Category Archives: fundraising

What Your Nonprofit Can Learn from This $10 Million Event


I write a lot about online fundraising, but I was recently reminded of the power of in-person events when our annual Children’s Ball for Children’s National Health System raised a record $10.7 million. (The previous high was $2 million.) You can see photos and read about the event here, but even if your organization doesn’t have large fundraisers, I think our experience provides a few lessons for all nonrofits:

Never underestimate the impact of your mission. The success of the Children’s Ball was possibly only because of the passion and hard work of our co-chairs — the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, his wife Abeer, Bret Baier (of “Special Report with Bret Baier” on Fox News Channel), and his wife Amy. The Baiers have been involved with our hospital ever since their son was diagnosed with congenital heart defects. He has undergone three successful open-heart surgeries and is doing well. The ambassador first got involved in 2009 when the Government of the UAE made a gift of $150 million to our health system to improve pediatric surgery. More recently, the Ambassador and his wife had their own personal experience, when their daughter required surgery.

Every dollar counts. Even though the Ball was sold out two months before the event, ticket sales were a small portion of the proceeds. Every component was needed — sponsorships (including four seven-figure sponsors), an online auction, a live auction, and a “call for cash,” as well as numerous in-kind donations.

Relationships matter. The key to the success of the Children’s Ball was the personal commitment and hard work of our co-chairs. The Al Otaibas and the Baiers were able to leverage their personal and professional relationships to inspire others to support a mission that’s personal to them. They’ve seen what Children’s National does for all children, and the many ways that philanthropic support helps families.

Your donors want to engage. We made it easy for our sponsors to share their enthusiasm about the event and our cause — by creating and sharing a communications plan that included a detailed social media plan with a hashtag, tips, and sample posts. On Twitter, we tagged corporate sponsors in our posts, allowing them to spread the word about our cause with simple retweet. Immediately after the event, we shared photos, a news release, and other information to support their own communications about the event’s success.

The event is the beginning, not the end. With the engagement of new sponsors, increased visibility through media coverage, and inspired supporters, now the real work begins. The value of a fundraising event is not just in the dollars raised in one night, but in the relationships and engagement it can inspire. It takes carefully planned follow-up to build on the success and answer the question, “Now what?” We began discussing our plan to recognize and follow up with our sponsors months before the event itself. Our recognition included a special video — with children thanking all of our sponsors at $100,000 and up:

After they saw the video the night of the Ball, we emailed them a link the following day so they could share it with their employees, customers, and others.

Impact Doesn’t Matter…or Does It?

Maybe it was a slow news day in philanthropy.

After all I’ve learned about the need to show donors the impact of their giving, the top headline in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s daily email today got my attention: “Giving Donors Data on a Charity’s Impact Doesn’t Always Lead to More Gifts.”

The Chronicle’s post cited a study from a California nonprofit that tested direct mail appeals with and without scientific data on their impact. Donors who had given $100 or more were more likely to give when they received the impact data, but smaller donors were less likely to give again.

The paper was written by Dean Karlan, a Yale economist and founder of Innovations for Poverty Action, and Daniel Wood, an economist at Clemson University. Their evaluation of the test done by Freedom for Hunger led them to believe that larger donors ($100+) were inclined to give more money to fewer charities, so they care more about how the money is used. Those who give smaller amounts are more motivated by the “warm glow” of giving and are more responsive to emotional stories but not data.

Who am I to question two economists published in the smart-sounding Social Science Research Network? (A blogger, that’s who.) Their conclusions are speculative and based on one nonprofit and one tactic (direct mail) in one state. From that, they conclude that $100 is the cutoff point for people who are motivated by emotion and not data?

The Chronicle’s headline irks me more than the study itself. Read the study and decide for yourself. But in the meantime, please don’t stop reporting impact to your donors, large or small.

How to be Authentic in Your Fundraising

Thanks to Guidestar for sharing the post “What Does It Mean to be Authentic in Your Fundraising?” from the Front Range Source blog. Leslie Allen writes that nonprofits can lose the ability or desire to have a genuine relationship when they focus solely on ROI, response rates, and costs to raise a dollar. I encourage you to read the whole post for the details, but some of Allen’s advice is:

  • Be upfront about your need and your vision.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about the costs of your operation. Being transparent doesn’t have to mean being defensive.
  • Ask your donors how you’re doing, what information they want, and how they want to get it.
  • Report back — honestly. “Explain what worked, what didn’t, and what you learned.”

