Assumptions!

August Rodin
This sculpture came to mind when I began writing this blog post urging my readers to think carefully about nonprofit fundraising. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I am as guilty as anyone of assuming everyone knows about and understands what is involved in philanthropy and fundraising. But the truth is, most people are not well informed.

I wanted to share a few of my favorite assumptions – or infamous assumptions as the case may be – in the hope you will avoid them.

“It would be great for our nonprofit if you would agree to be paid a percentage of what you raise.”

Doing so is considered unethical by every professional nonprofit support organization and association today. It seems like a marvelous idea to some nonprofits not to pay their professional fundraiser(s) until the money comes in, despite the outlay of their time, experience, connections and personal finances. And if the fundraiser does not know the history of the organization and its prior challenges, they can be blind sighted when seeking charitable donations. In the drop-down menu of this blog (at the top), you will find a section of ethical resources that will help you steer clear of this unethical assumption. I also want to say to the uninitiated – those new to nonprofit fundraising – don’t feel bad. People ask me about percentage-based fundraising weekly, particularly those from the for-profit sector. Just do your research before you ask.

“We raised the money and we no longer need a fundraising professional on staff. Done!”

How sad I have been to invite some of my most cherished donors to support a project, to have raised substantial sums, and to be told the nonprofit no longer needs help at the end of the fund drive. The donors often feel adrift when this happens, and they question both the nonprofit for such short-sighted decisions, and sadly, the successful fundraiser. In other words, the very person responsible for your financial success is kicked out. Those who could not do the job remain on staff. The logic of this assumption is questionable. Some nonprofits are also unaware that after building tremendous energy and enthusiasm for a cause, they can frequently keep on going and raise even more. Missed opportunities abound in these cases.

“The economy is in terrible shape and we should stop fundraising!”

This is a tough decision to be sure, and it should be considered thoughtfully. I have seen more than one persistent nonprofit with calm and determined leadership attain their seven-figure fundraising goals during very difficult financial times. I have also seen donors one thought would be gun-shy of tanking stock markets, make extraordinary leadership donations. One of my favorite foundation executives, the late Valleau Wilkie Jr. of Fort Worth, Texas once said to me, “if you get out of line, there will be dozens of other nonprofits stepping in to take your place.” Keep going.

“We must read the news to find donors for our project.”

More than once, I have visited with nonprofit Board members convinced someone in the news not affiliated in any way with their nonprofit is a natural candidate for solicitation. But most are not. Research online is essential to gain as much background information as you can about prospective donors. But simply because someone appears in the news often (and they appear to be “rich”), this does not qualify them to be your donor. If you read my article on high tech research, you will understand how sophisticated research can be game-changing, if and when you need it. But also, take time to review your own donor records, mailing and email lists. I have found “hidden gems” in those lists often, people well worth cultivating who have been receiving information from your nonprofit over time, but who have never been cultivated for a larger gift. One organization I worked with turned a $25 annual membership into a $5 million donation, for instance. Dig deeper.

“We have tried and tried. These prospects will not give. Don’t bother.”

This is a favorite. I have visited with prospective donors prior to submitting a grant request, discovered an issue about which they are concerned, addressed that issue head-on (often it is simply an honest report about prior activities, and the resumption of regular communications), and I have secured a grant. Sometimes, I have expedited more than one grant from the same source within a single fiscal year. But other staff members were vehemently convinced I was wasting my time. Never say never.

I have a positive, can-do attitude when it comes to nonprofit fundraising. I have seen the worst and turned around several “impossible” campaigns (by hand). The advice I share comes from, “the trenches.” While my two college degrees helped me learn how to conduct research, develop a convincing argument and write coherently, real life experience provided these insights. For those new to the profession, I suggest you attach yourselves to a seasoned professional as I did at the start, to gain more in-depth knowledge along these lines.

And I urge you not to fear challenges. If you believe in a cause but there are problems, fix them and raise the money you need. Think smarter. Anything is possible.

Hurricane Inspiration on the Gulf Coast

Sea Turtle Surgery
Thanks to the Baltimore Sun for covering Texas Sealife Center in Corpus Christi, Texas (February 14, 2017).

When Hurricane Harvey began to threaten the Texas Coast, one of my foremost concerns was its potential impact on Texas Sealife Center. I met founder Dr. Tim Tristan before I moved from Corpus Christi about seven years ago. He shared his vision of a veterinarian-driven wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center to aid shorebirds, raptors and sea turtles with me back then, and I have never forgotten.

In 2011, Texas Sealife Center was established, and it has not looked back since. The Center is all-volunteer and it has been highly successful in helping animals caught in and injured by fishing lines, those that have ingested fishing lures, metal and plastic objects of all varieties, as well as those that have sustained physical injuries and contracted troublesome diseases.

Tim and I have kept up remotely on Facebook. This summer, I agreed to help with some grant research and writing. The Center’s goal is to secure new equipment to support its medical and rehabilitation activities, with an emphasis on sea turtles. Sadly, the number of stranded and injured animals in the Coastal Bend of South Texas continues to increase. And, more sea turtles require help than ever before.

Brown Pelican, Hurrcane Harvey
Click to reach Texas Sealife Center’s Facebook page and more photos illustrating its work during Hurricane Harvey and more.

As the volunteers have done time and again, they made themselves available 24-7 to aid wildlife caught in Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. One of the Center’s primary partners is the ARK, or the Animal Rehabilitation Keep of the Marine Science Institute of The University of Texas at Austin, located further north on the Texas Coast. The ARK was heavily damaged during Hurricane Harvey, and Texas Sealife Center gladly took-in injured wildlife that could not be successfully released there. They continue to provide critical medical care and a safe haven until the animals can heal and be released into their natural habitats. Facebook became a powerful platform for conveying the work of Texas Sealife Center during this challenging time. Follow this link for information and powerful photographic documentation of its work.

