What I Learned at #AFPFC 2017

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), of which I am a member and President of the Las Vegas chapter, hosted its annual International Conference on Fundraising this week in San Francisco.  It was a long and powerful three days, full of inspiration, great insight and comparing notes with some of the smartest, finest people in the industry today.  I’ll be honest – it didn’t light me up like previous years have.  It was a little flat and didn’t pack as much depth as I’ve seen before, but it is always, always time well spent and you do come back feeling like you’ve been on the mountain and had a chance to recharge your fundraising batteries.

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So, my top takeaways:

1) Fundraisers are the kindest, warmest, most lovely people on the planet.

Everywhere I went people were smiling, talking, engaging with each other – introducing themselves and shaking hands and hugging.  Walking around on the streets near the conference center, everyone was open to conversation and willing and interested in talking.  The energy was high and the love was flowing.

2) There is a movement afoot and we’re ready for change.

There was an undercurrent, both from the stage and in the seats, that we, the fundraisers, aren’t just blindly accepting status quo anymore.  Maybe the donor retention message is finally getting through or maybe we’re ready to claim our space, but more-and-more you hear “This isn’t working, we need to do better.”

3) That said, we’re still talking about the same stuff.

We are still talking about:  how to find more donors, how to keep more donors, how to get more donors to give more.  There were a couple of times that I wanted to stand up and scream, “WE KNOW HOW TO DO THIS!!!”  Sure, there were a LOT of first-timers this year – and that’s GREAT!  Whole troves of college students coming to learn about fundraising . . . but there were a lot of people, too, who are seasoned development professionals drinking from the same fire hose. Why are we still having the same conversations?

4) We need more mentors and leaders on a one-on-one level.

Nobody has time; everybody’s busy.  But we make time for the things that we believe in and are important to us – somehow we find the time.  If we want the profession to advance, if we want to lead change, we have to make the time to mentor and be mentored.

5) You can’t live on the mountaintop.

Theory is great, but the practical day-to-day doesn’t always live up to theory and best practice.  We all have limitations – Executive Directors who MUST read every letter, Boards who aren’t interested in fundraising, co-workers who just will NOT update the CRM.  Our jobs are, more often than not, to create phenomenal, donor-centered experiences in spite of the limitations.  And implement the best practices we can.

6) Speaking of Best Practices – Get Rid of ‘Em.

Some of the best nuggets of info & inspiration can be found in the Rebels, Renegades & Pioneers track.  Simone Joyeaux dropped this little bomb during one of them and if I take nothing from this conference but this, I’ll consider it time and money well spent:

  • Follow the valid research
  • Do away with best practice
  • Always ask why
  • Be a critical thinker

Then she grabbed me by the lapels and blasted, “I HATE THE PHRASE ANNUAL FUND.”  I blacked out after that, don’t remember a thing. #FanBoy

Point is – stop doing things because it’s the way we’ve always done it or that’s the ‘best practice.’ If we stuck with best practice we’d still be fundraising off of 3×5 cards.

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7) Stop Fund Raising

Raising funds is transactional, singular and financial-based.  Develop relationships.  Develop boards.  Develop institutions.  Develop capacity.  All of which have a side benefit of bringing in the revenue needed to do those things, but stop fundraising.  We’re bigger than that.

8) Always Be Sure Your Tech is Functioning Order

My phone died halfway through day 1.  Not died as in had no power, but died as in:

This iPhone is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! Its metabolic processes are now history! It’s off the twig! It’s kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX iPHONE!!

(With deep, deep apologies to Monty Python).  It was acting up, I thought it would hang on.  It didn’t.  I lost a lot of pictures, a whole bunch of texts and missed a whole session.

9) Data Remains An Opportunity

I was, truly, honored to be chosen to present a session and even more honored that people actually came! “Data Got You Down? Simplifying Donor-Centered Data Analysis for the Data Allergic.”  Phenomenally smart questions during and after the session, but even the other sessions I went to point out that we really have an opportunity to improve how we use data, what we do with it and being far more strategic about how we implement information in our fundraising.  You can tell the greatest story in the world, but if you’re telling it to the wrong people, you won’t get very far.