She also recommends communicating with your donors the way you talk to your friends. Treat them with respect and honesty, and you’ll stand out from many other nonprofits.

Google’s New Android App Encourages Social-Giving: A Solution to Apple’s Ban on Donation Applications

Apple’s got to catch up with what people are asking for. Just as consumers want to be able to shop through an app, they want easy and safe ways to support causes they care about. Good for Google for supporting socially minded businesses and nonprofits (and the people who support them) this way.

Millennials and the Future of Your Nonprofit: Q&A with Derrick Feldmann

If you’re not paying attention to the influence and power of Millennials (people born in 1980 and later), you’re not paying attention to the future of your nonprofit and your cause(s). The 2013 Millennial Impact Report details how Millennials give, connect, and involve themselves with causes — and contains specific tips about how to engage young people.

I recently caught up with Derrick Feldmann, CEO of Achieve and the head of research for the Millennial Engagement Survey, and asked him about what his research means for old people like me.

Q: Many organizations like mine have an established donor base of Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. If non-Millennials make up the majority of current donors, how do you recommend that nonprofits balance the needs of Millennials with the more traditional needs of older donors?

A: I think the needs of older donors and Millennials are merging. For instance, the movement for more transparency in fundraising is not specific to Millennials but becoming a trend across all generations. Millennials are helping our causes understand how to better communicate the direct impact of gifts, how to report information on the cause issue, and how to create better relationships. This is how philanthropy is changing and in time, other generations will not only ask for these type of relationships but demand them.

Q: How can nonprofit professionals make a case for engaging Millennials, when their bosses see that most fundraising dollars are coming from other age groups?

A: I always say that if your organization is strapped for cash, you have other things to worry about — i.e., your business model and how to generate dollars for programs. For those not in that position, the case is simple and it stretches beyond giving. Millennials are the best marketers for the organization. In terms of outreach, a Millennial, within their own words, can spread an idea better and faster than any other demographic. Use this talent and skill to share the most relevant information about the cause. In addition, Millennials spend discretionary dollars on things that matter to them. Take this opportunity to engage a first time donors in micro ways in order to generate brand ambassadors for the organization.

Q: As you talk to people about your research, what are the biggest misperceptions about Millennials?

A: Millennials don’t give. It is not true. They give in micro ways — time and dollars — and it tends to be impulsive at times but giving is occurring. Another common misperceptions is around the workplace. Millennials demonstrate work life blending and at times this can be confused as work life imbalance or even disengagement. Millennials merge their professional and social lives and for some that is a challenge when their generation was focused on work life balance.

Q: Are Millennials unique in their attitudes and behaviors, or do they simply reflect the changing world around them? In terms of their social activism, how do they differ from other generations?

A: It goes back to the blending concept we have been talking about. Millennials are blending their interests in social activism in everything that they do — especially in consumer spending. Millennials seek to understand how products are produced and how they have an impact on the world. This is a unique characteristic we see in Millennials.

Q: Your research shows that a pet peeve of Millennials is getting too much email. How does a nonprofit know how much is too much?

A: We have watched international development and environmental causes send emails once a week and their Millennial followings enjoy the content and continue to subscribe. Why? Because the content is brand new each time. It is relevant, contains images, personal, and draws you in as a reader. The complaints about too much email comes from Millennials who receive the same content every other week from an organization. Frequency should be based on your organization’s ability to produce content about your cause — not your organization. Information about what is happening related to the work – not about your organization doing the work. In the examples I gave, the organizations that send information every week have something to report on the issue and Millennials enjoy reading the content.

Q: The Millennial Impact Report has lots of specific recommendations for nonprofits that want to connect with Millennials, in terms of calls to action, websites, social media, and volunteer opportunities. But nonprofit professionals have so many competing priorities. If they want to improve their engagement with Millennials, where should they start?

A: First, ensure you are not turning Millennials away. Organizations should examine the way they present themselves to external audiences. How they use human voice and show the people they help. Redevelop communications that speak to the manner in which Millennials like to receive such messages. Second, create micro volunteer opportunities. Develop small bursts of volunteer engagement for Millennials to perform anywhere. Third, talk with Millennials in social media. Seek out those that care about the issue and talk with them. Do not post — talk and describe something new every day that they may not know about.

Q. I know you’re optimistic about how Millennials will help shape philanthropy and social activism. What are some specific ways this generation will change social activism and the way nonprofits operate?

