Friday, January 30, 2009

The secrets to Obama’s fundraising efforts: from the horse’s mouth..

As I spoke about earlier in the week, I’m currently at the DMA Nonprofit conference in Washington DC.

As you can imagine there was a lot of excitement about the presence of Meaghan Burdick, Director of Marketing, Obama for America who was delivering the first morning’s keynote presentation. I had to say I was a little skeptical prior as to how much detail would be shared about the campaign that raised $600m (USD). Yes, you read that right, $600m (USD).

Well, I have to say 'fair play' to Meaghan, she gave us the real lowdown.

In summary Meaghan credited the success of their amazing fundraising accomplishments to the following ingredients:

Investment and risk
Messaging and branding

Let’s face it, these were probably the things, broadly speaking, that we expected to hear. Yet hearing it articulated, from the horses mouth, so to speak - really brought it home for me.

In particular what I loved is the first one: investment and risk. Bingo!

Meaghan was quick to point out that their success didn’t happen overnight, donors and donations didn’t grow on trees. They invested, seriously. In technology, in good people, in office space, in testing. They took some gambles. Some which worked, others which didn’t. But of course more did than didn’t.

The point being that the Obama campaign realized that the 90,000 emails and 30,000 donors they started with at the beginning of 2007 wasn’t going to topple the democratic machine of the Clinton party, which already had significant capital to throw around.

Fast forward less than two years, more than 5,000 staff, a lot of blood, sweat and tears and a multitude of fundraising efforts (including mailing constituents every 2 weeks!) and they had managed to build a list of 13 million email addresses, 3.9m donors, and an extraordinary $600m.

Oh, and their candidate become the President of the United States...

Meaghan talked in detail about messaging and brand and the imperative to keep it consistent, which I blogged about last year. She insisted that it wasn’t about the man himself: it was about the movement and the necessity for change. The key here was to be incredibly disciplined and on message at every touch point with the American people. Be it on the telephone, through the mail, at public addresses and rallies, through to their online efforts.

I think it’s fair to say they did a bloody good job on this one!

We discovered more about the intricacies of what the Obama team did and the thinking behind their coordinated efforts. But for me the first two resonated really strongly in terms of lessons to be applied for nonprofits.

Growth doesn’t (there is always the odd exception) happen without a serious commitment to invest and take informed risks.

Clear and coherent (and usually successful) charities require a certain commitment to ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ and present a consistent message at all times. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell different stories, but always with an overarching theme about what it is that we are there to do.

A great session, thanks Meaghan. I’m looking forward to your next session at the conference..


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Training shouldnt slow down when the economy does...

I've been thinking quite a lot about training and personal development lately.

In fact I'm attending the DMA nonprofit conference in Washington DC this week, so obviously its top of mind.

What worries me is this. What's the first thing that charities are slashing right now? Training and development budgets.

To me it seems nonsensical.

Is the need for training, education and advancement lessening? No.

Can we do our jobs better if we aren't continually developing, absorbing loads of information and reaching out and meeting brilliant people? Probably not.

Then why are these budgets the first ones cut? The same reason that donor care, stewardship or retention budgets are often slashed. They aren't easily quantifiable.

At the same time I do appreciate that tough times call for tough decisions, and I don't profess to make all the right decisions. Far from it.

But I do hope this isn't an ongoing trend for 2009, drop off in attendances to conferences and workshops. Our brains need to be constantly stimulated and whilst it is time to knuckle down and get on with things, that shouldn't come at the expense of our own and our organizations development.

Anyway I'm consciously ramping up the FREE workshops that I'll be running at Pareto Fundraising. Click on this link to check out the upcoming sessions we'll be running. There is also information on this page about the nonprofit economic summit that I'm partnering with the Canadian Fundraiser gang on.

We'll also be doing more in March (at least one in Vancouver and Toronto) and monthly after that. So keep an eye on the events page on Pareto Fundraising's website.

What should you take away from the 30 seconds you spent reading this posting?

