Letter to a Friend (About Why I didn’t Give More to your Gala)

A good friend who sits on the board of the organization that she loves invited us to their gala and then called to follow up.  Isn’t she a good board member?  I’m so proud of her!  We couldn’t attend.  But we did give… just not a stretch gift.  And look above: this is a GOOD friend… someone I’m really proud of and have great feelings about.  Why didn’t I give more?Gala X

I have lost track of the number of times that I’ve used the Tarnside Curve to illustrate why donors don’t make stretch gifts based on the relationship they have with the person doing the asking.  But my email to her spelled it out at greater length and I decided to share it with you in hopes that like her and her organization, you might find some lessons learned to apply to yours.

Dear Very Good Friend,

First, I’m so sorry that we can’t make it to the Gala.  It would have been lovely to catch up with you and see you in your new role on the Board.  Second, I wanted to share with you why I am not giving more.  I know that you asked for my input on fundraising for your organization before, and this seemed like a good moment to share my thoughts.

As I was going through your organization’s site and figuring out how much we should give, I had some thoughts.  Please know that I realize how hard it must be to run Organization X and that most of the staff are out there doing the real work of helping clients who need it.  And I don’t know any of the back story on the site, who wrote it, the politics, etc.  In any case, this isn’t meant to come off as belittling any of the work they do on the ground or who they are as people.  Not at all.  I’m sharing my thoughts with you because if Organization X were my client, it’s what I’d do.  If it’s helpful, then share and feel free to share as is.  If it’s not the teachable moment I think it could be, and/or would hurt feelings and be unhelpful, then please don’t.

I tell my clients all the time that there are plenty of great organizations out there to support.  Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find them.

I went to Organization X’s site because of you and your clear passion about the work they do.  I trust you.  I value your opinion.  I don’t know all that much about Organization X.  This is how many many donors are introduced to organizations, especially in the context of events.

So there I am now looking around on the site and trying to figure out how much to give.  Should I do what’s comfortable, or should I forgo something I want to do and stretch?   If I do the stretch, then I have to explain it.  Already, I’ve explained to the family that we’re giving to Organization X because “Aunti loves them and I respect her and want to support her cause.” 

But to go the extra mile on this, I’d have to say more. I’m looking… I’m looking… I’m not seeing much.

When I get to the “stories” page, the first thing I see is the founders page and it’s a little bit off-putting because it suggests that the organization was founded on a whim.  I am willing to bet that the founders story is an awesome one that had much more than, “had nothing better to do” as a beginning.  But this is what it says.  I stop reading.  I’ve got 10 minutes to my name here and this isn’t what I’m looking for.  So then I move on to see if there is an annual report anywhere.  What I am looking for is a breakdown of the financials, what the annual budget is and also an idea of giving levels. Here again, I come up empty-handed.  OK… what about an idea of what various levels of giving means in terms of impact?  Nope.  Nothing to be found.  I sit back a minute.  It dawns on me that there are no photos.  That the site is all text, and not even written particularly well.  Ugh.

My thoughts go back to you.  I remind myself that you are super-smart and that you wouldn’t sit on a board for no reason.  Organization X MUST be doing terrific work.  I just don’t have any sense of it.

And so… I make my “comfortable” gift.

After the gala is behind you all and you can sit and think, here are a few things that I’d do right away:

1. Create impact statements.  My son and his friends just raised money to plant trees and gave it to http://www.plantabillion.org/  Every $1 plants 1 tree.  They want to plant one billion.  Take a look.  It’s a huge goal.  But they aren’t afraid to throw it out there.  And incredibly, every $1 of that billion feels important.  When I give my gift to Organization X, what does that mean?  What can I feel good about in making this contribution besides vaguely knowing I’ve done something good because you say I have?  Create impact statements to tell visitors to your site and donors new and old the impact of gifts made at various levels.  This is going to be useful for far more than just your site.  (Sidebar:  I didn’t include this in my letter, but you can download a great resource on writing impact statements here.)

