Monday, October 15, 2012

'Tis the season

....for charity appeals by the dozen in the mailbox. 

And I get to decide who has been naughty or nice.  

Nice means you tell me what you did with donors' money. I still read print, but a short email is also good. And if you tell me by email, do make it short. Like at least 53 percent of Americans, I use a smartphone, so I end up reading non-work emails while doing something else, like waiting in line at the grocery.

Naughty means you just keep asking for more (and more and more).  A study about Giving in Kansas City from 2008 found donors stop giving when they receive "too many appeals for more money."  Nearly 7 in 10 donors who had stopped making contributions to any one charity in the prior 12 months indicated that as their reason. Frankly, I was thrilled when one organization, after 18 months of unrelenting appeals and no gifts from this household, promised me in red on the outside of their envelope, "This is your last mailing from us!" Finally, they got it!  I didn't want to give to them.

If retention is THE number one issue now in giving, with 107 donors leaving an organization for every 100 gained, why are some charitable organizations driving donors away with too-frequent requests? 

Do computer systems only "recognize" the amount of the most recent contribution, not the cumulative total for a year? Or over a decade? Do donors of $250 at one time get three appeals a month?  Or only those of us who space our giving out? The "Donor Relations Guru" has some good advice about checking cumulative giving amounts.

Are organizations hanging on to practices I learned when I started in fundraising circa 1989 that might now need to change?  The work of Penelope Burk on donor-centered fundraising and others suggests that organizations must treat donors as valued partners in achieving goals, not as ATMs. So ask in more meaningful ways, not more often. Understand how donors read appeals and what they do.

Here is how one real donor, a valued partner, "processes" appeals. When I get the mail at night, I have these options for fundraising letters: I a) recycle immediately; b) set aside to review later, maybe while my computer warms up the next morning; or c) well....there is no c.  Many more fall in option A than in option B. 

Basically, if you sell your list to another organization, I'll never read that other organization's material and I'm likely to stop supporting you, too.  Pile A automatically.

For pile B, I use "found" time, like when waiting for coffee to brew. So, get my attention quickly. Use photos, make it short, tell me what my money will help you accomplish.  I like inserts -- not notecards and address labels (though I use those without ever giving a nickel back) but the mission-related content.  I'm more likely to read a colorful, short 'flier' than a long letter. 

If we decide to give, it is almost certain I'll set aside your material for the end of the month when I do all other household finances. So, maybe arrange your mailing to arrive just before then. And make it easy to do online or by having my bank send you a check. 

But I am a sample of one. And what works at organizations with a national donor base might or might not work for local grassroots charities. What inspires this married female Boomer might not appeal to a Gen X single guy. Practices in the US might not translate to Australia or India. Blackbaud is the only organization I am aware of that tracks fundraising practices internationally, so stay tuned to its site  for release of this year's State of the Nonprofit Industry, whcih will look at some topics in fundraising.

Thank you for reading.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ten Great Indianans

In 1987, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University formed, under the leadership of Gene Tempel, who worked at IUPUI and prepared the feasibility study and initial funding requests that led to the Center. Gene has been nominated this year as the first dean of the first School of Philanthropic Studies, now in formation IUPUI. This new school puts philanthropic studies firmly in the "academy," as envisioned--and made possible--by the Center's early team.

Among those who were part of the Center 'back in the day' are many whose influence is still felt but whose names risk being lost unless documented. Here are some I know about and want to incorporate in my own celebration of the past 25 years of the Center's success and progress.

Anita Plotinsky: She drafted the first curriculum and program standards for a master's degree in philanthropic studies, the foundation on which much else has been laid.

Dannis Hart*: This woman with a dramatic personal story served as assistant to the Center's first full-time permanent direct, Robert L. Payton. Dannis inspired and supported many through the early days.

Delynn Cravens: One of the very first graduates, Delynn enrolled in the Masters Degree in Public Affairs with a concentration in nonprofit management long before it made US News & World Report's list of top programs

Jane Morris*: Many people first contacted the Center via Jane in her role in the admissions process in the Center's academic programs.  She was the face and voice of the Center for the most important of a university's constitutents, its students.

Janet Huettner: Janet was the first librarian of philanthropic studies in the world. She helped build the collection at the Joseph and Matthew Patyon Library that is now referenced by students, faculty, scholars and researchers around the globe.

Jennnifer Staashelm: The Center's first full-time permanent employee, she started as office manager and retired this year after serving as Director of Operations for some years. She also worked in development and in The Fund Raising School during her 25 years at the Center.

Lilya Wagner: She came to the Center to work with The Fund Raising School as a curriculum expert and instructor. Lilya still teaches for The Fund Raising School when her work at PSI permits a break.

Lois Sherman: Lois edited and produced some of the first texts used in the study of philanthropy, including a series of scholarly monographs at IU Press and books and essays produced under the Center's own imprint.

Sue Shepard: A true trailblazer, Sue enrolled in the Master of Arts in Philanthropic Studies program, taking time away from Minnesota, when the ink on the program approval was barely dry. 

Tess Baker: Tess worked with the team shaping academic programs at the Center and was part of the sometimes challenging process of integrating this new academic field simultaneously into the university and with the more career-focused study of fundraising.

All of these women, and more, are part of the Center's success over the past 25 years.  I can think of several men, too, who played key roles in those early days: J T., Michael, Charles, and others. Add your nominees to the list of people who have made the Center what it is -- and those who will take it into the next 25 years.

* deceased