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10) Diversity and Inclusion 

There seemed to be a stronger focus on Diversity and Inclusion and the strengths of our differences was evident.  AFP Las Vegas is very proud to have received the Friends of Diversity designation, but I was even more encouraged by visibility at the conference and the acknowledgement that only in celebrating our differences – as people, as nonprofits, in our experiences – do we truly gain equity.

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To Sum Up:

At the end of the day, the biggest takeaway is the connections with people – with other professionals who are in the same trenches, fighting the same battle and doing phenomenal good.  We feed each other and uplift one another when we’re together.  And that is what I’m most grateful for.   Go do good, wonderful, powerful things!

P.S. My favorite fundraising message of the week?  This:

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Fundraising or Money-Raising?

Clerk:  Your total is $blahblahblah, would you like to add a dollar to support children puppies hungry old homeless high-school band?

Me:  Uhhh, no, not today.

Clerk:
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Yeah, cheers, thanks, thanks a lot.  *sigh*

I know these kinds of programs raise a lot of critically-needed money for a lot of great organizations – and the beneficiaries who need them.  I totally get that.  But I think they detract from the profession of Fundraising & Development, create a false sense of “do-gooderism” and make it harder, ultimately, for us to do the real work of development and advancement.

Plus Ca Change . . . 

We live in an age where just about anybody can engage in any profession as long as they have a device and an internet connection.  You can diagnose your own illness on any number of health sites like WebMD, be your own accountant on TurboTax or TaxAct or act as your own travel agent on hundreds of different platforms.

My photographer friends tell me their jobs are much, much harder now that everyone carries a pretty decent camera in their pocket.  EVERYBODY’S got an artistic filter.

Fundraising is the same.

Fundraising has always been this way, though.  Bake sales, lemonade stands, change jars at checkout counters, taking up a collection for Sally Sue at work . . . . as long as we live in a money-based economy, somebody will always need to raise money for something.  It’s just now we have – like other professions – more sophisticated online tools to do it.  GoFundMe, Kickstarter, Indiegogo . . . . the list goes on.

Here’s where I get worried . . . more worried . . . when nonprofits (read: Board Members/CEOs, etc.) start saying, “We need more donors and more dollars; we should do a GoFundMe.”  And fundraisers do it. Because LOOK AT ALL THE MONEY COMING IN!

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Maybe we need to start differentiating now between Fundraising and Money-Raising.

Take a moment, sit down, pour yourself a nice cup of whatever relaxes you because I’m about to commit blasphemy:

Money-raising is easy.  Fundraising is hard.

What?  What’s that you say?  Raising money is easy?  If it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it?  If raising money is so easy why are we working so hard at it?

Getting money for something is pretty easy . . . put something out there that tells the world what the need is and SOMEBODY will give money to it.  And they might give a lot of money or they might give a little, but then they’ll got and give their spare change to someone else.

But what’s hard – really hard – is building sustainable, long-term relationships with people and organizations who are deeply committed and passionate enough to give of themselves to fund the causes they care about.  That’s hard.

That’s day-in, day-out.  That’s technique and experience and trial and error and great success and wild failure.  That’s strategic excellence vs. widespread mediocrity.

There are days when I think professional fundraisers should rail against the bake sale and the change jar and the GoFundMe for Baby Jimmy’s college fund.  And sometimes I think we should shake our fists to the heavens and decry the latest gift-wrap/car-wash/cupcake sale/give-a-dollar-at-the-register program.  But, no, they have their place.

And sometimes they have their place in a well-developed, comprehensive professional fundraising program.  Part of, not instead of.

But we should hold our heads up high and say what we know is fundraising.  We know Development and Advancement and we know how to be strategically excellent.  We know how to use an online giving tool in the context of the whole, not just a “if you code it, they will give.”

