Tag Archives: fundraising

A Walk on the Wild Side: Nonprofit Lessons from Lou Reed

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photo by Thierry Ehrmann

I never know what to say about celebrities who die. It’s always sad, of course, especially if I admired their work, but what do I have to add the tributes I see all over Facebook, Twitter, and the web?

Lou Reed, who died at 71 on Sunday, and his band Velvet Underground made some of my favorite music, and influenced my tastes as I discovered other music. I admired Reed as an intelligent writer (he was an English major) and as an unabashed observer of American society. As I’ve listened to his music over the past few days, it occurred to me that several of his songs contain lessons and insights for nonprofits. Can you think of others?

“Pale Blue Eyes”
Thought of you as my mountain top,
Thought of you as my peak.
Thought of you as everything,
I’ve had but couldn’t keep.

This is one of Lou’s most melodic and popular songs, but what many people don’t know is that it was inspired by a female muse – who had hazel eyes.

Lesson: Be honest in your communications, but also creative. “Pale Hazel Eyes” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

“Dirty Blvd.”
No one here dreams of being a doctor or lawyer or anything.
They dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard.

Reed loved New York City, but he was also realistic about the underbelly of the city, and the gap between the haves and have-nots. In this song, Pedro at first seems doomed to a life of poverty and drugs, but finds a book of magic and dreams of flying away. It’s all relative, but for Reed, that almost qualifies as a happy (or at least hopeful) ending.

Lesson: Share the grim reality of the problems you’re trying to solve, but also give your supporters hope and show them what’s possible.

“Perfect Day”
Oh it’s such a perfect day.
I’m glad I spent it with you.

Whether this song is a simple love story or an ode to heroin addiction, it’s one of Reed’s most upbeat and most covered songs.

Lesson: Celebrate your successes, and thank your donors for making them possible.

“Walk on the Wild Side”
Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll – it’s all here, and it’s also one of Reed’s most melodic songs. Quintessential Lou, it’s a simple narrative with interesting and offbeat characters.

Lesson: What stories can you tell that haven’t been told before? Think differently. Surprise your audience. Take a walk on the wild side.

This One Word Could Help You Raise More Money

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As much as I enjoy reading blogs, journals, newspapers, and magazines about nonprofits and fundraising, I think some of the most interesting lessons come from other sources. For example, Psychology Today‘s blog recently published a post titled “The Power of the Word ‘Because’ To Get People to Do Stuff.” According to author Susan Weinschenk, PhD, “Because is a magic word when you want to get people to do something.” Could that include asking them to support your cause?

She cites a 1978 study in which people on a college campus tried to cut in line to use a copier. There was 60 percent compliance when someone asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine?” But that rose to 93 percent when the person asked, “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” And it was 94 percent with “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

Next, they tried the experiment with a person with 20 pages. In that case, only the “…because I’m in a rush” increased compliance. Dr. Weinschenk concludes, “When the stakes are low, people will engage in automatic behavior. If your request is small, then follow the request with the word ‘because’ and give any reason. If the stakes are high, then there is a little more resistance, but still not too much. Use the word ‘because’ and try to come up with at least a slightly more compelling reason.”

How does this affect your requests to get support for your organization or your cause? Are you explaining WHY someone should support you? And do you think the word “because” makes a difference?

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.

Social Media’s Influence on Fundraising “Modest” But Growing

Social media is playing a bigger role in connecting donors to nonprofits, according to the latest donor research just released in “The Burk Donor Survey…Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2013.” The report is the fifth annual survey by Penelope Burk at Cygnus Applied Research, and the second to explore the role of social media in fundraising.

Conducted in 2011 and 2013, the research shows that social media is not yet a major factor in directly driving more donations, or larger donations. But through social media, nonprofits are successfully attracting people to events, enlisting more volunteers, and turning supporters into ambassadors for their cause. Even though the hard data doesn’t exist, it’s reasonable to conclude that social media is indirectly leading to more gifts and larger gifts by engaging supporters in these and others ways.

I asked Penelope about some of these trends.

Q: Your report calls social media a “modest player” in donor communications, but with 57 percent of young donors following nonprofits through social media, do you think it’s gaining traction?

