Can development professionals get by with just one management style?

At a workshop the other day, participants were asked to describe their management styles. Are you consensus-driven or top-down, permissive or autocratic? The way the question was posed implies that management flows in just one direction, from manager to employee. But most development professionals know they need to engage people across the entire organization and at every level.  So don’t we need different styles depending on whom and what we’re managing?

The plain fact is we don’t manage associates the same way we manage directors. And we don’t manage board chairs the way we manage interns. Different positions require different approaches.  So before we talk about ‘style,’ let me propose thinking about ‘direction:’ up, down, and sideways -- and suggest developing a separate management approach for each. Read more.


For new development staff, a big organization offers important benefits

For new development staff, I advise going BIG. That is, starting out with an BIG organization, large enough to support your growth and development as a fundraising professional. At the early stages of your career, it’s critical to have access to training and education opportunities to round out your technical knowledge -- such as, applying statistical analysis to your donor file --as well as to acquire expertise in areas like accounting and regulations governing charitable solicitation. Like any field, fundraising has its own specialized areas; planned giving and grant-seeking are just two. Gaining knowledge in these and other areas will make you an essential player in any development office.

And that's where a big organization come in. As you commit to expanding your knowledge base, it will be much easier if your organization supports your efforts -- and not just in theory. A large organization ($10 million plus), in most cases, is in a better position to underwrite your training and to give you work time to complete it.

As someone who benefited early on from week-long courses in planned giving, marketing, and major gift development (thanks United Way of America!), I can attest to the benefits of early-career training. It helped immensely as I moved to other organizations and moved up the ladder.

Of course, if you opt for a small organization, you can still access lots of free and low-cost training (check out the Foundation Center), but the reality is that in small shops, the profit margin is slim, the staff is stretched, and time off for career development may be difficult to manage.  In a bigger organization, you may feel lost in the bureaucracy and you may sacrifice some autonomy, but the payoff in learning will be worth it. And you will be a lot more valuable to the next place you work.  


Essentials for successful event fundraising

I'm a natural skeptic when it comes to special event fundraising. An awful lot of time gets spent on activities that fall short of desired, or promised, results. On the other hand, I've seen fundraising events that work really well, events that elevate an organization’s profile, educate the community about an important issue, or broaden a group’s reach.

The big question with events is whether they raise enough money to fund program work that fulfills the organization’s mission. How much is really left at the end of the day for program priorities?

Of all of the true fundraisers I've ever managed -- events that generated at least two-thirds of their revenue for program -- they shared four things in common. They had 1. a money person; 2. a draw; 3. a base of support; and 4. a logistics person.   

1. The first and most important element is the money person(s).

Why? Because you make your money in fundraising events with corporate sponsorships, high-dollar table buys, and other mechanisms that encourage people to pay 10 times the regular admission price. This money-person can be the event chair who leverages business relationships to bring in corporate sponsorships, a wealthy patron with deep pockets and lots of friends, or a mover and shaker willing to open her Rolodex. It could even be a committee. The important thing is this person or persons understands his or her role. They are essential. Recognize that your regular ticket sales will only cover your costs no matter how many tickets you sell. The base ticket price, whether it’s $75, $250, or $1,000, is designed to get people to come to the event, not to make money. As a rule of thumb, your sponsorship total will be your profit.

2. The draw. A celebrity, elected official, an accomplished artist or performer are all possibilities.

In the case of advocacy groups, it could even be Noam Chomsky. Whoever it is, this person should be interesting enough to generate some buzz. But it is very important not to confuse this person with your money person. They play two completely different roles. Believe it or not, your draw will not make money for you (no matter how big the name) without the other three elements in place. In fact, your draw is often counting on you to deliver an audience. This is a little counter intuitive, but remember the best draw in the world is only one element of your success.  