We know the difference between money-raising and fundraising.

 

 

 

Rant on Retention

I like to think that professionals in all fields get together and rant and complain about their profession.  I have to believe that there are forums for pipe fitters and physician’s assistants and marketers to get together and go, “They’re hiring people with no experience as experts! Nobody takes the profession seriously!  These CEOs think they can hire somebody with Fundraising experience and that’s as good as 25+ years in Marketing!”  Grumble grumble, rant rant, etc.

Because it can’t just be us.  Can it?

And every other rant lately is about Donor Retention.  It’s the most significant problem facing the profession today.

I agree.  It is.  Based on the data and reports we’ve all seen.

But . . . .

BUT . . . . . . .

First – can we just stop beating each other up?  Please?  “The worst fundraising mistake you can make!” OR “Fundraisers aren’t paying attention to the fundamentals!” or any other number of alarming headlines.

There’s a lot of fundraisers doing really great work, making great relationships and helping find the funding to tackle some of society’s toughest issues.  Should they be paying a little closer attention to their retention rates?  Sure.  But let’s praise what they ARE doing.

And just because a development officer is not measuring specific retention rate, doesn’t mean that they’re not conducting great donor stewardship, wonderful relationships and hitting goals.

Objection:  If development officers are doing great stewardship, why are renewal rates across the industry so low?!?

Me:  I haven’t seen the actual data those reports come from, but I do think they’re approached with pretty broad brushstrokes.

Second – some donors aren’t MEANT to be retained.  And most CRMs and reporting tools just take a straight, one-shot look at it on a year-to-year basis.  I have yet to see a report that said, “Retention rate was 47% for annual fund donors.”  Maybe there was a whole lot of campaign giving or specific project funding that went on last year and those donors very specifically gave a stretch gift and that CDO is already working the next gift for five years from now.  Some gifts, some giving just ISN’T multi-year.

Is a fundraiser a failure because they didn’t renew their capital campaign donors?  They are if you take a one-shot approach to measuring retention.

Third – and most important – measuring retention is not as straightforward as it seems.  The CRM that I use is possibly the #1 or #2 most popular.  It does not have an extant donor retention report, but recommends you compare the results of a query of last year’s donors to this year’s.  Just compare the counts in each query and you’ve got it.  Indeed, the instructions for this do not factor the fund/allocation of the gift – JUST the year it was given.

Another way to do it is to export the data into Excel and run a VLOOKUP (after pivot tables, the fundraiser’s most useful analysis tool, but I digress).  VLOOKUP will compare Unique IDs (or names or other fields) between two worksheets.

Hang on . . . . first is the time, here.  I’m pretty decent with Excel, but that takes me about an hour or so to do.  And so many shops don’t have a dba or analyst to run these kinds of reports, or the Excel skills to do it.

“But if you knew your retention rate and focused on retention, you wouldn’t have to work so hard acquiring new donors.”  True.  That’s truth.

But . . . let’s look at an example from real life (true story – names changed):

– In 2014, Jack Spratt made a personal $1,000 introductory gift, God love him;
– After some extended cultivation, Jack made an additional $10,000 gift from his family foundation, later in 2014;
– In early 2015, Jack’s wife Eileen leveraged a $5,000 gift from her company restricted to a specific program
– Later in 2015, Jack renewed his $10,000 and made it through a donor advised fund
– Eileen did not renew her $5,000; Jack, however, increased their support to $20,000 which he made through a mixture of soft-credit from a corporate gift and a gift from a different source . . . . .

Guess who doesn’t show up in a retention report?  Jack and Eileen, because they change the source every year and Accounting requires gift entry to be tied to the actual source of the gift and soft-credited to the donor.  Every year they look like new donors and would get “lost” in a direct unique identifier comparison.  But guess who was also the subject of intense stewardship and cultivation – isn’t that focusing on retention, too?