2.  Post your financials.  You don’t need to create and post an annual report in my opinion.  Hardly anyone reads those.  But what they do look for is exactly what I looked for.  To not have that information up makes you look bad.

3.  Make the site more visually appealing.  You have this know-how.  I realize you can’t post photos of the clients for safety sake.  But there are all kinds of creative images you could post that don’t show faces.  Look at what other like organizations are doing.  I know you know this already, but Facebook is ranking images and video much higher than plain text in terms of their edge rank, their news feed algorithm that determines which posts get seen and by whom.  That says it all, doesn’t it?

4.  Be sure all the content is appealing and it’s not there for political reasons alone.  If you are going to share stories, make certain that they are really strong.  And know that most visitors are looking for client stories.  It helps me feel good about giving when I see a story of a client whose life was transformed by Organization X.  When I have my consultant hat on, I talk about helping donors feel like superheros for supporting them.  Keep that in your mind as you decide what to post on the site.  Would reading it make someone feel like a superhero for supporting?

I could go on.  But I won’t because I know it’s going to take time to get through this list as it is and that is going to take commitment from more than just you.  No matter that I know how hard it is to think about these things right after going through the hard work of putting a successful event together, it’s really important that you all do this.  I’m happy to chat about this whenever.   In the meantime, good luck tomorrow night!  I’m sorry I won’t get to be there.

Good for you for being involved with Organization X.  I’m proud of you and will be rooting for you guys tomorrow… 

Love, Neesha

Have you had a friend – a GOOD friend – visit your organization’s website?  Asking for that frank assessment of the public face you are sharing with the world can offer invaluable feedback.

Three Steps and Three Tools to Jumpstart Your SEO

Guest Blogger:  Ashley Dortch, Co-Founder, Meridian Interactive

Last week, I had the opportunity to podcast with Neesha Rahim.  We had a great discussion on how nonprofits might use the SEO process to build strategic major donor relationships.  I hope you got to listen!  Neesha said many of you have put incredible effort into building a website.  Some of you have perhaps even installed your Google Analytics and figured out the basic way to use it.  But search-engine-optimizationincreasingly, we hear that some of you are finding that — gulp! —  only a few people were actually visiting those great sites.  Whether you see yourself in those words or not, if you’ve launched a website and have started to look at analytics on how visitors interact with that site, this post is for you.  It’s time to start thinking about increasing traffic and upping your game. There are options out there that can be expensive, like purchasing advertising. However, another option that all website owners should take advantage of is SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.

Search Engine Optimization, by definition, is the process of increasing traffic to your website organically, or within the free (non-paid) results on the search engines. Understanding the process of SEO and educating your organization on what search engines consider when ranking websites will provide the measurable benefits of increased traffic at minimal cost AND this process presents you with an opportunity to build out your major donor relationships.  (More on how exactly how to do that in this podcast…)

Here I want to provide you with three detailed, simple steps utilizing three free tools that I referred to in that podcast on taking your SEO game-plan to the next level:

1) Decipher the Competition and See Where They Stand using “PR Checker”
Understanding your competition and where other organizations in your niche rank is important to your SEO strategy.  Think of search terms that donors, philanthropists, and other potentially interested parties may be looking for – for a youth development organization, say: “Giving to Children’s Education”. Type “Giving to Children’s Education” into Google and make a list of who appears in the search results. These are the players you want to be mindful of, analyze, and eventually appear next to (if you already don’t).  Using the PR Checker, you can see what Google thinks of your competitors as well. This gives a nice gauge as to where they stand and what you should strive for. Google ranks sites on a 0 to 10 basis.
2) Competitive Keyword Research using the “SEO Book Page Analyzer”
Once you decipher the top competitors and high-rankers in your industry, it’s time to see what keywords they are using. Find the exact page that is showing up in the results (for example, www.yourcompetition.com/the-exact-page, as opposed to www.yourcompetition.com).  Next, plug the page into the SEO Book Page Analyzer. This will show you the top keyword strings that appear on that page. Pay more attention to the two and three keyword strings, as opposed to the single-word keywords, as longer strings may produce more exact results. Once you have this list of keywords, start blogging, producing articles, and creating content using these keywords. Putting content out there on the web that is relevant to what your competitors are writing about is a great way to be found amongst them in search results.
3) Link Building using BackLinkWatch
Relevant inbound links from high ranking sites are key for improving your search rank for SEO. Think of it as the credit game.  A teenager starts out with no credit, and her parent decides to help her build credit by adding them to their credit card (with a $250 limit, of course!). Google and the other search engines rank your site in the same way. The goal is to know your page rank, and get sites with higher page ranks to link to you, therefore boosting your ranking.
So how do we go about this? Using your list of competitors (those organizations you admire who are doing work like yours), drop their websites into the BacklinkWatch tool. Now, see who is linking to them, and find creative ways to get those other sites to link to you too! Remember to be mindful of the rank for these sites (use the PR Checker tool above).  If the site who is linking to your competitor has a #1 rank, and you have a #3, it may not be worth your effort.
But why will they link to you? Because you are offering them something of value… Ask to contribute to their articles, see if they will allow you to introduce yourself to their audience, if they have a directory, see what it takes to get listed… it’s that simple. This not only increases your website rank, but it gets you in front of interested eyes and relevant readers. Syndication across the web is key… Think of the web as your “keyword highway” and you want to be on every billboard along the way.
If you would like to reach our guest blogger, Ashley, you can do so at Meridian Interactive (http://www.meridianinteractive.com) Email: info@meridianinteractive.com Phone: (347)268-4089


How to Empower & Manage a Junior Board

By: Megan O’Connor Mershon

For the past six months, my partner and I have been bringing together the best and brightest development professionals to talk shop. We host interactive meetings under the name “Innovative Development Professionals” and provide an open, confidential forum for fundraisers and other nonprofit/foundation rock stars to talk through development activities. Instead of bringing in panel speakers who simply talk at the group, we work collaboratively to find solutions to members’ fundraising problems. At a recent gathering we discussed the daunting task of developing a junior board.

As mentioned above, our forums are confidential.  But know that this particular guest speaker was from a very large, very successful international agency. This notable organization has an extremely effective, active, celebrity filled, junior board.  Their effort was spearheaded by one ambitious development manager who gave us the raw, honest truth about what one needs to do to attract and keep the cream of the crop of young leadership boards.

Junior Board Management
Why put in all the effort?  Take a look at this recent article about the UN’s Young Entrepreneur group.  By the way “Young Entrepreneurs” is a far more enticing name than a “Junior Board “or worse yet… a “Young Leadership Committee”.

Our guest gave us the following tips in empowering and keeping a Junior Board:

1.  Manage Your Expectations – Junior Boards take up more time for less INITIAL money
.  Donors in their twenties and thirties most often don’t have the financial capacity to give in the same ways those later in their careers can. With that said, often times they require more attention than your major donors. If your organization is committed to starting a junior board you also need to be mentally prepared that at the start, these people will require more of your attention and contribute less to your bottom line.   Stay open and patient, they will produce.

2.  Inspire and Support Serious Ideas – Individuals in their 20s and 30s are often times noncommittal. As a generation that RSVPs to things via Facebook verses response cards, younger people often get away with canceling plans on a moment’s notice and not following through on promises. To avoid a junior board that makes lofty promises, but doesn’t deliver results, ask each board member that comes up with a fundraising idea to submit a proposal. Those who go through the trouble of submitting a proposal prove that they have the dedication and commitment to warrant your attention and capacity.

3.  Flex your communication style – In order to effectively manage a junior board, you need to communicate more than you think. Their level of activity will directly mirror your level of communication with them. As a result, get in the habit of sending weekly summaries of activities. Appoint a communications chair and put them in charge of compiling a weekly roundup newsletter that both gives an update on programs, but also tracks progress on the junior board’s projects.  Note, the communications you create can often be repurposed to send to other donor groups.