3. Base of supporters.

You need a group of people who will purchase tickets and show up for the event. They are your regulars, and you will need them to encourage family, friends and colleagues to attend and generally help you fill the room. The events that are successful are often well-established, signature events that have built up a following over the years, so don’t expect a new event to draw a lot of people who have no association with your organization. Make sure you have enough supporters you can count on.

4. A logistics person.

Generally you need a paid staff person to hold a successful event. I have seen some fantastic volunteer groups handle this under certain circumstances, but it was a very well-organized group with lots of experience running events. Promotions, recruitment, program development and execution are all functions for the staff person.

If you are missing any one of these elements, I’m guessing you will find it difficult to net enough money to call your event a fundraiser. You may still value the opportunity to get your organization’s name out there, build partnerships, or network (read: face-time) with your supporters. But if you’re counting on your event to be a source of revenue, make sure you have the four essentials in place.


Donor Advised Funds Outpace All Other Giving

Donor-advised funds represent seven percent of all individual charitable donations. Their growth has outpaced all other giving vehicles. In 2013 alone, contributions to DAFs grew 23.5 percent. With those numbers, we need to do everything we can to capitalize on this giving vehicle.

In January, we asked Ruben Orduna, vice president of development and donor services for The San Francisco Foundation, to offer strategic advice and recommendations to help fundraising staff understand donor advised funds and how to adapt our cultivation strategies to DAFs. Here's a quick recap from the webinar:

How they work:

“Giving accounts” are set up to give the donor the ability to make grants at donor's pace. Donors receive an immediate charitable tax deduction. Assets in accounts owned by the DAF provider. There are pros and cons compared to private foundations.

Ruben offered these five recommendations: 

  • Focus on community foundation DAFs
  • Look for areas of alignment with community foundation
  • Community foundations want to align with their donors
  • Need access donor services / relationship staff
  • Use your Board members or other donors that have DAFs
Here are some additional resources

Donor-Advised Funds: The Source Fundraisers Can’t Afford to Ignore by Joe Boland, July 2014

Shaking Up the Ranks of America’s Largest Charities, by Holly Hall, Oct. 19, 2014 Chronicle of Philanthropy



Recapturing Lost Donors: Strategies for Getting Them Back

Author's note: This blog was originally posted in Jan. 30, 2014.

A really good question came up this week during our webinar on recapturing lost donors. It was about how to re-engage donors who stop (or scale back) giving once the urgency of the moment has passed. Here are five suggestions for tackling this all-too-common problem:

1. Analyze data on your lapsed donors

Look for common characteristics among these donors: location, age, giving level, join date, giving method, online donors v. mail. Are they clustered in one state? Did they all join in response to a particular campaign? Are they online donors or did they come in through a special event? If you can group these lapsed donors into specific segments, it will help narrow your focus and point to possible solutions.

2. Gather feedback

Try a survey or focus group to dig a little deeper into their concerns. You may have a good handle on some of their issues or concerns, but a survey could reveal a little more about their priorities, and a series of open-ended conversations in focus groups could help generate three to five new messages that you could then test via email to see how well they resonate with a larger audience.

3. Launch a targeted reinstatement effort using custom campaign materials

Develop materials that address the priorities identified in the survey and focus groups. If there is someone associated with a high-profile issue or legal case, ask that person to be part of the campaign, to sign a letter for you, have their story told in emails, even make a few calls. In your materials, make sure to include the threats still posed by the opposition, specific efforts by your foes to roll-back progress, and the need for vigilance in protecting hard-won gains.

Check out the slides on our Resources page -- read more

4. Donor engagement activities

Are there other ways for donors to be engaged? Is it possible to hold small-scale donor events in key locations or an evening program featuring an inspirational speaker? On the advocacy level, if your organization has petitions or lobbying efforts it needs help with, appeal to the lapsed donors for help. It’s not a substitute for financial support, but it might at least keep them in the fold.

