Tracking time

May 9, 2012

Filed under: Fundraising — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 10:16 am

To manage your time, you need to know where it goes. The only way to know where you spend your time is to log it. Your memory tells you that you spend time where you think you should spend your time, but it’s wrong. — Peter Drucker.

Drucker’s wisdom strikes me often when I start asking clients and potential clients about their fundraising strategies. Too often, they their time fundraising, but don’t break it down by fundraising strategy. So they have no idea really which fundraising strategy is performing well, since they’re not taking staff time into account when calculating the net profit from any particular strategy. Of course, you can take this too far, but you can reasonably track 4-5 different major fundraising strategies with decent time sheets without putting excessive burden on staff.

Don’t make these mistakes in selecting a donor database

March 15, 2012

Filed under: Fundraising — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 11:00 am

I recently came across a great summary from TechSoup on mistakes organizations make in selecting a donor database.

I can personally attest to making a couple of them myself.

In my experience, most small-to-medium sized nonprofits fail to invest sufficient time and money into utilizing a good donor database, and thinking through the integration of that data with other data the organization uses (email advocacy for example).  (Of course, many databases integrate these two functions from the start).

Of the two (time or money), I actually think time is the biggest failure for organizations.  They ask the tech people to figure it out, without recognizing the tech people haven’t a clue what your real needs are unless your fundraising and program staff invest real time into thinking through your real needs.

When we finally did the process right in my last job, it was by investing a lot of time into creating a document outlining in excruciating detail our needs and then vigorously checking potential vendors for how they could meet them.

Here are some further thoughts I previously wrote about investing in information management systems.

Don’t let your elevator speech fall flat

January 25, 2012

Filed under: Fundraising — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 4:44 pm

This morning I led a conference call teaching organizations about how to create an effective elevator pitch.

It was an interesting exercise, since I’d danced around having an elevator speech both for my business and past organizational work, but I’d never formally been trained on having one.

So I read a lot on the web and some of the advice I agreed with, while other advice seemed off-base.

Nonetheless, I forged ahead and reached my own conclusions.

Here’s my top 9 things to keep in mind about elevator pitches.

1. Don’t discount their importance

Sure, you’re unlikely to get in an elevator and be asked what you do.  But there are countless other social settings, from cocktail parties to formal networking opportunities, where you’ll have 30-60 seconds to make an impression while talking to 1-3 people.  These first impressions very much matter — if people start tuning you out, getting them to tune you in again is hard.

2. Avoid jargon

In the  words of a mentor (Joel Bradshaw), start where they are, not where you are.  You use jargon inside your organizations/coalitions because it’s really efficient to do so.  But when talking to outsiders, jargon makes the eyes glaze over at best.

3. Cover the what and the why, then engage.

You need to give people a teaser about what you do.  And you need to give them an emotional hook — the why — so they will recognize that you share their values.  Lastly, you need to close with an engagement question, such as: Would you like to hear more?

4. But put the why first.

This is probably really the number one challenge most people have.  Our rational brains want to say: This is what I do, and here’s why.  But lots of evidence suggests beginning with the why is far more compelling.

People will identify with and want to support you for the why.  The “what” involves important details, but it’s not what will drive people to engage.

For a great speech on the rationale for putting “why before what,” check out this Ted talk.

5. Make it conversational

Remember, this is for 1-3 people in a small group setting — it’s not for a big speech.  And it’s certainly not for the written form.

Speak like you’d speak in the real world — in short sentences, using contractions, simple words, ignoring punctuation rules.

6. Don’t try to be comprehensive

For most organizations, trying to summarize what you do in 30-60 seconds is impossible, so don’t try.  Remember, your goal here is to engage somebody to want to learn more.  If you try to summarize succinctly, you’re most likely to have to speak about your organization at such a high level of generality that you’ll only succeed in generating boredom.

Pick the 1-2 things that are most interesting about your organization and make them the focal point of your elevator pitch.

7. Brainstorm with a group to create it, but then let 1 person draft it

If your organization can take the time, getting 3-4 people to really focus on the “why” you do what you do for awhile, and see how that flows into a “what” answer.

But ultimately, somebody needs to go through the results of the brainstorm and create a draft.  Or a couple alternative drafts.

8. Test it out on the real world

Before getting your whole organization to start using it, test out the draft on a handful of friends who’re “outside” your organization/movement.  This could be family, friends, or anybody who you think will give you honest feedback.

Do they understand it?   Did they want to learn more?  What questions does it make them want to ask?

