Economic Troubles: Featured Fundraiser Tom McLagan

November 26, 2008

Here is the last post in the Featured Fundraiser series. If you know of someone that is a good fundraiser let me know and I’d love to include them in a post like this at some point.

How hard will charities be hit by the current uncertainty in our economy?

I think it’s too early to tell. To some degree the financial part of this crisis has impacted the real economy in the form of home foreclosures in the U.S., but the full extent of the ‘real economy’ impact is still unknown, and a new American president’s policies will affect to some extent how the problems will play out. For those of us north of the 49th parallel, we don’t have anything like the credit problems the U.S. does. The main effects on our economy will be as exports to the U.S. dry up as a result of lower demand, which will in turn be a result of a slowdown in the real U.S. economy – and as I say the extent of that slowdown is still indiscernible. This effect on Canada will also be mitigated by two factors: the fact that our dollar has sunk in value – which helps Canadian exporters, and also the fact that oil has dramatically reduced in price. Of course, this hurts our oil industry, and is not good news for our climate. But there is no question that lower oil prices also boost the overall economy both by reducing the price of a key expense of many families and businesses, and, importantly, by dampening inflation.

This is also a tough question because some charities are far more dependent on capital gifts than cash gifts. It’s safe to say that those reliant on gifts of stock are going to feel the pinch much sooner – especially those in the midst of capital campaigns – and I know for a fact that some of them are already feeling it. For those that rely on donors who give out of their income instead of giving out of their investments, the picture is far less gloomy. In fact, there is empirical evidence that some people give more in the midst of hard times because they become more attuned to the needs of others. I have actually witnessed this personally in talking with two major donors very recently, both of whom decided to significantly increase their giving. So all is not lost.

And I would say that even for those reliant on gifts of stock, though there will be some belt-tightening in the near future, brighter times will come – and even sooner in Canada I think. Sad story. I was involved in a small capital campaign that sent out a mailing one day after 9-11-2001. How well do you think that went? But somehow, when all was said and done, the building eventually got put up. The long view is important in these things. I think a lot of us working in charities are long-view people or we wouldn’t be here in the first place. But I’m speaking only for myself…

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Solicitation Stories: Featured Fundraiser Tom McLagan

November 25, 2008

The second part of an interview with the current Featured Fundraiser. Check out the previous post to learn more.

Do you have any memorable donor visits or solicitations that you’d like to share?

One time about eight years ago I got an emergency year-end call from a young couple that wanted to make a large gift. He was an ‘up and comer’ in his company and had been awarded some stock certificates, which I had to rush over to their home to physically pick up. They wanted to hear about the kinds of programs into which they could invest this sizeable gift. The thing that struck me was that this couple was so sincere and compassionate. This guy was doing really well at work, but he wasn’t one of those jerks climbing the ladder over everyone else’s back. You could just tell. He actually started crying as I was opening the materials for them, and explaining the kinds of things their gift could do. They ended up doubling the amount of the gift they were intending to make – which was already substantial. But that wasn’t the best part of it for me. It was knowing that I had made a connection between these donors and their desire to make a difference, out of their own abundance, for someone else in need.

What is the most frustrating or difficult thing about fund development?

The most difficult thing about fundraising has nothing to do with donors or asking for money. In my experience it has always been the coordination among the departments within the charity. Though organizations have different terms for them, every charity has three main functions: the fundraising function, the program function, and the administrative function. Think of them as the three legs of a stool. These departments each attract people who are of fundamentally different personality types, and more importantly, different orientations. The program people are oriented toward the end beneficiaries of the charity, the fundraising team is oriented toward the donors and the administrative team is oriented toward rules and infrastructure. At least, these things should be true and they usually are, because those jobs attract those kinds of people respectively.

I have worked in a very small charity, a very large charity, and one that is somewhere in between, and I am constantly frustrated by the lack of communication, but more fundamentally the lack of basic understanding or worldviews among the three departments. A charity can not capitulate to every donor demand or it risks going off mission. It can not be too administratively oriented or it will grind to a halt under a burden of unnecessary rules and paper. And if it is too indulgent of the needs of the program team then it can lead to proposals that are unmarketable to donors. Each of these scenarios represents an unbalanced approach. What frustrates me is the propensity of most of us to fight for the dominance of our own perspective over those of the others, rather than the realization that if one of the legs is longer than the others, it makes for an awkward stool!


Featured Fundraiser: Tom McLagan

November 24, 2008

It is that time again for the Fundraiser of the Month. I’ve found that each Fundraiser of the Month has so many good things to say and I keep packing it into one long huge post. So… I’m going to start calling this person the Featured Fundraiser and let them take the time over a couple posts to say what they have to say. This month’s Featured Fundraiser is Tom McLagan and he has some great words for us.

