Things You May Not Know About Fundraising (But Probably Should)

Hello non-profit world. By now, if you indulged, your “end-of-the-year fundraising efforts” are probably in the history books. Whether you chose a strategy that appealed to tax ramifications for the giver, or proposed that a donation to your enterprise would make a nifty holiday gift, or just relied on the fact that we all seem to think that people are in a more giving mood around this time of year, you may be sitting back, assessing the results, and thinking “Now what?”.

What better way to kick off your fund-raising strategies for 2015 than to think a bit outside the box? And, when I consider outside the box thinking, I often turn to Freakonomics. If you are unfamiliar with that word, I would be surprised. Starting with their first book, the eponymous Freakonomics which was published in 2005, Steven J. Dubner, a writer and sometime raconteur, and Steven D. Levitt, a well-respected economist on the faculty at the University of Chicago attempt to explain what they call “the hidden side of everything”.  5+ million copies later, the duo published SuperFreakonomics in 2009, and the books and the buzz have spawned a movie, a blog, and an extremely popular podcast. You can find out more about all of these at the Freakonomics website.

I tend to consume podcasts like I do television, by which I mean I rarely listen or view at the time a program is first aired, but I binge on several in a row. My latest TV gluttony occurred with Netflix’s Bojack Horseman which I highly recommend to anyone who is not easily offended by cartoons that are intended for grown-ups. In the car, though, I have been listening to back episodes of Freakonomics Radio. One episode I listened to recently was all about fundraising, and in its inimitable way, the podcast brought to light some interesting information that isn’t necessarily discussed in traditional articles about raising money for a cause or institution. You might find some of these ideas interesting, or controversial, but hopefully useful as well.

A featured guest on this episode was economist John List, who is a fellow faculty member, with Levitt, at the U. of Chicago. One of Dr. List’s interests is charitable giving, and he has an impressive array of research projects and articles on the topic. Whatever else you may think about the good doctor by the time you have finished reading this piece, you can’t say he isn’t well informed, nor thoughtful about this important subject.

Here are a few insights List provided during his on-air conversation for Freakonomics. If you are interested (and I suggest you should be) you can listen to the entire episode right here.

Americans give about 2.2 percent of their personal income to charitable causes each year.

Over the past 40 years, that percentage has increased about twelvefold.

Appealing to altruism (“You can help these poor unfortunate people”) is less likely to help you raise money than appealing to the donor’s self-interest. In other words, people are more likely to give if they are told that doing so will make them feel good about THEMSELVES, or even that they might LOSE something if they don’t donate.

Social pressure and guilt are actually powerful drivers of donation.

When someone sees that a friend, or someone you consider an influential person, has supported a cause, they are more likely to also want to support that cause.

Beautiful women, and more particularly attractive blonde women raise more money (maybe as much as twice as much) than others when they are the ones soliciting money for you. Most of this effect came from donations from men (surprise!) and there was not any observed reverse effect – women giving more money to good-looking men.

Matching gifts are powerful motivators, but a 1:1 match is as good as any other, so there is no need to make it 2:1 or 3:1.

Donors like lotteries, in which their donations in some way may qualify them to win a desirable prize. Think “For every dollar you give us, your name will be entered in a drawing for this big-screen TV”. List, by the way, recommends that you consult an authority on gambling rules in your state before trying this approach, but if it can work for you, offering a prize might boost giving.

As already mentioned, these conclusions are supported by data from rigorous academic research. So, what do you think? Did any of this surprise you? More importantly, does consideration of these research results give you any good ideas for some new ways you might consider boosting donations to your cause in the year to come? As Steven Dubner says about John List “We’d be fools to not follow his advice”. Let us know if you do, and how it works out for you.

Open Your Mind to Open Space

I’m freshly returned from the third annual Collaborative of the Treatment Professionals in Alumni Services, a great group of dedicated addiction treatment colleagues who are strongly committed to a model of care that values a continuum of services over a long term to build a community of recovery. One of the slogans of TPAS is “Shift the Paradigm”, and since the very first collaborative gathering, they have been doing that.

One evident way in which this is happening is in how the meetings themselves are structured. In each of the three gatherings to date, TPAS has used Open Space Technology as the structure for the collaboration. If you are not familiar with this innovative way to bring bright minds together and address critical issues, you should be.

Hardly a new idea, Open Space Technology was first presented over 30 years ago by Harrison Owen, a proponent of organizational transformation. His practice of “self-organizing meetings” has never been patented or copyrighted and is available for any group to use. Owen himself has estimated that over 100,000 Open Space gatherings have occurred since he first discovered the approach could work.

