Direct Mail Drop and Social Media Rise

October 28, 2009

Outside of a vibrant major gifts program direct mail is probably the number one way to raise money at most organizations. And direct mail will still be a major way to find donors for a long time to come but not forever. It appears that direct mail is on the decline. I know that I am way more responsive to an email that to any letter that I receive.

I think that we are still at the early stages of social media fundraising and we will see direct mail continue to decline and social media & online fundraising continue to grow. There are already organizations that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars using social media. Every organization needs to start developing a plan around using social media. Wouldn’t you rather be experimenting now than catching up when it is too late?

My advice is: don’t stop the direct mail campaigns that you are already doing. But, start to incorporate an online component. Start to figure out who your social media leaders are and how you can engage them. It will take a little bit of time to teach your donor community to raise money online but if we keep waiting we may find out that someday soon we are behind.


Drowning in Agendas

October 26, 2009

Do you ever feel like you can’t get your day to day work done because you’re spending all your time working on agendas? I hate that feeling. I’ve always viewed agendas as a means to an end not the end itself. Meetings do have their value, as they are a great opportunity to enhance your relationship with those involved. I don’t think we will ever be able to get rid of meetings all together for that reason. But I do think we can be efficient, intentional, and productive with the kind and number of meetings we hold.

One great way to manage your time is to make it the responsibility of a volunteer to set the agenda for your meetings. I like to have as many volunteers lead as much as the meeting as possible as it gives them ownership. This means you will have to do more prep work and clearly communicate with the volunteer about your meeting goals.

At some point you need to be able to cap the amount of time you’ve put into agenda preparation. If you let preparing for meetings get away from you it can take all your time. I use a similar agenda format for each meeting. I will also create a draft version of the agenda and add too it throughout the week. My agendas have a consistent flow so volunteers know what to expect.

If I spend too much time trying to figuring out what I want the meeting to focus on that is a good sign that you might not need to meet with that group quite as often. When it gets close to the meeting I like to have things as nicely prepared as I can but at some point I need to get back to other work. Include an “other updates” or “other business” section in your meetings to cover those agenda items you’re afraid you might have missed.

Business Giving vs Individual Giving

October 21, 2009

There are a lot of new and brilliant creative and philanthropic successes in the world of business giving. Social enterprise is happening all around us doing tremendous good; Cause marketing is making us think differently about the products we purchase and the partnerships we create with businesses. I’ve been excited to see some businesses think creatively about their use of social media in connection with nonprofits. Aflac and Audi just finished Facebook causes campaigns using a matching sponsorship to raise awareness for their business and fundraise for a nonprofit?

With the exception of a few large gifts that typically have a marketing or business plan attached to them, businesses typically do not give as significantly as individuals. From my experience individuals and families are more consistently willing and able to give gifts at that level and higher. Business giving is important and a key component to a successful fundraising plan. Businesses think in terms of customers and marketing they want recognition and community impact more than traditional philanthropy. Family owned businesses can be very different as they often represent the giving of the family that runs the business.

Getting Settled In

October 19, 2009

I’ve found that it takes me about a year to really get settled into a new organization. I just had my performance review and it was really refreshing to acknowledge that we have found a good working pattern. It takes time to feel comfortable in any job. Regardless of where you work, developing relationships is the most important step to settling in. Take time to understand how to work with your boss and co-workers.

Have open communication with your boss about the projects that you are working on and their expectations of you. I’ve found you learn more from nonverbal cues than you ever do from verbal. Watch carefully how your work is received by other co-workers. If you continually find something is not working don’t be afraid to ask some questions and try a different strategy.

Wherever you work it takes time to get to know the donors. Each organization has its own particular kind of donors and volunteers. These relationships take time to build and it is important that recognized and understand what makes them valuable and unique. Your first year of interactions are often the times where you are tested the very most. They want to see how responsive you are and if you’re really listening to them. If you tell them you’ll follow up with them do it.

Get to know your key volunteers and work to understand what they do for the organization. I’m not talking about the “official” tasks but the unspoken ones of which they are the most proud. Watch for cues on how they want you to engage with them. Some volunteers want a little pampering and others want you to super responsive.

