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This is a Test, This is Only a Test

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Network For Good has dubbed today the first Be Your Donor Day.  It’s a fabulous idea, designed to get nonprofits to test their online giving forms to see how easy – or cumbersome – their process is.  Why stop there, though?

What other aspects of donor interaction could be improved, if only we could get a look at it through our donor’s eyes?

Vanna* is a development officer who wanted to test this theory, so she made an online donation to her organization . . . using her husband’s credit card, during last year’s holiday season.  She wanted to test the data processing department’s speed and accuracy in entering and acknowledging the gift when things were very busy.

“My husband’s last name is different than mine,” Vanna explained, “And, although I entered myself as the joint donor, I thought that this gift might be lost in the shuffle along with many, many others.”

More time went by than Vanna thought should have, and “her husband” still hadn’t received an acknowledgment, so she decided to check in the database, wondering if it had even been entered.  She was surprised to still find nothing under her husband’s name.

“Then, I thought: ‘Perhaps someone did notice my name and gave me some sort of special treatment after all?’” Vanna recounted.  “I checked under my name, and not only was the gift there, but had been for days!  The problem was that it was credited not to my husband, but some other man entirely . . . living in a different state!  Talk about your data entry mistakes!”

It turned out that Vanna’s “false husband” had an ID number close to that of her real husband, and the transaction opened up dialogue for better verification procedures in the processing department, particularly during peak times.

Wyatt* did something similar, but instead of using a spouse’s or child’s name, opted to submit his dead grandfather’s name for mail, email and phonathon lists.  The name was entirely different, and he maintained a separate email account, where he could receive messages for “him.”  It was his way of not only monitoring what his nonprofit was doing, but other nonprofits as well, since he subscribed “grandpa” to multiple lists.

Wyatt was pleasantly surprised when his new mailing went out to discover that his new mail vendor had done a diligent job of running his list through the NCOA database prior to sending it out.  It was obviously a cut above what his previous vendors had done, because “grandpa’s” mail had been returned, marked as nobody living at that address with that name!

“I can’t tell you how many, many pieces ‘grandpa’ has gotten at my address, from dozens of nonprofits!” Wyatt said.  He plans on staying with this new mail vendor.

Checking your website for mobile-friendliness is advisable, too.  Have you tried to make an online donation using your handheld?  Does that ramp up the level of difficulty?  What about other transactions on your site?  How much interaction do you ask of your constituents online?  Registering for events?  Purchasing items?  Signing petitions?

Whenever you are telling constituents to “Go to our website and [take this action]!” try to take that action with your mobile – and encourage the person responsible for that department to do it as well.

The more departments that engage in this activity, the more buy-in you’ll have as an organization to convert your website to a mobile-friendly one!

What other donor/constituent engagement areas can you think of to test that staff rarely uses?

______________________________________________________________________________
Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Job hunting is an uphill climb already, but there are times during the process when the odds truly seem stacked against you. When this happens, it can be very tempting to throw in the towel. See what Tina* and Ulysses* did.

When Tina* approached me about beginning her job search, she was wary and explained that she didn’t like the process of looking for a job.  This wasn’t so unusual, and I tried to discover which part she found difficult:  Crafting her resume?  The interview?  Selecting positions to apply for?  Getting her to respond to my questions turned out to be the hard part, and took more investigation than usual.

It turned out that what was really the most difficult part of job interviewing for Tina was dealing with her sister throughout the process.  Whenever she had decided in the past to conduct a job search, Tina found that her sister’s remarks were so negative, critical and hurtful, that she ended up taking the first thing she could – simply to be done with everything.

“This time,” Tina explained, “I’d like to take the best offer – not the first offer.  But I’m not sure how I can hold out, with my sister’s constant criticism.”

Although my first suggestion was that Tina simply not tell her sister that she was conducting a job search at all, this wasn’t feasible, since she would probably need to ask for her help with babysitting during some interviews.  However, we did decide to delay mentioning the job search until at least the first interview, and downplay everything as much as possible.

In the past, Tina would share her excitement – and disappointment – each time.  This time, her sister wouldn’t have the opportunity to elaborate on anything.

When Tina’s sister finally became aware that she was interviewing and began engaging in her familiar patterns, asking for details, Tina responded as we had rehearsed, by providing very minimal details, with as little description as possible:  “Oh, it’s hard to say.”  “We’ll see.”  “You never know.”  “I’m just going to give it a try.”

