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Posts Tagged ‘Online Giving’

How Will Sandy Alter Your Year-End Campaign?

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

So much has been donated during election season, that many fundraisers have been looking forward to the end of the election, so that donors can refocus on other priorities.  Namely, theirs.  Then, along came Hurricane Sandy.

If your nonprofit’s mission isn’t related to relief effort, then the spotlight has automatically been taken off of you for the holiday season.  The devastation that has hit so many – and domestically – is vast, and being publicized by even the private sector in multiple ways as a need for people to donate . . . to specific causes.

This probably isn’t the time to spend a great deal of effort on acquisitions, then, but to focus on your most tried and true segments, as well as your lapsed donors, reminding them of your mission and your successes – and why they supported you in the first place.  Tell them how their gifts have been helping, and what you plan to do to accomplish even more in the near future.  And, of course, how very grateful you are to have their support.

Another important aspect is how you’re asking for that support.  How easy/difficult is it for someone to donate to your cause?  Regardless of the appeal – mail, phone or email – have you included a (direct) hyperlink for your donor to use?  Do you have a way for them to text, if they prefer?

More is learned during each disaster giving cycle, and a couple of findings keep surfacing:  donors want convenience and respond to it, both via online and mobile.

Another way to help keep your donors loyal to your cause and mission is to have a recurring giving program.  Do you offer a monthly giving option on your online giving form, by mail and with your phonathon?  This is one of the best ways to keep your supporters thinking about you all year long.

Of course, these are all good practices, anyway – particularly having a healthy dose of online giving in your campaign, since many campaigns have barely kept up, while online giving has been steadily increasing.  Many reports show this, including the Blackbaud Indices of overall giving and online giving.

It’s all the more crucial, though, to implement these best practices now, as we head into the most crucial time of year – when donors will be spending the most . . . and probably not refocusing their attention where you thought they would, after the election.

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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What Do You Do When a Major Funding Source Disappears?

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

For many fundraisers closing out their fiscal years, the news isn’t great.  Foundations and corporations are returning, but not quite as quickly as they departed – and not back to their previous levels.  And some not at all.

When a long-time supporter – especially a major one – suddenly stops giving, it can be quite a blow.  This has happened (and is continuing) to many nonprofits as the economy shrinks the accounts of not only companies and foundations, but individual large donors as well.

“Not putting your eggs in one basket” takes on multiple meanings in development in times like these.  In addition to having a diversified campaign that seeks donations from a plethora of contributors – foundations, corporations, individuals, etc. – it’s also important within each campaign to conduct multiple campaigns.

For example, when pursuing foundations, expand your grant proposals to various types, including smaller family foundations, corporate foundations, etc.  Don’t limit yourself to the same kinds that have always funded you in the past.

Corporate sponsorships can be viewed in a similar fashion.  Have you always pursued national companies’ support?  There are many locally owned businesses that might welcome an opportunity to publicize their philanthropy.

With Annual Giving, think of the multiple channels that are now at your disposal to reach a vast audience of individuals.  Not only can you pursue more people with online giving, social media, mobile, etc., but studies show that integrated approaches raise the most money of all.

Consider the United Way campaign(s) and how they are affecting dozens (if not more) nonprofits across the entire country.  Because United Way decided at a national level to reprioritize its mission and refocus on several core funding strategies, agencies that received enormous amounts of funding are now finding it vastly reduced, if not eliminated outright.

This is happening all across the United States, including California, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, and in Ontario as well.

While some articles are spun to promote it as a positive opportunity to “let new organizations apply” for funding, many others who have been supported by United Way for years don’t see it that way . . . particularly when their messaging appears to be inconsistent.

For example, their new mission’s focus loudly proclaims to be generally zoned in on three main areas:

•     education
•     self-sufficiency
•     health

Although these are the newly declared areas of funding targets, various inconsistencies in this newly mandated attempt at being consistent continue to appear.

In multiple states (CA, LA, OH, NC, VA), the local Red Cross chapters had their funding significantly cut, if not eliminated, although many tried to argue that their providing food, shelter, clothing, etc., during disasters offers “self-sufficiency,” in keeping with the mission.  In the Buffalo, NY area, that United Way chapter maintained their Red Cross funding, but eliminated funds for the Girl Scouts . . . even though educating youth is supposedly a priority.

