Zuri Group and EverTrue recently conducted a thorough survey of advancement users’ satisfaction with their systems. The central finding was that users are unimpressed with their resources. Dissatisfaction with databases, reporting tools, analytics resources, and other important fundraising tools was often 40% or more. And, the typical response for nearly all of the questions was “it’s ok”, which means that “Meh” is the average sentiment among our users. You can check out the report here: The Advancement Technology Landscape 2017 – EverTrue and Zuri Group
Here’s a sample of the report that highlights the challenges faced by our advancement technology environments:
The trend for the survey suggests that “common” issues (like gift processing) received better satisfaction scores whereas more innovative and new areas, such as social data management (which only a few companies, like EverTrue, really address) and analytics, received lower satisfaction scores. Some of this may simply be the typically slow technology adoption our industry experiences. However, it is important to move beyond the “we don’t have the money/time” argument and start to examine the roots of these issues and how your institution can begin to improve satisfaction. Our users clearly want more and better solutions.
There are some solutions and some ongoing obstacles to improving the advancement technology landscape. To solve the issue, non-technical tactics like building trust and negotiating expectations are more important than you might think. Delivering on the fundamentals–accurate, complete and timely data–and adopting a PR-style, metrics-driven strategic information management approach will gain some favorable survey points. However, the lack of funding for, and innovative technical solutions to, fundraising applications remain pretty substantial problems. Thus, expectation management will be a critical component of your effectiveness.
What is your team experiencing? How have you improved user satisfaction at your institution? Share your best tips and tricks to help tackle this ongoing challenge.
Consumer experiences shape much of our constituents’ fundraising lens. For example, I’ve written extensively about the #iPhoneProblem. This “problem” doesn’t mean iPhones are bad; to the contrary, they are so good our nonprofit tools simply can’t keep pace with users’ expectations (see our recent technology satisfaction survey for details: https://goo.gl/M1PIy5). This spreads to issues like use and reliance on mobile functions, which are creeping up the charts for donor giving preferences, for example. All of this consumer experience impact increasingly affects how we plan, schedule, and execute our fundraising strategies.
One need look no further than “Giving Tuesday” (i.e., philanthropy’s response to “Black Friday” and “Small Business Saturday” gimmicks) to see how our strategies and calendaring are being shaped. Giving Day efforts by universities (which I appreciate, for the record) feel a little like GroupOn specials. The provenance of GoFundMe pages is becoming harder to discern….am I giving to my alma mater or some guy at my alma mater? Overall, urgency and immediacy are prime objectives in this new approach. “Act now, before it’s too late!”
An interesting article in the Atlantic (https://goo.gl/jRfajb) assesses the impact of constant marketing to prospective students. For fundraising, the trend is similar. The days of a year-long direct response calendar are numbered. 24/7/365 strategies like peer-to-peer efforts are starting to look as if they can outstrip time-honored phonathon efforts. For example, one university’s recent Giving Day resulted in 1,800 new donors among the 12,000+ donors to that effort, totals that far surpassed the more tedious phonathon efforts to date.
So, what does this mean for nonprofits? For starters, rather than that year-end pitch to all of your constituents, more and more immediate solicitations (ideally conducted by peers, such as alumni reunion classmates) are to be expected.
As this GivingUSA chart suggests, giving is remarkably stable and generally finite and therefore nonprofits must try their best to get as much of the pie as possible. Now! That year-end big mailing? Do it sooner. That email communication plan? Start it today. That reunion fundraising effort? Get it moving. Don’t have a good peer-to-peer tool? Get one, fast!
Some of this is hyperbolic, of course, yet the message should be clear. If your fundraising schedule calls for raising most of your money with calendar and fiscal year-end pushes, by the time you reach many of your prospective donors, they will have already given….just not to your organization.
If you haven’t checked out https://nonprofits.fb.com/, do it. Now. This is Facebook’s effort to streamline a bunch of useful resources. Some of this is new but much is tried-and-true. How to reach your constituents. How to make it easy to give a gift. How to activate supporters.
Well, what are you still reading this for. Check out the site. And, let me know what you think. It may not change how some of us fundraise, but it will change fundraising for the better.
Have you seen Spectre, the newest 007 edition? It’s great fun. As with recent Bond films, technology and data play an increasingly important role in achieving success. Sound familiar? I had an “ah-ha” moment during the film that the great and vital coupling of 007 and Q (Bond’s resident tech-leveraging geek) is like the best advancement services shops. It might help your team to think the same. Here’s why:
Partnership. The movies show a team that works together for a common cause. Each team member has a role and, if they perform it well, the other is clearly buoyed.
