Take a look out our first live Spreecast, filled on 3/21/14! Laurel and I discuss Building a Culture of Philanthropy. You can look forward to future Spreecasts on other topics every Friday afternoon 12p Eastern, 9a Pacific.
Take a look out our first live Spreecast, filled on 3/21/14! Laurel and I discuss Building a Culture of Philanthropy. You can look forward to future Spreecasts on other topics every Friday afternoon 12p Eastern, 9a Pacific.
Please join Laurel McCombs and Robert Osborne Jr. at 12noon Eastern, 9a Pacific as we discuss building a culture of philanthropy in your organization. The broadcast will be live and we’ll be able to take your questions through the chat function. It should be a quick and informative show. Check it out!
Below is the first of a series of posts on crowd funding. I am currently running a crowd funding campaign with a friend using the principles outlined in these posts. You can follow its success (or failure!) here.
Over the next few posts, I am going to walk through all the basics of running a successful crowd funding campaign as well as provide you with useful tools. A while back, I wrote on post on the basics of when you should crowd fund. You might want to read it and decide if crowd funding is the right thing for your nonprofit. If it you think it might be, please read on and learn about crowd funding!
OK, so you’ve decided to go ahead with your crowd funding campaign. You’ve picked a good project and a realistic goal. So what’s next? Well, before you launch your campaign you need to do some preparation. There are two main areas that we need to prepare: our materials which consist of videos, pictures, updates, etc. and preparing our volunteers and our social media. This post will concentrate on the latter.
The first rule of crowd funding: If you build it, they will NOT come. This means if you simply slap up a campaign on IndieGoGo or some other platform, nobody will donate to you. Why? because they have no idea that your campaign exists. We have to drive people to the campaign. How do we do this? Well, through people and their social media. So where do we start?
Take an inventory of your friends, family, colleagues, etc. – We need to determine who within your own network has the biggest social media networks and would be willing to help with the campaign. Luckily social media makes this research pretty easy. Start quantifying who has the most connections/followers on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. If you have a lot of time on your hands or free and/or cheap labor you can see who has the most secondary connections, meaning whose connections have the most connections. Stick them all into a spread sheet and rank them. We’ve included this tool for your use. Then divide them into the following categories:
For now, just keep this information for yourself. Later we’ll talk about how to use all those connections before and during your campaign but for now we just want to have a list of people we’ll eventually want to approach.
Take an inventory of relevant of blogs on other media – Who cares about your nonprofit’s cause? Do some research via google to see who might be willing to post an article about your campaign and cause. You can use compete.com to get a rough sense of the traffic each of these sites gets monthly. Look at the blog and blogger’s Facebook pages to see how many friends they have, check out their twitter accounts and see how many followers they have, etc. Again, put all the information into a spreadsheet so you see which blogs and other media you might later approach. We’ve included this tool for your use.
Cross reference your two lists – Do any of your connections have connections to the blogs and other media you have identified? These will be your best bets. Rank your media for future use.
OK, so now you have a pretty good list people and blogs that you will eventually contact. But don’t contact them yet! We still have a little work to do.
You’re now ready for the next step in your crowd funding preparation, getting your materials ready. Here is the basic inventory of the materials that you’ll want to have created in advance:
While the exact nature of the materials listed above will differ from campaign to campaign, your primary materials should follow one basic principle: you want to talk about future impact. Far too often as nonprofits we want to talk about our track record and/or our methodology. For instance, let’s say you want to get funding for a new arts festival your arts organization. The temptation is talk about how you want to bring people together through the arts which you have successfully done for the past few years by having a concert, a play, and providing free entrance to school age children. A far more powerful way of talking about your work is to discuss your future impact, which to say, which artitsts and plays are you hoping to bring to the festival with the help of crowd funding supporters? How many children do you hope to expose to your festival and what impact will it have on them, their education, their schools, their community? The basic message is “we are trying to achieve these wonderful, societal results but we can only succeed with your help”. The past has already been funded; the future awaits.