Other organizations affected by the new policy, resulting in drastic cuts in funding include the Salvation Army, the YMCA, as well as the Boy Scouts and Big Brothers Big Sisters, which lost their funding entirely from United Way of Dallas.  Given that the new UW priorities are listed as being about educating children, it’s perplexing that these long-funded institutions were dropped altogether, particularly when one sees that another United Way chapter in Illinois gave Big Brothers Big Sisters their highest award.

Although “youth development” is specifically listed among United Way of Topeka’s goals, Boy and Girl Scouts were eliminated from agencies receiving funding!  They got only designated funds from donors . . . and these designated funds are “a practice that is under review and could be eliminated in the future because of changes to United Way’s funding process.”

Columbia, MO and Charleston, SC took issue with the new priorities not addressing issues of real concern to their local communities.  Namely, they felt that their senior population was being severely neglected and ignored by the newly declared priorities.  These citizens argued that a great deal of what the local United Way needed to address and solve were the problems of the local citizens . . . and that the issues sent from national weren’t keenly aware of what was happening in their neighborhoods.

One can see that the Reno, NV and Norman, OK chapters dealt with this more directly, anticipating these needs, and altered the mission to include more local concerns.

While in York, PA, the United Way Executive Director was “flabbergasted” that an agency would make public their disappointment over not getting funded, it seems to be catching on all over the country.  In fact, in Nebraska and Ohio, they’re appealing the funding decisions, and in Ontario, they’re convening a meeting to review the entire allocation procedure!

It’s clear that you can’t control many factors about your funding sources:  the economy, funders’ changing priorities, how slow the post office delivers, cost of postage, etc.  Rather than spending a great deal of time altering an ever-changing strategy (and filing multiple appeals), a better overall campaign strategy is one that includes multiple funding sources, so that if one of them is drastically reduced, it doesn’t sting too badly during the period it takes to replace it with another channel of income.

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Can Capital & Annual Campaigns Play Nice Together?

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Many Annual Giving professionals dread the words Capital Campaign more than any other two that get uttered around the office. They’re considered more obscene than stretch goal, performance review or even database conversion!

Why do so many feel this way?  Because all too often, when a capital campaign is engaged, the Annual Giving staff is ignored at best and sacrificed at worst.  As the board and CEO pursues this bigger, better money, the nitty-gritty plans to obtain it are rarely shared with the everyday staff.  When all is said and done, however, much of the heavy lifting, clean up  –  and accountability  –  is left to whom?  You guessed it:  the Annual Giving staff.

It’s not that any development staff member in their right mind wouldn’t want a few hundred thousand – or million – extra dollars in the coffers, not to mention the added engagement of dozens of willing constituents, but at what cost?  Often, capital campaigns aren’t very well planned from the beginning . . . or thought out to completion.

Ike* recalls one campaign his small nonprofit began, where his Executive Director decided to hire a consultant from a big shot firm to lead their campaign.  The consultant was a well known person with a fine reputation, but also from a small shop, and he expected their organization to “type this up,” and make all of his follow up phone calls, etc.  He also informed them that, “I don’t really do email.  Leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you.”

Ike’s small staff was not in a position to take on the added burden of being this consultant’s personal assistant as well.  They had expected him to assist them, not the other way around.  Big reputation or not, Ike’s nonprofit had to let the well-known consultant go and hire a larger firm that could give them a staff member temporarily in the office during most of the capital campaign, to provide backup assistance, rather than expect them to work double and triple time.  This mistake in hiring delayed the capital campaign launch by almost a year for their organization.

Jean* was in charge of the Annual Giving campaign at her organization when it started working on a capital campaign.  She wasn’t pleased to be left out of the meetings, but believed that her Director of Development would keep her apprised of all aspects relevant to her campaign.

She was shocked when she learned that the board and Executive Director had decided that when the capital campaign was to launch the following year, they would be folding all aspects of the annual campaign funds into the capital campaign, which would last for three years.

Jean tried to explain, in vain, that not only did very few of the major gift donors (and therefore capital campaign donors) overlap with their annual campaign donors – as defined at their organization – but that if they essentially looted the annual campaign for three years, there would be nothing left of it at the end of the capital campaign.  Everything she had built would be gone, and she’d basically have to start over.

“The response I got from my argument,” Jean said, “Was, ‘Well, this is the way it’s going to be.’  So, the next day, I updated my resume, and I was gone before the capital campaign began!”

Kyle* recounts that his organization took care to continue feeding and nurturing the annual fund in a thoughtful and active way.  The capital campaign deliberately designated a small percentage of each individual’s capital pledge for the annual campaign, most of which were over a three year period.

