Category Archives: philanthropy

6 Considerations for the #ConsultantContinuum

Every week, I have a chance to talk with someone in the industry about “becoming a consultant”. I love helping anyone understand what their professional vocation should be. These calls trend toward a handful of common themes–thought leadership, travel, doing vs. winning the work, etc. As a result of these discussions, I’ve distilled the six primary considerations when you’re wondering whether consulting is for you.

All of these considerations operate along a #consultantcontinuum. Think, “travel all the time” to “no travel”or “pre-set salary” versus “paid only when you bill”.  So, when looking below, consider where you feel comfortable compared to what the consulting gig may offer. Be honest! You can lie to yourself about “traveling being fine if it’s only 50% of the time” only to realize that this means 125 nights in a hotel each year. In my case, that’s great for my Hilton Honors account and hard on my family.

Where are you along the Continuum?

Consulting Consideration Continuum
Considerations for the #ConsultantContinuum

So, Consideration 1: are you a thought leader or a great “do-er”? This is really the difference between consulting and contracting, where “leading” is better but harder. If you don’t like to write and present, leading is hard to achieve.

Consideration 2 involves “Travel.” If you won’t/don’t travel, there’s a good chance you can be successful locally but limited regionally, which diminishes your impact.

Consideration 3 involves how you’ll earn compensation. If you need to bill a client for work in order to be paid, there is more risk (and likely more reward via bonuses).

Consideration 4 concerns whether you need to get your own work or will be given work by others. By far, the more work you “get”, the more challenging your consulting may be (due to constraints on time, competition, etc.).

Consideration 5 (Team v. Solo) relates to whether you will be a solo practitioner (which can be lonely and risky) to a team-based consultant, which comes with its own pros and cons. If you love QuickBooks, then solo is more viable.

Finally, consideration 6 reflects the type of consultant you want to be. Are you a “coach” or a “contrarian”. My experience is that coach-based consultants tend to balance these considerations better while contrarians gain their credibility by focusing on often-minor findings, and frequently burnout their clients and themselves.

Where do you land? In my opinion, the closer you are to the left side of the #consultantcontinuum, the more likely you will enjoy consulting and its rewards. Not a thought leader, no biggie but the authors and speakers in your niche will eat your lunch. Not one for travel? Local consulting can work but most pools are shallow. Looking for a salary guarantee regardless of billings? You may be in the wrong place. And, finally, if you want to be “right” more than be “helpful”, you may be a great consultant but your clients may beg to differ.

So, what did I miss? Where do you put yourself here? Would you like to talk about consulting? If so, drop me a line. And, best of luck figuring this out.

 

 

The New Fundraising Calendar: NOW!

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.

Facebook is making some game-changing tools available

If you haven’t checked out https://nonprofits.fb.com/, do it. Now. This is Facebook’s effFacebook's Nonprofit Support Pageort 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.

007+Q=Awesome Advancement Services

Have you seen Spectre, the newest 007 edition? It’s great fun. As with recent Bond films, Advancement Services and 007technology 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

N=1 isn’t a compelling case against increased funding for fundraising

Takes money to make moneyDid you happen to read the Washington Post’s article on the demise of the nonprofit Invisible Children, best known for its Kony 2012 campaign? (Check it out here) The authors posit that this single case illustrates the dangers of increasing fundraising expenses.

Not really, of course (for both the article and the facts of the nonprofit world). The article is more nuanced. Social change and policy organizations are complicated, especially those operating in Africa. For this N=1 (Invisible Children), a few significant forces (which had little to do with a surplus-based funding approach) tore the organization apart.

This single case may be an example of how a nonprofit can fail, but there is little evidence presented and no broader applicability of this piece about whether a more market-oriented funding strategy is appropriate. The article, for example, fails to mention that nonprofits tend to spend 65% or so of their budget on staff and–spoiler alert–poorly paid people don’t stick around long and often cost about a year’s salary to replace.

The loosely argued closing of the Post piece suggests that nonprofits have benefactors and not investors (which most major donors I know would challenge). As are result, nonprofits must operate on a shoe string, cow to risks over opportunities, and generally hope that their meager existence can marginally impact those benefiting from their mission. This notion is much more dangerous than better funding nonprofit operations.

It is dangerous to create an argument on an N=1 scenario. Just as the article indicates the IC may not have been quite as impactful as their messaging suggested, this piece relies too much on its own limited perspective to suggest that IC proves the dangers of better funding nonprofits. Instead, this “overhead” myth leads to the “starvation cycle” which leads to lean and under-experienced staffing which leads to more nonprofit failures than fundraising experts would care to count.

