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fundraising industry

Think This, Not That!

Over a decade ago the first book in the Eat This, Not That! (Wikipedia, Amazon.com) series was published. Inside, the authors offered audiences many food substitutions designed to allow the reader to save calories while still enjoying a meal out. Much success followed, not only because of the easy method which eliminated tedious calorie counting, but also because of the mental shift that goes along with it. It’s much easier to do something if you’re connected across both the body and the brain. Mentally, small changes are easier to enact for the long-term, and that’s when the real change happens.

I bring that up because many of the questions I hear discussed in the current nonprofit world are, I believe, the wrong ones. They are questions which distract from the real substance of the problem, they put a focus on immediacy rather than long-term value, and they lead to treatment of symptoms rather than fixing the underlying malady. So, in an effort to redirect the conversation, at least a little bit, I offer up a few that probably should no longer be asked. Instead, I offer alternatives which can change your mindset and focus your efforts in areas which will produce healthy, sustainable results.

Q1 – Don’t ask, “How can we increase donations?”

This question implies that the nonprofit is the one in control of donations. The mindset that asks this question views the donor as an ATM. All you have to do is punch in the right PIN, and everything flows from there without a hitch. If the Executive Director pushes on just the right community leaders – if the Development Direct mails at exactly the right frequency – if the Program Direct can get just the right results to prove the program worth – if the Grant Writer comes up with just the right language for that next new innovation grant application – then the money will flow like manna from Heaven. This is quite presumptuous and ignores the reality all around us: that nonprofits are in the business of begging, and when you’re begging, you are not in control.

Instead, ask this: “How can we strengthen our relationships with our donors?”

This mindset change recognizes that the donor is in control of the money, and the nonprofit can only do their own part. They can only be the best organization they can be, providing the appropriate interventions at the right times to the right people. They don’t control the donor’s wallet or heart. But when you view the world through the lens of strengthening relationships, and actually doing the same, the donations will naturally flow. They will come in the form of higher donor retention, stronger advocacy and easier recruitment of volunteers, and, most importantly, more long-term partners rather than one-time hand-outs. So, to get more, focus not on getting, but on giving: giving your audience a better relationship experience, one that gets them to fall in love with you over and over and over again.

Q2 – Don’t ask, “Why do people give?” Instead, ask, Why do people avoid?

We know that acquisition rates are under 2% for naive direct mail. With renewal rates under 50%, those that do give a first time aren’t very likely to give again. Overall, the United States directs only 2% of GDP to philanthropy. This includes giving to religious institutions, which, for many, may be up to 10% of their income. So if some are giving 10%, and the average is only 2%, there must be a lot of the audience that’s giving nothing.

And yet, a vast majority of the surveys reported in the public space, and many of the internal studies that nonprofits commission, consider only the 2% of the audience that is actually giving. They try to identify “ideal donor profiles” and create a “donation likelihood index” to improve their acquisition efforts by targeting cultivated, maximized lists. I get it – that makes sense. Because it’s the data that you have, so you do the best you can with it.

But, what if you could find out about the other portion of the audience that is giving nothing at all? What if you could find out where their priorities lie? What if you could offer them a solution to the problems they see in their neighborhoods, and do so in such a compelling way that they would feel remiss if they didn’t give? It would be well worth the investment of any nonprofit to understand more about those who haven’t given and tailor their approaches to acquisition and retention in such a way that targets the other 98% of GDP instead.

Q3 – Don’t ask, “Can I afford this in my budget?”

I’ve run across multiple nonprofits that have struggled to advance because a project “wasn’t in the budget”. Again, I understand that Executive Directors have to answer to Boards, and they have to be responsible stewards of the funds entrusted to them. They should not be spending wildly or on programming, material, or services outside of their mission. However, if an opportunity comes along which would significantly improve your nonprofit’s position, either in the community, or financially, or with a certain supporter segment, you would be unwise to ignore the value in such actions.

Instead, ask “What would be the ROI on this investment?” When you view expenditures in this way, as an investment in the programs you provide and the people who deliver them, it’s acceptable to go over a hard-limit dollar budget. I mean, if I could guarantee you $10,000 for a $1,000 investment, that sounds like a great reason to go over budget by $950. And while there may be no guarantees in things like new copiers, outside consultant reviews, or a membership in a professional association of like-minded organizations, simply saying “it’s not in the budget” is not a good reason to ignore the opportunity.

