Monday, September 21, 2009

Do a better job before doing anything else

That's tip number 49 in Drayton Bird's 51 helpful DM ideas.

A simple, but powerful message, and to be honest transferrable to other areas of our job as fundraisers.

Think about that statement. "Do a better job before doing anything else"

It's a really good piece of advice to give to fundraisers who want to raise more money next year. Just do what you're currently doing but do it a little bit better.

I see too many instances of people obsessing with new stuff. Usually because they feel that's what they have to do.

"I'm looking for the next big thing".

"We're looking at ways to be innovative and leading edge".

All I hear is "blah blah blah"..

News alert: be the best you can be at something before moving on to try something else. Or at least spend most of your time being better and a little bit of time trying something new. If you do, you'll raise more money.

Thanks Drayton for reminding us that often doing what we're paid to do that little bit better really is better than trying to be 'creative' or 'innovative'.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Should charities work like a business?

I think in some ways yes, in other ways no.

Let me explain.

The argument for 'yes'

There are three areas where I feel charities can benefit substantially for behaving like (well run) businesses.

Preparedness to invest

If you look at the top 20, 50 fundraising charities in any market, there is usually one thing they all share. They have spent money on fundraising. There is the odd exception of organic growth, but they are the exception.

Interesting to note that one of the biggest success factors behind the Obama fundraising juggernaut was the willingness to spend money.

Preparedness to take informed and well thought through risks

Often that risk (or perceived risk) may in actual fact be the spending of money in fundraising. I'm a big believer in the need to fall, or even stumble along the way, to make serious inroads. That means failing, an often scary word in the world we operate.

But smart, growing and successful businesses take considered risks. They are prepared to slip up in order to grow significantly. Charities with big aspirations should follow suit.

Acceptance of short term sacrifice for long term growth

Did you know Amazon didn't make any profit in its first six years in operation?

The easiest analogy to make is planned giving. Far too often I see charities pull the rug from planned giving investment for fear of hurting the bottom line, right now.

The argument for 'no'

Not all business are smart, well run and profitable.

So why follow principles just because that's the way the commercial world operates? I say this because I've heard many a fundraiser utter words to the effect of 'this is what I did when I worked in the corporate world'.

Remember,tradition can be destructive. Do something because it is right, not just because you've always or someone else has done it that way.

Obsession with cost and ROI.

I accept there are certain parameters charities must work within. But a focus purely on cost and return on investment can be harmful.

Focus wherever you can on net income. I've seen many charities fail to grow (and ultimately help more beneficiaries) because they couldn't see how to put net return ahead of the cost to produce/return.

Like any scanning of the environment, 'for' or 'non' profit, take the good and forego the bad.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why poor execution can get in the way of a solid approach

I'll often get into a healthy debate with someone about my views on something specific, let's say direct response fundraising.

Case in point recently (this has happened several times) when chatting to various fundraisers about the best way to get your onetime (cash) donors to commence a monthly gift. For tips on this refer to an earlier post Getting the most by getting it monthly.

The conversation invariably includes several bemused looks, a lot of confusion and me being told my suggestion is contrary to the advice of most others. By the way my advice normally centres around a singular monthly focus, in a stand alone appeal, with no option to give a one time cash gift.

I normally hear, "but we tried that and it didn't work".

To which I ask to have a look at the efforts to adopt this approach.

Usually (and I'm being kind here) the execution is extremely poor. Mixed messages, no real explanation of why monthly giving is vital, and more about the mechanics of monthly giving than real benefits.

The point?

Just because you've tried something and it didn't work doesn't mean the approach is wrong.

Often you just did it poorly.

So what should I do about in situations like this?

Don't accept the execution was great, revisit your work and ask the tough questions. Don't be afraid to be self critical.

Continue to test varying approaches.

Look at what others have done and learn from it.

Give it another shot but make it better (based on learning, involving other people).


Friday, September 4, 2009

Who gives a toss about charity salaries?

Well, lots of people do.


Because they think that they should and that's what they've been told, taught or led to believe.

But frankly, who cares?

If someone hypothetically earns $300k a year, they should be judged on the value they bring to that organization? It is irrelevant if the entity is 'for' or 'non' profit.

I'd argue someone who turns a $10m organization into a $100m one can sleep pretty tightly earning a few hundred thousand dollars a year. Pretty simple logic.

I've mentioned in previous postings the brilliant work of Dan Pallotta and his ground breaking book Uncharitable.

If you haven't yet read it, do it. And get a copy for every one of your board members

In the meantime check out Dan talking about the book and why the hell we need to challenge the paradigm in the way we operate, including turning the attention away from costs, looking at the value someone or something delivers. Click here to view an interview with Dan.