What kind of fundraising do you do and who do you do it for?

I’m the Director of Development for Partners International Canada, a mission that works only through indigenous (i.e. local) organizations in 56 countries worldwide, bringing the message and the good news of God’s love into challenging environments. I have a team of six, including myself. We’ve tried to focus our fundraising on two areas: major gifts from individuals and churches, and also donor service and retention, along with modest donor acquisition activities. There are many different activities that keep us busy in pursuit of these to areas of focus.

What keeps you going? Why do you keep working in development?

There is only one thing: the knowledge that I’m making a difference. It’s not a hope or a vague feeling, but real knowledge. I know that school buildings exist because of my efforts; that poor children are being cared for because I recruited sponsors, and that people are finding hope in because I’ve connected donors in Canada with important missions abroad. Through my team I hope to multiply my efforts so more can be done.

What tips/advice do you have to other fundraisers in your field?

In my field, which connects with other, more challenging parts of the world, my advice would be to always put the donors physically in front of the need as much as possible, or vice versa. Universities and hospitals have the distinct advantage in fundraising of being able to much more easily take donors to their sites. This lets donors feel the need personally. We who work internationally need to erase that advantage by taking our donors to the field, and also by bringing aspects of the field here to our donors. This latter suggestion usually takes the form of visits by field personnel. This is an uphill battle because all charities are frugal, both by necessity and by inclination, but these are investments worth making. We need to have an investment mentality. I feel that some charities are “penny wise, pound foolish”. Thriftiness is important, but it can also blind us from important opportunities if we aren’t careful.


The Fundraising Disadvantage

November 19, 2008

Yesterday I wrote about some of the great advantages of working in fundraising. Today I’m going to talk about what are some of the disadvantages. I enjoy my work a great deal but it is not all roses and rainbows. The largest perceived disadvantage is pay. Fundraising sometimes gets a bad wrap as the pay is a lot better than it use to be. I consistently make around $10,000 under market, but I still make enough to do the things I want to do.

You have to rely very heavily on the work of community volunteers. This can be really exciting but can also be difficult and frustrating as they have thousands of other things they are working on. And, because involvement is connected to hearts and wallets volunteer work can sometimes become rather political.

It can be hard to measure success because what you are doing is so relationship based. Measuring only by dollars raised can lead to low employee moral especially in difficult times. Fundraising leadership is very different than what you’ll find in other industries as most decisions are made by consensus. Leaders have less of an ability to autocratically lead which can make leadership more challenging.

My biggest frustration is about how much staff actually get to ask for money but I’ll write more about that in my next post. How about you? What do you see as a disadvantage about fundraising work?


Faith or Fundraising

November 5, 2008

This is a topic that I think about a great deal. How does what I believe impact how I work and how I fundraise? This may be a weird question for some of you but it is on my mind a great deal of the time.

I do believe that Jesus is the hope of the world and that I have a personal relationship with him. And it is my love for the world God created that motivates my work in nonprofit. Because fundraising is so relationship-based there are great opportunities for some incredible discussions.

My faith or fundraising dilemma is a conflict between building programs and changing people. Fundraising can become so mechanical about talking to the right people about the right things and almost looses the deep human relationship. Sometimes I get caught up in catering to the major donors and those that are the very most well off. I try and use my faith to remind me of the value of ever conversation and every giver.

Another difficulty I have is that I do not always see a direct connection to my beliefs and my passions. Providing scholarship opportunities, or keeping someone’s house warm are great things to do but they do not provide answers to heart problems in the world and in the lives of our clients.


Obama Crowned Direct Mail King

November 3, 2008

Regardless of your feelings about Obama or McCain I have to take my hat off to Obama’s direct mail fundraising campaign. Recently, I heard that he has over 2 million people on his email list.

Obama has done a tremendous job integrating email appeals with his website, television media, and text messaging. He has also done a brilliant job segmenting his database I have received messages from his campaign manager, Michele Obama, Barrack, and my local governor. Every time they email me they ask for a donation and a call to action of some kind, such as a debate on TV, or encouragement to sign-up with their local office to volunteer.

There are some things he can do that we can’t. He only has a short period of time to raise money so he can get away with sending 1 or 2 emails every week. He also has a higher television profile than any of our charities do. I am very curious to see what he is going to do with his fantastic mailing lists after the election.
Do you receive Obama or McCain’s emails? What insights would you like to share from Obama or McCain’s email campaigns?

Side note: My next “Online Interview” will be about direct mail & email solicitation letters if you know of an expert that might be interested in participating please let me know.