Don't allow short-termism to get in between your own and your organization's development. Training is as, if not more important than ever before.


Friday, January 23, 2009

US retail giants learning from the charity sector?

Maybe not, but that’s the spin that I briefly took from a recent Economist article about retailers such as K-mart and Sears moving towards - or back to - offering layaway (or lay-by) payment schemes.

For those not familiar with how a layaway or lay-by scheme works, it’s simple. When you purchase something, instead of paying cash or credit, you make regular (maybe monthly) contributions towards the goods until you pay it off. Then when you have paid it off, the goods are yours, but not beforehand. Sound familiar? It’s kind of like monthly/regular giving but there is a fixed period (assuming you make all of the payments).

So what the hell has this got to do with my fundraising program I can hear you saying?

Well it got me thinking of the parallels behind what we’ve been witnessing with our clients at Pareto Fundraising and the shift that some retailers are making right now.

The benchmarking work that we’ve been doing in recent times has very clearly shown, not surprisingly, that organizational income has dropped over the last year but individual giving continues to grow. In particular, monthly/regular giving is going from strength to strength.

Regular donors are a resilient bunch, we know that. Especially if we treat them well, update them, continue to ask etc.

In fact not only are we seeing growth in the value derived from existing monthly/regular donors, but we’re also seeing clients experiencing incredible success recruiting new donors straight onto a monthly/regular gift, for some better than ever before. For tips on this visit my earlier post about becoming smarter in our acquisition efforts.

The point of this rant?

To remind us that monthlyy/regular giving can still be a good investment, even now.

To let you know that income from monthly/regular givers for many organizations around the world is growing.

To share with you that it is still possible to recruit monthly/regular givers successfully.

And to let you in on a little secret that even retailers are cottoning on that an old fashioned practice such as periodic payments isn’t so old after all.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Surviving and thriving in challenging times . . .

My self imposed recession ban has been lifted which means I can give a plug to the upcoming event I am proud to be involved in with my good friends at Canadian Fundraiser.

The event Surviving and Thriving in Challenging times, sponsored by Pareto Fundraising to be held in Toronto on the 17th of February will bring together people from all parts of the sector to discuss what is happening out there in the trenches, and how we can best manage these turbulent times.

This is a Canadian first, with nothing else of this magnitude been run here to date.

It's an interesting bunch of talented people presenting on the panel and presenting. Oh, and I managed to score a gig as well.

We've got representatives from large and small charities, we've got researchers, consultants, leading Canadian philanthropists and social entrepreneurs.

The day promises to be full of meaty and useful information, lots of interesting discussion, some data to show what's really happening as well as some practical advice on what to do moving forward from some of the best in the industry.

Check it out.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Surveys: Part Three - Key consideratons before you get your survey in the post

Right, so you’ve convinced yourself and others that a survey sounds like a worthwhile exercise. And you’ve mapped out how you’re going to execute.

Before you actually get it in the post, make sure you spend time working through the following considerations:

1 Who are you going to mail?

Remember, treat this for all intents and purposes like an appeal mailing. Use a Recency, Frequency and Value (RFV) model to dictate your selections. But don’t get bogged down in this, an easy cheat is to include anyone who has previously given more than one cash gift, over $20 in value and within the last two years.

That being said, I’ve seen a lot of success going back even further, in fact with some clients going back to donors who havent made a financial contribution for five, even six years.

Most of my focus has been on sending surveys to existing donors, however surveys can (you should test this) be really effective ways to recruit new donors, as an acquisition tool. If you can get this working then brilliant, as not only have you developed a new and successful way to secure new donors, but immediately you have captured some really powerful information about them.

2 Capturing and storing data

I’d suggest there are three levels of data capture with a survey.

Firstly, there are the pieces of information (data) you absolutely need to be able to store on your main database, regardless of the platform you use. These include date of birth (if you capture it - and you should as a side note), whether someone has indicated they have left you a bequest/legacy and things like personal afflictions with your cause (I.e. they have told you they have lost someone to cancer). This is the sensitive stuff that donors would expect (and rightly so) that if you capture it you would have it at your fingertips when they speak to you.

