Fund Development Plan: Your Key to Success

In the last couple of years I’ve learned a lot about myself, as a consultant and a trainer. One thing I’ve come to realize is that I really like to talk about the fundamentals. In fact, just last year I wrote a blog post about the fundamentals key to development success.

As I reflect on 2015 and what I could write in my last blog post of year, I find myself coming back to the basics. I’ve said it before, real success isn’t about silver bullets and is rarely bright and flashy. In fact, success often lies in what we can read in black and white, in a strategic and thoughtful fund development plan.

So I was particularly excited by a recent study by Heather Yandow of Third Space Studio. In her report, posted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, she shares that in the organizations she studied, the clearest predictor of success was the existence of a formal fundraising plan.  Additionally, she found some interesting correlations between investments in staff, time spent on individual donors and the effect of face-to-face meetings. But these correlations could only be found in those organizations that had a formal plan in place.

The work we do is highly quantifiable with a number of ways to measure progress and effectiveness, and yet, many organizations look at one metric, revenue, to determine success. A solid plan to reach revenue goals, supported by action steps, timelines and progress metrics allows fundraisers to create a clear path that is as helpful in determining what they will do, as what they won’t.

How many of us have heard “you know what we should do, we should have a (insert event name here)” or the classic “that organization does a (insert event name here) and they raise a ton of money, we just need to do one of those.” Having a plan in place allows you to sort through these ideas from a strategic perspective. Maybe a new fundraising activity fits perfectly with existing strategies, or you find that your plan won’t allow for the extra staff time and resources a new event would require. Either way you can point to the development plan as the rationale for your decision.

An effective plan puts you in control of how you spend your time and allows you to prioritize strategies. It puts front and center those activities that you believe will provide the greatest return on investment and creates a system for measuring effectiveness and adjusting strategies when necessary. In fact, we explored this in more detail during a webinar earlier this year.

Yes, writing a development plan takes time, and yes, reviewing your progress toward that plan takes time, but the truth is, you’re already spending that time spinning your wheels on ineffective strategies and a lack of prioritization. The good news is that once you have a plan in place and make a few adjustments in your management systems, you can start to see immediate results.Image result for make a plan

For help in creating and implementing an effective fund development plan, join me on Thursday, January 28th at 2:00pm EST for a free webinar: Register Now

December Major Gift Countdown for Success

December-2015-Calendar-Images-3 (002) You are so busy! December is packed with work and personal obligations. The key? Set priorities.

  1. This week, (December 1-4), list every $1,000+ donor and prospective donor yet to make a gift. Moving from the top down, assign someone to make a personal call. At the very top of the list, if possible, invite for coffee.  Try not to rely on email. Pick up the phone! If $1,000 is too low because you have too many donors at the level, go to $2,500 or $5,000. If $1,000 is too high, start at $250 or $500. Whatever your situation, work the top of your pyramid.
  2. Next week, (December 7-11), list every donor who gave you $1,000+ in the last six months. If you’re a small shop, Every $1,000+ gift n 2015. Big shop with too many donors at that level, move up the pyramid and/or make the time frame shorter. Call. Say thank you again. Specify the difference he, she, the family, the foundation, the company made.  Get help with these calls. Everyone on the team can make a call a day. Mission staff and board members can call. Students, clients. “I hope you received our holiday card. Just wanted to add my voice. We appreciate all you’ve done to help (the people or cause you serve). Your investments have made a significant difference. Thank you.”
  3. Week three, (December 14-17), finish your calls and cards by Thursday. If you’re behind, save some to wish a Happy New Year the first week of January.
  4. Week three, (December 14-17), review the data you want collected for January assessment and planning. Ouch. It’s been all fun up until now. Closing and thanking. But we have to hit the ground running January 4. At a minimum:
    • Retention rates for all $1,000+ (ideally for all gifts of every size). New donors, donors giving for 2-4 years, donors giving 5 plus years. If you’re able, do it by giving program — monthly donors, direct mail, phone, board solicitations and so forth.
    • Upgrade rates. Percentage of donors who were asked to increase and said yes. Percentage who upgraded without a specific request.
    • Yes rates. Percentage of yeses to requests; percentage of yeses to 85% or more of the amount requested at the $1,000+ levels.
    • Progress against goals. How are you doing?
    • Check out this free recorded webinar on metrics.
Throughout the month, remember to take care of yourself. Try to find time to exercise, even if it’s only a quick walk at lunch time, or walking during phone calls. Keep in mind that office and donor holiday parties are working events. Either don’t drink or nurse a glass. Covey QuoteAre you good at power napping? Put your feet up above your heart (on a desk for example). Close your eyes for 20 minutes before an event.
And say, “No thank you.” It’s okay. No matter the request or requestor. You are a December major gift priority. For more on saying no, check out this blog post.

