Category Archives: fundraising

January is National Business Intelligence Month…

…didn’t you know that? Of course you didn’t. With the holidays, closing some year-end gifts (not to mention the books), and learning an awful lot about Amazon’s post-holiday online return policy, how could you keep up with all of the information being thrown at you. It’s hard enough to have the right information, much less use it effectively. Plus, it’s not really National Business Intelligence Month. I made that part up.

So, why the subterfuge? We need to draw attention to the critical need in the advancement business for more and better reporting and analysis. Some of you already have what you need. Some stopped looking years ago. Some have that “special” report that some poor person spends hours to prepare. But, most of us want better reporting, the kind that actually helps us make decisions about the business and tells us things we otherwise wouldn’t have known.

Better reporting requires a few things. This flow chart shows the way to better reporting. But, even more important than creating reporting is turning it into business intelligence.

Report Development Cycle

Let’s work to get even better data into even more clear reports that drives even better decisions. Let’s stop with the ad hoc, don’t-really-learn-much urgent reporting and develop a thoughtful suite of reporting that allows you to direct the team. Let’s develop shared definitions and expectations, allowing our reports to mean the same thing no matter the audience. So, know that I think about it, let’s make January National Business Intelligence Month. Make sure to put it on your calendar for next year.

December 2012 is National Month Month…

…or so I tweeted a few weeks ago. My plan is to envelope the work we lovingly call fundraising operations, or advancement services, or “the back office”, or “you know, that stuff they do with computers” into 12, neat monthly categories. The purpose is to drawn attention to whole sets of work that we sometimes avoid but can never quite escape (I’ve tried).

So, for those of us so fortunate to be toiling away the day after December 25th, what “National _____ Month” would you designate and why?

The Purpose of the (Gift) Process

Log jam
Are gifts and data updates piling up?

“Tis the season…for bottlenecks and backlogs in our processes. Fundraising operations requires consistent, efficient processes. But, fundraising is an inconsistent business. We are in the business of the exceptional, as was the focus of my 99-1 blog a few months back.

As we approach year-end with (hopefully!!) piles and piles of gifts to process, let’s remember four essential ideas:

  1. The purpose of gift processing is first and foremost stewardship.
  2. The reason we (should) love fundraising is because our teamwork can generate a sometimes overwhelming volume of gifts.
  3. Our business process should be efficient ( doing “the thing right”) and effective (doing “the right thing”).
  4. We must adopt a front-of-the-line approach to ensure that our most cherished donors receive the level of stewardship they deserve for their role in our 2012 success.

Having your team abide by these four essential ideas will ensure that we don’s lose track of why we’re so busy in the first place. Good luck!

Change is Hard…but Decline is Worse

Development and alumni organizations face obstacles and challenges each day. It seems that pressure comes from all sides and angles. Raise more money, despite a slow economy. Engage more people, despite increasing competition for space in people’s lives. Lately, two core changes have been impacting nonprofits around the country: leadership changes and technology issues. Both of these affect fundraising operations, and finding a way to “handle” these issues is critical. On the leadership front, high functioning presidents and vice presidents are in high demand. Tenures of university presidents and healthcare CEO’s declining. There’s not much most can do to stop this slide, except to be prepared for it to happen. On the technology front, 2012 was full of mergers and other changes that substantially impact development technology suites. Much of this change is aligning with the tail-end of many product life cycles. These changes affect every nonprofit for a donor database, so one of these days these marketplace changes will affect each organization. More change is stemming from social, online, and BI-based innovations occurring at a pace that’s hard to match. The most dangerous aspect of the core changes is the all-too-frequent dip in productivity organizations experience “as a result of” the change. This issue is in quotes because, while leadership and technology change is hard to “manage” (we typically don’t have much control), these changes can be anticipated and protected against. The good news is that both of these changes can be managed through a similar set of solutions which will keep decline at bay in the midst of change:

  1. Plan the work. A plan that aligns with the organization’s mission and vision will help ride out the turbulence from a big leadership or technology change. You might be surprised at how effective a good plan is in keeping the trains running on time.
  2. Work the plan. The plan should have measurable targets for behavior. Great plans will reward and steer attention to the highest value activities we can muster. So, if the plan is in place, working it should generate the results your organization needs, despite a presidential transition or a looming conversion.
  3. Avoid the tyranny of the urgent. In both cases, careful change management (starting with requirements, weighing options, evaluating real and intangible costs) must prevail over short-term thinking and flailing actions. Plus, reminding folks about what’s important in their daily work and the impact their role has on the organization’s constituents can help retain staff despite rough patches.
  4. Get in front of disruptive change. This last issue is the most complicated and I’ve dedicated a separate blog to it. Leadership and technology changes are disruptive, often resulting in entirely new ways of doing business. We have seen in 2012 with Hostess, and over and over again for Kodak, that markets move on, and our offerings must match today’s and tomorrow’s needs. As fundraising tactics shirt around direct response, as phonable and mailable constituents decline, as the nature of our organization’s missions and deliverables change (think MIT’s free open courseware offerings and the impact of the Affordable Care Act on healthcare philanthropy), our fundraising strategies and tactics must keep pace.