Video and Photography: I am no video and photography expert. Suffice it to say in crowd funding, a short video or series of pictures can be worth far more than a written explanation of your campaign. Many, many articles have been written on this subject so I would suggest a quick google search. Keep in mind that thanks to Youtube our tolerance for less than professional quality video has greatly increased and that some video is better than none. So, even if it means sitting in front of your smart phone or your computer’s webcam, make sure you create something!
Perks: If you check out your average Kickstarter campaign or some of the for profit projects on Indiegogo, you’ll notice that they offer material perks for donations, often a first chance to receive the new product that the campaign is trying to launch. Nonprofit crowd funding is very different. While it is certainly fine to recognize your contributors by providing them with some sort of material benefit, they are funding your campaign not because they want something material in return but because they want to make a difference! So, your perks should be reflective of that and talk about impact. $50 lets us send one children to our arts festival for free. $500 allows us to give a free music lesson to an entire elementary school class. You get the idea. If you want to throw in a free tee shirt or something, that’s fine too.
Despite the lack of a material return, your perks are one of the most important parts of your campaign and they need to be well though out. Perks tell me the difference I am making as a donor. They tell me why is should give $500 and not just $50. They need to be compelling. If the difference I make by giving $500 sounds more or less like the difference I am going to make at $50, then I’ll likely give $50.
Email – Don’t forget about email. It’s still a far more effective way of reach people than social media, particularly for those that you already have a relationship to. Email will be a cornerstone of your campaign. You’ll need it to reach out to friends, family, colleagues, bloggers, to get them all on board with your campaign. You’ll need to to update them all and you’ll need it again when you close your campaign. We’ll talk more about the specifics of these emails in later posts but like all other communications, create as many of them in advance as possible and remind people that whatever you are asking them to do will result in social good.
OK, so we’ve done our research, we know who our best volunteers might be, which blogs we’d like to be on; we’ve shot our video, designed our perks, taken our photos, etc. We’re getting pretty close to being able to launch. But we still need to do a few things…
The next thing I need you to understand is how these crowd funding sites generally work. While I mentioned before that if you build it they will not come and that we’ll have to drive our own traffic, this not 100% true. If you build it they may come, but only if you launch with a splash. Most crowd funding sites want to have the most dynamic campaigns on their home page, dynamic being defined as having the most social media, the most frequent updates, the most money raised, and the greatest percentage of their goal raised. So, we don’t want the first day of our campaign to be the first day people hear about the campaign. We want to have people ready to give, tweet, post, etc. on the day of launch. And to get that critical mass we need to do some work first.
Ask your connections for connections to the relevant blogs and media you identified – Remember when we cross referenced our connections to our best blog and media bets? Well, its time to reach out to those connections to ask them to make an introduction. This step should be taken fairly far out from launch so you have time to get a response and then follow up with the bloggers and media. You can use this email template to reach out. You may wish to share some materials with them so that they are motivated and know that they are helping a project that is professional and well thought-out. Let them know why your project is important and ask for their help.
Write to blogs and media – Now its time to reach out to the blogs and media. Start with the ones where you have been introduced and work your way out from there. Be ready to supply them with information about your project and link to the page (if you’ve already launched). Let them know when your launch is and ask them to post at launch or within the first day or two. Here is a quick email you can use to introduce yourself.
Get your volunteers organized for a coordinated launch – Remember when we inventoried our best volunteers? Well, now is the time to approach them. Here is a quick email or letter you can use as a template to send them. Let them know why your project is important, when your launch is, and what you’d like them to do on that day. Your launch day shouldn’t be too far away so that your volunteers remain excited and ready. You may also wish to ask the people with the biggest connections to reach out to their best connections and make a special appeal.
Make a personal appeal to those closest to you – It really helps to have some donations on the first day. Make a call or send a personal appeal to the people that are closest to you and ask them to be ready to make a donation on the first day of the campaign. This will give you a little momentum and will lend credibility when others discover your project. If people see $0 raised they will wonder if your project is legitimate and they will be less likely to give. On the other hand, if they see a project having a strong first few days, they will be more likely to make a donation.