When prodding her for further information didn’t work, Tina’s sister attempted to provoke her, as she expected: “Well, when you’re ready to hear the truth, you let me know!”

Tina was prepared this time, and refused to engage in these battles, keeping her eye on the ball.  “Uh, huh.  Gotta go now.  Talk to you later.”

Spending more time and energy on her job search – and less effort fighting with her sister – allowed Tina to select the right job, as she wanted, and not merely the first job that came along.  It took nearly a year, but she is much happier not only with how she was able to Fix It! with her new position, but also in how she now stands up to her sister.

Ulysses* had gotten an interview with an organization he would be pleased to work for in a neighboring city.  He was also impressed, because, although it was a nonprofit, they had offered to pay for his travel expenses.  He hadn’t seen this offer made before at the middle management level, merely for interviews, and figured it was a designation of professionalism that marked this organization as being special.

The first interview went well, as Ulysses met with a couple of people on the development staff.  In addition to the typical interview questions, they asked him specific questions about how he would conduct campaigns for the organization, and handed him their latest direct mail piece, wanting to know his specific opinions about it.

Ulysses, eager to impress his potential employer with his skills, rattled off a variety of items that were good, as well as several that could be improved, and noticed that the assistant director was taking notes furiously.

Later, he was called back for a second interview, which included meeting several more staff members.  Ulysses was pleased that his previous performance put him into the final cut, and planned on showing more of his talents, in the hope of being selected as their newest staff member.

His final meeting of the day was with the Director of Development, who made a point of sharing with him some very specific (and “proprietary”) budget figures, and asking him to strategize – given that “this is our current situation,” where they should focus their efforts next.

Ulysses was quite excited, thinking that surely he was going to be hired, because this type of information was not really something to be shared with a candidate, but really with an internal employee!  If the director is seeking his expertise, he must have already decided to hire him!

Ulysses responded to the question about where the next campaign strategy should focus, as well as some other thoughts, and then finished the rest of the interview.  He went home feeling quite good.

Then a week passed.  Then another week passed – and no word from the organization came.  At all.

Finally, the HR Director contacted Ulysses and told him that the Director of Development had done some “further research” on him and concluded that he really wasn’t “at the level” of fundraising that they needed, and that they were going to open up their search once again.

Adding insult to injury, she said, “So, you don’t need to apply.”

Ulysses felt very deceived!

“For one thing,” he said, “I don’t know what ‘further research’ they’re talking about, because he didn’t speak to any of my references.  They would have told me.  For another, the Director knew ‘at what level’ of funds I’d raised before I had my first interview from my resume, so that wasn’t a surprise.”

Ulysses suspected that there was no job at all, and that the organization was merely “interviewing” candidates for free consulting services.  He particularly believed this because his set of interviews was the second round of interviews.

“I don’t think the HR Director realized that I knew they had already ‘opened up the search again.’” Ulysses told me.

Looking back, Ulysses postulates that their “travel reimbursement” was merely a type of protection, should anyone figure out that they are engaging in this type of behavior, so they can technically say that they are “paying people” for their time.

Although he knows he can Forget It! with respect to this job, Ulysses is carefully considering how to position his expertise for future interviews.  On the one hand, he wants to demonstrate how knowledgeable he is; on the other, it’s a fine line that needs to be walked.  He won’t make the same mistake of giving away everything during the interview again.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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Leslie* and Kirk* have different interview difficulties

Noah* and Odelia* learn the power of networking

Blanche* and Arthur* face discrimination

If Everybody Donated A Dollar…

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

As the campaign launched, Tina* was aghast upon seeing the sponsoring company’s CEO’s blog: “If everyone reading this donated just a dollar, we could raise $XX,000 for charity, to help feed Y,000 people this holiday season!”

“We had had multiple meetings to discuss the strategy, the campaign theme, the schedule,” Tina moaned.  “Who would have dreamed that he’d need it explained to him NOT to suggest a gift amount of a dollar?!”  In the future, Tina resolved to insist on approving all copy associated with her campaigns, regardless of who was writing it.

“I later learned from my gift processors that they resolved to hunt down the CEO and beat him to death if we did in fact receive XX,000 one dollar gifts for them to enter and acknowledge!” Tina shared, laughing.