4.  Consider life stage – As you would with any other donor, consider the life stage of your junior board.  At this age, people get married, go to graduate school, change careers frequently and have children. As a result, while a member might have signed up for a three-year term, they can be one job offer away from needing to take a leave of absence from the board. Be patient and give junior board members their space. It’s not you, I promise, it’s them. They will come back to you when things settle down as they have already proven their demonstrated interest in the organization.

5.  Embrace & Respect the Party Animals – Younger people are particularly social. As a result, the fundraising activities of your junior board will likely be parties. Before you freak out, remember the following:

  • Party guest lists = an increased contact list for your organization.  Be sure to capture all those names and have a plan for what to do with those guests after the party is over.
  • Allow for the fact that people who are new to the world of philanthropy have an easier time asking people to purchase a ticket to an event than they do asking people to make an outright donation.  These events will ease your junior board members into making future asks on your behalf.  Be sure that you treat the friends they have brought to the table well.  Remember, we all want to be well liked and respected.  Give your junior board members a reason to be admired by their friends.  Inspire those friends to thank your junior board members for introducing them to you.

6. Attract the right group – With the junior board that I manage at my organization, we started attracting members using good ole’ networking techniques.  We reached out to those who had offered us pro bono assistance, volunteers or even those who had made contributions from the 20-30s age bracket. From there we asked each person to bring one friend to the first meeting. By starting with a group of people who had already engaged in some way with the organization, along with their friends, we started with a very tight knit group of individuals. Another way of attracting junior board candidates is to post an advertisement on your website. IDP members have tried this tacit and were pleasantly surprised how many people applied. Lastly, publicize your Junior Board activities. Potential new members are attracted to and apply for junior boards after seeing Facebook posts, tweets, event listings and other press mentions.

Near the end of our conversation, we came back around to the fact that this — all this work! — is the very reason why it’s hard to sell the idea of building a junior board to senior management.  Our guest’s bottom line was this:  Engaging the a junior board will add enthusiasm and energy to your board meetings, bring a new skill set to the table and increase your reach.  Also, we know that there are immediate financial benefits to attracting the (grown) children of high net worth families to our work.   It’s worth it when done right.

Megan is the Development Manager at Goods for Goods and on the side writes another fashion blog – http://www.step-brightly.com/

MLK Day Of Service

MLK Day of Service

It’s been decades since Congress designated MLK Day as a National Day of Service. In spite of the fact that I’ve worked in the non profit sector for most of that time, it only popped up on my radar a few years back.  Maybe that’s because it took that long for philanthropy and volunteerism to “be cool” as Nicholas Kristof puts it here.

Whatever the reasoning, the MLK Day of Service is a great opportunity to involve children in the work of your organization, something I’ve written about before here. Besides the reasons I discussed then, here’s a few more reasons to try this approach:

  1. Three words:  Search Engine Optimization.  While more and more parents and schools are searching for ways to introduce their children to philanthropy and volunteerism (to build character but many think of it as a resume builder too), not many non profits are presenting these kinds of opportunities.  What happens?  A mom like me types in the words “volunteering with children on MLK Day of Service” and hardly anything pops up outside of a few large organizations.  Create the opportunity, get the word out and YOU will pop up.  There’s really no significant competition.
  2. You’ll get meaningful traffic to your site and hopefully convert these new visitors into volunteers.  And you know what?  Studies show that volunteers tend to give more than non volunteering donors.
  3. Media outlets searching for the feel good story on MLK Day will have a reason to highlight your work.  Again, the competition here is limited.
  4. Best of all, you’ll be doing something good for the community you are in by offering meaningful volunteer opportunities to your constituents and at the same time hopefully getting some good work done that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do.

I found a range of family volunteer opportunities that are happening in my neck of the woods (Greenwich, CT), but the one I’d like to highlight is this one:

The Clay Center, a nearby arts organization is hosting a free clay bowl making workshop to raise awareness for local hunger organizations.  They anticipate making 200 bowls which they will donate locally and also use at their upcoming fundraiser called, “Empty Bowls”.