Create an editorial/publishing calendar – One way that crowd funding campaigns don’t succeed is that the organizers fail to make regular updates on the project. One way that we can avoid this is to create a publishing calendar of our updates in advance. This includes any video, emails, and pictures you want to use (as described in the last post) but it should also include any social media that you want to use. Using something like Hootsuite can help you automate this work. Here’s a link to an editorial calendar. It was designed for a year-long social media cycle but you can adapt it or create your own.
Think about using Thunderclap – One cool site that you can use in advance of your launch is Thunderclap. Thunderclap is a crowd funding platform but instead of collecting money for a project it collects social media posts. People pledge a tweet or a post for your project and if your project reaches its goal in social media reach (people who will potentially see the post) then at a specified time everyone who pledged will post, tweet, etc. simultaneously and automatically. Obviously this can be a powerful tool that can be used at launch and it’s an easy thing for people to do because they are pledging social media not money. But, the really great thing about this is that those same people now have a stake in your campaign and are more likely to give, provide additional social media resources, etc.
OK! Now we are really getting somewhere. You have your social media, traditional media, and early supports all lined up. You’re now ready to make a big splash at launch, the topic of our next post.
Karen talks about having a strategic conversation to unlock donor motivation. Remember, giving is personal.
Fear and fundraising: two words that, unfortunately, often go hand-in-hand. Our volunteers and board members are afraid of approaching their friends and colleagues. Our executive directors are afraid of their boards. We are all afraid of not hitting our goals and causing program cuts, layoffs, etc. But there is one fear that seems to bring down more fundraising programs and otherwise good gift officers more than any other. And that is the fear that chief development officers have of their executive directors and their boards.
I recently had a chief development officer come to me and tell me that they were really worried the fundraising event the organization was planning would be a complete flop, take up incredible amounts of staff time and resources, and lead to very little money raised.
I asked my client, “Have you told your executive director and board this? Have you forcefully stated that you think this fundraising event will be a disaster?”
“Well, I’ve metnioned my concerns”, my client said, “but the board really wants this event.”
When the event fails to meet expectations, fails to raise money, and other fundraising is negatively affected, is the board going to remember that the event was their idea? Will they remember the chief development officer’s feeble protests? Or will they take a hard look at the person responsible for fundraising: the chief development officer?
I think we all know the answer to this question and many of this have been in this position. The business of fundraising is a highly quantifiable one. You’re good if you raise money, you’re not if you don’t. Period. Yes, unfortunately it is just this simple. Your board isn’t a good fundraising board? Welcome to not-for-profits. Your executive director came from the mission side and doesn’t really understand fundraising? So what else is new? Your department is under-resourced? Show me one that isn’t. As fundraisers its our job to succeed despite these challenges.
How? We are the experts and we need to act like the experts. If you think that the event the board wants to do so badly will be a disaster, you need to forcefully say so, and back it with metrics and historical data, until they tell you to be quiet. If you need more fundraisers on your board, then you need to push steadily for a board overhaul. Are you worried you’ll get fired or in trouble for being to pushy? What do you think will happen if you don’t hit goal?
Fundraising is a business of uncertainty and it’s a business of persuasion. We can’t always get our way but we can always try and push for what is best for the organization. Pushing doesn’t mean being obnoxious. It means being persuasive, providing best practices and data, and it means being respectful. But it also means not being afraid of exercising your expertise. After all, that is why they hired you.
Often its a good idea to set expectations upfront. In the last job I was at before I did full time consulting I sat down with the executive director and the board chair before I started the job and I said. “I’m aggressive. I’m going to really push for an increase in board giving and some term limits. I want to completely overhaul how we handle our communications. Is that OK with you and do I have your support? If not, you shouldn’t hire me.”
They told me that was exactly what they wanted and they were true to their word. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have conflict at times or rough patches. But we raised a lot of money and generally got on very well because of that fact.
So, don’t be afraid to be the expert and don’t be afraid of your boss or your board. In the end, pushing for what is needed in spite of having some uncomfortable moments is the only way to success.