A: I addressed that question in a recent piece I wrote for the Case Foundation blog, “The Future of Your Nonprofit Organization and Why You Need to Join This Conversation.” In it I said I care about Millennials getting involved in causes, but I care more about the state of the organizations that are trying to make a difference in our communities. I worry they are not prepared to engage Millennials who want to be involved and have not adapted to the growing business changes this generation and others are demanding, such as transparency, real-time reporting, digital connectedness, and collaborative leadership. Rather than perpetuate the ongoing development of more organizations, why not find better ways to get Millennials and organizations working together?

What it’s going to take is getting organizations interested in operating differently — more openly, creating more collaborative work and constituent environments, and refining how external audiences can communicate with, involve, and give so it is easier, faster, and more trustworthy.

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Derrick is also co-author (with Kari Dunn Saratovsky) of Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement, which I highly recommend. For more information, download the 2013 Millennial Impact Report and follow Derrick and Kari on Twitter.

I Scream, You Scream…Will Your Donors Scream for Ice Cream?

Imagephoto by brianjmatis

I’d like to thank Michael Rosen for his post,”6 Ways to Run Your Fundraising Efforts Like an Ice-Cream Parlor.” Not only is mid-July the best time to blog about ice cream, but he emphasizes a point that too many nonprofits ignore — giving should be fun. And it’s up to nonprofit communicators and fundraisers to make it fun. But how? Michael has six ideas:

1. Give people what they want.

2. Provide options.

3. Be friendly.

4. Be customer-focused.

5. Deliver a high-quality product/service.

6. Wow them.

Read his post to understand how well this analogy works. And follow his blog “Michael Rosen Says…” for more tips about fundraising, communications, and donor relations.

Which Metrics Matter?

MetricsWhich metrics matter for websites and social media channels? It depends. Too often nonprofits measure what they’re told they should measure, and what others are measuring. What makes more sense is to measure what matters now for you and your organization — and what data you can act on to improve your outcomes.

Citing a term from a new book, Lean Analytics, The Agitator blog warns: “Fundraisers…Beware of Vanity Metrics.” In the book, authors Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz explain, “If you have a piece of data on which you cannot act, it’s a vanity metric. If all it does is stroke your ego, it won’t help.”

Roger Craver of the Agitator writes, “Part of the problem with ‘vanity metrics’ is that nobody does anything with them. But more importantly, and dangerously, they are often used to drive absolutely bad decisions. For example: ‘If I put more spend into online search advertising, it’s a quick, guaranteed way to drive up the number of website visitors.’ A meaningless strategy. A meaningless result!”

Roger lists some metrics that could be considered “vanity metrics” for fundraisers. They include benchmarking; website hits; page views; visits and unique visitors; “likes,” friends, and followers; and number of email addresses. Another one I would add is “time on site.” There seems to be this impression that the more time people spend on your website, the better. But if a visitor is there to get a certain piece of information or to make a transaction, don’t you want them to be able to do that quickly?

Which leads me to another post that’s making the rounds, from Mashable, titled “6 Digital Metrics You Should Be Watching.” A few key points:

1. Active supporters. It’s better to have a smaller audience of active supporters than a large number of inactive followers. Tracking the number of people who follow you is fine; tracking the number of people who share, comment, and engage is better.

2. Return visitors. It’s great to attract a lot of people to your website, but how many are coming back? And how often? Are they getting what they need?

3. See you later, alligator. We like to pay attention to our new followers, but what about the people who unsubscribe or unfollow? What can you learn from them? Similarly, when and why are people leaving your website? What’s the last page they’re on before they leave, and what does that tell you?

4. Response time. How long does it take your team to respond to an inquiry that comes in from your website or social media channels? How can you shorten that time?

As Mashable points out, these are just some of the things organizations can and should measure. What metrics do you find most (and least) useful?

Why Donors Give, and How Communications Can Help

New research on donor motivations underscores the important role communications can play in helping nonprofits attract and retain donors. Based on interviews with more than 6,200 nonprofit leaders and major donors, CCS Fundraising found that donors are most motivated by:

  • the impact of their gift (84%)
  • their ability to give (66%)
  • religious/moral obligation (54%)
  • their commitment to their community (52%)
  • being asked (47%)
  • the ability to get a tax deduction (22%)

CCS also lists 12 factors that influence donors to give (and how much they give). Collectively, this information provides valuable insights about how nonprofits can improve their communication to better engage and inspire donors and prospects. Here are some tips based on the CCS findings:

1. Give your supporters ways to share your mission and your needs. CCS’s research shows that people give to other people, most often their peers. It takes more than professional fundraisers to attract donors — you’ll be most successful if board members, donors, and recipients of your services spread the word to their friends and colleagues. Peer fundraising is having a major influence on the success of online fundraising, but peer-to-peer communication is key for all levels and all types of giving. Make it easy for your supporters to share content through printed materials, success stories, and easy sharing functionality on your website, emails, and social media channels.

