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.

 

 

 

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.

What I Won’t Do Is Subscribe to Fear

2016

My whole social media feed is FULL of comments about how awful 2016 has been.  It seems everyone is ready to kick this year to the curb and usher in a new one – “It can’t get worse, right?”

Personally, I’ve had a fantastic year – probably one of the best on a personal and professional level.  And I know that puts me in a fortunate position; I’m tremendously grateful. The world outlook?  Not so much.  I agree, it’s been a pretty wretched year.

In a moment of complete candor, I’ll express my abject terror over what could happen in our political landscape in the coming months and years.  Like many, I am still in shock and numb.  And I’m afraid.  For my family, for my community and for many who I am lucky to call friend.

But what I will not do is subscribe to fear.

I will not allow fear to control me or my actions.

Fear of failure.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of what may be.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear of taking a risk.  Fear of standing up and saying, “NO! This is unacceptable.”  Fear of standing up and shouting, “YES! This is wonderful!”

I will not subscribe to fear.

What I will do is champion change.  What I will do is my best.  I will be relentlessly passionate and I will commit.  If there was ever a time to not sit on the sidelines, this is it.

What I will do is love and acknowledge the people who are creating change, who are making a difference.

What I will do is own that our profession, the profession of fundraising, enables people who care deeply to be engaged with their passions.  I will own that we, fundraisers, have one of the greatest responsibilities in the world – how awesome is the charge that we have been given?

And I don’t mean in a “Dude, that’s awesome” way. I mean in a, “We should stand back in awe” of what we get to do.

There’s no room for fear in that responsibility.

 

 

Fundraising is Paper Towels

Thanksgiving was wonderful and I hope yours was, too.  So many things to be thankful for – like making new friends!

We met a lovely couple who are both donors and volunteers at various local nonprofits, so of course the conversation turned to stories from the trenches.

Our new friend spends some time volunteering at a local homeless service agency and went in recently to serve lunch.  Here’s how she put it:

I was asked to make sandwiches for bagged lunches they distribute, so I gloved up and headed into the kitchen.  In the process of preparing to make sandwiches, I spilled something on the counter.  “Where would I find paper towels?” I asked and the response I got was, “We are out of paper towels and they won’t be delivered until next Tuesday, so just use one of these kitchen towels.”  And, with that, she handed me a kitchen towel that had clearly been used before and, even with anti-bacterial cleaner, I didn’t think was very sanitary.  I was just so shocked they didn’t have paper towels.”

So, instead of making sandwiches, she hopped in her car and went to a bulk supply store and bought paper towels.  Great!  Thanks to a great volunteer and donor!

When she asked, though, why they didn’t just order more, the response she got was, “We just can’t afford them – it’s not in the budget.  We can only get x amount per year and we can only get what’s in our standing bi-weekly shipment.”

What potentially stood between a hungry person and lunch was a lack of paper towels.

Paper towels.

Because buying more wasn’t in the budget.

This is the Overhead Myth in action.  This is a highly reputable, well-respected, tightly run organization.  And yet one of their front-line people knows that sometimes what stands between a hungry person and a meal is a paper towel.

There is no metric in the world that measures Paper Towel ROI (PTROI).  There’s no report that indicates the ratio of paper towel to less food insecurity.  But I’m willing to bet Paper Towels never show up in any program budget or case statement.

Paper Towels are the Annual Fund.  (Which is not Annual and not a Fund, I know, I know.)

Paper Towels are operations, they’re overhead, they’re not sexy, they don’t generate results.

And yet . . . sometimes the lack of a Paper Towel stands between a hungry person and a meal.

And if that isn’t the most powerful case for general operational support, I don’t know what it is.  Fundraising is (very often) paper towels.

How to make (Fundraising) Data Fun

I was inspired this week by a colleague, a very talented and smart fundraiser, who was talking about some of the challeng . . . er, opportunities . . . we’re both facing and she says, “How do I make data fun?  How do I get my data person to get INTO it and really WANT to dig in, get it right and find joy in it?

And I thought . . . .

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Because you can talk about the HOW until the cows come home, but if we don’t have the WHY and we don’t find some joy in it, it won’t get done.

