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Posts Tagged ‘mission’

Please Support Us In the Most Meaningless Way of All

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Most nonprofits are still struggling to get back to their pre-recession levels of support.  While some have made it through unscathed, it hasn’t been easy. They can tell you that commitment to mission and donors is essential.

This is why I get so frustrated when I see corporations taking advantage of the nonprofits that are having more difficulties by offering funds to them in various “contests” that serve only as publicity stunts for the companies, really.

What started out as a national trend has already expanded to local companies, making the same types of offers to the very small – and desperate – local nonprofits as well.

These set ups remind me of various “Are you in debt?” commercials, offering distressed consumers options they might not otherwise take for high interest loans, credit cards, etc.  In other words, easy money.

A nonprofit that hasn’t yet made its goal has a pot of gold dangled in front of its eyes, and “all it has to do” is chant the chosen mantra of the corporation of the month that is throwing this particular bone into the pit of desperation.

Of course, it’s not enough that the nonprofit itself blather the company slogan on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, GooglePlus, and anywhere, everywhere else that the company is tracking it.  No, the organization must use all available venues to reach its constituents to nag, beg and cajole them to do the same . . . for the good of the organization(?)

Never mind that the bank, life insurance company, software developer, etc. has nothing whatever to do with the mission of the organization.

“Please, PLEASE text/post ‘Get 2 Free Boxes of Checks with a Bank ABC Checking Account!’ on every channel – once a day, until [deadline], so we can win the $XX,000!”

Like all scams, the easy money only appears easy.  Not only does staff become consumed with constant reminders to all supporters, then someone has to keep track of where the organization stands each day of the contest.  (“We’ve fallen to 2nd place!  Please remember to keep posting daily!”)

The saturation point of supporters will likely cost you in terms of loyalty down the road, even if your organization does win the contest, not to mention the fact that you’ve disconnected your supporters substantially from your mission.  A great deal will have to be rebuilt in the future.

And, if you plan on “winning” such contests as an ongoing part of your budget, both your staff and supporters will become exhausted and burned out, which means your churn rate will go through the roof.  Additionally, you’ll support the corporate notion that this is an acceptable way to support nonprofits, rather than directly via grants and sponsorships.  (Bad idea.)

Research has shown that the best way to gain long term support for your organization is through telling a compelling story about what you do by who benefits from your work.

Chanting some company slogan couldn’t be much farther off point than this, and is probably working to alienate your supporters more than just about any other activity you could be doing, short of a scandal.

The next time you’re tempted to participate in an easy money scheme, think about the story it tells.  If it doesn’t further your mission, toss it aside.  You’re wasting time and money pursuing it, not to mention constituent loyalty.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

 

The Short End of the Stick

Heads They Win, Tails You Lose

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Give NOW! Our Arbitrary Deadline is Looming!

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

June closes the fiscal year for many nonprofits, who are clamoring for every last dollar these final weeks.  As the pressure builds to make goal (and think of staff evaluations), it’s easy to take your eyes off of the ball.

Sid* began working for an affiliate of a national nonprofit, at one of their satellite offices.  Although he was assigned to work as a development officer out in his territory, he also attended quarterly meetings at the state office, for assignments, reports and general brainstorming sessions with the other development officers throughout the state.

One of his many assignments was to send an email solicitation before the fiscal year end, in an attempt to collect more funds in time to make goal, which he did, along with all of his other appeals.

During the next quarterly meeting at the state office, Sid was very surprised when the results of the email were reported, however.  His district’s results raised much more than anyone else’s!  The state director of development chose to make it a point of discussion, because Sid’s email was the only one whose text didn’t include something about “the fiscal year end,” but instead talked about the organization’s mission.

“It’s not an accident that Sid raised more money,” the director explained, “Our donors don’t care when our fiscal year ends.”

While it is true that some campaigns do fare better with deadlines attached, they need to be there for a good reason, and they shouldn’t be overdone.  For example, if you have a matching gift donor, who is willing to contribute at the same level as all funds raised in a campaign, up to X dollars by Y date, that can be quite effective.  Charities that work with disaster relief often work against various deadlines, too, of course.

On the other hand, if every message you send reeks of *ACT NOW!* rather than talking about what your organization helps to accomplish, you risk sounding like a bad infomercial instead of philanthropic.  This can be a problem when nonprofits approach the finish line during the fiscal year.

The pressure can be enormous internally, but the strategy – externally – still needs to remain focused on what the donor wants to talk about, which is why s/he should give and what that gift will accomplish ultimately.

Tori* made a point to research and then visit her regular – yet lower-level – donors and speak with them about their support of her nonprofit.

“I told them that I was going to profile them in our upcoming newsletters and annual report (which I did), but my real purpose in making the visits went beyond that,” Tori explained.

“I wanted to better understand what prompts our donors who continue to give to us, year after year, but haven’t reached the major donor levels yet.  If I can better understand why they give, this would give me insight on how best to appeal to other Annual Giving donors.”

Tori said that she considered sending out either written or online surveys, but didn’t figure that they would capture as much meaningful data.  “. . . if people even responded!” she laughed.  She felt that, although her donor visits to lower contributors was time consuming, it would end up paying off in the long run.

