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Archive for January, 2010


Tomorrow I’m off to Chicago for my favorite professional development event of the year. I hesitate to call it a conference, and at times I’m not even sure it’s a meeting. It’s more of a convergence of some of my favorite people in the business. In fact, this year it’s been coined a scrum. You should try it.

Every year, a small group of annual giving professionals from similar programs gets together in Chicago to share ideas, look at trends and pick each others’ brains. We initially gathered because we participate in a common benchmarking group, but it’s safe to say we would continue this practice regardless. We enjoy each other and respect our various opinions too much to miss an opportunity to gather. We actually get together twice annually, but this is the meeting has the looser format. And it’s probably the better of the two.

Part of the meeting is facilitated by a consultant, part is not. We have a basic agenda of topics submitted by the attendees, but it’s really an ‘organic’ meeting. We go wherever the discussion takes us. Outsiders might consider it to be the ultimate exercise in digression. However, if they paid attention, understood the purpose and opened their minds to the discourse at hand, they’d find a very productive and informative meeting. They’d leave with a notebook full of ideas. They’d feel recharged and ready to return to their offices to put those ideas to work. And they’d have quite a bit of fun, too. I often wonder what the new members of our group must think for the first hour or two. My best guess is ‘what have I gotten myself into!?!’ but it doesn’t take long for them to become active participants. And by the end they’re looking forward to next year.

With today’s economic conditions, it’s sad but true that organizations are cutting back on professional development of all types. The days of the formal conference in an exciting city are often distant memories, replaced with a discounted book from Amazon and perhaps a webinar or two. These are great, but nothing beats substantive face-to-face interaction with peers.

If you’re saddled with budgetary constraints and unwilling or unable to invest in professional development, you’re not alone. You might consider an ad-hoc gathering of professionals from similar organizations in your area or region. You don’t need expensive conference fees, fancy presentations or luxurious surroundings – just good people, good ideas, and a shared purpose. Find an out-of-the-way hotel, share the cost of the meeting room (or find another similar venue) and stay for at least 2 days. Your only significant expense is the hotel and your experience will be worth that many times over. I do recommend getting away from the office and spending the extra money to spend the night. Getting away means getting away even if you’re only 5 miles from home. If you want to take the next step, consider bringing in a facilitator. He or she can help guide the conversation and bring new annual giving ideas into the group. This would add an expense, but if shared among the participants it doesn’t amount to much.

I’m fortunate to have made so many great friends in this business, and I very much look forward to this seeing many of them this week. We speak on the phone often, but the magic really happens when you put us all in one room. I may eat too much and stay out too late, but it’s worth it. You should try it sometime.

If you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow me and also look for the #TAG2010 hashtag. Perhaps you’ll see some interesting activity and even an opportunity for an afterhours meetup!

Category : Uncategorized | Blog

You Asked For It

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I’ve had a couple of folks ask me what happened to follow-up on my ‘Pay It Forward’ post back in September. That post referenced an interesting article about the impact David Robinson (NBA) superstar has made through his philanthropy and led me to discuss my philanthropic goals. You can find the original post in the September 2009 archive at the GettingGiving.Com Blog.

Beginning in September I set out on a mission to ‘act more like an involved donor’ and become more thoughtful about my support. I’m sure most of us who write smaller annual giving checks don’t give much thought to their giving philosophy, but as gift size increases so does the research, soul-searching and analysis of various nonprofits. There is a big difference in your outlook when you are writing a $10 check than when you write a $1,000 or $10,000 check. I’d say the same is true as you get into $100,000 or $100,000,000 but I haven’t had that pleasure. Yet.

The main goal of my endeavor was to do a better job distributing my personal philanthropy. Think ‘focused giving’ rather than ‘sprinkle a little here and yonder.’ There was, however, a fascination with the process as I wanted to learn more about the thoughts and tools one would use to really investigate the options, and what I ‘felt’ along the way as I made my final decisions. No research could provide me with that feeling. While “I am not my donor” I am a donor and that experience can’t hurt.

I initially created a long list of criteria (which I seem to have misplaced) and I’ll do the best I can to outline the big ones below along with my answers:

  • National, Regional or Local (I chose local. I want to help close to home)
  • Environment, education, arts, food/shelter (Ended up with a hybrid education/shelter)
  • Must be able to see concrete examples, see that I made a difference (Done.)
  • Must trust nonprofit (Done.)
  • Must trust nonprofit’s staff/leadership (Done.)
  • Financially secure nonprofit, reasonable expenses, etc. (Done.)
  • Must understand mission, long-term goals of nonprofit (Done.)
  • Can I clearly define success of the organization (Yes.)
  • Can I volunteer and/or participate somehow (It’s an option, not now maybe later.)
  • Will a gift of my size make an impact in a meaningful way? (I think it will.)

My list was much more detailed and comprehensive, but you get the idea. It actually may have taken more time and energy to make the list than to answer the questions.

In the end, I knew I was already making significant contributions to my alma mater and this fulfilled my interest in education. Issues of poverty/shelter/food throughout our country are probably next on my list and I decided to focus my research there.

Utilizing a combination of Google, Charity Navigator, Guidestar, NetworkforGood and some others I looked for nonprofits whose mission closely associated with my goals. There were many you’ve heard of, many many many more you’ve not. It was almost overwhelming to see how many nonprofits are dedicated to this mission and the amazing number of different strategies they employ to address the issues. But I can’t support them all.