Unless the retention report recognizes soft-crediting OR the query/export combination you use appropriately designates soft-credited gifts to the donor . . .

Does this account for a lot of gifts?  No, not on the overall whole.  But I’ve seen situations like this be 5% – 6% of a database, so it has an impact.  And I’ve seen it – a lot – at lower levels.  One year one person in a household gives, the next it’s the spouse who writes the check.  (And householding (how a database looks at individuals in the same household, i.e. spouses, domestic partnerships, etc. ) is a massive problem in fundraising CRMs – that’s a whole other blog post.)

The point?  Donor Retention is incredibly important and we should be doing everything possible to hold on to the donors we have.  We DO need our Boards and Leadership to understand that keeping a donor is a far, far better investment than seeking new ones.  And, yes, that is our job to tell them.  More importantly, it’s our job to show them.

 

What we’re really saying is, “We – as a fundraising industry – NEED to take better care of our donors.  We need to thank them more, get our arms around them more and treat their giving with the respect and care and awe that it deserves.”  Like all things, if we focus on the metric and not the action, we miss the point.

So, yes, absolutely – focus on donor retention.  But spend less time tracking the number and more time loving on donors.

Why Data Like a Lab – It Just Wants to Make You Happy

We had to take a tough break from blogging for a little while.  We lost one of the Buck-White Boys on February 15.  The original Buck-White Boy, the lab by which all others will be measured and the Dog That Started It All.  Tucker.

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Tucker was the best.  He was the best part of a Pet Partners  Animal Assisted Therapy team.  One of the sweetest, kindest, most joyful animals you would ever want to know and he took a huge part of our hearts with him.

On his therapy visits, Tucker didn’t do well sitting still – he did better in situations where he could go from room to room and visit with people.  He’d turn a corner and walk into a hospital room, where someone would be desperately ill, and the whole room would just light up. He’d smile and wag and soon everybody was smiling and wagging.

He just wanted people to be happy.

That’s labs, man.  They just want everyone to be happy.

Now, I’m not going to anthropomorphize data so much that I’m going to compare it to a therapy dog, but . . . your data pretty much just wants you to be happy.

Data doesn’t want to be difficult, it doesn’t want to be messy and complicated and tough to deal with.  It just wants you to be happy.

Your fundraising data is the single greatest tool you have – well, other than your rock star personality, amazing charm, superior intellect and dashingly good looks.  Without good data, all of that goes to waste because, without information, who are you sharing all of that awesomeness with?

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Clean, structured, secure data makes your job 1,000 times easier.  If you don’t have to worry about your data, you can spend your time loving on donors.

That’s what I mean by your data wants you to be happy – it wants you out there changing the world, not sitting in the office crunching data sets or cleaning up salutations.

We were fortunate to get Tucker as a nine-week-old puppy and we invested a lot in his training and development.

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The older he got, the fewer bad habits he had and we could always revert back to that training to remind him what good behavior was.  He ultimately passed the AKC’s Canine Good Citizens Test.

Invest in training your data, keeping it clean and up-to-date and don’t let the bad habits accumulate – that’s a happy database.  And a happy database = a happy and successful fundraiser.

 

 

 

Why Data Is Like a Lab – Needs Love & Attention

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Have you seen this labr-adorable gem kicking around the interwebs?201601_1534_hgadg_smJust too sweet for words, right?

And anybody who’s ever raised a Labrador puppy knows that was a split second of cute amidst a fury of scrambling, petting, biting, jumping and many other gerunds as well.

Last time we talked about data needing rules and structure. Now we talk about data needing love and attention.  Just like a Labrador puppy in training.

Once the rules – a Data Styles Manual or guidelines – are in place, it’s not enough to have them if nobody’s following them and making sure they work.

Data, left to its own devices, will get unruly.  It’ll misbehave.  And I hear you thinking, “It’s not a really a thing.  Data, or a database, is an inanimate object.”