There is just so much goodness in that! Riff off of this idea and create your own opportunities.

You might be thinking, great idea, but it’s too late for this MLK Day. Start planning now for next year, but also be aware that there are plenty of other “Days of Service” that you might consider launching a special volunteer effort around.

Follow me @NeeshaR


Build Great Giving Habits: Teach Children to Give

Tis the season!  In our house, it’s the season for all things kid-centric (more than usual!) from making gingerbread houses to decorating everything in sparkly tinsel, making sure our elf on the shelf is being appropriately entertaining and magical, and doing the NYC holiday kiddie stuff.  It’s also a time that I’m stressing about too much materialism and looking for ways I can help my kids understand that this season is about GIVING.  “How can we teach children to give?” is a thought I hear echoed all around me, no matter where I am. Indeed, according to the latest data,

Many high net worth households have family traditions around giving (41 percent), such as volunteering as a family and giving to charity during the holidays. Perhaps not surprisingly, 26 percent of wealthy donors cited the joy they derive from engaging with family around charitable activities among the benefits of giving… (and) One-third (33 percent) of high net worth donors who have children involve them and other younger relatives in their household’s charitable giving activities.”  

So, my question is, how are you teaching children to give?  Let’s say you haven’t involved them in the mission of your work or in the ask (radical concept, I know… but hey, they are sometimes the decision makers at the table!) up until now.  Hopefully knowing the data above (confirmed in my conversations with donors, and the behavior of my friends and others), has inspired you to think creatively about how you might make these little people the recipients of your stewardship and engagement efforts.

Need some inspiration?  Here’s what some  “out of the box” thinkers in the development world are doing to teach children to give – joyfully!

  1. UNICEF –  Teach for UNICEF provides a plethora of free curriculum to schools who want to use UNICEF’s work in the classroom.  Voices of Youth is a website where parents, teachers and children can talk about making the world a place where every child can live in peace, have decent shelter, be healthy and well-nourished, have clean water, play, go to school, and be protected from violence, abuse and exploitation – UNICEF’s misson.  But note, it’s hard to tell that this is in any way linked to UNICEF.  Then there is Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF their mobile applications for kids.
  2. Room to Read involves young people in their work in many ways.  I highly recommend checking out their “Students Helping Students” page that speaks directly to young people, but also to educators, giving them resources to use Room to Read’s work in the classroom.  Also, the founder of Room to Read has written and published a great children’s book, “Zak the Yak” that explains their work in picture book form.
  3. The Global Fund for Children has a line of books that embodies their mission.  I’ve been given one as a thank you before and it was wonderful to use it to help explain the GFC’s work to my little ones.
  4. Fidelco‘s mission is to train and provide blind people with seeing eye dogs.  I heard about Fidelco from a mom I know who gushed about an auction item she purchased that allowed her children to walk a course with a blind fold over their eyes with a seeing eye dog leading the way.  She told me all about their mission, how they did subsequent fundraising for this organization and that she plans to take two big groups of girl scouts to their program:  “Following a highly engaging presentation, students “adopt” a litter of young dogs entering Fidelco’s six-month Guide Dog Training Program. They receive “Pup-Dates” by e-mail, with photos, to follow their litter’s progress.”
  5. The New York Blood Center‘s “Little Doctors Program” teaches 5th through 8th graders how to run a blood drive, providing a fabulous mission centric way for children to participate in an academic, hands-on, community service activity that helps young people understand the difference the Center is making.
  6. Girl Up is an entire organization dedicated to leveraging the power of American girls to support girls in at risk situations in developing countries.  Here’s an example of Girl Up giving their potential young supporters the ability to participate in easy ways that resonate with them.
  7. Many programs connect children in the US with children in developing countries so that they may learn about one another.  I’ve got LOTS more to say on this particular topic.  That’s for another day.  But feel free to follow me on Twitter @NeeshaR where I often talk about this.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the above, or if you know of other great examples, and most especially how your organization is teaching children to give!

Until next time, enjoy opening those end-of-year gift envelopes and happy holidays to you and yours!