And, if we plan the work, work the plan, and remain focused on the important, we can get through change without a dip n productivity. Do you have suggestions for handling change and avoiding declines in the process? Let’s hear about them!

3 tips to make change happen

Surprise! Development and alumni organizations must change. Frequently. Sometimes, inexplicably. And, typically, with some difficulty.

Board leadership, executive leadership, organizational direction and cases for support, super star researchers/ faculty/ curators/ whatever–changes here often force change. The economy, technology, emergencies, demographic shifts, socio-political–changes in these areas can forever alter the very viability of our work. Change happens constantly and all around us. So, how can we get more comfortable with it?

The best book I’ve read recently offered three ways to channel change. Dan and Chip Heath’s Switch raises the fascinating question of why we sometimes embrace life-altering change yet often eschew simple changes. Getting married and moving to a new country? Awesome! Forcing me to file my expense report a day earlier? How dare you! The Heath brothers suggest three tactics to embrace change: control the emotional elements; confirm the logical elements; and, clear the path of change. It’s a terrific book. So, how might this help advancement folk?

  1. Emotion. Where change is concerned, we want to allow for emotions to run their course. Don’t bottle them up. Listen. Empathize. But, help your comrades realize that this change will make them feel better. And, most importantly, pull the band-aid off. Respectfully remind folks that the team needs to move ahead and get right with the decision being made.
  2. Logic. Have this ready, but it can’t be the lead-in over emotion. So, gauge your audience and figure out who will respond to logic more quickly. Nearly every big change I’ve orchestrated employs the same logical syllogism: A) The current state isn’t cutting it. B) More successful options are available. C) Therefore, the current state must be improved by adopting changes based on what is more successful. Simple. Clean. And, frankly, pretty hard for highly emotive folks to debunk.
  3. Direction. Advancement is complicated. We can and should build road maps, but keep in mind that sometimes our best GPS skills cannot predict what’s along the path. The best way to show direction is to depict what success will look like in the brave new world. Create sample reports that, once change occurs, will project progress. Establish attainable metrics that remind folks why they show up to work every day.

Change happens. Solutions must follow suit. What tips and tricks to embracing change have work for you?

Prospecting Revisted…or why I avoid American Airlines

A few months back, I shared a story about a fundraising caller who hung up on me. I was ready to talk to him about my family’s philanthropy, but the paid caller had something different in mind, so he hung up on me, before he learned that I cared about his cause. Bad customers service, I wrote, can kill a long term relationship.

Fast forward a few months to today and to some of the worst customer service I have ever received….

Flying for your commute can be interesting. Today it involved switching concourses and airlines and checking through security twice (and a five hour delay). Awesome! As a savvy, frequent traveler (about 200,000 miles a year), I was able to switch airlines, but I couldn’t seem to confirm my seat by phone. Because I had a first class seat on Delta, I queued up (with one person in front of me and one behind) in American Airline’s first class lane. The check-in helper was quick to point out I had to stand in line elsewhere, even though I was willing to pay for a first class ticket. (No wonder I avoid American.) To solve my problem, I moved to an electronic kiosk, secured my seat, etc. Round two of American Airline’s awful customer service involved their business club gate keeper who also immediately treated me like a burden.

Here is the message: I am a prospect for American Airlines. In fact, statistically, I suspect I’m the equivalent to a deca-millionaire prospect for Fundraising. There just aren’t too many people like me who fly so much as a potential client/donor. American Airlines–and all of us in the constituent relationship business–should strive to deliver outstanding service in the hopes that the right people are stewarded.

So, before, I come off sounding overly self important (which is not my intent) or too petty toward American Airlines (which sort of is my intent), let’s confirm the message. This little parable can come in handy as you think about the way you look at your prospects. Give them a little more time and attention. View every touch as a chance to deeper relationships, not just speed up processes. Don’t let just simple criteria rule out what could be great parters. And, while you’re at it, you might want to avoid American Airlines.

8 Secrets of Success

Fundraising operations is tough business. You must carefully balance accuracy, speed, and volume issues. The details are mundane and the technology is complex. Last week, I had a chance to share 8 secrets to spinning like a top via the AFP webinar series. I had a lot of fun crafting the session. It was also challenging because there are more like 800 secrets to successful operations.