Entropy, though.

entropy

(theory)   A measure of the disorder of a system. Systems tend to go from a state of order (low entropy) to a state of maximum disorder (high entropy).

The more information you add to a system, the more likely it is to begin to degrade.  The more you expect of it – or don’t keep up with it – the more likely it is to re-create the messiness that caused the issues to begin with.

The more you ignore a Labrador Retriever, the more likely they are to misbehave.  The more instructions you give (No! Stop! Don’t! Quit! GET DOWN!) the more likely they are to just do their own thing.

Both need attention – love and caring.  TLC.

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Training helps.  A lot.  When you work with a reputable dog trainer, you start by learning how your dog processes information – they’re not born speaking human.

Neither are databases. Know what you’re doing when you dive into a database.  Beginning to think the same way a database processes information is a huge help.

And both can smell fear.

Other ways to show some love to your database?

  • Keep it clean – always follow the standards for entry and clean up
  • Keep it limited – only a (very) few people should have actual access to enter/edit data
  • Keep it Up-T0-Date – whenever there’s a patch or an upgrade to the system, do it.  Your CRM provider is doing that for a reason.
  • Keep it Current – when you get new information about a record, don’t wait.  Change it then.
  • Regular NCOA and email appends
  • Regular wealth screenings

They say when you’re training a dog to set aside one block of time that is just you and the dog.  It builds trust, bonding, sets expectations.

Data’s the same way.  If you’re at all fearful of your data or your database, set aside a block of time once a week, twice a week, whatever your schedule will allow and show your data some love.

 

 

Facebook Live

We’ll come back to the discussion about Why Data is Like a Labrador Retriever after this brief digression.

Facebook Live.  Anybody using it in Fundraising?  Annual Fund?

John Haydon is one of those fundraising/digital marketing gurus who should be on your go-to list.  He’s got some great pointers for using it on a blog over at nonprofit hub.

Last night, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with fellow fundraiser Jeanne Hamrick and Nina Radetich, of Radetich Marketing and Media, on her bi-weekly Facebook Live Small Biz Power.

You can watch the whole thing here:

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PHENOMENAL experience.  But now I’m kind of obsessing on how Facebook Live could be incorporated into an annual giving program.

Obviously, Nina has a great studio set up, but you wouldn’t need it – in fact, being a little raw might be a benefit.

Off the top my head ideas:

  • Do a virtual gala – stay at home in your jammies and bid on an auction from home
  • Do a “Behind-the-Scenes” tour
  • Interview other donors and ask why they supported
  • Broadcast an appeal from on-campus/on-site
  • Talk to beneficiaries
  • Tell great stories
  • THANK YOU VIDEOS!
  • Have an address from the CEO/President/Board Chair
  • Show mission in action as its happening

Animal rescue organizations and dog training orgs are doing a fantastic job of sharing live feeds of puppies online.  That will melt your heart.  I fell for one in writing this blog.

Try it out; it’s got potential.

But, as in all good things, let’s not get distracted by Shiny Object Syndrome.  Be thoughtful, be strategic and recognize it’s not the silver bullet you’ve been searching for your flagging annual fund.  But, still . . . don’t forget to add some fun to it, too!

Why Data Is Like a Lab – Rules & Structure

How are Fundraising Databases Like a Labrador Retriever?  Reason #1 – They need Rules, Structure and Consistency

This is Barclay at eight weeks old:

That was a tough year . . .

Dogs, especially new puppies, need rules, structure and boundaries.  And everybody in the “pack” needs to follow the same rules, otherwise you get an animal that doesn’t listen, has behavioral issues and nobody can control.

Most Labrador Retrievers are surrendered to shelters before the age of 2 because of “behavioral issues” – and most of the time it’s because those cute little fuzzy puppies turned into 75 pounds of crazy.  Because of a lack of rules.

How many times a day do you hear, “Our data is just a MESS!”

Same issue . . .

Data needs rules, structures, boundaries.