So, here goes . . . how do we Make Fundraising Data Fun:

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Admit that Data is (probably) your Single Biggest Opportunity

Data quality and usage have a larger impact on our fundraising outcomes than anything else.  Seriously.  If we don’t have correct addresses or phone numbers or emails, we can’t contact donors or prospects.  If we don’t have visit/call notes or prospecting information, we can’t carry the relationship forward as effectively.  If we don’t enter the gift information, we can’t track results or donor intent.

Take a good, hard assessment on your data and systems – are you getting what you want out of them?  Are they working for you?  Is your reporting accurate and helpful?  Do you feel confident going into a donor conversation?  Are you books balancing?

The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.  And let’s use the phrase “Data” to mean not only the individual points of information, but your whole infrastructure – reporting, data entry, list management, all of it.  Is it what you want and need it to be?  Is it supporting you or is it a chore?  Invest in a SWOT Analysis on your whole data construct and if it falls short, own that you have an issue.

And hold everyone accountable for their role in managing and using data.

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Make it a Part of the Culture

Forgive this soapbox moment, but we are way past the point in the industry where anybody in the shop can have a negative or lackadaisical attitude towards data.  And this includes the Chief Development Officer or VP or whoever is in charge of the department.

If there is anybody that’s part of the team who says, “I don’t deal with data, I don’t like data, I just don’t understand it” that’s a big clue to whomever is in charge of it that it’s not  a high priority and it’s not valued.  They don’t need to the key data expert, but they do need to understand it and appreciate it.  And understand the constructs and limitations of the system so that they can better manage it.

Everyone has responsibility for data hygiene, for note taking, for accuracy and for comprehension.  Everybody needs to understand what’s in the data, what it shows, how to use it and some basic level access to it.  And that means in reporting, too.  Are your reports valued?  Are they discussed and praised and reviewed?  Or are they just a rote practice some somebody spend a lot of time and energy on, but nobody really reads or uses.

Make data something everybody talks about, works to understand, uses and values.

Treat it like a Great Big Puzzlepuzzle2

This is the only way I know how to make it fun.  Data analysis does not come naturally to me; when I first started, I didn’t enjoy it, it was a chore and it was boring.  Hence the “reluctant” in the “Reluctant Data Geek” title.

But if you treat it like a puzzle, a mystery to be solved rather than a chore, it becomes a lot more interesting to a lot more people.

Don’t you want to know who your longest lapsed donors are?  Do you want to find out how many donors renewed?

It’s like a great, big Choose Your Own Adventure story.  Make it a game and keep the end goal in sight, not the steps you have to take to get there.  It’s the mindset of “I’m going to spend the next half hour ensuring I take care of my donors by entering what we discussed at lunch today” rather than “Gaaah, I’ve got to sit down and do all my notes in the CRM because the boss makes me.”  It’s “I’m going to try to find any donors that haven’t renewed this fiscal year” rather than “Yawn, I’ve got to spend the next 2 hours building complex data queries.”

Get Rid of the Fearkeep-calm-and-data-on-26

You can’t break your CRM, you can’t break your data, there is very little that you can actually do that is irreparable or catastrophically damaging.  (Assuming that you know not to hit the ‘save’ button if you do accidentally change some data.)

Unless you’re using Excel as CRM, in which case, I’m sorry.  Godspeed.  (Really, invest in a CRM – you’re losing money if you haven’t).

Get. Over. It.  Seriously.  Get in and start digging around, sign up for training with your CRM provider. (Side note: I wish every CRM developer in the world would stop this “self help” model with videos and FAQs and all that and give us free, person-to-person training.  More than any other field, data/CRM training really needs to cater to different styles of learning.  I’m a physical learner; webinars do me no good.)  Even so, if you’re completely lost on how to use your system, call your provider and tell them you need some individual training – just enough to get you going and used to it.  Do anything you can do to start getting familiar with your data and your system.

The best thing you can do is log in and start poking at it – “Hey, what does this button do?!?”  I promise you, even if you do manage to break it, it can be fixed.