Q4 – Don’t answer, “What do you do?”

This question, when asked by someone learning about your organization, is often answered with “Well, we service A, B, and C with programs X, Y, and Z.” And while that may answer the question that was asked, it’s a missed opportunity. It’s analogous to cough syrup suppressing the  symptoms of deeper problems. You can apply medicine to make the cough go away and no longer be a bother without actually fixing the underlying issues. When the medicine’s effects wear off, the symptoms return because the problem never got solved.

In the same way, answering the question with programs and services is speaking about the surface solutions to long-term problems. Instead of answering this question immediately, consider rephrasing. When someone asks, “What do you do?”, try answering with, “Allow me to rephrase the question. What is it we want to see in our community?” Then, you can talk about the goal of a poverty-free region; or a community in which all kids read at grade level; or a neighborhood where abandoned pets can find love and homes with holes in their heart can find companions to fill them. It allows the chance to talk about the future you wish to see, and the long-term goals of the group, rather than just the here and now.

Here and now is important; you don’t get to where you want to go with just ideas and dreams. You have to put the effort in. But when you focus on just the programs, you miss the chance to inspire your audience to join you in making the community that they want, too, even if they would never consider supporting a program that you’re promoting right now.

Conclusion

Consider a mindset redirect – instead of asking questions about the now, about what’s immediately in front of your eyes, try reframing. Focus on where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and whether or not you can inspire partners to support you all along the way. With that kind of long-term mindset you can ask, and answer, the right questions about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

craft, fundraising industry

Knowing Your Enemy

Today’s entry was inspired by Kristina Leroux’s post, Writing Assignment: Knowing Your Enemy, on the Nonprofit Marketing Guide blog. She challenged the reader to personify the enemy, whether that enemy is homelessness, apathy, greed, sloth, or something else. During an AFP event a few weeks ago I heard from Jim Schallom at Sherwood Forest that the enemy for fundraisers is “Starbucks”, or the general consumerist mindset. That’s been on my mind, and this challenge completely integrated my fundraising and fiction writing minds.

So here it is:

Dee Dee versus The StarBuck

In the still morning light, before the armies massed at the opposite edges of the valley slopes are fully awake, Edie and Dee Dee walk carefully along a dew-covered path. “I know you’re scared, Dee Dee”, says Edie. “But I believe in you. You’ve been preparing for this moment a long time.” She grasps Dee Dee’s shoulder, and the connection immediately encourages Dee Dee’s troubled heart.

“Yes,” she admits. She doesn’t want to fear, she trusts her training, and she knows that she is on the good side in this fight. But the idea of her upcoming battle with The StarBuck, their nemesis, the bane of their existence, looms large in her mind. She stoops down to the path and gathers a handful of pebbles, dumping them into her supply sack at her waist. Still… “Yes, I’m scared. I know how important this is to all of us.”

“I believe in you,” Edie says. “I wouldn’t have trusted you with such responsibility otherwise.” Dee Dee knows she is telling the truth, and yet the challenge still brings butterflies to her stomach.

Their brief walk returns Edie and Dee Dee to their army’s campsite. Tents fill the small plain in haphazard clumps; volunteers, advocates, and employees alike wander throughout, preparing for the day. A buzz of conversation rises over the morning cookfires, and any who see them give a smile. Today is the day. It is the start of the Annual Campaign. And for the first time Dee Dee, instead of Edie, is to lead the charge.

Across the valley the enemy waits. They go by many names and nicknames, but the most common is “The Something Betters”. That is, everyone over there always has something better to do with their time, their money, their advocacy, than to give it to this side over here, where there is good to be done. Something better like a phone upgrade. Something better like a new automobile lease. Something better like an extra manicure this month, because, well, reasons.

Edie and Dee Dee, though, lead the army fighting the battle to save local homeless animals, to provide them places to live and to provide loving companions for their human partners. They work to make all lives better in the community, not just provide a little more entertainment. And it is sometimes disappointing to see how little progress gets made.

Because so many of the surrounding villagers just don’t know what’s happening. They don’t know of this battle waged here, in this Valley of Public Opinion, to keep the shelters open. They don’t know how the battle is fought for the division of wallets and attention, every day, every week, ever month, every year. They of course have time to keep up with all about the latest government scandals, they know what’s happening half a continent away in the fashion capital of the world, and yet so much opportunity is missed here at home to make a better life with such a small effort. Edie and Dee Dee and their army fight, every day, against the Something Betters, in order to bring about that satisfying community that everyone so deserves.