Do you have a suggestion to help the nonprofit sector build its case for better investment? I have a few tricks (for a later post) and welcome any other ideas.

Should your organization consider a merger?

America is home to around 1.4 million nonprofits. That’s probably about 700,000 too Merger and Acquisition Cartoonmany.

There are too many nonprofits competing too inefficiently for too few charitable dollars. It’s the inefficiency piece that’s the heart of the problem. The cases for support for the myriad nonprofit organizations are inspiring, wonderful, and important. Americans are more generous than any other country’s citizens. But, really, just how many nonprofits do we need in the U.S.? (Bloggers note: the successful attainment of nonprofits’ missions is my vocation. No one wants nonprofits to succeed more than I do!)

An analysis of giving in the U.S. since the 70’s show shows that charity accounts for about 2% of annual GDP…every year…despite the near 100% growth in the number of nonprofits in the last decade (compared to 35% growth in GDP in the last decade). More nonprofit organizations do not appear to result in proportionately more charitable giving.

What does increase giving? Impact reporting to donors about the value of their gifts. Better organized volunteer, staff, and peer-to-peer fundraising efforts. Marketing, branding, and the public’s trust around the efficacy of a particular nonprofit. These are the hallmarks of more sophisticated and more seasoned nonprofits. In most cases, a new nonprofit is simply seeking market share from a very similar nonprofit in their area. Sometimes, new causes require attention. Occasionally, new technology demands new nonprofits to leverage them.  But, the market is saturated.

This might seem blunt. It is. And, it should be. The public good impacted by nonprofits is invaluable but has been stagnant. So, what should be done?

An underexplored option is to apply mergers and acquisitions so effective at generating value in the for-profit sector.  The Stanford Social Innovation Review presents a powerful case for this strategy. Will, say,  Brown merge with MIT? I’d say that’s pretty unlikely. Should very small dog and cat rescue operations in, say, St. Louis, merge? Yes. Do it today. Share resources and operational infrastructure.  Grow volunteer bases. Address the “founder-itis” that plagues many new nonprofits. And, most importantly, better serve the core of your mission.

The turmoil from a merger can be difficult. Staffing overlaps and other redundancies may result in painful restructuring and job loss. But, we not running a charity here. That is, business principles apply. Your organization’s mission will be better served by being more effectively delivered to constituents and more strategically presented to donors. There surely is a place for up-start, lean-and-mean nonprofits, but donors know that they get what they pay for.

As you plan for 2015, think about whether you’re having the biggest impact possible given the potential opportunity to merge with other similar organizations. It would be a big resolution, of course, but the benefits to your constituents might be worth it.

Taking Notice: Google’s Giving Efforts around Ebola

Man…that was slick. Did anyone else see how Google dropped in a “donate now” header with a $2-for-$1 match? If not, try it. Go to google.com and you’ll see this:

Google's slick new header for giving.
Google’s slick new header for giving.

Click on the “donate now” button and you’ll see a super easy-to-use form. All of this is great. Unless you start to realize that this means your online giving page(s) and functionality will be compared to Google’s. That’s tough because it’s not a fair fight (you don’t have thousands of developers building your tools for you, do you?). But, you’re going to need to deal with this.

If you use Google Wallet, this is a one-click gift form. If not, you bump to Network for Good and it's a little clunkier.
If you use Google Wallet, this is a one-click gift form. If not, you bump to Network for Good and it’s a little clunkier.

Every dollar given to Google is likely from donors’ disposable income, which is finite. If your organization doesn’t get out in front of efforts like this, you’ll be more likely to hear “I already gave…”.

So, take this as a clarion call. If you want your donors’ experiences with your online giving to compare to their consumer experiences, you likely need to adapt.

As the holidays approach, be sure that you are ready and that your online giving tools are spruced up and ready to go. Google is ready if you’re not.

Focus on Funding Fundraising

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.

Have a look at this Prezi on the topic: Funding Fundraising Ideas from Chris Cannon.  And, let me know what messages, metrics, and strategies are helping your team invest more and more strategically.

 

Reversing the Alumni Giving Slide: Hope is Not a Strategy

Fewer than 1-in-10 alumni give back! What are you doing about this? And, how long will it take you?

A slide like this is requires a qualitative paradigm shift, not a quantitative shift
Alumni Participation for 40 years: A slide like this is requires a qualitative paradigm shift, not a quantitative shift

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.