I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to be a mystery shopper. It’s not just the shopping part – which I love to do – it’s the opportunity to give feedback on the customer experience.
We need to take time to think of our donors as customers – people who buy into our mission and the amazing work we’re doing to make our community a better place. Customers who we want to engage in our mission and become repeat customers. A great place to start is your online giving.
When is the last time you made an online gift to your organization? What about a gift from your mobile device? It’s probably not something you, your board members or your other staff members do on a regular basis.
Today, I challenge you to do a little mystery shopping of your own and make an online gift to your organization (bonus points if you try this from your mobile device). Here are some things to look for as you complete the process:
Could you easily find the ‘donate now’ button?
How many clicks did it take you to get to the actual give page?
Does your form ask for too much information that isn’t needed? (You probably need way less than you think.)
How easy was the process as a whole?
Were stories and pictures used on the give page to make you feel connected the mission? (This is a great place for a short case for support.)
Could you make a gift in memory or honor of someone (and get the proper recognition to the family or individual)?
Does the landing page after clicking ‘submit’ make you feel good about your giving? (It should NOT go to a blank page.)
Is the emailed receipt timely and accurate?
Did you receive some kind of communication afterwards?
Does someone in your organization pay attention to online gifts and make personal contact?
Were you added to the donor database?
How did the whole process make you feel? (Frustrated isn’t a good answer here.)
If you’re using your mobile device, could you complete the process in an easy way?(You shouldn’t have to contort your phone all around and zoom in and out.)
Once you complete your mystery shopping, make notes of the improvements that could be made. Don’t feel like you need to fix it all right away – use your findings to make changes as you can starting with the most crucial. Just don’t put them off forever; you don’t want to lose a gift because someone found your online giving process to be too much work.
Me: “Let’s brainstorm on who might invest in your social enterprise startup capital.”
NPO: “We should ask Mrs. Brown. She’s a great prospect for this. But then again, now isn’t a good time for her because she has moved recently. And, she makes a generous gift to our golf tournament. And, she might not like this because she is passionate about our mission and this is a business enterprise. So let’s not put Mrs. Brown on the list.”
This is a common conversation when I start working with the nonprofit organizations who are part of the Margin Mission Ignition initiative of The Patterson Foundation. I guide them through the process of making a prospect list for their new social enterprise. These prospects will be cultivated and if they indicate an interest, they will be asked to make a donation to invest in the business enterprise.
Too often, the staff and volunteer members of the team come up with great prospects but then talk themselves out of cultivating them for one reason (excuse) or another. In other words, they are deciding “no” for the prospect before they’ve even talked to them about the innovative and mission-sustaining business enterprise.
It’s not our job to say no for the prospect.
So what is our job? I’m glad you asked, because I’ve got some ideas:
It’s our job to talk to everyone we encounter about this exciting venture. I like to borrow the concept original to Gail Perry in “Fired Up Fundraising…”: the board should be sneezing. If your organization is embarking on a business planning process for an earned income venture, you should be talking to everyone you know about it. Picture sneezing and spreading your message all around – yes, I too was grossed by the visual at first.
It’s our job to share our enthusiasm. Creating an earned income strategy is an exciting undertaking and that should be shared with the people inside and outside your organization. It’s an opportunity to create a mission-sustaining income stream. What supporter wouldn’t want to know the organization they love will be sustained for years to come?
It’s our job to cast the vision. Business planning is a forward-looking process. Your organization has given it a lot of thought and it is part of a larger vision for the future of your nonprofit. Don’t keep all that to yourselves. Share it with those who are passionate about your cause.
It’s our job to invite them to be a part of the life-changing work of your nonprofit. Many times we are so close to the work of our organization that we forget that every day we are saving lives, changing lives and making our communities better places to live. When we ask for an investment in the business enterprise, we are inviting the donor to be part of that life-changing work.