Check out our podcast with Beth Herman for more coaching tips
“Motivation not Education“. I found this saying while at the campaignstrategy.org website doing some research on a new presentation on Activism and Fundraising. In my opinion, there are many parallels between activism and fundraising but this saying struck me as perhaps the most apt. Our job as fundraisers, much like the job of the activist, is to get people to do something. To act. In the case of an activist campaign that action might be to show up for a protest, or sign a petition, or call their congress person. As fundraisers, we want people to give money, volunteer, call their friends and get them to attend an event. Through cultivation we lower the barriers to act until the desired action takes place. We motivate.
However, all to often we spend the bulk of our time educating people and hoping that education will lead to motivation and action. We give them facts. We give them things to read. We sit down with them and try to persuade them. We generally push information at them.
As campaignstrategy.or points out in reference to activist campaigning:
Education…is a broadening exercise. It uses examples to reveal layers of complexity, leading to lower certainty but higher understanding.
Campaigning maximises the motivation of the audience, not their knowledge. Try using education to campaign, and you will end up circling and exploring your issue but not changing it.
Fundraising works in the same way; it’s not an educational experience or an “oral argument”. Yes, people will almost certainly be educated about our cause as we cultivate and build relationships with them, but education is not the primary purpose. Good fundraising is action oriented. As fundraisers, we get our best results not when we try to persuade and provide endless amounts of information, but when we “show” and motivate.
So, how do we motivate people? People tend to believe and place the most value on their own experiences. If they can see that your organization is effective because they have met your clients, your families, etc. that is much more valuable than reading about them or watching a video. Likewise, if you can let them see and experience for themselves the impact of a previous donation this increases the motivation to give more.
Finally, “the act of doing” is in itself motivational and leads to more action. Always give your donors a clear action they can take whether that’s donating, a Facebook like, or volunteering. Don’t just send them an endless stream of information but provide no way to act.
There are oh-so-many things to say about Dan Pallotta and his talk at TED. The essential point of his presentation is that the nonprofit sector is at a disadvantage to the for profit sector because of the way we – as a society – think about nonprofits and charity. Some of the many points he makes we can dismiss right off the bat. For instance, his point that nonprofits can’t share profit to attract risk capital…. Well, yeah, they’re nonprofits. And that means that they don’t have to pay taxes. And that means that they can’t act exactly like a for-profit unless they plan on paying those taxes.
Many people have talked to me about Dan’s idea of paying top executives in the nonprofit arena more. I won’t spend too much time on this either; this piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review Blog makes some interesting points. What I would point out is that many for-profit companies pay their top talent huge amounts of money and just as often as not they prove to be just as mediocre as the rest of us. I think Dan exaggerates the impact that a single person can have on a nonprofit institution.
What I do think is really interesting about Dan’s talk is how we are much more tolerant of risk and long-term capacity building in the for profit world than we are in the nonprofit. Venture philanthropy is all the rage these days but the funny thing about it is that most venture philanthropy works and acts exactly like traditional philanthropy. Yes, there is more of an emphasis on clear and measurable outcomes within a defined period of time. However, I would argue major investors in an organization have always wanted this. What’s maybe changed is that lower-level investors now expect the same thing.
But aside for a demand for clear social outcomes, venture philanthropy still generally acts very differently then venture capital. Major investments in fundraising and other capacity building is still exceptionally rare even though such investments can leverage a great deal more.
Patience on social returns that take longer than a couple of years is also a rare exception rather than the rule. And then there is the complicity of nonprofits themselves. We so rarely dream as big as we need to. I was talking with a self-identified venture philanthropist recently that wants to fund riskier ventures and wants to encourage fellow philanthropists to do the same and I remember thinking to myself, “Would we believe a funder if they told us they were OK with failure?” I’m guessing we wouldn’t. I’m guessing that we would be thinking that if we want to have a chance at additional funding and a career going forward, we’d better show some concrete results pretty fast. So we play it safe. Privately, we all dream big but we seldom put it out there for funders to ponder.