Without structure, data tends to get messy.  A whole lot of contributing factors – high staff turnover, database changes, aging data, not keeping data updated (NCOA, etc.), data entry issues.

Check out this infographic on the true cost of bad data.  (It’s basically an ad, but it’s good info).  Another ad, but also good info can be found here on the 1-10-100 rule.

The absolute best way to ensure clean, accurate data is to establish clear data protocols that everyone who touches your databaase must adhere to.  It must be inviolable law.

And it must be comprehensive:

  • How are addresses entered (i.e. “St.” vs. “Street”)
  • What are standard salutations (formal vs. informal)
  • What data is collected?
  • How is data used?
  • Who has access?

And 1,000 other questions that need to be answered.  Do a Google search on “Data Standards Manual” and you will find hundreds of examples.  They may seem daunting, but they are comprehensive and serve as great guides.

A Data Standards Manual should live alongside your Branding Guide.  It’s a definitive statement about who you are as an organization and what you value – who you want to contact and how you want to contact them.

Your data is your single greatest resource and asset.  And it needs rules and structure if you want it to behave.

But my data is already a wreck!

That whole “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” thing?  Yeah, it’s hooey.

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You absolutely can.  And you can absolutely clean a messy database.

Slowly, delicately, carefully, one step at a time.  But so worth it in the long run.

Dogs, especially Labrador Retrievers, are eager to please.  They spend their lives basically trying to figure out what we want from them.  They “misbehave” because we haven’t given them the rules.  We haven’t laid out the expectations.

Data is exactly the same way.  Set the expectations and LIVE by them.  The data will follow along.  And you’ll both be happier for it.

 

Why (Fundraising) Data Is Like a Labrador Retriever

These are Labrador Retrievers:

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To be specific, these are MY Labrador Retrievers – left-to-right:  Oliver, Barclay and Tucker Buck-White, aka The Buck-White Boys.

Labrador Retrievers – or labs – have been the most popular dog in the United States for twenty-five years.  They’re great, great dogs – especially these three knuckleheads.

Bred to work in the the icy waters of Newfoundland, they are known for their friendly and good-natured temperament, their easygoing attitude, willingness to learn and to work and for being dependable.  They’re among the top choices for assistance dogs, too.

They are also how this blog got its name – I have labs, it’s a lab for testing ideas – get it?

You gotta love a lab.  I mean, how can you not with these faces?

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I never meant to have three labs – they’re really a handful.  I also never meant to really into data, but here we are.  And so – like chocolate and peanut butter, two great tastes that taste great together – somehow labs and data got mixed up in my head and I went, “YES! A fundraising database is JUST like a Labrador Retriever.”

And now you’re looking at me like:

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Really?

 

 

 

 

Yes, really.

Databases are just like Labs.  Less drooly and not as fun to snuggle with, but there are a lot of similarities.

So, the Top 10 Reasons Why Fundraising Data Is Like a Labrador Retriever.  Both Data and Labs:

  1. Require Rules, Structure and Consistency
  2. Just Want to Make You Happy
  3. Need Attention
  4. Want to Be Understood
  5. Have to Play
  6. Can Smell Fear
  7. Are Bred to Help
  8. Must Exercise
  9. Need Sustenance
  10. Have to Rest

Over the next few days and weeks we’ll be taking a deeper dive into these similarities.  Just remember, though, any discussion on data – or Labrador Retrievers – should always be followed by a good nap on the sofa:

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We have the Greatest Job in the World

Behind every successful program a nonprofit does, there’s a fundraiser.

Behind every political campaign, there’s a fundraiser.

Behind new buildings and programs and scholarships and endowments, there’s a fundraiser.

Behind every donor, there’s a fundraiser.

And fundraisers make it all about the donors.

How awesome is that?  What other profession gets to see dreams come to life, stand back and say, “Wow! I helped that happen!” (Teachers is the answer to that question; their job is pretty incredible, too).

It’s hard.

It’s not for the faint-hearted or the weak.