5. Plan for the ebb and flow

Be prepared in the future to leverage high-profile moments into multi-year giving commitments; this will make your organization less vulnerable to the ebbs in donor attention. The urgent moment, whenever it comes, reminds everyone of the importance of your mission. It also typically puts your organization’s leaders front and center in the media and gives you an opportunity to reach out to everyone from former board members and major donors to foundation officers and long-time members. On the fundraising front, it is an opportunity to secure multi-year pledges and lock-in giving for future years. When the heat of the moment has faded, your donors will still be paying those pledges.


Year-end priorities

By some estimates, charities receive upwards of 40 percent of their donations in December -- so it pays to be prepared. Here are five quick recommendations for making the most of your year end giving.

1. Show donors fresh, relevant content. Be sure to consider what your donors will be seeing when they look at your website or open your year end appeal. Use new photos and up-to-date information about your issues . . . especially if your issues are getting media attention. Work closely with your program staff to weave messaging and action into your appeals.

2. Execute your solicitation activities. Year-end letters and emails, matching campaigns, a final push for major gifts; they all need to happen now. Be conscious of the calendar and other people's schedules. If your executive director or board chair will be writing personal notes on year-end letters, make sure to leave enough time. It always takes longer than we think! And, if you’ve been holding a solicitation, waiting for someone to make a personal call, don’t wait anymore. Send it now.

3. Connect with office staff. Lots of staff will be taking time off. But it's also your busiest time of year, so plan ahead. Remind everyone that you're gearing up for year end. Post a visible reminder like a dashboard or a thermometer on your door or bulletin board. Beyond your development team, be sure administration and finance know how to handle year-end gifts and how to help donors with things like stock transfers, in case you're not around. Add some fun and gratitude for the extra work.

4. Engage board members. Request help in finishing out the year. Have all board members made a gift this year? Provide regular communications during the coming weeks to keep everyone up to date. You might want to hold a board fundraising webinar or schedule thank you calls. Personal thank you's can be a great way to engage your board in outreach and build meaningful relationships with donors.

5. Pay attention to your online presence. Plan for a shadow box, home page hi-jack, and new lead stories. Make it easy to find info on stock transfers, IRA rollovers, donor advised funds and other specialized gifts. Check your profiles in Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Guidestar to make sure your info is up to date.

In the midst of the excitement and pressure . . . don't forget to breathe!


The Ice Bucket Challenge: new paradigm or old trick?

There’s been a lot chatter about the ice bucket challenge and whether this wildly successful fundraiser will ring in a new order for the nonprofit marketplace.  An informal poll by Philanthropy News Digest showed 47 percent of respondents think it represents “something new in fundraising.”

At first glance, it looks like a new approach. It certainly tosses a lot of received wisdom out the window. It doesn’t 'demonstrate need.'  It doesn't use 'performance-based measures.' It doesn’t even 'tell a story' -- the donor communication du jour. So, yes, it challenges some of our basic assumptions.

But on closer examination, we can see that it actually uses several tried-and-true techniques. They’ve emerged in a slightly different form, but they should be familiar to many of us.

  • Good brand name. The ice bucket challenge leverages the name recognition of a well-established, respected organization. ALS has a good reputation, they are well-known in the health circles. That counts for a lot. Even if you know nothing about the organization, you’ve probably heard of this devastating disease.
  • Friends asking friends. Now we call it peer-to-peer fundraising, but it’s a well-established principle: solicitation is most successful when it takes place between two people who know each other and who run in the same circles. You don’t see bosses challenging employees. Not cool, right?
  • Challenge campaign.  It taps into our competitive streak and gives us a chance to be part of a team. Almost every organization has seen this work at one point or another. Donors unresponsive to regular pleas for funds all of the sudden jump on board when it’s a matching campaign.

One more positive note -- in an era when nonprofits are tempted to invest in expensive things like target analytics and the latest fundraising software, it’s refreshing to see a highly successful fundraising activity just take off on its own.