So I agree with Dan wholeheartedly that our societal mentality holds the nonprofit sector back. He’s very much right in saying frugality does not equal morality. But, as Laura points out, money invested in marketing is only a means to an end. The true output is the kind of social impact we have. Sometimes that requires a lot of dollars, sometimes it doesn’t. At times we may need to invest a lot in our marketing and fundraising but over time we are ultimately better off investing in our mission and its outcomes. Many, many nonprofits (if not that vast majority) are able to keep their fundraising costs below $0.25 on the dollar and still be highly effective. The fact of the matter is Dan’s organization engaged in the least efficient form of fundraising out there: event fundraising. And while his cause lent itself to that model, most other causes don’t require this and can get a much better return on their dollars. Even Dan’s organization could have done so by leveraging the people his walks attracted for major donor dollars instead of relying on a few big sponsors that left his organization fatally vulnerable.
Ultimately, I’m glad that Dan is raising these ideas. It’s important that we talk about the respective roles of the for profit and nonprofit world. And perhaps those people most in a position to be helpful will start to think of nonprofits differently and change the landscape. But in the meantime, the nonprofit sector remains a market place just as the for profit sector does. Efficiency does matter. Diversity of revenue does matter. Social return on investment is our ultimate metric, not dollars raised. As Dan points out himself, ours in the market of love and you can’t measure that in money raised.
No one has time. Everyone is super busy. In fact, in today’s world that seems to be a badge of honor. Think Angie’s List ad: “I’m busy, busy, busy,” says the spokesperson. “Ask anyone. Well, I’m super busy, but I guess that’s good, better than the opposite.” Making time and finding time for the RIGHT tasks and meetings are requirements for leading.
Consider this: we could work 24/7 and never be finished. To add to this problem the fact that success breeds more work. With the new book by Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In putting women’s leadership and balancing act all over the news, we are once again reminded, in our female-dominated profession, that making time for what is “urgent and important and just plain important,” (as Stephen R. Covey taught us) is critical to our success. As male and female leaders, this is not only essential to getting our work successfully completed, but also to modeling what we expect from our teams.
Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment, recently told the Harvard Business Review (and reported in CASE Advancement Weekly, March 11, 2013) that “many managers feel guilty that they are in so many meetings, and so they try to compensate by having an open-door policy for their staff.” But leaving the door open is a bad solution to a real problem.
Here are some tips for making time and finding time to lead.
By Karen Osborne
Everything you know about foundation fundraising is wrong. Well, maybe not everything. But possibly quite a lot. Too often we view foundation funding as largely an exercise in research and proposal writing when I would argue that these are the two areas that have the least to do with successful foundation work. Here are a few myths and misunderstandings that that I’d like to debunk.
Myth #1: Guidelines are set in stone
The way we are all taught to approach foundation fundraising is that guidelines are paramount and are rarely, if ever, violated. In reality, the opposite is often true. I know foundations that swear they only give to organizations with national reach, but give regularly to grassroots efforts. I know foundations who say they never give to endowments or to capital campaigns but repeatedly give to both.
Just like you and your organization, foundations have a vision of the world they are trying to achieve. Their guidelines reflect their best thinking on how to achieve their vision. But what is most important to them is their vision, not their guidelines. If you can get in front of them explain how your vision and your programs may be an equally or even more effective way of achieving their aims, there is a good chance they’ll listen to you. And if they say “our guidelines really are our guidelines” they will often direct you towards a foundation that more closely reflects your priorities. You should acknowledge guidelines but not be a slave to them.
Myth 2: Foundation fundraising equals grant writing
I’m always surprised how many organizations, if they can only hire one foundation position, will opt for a grant writer over a front-line development officer. Make no mistake, a well-written proposal that can stand on its own is an important part of fundraising. But foundation work is no different than any other kind of development work. All of the hard work comes before the ask or, in this case, the proposal. We should be focused conveying our work through engagement with our programs, engagement with our mission staff, engagement with our Executive Director, etc. A foundation needs to know you can do everything you are promising. And that means they need to know your organization and the people in it. If it’s just a pretty piece of writing it’s likely to be overlooked. Not because it wasn’t compelling but because there is no way to know if what you are saying to true. People believe their own experiences not necessarily what you or I tell them in a proposal. Be sure to give them those positive experiences and the proposal almost becomes a formality.