I had originally thought location didn’t matter, but by the end I was convinced I wanted to stay close to home. This helped reduce my options significantly (thankfully) and as I looked at the final few, it became clear what I needed most to make a decision.

Give me a good website! I need to learn more about you, your mission, your philosophy, your successes, your challenges. Make it easy for me to get the information I need and present it in a way I can understand it. Show me your progress. Make it easy to see your financials.

I need contact information! Give me a staff listing so I can call somebody if I have a question. Not just a ‘contact us’ form with no name, no numbers, no nothing.

Make it easy to give online! I didn’t make a gift online, but I’m an annual fund geek so of course I looked around! Sometimes it takes an advanced degree to figure out how to use an online gift form. I don’t have that kind of time.

Show your passion! If you don’t believe in your organization, why should I? I want to read it in your stories, see it in your photos and, above all else, I want to hear it when I talk to you. Show your excitement about what you do and the impact you’re making. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

Prove yourself! I was surprised that I needed as much ‘proof’ as I did that an impact was being made. I needed to see photos, hear real stories and be convinced that my gift would translate into some better outcome. Don’t just say it’s making an impact, prove it.

Respond! You don’t have to answer the phone on the first ring or reply to my email within a few minutes, but do not blow me off! I had two different nonprofits ignore phone calls. That’s right, I called out of the blue and left a message saying I wanted to learn more about their organization as I was thinking about making a gift. And they didn’t call me back. That simply amazes me. Needless to say, I didn’t call back either.

There are many more, but those six really stood out because my experience highlighted the lack of many to do these things well.

In the end, I chose a nonprofit I was already familiar with, Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County. Their mission is solid, their success evident. My gift will make a difference to them and the the lives of many. I can see the results. I can feel good about my investment. That’s important to me.

I’ve been a Habitat supporter before, but not at my current level. The smaller gifts were transactional but now it’s an investment. I studied the 990′s, explored the website and had personal conversations with the Executive Director and a couple of board members. I went to an event at which I was able to meet a Habitat Homeowner. I treated it just like I would any other significant financial transaction.

If I had to identify one single variable that helped make my decision easier it was the personal interaction with the people I spoke with, especially the Executive Director. It’s easy to see her excitement, passion and dedication. I can trust her. I believe my gift will be used appropriately and I know she is making decisions she believes are in the best interest of the organization and the people it serves. I didn’t need hours and hours of her time, but if I had, she would have happily shared information and answered as many questions as I could come up with.

As you think about your organization, your processes, your customer service and your people, how would you have looked in this situation? If a prospective donor was thinking about making a gift to a nonprofit like yours? If they were ‘investigating’ you and others alike to make a final decision about the allocation of their philanthropic dollars?

They’re looking. How will you look to them?

Category : Uncategorized | Blog

Blackbaud Online Giving Report

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Blackbaud recently released its annual report of trends in online giving and, if you haven’t been living under a rock, you probably know that once again the trend was positive. In fact, it must be categorized as a ‘really really positive’ trend.

An analysis of giving to more than 2,000 of its users leads Blackbaud to report growth of 46% over last year. If you’re keeping score, that’s after 40%+ growth in ’08 and 50%+ growth in ’07. Keep looking back and you’ll see the same story repeated year after year. Maybe this internet thing is here to stay!

Steve MacLaughlin, Director of Internet Solutions for Blackbaud, has a nice presentation detaling these findings (see below) as well as a presentation on “The Changing Nature of Online Fundraising” (also below) that I found interesting. He incorporates the Blackbaud data with some Pew research that I’ve mentioned before and some other interesting tidbits and advice. Additional info can be found on his blog at www.blackbaud.com/connections (I stumbled upon the 2nd presentation when looking at the first, and while I haven’t dug deeper yet I anticipate more interesting reading when I do. I also learned that Steve is a fellow Indiana University graduate and while we haven’t met I would assume that means he’s an all-around good guy.)

If I had to point out three take-aways from this information:

1. If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times more – the internet should not be thought of as a ‘young donor tool’ because people of all ages use the web to surf, shop and support. Look at your own data if you don’t believe me;

2. The 2008 Giving USA data shows more than $15 BILLION given online. That’s a B folks. It’s still a small piece of the pie compared to the rest, but it’s not insignificant and it’s not all $10 gifts. If you aren’t paying attention or investing resources in your online programs, you should be;

3. I don’t believe, in the near future, that online gifts will surpass phone or mail for most. It may happen someday, but for now let’s say it’s 3rd place and gaining steam. Successful organizations will think of them holistically. You don’t have a phone program, a mail program, an online program and a face-to-face program. You simply have a program. Many pieces, working together, make up that program – think integration;

3B. See above. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I’ve told the story before of the person who told me they were considering an elimination of direct mail because e-mail was cheaper and everyone preferred it. Wrong. Again, repeat after me: holistic. Donors have preferences. The various channels we use to communicate/solicit have advantages and disadvantages. Choose wisely, listen to your donors, measure your results, and allocate your resources accordingly.

Presentations are below. I’d love to hear your thoughts. . . . .

Two unrelated comments:

1. In the ‘Changing Nature’ slideshow, there’s an Apple II on slide 6. I had that exact computer. I’m sure my iPhone is 100x more powerful, but it made me miss the one I had many years ago.

2. My new year’s resolution was to blog more frequently and consistently. It’s January 6 now and my last post was 15 days ago. Hope you’re doing a better job with your resolutions!

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Category : Uncategorized | Blog