Owen states in his writing that Open Space Technology works best when certain conditions are present. First, there needs to be a real business issue or issues involved, otherwise no one will care. Second, there should be a level of complexity, such that no single person or small group can easily understand or solve the issue, or else there is really no reason to have a meeting at all. Third, it is important to have real diversity among the participants so that there will be sufficiently rich points of view that will generate novel solutions. Fourth, it is important that real passion and even conflict exists among the participants – it’s the juice that keeps things going. Finally, there should be a sense of urgency about the issues at hand, so that focus is retained throughout.

Open Space Technology allows group – large or small – to create a full agenda for a day or multi-day conference that can address multiple issues. A common result of the process is that each participant realizes he or she knows more than he thought about solutions, and that the collective group knows a lot more than any individual can. I’ll get to the practical steps in a moment, but it is important to also review five guiding principles and an important “law” associated with OST. The principles are:

Whoever attends are the right people

Whenever it starts is the right time

Wherever it is, is the right place

Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened

When it’s over, it’s over

The principles remind us that you don’t have to have experts or power brokers at your meeting, just people who care enough to participate. Although some time limitations may need to be in place to create a little order, hewing to tightly to a schedule overlooks the fact that creative thinking is not a schedulable element. The setting is not the most important thing, the people are, so groups can meet almost anywhere. Doing the work (and not the time) is the key – when your conversation is finished, move on.

The “law” is important too, and it is the Law of Two Feet, reminding everyone that if you find yourself at any time in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, you should get up and move to some other space. This is also sometimes called the Law of Mobility.

So how does this work in practice? The organizers divide up the available time into blocks and make multiple spaces available for each time period. In the case of the TPAS group, we started with eight time blocks over two days, and each block of time had four sections for content. This was gridded out on a whiteboard that was available for everyone to view throughout the Collaborative. Attendees were invited to suggest topics to fill these blocks. One at a time, people would stand up, announce a topic they would like to discuss, write the topic and their name on a post-it note and stick the note into one of the blocks of the grid. This process took about 30 minutes until all of the blocks were filled, each with a topic and a volunteer group leader. In some cases, you may find that topics are similar and can be combined. Once all of the available time blocks were filled, all of the participants were invited to come up to the board and choose groups in which they were willing to participate. Because of the principles discussed above, it was not important that a group be necessarily large or small. Having multiple meeting spaces is important, as the groups are concurrent and you want each group to have sufficient space for the size of their group and adequate separation so that the conversations don’t interfere with one another.

In our case, there were a couple of people who expressed a desire to attend groups on two topics that were co-occurring. Fortunately, this was accommodated by swapping some of the topics to different time blocks.

Each person who suggested a topic took the responsibility for being at the time and place selected for their session, and at least nominally leading the group. The main point was to stimulate conversation – unlike in a traditional business conference the activities are not generally designed to be lectures or teaching moments, but more collaborative discussion. For the sake of the entire group, and for the overall value of the event, notes and attendance should be taken and these written summaries made available to all participants. In some cases, this process was facilitated by taping the sessions and/or by taking photos of any notes written on flip charts or whiteboards in the meeting spaces. There should be at least one (TPAS had two) daily recap sessions in which all of the participants reconvene to discuss how the process is working, or to talk about important issues that everyone could benefit from . In our case, this took the form of organized “conversations” in which groups of 3 or 4 people sat in a small circle and discussed something that was cued by the organizers.

The participants in Open Space Technology don’t always solve problems on the spot, but everyone goes away from the experience with more energy and creative ideas than they had when they arrived. The experience also fosters much more interaction than traditional conferences, so you will find yourself with great contact lists of colleagues with whom you can continue the conversations after the conference is over.

There is a wealth of information on the tools and techniques that make for successful Open Space Technology events available on the Internet, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. For TPAS, the event attendance has essentially doubled each year it has been held, and the positive ideas that have been generated have helped set the agenda for the organization’s activities each year.  Try it for yourself, you may (like me) be astounded by how successful your next conference will be.

The End is Near! 10 Great Year-End Fundraising Ideas

Appropriately, this article is being published on the last day of summer, 2014. So the end of a season is imminent, the end of the month is about one week away, and the end of the year is — well we may have a calendar quarter left, but if you are planning serious fundraising efforts around the upcoming holiday season (and you should) it’s time to get in gear.