Anticipation. Q is working hard in advance of requests from 007. In our profession, we should be, too. Instead, I see too many of us waiting for specs from folks who frankly may not know (how to ask for) what they want until they see “it”. So, with Q, he has “it” produced so 007 can assess and use what makes his job easier.
Acceptance. Bond will be Bond. He steals a car, oh well. He escapes a government-mandated lock-down…well, what did you expect, he has to go save the world. Does Q stop supporting his colleague? Nope. He realizes that 007’s skill set is such that following the rules may not fly at times. The same goes for our best fundraising colleagues. Instead of chastising, Q enables in order to get the most out of a top performing employee. We should do the same with better service (such as via admin support), better self-service, and more understanding of the rigors of international spy…er, fundraising work.
Quality. At the end of the day, Q produces amazing products that serve 007’s needs, which keeps 007 coming back for more. That sort of quality-based symbiotic is what we all need in our shops. Brand, look-and-feel, ease of access, accuracy–all of these play a role in our colleagues’ perception of the quality we produce.
Am I missing a few key details? Yes. At one point in the film, Q mentions a prototype cost the Queen 3 billion pounds. Most of us don’t have that budget lying around, do we? Our work is sometimes more mundane than saving the planet from evil, so the urgency and intensity of our roles will be different. And, we all know that not everyone in the British intelligence agency gets as much attention as Bond, which is similar to what happens in our own teams. But, as with any good film, we shouldn’t let reality get in the way of a good plot.
Those potential obstacles (and probably dozens of other objections) notwithstanding, think for a minute about your advancement services shop as Q partnering with 007, anticipating needs and accepting “shortcomings” while delivering the level of quality that keeps the user coming back for more. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Get to it, Q.
During the St. Louis Planned Giving Council meetings, we spent some time discussing the challenges (and, as some call it, strangle hold) that cost-per-dollar-raised measures place on great fundraising. The “overhead myth” approach aligns nicely with the notion that we are under-investing in our fundraising efforts. We emphasize efficiency over effectiveness and often miss out altogether on the notion of impact and net gains.
We can start to change this. Of course, some donors would like us to do more with less. However, donors that are focused on the long-term impact of their giving understand the value of investing in broad gains, much of which requires patience.
Thanks to all who attended the Blackbaud Higher Ed Forum. We covered one of the most vexing aspects of higher ed philanthropy–getting and keeping investment in our hard work. Check out the session here.
Good luck with dialing up the investment in the months to come!
Many in our industry have been pointing to the declining alumni participation rates. This isn’t new; since the 1980’s, the rate has dipped 10%! The alarm that these rates should generate, however, has been muted. The malaise toward this decline is likely due to the increasing average gifts education institutions are concurrently experiencing. Even for engaged or elite institutions, this downward trend is, well, alarming. The CNN Money article highlighting this decline points to multiple degrees across multiple institutions as a cause, as well as overall indebtedness experienced by recent alumni. If this were the case, I wouldn’t be so worried for our long-term health. But, I am. And, you should be, too. Here’s why:
Now or never. If you don’t reach your grads from the last 10 years (often called GOLD—Graduates of the Last Decade), they tend not to be reclaimed. Life and other philanthropic interests just get in the way.
Competition is fierce. As the hyper-successful ALS ice bucket challenge is proving (and Kickstarter, fundme, and other “give-right-now” opportunities reinforce) there are only so many disposable income dollars. Giving is typically 2% of GDP each year; it doesn’t rise or fall much, and, in 2013, Warren Buffett was about 1% all giving in the U.S.! If you wait to engage donors on your timetable, other nonprofits may slide in ahead of you.
Education is changing. The days of “the best four years of your life” as a case for support are changing. Campus-based higher education will not be replaced, but many alums did not and will not really imprint with their alma mater.
Many institutions are trying mightily to change the trend. The costs can be great and the return can be fleeting. A few benefit from tightly knit alumni bases with a culture of philanthropy But if yours doesn’t, you need to act. Given the three reasons for alarm, your annual giving effort must change, potentially radically.
Direct mail? Sure, but no longer on your calendar…move mailings to gain preemptive gifts from those who will be poached by other causes. This point cannot be emphasized enough. Your competition isn’t just the crush of holiday mailings which may drown your year-end mailing; the real competition started yesterday, doesn’t care what your mail house schedule is or how long it takes to get an appeal letter approved, and–by today–may have siphoned hundreds of your donors’ disposable income away through crowdfunding, self-funding sites, slick Facebook apps, and other tools that higher ed has been slower to adopt.
Phonathon? Yep, except work harder to get cell phones and build a texting-based strategy.
