A Few Event Rules

February 23, 2009

I am not an events person. The last couple of months I’ve been running a number of fundraising events. I thought it might be valuable to talk about a few of the rules and mistakes that I’ve learned along the way. I imagine many of you are solid events people so just take this time to laugh at me and please send any thoughts or advice. Today I’ll focus on a few of the rules.

  • Plan in advance; invitations need to go out at least 6 weeks before the event.
  • Generally don’t have events on Friday evenings or weekends. People are not as interested in attending events as this is their time for socializing.
  • If it is a house party it is often common practice for the host to cover the cost of the food. If it is another kind of event often times the nonprofit (or sponsors) will cover the cost.
  • Take time before the event to prep key staff that will be at the event on who is coming. It can work really well to have an action plan for a few of the guests before the event starts.
  • It is often common practice to send thank you letters right after an event. Prepare these letters in advance so guests receive them within a couple of days of the party.

Elain Evans: Featured Fundraiser

February 16, 2009

Today’s “Featured Fundraiser” is a long-time friend of mine Elain Evans. Feel free to refer someone that you think I should feature. Thank you Elain for sharing your wisdom.

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

I am the Associate Director of Annual Giving at the University of British Columbia. I manage a team of 8, plus 70 student callers and we focus on raising gifts up to $25,000 through direct response.

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

I choose the organizations that I work for carefully because in the 16 years that I have been a fundraiser, working for a half dozen organizations in four different countries I have always aligned myself with a mission that I am passionate about. Fundraising is not just a paycheck. Working at UBC is a full circle to my adult life. The scholarships I received for my own post secondary education changed my life, and therefore I am totally committed to raising money to help other students – realizing it will probably change their lives too.

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

Make your fundraising emotionally compelling. I don’t mean make your donors cry three times, but rather find a way for them to feel what you do. I am very proud of the way we have incorporated storytelling into UBC’s direct mail (and the lift in response since we approached it this way). I also strive to be truly creative, people are so bombarded with messages these days, more so than ever with the amount of content on the internet, so to rise above all the ‘noise’ I try to be innovative. Lots of fundraisers look to what their fellow fundraisers are doing and do a variation on a theme (Livestrong bracelet’s and all the look alikes come to mind?), but I would rather be the first. That means taking risks, pushing creative to the edge and looking outside of the not-for-profit sector for insight into trends and approaches. I pair all the creative efforts with solid systems to organize production. I use Microsoft Project to track campaigns. I work from a creative brief and require anyone we write direct mail for to sign off on creative concepts just as an advertising agency would. I push my printers and mailhouse to keep me up to date on with any new capabilities they have so we stay on the cutting edge. The ying yang approach works and keeps the 30 different faculties, schools and programs I create direct mail for happy.

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

For the most part I love what I do but a few things come to mind.. Boards that don’t like fundraising and don’t participate in the process (thankfully I don’t have to worry about that now), being grossly under-resourced, people who don’t appreciate fundraising as a skilled profession and when fundraising is separated away from an organization’s mission.

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

All my work is pretty visual so I will share a fundraising joke (the only one I know). A doctor, a lawyer and a fundraiser arrive at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells the doctor that he will grant him one wish before he enters heaven so the doctor asks for a million dollars. St. Peter grants the wish and the doctor enters into heaven. This generosity did not go unnoticed by the lawyer so when St Peter asks him for his wish the lawyer asks for a billion dollars. St. Peter grants the wish and the lawyer enters into heaven. When St. Peter asked the fundraiser what she would like, she says, “If it is not too much trouble could I please get the business cards of the two people who entered heaven just ahead of me?”

Online Giving Thoughts

February 3, 2009

Yesterday we heard from DonorPerfect and why their clients are having success during hard economic times. Today is the rest of my conversation with Jon Biedermann, Vice President at DonorPerfect and here are a few of his thoughts about online giving.

Are you seeing online donations grow at a larger proportion to what they have been in the past?

We have certainly seen on-line donations continue to grow, and expect that trend to continue. However, it still only accounts for a very small fraction of overall giving- currently hovering at only 3%! Organizations with younger constituents will likely see this percentage grow rapidly over time. Others will see a slower growth rate. Finally, certain transactions, such as major gifts or bequests, will never be enabled on-line because the cost to do so is prohibitive. It’s one thing to accept an online donation for $100 (and pay for the ~$2-$4 in processing costs), it’s quite another to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in transaction fees when a check or wire transfer is very inexpensive compared to a multi-thousand dollar gift.

Do you see online giving as an important strategic area of growth for nonprofits during these economic times?

Online giving is another tool that non-profits can use to maximize their giving. It is unlikely to replace traditional fundraising techniques (e.g. direct mail, planned giving, etc.) for many years and in some areas (such as bequests and major gifts) it is unlikely to ever happen. But like the frog that’s caught in a pot of hot water and won’t jump out before it’s too late when the water boils, nonprofits can’t ignore on-line fundraising either.

Success During a Recession

February 2, 2009

I heard from DonorPerfect that their clients have seen a 6% increase in donations during this economic downturn. I thought it would be great to hear why they have experienced success while other nonprofits are having a hard time. Jon Biedermann, Vice President at DonorPerfect offered to share some tips as to why they have been so successful.

What has your organization done to create such great success in spite of a down economy?

I think our clients are more successful because we work closely with them to:

  • Raise more money by uniquely targeting donors with the right message
  • Build donor loyalty through better communications and acknowledgments that increases overall giving
  • Analyze trends and patterns within their database to identify missed opportunities
  • Track all information in one data source so that “no donor goes untouched”.

Another reason why our clients are more successful has everything to do with technology. For example, most nonprofits don’t use professional fundraising software- they muddle along on spreadsheets or cobbled-together Access databases. These solutions really aren’t solutions at all, and in many ways hurt an organization’s chances to grow.

What can nonprofits do to increase their giving during this time?

There are many ways nonprofits can continue to grow their giving, even during times such as these. Here is a recap from a recent blog post of mine:

  1. Be honest. Mention the economy in your appeal. One of the reasons people give is to help others not so fortunate.
  2. Offer an upgrade path. Encourage people to give more than in the past (while still offering their same support level).
  3. Offer a monthly giving program or pledge option. Donors usually contribute more when they have the ability to spread out payments over time.
  4. Offer a credit card option. Average donations for credit card gifts are up to 20% higher than other forms of payment.
  5. Be persistent. The number one reason people give is because they are asked. In fact, it usually takes 3 to 4 ‘impressions’ before people make a donation.

One of the greatest mistakes that organizations can make during times like these is to stop certain fundraising activities, such as acquisition campaigns. Though it is expensive to acquire new donors, the cost savings that they may realize today pales in comparison to the future revenue that is lost. Therefore, now more than ever it is important to keep fundraising to ensure your future income flow.