Engaging Your Board in Year-End Activities

The end of the year typically brings a flurry of activity between #Giving Tuesday, year-end appeals, holiday stewardship activities, and much more. This is a perfect time to engage your board in supporting fund development activities and build momentum and enthusiasm for growing their participation in the new year.Engaging Your Board in Year-End Activities

If you were unable to join us for this webinar or want to watch it again, click here:  https://youtu.be/kyZ5CYMkKto

Periscope! Why Not-for-Profits Need to Use It

imgresHave you heard of Periscope?  No?  You will.

Periscope lets you live stream whatever you are doing directly from your cell phone to the world.  Not only that, viewers of your live stream are able to comment and interact with you in real-time as you stream.  The iOS and Android phone apps launched last spring and have been steadily gaining traction since.  Periscope follows a growing trend of more and more live streaming of events, games, etc.   The trend began with sports (on major league baseball’s platform) and video games (on services such as Twitch) but now have moved more into everyday use.  The important thing to note is that your phone has become a mobile broadcast studio.  This is going to change a lot of things in our world.

Right now the broadcasts on Periscope (and its main rival Meerkat) remind me a lot of the early days of podcasting about ten years ago.  The content isn’t great, as the earliest adopters don’t necessarily have broadcasting knowledge or experience (although I’ve noticed some tv personalities have taken it up), but there is a lot of enthusiasm around its practitioners.  You can tour foreign cities as users walk around or just follow along as people live their everyday lives.  Periscope is owned by Twitter and works seamlessly with it, allowing you to announce your live streams via your Twitter feed and take advantage of the Twitter following you’ve already built up.

When I learned about Periscope at its launch, my first thought was “what a great way for not-for-profits to show their work.”  Every not-for-profit’s biggest challenge is engaging people with their work in meaningful ways.  This can be especially challenging if the beneficiaries of a not-for-profit’s work are in hard to reach places or are even abroad.  Periscope lets you bring those experience directly to the donor or prospective donor as well as to a wider audience.   Even though the recording of the live stream is only archived for 24 hours, you can save videos on your phone or use services such as Katch allow you to keep it longer and distribute the video to an audience that wasn’t able to join you live.  The Central Park Conservancy regularly periscopes tours of Central Park.

Your live streaming doesn’t have to end with just your client work.  What about streaming an event (like a $5K run or your gala), an interview with one of your program staff, a panel discussion, or even a board meeting?  The opportunities are many and can be especially powerful because of Periscopes’ ability to take questions and comments live.  This isn’t just passive watching of video; this is active engagement with your donors and potential donors.  And you can do it all with your phone.

What ideas do you have for Periscope?  Let us know if you’ve tried this fantastic new tool.

Don’t Tell The Story Before You’ve Heard It

imagesDuring a recent client visit I was talking to the VP for Advancement about major gift strategy and the importance of truly understanding donor motivations and values.  She told me that when she meets with major donor prospects she tries to ask as many questions as she can, and in her words: “I try not to tell the story before I’ve heard it.”  What a great phrase!  So many times in an effort to come up with an effective cultivation strategy we make all kinds of assumptions and speculations about our donors.  Does any of the below sound familiar?

“Our research shows that she gives to the local Boys and Girls Club.  Children must be her biggest cause and we don’t work with children so she’s not a good prospect for us.”

“He’s the CEO of his own manufacturing company so he’ll probably want to work on the finance committee.”

“She created an endowed scholarship for her university.  Scholarships aren’t our main priority but it seems like that is what she likes to do.”

The reality is that in each of this cases, based on the information provided, we know very little about our donors in terms of their values, giving preferences, and how they might wish to engage and give to our own institution.  About ten years ago if you were able to look at my own giving history you’d see that I gave to quite a few organizations that helped people with disabilities.  Is this my main philanthropic priority?  Not really.  Did I give to those cause because a friend asked me to and it was his philanthropic priority?  Yes.

The only way to truly know what a donor’s priorities are, what their values are, and what their priorities are within your own institution is to ask the donor directly.

“I know that you are an ardent supporter of the Boys and Girls Club.  Are children a philanthropic priority for you?  What are your other priorities?”

