Talking About Religion: Going Deeper

November 30, 2009

What we think and believe is important to all of us. I often find myself wondering what I can or cannot, should or should not say to donors, co-workers, and other staff. Should we always draw back from conversation in fear of what the response might be? Or are can we have a dialogue about what is important to each of us?

In a profession that is so people-focused and relationship-focused, it is hard to not involve yourself personally. Having a personal component to a relationship gives it richness and depth. I cannot ask personal questions for the sole purpose of soliciting for a gift. I really am interested in what is happening in the lives of the co-workers, donors, and volunteers with whom I work. For this reason I don’t think religion has to be a taboo topic.

Forcing thoughts about religion into a conversation is adversarial. The key is authenticity: don’t say something because you feel like it is what you “ought to” say or because you feel obligated. When you are talking about something close to your heart, it should be shared naturally from that same place.

I know this can be a very sensitive topic with many people. I am really interested in hearing from you as to what is and is not okay to discuss at your workplace? How do you handle conversations about religion or belief in your office and with donors that ask you about it?

Chase Gives $25,000

November 29, 2009

Wanted to let you know about a contest you can enter as a nonprofit. Chase is giving $25,000 to each of the Top 100 charities that are voted for on Facebook.

For more details and to vote for your favorite charity check out the Chase Facebook Page.

Voting from November 15 to December 11.

Announcing top 100 on December 15.

Playing Devil’s Advocate

November 23, 2009

The role of the devil’s advocate is important in any organization and with any project as it helps everyone to see another side to a situation or problem. Intentionally playing the role of the devil’s advocate can be a great problem solving technique for every team. Sometimes people are hired because of their different way of thinking and for having a different opinion.

Playing devil’s advocate allows us a more candid response on a project or proposal we are working on that we might typically get from a donor or someone else. This can help us refine our work and make it better. Have you played the role of devil’s advocate? How did that turn out? It can sometimes be a scary place to put yourself, how did it go?

Being a devil’s advocate does not mean that you have to “know it all” or that your opinion should carry any less respect than if you were presenting a more agreeable idea. Acknowledging to the team that you are intentionally playing that role is helpful to everyone as it gives them an opportunity to separate a statement from you personally. But be nice about it.

Popular Fundraising Models

November 18, 2009

From Penelope Burk to Terry Axelrod, there are a lot of different models and fundraising programs out there. Many development shops base their fundraising programs on one of these models. I’d love to hear back from you on what model you use and what you’ve found to be successful.

Donor Centered Fundraising– Penelope Burke: Focuses on personalizing your appeals and proposals to each individual donor.

Benevon– Terry Axelrod: Focuses on event fundraising using a tried and true program format. At the center of the event program is a compelling donor story. Using this model, events will be your primary cultivation tool.

Moves Management: This model involves planning each specific action you will take with your donors. After an action or move has taken place (such as a donor tour or solicitation), you plan another move for the donor through the cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship process. (Good external posts: Major Donors and Moves Management, Moves Management Key to Major Gifts Fundraising.)

Transformational Giving: The Mission Increase Foundation with Eric Foley has coined this term. The idea behind this model is that donor giving can transform an organization and a group of donors. This model is built on biblical principles and focused on using giving as a tool for life transformation.

Most of my fundraising has been in the Pacific Northwest, so I wonder how these practices are recognized nationally. Please share your experiences with these models and/or what other models are out there I did not mention.

