Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Naughty and Nice List

I've never been one to hold my tongue and at this time of Hannukah, Christmas and other holidays, I can't make an exception here. I've recently received some communications that make my heart sing and others that truly deserve a lump of coal. Many of you always ask me for examples of nonprofits that are nailing donor relations, and I love exposing others who are far from best practice. So here you go, ho ho ho! My Naughty and Nice list this 2014 season! I'll be back blogging after the holidays and a much needed break, until then may your season be merry and bright.

Sugarplums and Delights Go to:

Charity: Water for this amazing email about why they give and also these social media posts telling donor stories click on the image to lead you to the magic:

Candy Canes as well to Kalamazoo College, I received a great email from them with an impact report that was simply phenomenal, check it out:

 Then, it links to an amazing piece called "The Journey of a Gift" WOW. Absolutely Phenomenal. I will be continuing my giving to Kalamazoo. Kudos and Light to them!

Finally on my Nice list is Whitworth University, who I've been humbled enough to work with for the past two years. Their donor relations and fundraising program is inspired and gratitude centered. From their "Gratituesdays" on Social Media to the President and his Cabinet spending part of their retreat calling donors to say thank you to the amazing message below, they're doing it right folks. Not just good, but great and inspired! Their attitude of gratitude is infectious and positively radient!

My Naughty List and Lumps of Coal to the Following:

St. Jude's Children's Hospital: For offering a Christmas ornament for a monthly gift. We all know that tchotckes decrease giving, also, what if I'm not Christian? Do I have this from my menorah? Come on, we can do better, can't we? Stale, Chewy year old candy canes to them for this

Heifer International: for the worst and most solicitations humanly possible:
I gave a gift to them online as a part of #GivingTuesday, as a result since December 2nd, I have received more than 11 solicitations. 11 solicitations and one thank you email that also had an ask in it- THIS IS NO GOOD FOLKS! In addition, this email sent me over the edge: The subject line was the word "done"

Wait, Jinny, this email is completely about YOU and not ME. It's selfish and horrible and just all out wrong. I don't think I've ever been so insulted by an email before. I think Tom Ahern would be boiling and the number of times that Jinny talks about herself and shames me for not having finished my holiday shopping yet. SIGH. This is all about shopping and not about their mission, about the impact of my gift or anything relevant to me. Kudos to you Heifer International for having the ABSOLUTE worst, most GRINCH-LIKE solicitation ever. Two lumps of coal for you (or maybe it should be bunny poop).

So what do you think?
I hope you all have seen something this holiday season that has inspired you, I'm so happy to report that my list of additional nice organizations includes many many more. But the ones that are naughty are so close to Veruca Salt it's not funny anymore. Send me your holiday greetings, appeals and let's discuss how and why these things happen, nominate an organization below and send me a sample of their work and let's keep the discussion moving. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

WADITWA Disease- "We've Always Done It That Way"

Nonprofit organizations seem to be diametrically opposed to change. My friend Mary always says that one of our greatest problems we face as a profession is overcoming the resistance of our organizations to change.

 Let's face it, many of us are solidly stuck in the 1980s when it comes to change management. I've written about my change management theory called shaking the snowglobe before here.

But how do we overcome the obstacle of tradition in our profession and allow for progress? We ourselves must be fearless in the pursuit of evaluating what is currently working, pushing for best in class programs and making a future for ourselves and our donors. Let's face it, most of our donors work in industries that have fully embraced the new millennium and beyond. Yet when they interact with us, they are driven back into the stone age by being respectful to our "traditions". To this I say, there has to be a better way.

One challenge is that being a risk taker in a traditional environment isn't always rewarded or applauded, but when it happens and when we embrace calculated risk and change, the results can be remarkable. Charity:Water is a great example of a non profit that embraces the new, different and challenges the status quo and they've been very successful doing it.

I find it ironic that nonprofit organizations' missions are tied directly to changing the world they're in, yet they resist change at every turn (cue Alanis Morrisette here). Is it because we lack the resources to affect change? Nope, not a good excuse. Is it because our leadership is risk adverse? Not necessarily, when I come in as a consultant I find leadership most welcoming to new ideas have sound reasoning behind them. So what is it that gives us the WADITWA disease?   