Here’s a summary of what I see as the dirty little secrets that, once known, can help your operations spin like a top:

  1. Not all data matter. We spend way too much time on record maintenance for the masses and not enough on our front-of-the-line constituents!
  2. Technology trickery. We fool ourselves into thinking that technology does everything for us. It’s just a tool. Databases don’s ask people for gifts. For more, click here.
  3. Easy to avoid. Analysis paralysis, particularly the millions of unnecessary ad hoc reports we seem determined to create each year as an industry, is easy to avoid. Pick your best reports and use them to make decisions, consistently.
  4. (Mis)Perception problems. We talk past one another and understand things differently. Once we realize that two smart people can view the same scenario differently, then respect each others’ vantage point, we can make real progress. I did a Prezi on this topic with my colleague Cassie Hunt last year; check it out.
  5. Conversions are easy. The act of converting data from one database to the other is the easy part. The hard part is that technology transitions take years, require multiple iterations of implementation efforts, and never really stop.
  6. Forecasting is undervalued. we don’t spend enough time looking into the future. For prospects, for proposal pipelines, for budgets, for staff growth…we generally get too caught up in what’s in front of us, at a huge overall cost.
  7. Power to the people. Our industry is suffering from turnover, often due to lack of training, weak salary levels, or a lack of trying to retain our folks. The costs here are tremendous, particularly if your operational institutional memory walks out the door. Here’s a good look at the issue by my colleague, Mark Marshall.
  8. Discipline, discernment, and delegation. If we exercised the 3 D’s in all operations areas, we would make substantial strides to spinning like a top.
Like I stated, though, these are just 8 of the hundreds and hundreds of nuanced, secret, subtle issues that affect fundraising operations. What are your secrets to success?

Is 99-1 the new 80-20? And, if so, how do we deal with this?

Most of us have heard of the Pareto Principle, or the 80-20 rule (80% of production comes from 20% of the resources). For years, philanthropy experts have used this economics principle from Vilfredo Pareto to explain why so much giving comes from so few people.

Of course, for many of the “best” fundraising organizations, that ratio is more like 99-1. That is, in many cases, single, sometimes 9-figure gifts dramatically shift the fundraising landscape for an organization. These great gifts are frequently transformative and non-repeatable, making the replacement of such big gifts a driving and often maddening force for fundraisers. And, such huge gifts may have the unintended consequence of diminishing future, smaller donations from others whose future in the 1% is yet-to-be-determined.

How should you deal with your organization’s experiences with this rule? Here are two angles of approach.

First, your team (researchers, analytics folks, prospect management professionals, gift officers, etc.) need to know wealth, and particularly your organization’s profile. How is it generated? Who has it? Who had it? Who can get more of it, so big gifts are reasonable? Who has so much that they’d like to leave a legacy instead of being the richest guy in the graveyard. A great set of articles in the NY Times (click here) puts some perspective on how new wealth is being generated. Your team needs to know these trends, your constituent’s sources of wealth, and stay on top of it.

Second, and slightly related to the other 99-1 “Occupy” messaging so prevalent in 2011, your team needs to understand that the enormous gap between the super-rich and the rest of us has big ramifications for your programs and your mission. Sure, we need to devote more time to our best prospects. But, you cannot just focus on the super-rich, because it’s a fluid and sometimes cloaked group. And, for many nonprofits, mass-effort, grassroots fundraising pays the bills, even if less efficiently than 7- and 8-figure gifts seem to. So, your team should work hard to treat all constituents well, while employing effective annual giving, analytics and other tactics to maintain base building efforts that help the best bubble to the top.

So, our fundraising efforts need to efficiently direct energy toward the 1% while conscientiously engaging the 99% as valuable near-term partners, some of whom may matriculate into the 1% (or are already there!).

UPDATE: CASE provided some great data on this topic. Here you can see the impact of the top few percent of donors on campaigns. It appears this is a little more like the 70:1 rule, but the lessons are the same:

Leveraging your Systems in a Changing World

Competition in the fundraising software marketplace has yielded some big changes and some even bigger questions. Organizations are increasingly asking the “should I stay or should I go” question, no matter what system they’ve implemented. Questions of which vendor, which product, and with what impact and effects can be difficult to answer these days. Corporate mergers, shrinking client bases, growing product portfolios, and increasingly “flexible” applications complicate assessments.

