Saturday, February 28, 2009

A new way of learning...

I post quite a lot about professional development. It's something I am passionate about.

Great fundraisers are great fundraisers because they absorb lots.

So I'm always intrigued by new learning opportunities, none more so at the moment than the new initiative being piloted by the Resource Alliance as they are about to undertake their first 1st International Fundraising eConference.

It is believed this is the world’s first fully web-based international fundraising conference featuring three days of state-of-the-art knowledge about fundraising on the Internet.

And if you ask me, it looks like bloody good value at $US275. Considering you could have 15 colleagues all logging in wherever they are in the world, this looks like a real winner.

Three days of really solid and practical training from the likes of Scott Goldstein from the Obama campaign, Nick Allen from Donor Digital in the US, Marcelo Iniarra who runs his own consultancy in Argentina, whom I am led to believe is a brilliant presenter - as well as plenaries from the drivers behind online fundraising at Kiva and the nonprofit arm of youtube.

Let's face it, digital/online sessions are always the most heavily attended sessions at any reputable fundraising conference these days.

And I know that when we should be increasing the spend on professional development, many are slashing it. This is a real worry.

So there is no excuse. $275 for three days of brilliant learning opportunities for you and your colleagues from the comfort of your own office. Fantastic!

I'd suggest signing up now, putting on the kettle, find a nice comfortable chair and absorb as much as you can.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Raccoons and a paralyzing fear of failing

What the hell have raccoons got to do with a fear of failing? Well, nothing. At least on face value.

But I wanted to write about both today and there is a link. Let me explain.

You see, I’ve blogged a lot over the past year about what’s different/the same about working in the Canadian charity sector and other parts of the world I’ve worked in. Those who have come to know me over here know that my response is usually the same when asked that question: not much.

Of course there are some differences, some nuances.

Let’s start with the raccoons. I can safely say that I have never shared an office with a raccoon before. Maybe some domestic pets, maybe even a possum. But a raccoon? Never.

Until now. You see last night as I was wrapping up for the day I peered out the window onto the patio and saw what I thought was a medium sized dog. As I squinted my eyes to adjust to the darkness that had set upon the day, there it was. A very rotund, eerie looking creature. This was no dog, this was a raccoon.

And there is the first thing that I wouldn’t encounter as an Aussie or British fundraiser.

What else is different?

A monumental fear (by many, not all) of failure. So fierce its often paralyzing. Don’t get me wrong I’ve encountered this in other places, but certainly not to the degree I’ve seen it here.

I was reminded of this again as I make my way intriguingly through Dan Pallotta’s book, Uncharitable which I mentioned in my post last week. I strongly recommend getting your hands on this. It makes a compelling read about some of the flaws in the way we operate as a sector and the way the public perceives us.

Dan talks about, as he puts it ‘prohibition on risk: punishing courage, rewarding timidity.’

He says, “An organization constrained to seek certainty perpetually relives the past, trying the same old things over and over again and boring employees to death. It will never attempt anything breathtaking that night stimulate the imagination or open the door to wonder and possibility. It is exiled from the future. It operates in an environment that not only discourages ideas that have already been imagined, but discourages the development of new ideas”.

In other words, we do what we used to do, which is what we did before that and so on and so on..

You may recall I recently talked about not allowing tradition to become destructive. Doing stupid things just because that’s the way they were always done.

What I see talking to many organization’s in Canada is a fear of doing something you’ve never done before, a fear of tripping, maybe stumbling, that holds us back from eventually making big inroads, and ultimately have a big impact on the benefactors for whom we work.

It’s fair to say this fear is heightened at the moment because of the unchartered waters we found ourselves in with a crippling economy, and in addition as I mentioned in my steps to avoiding recession suicide we need to stay focused. But that doesn’t mean not doing things for fear of them not working.

Take direct mail acquisition. It usually never delivers a healthy return the first time round, in fact usually not the second or third time. But we all know that if done properly with testing, refinements and tweaking, the long term benefits will outweigh the short term pain.

But sadly we often don’t get there. Because its pulled after the first mailing that delivered just 16 donors.

