Catalogue for Philanthropy Released

The 2010-11 Catalogue for Philanthropy was released late last year. Published by the Harman Family Foundation in cooperation with a number of local partners and volunteers, it’s a specialized resource for nonprofits and donors here in the DC area. It highlights the work of more than 300 small community-based nonprofits AND provides donors an opportunity to undertake high-impact giving right in their own back yard. Since 2003, the Catalogue has helped to raise more than $12 million to featured nonprofits here in the area.
For more information, visit www.cfp-dc.org

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A Chance to Tell Us the Answers – How Are You Responding To Tough Donor Questions?

The firm’s October 2010 News You Can Use e-newsletter focused on the advice being given to donors. Specifically it looked at two lists of probing questions that donors should be asking charities before they make a gift.  The assertion is that if we take time to review these questions in advance, we can be better prepared when potential donors confront us with their issues or concerns.  Donors are increasingly looking to be in an ongoing dialog with their charities, a dynamic that sets them up as active investment partners rather than passive contributors only.  They feel they have a stake in your organization’s success, so they want to get some answers before they become part of your organization’s family.

A year ago on this blog I posted Charity Navigator’s “6 Questions to Ask Charities Before Donating” encouraging readers to be ready with answers.  This is an important topic, which is why I’ve brought it up again.

So what do YOU say when donors confront you with challenging questions?  What steps have you taken to prepare yourselves for the inevitable surprising requests?  How have you worked with your colleagues to make sure you had the answers ready when those questions came?

Leave a comment below and let’s see what others are doing out there to really engage their donors.

I will leave you with some thoughts to get the ball rolling:

  • For example, we know that donors are increasingly worried about the trustworthiness of organizations.  What are you saying to potential donors who day, “Can we trust you?  Are you an honorable nonprofit?”
  • Donors want to see results; they simply don’t take our word for it anymore that we’re doing the good we promise out there in the community. They want to see tangible data that demonstrates those results.  What does your organization do to communicate its results and impact in a way that engages donors while not overwhelming them with lengthy reports?
  • Recently there has been a greater emphasis on methodology, forcing nonprofits to explain exactly how they plan on addressing their various issues, causes or programs.  But balanced scorecards and logic models are still not the norm in nonprofit management circles.  How does your nonprofit help its donors to understand the means by which you hope to accomplish your mission?  How do you communicate that in a way that inspires understanding and confidence among your supporters?
  • Donors are being encouraged to find charities with which they can establish long-term, committed relationships, not just one-time giving opportunities.  What is your nonprofit doing to position itself as an organization worthy of long-term support?  How are you set up to maintain and strengthen those important donor relationships over time?

Share your stories.  Let us know what’s working in the field!  Thanks.

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Don’t put ’em to sleep or tick ’em off – Make sure your event attendees get what they want

The October 7 edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports on a new study on how organizations are working hard to make sure their special events and galas measure up to donor expectations while still accomplishing their overall goal – raising needed funds.   Organizations are going out of their way to create a memorable and – hopefully – special experience that will set their event apart from the numerous events being held this time of year.  This is especially challenging here in Washington or in other large cities such as New York, Chicago, Houston or Los Angeles, where there are wall-to-wall events, galas and benefits.

The Chronicle article focused on a study conducted by CharityHappenings.org, an organization that sells tickets to charity events.  They asked 850 event attendees across the country about what they thought when it came to event logistics, format, ticket prices, venues, menus and invitations.  It gave gala-goers a chance to weigh in on how they view their own experiences with these types of events.  One lesson: Be careful not to try to do too much, or you will wear out all of those good feelings your guests might be having…even with those glasses of champagne.  This usually starts to happen when the presentations and speeches begin.  Your annual gala might be your first, best or only opportunity to get your organization’s message in front of so many people, but you’ve got to think about your audience and their experience.  To use the words of CharityHappenings chief Justin Baer says, “Like every great sales pitch, it should be fast, lean and targeted.”

You can get a free copy of the 2010 Charity Event Market Research report at the CharityHappenings website.

Some interesting – but in some cases not surprising  – findings:

  • The biggest complaint about events and galas – long speeches!
  • The amount of the ticket price that most respondents felt should be going to the organization – 75%
  • The time during which most people buy their tickets – 1 to 2 weeks in advance
  • One of the least motivating factors in why they attended an event – celebrity appearances
  • Percentage of event attendees who say they prefer galas to have some sort of “theme” – 66% (2 out of 3)
  • The most popular nosh – sushi (no more scallops wrapped in bacon…)

So take some time and think about your upcoming gala, auction or benefit.  Consider carefully the experience you’re providing to your attendees.  Use the CharityHappenings survey to fine tune your approach.  Yours might just be the event everyone said, “Were you there??  You should have been!!”

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Filed under Events and Activities, From the Field & In the Trenches

What’s Fresh Today???

Our newest “News You Can Use” email is focusing on ways to take a “fresh approach” to familiar topics in fundraising, board development and nonprofit management.  Ideas raised included enhanced ways to do role playing, helping your donors to tell your story and enabling board members to stay busy while not asking.  For more information, or to get onto our mailing list, visit www.capdevstrat.com.

Now, it’s your turn.

Tell us what’s you’re doing that’s fresh, original, innovative or creative!  Use the comments section to share some of your ideas for how a new approach, a different tactic or a wild idea has made an impact on your fundraising and your nonprofit.  Are you doing something interesting with your fall appeal letters this year?  Are your major donor events taking on a special looking in the coming months?  Have you found a way to engage your board members that’s fun and memorable?  If so, share it with your peers.

