Monthly Archives: September 2009

Questions from donors – Are you ready with answers?

Donors have choices – lots of them.

Your organization is probably one of dozens that members of your community will hear from in the coming weeks.  Are you doing all that you can to set yourself apart from the “competition?”  Are you giving your potential donors the resources they need to make an informed choice?

Charity Navigator advocates that all potential donors take the time to ask charities questions about their programs, mission, and goals before they decide to support them. To help potential donors in this task, they have developed a list of questions that donors should ask before they begin the act of supporting a charity.

Regardless of what you might think about Charity Navigator – and I know many people struggle with the limitations of their rating system – these questions provide organizations a very helpful tool that can enhance their donor cultivation strategies. 

If you are an executive director, director of development, board member or other solicitor, are you prepared with answers to these or similar questions?  You know this is the advice being given to potential donors out there; change your approach to align your message with these issues.  Be ready to respond to the donor’s needs, not simply return to your organization’s pre-determined script. 

It’s like taking an exam when you were in school…except this time you know the questions ahead of time!

Here is an excerpt from Charity Navigator’s “6 Questions to Ask Charities Before Donating:”

  1. Can your charity clearly communicate who they are and what they do?
    If a charity struggles in articulating its mission and its programs, it will probably struggle in delivering those programs. If a charity can’t explain who it is and what it does, and why it is needed, find one that can. The stakes are too high and too many good organizations exist who know exactly who they are, what they do, and why they are needed.
  2. Can your charity define their short-term and long-term goals?
    Organizations without quantifiable goals have no way to measure success. If they have no way to know if they are successful, how can you be sure they are working toward something? Demand that your charity tell you what it is trying to do. Good organizations relish this opportunity.
  3. Can your charity tell you the progress it has made (or is making) toward its goal?
    Once again, it’s not enough to merely be concerned with a problem. Ask your organization what it has done to make the issue it confronts better. What are its results? You wouldn’t buy a brand of toothpaste if the manufacturer couldn’t prove to you that it fought cavities successfully. Why should you support an environmental clean-up organization if it can’t show you that it is cleaning up the environment?
  4. Do your charity’s programs make sense to you?
    If you support the mission of an organization, ask yourself if its programs also make sense. You believe in the cause, and you hope for the end result, but is the organization working toward that result in a way that seems rational and productive to you?
  5. Can you trust your charity?
    Research has shown that the overwhelming majority of charities in this country are not only responsible and honest, but well-managed. So we give with confidence. You should feel the same way before you give. Don’t support a charity until you feel comfortable with it. A happy and trusting donor is a willing and supportive donor.
  6. Are you willing to make a long-term commitment to your organization?
    We like to think of giving to charity as a long-term commitment, more akin to marriage than dating. Intelligent giving is motivated by altruism, knowledge, and perspective, not a knee-jerk reaction to a television commercial. Ask yourself if your charity is the type of organization to which you’re willing to make a long-term commitment. When you do this, you agree to support them through good times and bad, and provide the funding it needs to weather economic downturns. In return, it promises to continue working toward addressing the issue you both think is so vital.

Charity Navigator


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Smart Choices for Event Invitations

BizBash Magazine

BizBash Magazine

The latest issue of BizBash magazine highlights a few thoughtful examples of how with a few changes, you can save money without sacrificing style when printing event invitations.  With the advent of modest budgets and an increasing sensitivity among event attendees regarding the dollars being spent on galas – rather than on charitable mission – these are easy to implement steps that make a big difference.  Ideas include:

  • Simplify the images.  Complex images with tricky effects can costs thousands in extra printing costs.
  • Use photography instead of original art.
  • Switch from expensive printing processes to more straightforward four-color printing.
  • Stay away from non-standard invitation sizes and shapes; go simple to make it easy – and less expensive – for mailing.
  • Use lighter weight paper, or tear-off cards or online rsvps instead of separate cards.
  • Take advantage of digital printing; it can give you a bold look for often a lower cost.

The September/October 2009 issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, also features a number of articles on successfully managing special events in a recession.

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Year-End Fundraising Tactics

AAFPDC_logo_2cFP/DC Hosts a Breakfast Forum on Bailing Out Your Year-End Fundraising in the Ongoing Recession

This informative panel discussion will address such topics as maximizing year-end giving, improving online and direct mail fundraising at year-end, and how to maximize major gifts activities during these next weeks.  Panelists will include nonprofit practitioners from the DC area who will share some of the steps they are taking to enhance their year-end plans.