“I’ll be honest,” Kyle said, “These were difficult to keep track of every year.  The donors didn’t always remember that they’d ‘already given,’ but we had to, so as not to ask them for an annual gift ‘again.’  We also had to make certain to acknowledge the gifts, and keep in touch with them in other ways.  Otherwise, when we resolicited them in the fourth year, it would appear as being from out of nowhere.”

Lamont’s* nonprofit had tried to save on expenses a few years before, and switched to a cheaper database system.  He was already feeling various pains from the conversion, and upon hearing the organization’s plans for the upcoming capital campaign, he saw a disaster approaching.

Lamont was in charge of sending out acknowledgments and pledge reminders.  Just in the past year, his nonprofit had offered recurring monthly donations with their online giving forms, and the new database system was constantly having problems getting this correct.  Lamont was spending nearly a week every month, manually fixing the few dozen recurring donors in the system.

Upon hearing plans for the capital campaign – which would allow monthly, quarterly and annual recurring pledges – and projections for hundreds more pledges coming into the system, Lamont inquired as to whether the organization planned on investing in better software prior to launching the campaign.

The executive director’s response was no, but told him that depending upon the success of the campaign, they might be able to afford better software afterward.

Lamont, like Jean, decided to start looking for another job with this news.  He felt that executing all of the pledge statements with such limited software would be impossible, and if he didn’t leave now, it would only be a matter of time before he was blamed for the problems that were sure to come.

For many in annual giving, hearing the words, “We’re going to be starting a Capital Campaign” is enough to send a chill up the spine . . . or a resume out the door.  Has it been a good or bad experience for you?  Does it affect how and where you interview?

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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How Vital Are Women To Your Campaign?

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

With most software, when a couple donates, a nonprofit must designate one person the main donor, while the other is the joint donor.  Over time, the joint donor can appear as supplemental or secondary in reports, with virtually no giving history, depending on how statistics are recorded or pulled.  In most cases, this has reflected poorly on the women donors in the database.

It is a mistake to let women donors – and their philanthropic decision making – fall into the background.  Nonprofits that don’t take women’s decision making seriously do so at their own peril.  Not only do women control a great deal of the family decisions, including financial ones, but they weigh in heavily on where the philanthropic dollars will go.

Women who are more affluent seek to make real change with their contributions, and typically are interested in more involvement with the organizations they donate to, wanting to have a personal connection with the nonprofit and its mission.

Annual Giving applies when marketing to women as well, however, since women in the lower income brackets are often the most compelled to give back to society and help others out of poverty, for example.  Women who earn less than $10,000 per year, who are homemakers with children at home, gave 5.4% of their adjusted gross income to charity.

Participation in other areas of philanthropy which often ultimately lead to donations, volunteer engagement and other involvement are showing that women lead the way as well, such as social networking.

Not only will nonprofits need to target and approach their women donors with different tactics, but first many of them will need to record the giving with a new procedure in the first place.

Pamela* discovered that many spouses were not getting credited for gifts that were made by a husband or wife in the same household in the past few years, since her organization had been successfully boosting its online giving program.  Although their online donation form had spaces to enter one’s spouse’s data, most people filled out the bare minimum information to make a gift and hit the [submit] button.

The automatic nature of the online gift didn’t bother to check the donor’s giving history and see that prior gifts (made via mail, with a joint checking account) had been credited to both spouses.  Pamela noticed that if a gift was made by check, both spouses usually got credit, but if it was made online, too often, one spouse was getting ignored and not credited with the donation.  Therefore, the second spouse wasn’t named in subsequent solicitations, nor was s/he listed in the Annual Report, and so on.

It took some work, but Pamela coordinated with her IT director and the online giving department.  Within the next year, nearly all spouses were fully credited for one another’s gifts, although special care had to be taken to accurately track all donors’ marital statuses, as well as updating anyone who’d recently become widowed.

Once this background project of better relationship management was in place, and the staff was better trained on its importance, Pamela’s nonprofit saw an overall increase in donations of nearly 15% the following year.  In the previous year, they had barely reached double digits.  Her director was pleased and agreed that a tighter set of records which gave all parties involved equal credit for gifts was definitely helping them solicit more wisely.

How could you apply similar tactics to improve your campaign?

Keep the base of the pyramid strong


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Are You Making the Most of Email?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

There are now many more tools in the toolbox when it comes to contacting constituents, but email is still a valuable one – and definitely one of the most profitable in terms of ROI when soliciting, as well as newsletters, updates, etc.

