Bliou Enterprises


Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

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, September 19th, 2012

It’s important to know the what and why about the company you’re interviewing with, but for your sanity, dig deeper. The more you can learn about an organization’s “personality,” the better. See what Orson* and Peggy * did.

Orson* interviewed for a sales rep position which would cover a several county area.  He was pleased with the salary he had negotiated, and learned that he would also be getting a company car to cover his territory.  This was in an area that was new to him, and moving expenses were included.  All in all, he was excited for his new challenge.

When his offer letter came, however, his excitement soon faded.  A provision had been inserted which said that he would be starting at 80% of his negotiated salary, on a 3 month probationary period!  This had never been discussed – not during any of his interviews, nor over the phone.

He called his manager for clarification, asking why this had been put in the offer letter.  Her only response was that it was “standard,” and she wouldn’t budge.

Orson had also met with his manager’s supervisor during the interview phase, so he then felt he had no recourse but to call the district manager.  It wasn’t the best way to start out a new job, he felt, but he had been offered his full salary, and told the district sales manager so.

The district manager agreed, and a new offer letter was sent to Orson, stating that he would start with the originally negotiated full starting salary!  Orson was proud that he had Fixed It! and signed the offer letter and returned it to his manager, hoping that there wouldn’t be repercussions.

Shortly after he began his new position, he asked his manager, “How do I take care of my moving expenses?  Does the company get billed, or do I get reimbursed?”

She responded, “Oh, you don’t get moving expenses.  Didn’t you read your offer letter?”

“I was so burned up!” Orson said.  “I actually called her boss again.”

This time, though, the district manager was less inclined to be supportive.  He asked, “Does this prevent you from taking the job?”

I said, “No,” Orson recalled, “But looking back, I wish I’d played hardball.”

Orson later learned that his territory had two reps before him in the past year, and his company’s sales reps for the entire state saw more than 100% turnover in one year!

“I, too, ended up leaving the position within the year,” Orson recounted.  “That organization was terribly unhealthy, and I wish I’d noticed the many, many warning bells that were going off around me!”

Peggy* had made it as a finalist for a job she felt would be a good step up in her career, and was interviewing with the woman who would be her supervisor, should she get the position.

Things had been going well, and Peggy began to ask some more direct questions about the history of the organization and specifically, the position itself, such as, “How long has this position been vacant?” and “Why did the last person leave?”

Typically, these answers are not only revealing about the position, but also about the person answering them, and whether or not they are forthcoming.  This is true especially if the previous staff person departed under difficult circumstances, such as getting fired.  Seeing how delicately (or not) a manger handles describing such a situation is very revealing.

On the other hand, if the organization promotes from within, it can be a good sign – and also a bonus to know that the staff member will be available to answer questions while learning a new job.

Peggy was relieved to learn that the answer was somewhat benign:  The former staff member left a month ago because she had a baby and decided to become a full time mother.

The director continued by saying what a loss it was to the organization when the staff member left, then added, “And it’s really so foolish of her, sabotaging her career like that!  I even offered to let her work part time, too!  What can she be thinking?”

Peggy was so startled, she didn’t know what to say.  It certainly seemed as though she was being given a directive that if she had children (or was planning to have them), she’d better not be considering staying home full time and leaving her job!

Before Peggy could think of what question to ask next, the director continued the conversation and changed the subject back to the job and organization, much to her relief.  Peggy finished the interview, all the while searching her memory, wondering if she had dropped any references to her family situation during the interview.

A couple of weeks later, Peggy got the job offer, but politely declined, saying she had accepted another offer (she hadn’t).  She decided to Forget It! and not work for someone who so obviously declared that she knew what was right for everyone else’s situation.

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



(How) Have You Handled Fundraising During a Scandal?

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

These days, fundraising is a great challenge.  Stumbling blocks appear virtually everywhere.  Our donors have less to give, our mail campaigns cost more (and earn less) and there are more channels than ever to keep track of.

Only about half of US donors feel that nonprofits are doing “a good job” or better.  If we start out barely mediocre in the eyes of our supporters, there’s a long way to fall, then, when something goes wrong.

Just recently, several nonprofit and governmental organizations made national headlines for various scandals:  Komen, Penn State and the Secret Service, to name a few.

Not all scandals get an enormous amount of viral publicity, but since you are merely a participant in social media – and no longer control what information is disbursed – it is essential to have a plan in place.  And not just a plan that a few key people in leadership are aware of, but something specific known to everyone on staff.

The Trust Report demonstrates some unflattering figures about how the US public feels toward the ethical conduct of charities, such as “26% of Americans admit . . . they don’t trust charities.”  The report goes on to say that “the majority (57%) explained that this was because they did not know how donation money is spent.”

Unfortunately, stories that make the news contribute to this lack of trust:

•   California State parks hid $54 million surplus, while trying to close 70 parks & asked for budget increase

•   Fake nonprofit is a shell corporation for “Chinese Luxury Market”

•   Healthcare company preys upon the uninsured, injured with undercover debt collectors in ERs

The Trust Report points out that communication with constituents is essential, however.  The more that people feel knowledgeable about what your organization does, the less likely they are to feel taken advantage of after having made a gift.  Transparency is key.

Certainly, even when there is no wrongdoing, such as theft, embezzlement, etc., a scandal – and backlash – can occur, simply because of a communication breakdown.

This is what happened with the Red Cross shortly after September 11, in 2001.  Scores of people offered an unprecedented outpouring of generosity, intending to help the victims of 9-11 and their families.

What happened after those donations were made was that the Red Cross diverted some of the funds toward other disaster relief, as they have often done in the past.  (High profile disasters often get more contributions than those in lesser known or less populated areas, but they still need funds, too.)

