Archives for posts with tag: integrated solicitations

When my brother and I were very young and very bored, around ages seven and 10, we rummaged through our mother’s drab, gray cookbook, looking for something new to whip up.  We weren’t in the habit of cooking at that age; I think we viewed it as a science experiment of sorts. (The book may have once had a gaily printed paper cover, but in a house of six children and constant chaos, flimsy items like book covers didn’t last long.)

At any rate, we wanted to make something we’d never eaten before. After a careful inspection of the supplies on hand, we decided that the one recipe within our grasp was a creamy sort of onion soup. My memory of the soup’s taste is vaguely positive – I think it turned out well, and was certainly different from our family’s normal fare. What I do remember vividly, though, was our sense of adventure as we made it, the knowledge that we were creating something – to us – entirely new and different. And we did it! We succeeded!

That’s one of the reasons I think technology is good for philanthropy. It compels fundraisers to up their game, to think in ways that are unfamiliar, and to trigger the brain-based benefits created by unfamiliar thinking.

For instance, as a former member of a development staff for an art museum, I have seen how challenging it is to secure funding for that segment of the nonprofit industry – especially in a down economy. And here we have crowdfunding to the rescue! Well, sort of. Using web sites to attract large numbers of donors may be, as one of the folks in this article says, a permanent, more efficient way for artists and arts organizations to reach individual benefactors. Or it may be a flash in the pan. But it has people thinking in new ways, and that’s a good thing.

By the way, when I want to cook something I’ve never cooked before, I just page through this, my favorite cookbook and find something I’ve never made before. I guess some things don’t change.

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March presented me with some serious challenges in time management, and I’ve had to take some time off weekly posts to attend to more pressing matters. But I’m back! And I want to talk about pyramids.

Not only are pyramids fascinating from a historical point of view, they offer a handy way to illustrate important concepts in today’s world. Most of us grow up with constant exposure to the food pyramid. Fundraisers all know about the donor pyramid. These two have a lot in common.

For example, in the food pyramid, the base is made of the most frequent foods we’re supposed to eat –grain-based edibles like rice, pasta, and bread. Next up are the fruits and vegetables, then meat and dairy, and at the very top, fats and sweets.

Likewise, a donor pyramid starts at the bottom with a large number of donors. Like the grains group at the bottom of the food pyramid, these donors don’t contribute a lot of calories/dollars, and they’re not intensely flavorful. Yet, they are crucial for basic survival. Do you see where I’m trying to go here?

Let’s say mid-range and major donors are like the fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat. Lots of flavor and color here, great caloric/nutritional punch, but you need to start being a little careful … you don’t want too much fruit at the expense of vegetables, or too much dairy at the expense of nuts and beans. You don’t want too many donors at this level interested in capital projects, at the expense of program support.

Finally, the peak. This is where the most delicious food resides, like this chocolate caramel cheesecake I made last Sunday. This is where the most wealth comes from in the donor pyramid – those dense, high-calorie, delicious donors who can supply the seven- , eight-, or nine-figure gift. But like cheesecake, too much of anything so potent can be dangerous. Just as too many Americans choose cheesecake instead of brown rice too many times, too many nonprofits chase top-level donors at the expense of the pyramid’s base.

If you think your nonprofit might need to shift its focus to the bottom of the pyramid for a little while, you might want to think of it as a healthy shift in diet.

(Speaking of which, I highly recommend this weekend cleanse by the ubiquitous Dr. Oz. The photo is my attempt at juicing kale. Not so easy if you don’t own a juicer.)

The best dish I ever had at a dinner party was my friend’s ex-girlfriend’s adaptation of a chickpea curry. (This isn’t a picture of that, it’s a picture of a rustic apricot tart I made last summer. Don’t ask.) Most people like dinner parties. Even introverts like me enjoy good company, and if the food is well-made and the drinks delicious and the music interesting and the setting pleasant, there’s almost nothing better.

Dinner parties make people feel good. Maybe that’s why so many nonprofit leaders believe special events are a great way to plump up the bank account. Events are an easy sell, to the board and to the public. Staffers like to pitch in. Adrenaline pumps. Sometimes, the media calls. Fun is had.