9. Once you finalize it, get people to practice it

You’re looking for the fine line between doing it well and not coming across as rehearsed.  The latter could be a blog entry entirely of its own.  Bottom line: let people get used to doing it in pairs through role playing, or set them up for situations where they’re testing it out on a stranger.

Find opportunities to use it.  Incorporate the language into other communication vehicles.  Have 1 person on staff role play it every staff meeting for several months until everyone’s internalized it.

Of course, the best pitch is in the eye of the beholder

Nobody’s ever going to be perfectly satisfied with their pitch because let’s face it, what we’re doing is so much bigger than can be explained in 30-60 seconds.   Not everyone in your organization will love it.  But it’s generally a useful exercise to create one, particularly if you emphasize the “why.”

How do corporations differ from individuals

December 21, 2011

Filed under: Fundraising — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 3:21 pm

No, this isn’t a blog about Citizens United and the inanity of the Supreme Court giving corporations the right to make unlimited contributions in elections.

As I work with clients on fundraising, many of them manage corporate giving and major donor giving as very independent efforts, while others treat them as entirely the same.

I’d advocate for a middle ground recognizing the differences in the ways corporations give, and the differences between different types of corporations.

If you’re thinking about how corporations differ from individuals when you’re soliciting a $250+ gift, here’s some of my rules of thumb.

Very Small Companies

Very small corporations are not different than individuals. You should be speaking with the owner and their motivations for giving and the methods of solicitation should be no different than an individual donor.

Most Small/Medium Sized Businesses

Most small and medium businesses have no formal process for making contributions.

They tend to be on an ad hoc basis with the owner and/or manager having some authority.

Most donations are done either because the owner/manager has a strong connection to the charity or because the giving is done in a way that generates marketing. You should be clear going into an ask which motivation you’re focused on so the pitch can be appropriate.

While managers may have some authority, you are almost always better off talking with the owner if you can solicit them directly.

Large Corporations

Large corporations tend to have formal processes for making contributions.

These processes often have significant lead times prior to making a decision

Managers/staff are the decision-makers, not owners.

Different managers may have separate budgets for giving. A public affairs manager may have one budget and a marketing manager may have a separate pot of funds.

People other than those directly with the authority to make donations are generally not all that helpful as a route to generating a donation, unless they are higher in the corporate hierarchy than the person making the decision.

While these corporations tend to have policies around donations, personal relationships still are king – if you have a personal relationship with the person making the decision, you are far more likely to secure a donation.

Raising money through strategic planning

November 11, 2011

Filed under: Fundraising,Strategic Planning — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 11:12 am

Strategic planning can require significant resources — both time and money.

Fortunately, going through the process can also be a means of raising additional resources.

In my mind, there are three key tactics you should think about using to raise money from your strategic planning process.

The most obvious, and the one most people think about, is using the finished plan to sell donors on funding whatever is “new” in the plan.   Usually this involves creating a short 1-2 page summary of the plan and using it with selected major donors and foundations.   If, for example, the plan calls for hiring a full-time communications director and upgrading a website, those items could be pulled into a mini-budget and presented to funders as a reason to step up their level of giving.

But there are two other tactical steps organizations should also consider to turn a planning process into a revenue generator.

For starters, you should look for funders who will underwrite the planning process itself.   Many foundations fund capacity building either in general or for those organizations with which they have a long-term funding relationship.   Occasionally, an individual major donor (perhaps a board member) who values planning will step up with an extra donation to cover a significant portion of the planning process costs.  Start thinking about this the year prior to a planning process, so you have ample time to make the case to funders.

Second, you should think about using the process to cultivate your relationship with your supporters.  Many strategic planning processes involve some sort of interview process for stakeholders and you should think consciously about whether some major donors should be added into the process as a means of cultivating their support for the organization.   This may slightly increease the cost of your process (more interviews), but with a big potential pay-off afterwards.

Cultivation shouldn’t stop with major donors.  If your organization has a membership or base constituency that it can reach via email, do an online member survey.  Ask some questions to ascertain what your supporters want you to prioritize, while lao learning things about them that could be useful for future fundraising.   Beyond what you learn, just the process of asking for their input will help cement their support for your organization’s work.

On the perils of chasing money

October 28, 2011

Filed under: Fundraising — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 3:43 pm

I recently had a conversation with an organizational Executive Director who was having their group round up its grassroots supporters to generate online votes to have the group selected to win a small grant.  (Small means that in the organization’s context, it would at most be 1% of the organization’s budget if they received it).