Myth #3: Foundation fundraising is a meritocracy
If we have a worthy program that best achieves our own aims and that of the foundation we’ll get the grant, right? Well, no. Or at least, maybe. I’m not accusing foundations of anything nefarious. What I am saying however is that merit is necessary but insufficient. There are many, many, many nonprofits doing meritorious work. Given that, which nonprofit is most likely to get a grant? The organization that is a known quantity is. The organization that knows three trustees is more likely to get the grant then the one who doesn’t. Not because of croneyism but because each of those trustees votes and they can say to themselves “Hey, I know the Executive Director that applied. I know that she does what she says she will do. I know that she will report back to us. I know she will spend the money the way she said she would. These other applicants, they have some great ideas but I don’t know them well enough so I don’t know if they’ll come through.”
Foundation fundraising is a “who you know” kind of business. If you can, know trustees. Failing that, know program officers and other program staff. Bottom line: know as many of the decision makers as you can.
These are just three myths but there are others and perhaps in a subsequent post I’ll go through them. My parting advice is this: when it comes to foundations, don’t see yourself as an applicant, and especially not as a supplicant. See yourself as a partner with foundations in trying to make the world a better place. Partnership implies equality and proactivity. Don’t be passive about your foundation fundraising; get in there and engage with them.
Spring is nigh, and we’re dusting off our free weights, trying out Pilates, buying new running shoes. Can you feel the promise in the air?
What a great time to talk about learning to understand and flex to your Conative Style.
Conation (koh NAY shun) relates to desire, volition, and striving. Conative Style is our natural mental tendency that produces an effort. It’s your own instinctive mode of action, the way in which you would tackle any new task given no instructions, on your own.
“Everyone has an indomitable will that powers our instincts to act,” says Kathy Kolbe, developer of the Kolbe A Conative Style Index (Conative Connection, Acting on Instincts, Kathy Kolbe)
“No matter what combination of talents we bring into play, we make the biggest impact when we solve problems in ways that are most natural to us.” And doing jobs that inhibit our natural modes and require least preferred actions? That produces “conative strain.”
We all know that it takes more effort, more commitment, and perhaps more vitamins to learn a new upper-body weight training regimen than it does to jog the same route you’ve done for years. By understanding your preferred style of doing, you can capitalize on your strengths and gently broaden your range of motion—without tearing anything or pulling up lame.
How it works
The Kolbe A Index rates the strength of your preference on a scale of 1-10 (10 is high) for each of four Action Modes. (You might notice some overlap between these descriptions and those of the DIsc Inventory or Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain Model. If so, fellow psych nerd, let’s get coffee later.)
(My Kolbe scores are Fact Finder 5, Follow Thru 3, Quick Start 8, Implementer 3. My top Kolbe strengths: explain, adapt, improvise, imagine. Note that I have no pull to learn Excel or troubleshoot—OK, break—printers and smartphones.
My Kolbe Career MO+ ™ Report lists these examples of jobs that have brought satisfaction to people with an MO similar to mine: sales, on-camera TV, comedian, therapist, alternative program educator, copywriter, fundraiser, and interviewer. Spooky accurate.)
The Kolbe A test costs $49.95 and this author receives no kickback, but I do help clients apply this new knowledge with their teams.
The resulting career report defines why a particular job role may—or may not—work out and even suggests question to ask a prospective new boss. (The best ones from mine: “Would I be able to work on several tasks at the same time? Will someone be able to assist me if my equipment is not working properly?”)
Here’s how to leverage your Conative style to cover more ground with less strain:
You can make your workplace a safe, open playing field where positions and strengths aren’t a secret, and everyone gets to be a star.
In my next post:
Improve donor visits by understanding different “conversational styles”
Beth B. Herman is principal of EBH Consulting LLC