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(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.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Should I Even Bother With Direct Mail Appeals Anymore?

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

It can be easy to be caught up with stories of new technological successes – along with recent press of old technology dying out – and conclude that direct mail should be eliminated from our campaigns, but that would be a mistake.

Perhaps your campaigns have dropped in the percentage of what direct mail has brought in over recent years, from 80% to 70% and now 60% or even half.  While this is certainly a substantial decrease, you still cannot afford to ignore a venue that brings in half of your campaign income!

On the other hand, clearly your donors are responding to other appeals, and additional methods must be added to your development efforts.  Tracking methods and analysis has never been more essential.  Segmentation is also crucial, because various audiences will prefer to be solicited and contacted by different means.  Some people might find being contacted on their cell phones an invasion of privacy, while others view it as the only means of communication, and if you want to reach them, you’d better learn to text and tweet!  (Can you store this detailed type of “do not contact” differentiation in your database?)

Even direct mail itself needs a makeover for most organizations.  If you’re like me, you try to get on as many mailing lists as possible, so that you can review what other companies and nonprofits are mailing, to compare.  I keep the very, very good – and the very, very bad – as examples of what to emulate and what never to do.  Unfortunately, the “what never to do” pile is always larger of the two.  The “ho hum” in-between pile is largest of all and ends up in recycling.

Direct mail can – and should – incorporate a great deal of new technology into its appeals these days.  For example, if the appeal is asking for a donation, add a specific hyperlink in the letter, reply card and on the return envelope, so that you are encouraging online giving.  Make the redirect meaningful and memorable, and either related to the campaign, mission or organization.  (e.g. company.org/donate)  Also be sure it is trackable to the specific appeal – and that it lands on the donation form, instead of requiring several more clicks on the donor’s part to locate it.

If the mailing is more related to a cause or petition, then the organization’s Facebook page or Twitter account should be highlighted more, in order to share or tweet the news being spread via the mailing.  Although the social media site(s) would be featured more prominently in these mailings, no doubt there would be a hyperlink to include as well.  The purpose of the mailing would determine which would be emphasized more.

QR codes are becoming more popular and used by the increasing number of smart phone owners all the time.  Many savvy mailers are adding them to mailings as well.  A QR code can represent a variety of things, including a slogan, photo, video, coupon, hyperlink – it really depends upon the purpose of the campaign.  They can also come in many different colors and designs, including custom designs, with embedded logos, to catch the eye.

Imagine sending direct mail recipients the ability to view your new PSA video with a custom QR code and a direct donation hyperlink, all in one letter, along with an invitation to join your Facebook page and follow you on Twitter!  Now that is a direct mail piece that is keeping up with the times! (Remember to repeat on the reply card and return envelope.)

And if you do send such an appeal in your year-end mailing, will you have the proper tracking tools in place to measure your success(es)?  What can you do between now and then to make that happen?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Most fundraisers know not to rely on only one source of income, whether it’s grants, mail, events, etc. The same applies with social media and marketing. While Facebook is a valuable tool, it’s essential to expand your reach as much as possible.

Facebook is where many organizations ventured into social media initially, and some learned the hard way that if you don’t follow its rules, your account can be suspended or terminated for various violations, including:

•     adding/inviting too many friends at once
•     exporting your friends’ emails out of Facebook
•     exceeding the 500 “limit” on the number of fans (groups – prior to pages)
•     creating duplicate accounts (many people made a “personal” and a separate “business” account)

Policies have existed that stopped service for other fundraising or marketing efforts as well. Some have been temporary, such as when Verizon made a unilateral decision to block text messages sent by a single nonprofit that they deemed “controversial or unsavory,” despite the fact that they were being sent to constituents who had subscribed to receive them. This represented a significant market share of recipients who were blocked, but enough voices protested that Verizon soon reversed their decision.

Other decisions are not so temporary, such as the Girl Scouts’ continuing refusal to allow girls to sell cookies online, which leaves a large part of the market out of reach, despite protests to the contrary. In cases like this, it’s all the more important that an organization diversify to compensate.

A more recent decision announced about Delicious deciding to end operations of its site was met with a swift and immediate reaction by its many users, to the point of starting a petition in an attempt to buy it from Yahoo so that it could continue operating.

Further information was later revealed – although Yahoo took days to respond – that Delicious will continue to exist, and Yahoo appears to be seeking a buyer. This prompted discussion on the Chronicle of Philanthropy about how to compensate for Delicious and other social media tools that might disappear one day.

It is essential to have a backup plan for each one of your tools and applications, just as you would for your staff if a member of your team was out on vacation or sick.

For example, your social media manager no doubt schedules your posts to your Facebook page(s), Twitter account(s) and other channels via a dashboard, such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck or some other platform, as well as using a preferred URL shortener like bit.ly or ow.ly.

Although your staff has become accustomed to whichever you are currently using, what if service were down on that application/platform? If your organization had an account with at least one other company already in place, then your service to your constituents would be more likely to go uninterrupted. (Some of these companies recently altered terms for what types of service they would provide for free vs. what would now cost a monthly or annual fee, so many organizations had to alter or expand their accounts anyway.)

Another unexpected change to your marketing plan could be that you might even find part of your logo, slogan or color challenged and have to alter or remove it – at least for a while, as you fight it out in court.

It’s important to remember that all of your social media and marketing efforts should be viewed as supplemental to your organization’s website, and all roads should lead back here, where you have ultimate control over your message. Driving traffic home should be your overall goal with online endeavors.

As you make plans and navigate your 2011marketing, social media and fundraising campaigns, track them the best that you can, in order to measure your areas of difficulty as well as your successes. You also want to understand which channels are getting the best response rates, and much more.

Analytics don’t have to be as difficult as they might seem, and when done correctly, they will help you to modify your website and overall strategy so that they are working for you, instead of the other way around.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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