What was odd to me is that the grant they were seeking was to do work that wasn’t part of their strategic plan.  Indeed, it wasn’t even something that fit within the group’s core niche/role, so it’s not that it wasn’t part of the plan because it was low priority — it was off the map entirely.

When I asked the ED why they were nonetheless pursuing it, their response was that the dollars flowing in would be twice what it would actually cost to implement and it would get the group on the radar screen of a foundation.

I pondered this for a few minutes and my reaction was — that’s not right.

Chasing money off-plan fails to account for:

  • Staff time necessary to first chase the money, then implement the small project, then possibly to report back on it.
  • The opportunity cost — eg. what the staffers involved in drumming up “votes” for the proposal could have raised from spending that time meeting with individual donors.
  • The dilution of the organizational brand, as grassroots supporters become confused about what the organization is all about.  The same is perhaps doubly true with foundations — being on a foundation’s radar screen, but then perhaps being misidentified as something you’re not strikes me as a negative, not a positive.

Bottom line:  chasing money can be hazardous to organizational health.

Look for more on this in a future edition of my article: Why Organizations Go Off Course.

Mercenary vs. Missionary Donors

June 21, 2011

Filed under: Fundraising — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 12:28 pm

A mercenary donor is one who gives to you for some reason that isn’t primarily about agreement with  your mission.  They may give out of loyalty to a friend, out of a desire for good PR/marketing, or because you happen to be doing something at the tactical level that will have incidental impacts they want.

Organizations often seek mercenary donations and I’d be the last to tell you to avoid them at all costs.  But if I have a choice between a mercenary donor – whatever the type — giving me $1,000 and a mission-driven donor giving me $750, I’d take the $750 every time.

Why?  Because I’m evaluating the long-term expected value of the donor relationship and not the short-term monetary impact of the donation.

The long-term value of a mission-driven donor is higher for at least two key reasons.

For starters, getting a subsequent gift from them is more likely.  And getting a larger gift from them in the future is more likely.  You are looking for donors, not donations.   The $750 donor may very well turn into $5,000 over the next 4 years if the relationship is handled well. Whether the $1,000 mercenary donation ever turns into a repeat donation depends on factors out of your control.

Aside from this, mission-driven donors are also critical in growing the organization in another way.  They are far more likely to turn around and help your organization by reaching out to their friends and colleagues to help you grow your organization. Indeed, part of any well-designed major donor program and/or annual event is precisely the process of turning donors over time into fundraisers and friend-raisers.

So if mercenary donors are less valuable, should you ever seek them?  Heck yes.  But with a huge yellow caution sign – your programs, events, and strategies should focus on mission-driven donors.  And once you’ve created them, it’s okay to sweep in some mercenary donors as cream on the top.

Asking your board for money

May 21, 2011

Filed under: Board Development,Fundraising — Tags: , — jonathanpoisner @ 5:10 pm

I recently heard Nick Fellers of For Impact present.

Great speaker if you ever have the opportunity.

One of the things he suggested that rang true for me is the following:

As Executive Director, you should do a 1 on 1 donor meeting with all board members (with or without your board chair joining you) at least once per year.

Treat them like the major donors that they are.

You’re doing this partly to excite them.

You’re doing this partly to train them on effective fundraising by modeling best practices.

And you’re doing this to ask the to take on more responsibility.

In this day and age, as board members lead complicated lives with competing priorities, you can’t expect a board member who perhaps thinks about your cause an hour a week to always self-motivate.

So go ask them!

Never ask for a donation

April 21, 2011

Filed under: Fundraising — Tags: — jonathanpoisner @ 3:34 pm

Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about fundraising as an ask.

Indeed, that’s the language I often use when I’m creating a fundraising plan or counseling somebody — “you have to get out and make more asks.”

Yet, at a fundamental level, fundraisers for nonprofit organizations aren’t asking.  They’re inviting.

They’re inviting people to participate in an opportunity.

What the opportunity is varies wildly by organization.  It could be as broad as “help us save the planet” to as narrow as “help us build a house for a family.”

The donor isn’t making a gift — the word gift implies a transfer of something of value with zero obligation on the part of the receiver.  But in the nonprofit organization context, the receiver has an obligation — to fulfill the mission of the nonprofit organization.

There’s an exchange going on.

And what a great exchange it is for the donor.   In exchange for your money, you get to help make a real difference in the world and feel great doing it.

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