We have the power in our hands to shape the future.  We get to help people realize their passions.

We get to change the world – sometimes $10 at a time.

So, when it looks bleak, when hope is fading, when it’s all too much, remember . . . we can be the change.  We have to be the change.

When its darkest, we will keep finding the ways to shine light into it.

We’re the bridge, the conduit, the go-between. We get to bring together the people who WANT TO with the people who NEED.

We’re fundraisers.  And we have the Greatest Job in the World.

At Home in the Annual Fund

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C’mon, sing with me now, “Our house.  In the middle of the street.  Our house . . . ”  Or we could have gone with, “Our house is a very, very, very fine house . . . ”  This is a multi-sensory blog; great info and musical ear-worms.  You’re welcome.

If you don’t know Helen Brown, I’d encourage you to get to know her.  Really a leader in the world of Prospect Research, super smart, writes a great blog and a couple of months ago had a mic drop moment with “Why wealth screenings – and prospect researchers – are so reliant on real estate.”

Go read it; I’ll wait.

Right?  Wasn’t that good?  She’s so on point.  My favorite bit:

You may be right, you may be wrong, but at least it’s something to go on in this business where we’re all operating on uncertainty, every single day. We attach ratings to and hang our hopes and our cultivation strategies on people who may or may not support our organizations. It’s a guessing game to which we apply the most solid things we can to a sea of uncertainty.

The rating is a just starting point anyway.

Preach, sister.

I reached out to Helen and got her blessing to riff on this a little bit.  I love prospect research.  I think it’s one of the coolest things in our arsenal, but it’s certainly not my forte.  Nor is it the end-all, be-all panacea of solving all our fundraising issues.  Research and predictive modeling take the guessing game out of the equation and turn a shotgun approach into a laser focus.

The Rating Is Just a Starting Point Anyway

Folks, there’s no certainty in Fundraising.  OK, there’s one – nonprofit organizations will always need  to do it.  Other than that, anything’s possible.  Every technique, best practice and sacred cow is just there to help reduce some of the variables.

That’s what prospect research does.  Especially in higher-end major gift work.

But we don’t often use it in the Annual Fund, especially in segmentation.  Why?  Because usually all we have is real estate.

If you’ve done a screening of a whole bunch of names – 300 or 300,000, doesn’t matter – you skim off the top tier, those with the highest ratings.  Funnel them into Major Gift portfolios for next steps – identification, cultivation, etc.

SOAPBOX MOMENT:  Major Gift folks, please, when you’re done with your identification/qualification process, pretty please release those unqualifieds back into the Annual Fund pool so we can get ’em solicited and not let them stagnate.  We all know you can’t manage a portfolio of 500+ prospects, even though you’re a Fundraising Rock Star.  #pleaseandthankyou

Typically what you’re left with is a whole mess of mid-range prospects and donors that have one piece of data from public information – real estate. (And then a whole lot more that have no publicly available data at all).

Sometimes Some is Enough

To Helen’s point – it’s something.  It’s something we now know about this individual.  We have an idea of what they’re like because we know what real estate they’ve purchased.

Does it tell us what to ask them?  No.

Does it tell us what their capacity is?  No. (Although you can surmise a capacity based on real estate, there’s no way to tell what their debt-to-income ratio is).

Does it give us a clue on response?  Possibly.

In a direct response acquisition or renewal campaign, prospects with real estate can out-perform those with no rating at all.  Most likely in average gift vs participation.  There have been many tests and programs that have shown that those with higher real estate values tend to give a higher level gift than those without it, especially when you’re using an ask string.

Because it’s something.  It’s something that says, “Hey, there’s some capacity here.”  And sometimes some is enough to make a difference.

As Helen said, “We can use it to form well-educated guesses.”

It’s worth testing.  It’s worth the investment of having, and using, that data – at all levels.

It’s worth not dismissing just because “it’s just real estate.”  If you’ve got nothing else, it’s at least something to help an educated guess.