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.

Donor-Centered or Data-Driven

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Google “Fundraising Buzzwords” or “Nonprofit Buzzwords” and you’ll get a whole list of the phrases we like to kick around the industry.  Fortunately, “Donor-Centered” is one that’s stuck around for quite some time.

Data-Driven seems to be losing some of its popularity.  “Big Data” is taking on different connotations (really, Big Data refers to databases so large that most computers can’t process them – most of us aren’t really working with true Big Data, no matter how large our database is).

But you can’t be donor centered AND data driven.

At least, that’s the common misconception.  We tend to think of these two things as being different parts of the brain – left-brain/right-brain, science/art, emotional/rational.

How many DODs or MGOs do you hear say, “I’m just not a data person!” Or, “I can’t even deal with that – it sounds so boring, I’d rather talk to people!” Or “What’s my password for Raiser’s Edge?”

So, what is data?

This one’s the best.  From www.mathisfun.com

What is Data?

Data is a collection of facts, such as numbers, words, measurements, observations or even just descriptions of things.

“Or even just descriptions of things.”

At its very basic level, data is simply another word for “information.”

So, data-driven means “Guided by Information.”

Think of a donor, one you know well.  Don’t look at your CRM.  What do you know about them?  Or think of a group, a segment, a subset, something – what do you know about them?

You just conjured up a whole bunch of information – kid’s names, home address, giving status (Current, Lapsed, LYBUNT, etc.).

Data – information – can also be very unconscious.  You’re not thinking about it right now, but when I say Your Birthday, the date immediately pops to mind.  Or if I say, “Your Mother’s maiden name,” boom, there it is.

We’re processing data all the time, without even thinking about it.

When we’re truly being donor-centered – stewarding their gift, cultivating them, listening to them – we’re processing a lot of information about them.

Being Donor-Centered means putting the needs of the donor at the forefront of our relationship.  In order to do that, we need to know what their needs are – we need to know who they are.  And, of course, we can’t do that without information.

Even simple information – data – helps get us there.  Spouse name, kids names, their job, their last gift, who they’re connected.  That’s all data is and most of us are just carrying that around in our heads all day.

Donor-Centered and Data-Driven are two sides of the same coin.  Can’t have one without the other.

Just, please, for the love of all things, get that data into the CRM.

 

Rest

Did you take some downtime this holiday season?  Rest is good.  R&R is required.

It’s good to get away, think about other things, give the gray matter time to chill and rejuvenate.

If you didn’t – do.  It’s worth it.  You’ll be better for it.

And so will your donors.

We talk about resting lists periodically.  But do we really rest them?  Do we really let a list just chill out for a bit and not hear from us for awhile?

Too often, it’s a numbers game.  Multiple hits, multiple solicitations – the more we solicit, the more we communicate, the higher our return will be.  And we do it because it works.

We get responses and hit goals, but for every gift, how many non-respondents opened our third/fourth/tenth email, rolled their eyes and thought, “Just please stop!”?

Sometimes we need to rest.

Maybe it’s time to let all those year-end donors and prospects chill out for a bit?  Let ’em have a break.  Or maybe let them rest by communicating with them but not asking them?  We hit them pretty hard at year-end.  Say thank you (yes, you can thank a prospect as well as a donor).  Send an update.  Wish them Happy New Year.  But maybe give them a rest.

And you take one, too. Urgency is one thing; exhaustion and fatigue can be the by-product of it, though.

Rest takes a risk sometimes, too.  A risk well worth taking.