A: Yes, it is gaining traction. It’s only a modest player when fundraisers look at the end goal in fundraising, which is raising money. But indirectly, social media offers the two-way communication platform that is essential in building relationships with young donors and potential donors. Young donors do not respond well to direct asks absent of the opportunity to engage.

Q: Should organizations factor volunteering, event attendance, and other types of engagement when they’re measuring the ROI of their social media efforts?

A: Absolutely, since young donors prefer a multi-faceted route to giving. The opportunity to be directly involved and then have a good experience volunteering, or being part of a discussion group for example, is what then inspires them to give. Older donors are more used to giving and leaving the decision-making to those who run the charity.

However, given the high rate of donor attrition and dissatisfaction with uninformative appeals and communications, young donors may be onto something. I think they are demanding a kind of relationship from the start that will ensure a better flow of information and a more inclusive approach by not-for-profits. This should bode well for donor retention and generosity once they do start to give.

Q: Your 2011 survey suggested that being seen as an “expert” helps attract social media audiences for nonprofits. But you also said it’s not enough to just call yourself an expert. How can a nonprofit position itself in a credible way?

A: It’s commonplace for not-for-profits to declare themselves as the first, the biggest, or the best at what they do absent of any objective information that confirms that assertion. So statements like those are meaningless to donors at any age level and are actually viewed as suspect. It is much more effective to simply state an achievement your organization has made, a goal you have reached, or a new initiative you have undertaken in specific terms, reporting how you got there and the impact it has had on the people you serve. That allows readers to conclude for themselves that you are expert, which is a much more powerful way to establish credibility.

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Download a free executive summary or purchase “The Burk Donor Survey…Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2013” at www.cygresearch.com.

Young Donors are Different: What the Latest Research Means for Fundraisers

Young donors differ from other donors in many ways, and new research on their interests, preferences, and behaviors suggests several ways you can engage them more effectively. Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Applied Research and the “Burk” in the annual Burk Donor Survey, talked to me about findings in her 2013 research that relate to young donors.

What Young Donors Support
Burk’s research shows that many young donors support human services (54%) and arts/culture (47%). Many people think of the environment as a favored cause for young people, but research doesn’t back that up. Only 21% of donors under the age of 35 supported environmental organizations, compared with 34% of middle-age donors and 45% of donors 65 and older.

What Appeals are Appealing
Young donors are far less likely to respond to direct mail appeals (31%) than donors age 35-64 (50%) and donors 65 and older (68%). They are much more likely to respond to online appeals and give electronically (49%) than middle-age donors (37%) or older donors (32%). Events are appealing to all age groups, Burk said. “Young donors are as interested in giving through fundraising events as older donors in the study. Events in which they can actively participate, rather than simply being guests, tend to be more popular with younger donors.”

Implications for Communications
Burk says the biggest difference between older and younger donors is their preferences for communications. “The youngest donors (under 35) appear to be less patient and they make decisions about what they will and will not read more quickly,” she said. “Young donors are more sensitive to getting too many emails and they are less forgiving of charities that send communications that appear to be uninteresting.”

Burk’s advice for fundraising appeals to young people: Get to the point. They say they are too busy to read a lot of text, so “make communications content (especially the first sentence) compelling enough to persuade young donors to take the time.”

Young donors have a decided preference for electronic over print communication. Only 3% of those receiving information online would have preferred to get a print piece in the mail, but 45% of those getting print currently say they would much prefer electronic communication. “Not-for-profits should make every effort offer their donors the opportunity to transition into electronic communication with every communication they send,” Burk said.

The Giving Potential of Young Donors
While some organizations overlook younger donors because of they currently give less than other donors, Burk’s research shows that young people can give more. In fact, 58% said they definitely or probably could have given more to charitable causes last year, a figure considerably higher than for older donors (42%).

“While the average gift value of young donors is much less than their middle-age or older counterparts,” Burk said, “it appears that either the tactics fundraisers use to acquire donors and renew their support are not reaching people under 35, or fundraisers are under-asking, assuming that young people cannot give more generously.”

Do these findings match up with what you’re seeing in your organization? How do you tailor your communications to younger donors?

Download a free executive summary of the 2013 Burk Donor Survey or purchase the full survey.

 

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.