Is a cultural shift in nonprofits that difficult? I don't think so. Is now not the right time? Nope, carpe diem! Let's together stop making, accepting and allowing excuses to get in the way of fantastic progress. I'm here to help, provide resources and challenge your status quo. Join me as we venture forth bravely to banish WADITWA and all that comes with it. We must be the torchbearers for change from within our organizations.

What are your thoughts? What challenges do you face?


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The 2014 #GivingTuesday Challenge

Once again, I decided to challenge my self to stretch my philanthropic potential and to give to different organizations on #GivingTuesday. I have tracked my online giving experiences with 28 organizations here in this spreadsheet for you all to see. I tracked things like frustration level, online receipts, mobile compatibility and other factors and I have to tell you that while the results are better than 2012 and 2013, the world of online giving can be a scary place. There are some organizations that have clearly invested in their online giving sites and others in which the experience was like being teleported back to 1994.  It looks like we still have a long way to go. But the interactions on Twitter were much better this year. 

A word of note here, I was INUNDATED with  solicitations yesterday. And sadly, mere hours after I gave to Oxfam, SOME in DC and Heifer International, they RE-SOLICITED me on the same day. I am completely offended and turned off by this behavior, especially since I received 3 solicitations from Heifer urging me to give before the day was over when I had given at 7am that morning. Someone needs to do a better job of pulling their data. It will be next to impossible for me to give to those organizations again since obviously my first contribution wasn't enough for them.

I received 56 solicitations via email in one day. One of them was from 20/20/20, a non profit that promised me that when I responded to their solicitation and gave, I would NEVER BE ASKED AGAIN. Broken Promise. SMH.




Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November Gratitude Resources

Hello Everyone! I'm having a tough time with gratitude today, so I thought instead I would bring you  wonderful resources.

My friend Pamela Grow has put together the November Nonprofit Blog Carnival and the theme this month is the Attitude of Gratitude!

Here is the link:

In addition, I have two free professional development opportunities upcoming for you:

Network for Good will be hosting a webinar that you can join without cost,

Here is the link for registration:

And Finally, Alan Sharpe is putting together an amazing event in January, the Fundraising Summit:

It has some amazing presenters and is completely FREE!! Use this link to register now for all of the online content.

Enjoy and for those of you in the US, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, I am most grateful for your passion for our profession.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Stop "Lettering" Donors Through Email

It's the most wonderful time of the year... for fundraisers we are entering the end of year solicitation cycle, when most of the gifts that support our organizations come in through a variety of channels. With the rise of online giving, we are seeing a rise in email solicitations. And boy, do we have some work to do in this department. 

Just like donor relations and stewardship are not synonyms, neither are letters and email. I become really frustrated every time I open a solicitation email on my mobile tablet or phone and have to scroll at least 10 times to get to the end of the message. I'm not alone. Remember, most email is read on a mobile device, it's 2014. You can't take your year end fundraising letter and cut and paste it into an email and think this is an amazing way to raise funds. 
Email is meant to be a short communication form, with dynamic images, great subject lines and a clear call to action. Keep it short, don't belabor me with having to read through hundreds of words of text.

Let's look at some examples of what works and what doesn't.
This epistle is over 400 words long. No, seriously. 

After I finish reading this thing, I'm exhausted, not inspired to give. 

But look here, look at these folks who are using email effectively- Great examples here:

 These folks are putting the donor at the center of their world, embracing mobile friendly design, and keeping it short and simple. If I'm interested, I'll click the link, but at least you haven't written a tome. Kudos!

This is another simple yet effective example- and for goodness sake, don't forget about the subject line- Peter Drury at Splash just sent a brilliant email solicitation and the subject line was "Do You Want to Do a Good Thing- with true impact?" YES I do. KUDOS to the folks at Splash!

Much better than the other one I received that week that read, "Give to the 2014 Annual Fund" Seriously? That's all you've got? zzzzzzz Come on, we can do better!

Planning a year end appeal? (of course you are) Think about the way it looks on your mobile device, think about the message it sends to donors. What are you saying and good grief why so many words? You will have much higher conversion rates if you put the donor at the center of your efforts and remember that mobile is king. Care to share your examples? email them to me ( and I can help you streamline them for success and help you raise more money! 

Cheers and happy asking!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Survey Says: We're Driving Donors Away!