It is a pretty well-established fact that people tend to donate more around the holidays. Obviously there are a lot of reasons for this, including tradition (it’s the giving season), awareness (those Salvation Army kettles attract donations, but also serve to remind people to think about giving), special “pushes” in communities and churches, and of course tax considerations. When people in your local or extended community think about giving this year, will they think about your nonprofit? You can have a say in that decision if you make the right moves, and now is the time to start.

Here are 10 good ideas you might want to consider to boost the success of your year-end fundraising campaign.

Work from back to front

The people you should be contacting RIGHT NOW are all of the donors from last year. Remind them of their generosity, thank them again, and underscore the challenges you still have that they can help you solve. Tell them what you were able to do in the past year, thanks to their philanthropy. Donors need to know that they are important to you, and that the money they give you makes a difference.

Have a theme or message

Think about your end of the year fundraising as a “brand”, and support it accordingly. Can you come up with a catchy phrase to describe your mission (e.g., “Not everyone will have a Merry Christmas this year!”)? Could you create a custom logo for this enterprise (maybe something as simple as putting a snowy landscape behind your standard logo, or perching a Santa hat on one of the letters in your organization’s name)? Pay attention to design concepts and color schemes and make sure your message is expressed consistently wherever it shows up.

Don’t ask just once

Make sure that you distribute you “ask message” to your community or mailing list more than just once. Your prospective donors are probably busy people, and a single email request or letter in traditional mail is easy to overlook – even more so at the end of the year when many people are calling on them to help out. By sending two or three messages, you increase the chances that at least one will be read. Also, the first message from you might just remind your donors of who you are and what you do. Follow up notes will be read more thoroughly and are more likely to elicit a response. Don’t forget the very last week of the year usually sees an increase in donation, so have one of your messages ready to get out around December 20.

Use a multi-platform approach

Are you active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and/or other social media platforms? If your project has a theme or brand, make sure it is spread across all of these platforms. You will reinforce the message among those who follow you on multiple social sites and will broaden your reach overall if you have donors who only read your Twitter feeds, or only follow your organization’s Facebook page.

Use multi-media

Visuals work, plain and simple. Adding pictures to your appeal letters that illustrate your work and the results of the generosity of others may set you apart from a lot of the other groups who are asking at the same time. Using online approaches allows you to embed videos and other digital surprises in with your appeal as well. Did we say “visuals work”. Yes we did!

Tie the gift to results

Even with a good theme and a message about your mission, a lot of donors want to think that the money they donate to you has a real relationship to specific benefits to the community. There is a big difference between stating “We need $50,000 by the end of the year to help us keep doing good work” and giving details about the use of the funds like “Your $100 donation will allow us to serve 45 hungry children a nutritious dinner” or “$50 means a family of four can spend a winter’s night in a safe and warm environment”.

Create an internal goal

How will you measure the success of your fundraising effort? Equally important, how will you know if the time and effort you invest in it really pays off? Not every organization can answer these questions but they are critical to both your current and future efforts. Setting a goal for your campaign helps in so many ways, including creating some parameters on what you can spend in time and real money on the project and helping you set benchmarks over the coming months to decide if you need to ramp up your efforts a little or a lot towards the end of the year. It can also serve as a way to publicly show your donors how you are doing (the oft-used “giving thermometer”) which in turn might stimulate some supporters to help boost you “over the top”.

Call on outside experts

You don’t have to do everything yourself, nor should you. If you have an accountant or tax attorney on your board or in your community of supporters, why not ask her to write a description of the tax ramifications of charitable donations to include with your appeal? Do you know a graphic designer? Maybe he would craft your initiatives logo or color scheme. Advertising exec? Ask for help in creating a simple message. Professional photographer? It’s obvious that you could get a ton of really expert help from your supporters. And, in the spirit of the effort, they could donate their work for you as
in-kind support and join the giving party!

Send a thank you note

Once the end of the year effort is over, remember that your efforts for next year have just begun. A heartfelt thank you note for a recent donation is a great way to ensure that there will be another gift next year. Make a commitment to thank everyone you have solicited – not just those who actually gave. You’ll thank yourself next year at this time!

Will You Spend a Quarter to Make $50,000?

Here’s the premise. If you commit to paying serious attention to your organization’s social media strategy over the next three months, I’m betting that you will see a noticeable increase in your customer engagement, sales, and revenue during the first quarter of 2015. If you are a small operation with, say, $2 million of annual revenue, a 10% increase over the previous year would equate to $50K of additional revenue.

Oh, you thought I meant that you would only need to spend 25 cents to reap this big cash reward? Well, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. There will be some real effort involved, but I can pretty much predict that anyone who takes up this challenge and is diligent over the final three months of 2014, will be happy in the coming year.