Social media? Of course, but don’t expect “ice bucket” results. Instead, start with data and analysis, identify and engage well-networked alumni and ask them to tweet, like, and post on your behalf.
Peer-to-Peer? Many in higher ed have great success with “class agent” models. These need more sophisticated tools to support more wired alumni groups. Excel files emailed on an occasional basis are not going to do it for most alums who want to help.
Email? Yep. But, as with cell phone and direct mail, data quality and targeting must be improved.
If you don’t have the budget or the base to tackle the issue, there is a less palatable option—change your focus. We all know US News & World Report is a beast that must be fed. However, only sizable percentage gains will likely affect your institution’s positioning. With your data, annual giving avenues, and donor behaviors, is a 20% gain at all feasible? How much will that pull up your ranking? Most will find that this is a stretch goal, at best. So, dive headlong into retention and upgrades as parallel measures of success. Bring up average gifts…literally by generating larger averages and tactically in board presentations and as metrics.
The future of education may be so different than anticipated that any predictions will be way off. However, this doesn’t mean that preparation and reinvention should be postponed. In fact, because we don’t know what’s coming, we must immediately tackle the sliding participation of our young alumni while working diligently to retain or reclaim more seasoned alumni.
Hope is not a strategy so get going in changing your approach to changing alumni behaviors.
An interesting visual depiction of spurious correlation (check it out here) reminded me of my grad school days and the rigor with which I would build hypotheses. Rather than let R, SPSS, or Excel correlate away and then proclaim some amazing finding, I started from the reasons and results I expected to validate with data. The difference is, all too often, that the former approach tells you very little due to endogeneity, spurious results, and the lack of context.
Some organizations–Google is known for this–will say “don’t worry about the why”. Some have referred to this approach as “theory-free“, a nice euphemism to indicate how little long-term value we might find in these correlations. Now, for consumer behavior where Big Data is truly present perhaps this works. But, data points are rarely available for nonprofit analytics in the same way as, say, Target and Wal-Mart have data…although there are new options underway, like David Lawson’s newsci.co.
And, if you talk with a gift officer who’s been disappointed with predictive modeling results, you see a different picture. From that vantage point, the analytics results are frequently devoid of context. The result confirm what we already knew (“these prospects look rich! they live in a nice neighborhood!”) or reflect a pattern we already see (“they gave last year! let’s ask them again!”). Yet, modeling doesn’t typically improve relationships with prospects.
A big culprit: Context. Donor context is critical in building relationships. And, context is quite challenging to incorporate into modeling. The following are real examples of discussions about potential prospects surfaced by a context-free model:
“Sure, Jane looks promising, but we don’t have a phone number to reach her and no volunteer connection, so how likely is it she’s approachable?”
“Absolutely, Ed looks great, but did you know he just filed for divorce?”
The solution to this issue isn’t to cast off analytics. It’s to improve it. Start with and add in theory. Guard against spurious results. Don’t elevate an endogenous variable as meaningful. And, most of all, our industry needs resources that can actually add context to results. As a student of philanthropy, I am anxiously awaiting the time when our new science of analytics better delivers on the hype and improves our understanding of donor behaviors, while avoiding endogeneity and spurious results.
Productivity is vitally important to nonprofits but none of us in the social sector are able to spend enough time, energy, and…well…dollars on being productive. Instead, for decades, we have been more focused on efficiency at the expense of effectiveness and impact. We stuff envelopes at night to save money, then lose overworked staff for a 5% pay increase at a nonprofit in town. Our boards embrace online innovation but funding is often on a shoestring budget. Some great studies and presentations have highlighted some of the drivers for this. After years studying this dilemma, I submit that the over-reliance on and misapplication of the “cost per dollar raised” (CP$R) metric is the clearest example of this problem. While we want to raise more, we penalize ourselves if we invest too much.
The industry needs to change and here are three critical concerns with CP$R and its sometimes negative effect our industry:
Growth: Fundraising is a long-term endeavor. Expanding fundraising results takes time, consistent marketing and messaging, and investment. The current industry emphasis on CP$R diminishes the ability to weather a tough year, offset a big gift’s impact in year-over-year evaluation, or properly fund our efforts. Organizations whose strategies rightly focus on major and principal giving are particularly vulnerable to scrutiny over CP$R issues depending on the timing of a big, strategically cultivated gift.
Staffing: The professionalization of fundraising is changing the math on what is reasonable for budgets. Most nonprofits will spend about 65% of their operational fundraising budget on staff and benefits. Low CP$R targets, though, mean that we may not have enough to invest once/if we get the right people on place as this mix relies heavily on the typically market-depressed salary bases provided to fundraising professionals. We might secure top talent committed to our missions, but instead we seem to experience a costly turnover rate and stunt our fundraising efforts in the process.