Thursday, October 15, 2009
8:00 – 10:30 .m.
Charlie Palmer Steak – 101 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC
$45 for members/$60 for non-members
Call the Washington DC Metro Area Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals at 202-547-0155 to learn more.  Click on this link to go directly to the registration form.

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Caution when using the word “Campaign”

You see the term everywhere, and not just in the political arena – “Campaign.”  Nonprofit organizations have been using the term “Capital Campaign” or “Endowment Campaign” for years to describe large-scale, large-goal fundraising efforts to build a new facility, increase financial stability or renovate existing structures.  But as fundraising and nonprofit management continues to grow in complexity, and as donors become increasingly overwhelmed by the growing number of organizations turning to them for support, is the word “campaign” become overused?  Has it lost its meaning?  Is it taking on a different meaning?

 I’ve been running into a lot of instances where nonprofits are using the word “campaign” to describe a new effort:  “We’re developing our new major gifts campaign.”  “Our board has created a campaign to build our annual gala.”  The sense I get from many of these organizations, however, is that in choosing this term, they seem to be looking for a way to quickly undertake something that’s really hard, get it over with, and go back to business as usual.  My worry is that when they think “campaign,” they are thinking of something that will have a beginning, middle and end, as opposed to creating a permanent effort that supports expanded ongoing fundraising, sustained donor relations efforts or a changed organizational culture.

Major gifts, for example, is not something that has a beginning, middle and end.  To launch a “major gifts campaign” runs the risk of implying to staff and board that when the goal is met, the work is all done.  The truth is, those new major gifts are just the beginning.  All organizations must establish ways through which they can systematically and continually engage their current donors in ways that encourage increased giving and stronger relationships.  And whether you have a handful of major donors or hundreds, it is still an ongoing process and must be integrated into your organization’s ongoing work.

Likewise, for most organizations, there will always be a need for special gifts, endowment support or contributions for capital improvements.  I know few organizations that couldn’t use more endowment or who haven’t had some unforeseen event come up and require some extra fundraising.  For organizations that live in the mindset that only a formal “campaign” can solve such issues, they will often never tend to these important funding opportunities.  On the other hand, organizations that stay in perpetual “campaign mode” run the risk of wearing out their donors, and burning out staff and volunteers.

Instead, organizations should build into their ongoing fundraising program permanent opportunities for supporting these needs.  If there are consistent, accessible options available, such as a “special needs fund,” or a named endowment, for example, organizations will have a ready-to-use tool with which they can effectively engage donors right away.

smalltreeandskyMy firm, Capital Development Strategies LLC is a member of a nationwide network of consultants who work with nonprofits of all sizes and who advise capital campaigns, ongoing fundraising programs and more.  The members of the Association of Philanthropic Counsel (APC) routinely share thoughts and ideas on a range of topics.  I posed this question to my colleagues and got some interesting responses.  Many concurred that they are turning away from using the term “campaign.” Some suggested that the term is off-putting to potential donors or intimidating to smaller groups; others felt it implied a level of sophistication in their development program that was simply not there.  They also are turning to terms such as “project,” “effort,” or “initiative” to describe these fundraising programs, thinking these terms more appropriately implied forward movement, or being pro-active. 

One APC colleague in particular, George Nehme of the Innovative Resources Group, offered that many organizations are migrating towards words or phrases that are more about the organization than the key stakeholders they seek to engage.  The “Campaign for XYZ” simply implies, “This is all about us, if you want to come along, please feel invited.”  George is finding, interestingly albeit slowly, that some groups are trying to break out of the “campaign” phraseology and trying to identify “action” words or phrases that embolden/inspire their key stakeholders to recognize that the effort is/needs to be a partnership.  It’s a provocative thought and offers nonprofits a chance to get creative.  His comments also remind me of one of the key aspects of successful fundraising – it’s all about the donor.  What steps is the nonprofit taking to meet the donor’s needs?  How is the fundraising program going to match up with the donor’s priorities and interests?

Should nonprofit organizations stop using the term “campaign” altogether?  No.  There are still plenty of times in which it will be appropriate.  However, nonprofits should resist the urge to use the term “campaign” as a way to confine, limit or box in a fundraising program.  Use caution.

When your organization last created a new fundraising effort or launched a new donor outreach initiative, what did you call it?  What went into creating that name?  How has that name influenced the design and implementation of that effort?  When was the last time your organization used the term “campaign?”  What effect did it have?  Tell us your story.

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Filed under Philanthropy and Fundraising