Getting Started with Social Media Volunteers

November 17, 2009

After working for six months as the social media coordinator at Puget Sound Blood Center, I’ve learned valuable lessons about cultivating a base of social media volunteers. The social media community has an impressive commitment to volunteerism and nonprofit fundraising that. The Blood Center’s own social media volunteers send alerts via Twitter and Facebook during emergency blood shortages, educate friends through blog posts, leverage their social networks to fill blood drives, and donate special skills such as graphics design.
Before recruiting your own social media volunteers, be sure to have the following tools:

  1. Twitter. Learn this before others. Twitter allows you to rapidly get your nonprofit’s name out and to forge connections. Follow the social media leaders in your community and the potential volunteers you meet at events, and they will begin taking notice of you.
  2. Personal Facebook Profile. After you’ve known a potential volunteer on Twitter for a while, request to become their Facebook friend. Facebook allows for more relaxed, intimate communication.
  3. Facebook Fan Page. This acts as your nonprofit’s Web site on Facebook. Use it to create events, to post updates for volunteers, to share photos and videos, and to acknowledge volunteers.
  4. A Blog. Create one on or They give much freedom to customize the formatting, theme and multimedia content of posts.
  5. YouTube. This is your free video-hosting service. You can apply for an enhanced nonprofit account.

Use these tools as you network at local social media events. It’s not enough to contact potential volunteers online. Meet them in person. Browse the calendar of your local of chapter of Social Media Media Club. See if your city has tweetups (“Twitter meetups”) or social media charity events. Attend several, and invite others to become social media volunteers after they know you personally.
I started by inviting local social media leaders to spread word about the Blood Center’s first Tweetup Blood Drive. I established a date for this inaugural event and stressed how groundbreaking and exciting it would be. Volunteers received instructions, starting dates, promotional strategies and promotional tools. From June 1 (the start of promotion) to June 23 (The date of the drive), we got almost 200 Retweets, several Blog posts and 35 donations. I made sure to acknowledge all volunteers and blood donors in a publicly viewable blog post, complete with photos and a video highlighting their hard work. Such positive feedback, as I will explain in my next post, is crucial to maintaining your volunteer base.

Key Pieces of Database Info

November 11, 2009

Earlier this week I talked about the importance of knowing where to put donor information in your database. Today I want to talk about what information I’ve found to be the most inconsistent and, by keeping that data relevant, how much more powerful your database can be.

Most of the inaccuracies I find are in simple contact and personal information: addresses, phone numbers, and emails. How many donors have you lost touch with because you don’t have any way to get a hold of them anymore? Have you ever made a follow-up call only to find out the person you’re calling for is now deceased? That’s a mistake you do not want to make twice. The most valuable information I input into Raiser’s Edge often goes in as a note with text describing insights I’ve learned about a specific donor. These insights can be as simple as their daughter playing soccer or a story he tells you about why the mission of your organization is valuable.

There is value in keeping this information so you don’t have to ask the same questions every time you talk with the donor or when you have staff turnover. But think of how valuable it could be if, before you talk with a large business in town, you could search and see how many of your donors work at that business. An employer will listen better if they know that they already have a number of employees that are giving to you. It is not a significant challenge to put education information under the education tab, or current work info under the employer tab. But this can make a huge difference in your work.

Take the time to learn where these key pieces of information should be stored in your database and then keep them there. It takes just as long to write something on a post-it note as it does to insert it into the database.

How Well Do You Know Your Database?

November 9, 2009

Every organization I’ve worked for has always had a hard time using their database to capture donor information and keeping it up-to-date. Many will say this is because they don’t have the staffing to properly update the database. But I think that most often staff just don’t understand how it works. Every organization should make sure that they are training their new employees as to where donor information lives in their system. Most databases have multiple ways you can record and keep information and I’ve found that organizations hardly ever do everything the same way.

Take 30 minutes with your staff and help them understand how to update a donor record and where to input key information. You don’t have to be experts at managing databases, or using the prospect tab in Raiser’s Edge to create a valuable database. The biggest obstacle to using your database proficiently is understanding how to use it. If you have a database staff person, ask them to give you a quarterly or annual training on how to use your database.

Every organization has inconsistencies in how they input data. Your database person has a specific style they feel fits with your organization. It can be a huge struggle for that individual to keep track of donor information if each staff member is inputting differently into the system.

Do you have any tricks to keep information consistent in your organization? Is this an area you have felt immobilized by for a long time?