The response to this was extremely negative, however, and the Red Cross had a great deal of back pedaling, explaining, and, eventually, bookkeeping to do.  They moved the funds back, due to the public response.

In fact, the Red Cross hadn’t intended to be dishonest, misleading – or even change their policy – but they weren’t transparent enough ahead of time so that everyone understood what was going to happen.  Therefore, people felt betrayed, or somehow cheated.

Filling out your organization’s profile as completely as possible on Guidestar and/or Charity Navigator is advisable, because independent ratings and assessments are looked upon favorably.  Many donors will search these types of sites when deciding whether – and how much – to give.

It’s not enough to be listed, but make certain that what you post on your site and others can be easily understood.  Nobody wants to pore over an hour of documentation, or click incessantly, just to find a few things.  (What does my gift of $X help accomplish?)

If you have put these things in place ahead of time, then when (if) a scandal does strike, it might sting less and last a shorter while because you were prepared with a battle plan.  The worst thing to do is nothing.  Pretending it doesn’t exist and hoping it will go away only confirms the suspicion that your organization is terribly unprofessional.

And, once in a while, there is the rare occasion that a great fundraiser can be borne out of a scandal.  This is definitely an example of making lemonade out of lemons!

Do you have any stories of how you handled a crisis at your organization?  Feel free to share in the comments below.

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Would You Like To Supersize Your Gift?

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Most nonprofits don’t pay much attention to their matching gift program, considering it an afterthought – a “BTW footnote” listed on the back of the reply card, or at the end of the donation eform.  What if it could be more?

Matching gift can be more than “please-find-your-employer’s-form-and-send-it-to-us” when it comes to your campaign.  It can actually become a way to boost some much needed funds from one of your upcoming direct mail or email campaigns that hasn’t performed as well as you’d hoped.

In order to apply this tactic, it takes more planning ahead of time – and the cooperation of a loyal major donor who is already planning to give to your organization.

Whether major donor in this case is $10,000, $50,000 or $100,000 depends on your organization, but the strategy remains the same – and is sound.  The point is to demonstrate, at the beginning of the campaign, that you already have significant support – and that the seed money has been committed by a strong supporter who’ll match all donations, thereby doubling gifts donated in this campaign!

Several studies have been done to show the effectiveness of this tactic, and the findings showed a 19% increase in overall revenue simply by announcing a match.  The probability that an individual would donate was found to increase by 22% because a match was included in the campaign.

Other interesting findings:  Increasing the match had no significant effect on giving.  It was tested so that various campaigns ranged from a $3:$1 or $2:$1 or $1:$1 match and gift giving did not vary among the three sets.  Other studies by different researchers are cited, who lowered the match ratio to 25% and 50%, and found that 25% didn’t increase giving, but the 50% match did.

Adding some urgency, such as a deadline, to your campaign will help facilitate this even more, such as, “All donations given by [Date] will be matched, up to [$X], so you can double your gift!  Please give today!”

This also has an additional effect of letting your major donor know that they helped strengthen an otherwise lagging campaign by strategically placing their gift, and makes them feel much more important in the organization.  Simply, it’s a win-win strategy!

This not only applies to individual major donors, of course, but some nonprofits have worked with corporate donors who will match contributions given by individuals for a campaign’s duration.  They enjoy the publicity of being supportive of the nonprofit as well, while most individuals prefer to remain anonymous.

Once the strategy is in place and improves your lagging campaign(s), you may want to test it on a more successful one – to see how well it performs, too.  Your donors may come to expect that you’ll be stretching their dollars further as par for the course, which could improve your overall image.

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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What Are Your Areas of Improvement?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

All nonprofits began doing one or two types of campaign better than others, because historically, it’s where their founders began, and it was the founders’ areas of expertise.  This may be events, grants, direct mail, etc.

As they grew, most organizations honed their skill in their specialty and became even better at raising funds in their particular niche, while typically expanding into one or two other areas over time.  As staff expands, it becomes obvious where the priorities are for the organization by the staffing structure.  Whichever department has the most authority – and people – no doubt has the most history and success, and the greatest priority.

Many development departments have come to learn – particularly after the economic downturn – that too strong a focus on their sole method of raising funds is a poor strategy.  Regardless of what area of development built up the organization, diversification is what helps a nonprofit stay strongest through difficult times.

How would your nonprofit fare if it were to have a significant drop in its main income source?  If this comes from grants, for example, are you prepared to compensate with a few additional email or direct mail campaigns?  What if your signature events have bolstered your coffers for years and you suddenly couldn’t hold a couple of them?  Would you be able to reach your constituents via social media and perhaps conduct an online event instead?

Although substituting new campaigns for ones that have been around for some time won’t likely replace the funds that they raised, they can help toward some compensation while regrouping.  A bigger point, though, is to ask the question of whether or not your organization would even have the means to conduct these other campaigns.

How large is your email list, for example?  How often do you communicate via email?  How many followers do you have on your social media channels, and how frequently do you engage them?  If these programs don’t even exist yet – and on an ongoing basis – then you aren’t in a position to have them even begin to compensate, should another campaign have a problem.

Certainly you should lead with your best foot forward, but the diversified nonprofit is the healthiest one.  It pays to take a critical look at your overall program.  Look for a few crucial key areas that need the most improvement, then see them through! It doesn’t mean that your weakest area(s) have to become your strongest.  Instead, though, change at least one of them for the better.

As you take steps to bolster the lowest earning areas of your campaign, make a point to track your progress as you go.  For example, how has your average gift increased, or your participation rate?  Have you gained in total number of followers, comments or shares/retweets?  Has your klout score improved?  Whatever metrics apply, be certain that you’re measuring your success – and looking for new ways to enhance these “lesser” campaigns, based upon what is working well so far.

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