It’s this type of short term thinking, this aversion to risk that concerns me. And I know it gives many sleepless nights.

Even more than my friend Ricky the raccoon gave me last night..


Monday, February 23, 2009

James Julien: saying goodbye to a great fundraiser, and an even better guy...

It's with some irony that my last post was about a great day for the Canadian charitable sector, as this post marks a tragic day for our sector.

On Friday the 20th of February, 2009 James Julien, founder of Public Outreach and one of the pioneers of face to face fundraising in Canada, passed away in a hospital in Melbourne, Australia. James was surrounded by his mum Denise and a few close friends after suffering two strokes over the preceding few days.

Those who knew James, myself included, knew him as a charismatic and passionate fundraiser, someone equally full of energy and ideas, and above all a terrific guy.

I've read many tributes to James over the past two days and lots of them have told stories of their memories of the James Julien they knew, and in particular their first meeting, which typically was memorable.

I certainly remember the first time I met James, almost two years ago to the day, at the Fundraising Institute of Australia national fundraising conference in Melbourne at the beginning of 2007.

In some twist of fate, I kept finding myself in the same sessions as James and was intrigued by this vertically challenged guy, immaculately dressed, with a funny accent making lots of comments and observations about the topics being discussed. He wasn't necessarily accepting the norm, he was pushing the boundaries.

I was immediately drawn to him, not just because of his funny accent but because he really knew his stuff. 'This guy gets it' I thought. I had to meet him. So I went and introduced myself and we hit it off immediately. A few days later we were sharing a drink at my local watering hole and we have been colleagues and friends since.

James was actually one of, if not 'the' driving force behind me moving to Canada and setting up for Pareto Fundraising here. I joked with him and others that if things didn't work out I would blame him!

In the two years I knew him, besides his fundraising brilliance, his energy and his obvious drive, the thing that I'll remember him for are his absolute commitment to doing the right things in order to help others. Completely selfless.

James helped me enormously making the transition to his beloved Toronto and the fundraising community that he knew so well. The contacts and introductions he helped me with have really made a difference for me and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Why did he do it? Why did he make the effort for someone he had previously met just a few times? Because he believed in the work I was doing and knew it would make a difference. Simple.

That's the sort of guy he was. He didn't do what he did for fame or fortune. He did it because he cared.

My thoughts are with James' mum Denise, John, Bryan, Pamela, Mike and the rest of the Public Outreach gang.

JJ you will be missed mate. But you will be remembered for the difference you made in your 38 years.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A great day for the Canadian charitable sector

Yesterday was a great day. As I’ve posted about a few times, I was thrilled to be involved in the Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy leadership forum, Surviving and Thriving in Challenging times.

I’m a hard one to please when it comes to professional development, but this was a brilliant day.


Firstly there were great people there. Some excellent speakers, and a fantastic bunch of delegates, over 100 of them.

Secondly, people were open, honest and sharing.

Thirdly, the quality of the information presented and the value derived from this was first class.

In the morning session we heard from Al Hatton, President and CEO of the United Way Canada, who talked about 2008, a year in review. What they had learned from a tough year. What I loved from Al was when he stipulated that we all needed to ‘make a plan based on facts’ if we were going to make inroads moving forward. Spot on Al.

We then heard from Scott Mullins of TD Bank who gave us the lowdown on what the banks are planning in 2009 in terms of charitable support. Scott’s message was that it will be more of the same in terms of the level of support but gave some great insights into what they really want to see in submissions, not what charities think they want.

Malcolm Burrows from Scotia Private Client Group talked about foundation giving, specifically referring to different types of foundations and how they may be affected moving forward. Malcolm’s take was that foundation endowments are likely to decrease by 10%-30% this year meaning that the payouts for charities (even at the 3.5% they have to payout) will be proportionately less. He also suspected that foundations are more likely at the moment to focus on existing charities they already support.

I was next cab off the rank and my slot focused on the 6 steps to avoiding recession suicide. Here they are in point form (please email me if you want a more detailed summary):

1. Practicing good relationship management with donors and not ignore them.
2. Not sacrificing long term for short term.
3. Avoiding distraction: focus on the things that will have the biggest impact.
4. Getting the balance right. Cost v value.
5. Use data to make informed and strategic decisions.
6. Look around and see what others are doing.