Your fundraising software should help your organization raise money and build relationships. Period. As odd as it is coming from a fundraising operations guy, nonprofits can (potentially) raise as much money from Rolodexes as CRMs. But, better tools should support better results. So, what’s a smart fundraiser to do? Consider these five questions:

  1. Necessary vs. Nifty. If your team hasn’t shown the ability to leverage what’s already available and critical to supporting fundraising, a new and nifty tool won’t likely help.
  2. Expense vs. Cost. Change has costs, but your budget (within reason of typical fundraising results) should’t be the deciding factor. TCO (total cost of ownership) should include opportunity costs, which could show an inability to manage critical data and relationships that result in leaving money on the table (or not even knowing which table to visit!).
  3. Capacity vs. Complexity. New tools (or moving from old tools) can seem like a great option. The reality is often different from expectations, though. What may appear to be a penchant for expanded applications (capacity) is frequently stymied by the time and energy needed to adopt more complex tools.
  4. Perception vs. Performance. Perceptions about systems use (see Gartner.com’s hype cycle work) generally follow the “grass is greener” model. However, actual selection, conversion, and implementation of a new system may not generate the performance improvements desired.
  5. Culture vs. Change Management. Most tools are a reflection of the culture they support. Transparent teams like KPI’s and broad access to  systems because they foster openness. More risk averse teams may never be able to launch and leverage a robust CRM because they aren’t willing to share “so much data.”

These five contrasting issues are the starting point for your “stay or go” question. Before your team even starts to entertain the “where,” make sure you’ve established the “why” and that you’re asking the question for the right reasons. This will increase your likelihood to leverage systems, not just buy and install new, still-ineffectual tools.

These ideas stem in part from a series of client-based trips and discussions I’ve been involved with in recent weeks. We seem to start on the path of “tools” and move quickly to “behavior.”  There’s a potentially controversial tag line from the NRA that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The obvious point here is that tools are only as effective as those who use them. I prefer the message carried forward on Happy Gilmore with the Mr. Larson, aka Jaws from the Bond series wearing this great shirt–“Guns don’s kill people, I kill people.”

Of course, I’m no homicidal sociopath, I simply like the idea that it’s personal responsibility for the tool that yields the right results. So, to leverage your systems, look first in the mirror.

“I’m calling on behalf of…”

Last night, 8:32 p.m. CT. A truncated transcript from a call (note: I’m sensitive to using a single anecdote to make decisions, but this was teachable moment):

(me): “Hello”

(some guy, about 10 second later): “Hello? Um, hello?”

(me): “What can I do for you?”

(some guy): “Is Mr. or Mrs. Cannon home?”

(me): “This is Chris Cannon?”

(some guy): “This is [name] calling for [top 10 national nonprofit]. I’m not calling to raise money. [really?] I’m calling to ask you to write10-15 letters…[script went on for another minute]”

(me): “Thanks. That’s not really how we like to participate in the organizations we suppo…”

(some guy): Click.

Seriously? I answered the phone, listened to some guy, and was interested enough in the organization to start to tell him how I might become engaged and that guy hung up. The reminder here is that we entrust dozens, maybe hundreds of people to our philanthropic brand each day. Are you doing all you can to train, engage, and otherwise prepare these folks to be good stewards of your good will? Are callers on quotas that diminish real discussions? If you’re not addressing these issues, your fundraising may suffer along with your brand.

The phone call didn’t provide the only lesson, though. After hang-ups, etc., I frequently call the organization back. I care a lot about nonprofits, and I’d bet management would like to know when their good reputation is being sullied.

So, in calling this organization back, an odd and maybe very dubious thing happened. The 800 line provided an opt-out (“press 2 if you do not want to receive calls like this”). I pressed “2”. Then, I had an option to add my number to the organization’s opt-out list. Terrific, I thought. I didn’t want more wasted calls like the one I had just experienced. Next, though, a very curious thing happened. I entered my phone number but the computer program didn’t register it correctly. I entered my area code but the computer-generated response indicated a different number. My wife watched me enter the correct number, only to hear the wrong number repeated back. I hung up and called back with similar results. I tried a third time and the computer program finally “figured” it out. Computer programs can fail, of course, but it sure felt like a purposeful, nearly endless loop to get off the list.

So, the second lesson of such a call is that, even if it’s an error or an oversight, you can lose potential donors forever by appearing to be too automated, too computer-driven, and too focused on your agenda rather than your potential donors. Fundraising is my vocation and I encourage groups to push their boundaries. For example, I frequently tell healthcare nonprofits that it’s patently irresponsible not to engage patients as potential donors. I do so because it can raise dollars and I truly believe in the power of philanthropy in the healing process (see a great application from Children’s Minnesota). This advice isn’t about limiting efforts but your strategy should mirror your constituency and stay away from gimmicks.

I’d love to hear your stories about these sorts of experiences. Together, we can help to keep our reputations strong and our (potential) donors happy.