Some nonprofits have better luck than others raising funds or engaging their followers online, however.  Further scrutiny into their methodologies, combined with available research on the topic, often yields insight which demonstrates that various changes in campaign strategies can bolster – sometimes significantly – online income.

First, remember that email is a more personal and less formal way of communicating than direct mail.  While your language may not be exactly slang, it shouldn’t read like an engraved invitation that comes in the mail, either.  Although your type of communication always depends upon your organization and audience, most people feel comfortable being addressed by their first name in an email.  Other nonprofits leave off the “Dear Curtis” and any signature at all and simply write the message, recognizing the need and expectation that this is a casual mode of communication.

A disturbing trend these days is the automation of so many email systems to the point that the [From] name is listed as [].  (click to enlarge) Nothing screams “form letter” louder than this!  Not only has this sender name guaranteed a lower open and readership rate, but regardless of how much effort you have put into carefully crafting your personal message, many recipients will have concluded that your organization doesn’t really care, since it couldn’t bother to have an actual person send it . . . or receive a reply.  Nearly the same conclusion is reached for the similar email sent by one person, who opens with “From the desk of [important person].”  This translates as, “You weren’t significant enough for me to take the time to write to you myself, but won’t you send us money?”

Brevity is essential.  Indeed, tweets and texting make emails look too lengthy these days, so get to the point as quickly as possible.  Embedded links are ideal for providing additional documentation, videos, registration forms, etc., but yammering on is the quickest way to drive a recipient to the [delete] button.

For an enewsletter, not only are more of your articles likely to get read if each of them has a short summary, followed by a link to read it in full, but your analytics will then show which of the articles was more often read in full.  If each article is completely written out, the amount of scrolling required to get the final few will result in them being read less often, due to positioning rather than content, leaving you with tainted data.

When embedding hyperlinks in various email communications, take care to link significant text, rather than something obvious yet meaningless, such as “click here.”  Soon, your entire email can become riddled with them, rendering it more confusing than helpful.

Using photos in emails can help to sell your point even further, but don’t assume that everyone can view the pictures you’ve inserted.  To make sure that both sets of recipients receive your overall message, be certain that photos are only part of the message rather than the entire email.  Also, since many people view emails in a preview pane, test yours prior to sending:  Can you see any text in the preview pane, without opening it entirely?  Another important precaution when using pictures is to place text behind the picture, so that it will appear when the photo doesn’t.

Many organizations are tracking how many visitors come to their site via mobile and creating a different layout that adjusts for that viewing.  How does your email look when viewed on a handheld device?  Is it any better when in a landscape position?  Do you test sending and receiving emails to different email clients and devices prior to sending?

Would you change your text, links or [Donate] button if you viewed your email on a handheld?

Another way to help ensure deliverability is to check your spam score.  Certain words – and even punctuation – used in the body of the email, or subject line, will increase your score and get your message deleted from various filters.  Test your message first for any red flags and boost your number of emails received.

Finally, keep your subscription list as accurate as possible (and in compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act) by adding a footer to each and every email that asks the recipient about the validity of their subscription.  Go a step further than providing an [unsubscribe] link, however, and you’ll retain more people than you otherwise would.

Too many nonprofits only offer [unsubscribe] as an option and don’t consider the portion of their constituency that are changing jobs, or simply wish to receive messages at a different email address.  The better option to offer is [update my subscription].

When the constituent selects this option, s/he can choose [unsubscribe], but if they simply wish to change to a different email, this can still be done in one step.  If your form collects additional information, such as title, phone, etc., this can also be done in the same place.  Later, if your organization sends multiple newsletters or communications, the subscription form can be segmented:  Perhaps I wish to subscribe to the food pantry enewsletter, but not the “Meals on Wheels” enewsletter, and I also want to mark myself “Do Not Solicit by phone.”

If I can do this and update my email in one step, I’m more likely to provide my preferences and stay connected.  On the other hand, if I only have the option of [unsubscribe] with this email, then I have to go the home page and sign up all over again with a new email and enter my various preferences . . . I’m more likely to remove myself altogether and be done with it.

When viewing details such as these, it becomes clearer how paying more attention – or not – to individuals’ needs and preferences can make a significant difference with email marketing.  Some studies have said that email doesn’t yet have the return that direct mail does, but I would counter that most nonprofits spend much more time and effort, catering to the specific demands of the donor when soliciting by mail.

I daresay that when the same painstaking detail is invested into email campaigns, as well as follow through, we will see the industry as a whole yield a significant rise in email income and overall engagement.


Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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