Secondly, there is the data that you would ideally love to have readily available, but isn’t as essential as the category above. For example, when someone tells you they were motivated to support you because they visited one of your projects or that they are really interested in your sanitation project in Zambia. Again really useful and important data which you should make every effort to store and have easily available, but isn’t the end of the world if you don’t (and certainly not worth delaying doing a survey if you can’t store it)!

Thirdly, there is the data from the ‘filler’ questions I talked about. For instance someone tells you they support Charity X and Y as well as you, or that they have an income level over a certain level or that they hold a university degree. Some of this profiling information may be useful in terms of developing a donor blueprint for acquisition purposes, but doesn’t need to be held on your main database.

3 Processing the surveys

Fundamentally I don’t think any organization should try and process the surveys in-house (unless you are expecting less than a couple hundred surveys to be returned or you already have a large processing team that can handle big volumes and complicated processing).

Use an outsourced data processing house/bureau to data enter the responses to the questions. In terms of response, done properly you should a response of anywhere from 10-30%. Which means that depending on the size of your file you could be talking about thousands of surveys (with up to 20 questions per survey) to process. It isn’t worth the hassle of doing it yourself. Outsource it.

However there will be some element of sifting through the surveys when they are first received as for those people who also give a donation, indicate they are interested in leaving a legacy and so on, you do need to action these before they get batched and sent off to a third party supplier.

4 Getting the follow up right

You will be asking donors questions on a range of things and possibly asking them to indicate interest in varying areas such as attending events, bequests/legacies and even whether they would like to volunteering their most precious commodity, their time.

For those of you who love flow charts (and I do know some flow chart addicts!), you will love surveys. You need to sit down with the entire fundraising/development team (including supporter services) and map out each and every outcome that requires action from you.

I.e. Donor returns survey with a donation, indicates intending to leave a bequest and wants to volunteer at your annual bike ride.

Contrast this with . . .

Donor returns survey only, indicates interested in commencing a monthly gift and shared with you (in the comments section) their personal story of living with cancer

Two very different outcomes requiring very different journeys. Bottom line is you need to think through all of the eventualities and assign key responsibilities at every stage.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this step, for if you get it wrong it can be incredibly destructive. And I assure you, no matter how successful the survey is in terms of response, the number of donors who have told you they are leaving a bequest – if this process causes friction and turmoil, it will leave an indelible mark which may result in the survey being pulled next year.

5 Using the data (personalization)

This is the fun part. This is where you can take supporter relationship management to the next level.

I’ve talked about the type of questions you should consider asking (reasons for support, areas of interest, real motivation, satisfaction levels) – but before you execute the survey think about how you are going to use it.

There are obvious ways to use it, like this . . .

“Jonathon, I know you told me recently that you have seen for yourself the devastation of the Amazon which is why you were motivated to support us, which is why I know you will be shocked when I tell you. . .”

But I’d encourage you to think how you can use the information regardless of the topic you are talking to donors about. let’s say for example the appeal is focused on the Amazon and I hadn’t shown any interest, why not write something like this . . .

“Jonathon, when I wrote to you earlier this year you told me that you were really interested in the work we were doing in the Amazon which as you know is incredibly important. Right now however I am determined to ramp up our efforts on the effects of dangerous climate change. . . “

See what I’ve done here? Still used the data to make a personal connection, but even more cleverly.

I’ll wrap up there. I hope I’ve given you a basic blueprint for how to convince yourself and others why surveys can be one of the most fundraising tools at your disposal as well as some key things to think through as you pull one together.

As always give me a shout if you need any help on this, and I’d love for you to share your survey stories if you have any.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Surveys: Part Two - How to develop a survey that kicks goals

I've looked at the reasons why, now let's focus on the five key steps in developing an effective donor survey.

1 Ensure everyone within your organization understands and buys in to the reasons behind the survey. If they aren't sure or unconvinced - refer them to my earlier post on the five reasons why surveys rock!