Aside from researching and submitting proposals for the Center’s urgent equipment needs, one of the most important things I did for this relatively young nonprofit was to create a meaningful GuideStar profile and to obtain the gold seal for transparency. Quite a few nonprofits with which I have worked fear they must have raised a lot of money and have well-known Board members, for instance, before establishing a full profile on GuideStar.

But what GuideStar is about is not money as much as it is how transparent nonprofits are about their operations and programs, their tax statements, future plans and more. GuideStar is about trust and honesty. And hopefully, by taking the worthwhile step to secure the gold seal will inspire even greater confidence by prospective donors in the Center and its management, with the current capital campaign in mind.

I have worked with nonprofit organizations large and small. Many of the larger ones have accomplished less than the smaller ones! Donors must be wary that a well-known “name” and a list of prominent Board members does not guarantee professional operations, efficiency, and genuine dedication by the leadership and staff.

I have found small nonprofits and startups work exceedingly hard, and their volunteers are often more dedicated than those supporting organizations with ample budgets and long tenures. After a long career in major gift fundraising, some of my most fulfilling projects have involved helping small groups build the credibility necessary to inspire significant donations. With this in mind, I urge you to support Texas Sealife Center, and please follow its progress on Facebook. Thank you!

You might enjoy reading my LinkedIn blog post from 2014, #2030NOW, which addresses startups and innovative young nonprofit concepts, and my hope more “Boomers” will fund them.

Did you know? You can donate to Texas Sealife Center directly from its GuideStar profile

 

 

Best of the Old and New

Click to read about the Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival.
Click to read about the Austin Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival.

Attending the 24th Annual Austin Powwow in November, 2015 was an amazing experience. I was excited to learn about the organization, Great Promise for American Indians.

The mission of Great Promise for American Indians is to preserve the traditions, heritage and culture of American Indians, and to support the health and education needs of their youth and families. We do this to honor the past, and to ensure the future.

I urge you to review the website and consider supporting Great Promise! Follow this link to see Carolyn’s Tumblr and my photo essay about the Powwow (which also includes a few Instagram video links).

The mission statement above brings to mind a concept I hold true in my own profession: nonprofit fundraising professionals should both honor the past – traditional, proven methods of educating, cultivating, soliciting and stewarding relationships with donors – while also adopting new methods. In this way, we will ensure a sustainable future for the nonprofit organizations we support.

The iPhone photograph above features a striking Indian in colorful formal dress using a mobile phone to photograph the traditional dances taking place on the floor below. He summarizes well the theme of this post!

npENGAGE noted in, “5 Ways Technology Will Shape the Nonprofit Sector” back in 2014 (and still true today), “Think back even five years ago, ten years ago – how different is the nonprofit landscape now compared to then? It’s pretty dramatic.” Follow the link to read about the five trends: mobile, analytics, software, cloud and social media.

In, “Enhacing Your Major Gift Fundraising Strategy with Analytics” by Carol Belair (August, 2015), she wisely notes,

“Growing a relationship over time with newly identified prospects is key to developing or enhancing major gifts programs or initiatives. Keep in mind that even though an analytics project may identify a new crop of prospects able and willing to give more significant gifts to your organization, the scores themselves don’t guarantee that you will raise a particular amount of money or that individuals will give you a more significant donation.”

One of my earliest posts focuses on using “high tech” research methods to identify major gift prospects. I consider those methods to be invaluable. I have seen firsthand how major gift campaigns that at first appeared to lack an adequate number of prospective donors, suddenly have a dearth of them once proper research was conducted.

The best of both worlds when it comes to major gift fundraising includes detailed research and analysis using the latest technologies, combined with traditional methods of education, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, all with genuine caring and thoughtfulness on the part of the development professionals involved.

But the nonprofit sector still has work to do when it comes to marrying traditional and modern approaches to fundraising and communication. Nonprofits generally fail to engage current and potential donors using social media, for instance.

The New Hampshire Business Review notes in, “Charities Don’t Make the Grade on Social Media Scorecard” (October, 2015):

“’While the overwhelming majority of organizations are on social media and do a good job of posting regularly, very few use these channels to genuinely engage with their constituents,’ said Rick Dunham, president and CEO of Dunham+Company, a consulting firm specializing in nonprofit fundraising and marketing. ‘Charities generally use social media channels to advertise events or as a ‘billboard,’ but rarely do they use them as a way to engage donors in conversation. This will be important to remember as we approach the holiday giving season.'”

One of the prevailing themes of Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog is that high net worth households own more digital devices than the general population, and they are highly active on social media. They conduct business and spend their leisure time using a variety of convenient mobile devices. It makes sense for nonprofits to use these tools to communicate with and engage those capable of making significant charitable donations.

Pew Research Center notes in, “U.S. Technology Device Ownership: 2015” (October, 2015):

“… Device usage has notable social and cultural implications, and there are sometimes important political and macroeconomic consequences to the way people use their gadgets. For instance, every major media industry – those built around video, audio and text – has been disrupted by these devices.”

Follow this link to learn about the specific demographics of American smartphone ownership, cell phone, tablets, laptops and more.

Some fundraising professionals remain focused entirely on less modern methods in major gift fundraising. And, I have taken the “heat” for my blended approach on more than one occasion.

But the fundraising profession is changing. My discovery is simply this: one person can accomplish a great deal when armed with the proper technology, software, and positive mental attitude. Sometimes one person can accomplish as much or more than several major gift professionals and/or consultants. This is a trend worth watching, and a situation of not only adapting to change, but embracing it for a more sustainable, efficient and effective future.