Invest the Time

You don’t have time NOT to be invested in making your data fun.  Truly.  If it is, indeed, one of your biggest opportunities, invest the time for you and your team to really get it down.  Tell yourself, “I’m going to set aside 30 minutes this week and do nothing but getting familiar with data.”  Order a team pizza and everybody gather together and work on it.  Whatever route you choose, invest in learning something new about your data regularly. Take a free online Excel class – or YouTube video.

Make the time sacrosanct and see it as an investment in your opportunity.

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There are some people who love vegetables.  Others who hate them.  But, nutritional science tells us vegetables are great for us and we should eat more of them.

Data’s the same way.  But what we do know is we won’t be healthy without consuming more vegetables.  And we won’t be as effective in our fundraising if we don’t pay some attention to our data.

 

 

 

The Problem With Recurring Giving

A family I know is going through that terrible process of having to put their mother into assisted care.  She has Alzheimer’s and it’s so sad.  This is a woman who had a heart as big as all outdoors, gave to everyone she met and had an infectious laugh that lifted the whole room.  And now, more-often-than-not, she sits in her wheelchair and cries.

Go back to that giving thing . . . in going through the process, her children needed to close out her credit cards.  You see where this is going, right?  She had monthly payments to two, large national charities.  $10/$20 a month kind of thing.

The only way the family knows this is because they found the bills as they went to close out accounts.

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Guess what?  They can’t find anybody at the charities who knows what to do or can help.  So, they just canceled the credit card.  So, the charity just won’t get paid and will have no idea why this donor stopped giving.  They’ll probably try to contact the family to get a new credit card number in a few months, but the relationship is over.

There’s no phone number on the website, there’s no email address – everything just goes to the main switchboard at their national corporate office.  I offered to help and I can’t find anything on their recurring monthly donor programs.

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Now, this woman filed meticulously – she kept EVERYTHING anybody ever sent her.  Especially these charities.  She would proudly show off the new calendar every year and lay out the quarterly magazine on the coffee table.

But they can’t even find a thank you letter, an acknowledgement, nothing that indicates any level of personal engagement.  She would have saved it, pack rat that she was.

I GET IT.  Hell, I live it.  There’s a lot going on and having enough time to do everything is tough.  But, there’s the problem with recurring giving.  It is too, too easy to get the monthly gift and then just let it roll.  They’re smaller gifts, they run automatically and both the donor and the charity lose sight of them.

Wait.  No.  The donor doesn’t.

We – fundraisers – have to believe that a donor who makes a $10 monthly gift is every bit as invested as a donor who makes a $10,000 one-time donation.

These charities needed to believe that this beautiful woman was PROUD of supporting their missions.  She was.

What could they have done?

  • Sent a thank you letter acknowledging the gift and re-stating the plan – $10 a month until you tell us to stop
  • Every quarter sent a hand-written thank you note — even if it was mass-produced and simulated handwriting, it would have been SOMETHING
  • Sent a personal letter from whomever is responsible for the recurring giving program, “If you need anything, call me or email me.”
  • Regular updates on how her money was spent
  • Have a special page on the website for these recurring donors – or a private website/URL only they can access
  • Sent a welcome packet with all the above information in it
  • Acknowledged and been grateful that there was a person on the other end of that $10/$20 per month

In this day and age, all the above are easy and relatively cost-effective to do . . . even by direct mail houses and vendors.

Recurring giving is absolutely the right way to go.  It is deserving of all the hype and focus and consultation it receives.  Every charity should have a recurring giving program.

But they should also have a recurring thanking program to support it.

 

Why Candace, the Chewbacca Mask woman, is the best fundraiser in the world

A week or so ago I posted the blog below – Candace Payne, “Chewbacca Mom,” the best fundraiser in the world.  Now watch this:

“It is not lost on me that it is because of you guys.  I love you.”

She is NAILING this thing!  She just pours joy and gratitude into each post and, then, BAM!, turns it back to us.

That’s how it’s done, folks.

 

 

ORIGINAL POST:

Have you seen this video?

Hilarious.  Her name is Candace Payne and she’s the best fundraiser in the world right now.

Why?

She invited us in to her joy.  She shared a simple story and posted it online and it went from there.  It’s been seen more than 64 million times and I’m willing to bet you can’t find a Chewbacca mask anywhere.

She invited us in to her joy.