This is incredibly important. Like anything you do, if people behind it don't support what you're doing, the whole thing can fall over.

The survey is being done for genuinely good reasons. It will help you get closer to your donors, which in turns help them get closer to your benefactors.

Finally, ensure that colleagues realize that this is an annual supporter survey, to be rolled out year on year. That allows you to monitor changes in donor attitudes, update crucial information and continue to support other fundraising efforts such as your planned giving program. We have clients at Pareto Fundraising who have run for and five surveys and who get the same level of response year after year.

2 Include well thought through, strategic questions.

This can be the time consuming and frustrating part of the process because once you've achieved buy in, everyone wants their 20 cents worth.

You need to be incredibly disciplined about this and when discussing potential questions ask yourself and your colleagues this..

Is the answer to this questions going to be 'just interesting' or can I use this information in some way?

I'm not suggesting that you can't include 'filler' questions that deliver 'just interesting' but I would limit them (say no more than 20% of the questions should be this type). An example of a filler question is asking someone what other charities they support. I'm yet to see a charity actually get any real use out of this question, but everyone finds it.. you guessed it, interesting!

You want to ask questions that uncover motivations for support, specific areas of interest, whether someone has a particular affinity with your cause, what they really think about your performance etc.

I'll talk more about how to use this information in Part Three.

3 Make it look and feel like an appeal mailing.

In other words, use all the things that work when you send an appeal/renewal mailing. Long letter, brilliant copy, a real story (case study), a clear message repeated throughout the letter, a deadline.

I'd encourage you, as always, to test the things above and other bits and pieces, like the inclusion of images throughout the survey and the layout and structure of the questions.

4 Ask for a cash/one off donation as well as asking them to fill in a survey.

How could we forget to ask! This is one example of where you can confidently and effectively ask someone to do two things within one communication. We have tested with our clients at Pareto Fundraising the inclusion of a cash ask within surveys and it doesn't suppress response to the survey. So as long as you ask appropriately and clearly, ensure there is an ask in the letter.

I'll talk about who to send the survey to in Part Three.

5 Promise to feedback, and make sure you then do it.

In the covering letter as well as being really clear about why you are asking your donors to complete the survey, let them know you will feedback some of the findings. Give them an approximate date you will feedback.

And then make sure you do it. It ca be in the form of a donor care letter, I.e. a non ask/feedback letter, or even within your next newsletter.

The main thing is promise to feedback and then follow through on it (within 2-3 months of the survey being sent).

If you follow the five key steps below you're well on your way to producing an inspiring, useful and effective donor engagement and fundraising tool.

Next I'll talk about some key things to consider before you get the survey in the post.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Surveys: Part One - The five reasons surveys rock

This week I'm going to talk about donor surveys.

Today I'll start with the five main reasons I believe surveys are so critical for any organization who is serious about practicing genuine supporter relationship management. In part two I'll look at how to undertake a survey and finally in part three I'll point out some key considerations.

1 Surveys are a great way to involve donors. Executed correctly, a survey gives donors a real opportunity to do something and feel as if they are helping you help your beneficiaries in ways other than making a financial commitment.

Our experience at Pareto Fundraising has shown that getting donors to do something other than donate increases their propensity to give to you, both at that point in time and down the track. So in essence what you are doing is increasing the value of that donor over time by asking them to do something now, other than donate.

2 They provide incredibly useful data on who your donors are, why they were motivated to support you, areas of your work they are interested in, what they think about your work, whether they believe you are doing a good job.

The key here is then respectfully and appropriately using this information once captured. Used properly, see example below, this information allows you to hyper-personalize communications with your donors.

"...And I know from our recent survey Mrs. Jones that you, like me, are genuinely concerned about the current situation in Darfur. Which is why I am writing to you today..."

3 Surveys solicit feedback on you. Not only are you asking supporters for information about them, surveys allow you to gather feedback as to how donors think you are performing, whether they think you are spending their money on areas that are making a real difference. A useful thing to measure over time, as well as allowing you to have a onversation with someone who isn't convinced you are walking the walk.