Every two years at about this time, The Lily School of Philanthropy and Bank of America through US trust issue an amazing report that is chock full of great data. I highly recommend we all read it in order to understand our donors and their motivations and activities. Here is the link to the 2014 US Trust Study of High net Worth Households. I am a huge fan of statistical data, rather than relying on anecdotes from folks, I prefer empirical evidence of nationwide trends. Donors are able to clearly express to us their needs and desires while also communicating why they believe they act the way they do. 

Key Findings:

AGAIN, #1 Reason Why Donors STOP Giving: OVER-SOLICITATION!
Remember, in order to solicit again, we have to THANK donors and then tell them the IMPACT of their giving, if we ask them for more money before we do those 2 things, we've over-solicited them. This data makes an even stronger case for donor relations- Ask yourself- What is our ask to thank ratio at our organization?

Another truth we know, if we get donors engaged as volunteers, in any capacity, they give MORE:

Another important factor to consider is that MOST donors make giving decisions together as partners:

What insights were you able to glean from the study? What numbers stood out to you? What would you like for them to have asked this donor population? I look forward to hearing from you.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Giving/Blitz Day Donor Relations that Wows

Giving Days/ Blitz campaigns are an established and successful fundraising trend. I wrote about them back in 2012 and they are still going strong. As more and more institutions take on the concerted fundraising efforts, we must also be aware that while planning them, we need to plan the donor relations right along side the effort. Many of you know I am a proud University of South Carolina alumna and donor, but this week I'm giving open kudos to my rivals over at the University of Tennessee. And believe me when I say this is difficult, I don't like orange all that much (ahem ahem). But wow, have they done the Big Orange Give, from start to finish the RIGHT way.

First, I gave online to them and it was an easy form, didn't cause me stress and made gift giving easy. Next I received a really nice email to confirm my gift, the only downside was that I then received a paper receipt- Bummer- and they need to invest in their receipts or just go all digital, remember if I give online, send me an email receipt or a printable PDF as an attachment...

I also a few days later received this very nice postcard from a student at UT.

But then I was wowed. I received a phone call from a UT student the next week!! They just wanted to check in on me, thank me for my first gift and let me know their fundraising total from the day and how they couldn't have done it without me.
Then, what do you know, they sent me an email with a video- NICELY DONE!

So they hit every single channel of communication with a different message and special touch!

Kudos to you vols for your efforts, I am duly impressed. And in comparison to another challenge giving day I gave to two days later where I haven't heard a peep and haven't even received a gift receipt, you're doing an amazing job!
I now want to give again and feel valued for my first gift. It doesn't mean I'll be playing rocky top any time soon, but amazing execution.

What do y'all think? How are you planning to execute donor relations for your giving days/blitz campaigns?


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Desperate Need: Translators

As an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina (Go Gamecocks) my first major was genetic engineering. After discovering that Calculus 4 and the laboratory life weren't for me, I changed my majors to foreign languages, with the goal to one day be an international translator. Well, although I don't do that for a living, my translational skills are not lost nor do they go unused on a daily basis.

I find that one of the most essential positions for fundraising success is someone who can translate the communications between fundraisers and those that help make them successful. I'm talking reporting, advancement services, donor relations, research etc. I think there is a fundamental difference in the way these two groups of people talk about donors, data and its impact on fundraising for the organization. 

Let's take a look at this relationship and communication dynamic. Paint with a wide brush with me and allow me some grace here:
Fundraisers, for the most part are extroverts, building relationships and working in the cerebral space of relationships. Our data folks, are introverts by nature, and they work in the process oriented space and the cerebral space of data's impact on the greater picture. Often times, fundraisers struggle with the ability to communicate to the data folks WHAT they need and WHY they need it. Data folks are concerned with outcome of the data and ensuring that its value is not underestimated. Thus, the role of the divisional translator becomes inextricable from the operation. Someone who can understand the delicacies of fundraising and as I say "speak geek" and understand data. 

This is an art and a science and can be found in folks in all types of roles. I'm a hidden data nerd. Data drives everything I do and informs many decisions for me. It is helpful that in alumni and donor relations I can balance the relationships with the data.

