to insist on more. More from ourselves. More from our leaders. The same old mediocre "products" just won't cut it for long with donors, who have more choices, and higher standards, every day.

What makes this hard is that it's not about marketing. It's about what you're really doing in the world. You can change that on a brief or in a brainstorming session. It has to be real. And that can only happen when the entire organization -- from the board on down -- is in complete alignment with the goal of being remarkable and doing uniquely cool things.

Until then, we're selling crap. Donors will start to notice, sooner or later.

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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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