Besides getting the chance to rant for 45 minutes, the highlight of the day for me was Dan Pallotta’s session.

Dan is the author of "Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential". The premise of Dan’s book and his message yesterday was that charities are unable to have a monumental impact on the world because of the constraints placed on them by society. Dan contends that we can’t really tackle pandemics like world hunger and a cure for cancer given the barriers placed upon nonprofits to deliver lots from little.

He challenges (rightly, I might add) that asking “what % of my dollar goes towards programs” is fundamentally the wrong question to ask. We should be concerned with outcomes, not cost per dollar raised or the proportion of money spent on services.

He challenges (again, rightly) the disproportionate amount of time and questioning of Senior Charity Executive salaries, the criticism that charities are placed under about spending on fundraising/marketing and that in effect we need a paradigm shift on the way charity is viewed and how we operate.

Yes, yes, yes! Finally this stuff has the opportunity to be on the public agenda. I love it.

Fortunately we all got a copy of Dan’s book for attending the forum and I have to say I’m already well into it and absorbing every page.

Dan joked that to get his message heard he needed to go on a Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth type crusade. I don’t think this is a joking matter, I think he does. This requires a movement, a shift in the way people perceive charity and the way that we operate to genuinely change the world.

Rebecca Davies from Médecins Sans Frontières Canada then gave us a really honest and open assessment of how her organization is dealing with the current economic crisis. She implored delegates to ‘fundraise from the frontline’ and gave a really moving account of her own experience visiting projects and how this has made her ‘a better fundraiser’.

Rebecca also told us about some key policy changes Médecins Sans Frontières Canada has made which allowed them to consider corporate support they previously hadn’t been able to which would now mean taking treating each corporation on a case by case basis (rather than ruling out certain sectors, with some exceptions), and how donor field visits, a practice previously un-allowed has already reaped rewards with some sizable gifts following project visits.

The day finished with a panel of experts, which I managed to get a seat on. As well as some of the previously mentioned speakers, we were joined by other sector leaders like Kimberley MacKenzie from the Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation and David Love from the Conservation Foundation of Greater Toronto. The panel responded to questions from the floor from topics such as managing boards, policy changes right down to views on recruitment activity in the current climate.

This was a great day for the Canadian charitable sector.

Key people getting together to cut through rhetoric and talk about what’s really happening out there and what we can and are doing to continue to deliver the services we need to our beneficiaries.

I was proud to a part of it. I look forward to the next leadership forum of this type.


There were other sessions in additition to those mentioned, but for fear of blogging for two days, I have tried to summarize the days events..

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Canadian fundraisers rallying together

I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

An idea I had a few months back comes to fruition tomorrow when my friends at Canadian Fundraiser host a Canadian first event, Surviving and Thriving in Challenging times.

There are going to be some great people there, panelists and delegates alike.

We've managed to get 100 people paid up and ready to go in what promises to be a day of sharing, best practice and hopefully real honesty about what's happening in the trenches.

And what we should do moving forward.

Not only am I looking forward to sharing my 20 cents worth in my session, but because I'll be learning myself. And that's always a good thing.

But even more so, I'm looking forward to my next blog tomorrow night. I hope there are some juicy insights to share from the coming together of 100 plus Canadian fundraisers thirsty for knowledge and coming together for the greater good.

I better get some sleep now.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Foundation funding: what the hell’s that all about anyway?

That’s pretty much what I used to ask myself.

I knew it played a really important role in the sector, certainly where I’ve worked, but I didn’t have a real sense of the nuts and bolts of how it worked, what funders were looking for, what turns them off etc.

Until yesterday.

You see, last year in the midst of meeting literally hundreds of Canadian charities, it became apparent to me that not only was that in area that was not given adequate attention, but there seemed to be a real lack of support, particularly for small to medium size charities and fundraising teams.

Enter my colleague James Huitson, Pareto Fundraising’s Regional Director in South East Asia.