2. Ask. This may sound simplistic, but when asked why they give, many people say “because I was asked.” As obvious as that may sound, nonprofits miss many opportunities to communicate the need to give. I bet you’ve heard of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — and you know they need financial support, right? That’s no accident. St. Jude does a great job of integrating philanthropy messaging into everything they say and do. Do you let people know about the need and opportunity to give on your website’s homepage, in your annual report, in your marketing materials, and at your events? Does your CEO have a compelling way to talk about the need for support in speeches, letters, and conversations?

3. Be specific. Donors like their gifts to support a specific need or project. What are your needs? How do they match up with what is compelling and meaningful to your potential donors? Think about how you can package giving opportunities so people understand where their money will go. In addition to identifying specific needs — like the dollar amount needed for a piece of equipment — you can also offer representative examples. One organization that does this well is charity:water, which brings clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations. At one level, they say, “$20 could provide one person with clean drinking water.” At higher levels, they offer the opportunity to sponsor a drilled well for $10,000 or a school project for $20,000.

4. Show results. Donors respond to successful and beneficial programs. They want to know that their contributions will be used wisely, and that you have a track record for results. Focus on the human impact of your work.

5. Be positive! CCS’s research shows that people are more likely to give to positive, enthusiastic solicitors. That’s not surprising, but it’s not something you find in most studies about fundraising. Are you, your team, and your executives enthusiastic when you talk about your work? Do you share your personal story about how you got involved, and why you care about your organization’s mission?

For more information about what motivates donors, and national trends in giving, download an advance copy of CCS’s “Snapshot of Today’s Philanthropic Landscape.”

Don’t Miss: A Snapshot of U.S. Philanthropy

Would you like to read a dozen reports on fundraising trends? Of course not. Instead, you can download an advance copy of CCS Fundraising’s “Snapshot of Today’s Philanthropic Landscape,” which summaries the latest data from a bunch of sources in a clear, easy-to-read format — with lots of charts and graphics.

Giving in America in 2012 reached $316.23 billion — a 3.5 percent increase from 2011. The CCS report, scheduled to be released later this month, provides an comprehensive overview of philanthropic trends in America, with details about the largest donors, corporate and foundation giving, bequests, online and social media giving, millennial donors, and an analysis of the top 400 charities. It’s not just a collection of data — CCS does a great job identifying trends and analyzing their significance for nonprofits.

In addition to its own research, based on interviews with more than 6,200 major donors and nonprofit leaders, CCS highlights the latest findings from sources like the Giving USA Foundation, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, the Foundation Center, the eNonprofit Benchmarks Study, and more. Download the advance copy.

How Social Media is Changing Nonprofit Culture and Practice

ImageMost nonprofits, large and small, are using social media in some basic ways — such as maintaining a Facebook page, maybe a Twitter account, and linking to content on their site. Many others are incorporating social media into their online fundraising strategies (commonly annual giving and events).

But those examples are just scratching the surface of the true potential of social media to improve ALL types of fundraising, including major giving, planned giving, and corporate partnerships. If you’re looking for ideas to take the next step for your organization, or if you’re trying to make the case for social media to your bosses and colleagues, I highly recommend this white paper from Wealth Engine, “Fundraising’s Social Revolution: How Social Media is Changing Nonprofit Culture and Practice.”

Based on a survey of 1,300 prospect development and fundraising professionals, the paper will give you strategies to implement social networking throughout your organization, from marketing to prospect research to front-line fundraising. It covers how to create a social media culture, implement new social technologies, apply best practices and tips, and follow ethical guidelines. I was pleased to be interviewed for the paper, along with leaders like Beth Kanter, author of The Networked Nonprofit and Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, and Dan Michel of Feeding America. So you’ll get some examples for how we’re using social media to build and strengthen relationships with donors at Children’s National Medical Center. You can download the white paper from Wealth Engine.

How is your organization using social media to support fundraising? I’m especially interested in proven ideas to support major giving.