Today Dee Dee will meet The StarBuck, at noon, in the middle of the plain, to do battle, to fight, to compete for the attention of the world. Should she triumph, her shelter will have earned yet another temporary reprieve. Temporary, for there will always be another Something Better coming along to take its place, and the fight will wage on. Should she fail… Well, that is an option too tragic to consider.

The sun beats hard on the plain as the two armies begin their descent. Dee Dee leads her pack, Edie follows at the rear. Across the way, she can see that The StarBuck, her rival, leading a similar army. She gathers her nerve; this is most important. All those behind her are counting on her to deliver.

They approach, these massed brigades, to support their avatars in this battle. They know that their future, too, hinges on the success or failure of the two who represent them. They stop and wait, in silent anticipation, tension building as Dee Dee and The StarBuck approach one another.

The StarBuck is large, three feet taller than Dee Dee at least. His stout body and broad shoulders bear leather armor destined to rebut the slights of opinion arrows pointed at him. Everyone knows his reputation, too, as a thief, arms snatching coins from unsuspecting consumers with a little drip here, a little dab there, insidiously expanding his effect every day. His armor is decorated with hundreds, perhaps a thousand, shiny baubles proclaiming themselves the Newest! Cheapest! Fastest! Best! He attracts his prey, and they come close, close enough for him to rob their pockets while they are distracted, and after he leaves them wondering just where all their money went.

Dee Dee is armed, though, with her weapons of choice. The stones in her sack represent all her tools, all her little tricks she has picked up along the years. She knows she will not convince The StarBuck to retreat with words, so she remains silent while he shouts.

“Ha ha, little one!” His voice rings out over the masses. “You have nothing. Nothing! What do you give them?” He sweeps an arm to indicate the whole world. “Better? Faster? Tastier? No! Not even a guarantee. You give them nothing! You should walk away now, before we destroy you forever.” He sneers, and Dee Dee can see the bright white of his teeth, many shades whiter than normal, only available through the latest and greatest bleaching technique. He reaches into his pack and pulls out a mug, tossing it across the space to her. It bounces and spills, double-mocha extra whip foaming across the grass. “Here,” he says, “drown your sorrows in that and be gone.”

Dee Dee stares at the pointless waste, and says nothing. Instead, she reaches into her sack and takes out a stone. On it are etched the words “Direct Mail Campaign: 345 adoptions last year”. She places the stone into her sling, winds, and fires, the missile aiming directly for The StarBuck’s exposed head. It strikes him on the chin and rocks him backwards. The next says “Case Study: How We Educated 912 With FREE Classes”, and it connects with his temple. The StarBuck is wounded, dizzy, staggering. She loads up yet another.

“E-mail follow-up: Partnerships with hundreds of businesses and thousands of volunteers” flies across the space, strikes the StarBuck at the cheek, and spins him around. He staggers but does not fall. His strength and resilience are evident. Dee Dee has one last chance. She takes out the largest, heaviest stone from her bag. On it is written “Matching Gifts”, and she loads it into her sling. She feels the weight, the power, the importance of this moment. Her arm winds up; she releases just as The StarBuck turns to face her once more.

The stone arcs towards him, in silent slow motion as the massed crowds wait breathless, and as it strikes him between the eyes he rocks back, back, back, until the only sound is a loud crash as The StarBuck hits the ground.

Nobody moves.

And then, from behind her, a cheer erupts, as her dedicated soldiers watch the Something Betters launch into disarray and scatter. They flee at the loss of their leader; they run back to their hiding holes in the discount marts and strip malls and e-tailers. Dee Dee has won the day; she and the army have saved the shelter for another year.

Edie appears beside Dee Dee and gives her another hug. “Well done,” she says, “I knew you would do it,” and Dee Dee floats on the emotional high of the moment, feeling hundreds of hands pressing in to congratulate her too. Her smile overwhelms her, and she cannot turn it off. Why should she? The Annual Campaign is a success, and for one more year there will be contentment in the village.

THE END

(FOR NOW)

craft, Writing improvement

Prove Yourself Without Saying A Word

The following quote is a fantastic guide for anyone in sales, persuasion, or attempting to change another’s mind. It comes from one of the most successful books of all time, about one of the most important topics we all encounter daily.