When we decide “no” for a prospect, two bad things happen. First the prospect misses the opportunity to be a part of the amazing work of our nonprofit. Second, our nonprofit misses out on much-needed financial support. Next time you find yourself thinking of all the reasons a prospect might not support your nonprofit – STOP. You’ll be glad you did and surprised how contagious your enthusiasm can be.
Last month I completed my term as president of the AFP Suncoast Chapter. That milestone led me to reflect on my term and write some closing thoughts. I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s book “Help Thanks Wow.” Her writing inspired my thoughts about the past two years in our AFP chapter.
The board members and volunteers have provided help to the fundraising professionals of Tampa Bay. The resources from AFP International have enriched the help we have provided. That help came in the form of education, advocacy, resources, scholarships and friendship. Our job board helped people find jobs and helped organizations find valuable staff members. Everything we do is to help professional fundraising colleagues and the nonprofits where you work.
I have been honored to serve with the dedicated board members and volunteers who make this chapter work. Because our board is an operating board not a governing board, each board member worked with a committee of volunteers to make the magic happen. And it is magic! All of those people are busy professionals who find the time to give back to AFP. Thanks to everyone on the AFP Suncoast team!
Each time I’ve stood at the podium of our chapter meetings and looked at all of you, I’ve been touched by the impact you make in our community. Wow! You – my fundraising colleagues – represent nonprofit organizations that are changing lives and saving lives. You educate children, feed hungry neighbors, shelter victims of abuse. You make the world brighter and lovelier with art, music and history. You care for the environment and animals. You work every day to improve your corner of the world. I’m glad your corner is my corner, too. Wow!
In her book, Anne Lamott calls help, thanks and wow her “three essential prayers.” For me, these are the three essentials words that express my appreciation for my colleagues and friends in the AFP Suncoast Chapter.
Successful social enterprise requires capital investment. I am honored to work with the organizations participating in The Patterson Foundation’s Margin Mission Ignitioninitiative. My role is to support their capital investment fundraising efforts. Social enterprise business planning is hard work and not coincidentally, raising the capital can be hard work, too. Once the business plan is complete, the hard work of implementation begins. At this critical moment organizations can be tempted to move on full speed ahead without thinking about their donor investors. Warning: this is a terrible idea.
Just like other types of fundraising, capital investment fundraising requires careful stewardship of donors. How should you steward them? I’m glad you asked! There are 3 major steps: Appreciate, Engage, and Listen.
Appreciate First, make sure they know they are appreciated. This starts with an accurate, well-crafted thank you letter. Be sure to spell the donor’s name right and use their preferred title. If it’s a business, ensure that the letter is addressed to the right person so it doesn’t get lost.
But don’t stop with the letter from the organization. Look for other ways to say thank you. For instance, if a board member helped secure the gift, ask that board member to write a personal note or send an e-mail directly to the donor. You can’t really thank someone too much.
Providing updates on your capital fundraising efforts is another way to appreciate donors. When you show progress toward your capital investment fundraising, you are reassuring the donor that their investment is being joined by others. For instance, the Margin Mission Ignitionorganizations had a stated goal and were fundraising to secure matching funds by a deadline. By providing timely updates, early investors got to share in the celebration.
Engage Second, keep them engaged. By the time you raise the gift, you’ve probably had multiple conversations with the donor about your earned income venture. Don’t go silent at that point. Update them on your business planning and implementation. They want to know that you are still making progress and likely can help in one way or another.
You can also engage donors by asking them to share their expertise. For instance, if they have a marketing background ask them to review the drafts of your new website. If they are an accountant ask for their help in creating your new accounting system. Donors like to be valued for more than just the checks they write us. Keep in mind though, only ask for their expertise if you’re willing to listen to their ideas.
When appropriate, invite donors to participate as customers. You could offer a coupon and make it comfortable for them to invite family and friends to join them. If your new enterprise includes a “soft opening,” invite donors to be a part of that. Ask for their honest critique of their experience.