Here are some tips I have learned to help the translators:
- find a common vocabulary and set of definitions, what's a non donor to someone is not to others.       This is ESSENTIAL
-  explain the use of the data and the need for it, WHY do you want the report and HOW will it be used once provided
- appreciate that data doesn't just arrive at your feet, it takes work, time and effort just like cultivating a gift does, and sometimes just a long
- understand that both individuals have unique skill sets and that's ok. A database manager may shudder at the thought of asking someone for money and a fundraiser may get nauseous at the site of a query. 
- work together for the common good and try to find points of mutual understanding in order to better serve the one population we all share: donors

What are your thoughts on divisional translators? Who serves in this role in your organization? What tips and tricks do you have to add to this list?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My ALS Bucket Challenge Post- Opportunities and Next Steps

I am sure that many of you have read at least a few blog posts on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. 
Many of you have participated, many of you made donations. Many people have commented on whether this kind of fundraising is good etc etc. I'm not going to get into that here-- just the facts as I see them so far... I made a donation, first to support the cause but also to find out what the response from the Association will be.

I am pleased to tell you that the online donation process was very simple and almost donor friendly. They even had a button to say I supported the ice bucket challenge and this is why I am giving. I received immediate email confirmation of my gift that served as a receipt. And then I waited.

Happily, on September 18, 2014 I received an email thanking me for my support. Here is a screenshot of the email:

Here is the link to the video:

Nice, sincere, a great first step.  Last week I received an email entitled "This is your #IceBucketChallenge donation at work‏"
Here is that email:

SO they've thanked me and told me the impact of my gift, kudos and good first steps... I was a bit disappointed to hear they weren't setting up an endowment with even some of the funds.

 So then I watched this video from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. 

I was really disappointed in Ms. Newhouse's views on endowments, on donor relations (especially with the antiquated notion of starting with major donors first) staffing (they don't have anyone in donor relations) and some other things within, I'll let you make up your own mind on it. 

Until then I will be checking my email to see how they keep donors involved. I would love to hear your thoughts on their donor relations, not whether the challenge was good or not, but what next steps would you advise them to do? How can we as the greater donor relations and fundraising community help them?


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Bridesmaid Dress- A Thank You that Includes an ASK?!

Lately, I've been on the receiving end of some pretty confusing donor communications from non profits and universities. I get a pretty envelope with the words Thank You printed on the front in appropriate colors, and I giddily open the envelope, expecting an amazing donor relations piece and a sincere thank you and then BOOM- I'm smacked upside the head with a solicitation-NOT COOL.

I am a strong proponent that a thank you should be pure, sincere and unadulterated. And a solicitation should have nice appreciative language, but the two should not form some mutant species like the liger. Let's face it, some things have only one purpose in life.

Take the humble bridesmaid dress for example. No matter how much the sales clerk and your soon to be married friend try to convince you, no piece of that "apple green" or "lavender" taffeta or organza is getting near your body again for another purpose. You might as well have just set that $300 on fire. You're NOT going to wear it again for a "special occasion".  It will just sit there in your closet and taunt you, saying "you could have had a vacation". Bridesmaid dresses are like asks, just let them be what they are. Don't sew a fake flower on them and pretend that it is what it isn't. It's a solicitation, not a thank you. Keep the lines clean and clear.

Just remember- someone thought these were a good idea too-

For a concrete example, let's go back to my claim that receipts and acknowledgments are two separate things. The same goes for a solicitation and a thank you:

Dear Aunt Shirley,

Thank you so much for the cabbage patch doll, valued at $49.99. I will love Xavier and hug him and keep his clothes nice and clean. I really appreciate my birthday present. I am, however growing older and I think that Rainbow Brite is the next hot thing... Christmas is coming, what do you say, send me one of those?

See you next year,


The text in bold is just as tacky as taking a solicitation to an ask. It may be an exaggerated version of reality, but how many of us have received a thank you letter or receipt with a reply device in it? And then we professionals wonder why first time donor retention levels are so low...
2 + 2 = 4... most of the time. Remember the #1 reason donors stop giving is because they are over-solicited. Let's cut them a break and decide that we're JUST going to sincerely thank them and tell them the impact of their gift, WITHOUT shoving a link to the giving website or a reply device down their throats.

So just like picking the perfect bridesmaid dress, don't go down without a fight! Keep on advocating for your donors and remember that the most sincere and meaningful thing we can do is to thank someone. Sometimes, simplicity is best.

What are your thoughts? I always welcome your responses (and bad bridesmaid photos too)