“If you are going to prove anything, don’t let anybody know it. Do it so subtly, so adroitly, that no one will feel that you are doing it.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

And I have nothing more to say. I’m just going to let that one sit. Far be it from me to expand on an idea that’s much older than I am, one that has helped a countless number of people to be more successful on their journey through life. Just do what Mr. Carnegie says, and you’ll be well rewarded.

So, then, why do I choose to write about it? As soon as I read it I wanted examples of this principle in action. When I browsed through the library of my mind, I found two that illustrate this quite well. And they’re entertaining too. Allow me to share so that you might learn and be inspired to apply this idea in your own life.

 

Example 1

First, let’s consider a segment of text. This is from L. Ron Hubbard’s story The Devil’s Rescue:

The main cabin was ornate with carved blackwood furniture, glowing silks and oriental carpets. Along the bulkheads to either side were rows of chests, camphor and ivory and teak, from which drooled the luster of pearls or gaped a little over a load of dull gold coins. The ports were twenty feet athwartship and full seven feet tall, all of cunningly set glass to make compasses and tritons and sea horses; through this, trailing far behind them, glowed their frothing wake, leading off into the gray dark and the shrieking wind.

The Devil’s Rescue, reprinted in Writers of the Future, vol 33

In this example, you can feel the knowledge that Hubbard has about life aboard a ship. He’s been there, he’s studied, he has the intimacy necessary to make you believe that you are aboard the The Flying Dutchman. But why is this important?

Because the author must establish the credibility of the narrator, in order for him to be believable enough that the reader enjoys reading and participates fully in the experience. If, for example, an amateur [such as yours truly] who had done the barest amount of research [or, more likely, none at all, attempting to fudge it with whatever is already in his head] about the internal decorations and workings of a pirate ship, were to write that same paragraph, it might come across like this:

The main cabin held elegant furniture, darkly-colored and well-formed. Rugs covered the floor, dulling the sound as the men walked. He dragged his hand across the sculpted walls, feeling under his fingers the rough differences between the carved wood of storage boxes, sculpted brass of drawer handles, or formed glass of the lamps lighting their way. Behind them, he could glance out the portholes, just at the height of his eyes, to the trailing wake, glowing in the dim moonlight.

Now, which of those sounds more believable? Which author has convinced you of his authority? Which one has proven that he knows enough about a sailor’s life to make it worth your while to read further? Hands down, it’s Hubbard. He has taken the Carnegie principle to the extreme: he has shown his competence, rather than blatantly beating you over the head with facts about how many books he’s read or how many interviews he’s conducted. And therefore you, as a reader, are more likely to believe him, accept him, and actually finish the story.

Nowhere in the story does Hubbard tell of his expertise. Nowhere does he come out and say, “this man knows such and such because of years aboard a ship”. He doesn’t have to. He’s shown that, subtly and adroitly, by his extremely competent narrative.

 

Example 2

The following is a humorous scene from Tommy Boy, in which main character Tommy Callahan finally succeeds in making his first sale. How? By demonstrating that his company is an authority, not because of the physical qualities of the parts they make, but by proving, quietly, that Callahan Auto actually meets his client’s unspoken needs:

And what are his needs? Not more brake pads. Not more inventory on a shelf. Not more stock to track and invoices to pay and deliveries to coordinate. The client already has plenty of those. That warehouse is full of stuff. No, what his customer needs is peace of mind. And Tommy tried that. In a sense, he said, “Well, sure, you’ll have peace of mind if you buy from us. I guarantee it!” Does that make the sale? Doubtful. It’s too direct and turns your customer off. The client completely rejected this approach in the first minute of the scene.

Notice what happens when Tommy switches tactics from the hard sell. Instead of pressing the point, he pivots to a more subtle method, and his client softens. His fear of “being sold” dissipates, and he opens up to the possibility of buying from Callahan Auto. When he does, he can see that his needs can actually be met, and he is no longer afraid of losing. Instead, he’s winning! He’s getting the emotional connection, the security and peace of mind he’s searching for. Tommy was able to make this point by, ironically, not making explicit statements to that effect. On the contrary, he spoke in a friendly manner, and allowed his expertise to come through in less obvious ways.

 

Conclusion

The next time you’re struggling to prove yourself as an expert, take a step back. Instead of becoming more belligerent and overbearing with facts of your qualification, consider a softer approach. Demonstrate your competence by producing quality work, rather than just talking about how you will produce quality work.