This is a good example – however disillusioning – of great intentions gone sour.  Clearly, the CEO was on board, fully wanting to cooperate and promote the nonprofit, asking others to donate . . . albeit about as poorly as one can.

It’s not just sponsors or volunteers who unintentionally reduce or sabotage a campaign, either.

Ulysses* asked for my assistance when redesigning his organization’s online giving page, and I noticed that his suggested ask amounts began awfully low – at $25 – and suggested that we raise the minimum amount.

Initially, he was skeptical; however, not only did I point out that, industry-wide, online gifts are typically larger than direct mail gifts, I suggested that we look at his organization’s figures.

Even with the current minimum suggested ask of $25, Ulysses’ average online gift was already higher, at $37, and, of course, we wanted to encourage larger gifts.  I suggested a minimum ask of $50.

“But what about donors who don’t or can’t give at the $50 level?” he challenged.

“That’s what the [other] option is there for,” I explained, “But you also don’t want to start by suggesting that donors give less than what most of them would to begin with.  That’s just bad policy.”

In addition, we listed tangible benefits next to each donation amount – what each gift would help accomplish or achieve for the nonprofit’s recipients of services – to help each donor feel that their contribution had meaning.

Six months after this redesign, Ulysses saw his online average gift approach the $50 mark, so we tackled his direct mail reply card ask amounts, too.

Because his mailings are segmented into non donors, lapsed and current donors, we analyzed the average gifts for each of these groups and based the ask amounts on targets set slightly higher, which paid off as well.

Ulysses is planning to propose that his nonprofit upgrade to a more sophisticated email marketing software system in his upcoming budget, coordinated with a better online giving form, so he can apply the same targeted approach to the non donors, lapsed and current donors with his online appeals in the future, mimicking what his mail appeals are now doing.

What campaigns do you conduct that have similar areas for improvement as you look toward year-end giving?

______________________________________________________________________________
Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Having a close relationship with others in the workplace is something that most people hope for when they take a new job; however, that can be turn into too much of a “good thing,” as Rachel* and Stephanie* each discovered.

Rachel* soon found out that the job she got was in a terribly dysfunctional place, much to her dismay, but she had decided to stick with it for a variety of reasons.  First of all, she had been without a job for nearly a year when she got hired, so she wasn’t eager to begin another job search.  It was very draining – both emotionally, and on her finances – to be out of work for so long.

Rachel was the sole breadwinner for her family since her husband had been injured on the job a few years ago and was home on disability.  Because her new job had health benefits that covered her children, she had resolved to keep it, regardless of how crazy the people became.

“I just told myself – nearly every day – that I wasn’t there to build a career, but to build up my family,” she recounted.  “And, I tried to avoid the really hateful people as much as possible.”

Rachel was pleased to find one woman who also realized what a defective environment they were working in, and they became friends.

“I was glad to have someone to eat lunch with, or simply empathize with at the latest insane directive to be announced,” she said.  “She was an oasis in a desert of hostility and incompetence.”

Over time, though, Rachel began to notice that all of their conversations centered around what some manager or co-worker had perpetrated, or who was the stupidest, meanest, etc. person of the day.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Rachel clarified.  “It really is a terrible atmosphere, and incredibly dysfunctional. I think I’d have lost my mind if I didn’t have my one friend to bolster my spirits, while the whole world seemed to be crashing in, almost on a daily basis.”

On the other hand, Rachel felt as though a friendship needed to be about something beyond shared misery.  They didn’t talk about anything else it seemed, such as movies, sports, news – nothing.

I suggested that Rachel start asking her about her kids, husband, what she did over the weekend, etc.

This proved to be difficult at first, because it was clear that their mode of communication had fallen into habitual complaining.  Rachel noticed this was the case, since even her friend’s starter conversations would begin with her children’s problems, or what was wrong with her husband’s workplace, etc.

They would have to talk for a while, until something positive came up, then Rachel would ask her to elaborate on that item – then she’d ask for an update the next day, or later that week.  It took a concerted effort on  Rachel’s part to Fix It! and get them out of the habit of defaulting to only discussing problems and complaining, as though nothing ever went right.

Eventually, Rachel was able to have less of a gloom and doom atmosphere – and more of a friend – in the work situation she chose to accept.