An ‘unrepentant Brit’ (his words, not mine), James background is the antithesis of mine. Until 12 months ago he has always worked for charities. I’ve always worked in agencies (although mostly with charities). He’s primarily focused his work on seeking institutional funding, me on individuals.

And with ten plus years in this area boasting an incredibly successful record of soliciting statutory and foundation funding (with organizations in the UK such as Mind and Turning Point), I figured it was worth getting him out here to impart his knowledge on my fellow Canadian fundraisers.

Fast forward to yesterday and we ran a session entitled Trusts and Foundations: So what are they looking for and how can I make the most of my programme?

Something that James said to me last year about operating in different markets has stuck with me. "Everything is different but everything is the same". And for me this really rings true when you take an area like foundation funding versus raising money from individuals.

Like individuals, money from foundations doesn’t appear magically overnight. It’s about quality in applications, not quantity (think acquisition, same logic). And there certainly are some of the similar principles you must apply in terms of thanking, feeding back and relationship building. All fairly intuitive stuff, but incredibly important all the same.

On the flip side, there are some nuances. The biggest one is this: foundations exist to give you money, individuals don’t. In some countries there are statutory requirements to ensure that foundations give away a proportion of their money every year (in Canada it’s around 3.5% of its assets every 2 years and 80% of its receipted donations from the previous year).

The other big difference is that receiving funding from a grant making foundation won’t get you out of a cash flow pickle. Unlike going to someone really rich next week and asking for $200,000, foundation funding is long term, sometimes laborious and I imagine sometimes incredibly frustrating.

Like other sources of funding, raising money from foundations has its role. For some organizations it will play a significant part. For others it won’t: either because it doesn’t fit well within the type of work you do or the way you work, or because you have made a strategic decision not to spend your time in this area.

I’m just glad I now know what the hell they’re all about anyway.

If you want any more info in this area, contact our man on the ground James Huitson. He can be reached at

He’ll be happy to help.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Aussies rally after destruction of fires

Make no mistake. The fires that are ravaging Victoria in southern Australia constitute the worst disaster in peacetime history in our country.

The death toll is nearing 200, with many expecting it could reach up to 300. The tragic consequences will be more severe than even the fateful Bali Bombings in 2002. For an account of what it was like for those living and breathing this nightmare, read an account here from Gary Hughes, a senior writer in The Australian newspaper.

The enormity of what’s happening back in my homeland only really sunk in on Sunday night for me when the coverage was given airtime right upfront of both CNN and NBC’s news coverage.

Wow I thought. This must be big.

It’s easy to become somewhat removed from things when you live 20,000 miles from home. And despite regular updates by text and email from family and friends, the penny hadn’t really dropped for me. Until I saw it competing with Obama’s stimulus package updates on major US networks. That’s when I realized how catastrophic this situation was.

Us Aussies are a pretty resilient bunch. And what’s been heartening and interesting to monitor over the last day in particular is the rallying of support to help those whose lives have been completely uprooted by the fires.

I’ve had emails and requests for help from sporting bodies, charitable organizations and even friends who are doing what they can to help their fellow Australians.

I even have a mate who literally (on the weekend) got back from his honeymoon dig in and do his bit. He owns a chain of cafes in Geelong, Victoria, and has already organized an event this Friday which is donating the entire proceeds (staff are volunteering their efforts) to the victims and families whose lives have been turned upside down. Within days he has several sponsors on board, including the local newspaper and knowing that he doesnt do things in halves is set to raise a few needed dollars. Great stuff.

There isn’t really a fundraising angle to my blog today. No learning’s. No cryptic messages.

Just an acknowledgement that this event has changed the lives of many forever.
If you’d like to chip and made a donation, I’d suggest you do what I did and make a gift to the Australian Red Cross. There are many who need your support right now.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Keeping it singularly focused for best results

This goes against many fundraisers intuition, but when we ask someone to make some sort of commitment, we should keep it as singularly focused as possible.

And we know, that when we intuitively sense something, we should test it to either prove or disprove our own personal bias.