Listen Third, listen. With each of these interactions suggested above, listen to how your investors respond and act accordingly. Some questions to consider:
Are they investment donors and might want to do that again? Then keep them in mind if you need additional capital investment or if you embark on another business plan.
Are they committed to your mission and would be likely to support other parts of your organization? Look for the next big thing that will intrigue them.
Do they like numbers? Keep them updated on the business plan and the adjustments you are making throughout implementation.
Are they more interested in the impact on your mission? Send them stories about how the proceeds change and save lives at your organization.
Here’s a bonus tip: as you appreciate, engage and listen – a picture is worth a thousand words. Keep the photos coming. Every communication doesn’t have to be a major design work of art. Spontaneous e-mails with photos attached can be very meaningful. When your donor investors visit you, be sure to snap and share photos. When the proceeds of your enterprise impact your mission, share photos. As an example, the photo above is from Margin Mission Ignition 2016 organization Florida Maritime Museum’s Folk School.
According to research by fundraising expert Penelope Burk, donors (and investors) are most interested in knowing that you put their money to work as they intended and don’t mind if you made some mistakes along the way as long as you can show that used those mistakes as learning opportunities. That is reassurance that their money is well spent. Taking the time to steward your social enterprise investors will be time well spent.
I took my kids on an adventure. Or at least I called it an “adventure.” My kids called it a “fail” (they are teenagers, that’s how they talk). I wasn’t willing to admit defeat.
What’s the difference in adventure and failure? I think it is in the learning. If you learned something from your failure, call it an adventure. Our family adventure involved a beach trolley, torrential rain and an iconic pink hotel.
What about your fundraising activities? Are the failures ever adventures? Do you look for the opportunities to learn from what you did and improve for next time?
Here was the scenario and here’s how I want to apply it to our work in the nonprofit sector.
The plan was to take the beach trolley to the Don Cesar for ice cream. We were staying on the beach in Pinellas County and I wanted to take my kids to visit the Don Cesar. I researched the trolley routes online before we left. I timed our adventure after the afternoon thunderstorms blew thru. But (and these are a few big buts) I misread the trolley routes and a second, major thunderstorm came thru. That led to the three of us, huddled under a trolley shelter in rain so heavy our umbrella turned inside out.
3 ways to make the failure into an adventure:
1. What would we do better next time?
For our family adventure, I’ll understand the trolley route better next time and know that we have to change trolleys to get from where we were staying to the Don Cesar. If rain is predicted, I’ll probably skip the trolley altogether and drive.
For your fundraising adventure, take a realistic look at what you did in the planning stage and the execution stage. Look for sacred cows, those things that are accepted as the way you do things in your organization but might not be the right or best way to do them.
2. Can we adjust our expectations? Were our expectations realistic?
I thought my kids would enjoy the trolley ride but for them it was too much like a school bus. Everyone’s expectations contributed to the challenges.
In fundraising, we often set the goal too high which leads to unrealistic expectations from CEO’s and board members. Research is a great way to set realistic expectations. Sometimes the best research is calling a colleague who has already implemented your activity to ask what their results were and what they’ve learned. One of the great things about the fundraising profession: we are very open to sharing with our colleagues.
3. What was the final result? Was there anything good in it besides the final result?
The final result with my kids was delicious ice cream in a beautiful setting but getting soaking wet on the trip home. There was good in it because the Don Cesar is well worth the trip. Also, it was a memory that will live forever in our family’s history.
For your fundraising adventure, look for the successes, even beyond dollars raised. If the net amount raised was less than expected, determine if you succeeded in other areas such as reaching new donors, renewing lapsed donors or deeper engagement of current donors.
Our work as fundraisers is sometimes hard but always important. When you approach something new as an adventure, you will be more likely to take risks. Set realistic expectations, get ready to learn something new, turn your failures into adventures, and then let me know how it goes.
Being on a plane and not connected to the internet made me realize how out of practice I’ve gotten at staying totally focused. I found myself looking down to check the mail icon on my laptop to see if I had any new e-mail messages but of course I didn’t have any.