“With your business background we’d love to have you involved with our finance committee but tell us, how do you best like to be engaged with the organizations you work with?  What was your best volunteer experience and why?”

“What was your motivation in donating an endowed scholarship to your university?”

Asking strategic questions will give you the most accurate information from which to design an effective cultivation strategy.  It will also result in a far more satisfying experience for your potential donor.  Finally, asking strategic questions will also set a tone of open dialogue and information sharing.

If you find that you are speculating and filling in information that is based on anything other than what you’ve heard directly from the donor, stop, realize that you don’t truly know the answer to the question you are asking, and make a point of asking it the next time you meet with your potential donor.  The results will be a far more interesting story than the one you’ve made up in your head.

 

A Relationship Lesson from Lemurs

Last month was my friend Chris’ birthday. Chris has a love of lemurs and his wife started a campaign on GoFundMe.com to give him a day trip to a lemur center.  I don’t particularly share Chris’ fascination with lemurs andlemurs it wouldn’t be my choice of birthday of celebrations, but I contributed. In fact, as I look back, I realize that I have given several gifts in the past few months to a variety of things that my friends were raising money for.

Through sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter, I had supported friends in the achievement of things that were important to them, both professionally and personally, but none of them were tied to a not-for-profit organization. I won’t get a tax write-off for these gifts and I don’t care, because I was giving purely because I believed in their individual causes or dreams, the achievement of something special for people that are special to me.

Here at the Osborne Group, we often talk about the “Rights”. Having the RIGHT person ask for the RIGHT amount of money for the RIGHT purpose at the RIGHT time. My experience over the past few months has left me contemplating one of those rights in particular, and that is the RIGHT person.

I hear from a lot of development professionals that are frustrated by the lack of response from current and prospective donors. We’ve all been there, donors that won’t return phone calls or reply to emails (even ones that don’t ask for money) or asks that we felt incredibly prepared for, but just fell flat. It can feel like you’re continuously running into a brick wall when trying to engage people who seem to be interested and supportive of your cause, but are consistently unresponsive.

As you dissect the mystery of why you can’t seem to move forward with a prospect, I encourage you to take a lesson from the lemurs. Instead of focusing on HOW you are reaching out or WHAT you are trying to engage them in, take a moment to focus on the WHO. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • As you conduct research on prospects, employ peer screening with board members, staff and volunteers to find out potential connections and relationships
  • Utilize those connections when making your donor engagement plans to determine the best roles for everyone to play in the process
  • If there are several people connected to the same prospect, take a team approach – determine each person’s strengths and deploy them when most appropriate
  • The WHO isn’t just about making the ask, but is also about making sure the RIGHT people are involved in engaging prospects and delivering personal, high-impact stewardship
  • When in doubt, ask someone who knows. Don’t try to guess what a prospect wants or why they might be unresponsive, ask for advice from people who know them. Even board members or volunteers that are reluctant to get involved with engaging or asking a prospect directly will usually be happy to offer up advice on how to best move forward.

Whether you’re running a Friends Asking Friends campaign online or developing a major gift prospect, the WHO is a critical component of success. While increased personal fundraising might be seen as more competition for dollars, let’s instead look at it as a learning opportunity to figure how we best take their example to harness the power of relationships in our own endeavors.

Fundraising Tips and Ideas via @15SECFUNDRAISING

If you’re an Instagram user, please check out out new tips and ideas show on Instagram, @15SECFundraising.  Every week @bobosborne17 and guests give you fundraising ideas and tips via Instagram for running a strong fundraising program based on best practice and the latest in cutting edge ideas and technology.  You can also check out this blog for the latest installments.

 

 

 

Should You Adopt Radical Transparency?

imgresThe idea of radical transparency has been a popular concept in the business world for around the last decade or so.  The term gets used quite a bit but in the context of the corporate world, it essentially refers to making decisions in public, being open about data, and generally being up front in areas where a corporation has traditionally tried to do the opposite.  The idea is that in the chaotic world of the internet the only way you can influence your own reputation is to be part of the conversation in an open way.  Increasingly, I’m beginning to see nonprofits adopt the same idea.  So, should you adopt radical transparency?

