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.

Crowdfunding: When and How to Use It

Picture 3One of the hot new topics around fundraising in 2012 was the idea of crowdfunding.  Over a billion dollars was raised worldwide through crowdfunding in 2011 and those numbers were expected to nearly double in 2012, with nearly half the total going to nonprofits.  That’s a huge amount of money, making it hard to deny the fact that crowdfunding has become an important fundraising channel.

So, should your nonprofit use crowdfunding?  Well, maybe.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of crowdfunding.  Its online and viral nature make it a potentially very effective way to fundraise raise in our social media driven world.  But it’s no silver bullet as I’ve discovered myself through crowdfunding campaigns that I personally have been involved with and those of people I know and work with.  Below are some quick tips on how and when to use crowdfunding effectively.

  1. If you build it they will NOT come –  I find that there is always the temptation and belief in the online world that if you start a blog, a website, podcast, etc. that subscribers will appear all on their own.  I think most of us realize by now that this is not the case and the same holds true for a crowdfunding campaign.  Simply starting a campaign and hoping it will magically go viral is the recipe for failure.  Like everything in fundraising, you must get the campaign in front of the right people.
  2. The normal rules apply –  It feels like every year in fundraising there is a “new” way of doing things.  But I find that fundraising is based on some firm rules that rarely change.  As in all fundraising, crowdfunding is most effective when your volunteers have active involvement and ownership of your campaign.  The most successful crowdfunding campaigns start with friends, family and colleagues donating and spreading the word; it goes viral from there.
  3. Clear impact and outcomes matter – The most effective campaigns pick a clear project and clearly express the difference it will make.  Campaigns that focus on general support have a much harder time of being successful.  Many campaigns have giveaways based on a donation level; it’s more important to communicate the impact that donations will have.
  4. Big money is hard to raise – Yes, there are many stories out there of very successful crowdfunding campaigns that raise into six figures, the most famous of which is probably Mathew Inman’s (of the Oatmeal fame) campaign for a Tesla Museum.  But this the exception.  A quick scan of charitable projects will show you that $25,000 or less is far more common and realistic.

So, given the above facts, when should you use crowdfunding?

  • When you have a clear and specific project
  • When you have volunteers that are willing to support it through email, social media, etc.
  • When you have the time and resources to regularly post progress updates, video, etc.
  • When you only need a modest amount of money

OK, lets say you meet the above criteria.  Which platform should you use for your campaign.  Here are a few to consider:

  • Kickstarter – The most famous; more geared toward tech and project start ups than nonprofits but certainly charitable causes can be done.  You must reach your goal or the money is returned to investors.
  • Indiegogo – My personal favorite, this site is well set up for charitable causes and well integrated into social media.  You have an option of whether to make the project “all or nothing” or if you can keep the money even if you don’t hit your goal.
  • StartSomeGood – uses a “tipping point” model where your project can be partially funded if it reaches a threshold where you can minimally proceed.
  • Crowdrise – Volunteers can fundraising on their own for any charity already registered on the site.
  • GlobalGiving – worldwide crowdfunding.

Once you’ve selected a site, here are some tips to make your campaign successful:

  1.  Get volunteers – Before you launch, make sure that you have a number of volunteers that are willing to personally give and promote the campaign via face to face and their own social media.  Volunteers will get your campaign out there and give it some momentum.
  2. Pick a clear project and a realistic goal – Pick a project that is concrete with easy to understand outcomes and pick a goal that is realistic.  Remember, people aren’t going to give you $1,000 (probably) because of an email request.  Crowdfunding is mostly “small ball” with two and three figure donations, so plan accordingly.
  3. Give Personally – I always check to see if the campaign sponsors have personally given.  If you haven’t, why should I?
  4. Communicate – Communicate to your donors and potential donors on a regular basis.  Update them on the progress of the campaign and demonstrate impact through words, pictures and videos.

We are sure to see a lot about crowdfunding in the coming year.  Experiment and see how your nonprofit might use this new channel for fundraising effectively.

You can follow me on twitter @bobosborne17