Although she couldn’t directly tie specific gifts to her visits’ data collection, overall giving in response to her newsletters and annual report increased, as well as her Annual Giving portfolio, after she began modifying her appeals to include the language and strategy she learned from her interviews.

There’s little question that a long-term donor-centric strategy fares better in the end when approaching your campaign, but how do you balance that against the short-term pressures of making goal when it looms in the not-so-distant future?
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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

The 3 basic types of nonprofit workers: Mission Driven – actually hopes to be put out of work, since a cure will be discovered.  Transitory – a new grad or changing jobs.  He won’t stay long, but wants experience, so he’ll work hard while there.

Then there’s the Fixture.  Fixtures are those who either can’t or won’t step up to the plate and perform.  In fact, they barely maintain, so they spend a great deal of time disguising their lack of skill and/or enthusiasm by becoming bottlenecks to progress.  These are the people who love to cite rules, policies and procedure as reasons why something hasn’t gotten done yet.

Many organizations have Fixtures, and sometimes more than one.  They can be at any level in the organization, unfortunately.  The higher up the ladder the Fixture is, the more debilitated the organization becomes at ever accomplishing anything more than “what we’ve done in the past” – if that.  It can also become a demonstrated management style for others to follow.

If the Fixtures take control, most Mission Driven people will leave and go to other organizations that are interested in action and change, the Transitory employees will continue to come and go, and the organization will become so heavily weighted with Fixtures it guarantees that progress will drop to a slow crawl.

When people ask for my career counseling – either with their current job, or with assessing a potential employer during interviewing (“Will I like it there?”) – I ask them to first assess themselves and what motivates them at the office.  What gets you through the day?  In other words, who do you work for?

•      Your boss?
•      The organization/mission?
•      Yourself?
•      Your family, simply to pay the bills?

Depending on the answer, your reaction to an organization filled with Mission Driven people will vary.  (“Yes, I know this is great news, but I’d really like to see my family this week . . . “)  If you’re comfortable earning a paycheck and working 9 to 5 regardless, then the fact that Fixtures have delayed delivery for the third time this month might not bother you too much – as long as you don’t get the blame. On the other hand, if you really have a need to make a difference or an impact, you don’t want to accept a position at a place that reeks of micromanagement.

Tess* considered herself to be several years away from retirement age when her organization was forced to downsize, due to the economy, and she found herself laid off.  She definitely wanted to keep earning a full time living using her very marketable skills, but still wanted time to spend with her grandchildren after hours and on weekends.  She no longer considered her career to be her “life’s work” and wasn’t interested in doing it night and day.

We were able to Fix It! by focusing Tess’ job search on positions that stayed to a regular schedule, rather than working erratic hours, such as events, and found her a job working on gift entry and database analysis.  She could produce reports according to a fixed calendar, and emergencies were rare.  This gave her time with her family, and she is hopeful it will see her through to retirement.  Although there are certainly bottlenecks within her organization, Tess has clearly laid out her schedule and what she requires from various departments and staff members, so that if someone fails to deliver, the paper trail is obvious about who dropped the ball.

Vern* is a worker who is passionate about what he does, and had been working at his organization for over a year without much success at getting increased responsibilities.  Neither during the monthly staff meetings nor at his semi-annual review did he feel that any of his ideas were seriously considered.

At first, he had been hopeful, because he was always assured that they would be “passed on,” or told, “We’ll think about it,” but now that he was into his second year, he was beginning to understand that the organization lingo simply didn’t have a word for “no,” and this was their way of saying, “It’s going to die in committee and you’ll never hear from us again.”

Vern was dismayed to think that he’d wasted a year simply figuring out this odd way of communicating in a strange land, and decided to Forget It! and start looking for a new job . . . but, he told me, he didn’t want to make the same mistake again and fail to pick up on signals wherever he landed.

We searched for the jobs he wanted and rehearsed with mock interviews.  That way, he could not only better assess the types of people he desired as supervisors and co-workers, but also how he could best project himself, so that the organizations would clearly understand who and what he was as a worker.  With this approach, neither party would be unpleasantly surprised.

Vern’s job search was lengthy, but in the end, we found him a much better fit, and he is a great deal happier where he is now.

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.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

—  Rita Mae Brown

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Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Monday, September 20th, 2010

While dining recently, I had the chance to see a corporate and non profit partnership in action.  Unlike the previous poor examples I outlined, this one was beneficial to both parties, and didn’t require the non profit to do all the heavy lifting.

When it was time for the check, my Chili’s server (and server-in-training), made a point to tell me and my dining partner about the current opportunity we had to add a donation onto the bill for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.  They were excellent representatives, beginning with asking us if we were familiar with St. Jude’s work (and clearly prepared to educate us if we were not).

Since we were, they continued by explaining that we could receive various thank you gifts (key ring, t-shirt) – and that 100% of our gift would go to St. Jude’s.  We were impressed, and made a contribution.  I told them that they could keep the gift(s), but asked that they pose in the t-shirts that were promoting the campaign throughout the restaurant – and show the keyring.  In the background, you can also see the Create A Pepper artwork drawn by children.  (I wasn’t dining with any children, so hadn’t been offered a chili of my own to color.)