This is top of mind for me at the moment, after having delivered a Pareto Fundraising workshop yesterday here in Toronto. Invariably when I make a statement like, “you should only ask someone to do one thing, like ask for a cash donation or a monthly gift” I invariably get startled looks and there are murmurings amongst the group (probably suggesting I am just some bongkers Aussie!)

As was the case yesterday.

Again, this may seem counter intuitive. Surely if you give someone more than option that will increase the chance they will respond to at least one of them?


All of the testing we have done at Pareto Fundraising (with the very odd exception) has shown quite the opposite.

Think about it. You ask someone 2, 3 or 6 times throughout a letter to give you a cash donation. You back it up with great copy, really strong messaging and a moving case for support.

Right down the bottom of the donation form you make a meek request for the individual to give you $10 a month?

Huh? Why should they believe you? On what basis have you convinced them to support this way?

You haven’t.

And why do we do it? Because that’s what we have always done. Refer my posting on tradition becoming destructive. And usually because you pick up 3, maybe 4 new monthly givers this way. What you don’t know is how many people you have suppressed from responding at all because guess what – you have downright confused them! And let’s face it, we as humans like to be told what to do. Hand held all the way.

Of course, with anything like this there are exceptions.

In this case the two biggest exceptions are asking someone to complete a survey and/or asking someone to take get involved in some way. In fundraising speak, an involvement device. A petition, letter to your local MP, sending back a message of hope to someone suffering from cancer.

These things work, and if done properly you can get someone to make a financial contribution and do one of the things mentioned above.

But like anything, test, test and keep testing. Oh, and don’t always believe the crazy Aussie!


Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Canadian exclusive event to help you manage fundraising in tough times...

It's less than 2 weeks till the Canadian exclusive event being held in Toronto, Surviving and Thriving in Challenging times.

I'm excited to hear that we are closing on 100 registrations. But we're not stopping there and want upwards of 100, 150 people to come along.

As well as a fantastic line up of panelists, there are some fabulous delegates coming on the day who will be able to share with you what's happening in the trenches, and what this means for you and your organization.

So get on board and register for this exclusive event.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Just remember, people are good..

Let’s face it, we’ve seen loads of evidence lately of why we should continue to crack on with things as per normal. Keep cultivating donors, continue to recruit (smartly), look after our precious supporters. All really sensible and pragmatic advice, based on real and hard evidence.

But don’t forget – in addition to what the data tells you, people fundamentally are good. And most people who care about your cause will continue to dig deep when they can.

It’s really easy to forget this sometimes. I guess I always draw back to what an old mate of mine David Hegarty once told me when he said ‘don’t judge people by the worst thing they did to you, but all the good things they have done’.

Good advice if you ask me.

I was reminded of this on Tuesday when I was at the airport about to fly to Washington. As I was cursing myself for again booking an early morning flight I trundled through the crowds to grab a coffee. I’m no caffeine junkie but one cup in the morning really gets me going. And yes Canadians out there, I was in the Tim Horton’s queue! It would seem rude to start the day with anything else!

After waiting for what seemed an eternity in the line for my daily fix, I was told that this store took only cash. Murphy’s law, as I reached into my wallet, I had nothing! I was gutted, not even my Tim Horton’s card was accepted here. Outrageous I thought!

And then, a small but sharp reminder that there are some wonderful people out there. This lovely lady who was in front of me offered, in fact insisted to pay the $1.48 for my large ‘double double’ (that’s coffee, milk, two sugar for the uneducated).

Of course my first reaction was ‘thank you but you don’t have to do that’. But this wonderful warm hearted lady insisted. And so keen not to be rude, keen to get my fix and conscious not to hold up the line I gratefully accepted.

Here I was at 7am in busy Pearson Airport in Toronto, thousands of people milling about, and this ‘caffeine angel’ steps in out of the goodness of her heart and makes my day.

There might be a lot of crap going on I the world right now. But when you wrestle with your boss, your colleagues and maybe your board as to why you should continue doing what you know is the right thing to do, show them the data. Show them what will happen if you ‘shut up shop’ and stop doing your job.

But don’t forget also to remind them that people really are good. And if they can, they will help.


PS – I really I hope I come across my ‘caffeine angel’ again sometime to repay the favor!