My friend Dora is involved with an organization called Razom.  The organization was formed a little over a year ago in response to the Maidan movement in Ukraine.  It’s been fascinating to watch the organization over that period of time.  First, the fundraising ROI is off the charts at less than $.01 expenses per dollar raised.  But more interesting to me is their philosophy of complete financial transparency.  For instance, their financial books are a publicly viewable google doc.  Sure, it’s in cyrillic but Google will helpfully translate it for you if you haven’t kept up with your Ukrainian.  For most nonprofits, having their finances down to every last expenditure displayed for all the world to see would send the CFO running away in horror.  Additionally, when Razom was first trying to get its books in order it decided to have a “financial hackathon”.  All members of Razom were invited to participate and help get the organization organized financially.  Now, when I say “members” I mean people who have joined their Facebook page, so more or less the general public.

I love that Razom has begun its organizational life with transparency as a core value.  While I am sure Razom faces its share of challenges just like any other nonprofit, I’m going to guess that trust between the organization and its donors is not one of them.  No need for donors to guess how their money is being spent; they can see it any day at any time.  Creating the Future, a social change research and development laboratory, conducts all of its board meetings via Google Hangout, open not only to viewing by the public, but participation by the public.  What a crazy, radical, wonderful idea.

Given how poorly the vast majority of nonprofits steward their donors, we could benefit from considering these and similar practices.  Most of those who are familiar with The Osborne Group know that we consider stewardship of paramount importance.  90% of the time we see a problem with an organization and its ability to fundraise, ad hoc stewardship or a lack of it all together features into the problem prominently.  As a sector, we are bad in this area and we need to get better.  Radical transparency might be the answer.  We are not saying that you have to conduct your board meetings in public; there is a lot of work that goes along with this.  But what if you video taped them and put them on the web?  Or maybe conducted one meeting a year open to the public?  What if you did make your P & L available on the web?  What’s the worst that could happen?

The problem, of course, is that the way philanthropy, especially institutional philanthropy from corporations and foundations, is perceived makes this concept pretty scary.  In essence, we are all terrified that if our funders saw all of our struggles that we risk losing funding.  In this day and age we are all so focused ROI and metrics that we believe deep down that if our donors know that we aren’t perfect they’ll just support some “better” or more “efficient” operation.

But what if the opposite turned out to be true?  What if the best way to show commitment to a strong ROI and social ROI was to have all of our struggles out in the open?  Wouldn’t that show and even greater commitment to being the best organization we can be?  Wouldn’t that build the most important of all bonds, trust?

Given how little most donors trust nonprofits, we would all do well to at least consider the idea.

 

The Foundation Screening List

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.24.46 AMI want to talk briefly about an important but underutilized development tool: the foundation screening list.  When we are first beginning our development careers everything we learn about foundations implies that they are pure meritocracies.  Have a good organization with a good project, write a good proposal and you’ll have as good a shot at getting funding as anyone else.  And to some extent this is true.  If you aren’t a well run organization and you don’t have a good project you probably won’t get funding.  But the reality is that you will be competing against many other meritorious organizations and not everyone one will get funded.  So, how do you stand out from the crowd?

The reality is the business of successful foundation funding is very much a “who you know” business.  I’m not saying that there is any sort of cronyism involved.  But I am saying that your ideas are more likely to be heard if you know the decision makers involved and have had a chance to talk over your work in detail.  I am saying that knowing trustees counts for a lot more than knowing program officers.  And I am saying that trustees and program officers knowing you and believing in your leadership and your ability to deliver on the promises of your proposal is critical.

So, a really valuable exercise for any organization is to know who you know on foundation boards and staffs.  How do we find this out?  The foundation screening list.

The foundation screening list is a packet of foundations (up to 25) likely to fund your organization based on their stated mission and its relevance to yours.  Each foundation gets it own page and on each page, triple or quadruple spaced, you’ll list every trustee and program officer.  If it is a large foundation then just list the relevant program officer.  You can see a sample layout here.

Now, what do we do with foundation screening list once we have one?  Sit down with your staff, your board and other volunteers, friends and anyone else willing to listen to you.  Ask them to flip through the list and see if they know anyone.  Ask them to write in the margins who they know and any important information about them.  Ask them if there is any foundation or anyone not on the list that they would be willing to contact.

Ask them if they’d be willing to help set up a meeting with anyone they know.

Over time you should get a pretty good catalog of who knows who and hopefully have people setting up meetings on your behalf.  Record everything in your database.

Webinar: Employing Metrics for Effective Course Corrections

It’s a great time to asses your development program to make adjustments and course corrections. Osborne Group consultant Laurel McCombs helps you identify key metrics to assess your development operations and walk through how to best put that data to use in developing your plan for the coming year.