Stephanie* was pleased to get hired out of school into a small nonprofit where the Director of Development was willing to mentor her.  She and her Director were the only fundraisers on staff, and she realized that it would be a lot of work – and that she had a great deal to learn, but she was willing.

In the first two years, things went very well, she believed.  She learned a lot and became good friends with her director.  He took her under his wing and taught her many things.  Because it was just the two of them, he confided in her, and she made sure to keep his confidence and show her loyalty.

As a result, their organization was quite successful in substantially exceeding their goals.  The Executive Director was so pleased, she decided to hire an additional gift officer and development assistant, doubling the development staff.

Stephanie knew she had grown in the last two years, but it became much more apparent to her by how much when the new staff members arrived – and the director relied upon her to help train them, which she was happy to do.

Then, several problems began.

The Director of Development didn’t realize how much of the day to day operations had been handled by Stephanie . . . until she was explaining it to the new staff.  He began to second guess many of her instructions – in front of the new staff.

“I couldn’t figure out if he didn’t understand, didn’t agree, or was just intent on showing everyone who the boss really was,” she said.  “Either way, it was insulting.  How did he think we surpassed our goals?”

Stephanie tried to speak to him alone, personally, and explain the need for doing the operations a certain way, etc., but discovered that their camaraderie and previous way of communicating on a more personal, intimate level had disappeared.

“Apparently,” Stephanie said, “We could only be ‘buddies’ when he was imparting wisdom to me, but it couldn’t possibly work the other way around!  I felt pretty stupid when I realized this!”

Although Stephanie was pleased for the time she had previously spent learning her trade, she decided that she had outgrown her organization – and her mentor – and that it was time to Forget It!  We began her job search, and within less than a year, she found a different job, so she could continue growing.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Idalee* and Janet* have difficulty socializing at work

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What Are Your Analyticszzz?

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

When I suggest that development staff pull data on their fundraising campaigns, the most common responses are dread, avoidance and boredom.  Once we get the data (properly) pulled and analyzed, a different reaction appears.

Not only are the development staff pleased to see what is – and even isn’t – working well, but by how much, so that they can make more informed decisions moving forward, knowing that this is the right course, rather than going on instinct.  In some cases, development staff had been in a battle of this gut feeling vs. that gut feeling with management, citing anecdotal evidence of what several overheard comments had been, etc.  This kind of policy-making can be terribly frustrating!

If you’re a development staff member and don’t know how to pull detailed data (not just your total figures) out of your database, it’s time to make friends with the person who can do this for you . . . and it wouldn’t hurt to get some training yourself, so that you can manipulate the data once you get it.

Having the data is only the first step, because you’ll need to present this information to others, such as your senior staff and board members.  The more you can show your data in a palatable, comprehensible format, the better it will be received – and remembered.

Take the example below, which shows a six year history of an annual giving campaign, segmenting mail, online and phone income per year.  Even those who are not in development can easily understand this chart.

If your data isn’t entirely complimentary, it’s still important to see what it says, because this can help drive policy decisions – and changes.  If something isn’t working, clearly it’s either time to stop doing it . . . or at least drastically alter the strategy.  Knowing this – and having a baseline measurement – shows where you’ve been and where you’re going.

It’s also highly unlikely that everything in your campaign is failing, which is why it’s essential to drill down into your analytics and find what you are succeeding at.  Perhaps your retention is weak, but acquisition is improving?  Maybe your average gift is lower than it was, but your number of gifts is greater?

What about your channels?  Are you making the most of online giving?  When you compare the Blackbaud Index of (Overall) Charitable Giving with the Index of Online Giving (for nearly any month, size or type of organization), it’s clear that online giving is doing better, relatively.  Nonprofits that make online giving a larger part of their annual campaign will succeed more overall.  It is the future of annual giving.

Therefore, this would be a good subset of data to present.  Over the years, how has online giving increased?  Another specific set of data within this question to answer would be the size of online gifts.  Such data might be presented in this manner:

Clearly, this data demonstrate a responsive population that is more and more willing to donate online – and with larger gifts over time.  This tendency for larger donors to make online gifts was documented in a 2008 study by Convio et al, The Wired Wealthy.

What will your data show?  Whatever it is, it’s likely to help you make your case for doing more or less of one type of campaign, and focusing on what will help you reach your goals, as well as give your constituents more of what they want . . . now that you better realize what that is.

Remember – data doesn’t have to be thought of as a four letter word!

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