Did life as I know it cease to exist? Of course not. I was actually getting more done. There was a crying baby behind me and a guy sleeping wide next to me but I was still able to get some quality work done. How? Those distractions are more like white noise while the distraction of e-mail requires my brain to shift gears.
Research says we lose 15 minutes when we hop from task to task. I could have purchased WiFi to use the internet on that flight but I gained more in productivity by focusing on the tasks at hand (including creating this blog).
So what’s on your agenda that needs your focus? How are you going to get to it?
Here are 3 suggestions:
1) Create a closed-door policy I’m not suggesting that you keep your door closed all the time but there are times when you need to excuse yourself from the distractions like drop by meetings. This applies if you are the boss, too. Tell your teammates that you need some time to focus on an important task but you will be available in an hour. If you have a position that doesn’t allow this, look for someone around you that would trade an hour – you cover for them, then they cover for you.
2) Work out of the office
“Working at a coffee shop” brings to mind a peaceful setting but a few years ago my office was across the street from what seemed like the world’s busiest Starbucks, or at least the noisiest. There were still times that I could go across the street and accomplish something important because I could focus on the task at hand, not the priorities of my coworkers (and boss). If you’re like me and can work in a noisy place you’ve got unlimited options. If you need things quieter, try to public library or a restaurant during their slowest times. Looking for more proof? Check out this TED Talk “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.”
3) Schedule the big things
Determine the time of day when you are the most productive and schedule the big things for those times. Click here for a blog from Evernote on finding your most productive hours.
Once you determine your most productive times, don’t spend those hours on the small and mindless tasks. Use them for the big things like creating a major gift solicitation strategy or writing your annual appeal letter. Take a few minute to review your to-do list to find the most important items that require the most concentration. No one you work with will make this happen for you, you have to make this happen for yourself. Schedule a 2-hour item on your schedule that says “create development plan” then protect that time from other demands. I’ve started using a different color for those items in my calendar.
Do you believe that the work you are doing is important? I do. Our work in the nonprofit sector saves lives and changes lives. That work is worthy of your focus. Don’t let the daily distractions keep you from the big things.
In 2016, I worked with five nonprofits engaged in The Patterson Foundation’s Margin Mission Ignition program. After completing a strenuous business planning process, it was time for these organizations to implement their plans. A key part of any social enterprise plan – and ultimately successful implementation – is raising investment capital.
It’s not uncommon for nonprofit organizations to pursue social enterprise activities to diversify their revenue. However, even organizations that have previously had great fundraising success, sometimes find challenges when trying to raise the investment capital needed to implement their social enterprise endeavor.
Fundraising for social enterprise investment capital is different than regular fundraising – but, not completely different. All types of fundraising share some basic principles.
You’ve likely been part of fundraising before, so let’s start with the similarities.
Cultivation Fundraising is about building relationships on behalf of your organization and cultivation is the biggest part of this. Sometimes when we are so excited about an idea (like our new social enterprise), our enthusiasm leads us to skip the cultivation step – a big mistake! To cultivate a potential investment capital prospect, a nonprofit must reach out and seek to build a relationship.
Listening The most critical skill in fundraising, both traditional and investment capital, is listening. When cultivating investors, our natural inclination is to “pitch” our idea by doing all of the talking. STOP TALKING and listen to your prospect (they are often filled with great ideas). The more we listen and learn from them, the more they will engage with our project.
Ask After all of that sharing and listening, surely the prospective investor knows we need their support, right? NO! Every successful investment invitation needs to include an ask. If you’re not specific in what you need, the prospect could either give you something you don’t need or nothing at all.
Shared Values (Mission) Investment capital donations have the very same core as all other donations: shared values. A social enterprise may have the strongest business plan, leadership, etc. but if the mission of the organization does not inspire the prospective investor of their shared values, no investment will ever take place.
See, you’re more prepared that you realize. Now, let’s talk about how raising investment capital and fundraising are DIFFERENT.