I have no idea who Candace Payne is but I totally want to hang out with her.  I had no desire for a Chewbacca mask but I DO NOW!!!

She is genuine and effusive and authentic and joyful.  She’s the best fundraiser in the world.

UPDATE: 5/24/2016

Since I first posted this over the weekend, Candace Payne is now a household name and has been on just about every morning show there is.  The video is into the hundreds of millions of views and you really, truly can’t find a Chewbacca mask anywhere.

Then this:

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“Chewbacca Mom Takes James Corden to Work”

Other people – celebrities, even – are joining in.

Because she invited them into her joy.  That’s fundraising. That’s the best fundraising there is.

Philanthropic Culture in the Annual Fund

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Building A Culture of Philanthropy! Does Your Organization Have a Culture of Philanthropy?  What’s Your Philanthropic Culture?  GET YOUR BOARD ON BOARD!

I dunno, sometimes I think the only culture I get is from yogurt.

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Ba dum bum. *cymbal*

Discussing the development of a culture of philanthropy is absolutely the right thing to do.  Working towards a culture of philanthropy should be a high priority.  Tirelessly working towards it should be Job #1 in an NPO.

But it’s very hard to do when there are so many non-fundraisers who have negative views of fundraising.  Say “fundraising” to a non-fundraiser and they immediately think the multiple emails and hundreds of letters and tons of phone calls – i.e., primarily annual fund techniques.

Developing a culture of philanthropy begins with how we talk to our donors and prospects about giving in our acquisition and renewal process.

And how we talk to our colleagues and leadership about what the Annual Fund is.

The Annual Fund isn’t annual.

When you say “fundraising” to most people, even those in the nonprofit sector, they hear “being pestered for money.”  Rarely is the immediate impression that lovely lunch they had where someone asked their opinion and then they felt compelled to support an organization because they believed in it so much.

And, so, we get “focus on major gifts” and “let’s have more events” and “we should really be going after more grants.”  Because nobody wants to be a pest.

An “annual fund that isn’t annual” is about inviting people to be a part of something.  It’s about the donor’s interest and passions and it’s about embracing them where they are and opening the opportunity to them to be part of our mission.

This is what storytelling is all about.  It’s where donor-centered and data-driven intersect.  It’s creating a sense that we aren’t pestering the donor for money, but, instead telling the donor the incredible impact they can have.

And it’s about doing that through direct mail and e-solicitation and phone-a-thon and thank yous and a whole lot of transactional stuff that we have the obligation, the requirement, to make about them.  The Donor.  The Philanthropist.

It’s scale.  It’s doing everything possible to make that massive mailing sound like it’s written from one person to another.  It’s mimicking the best practices of major gift, one-on-one conversation in massive quantities (and massive is relative – 100 or 100,000, they’re still individual communications from one person to another).

It’s about me and you.  Mine and yours.  And what we can accomplish together.

Like any good journey, the development of culture starts with one step, one person and a passion to change the world.

 

 

The Annual Fund Isn’t Annual II

In the last post, I said that the Annual Fund isn’t annual.  Indeed, that’s the crux of this whole blog – thinking about the annual fund differently.

“Well, but the blog is named ‘Annual Fund’ and that’s what everyone calls it – the Annual Fund.”

True statement.  We don’t have a better name yet – as an industry.  Think how prolific that phrase is in the fundraising culture:  Annual Fund, Annual Giving, the Annual Fund Director, Director of Annual Giving and the list goes on . . .

In our very nomenclature we’re telling donors that it’s only a yearly thing.

It’s very, very rare for a nonprofit to go out of business because its mission has been completed.  Even those that find a cure, end hunger, house the homeless, place all the animals, create equality re-invent themselves to tackle a new problem or an offshoot of the one they solved.

“General operating support isn’t sexy.”  No, no it’s not.  But what does general operating support — the annual fund, if you will — really mean?

A colleague of mine says, “If we don’t have the people and the places to run the programs, they don’t happen.”

If we don’t have refrigerators to store food and nurses to take of the sick and stagehands to rig the shows and teachers to teach the kids, we don’t have food banks and hospitals and theaters and schools.

General Operating Support is sexy as hell.