So, are you up for it? If you are, here are the things we want you to pay attention to.

First, choose your weapons. That is to say, decide on (at least) three social media platforms you will focus upon during this initiative. If you have been reading this blog for very long, or following Innovaision on other social media, you know that the tools we would recommend would be LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogging, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram. It isn’t necessary to have a presence on all of these, but choosing a minimum of three has some specific benefits. First, it gives you some flexibility as to what audience(s) you try to reach (e.g. more B2B on LinkedIn, more general/social targets on Twitter and Facebook). Choosing to use both Twitter and Blogging, for example, lets you dash off short messages frequently on the former, and express longer thoughts or more developed themes on the latter. And, don’t underestimate the value of cross-referencing. As soon as this article is posted, I’ll be sure to link to it from Innovaision’s Twitter feed and my LinkedIn page. Get your social media tools to work together in support of one another!

Next, quantify your investment. Decide on how much time you are willing to devote to this experiment. The actual amount of time necessary to do a thorough job will vary, what we can be relatively sure of is that you will spend less time to get the same results by the end of the quarter as you will at the beginning. It’s all about establishing a pattern and a rhythm, and becoming comfortable with the various tools you can use to help you be more efficient and effective. In any event, you should plan to spend between two and four hours per week, per platform, if you want to create positive outcomes. For most Social Media tools, there is somewhat of an inverse relationship between the amount of the content you post and the number of times your readers expect to hear from you. Thus, a Tweet may only be 12 or 15 words, but your Twitter audience might want to hear from you 4 to 6 times a day. Longer thoughts of a paragraph or two are appropriate for LinkedIn or Facebook, but you may only update your feeds on those platforms once a day or 4 to 6 times a week. A good blog posting could be 1000 words or more, once or twice a week.

Speaking of helper tools, while we are not shy about giving you a sneak preview of some of the best out there, it might be wise – particularly if this is the first time you are making a serious commitment to a quality social media plan – to do things “the hard way” first. By learning to use the platforms in their most raw and basic forms, you will be better able to decide what helper software or shortcuts will best serve you down the road. So, make a plan to NOT use any support tools during the first month or so.

Be sure to plan to create thoughtful and well-written content.  Don’t just dash off a few lines or paragraphs, really think about what you are telling the world. Your social sharing will define your reputation in most peoples’ minds. A poorly written sentence, failure to spell-check, or confusing prose will work against you, not in your favor. Write what you want to say, then re-read it at least twice to make sure that you are getting your message across. Pay attention to attention grabbing headlines (like Will You Spend a Quarter to Make $50,000?, for example) that encourage readers to pause and pay attention. Ask for help if you need it, get friends to read your material before you put it out for the world to see.

The next part of your strategy is to commit to the 80/20 rule. This means that four out of five of all of your social media offerings – be they LinkedIn updates, Tweets, Blog posts, whatever – should be helpful, informational, and/or educational and should NOT be directly sales oriented. As we have discussed before in this space (see A Primer on Inbound Marketing and How to Stand Out on Social Media, for example), there is nothing wrong with tooting your own horn, and one ultimate bottom line is selling something, but you will gain loyal followers who can be converted into customers if you consistently offer them content worth reading. Drop your contact information and your sales pitch in now and then, but don’t overdo it. The 80/20 plan seems to be a really good benchmark for this.

To keep you on the plan, once you have made the commitment, you need to keep track of your efforts. This means both prospectively and retrospectively. Create whatever calendars, schedules or checklists you need to insure that you know what you should be working on, or towards, every day. Consult these documents (they could be simple documents of lists, or spreadsheets) and check off your work when you have completed it. You’ll get the satisfaction of accomplishing your goals, and the benefit of being able to look forward to see what you need to do next.

As an additional sign of commitment share your plan with an associate, a trusted friend or adviser. Let them know what you have decided to do over this next quarter, and give them a progress report every couple of weeks or so. It can be very easy to push this important work into the back of your mind when you are busy with many other tasks and projects. It’s a lot harder to do that if you have asked someone else to help you be accountable.

The last recommendation we will make for this ambitious undertaking is that you create ways to track your effectiveness. This could mean investing in some analytical tools, but for a lot of organizations it would be as simple as asking callers and customers “Did you hear about us online?” Make a note of the ways in which your prospective and actual customers find out about you, to see if one or another of the social media platforms you have chosen is working better than others. Don’t do anything with this information during this first quarter, other than compiling it. At the end of the trial, you can re-evaluate, and possibly replace a low-performing platform with a new choice to see if you can get even more out of your plan going forward!

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