Juggling Lots of Balls

October 14, 2009

It seems we often spend a lot of our time trying to keep the many balls we are juggling in the air. I wish it was as easy as simply juggling. Sometimes your challenges are enhanced by difficult staff, volunteers, and donors. More than just keeping a rhythm of donor cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship we experience concerns about cash flow and reaching our target numbers. I find that it can be extremely hard to keep track of priorities in today’s development world.

Here are a few techniques that I’ve used to help me. I know many of you have more years of experience and, I imagine, tricks up your sleeve than I do. So, please leave a comment below with your tricks and tips.

  • Computer Monitor Sticky Notes: Beside my monitor I will often post my upcoming key deadlines or events. I may often just post my three most urgent projects so they are immediately in my view right when I sit down to work.
  • Daily & Comprehensive Task Lists: I have a friend who I use to tease about having a list of her lists and now I understand her system. Most mornings I create a list of what I’d like to accomplish that day. I also have a comprehensive list of everything I need to get done so I don’t miss anything. I think that the key here is writing down reminders to yourself.
  • Key Phone Call Content Sticky: When I have volunteers and board members I’ve a number of questions for I’ll create a sticky with a comprehensive list. Too often immediately after a volunteer has return my message I’ve called them back with a question I forgot to ask.
  • Top Donor Names Notecard: Too keep important actions and donors at the top of my mind I will have them on a notecard upside-down on my desk. That way other donors cannot see them when they are in my office but it acts as a reminder to me of my top prospects.

Featured Fundraiser: Katie Graf

October 12, 2009

This week’s Featured Fundraiser is Katie Graf. Thanks so much for your insights and words of wisdom! If you ever would like to nominate someone for Feature Fundraiser just send me an email. – Jason
Photo of Katie

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

My title is Development Director, Major Gifts & Grants for the Madonna Foundation, which supports the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. My background is in grant proposal work, major gift work is a new area for me and I am learning a lot. Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital is a Catholic hospital that provides medical and physical rehabilitation to children and adults nationwide – we had patients from 26 states last year – located in Lincoln, NE.

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

Initially I got started in fundraising because that is who would give me the opportunity to do more than photocopying. Nonprofits are always understaffed and most are willing to give you a chance to show what you can do. I got hooked on going to work for a good cause. Here at Madonna you see folks who have had their lives changed by a stroke or a car accident, something that could happen to anyone I know, and fundraising means the difference between that accident taking away everything important to a patient, and being able to help a patient regain their life in the fullest way possible. That’s a great reason to come to work.

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

I’m not the best person to give major gift people advice, but I have written grant proposals for a long time. I guess my best advice is to worry less about the writing and more about the message. I spend much more time these days worrying whether or not I am getting across any sense of need or urgency than whether or not it would impress my English professors. If you can find 2-3 sentences that tell a reader why it is absolutely critical they support your project, the rest seems to work out.

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

My pet peeve is being asked to find a project for a particular funding source. “How do we get funding from _______” is the wrong question. The need should drive all decisions about cultivating and approaching foundations – and donors for that matter.

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

There are all kinds of kooky donor stories – especially, I think, from college development offices it seems. Something about colleges brings out the folks who have stuffed mattresses with money or whatever. For myself, though, I like the ones where the process worked – doing the homework, making the connections, all the way through how keeping the good relationship after the gift led to another gift. These folks are the ones that keep us going.

What is the best fundraising advice you have ever been given?

My mom, who as a volunteer fundraiser has raised more individual donor money than I probably ever will, has told me in about 100 ways: Just get out there and ask. You can spend all the time in the world researching and strategizing but if you don’t actually go to someone and ask for what you need, it won’t matter.

America’s Giving Challenge #2

October 10, 2009

America’s Giving Challenge is one of my favorite online fundraising competitions. Last year the Causes application on Facebook raised over $600,000 for nonprofits during the challenge.

America’s Giving Challenge is a 30-day competition, running until November 6th that allows causes to compete for cash awards by inspiring the most people to donate to their cause, regardless of the dollar amount.

This competition has a $1,000 award every day for the most donations in a 24 hour period. There is a grand prize of $50,000 for the highest number of unique individual donations between October 7 and November 6. And there is also a runner up prize of $25,000 for second place and $10,000 for 3rd to 7th place (details & other prize info).

To get started start a new cause on Facebook or enter your current cause by visiting your cause homepage. Or, sign up on their website (and check the leaderboard).