Non-Financial Support and Engagement Social enterprise investment donors don’t want to write a check and walk away. They want to participate and provide support beyond cash contributions. This participation varies by investor, so you have to pay attention (see Listening above) and respond to each donor accordingly. As you cultivate the relationship, think of how their expertise could bring value to your new venture – marketing, leadership, mentorship, coaching. Be careful not to see their desire for engagement as a threat to your plan. Instead, use it as an additional research opportunity and battle-tested resource.
Business Plan Required Donors who invest in social enterprise want to see that careful planning has gone into the project. Your organization must be ready to demonstrate how you conducted research that lead to thoughtful planning. As a general rule, a nonprofit should never embark on a social enterprise without careful planning. Knowing your investors will want to see that plan just reinforces the importance. Don’t take their questions (sometimes challenging) as lack of interest, they are looking to make a good investment.
Innovation Appealing Typically, donors who invest in social enterprise are attracted to innovation. While creating your business plan, take the time to highlight new ideas (and understand them thoroughly) so you can share them with potential investors. Some social enterprise ideas aren’t brand new but are new to your nonprofit. Make sure that you focus on that innovation.
Risk Tolerant Investment donors tolerate more risk than typical nonprofit donors — with innovation comes risk. Investors know that a venture may not succeed. They are often more comfortable with the risk than the nonprofit leadership. But when a project fails, the investor wants to see that you learned from it and take the time to make improvements going forward.
Performance Measurement Investment capital donors are interested in how things are going throughout the implementation of your social enterprise. Be sure to have a plan for communicating with donors once your enterprise is operational. Measure performance and communicate with investors. Don’t worry if all of your measurements aren’t exceeding expectations. But, be sure to include what adaptations are being made so they can see that their investment provided an opportunity for your organization to learn and improve.
While there are some new things to consider while raising capital for a social enterprise, you and your organization have completed some of the hardest parts through the research and plan development process. At the funding stage, everyone is excited about getting this new project started and you can use that excitement to make an impression on potential investors
I hope with the realization that you can build on what you already practice in fundraising in your organization, that you approach this with confidence.
Planet Philanthropy is coming to Tampa June 25-27 – hooray! The Florida fundraising conference moves around the state each year and for the first time in many years, we are hosting it right here in downtown Tampa. I think this is fabulous but I realize not everyone agrees with me. So for those who aren’t sure, here are 6 reasons not to attend (and why I think they are wrong).
1. It’s too close to home so it won’t be fun
Sometimes the fun of attending a conference is getting to know a new city, I get that. But when is the last time you explored your own city? Our colleagues at the downtown jewels like Florida Aquarium, Tampa Theatre, and the Tampa Bay History Center, support amazing missions that make Tampa a fun location for any event. I encourage you to stay at the Hilton Downtown Tampa and have the full conference experience. I’m going to.
2. My organization doesn’t pay for it
I understand that challenge because I have been there. More than once in my career my employer didn’t support continuing education but I came to the realization that I had to make the investment in my own career. Fortunately, Planet Philanthropy is affordable and you can minimize travel expenses. If you decide not to stay at the hotel, valet parking is available at a very reasonable price.
3. I’m not a CFRE/I’m already a CFRE
You might think that CFRE hours don’t matter to you because you aren’t pursuing that certification but I would encourage you to consider that you might pursue it in the future so keep track of your continuing education hours now. If you already have the CFRE designation, Planet Philanthropy will give you a healthy number of continuing ed points for your next recertification (and it’s coming faster than you realize…it’s always coming faster than you realize).
4. The networking won’t be good because everyone will be from Tampa
This is a statewide event and while the Tampa Bay area will be well represented, the presenters, exhibitors, sponsors and guests will be from across the state and across the country.
5. I’ve been in fundraising a long time and I’ve seen/heard it all
With that in mind, the conference planning committee has been diligently researching best practices and securing presenters to cover the latest and greatest. Click here to see the full list of offerings. If you’ve been in fundraising a long time, it may be time for you to take a mentoring role to our younger colleagues.