4 Bequests. In terms of sheer impact, the biggest way to make your surveys pull their weight is by including a question about donors' Will status and whether or not they have chosen to leave your organization in their Will - or whether they may be thinking or considering doing so.

I'll talk more about this in considerations later this week, but done properly this can transform your bequest/planned giving program.

As a side note, there are also opportunities to include other prospecting type questions in your surve: namely around monthly/regular giving, major gifts and also things such as events or volunteering.

5 Surveys help your donors help you find new donors. Think about it. By capturing information on these people including demo/biographical information - donors are helping you develop a donor blueprint which you can then use when developing your next round of acquisition targeting - helping you reach out to more people like the ones you currently have.

Hopefully I've convinced you about the power of surveys. Put simply, they rock.

If you need any more convincing let me know! Watch out for Part two later this week...


Friday, January 9, 2009

A recession ban next week...

That's right, I'm asking you all to ban all talk of the global downturn, recession proofing, credit crunch, blah blah blah.. for the next week.

Frankly, it's downright depressing and more than anything else, distracting.

Kimberley MacKenzie asked her readers to Snap out of it! in her recent post, referring to the incessant whining and barrier building rut we seem to be catching ourselves in.

Here, here Kimberley. Well I'm going a step further and asking for a ban on all things related to the 'R' word (see I'm not even saying it already) next week..

But before my self imposed embargo begins, I would like to share some of what's happening on the coalface for many of our clients at Pareto Fundraising.

Hopefully I'll have some final results to share shortly, but the state of play of recent appeal and acquisition mailings has been a mixed bag.

It would appear around a quarter of our Aussie clients will exceed target (and last year's results), around half will be around the same as last year (give or take) and the remainder will be down, some significantly.

One client lodged some direct mail acquisition prior to Christmas and the results we have seen (with an ask straight to regular/monthly giving) have been phenomenal. Well above target and close to their best performing results ever.

Here in Canada we've lodged our first appeal mailing and already the appeal has far outstripped last year's appeal and looks set to hit target (which was
considerablyhigher than last years' appeal).

So what does this mean?

It means exactly what it means. Some clients will continue to thrive while others may struggle.

It means that to quote Kimberley MacKenzie we should "Stop whining and worrying and just get to work".

It means we should worry about we can control, not what we can't.

And I hope it means that the week commencing January 12, 2009 is "recession ban week"..


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tradition can be destructive

"Because that's the way we have always done it".

I've said this before, but if I had a dollar for every time I have heard that. Well, you know the rest...

And as the image above illustrates, just because you've always done something doesn't mean it isn't incredibly stupid.

This dawned on me over the weekend when I learned of the tragic death of a young Canadian hockey player after being involved in a fight on the ice a few weeks earlier.

Don't get me wrong, I love hockey (and I've only been living in Canada 9 months!) but I don't get the whole fighting thing. Trust me, the purist (male) in me likes nothing better than seeing two guys going toe to toe in a sporting contest, whether that be a game of football or in the boxing ring.

But surely in 2009 allowing this to happen in a game of hockey is just plain crazy? I am sure the traditionalists would say at this point, "but it's part of the game, blah blah blah..."

Again I draw them to the image above and the poignant caption below it.

So back to fundraising for a moment.

Doing what we did last year because we did it that way the year before that, and in 1995 and in 1863 (Ok I'm being a tad facetious here) can often be really destructive.

This applies to big picture, strategic decisions (like which areas of fundraising to invest and focus in) to really tactical examples on a day to day basis.

One classic example of the latter is the use of 'thank you' letters. Most thank you letters are dull, lifeless and frankly a 'rip off' from the version we used last year or last campaign and so on and so on...


Because it's easy and it was adequate last time round so must be again this time, right?


We can often be inhibited by decisions and behaviors of the past. But let's make your first (fundraising) resolution of the year to not allow tradition to stand in our way and become destructive.

Make the right decisions for the right reasons. Not because someone made the decision for you six years ago.