Let’s recognize and celebrate your successes!  Tell us what’s fresh today.

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Filed under From the Field & In the Trenches, Philanthropy and Fundraising

Podcast of June 9 Extra Credit Session available

The podcast from the June 9, 2010 Extra Credit session, “Just Tell Me What You Want – Answers to the Unexpected Things Prospects Say” is now available.  This was the first in a series of free teleconference training sessions offered by the firm and presented by Marshall H. Ginn, CFRE.

Click on the link below for the handout that was used during the 30-minute presentation.  For more information on the session and for additional resources, visit the Extra Credit page on the firm’s website.

PDF Handout – JuneExtraCreditHandout

MP3 Audio File – 060910ExtraCredit

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A note from Transition Guides

This morning I received the latest issue of Leadership Guide, the email newsletter from TransitionGuides in Silver Spring, MD.  Their areas of expertise are succession planning and leadership transitions for nonprofits.  The newsletter featured profiles of three nonprofit executives who had successfully navigated the complex and often emotion-laden process of moving on from a beloved organization…especially when they are the founder!

I was especially struck by a consistent point found in two of the stories – the concept of “getting out of the way.”  Both leaders suggested that founders must make a special and focused effort to move on and, in effect, step out of the way of the organization’s progress and evolution.  Whether they’re hampered by a sense of guilt imposed on them by board and other staff members, or by their own sense that the organization could simply never make it without them, founders can actually be doing harm to their nonprofit by staying too long and not moving on.  It’s a challenging process to be sure, but it is essential to keep the best needs of the organization at heart and to keep looking forward.

Among the many resources offered by TransitionGuides is their popular Next Steps Workshop.    Their next event Next Steps Workshop: Succession and Sustainability Planning will be held in Washington, DC September 13-14, 2010.

I have many times seen how critical it can be for an organization to have a solid succession plan in place.

As a member of the selection committee for the Washington Post Awards for Excellence in Nonprofit Management, I have many times seen how critical it can be for an organization to have a solid succession plan in place.  Organizations that have done well over the years with this award process have all exhibited an openness to explore the challenges and opportunities inherent in leadership transition.  They give their chief executives time and permission to take advantage of resources like the Next Steps workshop.  And from my viewpoint, it’s made them all much stronger and better able to sustain strong leadership across the entire organization.

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Be Ready with an “Emergency” Ask

Picture this.  Your prospect is a very busy business leader. You’ve arranged a pre-solicitation meeting and you were sure that everyone understood that this was just going to be an opportunity to talk about the project, the need and the campaign.  About 2/3 of the way through the meeting, the prospect says, “This sounds really terrific, but I am leaving town for several weeks to oversee the opening of a new office facility across the country, so there will be no way that I can do a site visit.” 

It’s dawning on you that you’re not going to be able to see this prospect face-to-face for a long time, and she was rated as one of your top prospects.  You don’t want to waste this opportunity.  What happens now?

Even when you thought it was just going to be a cultivation visit you might need to quickly formulate an “emergency” ask.

When it comes right down to it, getting some form of ask out there might be better than nothing.  If you think an encounter like this is turning into your only or best shot at getting something from this prospect, go for it.

Now I’m calling it an “emergency” ask, but it really is something that you should have prepared in advance.  Take the time to practice this ahead of time.  If you need to make your emergency ask, you should be able to do it with confidence and without apologies.  Further, if you are going on a solicitation call with another person as part of a team, make sure you discuss this ahead of time.  Agree in advance who will say what, especially if the prospect goes off on a tangent or just cuts to the chase and asks for an ask, or as in this case, makes it clear that she’s not going to be around.

Here are some other possible responses…remember, you should make up one that feels natural for you.  So when the prospects says, “Just tell me what you want.” You can say:

“This effort is going to require meaningful stretch gifts from us all, and I hope you will agree that this project is critical.  I’ve gone the extra mile already, which is why I’m taking the time to talk to folks like you.  What I would like is for you to consider joining me in making a sacrificial gift to this campaign.”

“Thanks for being open to an ask already, but this capital campaign is very big project, and there’s more I want you to see before we get to that.  However, we would really appreciate your getting involved now as a donor to our ongoing programs.  Can we count on you today for a major donor level gift to the Annual Fund?” Make sure you include a specific $$ amount.

“We would like you to join the other community leaders who’ve already shown their support by making a gift to this campaign.  I know you care deeply about this issue, and I want to make sure you have the opportunity to play a part.  Can we count on you today to do something special?” 

Additionally, depending on which of these you might have used, you could simply follow up by suggesting a clear course of action for the prospect.  “Tell me what works best with your schedule.  Here are the next steps I see…First, visit our facility; second, meet with our CEO and third, consider financial commitment. Do you agree?  Are there other steps you want to take?   How do I best set these things up and communicate with you?”  Assume that there are going to be future contacts of some sort, and go from there. But be sure to suggest some form of action.

So don’t be afraid and don’t freeze up when all of sudden the script has to be tossed and you just need to get something in front of the donor.  Practice ahead of time and have that emergency ask in your back pocket.

This topic is one that we explored in “Just Tell Me What You Want: Answers to the Unexpected Things Prospects Say,” which was part of Extra Credit, a teleconference I hosted earlier this month.  Many of the participants agreed that taking the time to think through how we can respond when prospects go off-script and surprise us is well worth it.

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Filed under Events and Activities, From the Field & In the Trenches, Philanthropy and Fundraising