6. I’m between positions so the timing’s not good
I’ve witnessed more than one spontaneous recruitment at Planet Philanthropy through the years. A nonprofit CEO once told me they would never send another development director to Planet Philanthropy because the last two had used it to get a new job. (Note: I think the problem there is with the CEO but that’s a topic for another blog, another day)
You may have other objections to overcome in order to attend. I encourage you to overcome those challenges and get yourself registered today. Hope to see you there (or here)!
One more thing to share: I am honored to be presenting “Best Practices for Fundraising from a Modern Family,” where I’ll talk about the differences in how generations give.
Since starting my job at Lakeland Regional Medical Center Foundation more than 25 years ago, I’ve been explaining what I do. That’s natural; since my title included “development,” and many people weren’t sure what I was “developing.”
Throughout my career, my titles have included “development” and “advancement” in several iterations (associate, director of, officer). To simplify I’ve usually explained, “I’m a fundraiser.” But since I’ve been at this for a while, I’ve realized there is more to what I do than fundraising.
Let’s start with some definitions from the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Dictionary: Development – noun; the total process by which an organization increases public understanding of its mission and acquires financial support for its programs Fundraise – verb; to seek donations from various sources for the support of an organization or a specific project Fundraiser – noun; a person, 1. paid or volunteer, who plans, manages or participates in raising assets and resources for an organization or cause. 2. an event conducted for the purpose of generating funds. Philanthropy – noun; love of humankind, usually expressed by an effort to enhance the well-being of humanity through personal acts of practical kindness or by financial support of a cause or causes
We can’t even decide whether we want “fundraising” to be one word or two.
What Really Matters
My dad used to say, “I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for supper,” and I think that applies here. It doesn’t matter what you call it, what matters most is how you do it.
Development is about developing relationships on behalf of your organization.
Fundraising is a transaction.
If development were a line, fundraising would be a spot on that line.
Here’s what matters most: how do you treat your donors? Do you treat them as a means to a transaction? Or do you treat them like friends and family, like someone who has a relationship with your organization?
If you’re treating them like a transaction, they won’t stay.
If you build a relationship, they will stay.
So what do you call it at your organization? Development, fundraising, or some of both? And how do you approach it: like a transaction or a relationship?
No matter what your job title might be, don’t strictly fundraise. Invest your energies in developing relationships with the donors who support your organization.
I believe that hand written notes should go to more than just donors. Consider these suggestions:
write to a donor who makes a significant gift, remember not just significant to your organization but significant to the donor. Even if the official thank you letter comes from someone else in your organization, send your appreciation for their generosity.
send a note to a donor who made a program accomplishment possible bonus: send a photo with the note for extra impact.
create a list of donors who have given for a significant number of years and send them occasion notes throughout the year.
send a note to someone you’ve identified as a prospective donor but haven’t been able to meet in person. Send a photo of something meaningful that demonstrates your mission in action.
write a note to a prospect who has indicated interest but you’ve had trouble getting a face to face meeting to follow up. Invite them again for a tour or a visit to your program.
send a note to every volunteer, eventually. Depending on the size of your volunteer workforce, this could be a monumental task. But make a list and get started with a few notes a week. You’ll get to everyone, eventually.
look for people who are helping you but you might not have classified them as an official volunteer. For instance, someone who provides valuable advice when you are planning a special event.
write a note to the people who report to you thanking them for a job well done. Appreciation should be expressed throughout the year, not just at annual review time, and a personal note is a gracious way to deliver it.
send a note to the staff in other departments who make your work possible. None of us could do what we do without the people in surrounding departments. Even if it’s part of their job descriptions, your colleagues will appreciate your appreciation.
write a note to your bosses recognizing their dedication. Don’t forget to thank up the chain of command, too.
This list is by no means comprehensive. Look around to discover who else will benefit from a sincere expression of your gratitude for their part in your success.