The only thing that suffers is the organization’s account balance. Because, here’s a secret – studies show events are not a good way to raise money. This data from 2007 shows that it costs more than a dollar to raise a dollar. I’m no business major, but to me, this doesn’t add up to a great return on investment.

In this 2010 post, nonprofit consultant Susan McLaughlin asks, can you afford another special event?

Think about it this way. If you’re having trouble paying the heating bill, are you going to throw a roast in the oven, stock up on Bordeaux, and invite three other couples over? Well, maybe. But if your goal for the evening was to end up with more food than you started with, you’re better off saving your energy and eating cereal alone for dinner.

I believe nonprofits should have special events (just as folks on a budget should have dinner parties). But these need to happen for the right reasons, and in addition to – not instead of – other efforts at shoring up the bank balance. There’s nothing like an event to raise your profile and make people feel warm and fuzzy about your mission.  There are so many ways to leverage the good feelings that come from a successful soiree.

So, go ahead and plan your dinner parties for 2012. Just be sure you’re doing it for all the right reasons. And message me if you want that chickpea curry recipe.

This time of year, lists get a lot of attention – but I use lists all year long. I have to-do lists, annual goals lists, holiday shopping lists, clothing shopping lists and – of course – grocery lists. This is a photo of one of my grocery shopping lists. People tend to react to it with either admiration or amusement.

I don’t care. My list makes me a better shopper. If I go without a list I inevitably buy things I don’t want or need, and I forget things I do need. If I’m planning a special meal or having guests, I use the white space on the lists to jot down other important things. I also have more general categories, like “other vegetables” to remind myself to take advantage of items that happen to be in season or on sale.

Just like I don’t shop without a list, I don’t like to do fundraising without a plan. If I do fundraising without a plan, I sometimes lose track of the mission. The difference between priorities – think eggs and milk – and distractions – think checkout candy — is covered nicely in a recent article on the Association of Fundraising Professionals website.

Without a plan, I might attend a social media webinar and think, wow! I need to do some Facebook ads right now. And without a plan, I might squander an entire day learning about Facebook advertising, putting a random ad together, and obsessively checking the ad click-through statistics.

On the other hand, if I have a plan, I can see that the end-of-year appeal will be going out soon. We may be a little under budget on that, so we can take some of that money and use it to advertise on Facebook. We’re interested in targeting donors in the 25-35-year age range, and Facebook ads let us do that. I’m going to slot it into the plan. Now it clearly serves my mission.

Like a good plan, lists are useful only if they are flexible. How does your fundraising work? Do you make a plan and stick to it? Do you find lists helpful?

Here’s my confession; I think Thanksgiving food is boring. I love to cook and I love to host, but that holiday menu is so, well, dull. Every item is pretty much its own thing. Turkey. Potatoes. Squash. Snooze.

As an annual fundraiser, I have felt the same way about solicitation methods. Phone.  Mail.  Email.  Egads. Taken singly, they are enjoyable, but not exciting. For me, the fun begins when I can think of ways to combine two or more of these ingredients into a tastier concoction. I’m pretty sure this is what they mean by multichannel marketing. Or, more specifically to fundraising, integrated solicitations.

When I host Thanksgiving, I know better than to mess with tradition. For example, I wouldn’t dream of putting wasabi in the mashed potatoes (which is something I’ve been seeing at local eateries.) Similarly, when I’m communicating with a group of donors, I understand that some are traditionalists. They like to make their one gift in December, and they like to give via the response mechanism in their annual solicitation letter.

And yet – don’t get me wrong, I enjoy eating the traditional meal as much as the next person – I am never as happy as when it’s time to be creative with the leftovers. Turkey sandwiches with slices of stuffing and a dollop of cranberry sauce are classic. So is the post-holiday pot pie. There are wonderful recipes for post-Thanksgiving turkey soup. For years, I didn’t know what to do with all that leftover squash, but then I found this delicious casserole.

In the same way, other donors respond to a mix of messages and methods.

These donors might like an email spiced with news about a favorite program, layered with links to giving opportunities and topped off with a fun holiday animation. They might like a phone call that wraps a personal thank-you around a meaty update on how their gift has helped, followed up by a mailed note. They could find themselves sampling a planned giving website that was served up as a link in a letter.

I’m all for keeping the meat and potatoes going strong, but I think the future in fundraising might lie in more flavorful combinations. What do you think?

Making Turkey Soup