Infrastructure: I’ve written about the “iPhone” problem–that is, people’s expectations for work-related technology and processes are shaped by their consumer experiences using tools and apps designed by the world’s biggest companies. The result is “relative deprivation”; we want from our fundraising tools what we get from our consumer products. Unfortunately, collectively, our industry simply doesn’t generate enough demand for vendors to supply tools that match our consumer experiences. Imagine if we were empowered to demand better tools that could be shown to increase our bottomline, even if we would sometimes eclipse the currently-too-low CP$R thresholds. Imagine if we could invest an extra $0.01-per-$1.00 raised or so each year as an industry. That would be a great start.
Our industry’s efficiency mantra can be overwhelming. Funders’ expectations to deliver more with less are difficult to manage. The nature of fundraising efforts, while akin to sales, is different in its non-transactional nature. Nonprofits are directed to invest less than for-profits. And, our industry’s focus on CP$R is a root cause of our challenges.
Alternatives and Additions
While CP$R is a common measure of nonprofit evaluation, there are important alternatives to CP$R. These can be taken in conjunction with costs to present a more balanced, nuanced evaluation of the effectiveness of a nonprofit.
Raised per Full Time Employee/Equivalent (FTE). I’ve written at length about the value of measuring “Dollars Raised per FTE.” It is a surrogate for CP$R in some ways, but it gets at a better way to position productivity and effectiveness. Study after study shows that nonprofits raising $1 million per FTE in fundraising are performing in the top quartile. Would you rather raise more by adding more people, or save money at the risk of losing people?
Net Gain: Imagine this scenario—you can net $10 million or $20 million in a year, but the former costs you $2 million and the latter costs you $10 million. $20 million beats $10 million, right? Not if it costs “too much” to generate. We need to be able to choose the latter but our industry, through charity watchdogs and other traditions, rewards spending less even if you provide less to your cause. There is a balance needed here. Different organization types at different stages of growth, staffing, and infrastructure require a nuanced evaluation.
Impact of Dollars Raised: Recent innovations by groups like GiveWell reinforce the value in looking at what was accomplished because of the funding generated by fundraising. Can more kids experience an open MRI that donors’ contributions helped fund? Can a community see a decline in diabetes because of charitably funded education efforts? These are organization-specific so don’t lend themselves to a nice, simple number, but the current reliance on CP$R too often results in overly simplistic evaluations.
Moving forward with new measures will take guts. We need to push back against the myopic focus on annual CP$R. We need to seek investment in infrastructure and technology in line with expectations of those who sit on our boards. We need to fervently battle to retain talented staff by properly funding roles. We need to clearly define the terms of the debate so definitions like “raised” retain their fundraising meaning and are not reduced to more simplistic notions defined on a general ledger. And, most importantly, we need a message that reminds our constituents of the old adage that “you get what you pay for.” More net funds for our amazing missions is more meaningful in the long run than delivering less, but more efficiently. Because our missions are so important, adopting a more effective set of evaluation tools is vitally important.
Have you succeeded in altering the focus toward productivity and away from CP$R? If so, share your story.
During National Business Intelligence (BI) Month, a number of top-notch infographics have caught my eye. These handy visuals are really reports, depicting data and details germane to a topic. But, they are also much more. They provide guidance about how to use the data. They tell a story. They provide business process guidance. In short, they’re quite helpful and you should be looking into how these can help your fundraising efforts.
I should note that I know this topic is not new. Infographics have been around for years and some folks have declared them irrelevant or unhelpful. However, any visualization of information that tells the story you need told can be valuable, so infographics likely have utility in your shop.
For example, our firm created a handy infographic (on the right) to present data from a survey we conducted on analytics. This image is really many reports in one. It presents the data in a logical order. In general, it is a useful guide to the topic of fundraising analytics, benchmarking for staff, and related information.
So, how should you set about creating an infographic?
Determine your topic. Infographics can be great for 40,000 foot ideas as well as minutia, but generally not both.
Find your data. What data do you have to display? What data would you like to go get?
Lay out your story. The visual aspects of this process are important. Do you want the reader to “take it all in”, “follow along”, or just see some useful visual depictions of data and interpretation?
Pick a infographic tool and get going. Many tools are out there. Check out this resource for some good and free tools.
Finally, I thought I’d take some of my own advice (for a change!). Below is the inaugural fundraisingoperations.com infographic. It uses data from a survey I did for my 2011 book An Executive’s Guide to Fundraising Operations. While my effort isn’t as amazing as this awesome college football bowl game pic, I created it in 20 minutes. Have any great infographic examples? Drop your links in the comments. Happy infographic-ing!