As more non profits are seeking new and various sources of funding, it is all too tempting to cut corners and take whatever offers you can get, but it is essential that we remember several basic premises:

•     The partnership must help your organization at least as much as it assists the company (otherwise, it isn’t a partnership . . . and it isn’t philanthropic).
•     If the non profit is doing the majority of the work while the company reaps the majority of the benefit (publicity, income, credit), it’s a bad deal.
•     The company should be a good fit, mission-wise, with the non profit.  Either their service, product, policy and/or politics should align with the organization.

Stacey Goldberg, at IEG Advisory Services, elaborates further on how to find the best corporate sponsor(s):

There are definitely other great examples of current corporate partnerships out there, such as the Minnesota Idea Open, which has sparked many people in Minnesota to learn more about critical societal issues and then submit various ideas on how to improve upon said situations.

Another excellent case in point is one that Southwest Airlines is proud to promote on their blog, regarding their sponsorship of the Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF) and several students who visited Washington and the White House for the first time in their lives.  The story about these individuals through their director’s eyes is quite compelling.

When one sees fantastic illustrations such as these, it’s all the more reason to take seriously warnings against companies that attach too many strings to their support.  Unfortunately, there are some corporations that have seen the difficult economy as an opportunity to add more marketing conditions to grants.

There is another sector that is promoting the notion that philanthropy is actually beneficial for businesses, however, and it is growing at a steady pace.  Recent research backs this up, particularly for mothers and Millenials, who show the strongest preference to purchase products that support causes that they do, sometimes even to the point of switching brands.

Most important of all, though, is that your organization continue to portray the image that you wish, rather than be viewed as having some type of For Sale sign erected.  Your organization’s brand and image take years to build, and can be easily lost.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

The Right Corporate Sponsor Can Be Beneficial

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Bringing on corporate sponsors in new and creative ways is being suggested more frequently these days, as non profits are experiencing budget shortfalls that they haven’t seen before.  While we all want to have fiscal support, it is important to keep in mind several factors before deciding to enter into a partnership with a company:

Is the company a good fit with your organization?  Does the corporation represent a product/mission related to what your organization stands for, or is trying to accomplish?

Is the campaign itself mission-related?  You have X points of contact per year with your constituents.  If/when you ask them to act on your behalf, it’s important that you make it count – related to your organization, meaningful to your mission.

Too often, companies attempt to portray themselves as philanthropic simply by throwing (usually relatively little) funds in the direction of charities, yet the non profits are required to do the lion’s share of the work, retain very little of the profit . . . and often, hand over their constituents’ contact list that they have worked for years to cultivate as well.

This only seems like a good deal to cash-strapped organizations who feel they have little alternative but to agree to nearly any terms for the extra income, but it is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

It is better to cultivate your donors with consistent messaging about why they should support your mission of ending illiteracy, feeding the homeless, combating domestic violence, etc., instead of asking them to switch long distance carriers or click on your website’s Amazon button, and so forth, so that you can earn Y% of that purchase.

Some examples of corporate partnerships gone sour:

Chase Community Giving Contest – One of the largest social media contests, which awarded over $1,000,000 in prizes to non profits; however, it was riddled with scandal.  In order to vote on Facebook, you had to offer all of your contacts’ data.  Many questionable/counterfeit users were created and voted, tainting results.  In addition, several finalist organizations were eliminated during the last days, due to Chase’s not wanting to be associated with their missions.

Public schools have been experiencing this desperation far longer than typical non profits.  Although the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood successfully won a several year battle against BusRadio, they are now tackling a pitch to air television on school buses.  CCFC also reports on public schools that allow churches to preach, and gun shop owners and fast food companies to market to school families in exchange for various sponsorships.  This phenomenon was even highlighted – and mocked – years ago by a then popular tv show.  Most parties agree that children shouldn’t be bombarded, but others feel that what is happening in schools is an indicator of a trend of things to come in other areas of society.

When the donation becomes transactional and the transaction is gone, so is the donation.  While working at PBS, I witnessed a transformation in the average gift during pledge drive:  It climbed from the high double digits to triple digits while Suze Orman specials were on the air, due to her premiums being pitched.  Donors gave higher gift amounts not out of loyalty to public broadcasting, but because they wanted the Suze Orman DVD or CD that was being emphasized.  A few years later, Suze signed with QVC and left PBS.  When she did, the average pledge once again dropped below $100.  The correlation was undeniable.  People were selling Suze merchandise on the air, rather than the mission of public broadcasting and loyalty to PBS, and it cost us dearly.

Of course there are ways to strike a balance and enter into corporate partnerships that benefit both parties, but it is always important to keep your long term goals and big picture in mind:  What does your organization stand for, and how do you want it represented?

There are also new definitions of Social Business being created.  Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize winner and author of Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs, looks at ways businesses can better serve society and operate neither at a loss nor a profit, but reinvest profits back into the company.  Monday, June 28th is Social Business Day.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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