May 11, 2016

I’m on a cool list from a cool guy with other cool people!

Who should influence the future of fundraising? Just read Mark Phillips “Queer Ideas” fundraising blog.

I’m so proud to be on the list with other cool people like Shanon Doolittle and Rory Green and Roger Craver and Jen Love and more…

Here’s why you need to read this blog:

  • Because Mark himself is marvelous. Check out his blogs and tweets and his company, Bluefrog.
  • Because you’ll meet some people you may not know. You can visit their websites and tweets and blogs and…
  • And please please… Watch the imbedded video, Fundraising Theatre 2012. If you haven’t ever seen Tony Elischer, watch close. Tony died too young and too early. But he invented and created some of the most fun and illuminating and weirdly different presentations and extravaganzas that you’ll ever see.
May 2, 2016

Where can you get money?

Step #1: Read this issue of The Agitator about giving across generations. Read my response, posted at the Agitator.

Step #2: Study the infographic.

Step #3: Review the original report from Blackbaud.

Step #4: Share the infographic with your boss, the program staff, and the board. Explain the implications. Offer insights. And, of course, make sure your development staff understands, acknowledges, accepts, and performs accordingly!!!

Step #5: Stop the crap. (“Oh my gosh, we need to focus on millennials and get gifts from them.”)

Step #6: Pay attention to research. You know: FACTS. SCIENCE. Destroy ill-informed personal opinion as soon as it rears its silly, ugly head.

Step #7: Please please please. Could we please build a profession? Could we please behave like professionals?

Thank you.


April 15, 2016

More songs to learn from

Have you been reading (and listening!) to my series about learning from songs and their lyrics?

So here’s a suggestion from David Kravinchuck, the chief Advice Dispenser at Fundraising Pharmacy. Such a cool company name! (And David is planned the new Western Canada Fundraising Conference!)

Here’s what David says about the lyrics: “It’s a lament that so many donors could be sharing with the charities they give to. ‘When you’ve laid your hands upon me and told me who you are…’ is just about the perfect way to describe most of the … communications sooo many orgs STILL use.”

I very much agree with David!

Here are some of the most hard-hitting lyrics … for the donor (or lover!)

How does it feel
To treat me like you do
When you’ve laid laid your hands upon me
And told me who you are

I thought I was mistaken
I thought I heard your words
Tell me how do I feel
Tell me now how do I feel


I thought I told you to leave me
While I walked down to the beach
Tell me how does it feel
When your heart grows cold
(grows cold, grows cold, grows cold)

March 28, 2016

A lovely thank you and extraordinary experience

One of my clients sent me a lovely email. Reading this email was an extraordinary experience for me…something to cherish and remember…causing me to smile and reflect on our time together. Reading this email reminds me how important “thank you” is….And how special a thank you is that shares memories of our time together and…

The executive director wrote: “You have been on my mind a lot lately, first the terrible Paris event and then the Planned Parenthood in Colorado. Our world seems to be so out of control and we grieve with you; by knowing you and your passion for both Paris and Planned parenthood, your causes have become our causes. Please know that we are watching to see where our advocacy can be effective. In February, we’ll be attending a D.C. conference and will be looking to voice our concerns not just on housing but on violence as well.

“Thank you seems like such a small thing when you have had such a huge impact on our board. Last night was our first board meeting since the Board retreat and people were talking about what was new to them and eagerly signed the Board Member agreement and approved the Board expectation agreement as well as the new Board committees;  Governance, Finance and Resource Development. (Executive committee and HR committees were nixed by consensus). Chris is doing a great job of highlighting what are management responsibilities  and what are Board responsibilities.  All good stuff.”

How often do I send those kinds of notes? How about you?

Filed under: Leadership

March 21, 2016

Read and share – and fight for these!

Three really great blog reads.

Read. Learn. Share with staff colleagues, bosses, and boards.

Explain why. Help staff, bosses, and boards understand and accept and own and focus on the right stuff.

That’s your job. To use the right stuff from the right people. Explain the why. Help all those others accept and own and focus on the right stuff, not the wrong stuff.

This takes time. And I’m not talking weeks or months!


And if you can’t get this done… Look in the mirror first. Maybe you’re the problem. But maybe you’re not the problem. Maybe they’re the problem.

Find an ally (or two) to help you help them get it.

And if that doesn’t work…. Look for another job. You deserve better.

Filed under: Resources / Research

February 22, 2016

Relationship fundraising: Finally!!! Research so we can do it even better

Guru Ken Burnett wrote the book, Relationship Fundraising. Seminal book. Important that every single fundraiser read it.

And now, the gurus at the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, Plymouth University, U.K. have done the research. Download the relationship fundraising research now. Read it. Apply it! Visit Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang, and Ian MacQuillin, who are doing work that needs to be done.

Shame on us fundraisers and our fundraising:

  • Fundraisers and fundraising rely too much on war stories and what others have done before. Yes, those others were (and are!) often marvelous. But where’s the research?
  • Fundraising is the biggest industry in the world running on war stories and conventional wisdom,” someone recently said. (But I don’t remember whom!)
  • Research from the Science of Philanthropy Institute at the University of Chicago notes that, overall only 7% of the surveyed nonprofits consult research before making fundraising decisions. That’s awful! And only 45% of the survey participants said they sometimes look at research.

This is no way to run a business!!!!

So read the research about relationship fundraising. Read the commentary at Critical Fundraising here and here.

Let’s make fundraising more effective. Please.


February 4, 2016

My stories…NOT YOURS!

Every fundraiser knows that story telling is critical. And stories are full of feelings. You know…all those emotions…like anger, fear, greed, guilt, flattery, exclusivity, salvation. And hope and love and and and…

Suddenly reason steps in. The fundraiser is explaining the rational rationale why you, the donor, should give. Oh my. Oh dear. Could we be any dumber? Yes, just plain dumb according to tons of research. (Just visit Tom Ahern and all his writings about neuroscience from all those neuroscience researchers. Read Seth Godin’s great blog, “A reason persuasion is surprisingly difficult.” And check out the research he’s referring to.

That’s bad enough….pursuing reason when emotion is what makes action happen. (I just love this quote by Canadian neurologist Donald Calne: “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions.” As a fundraiser – or marketer of any kind – I hope you want action!)

But too often, fundraisers (and their board members and staff colleagues) get confused about which stories and whose stories. Then the story listening part of the work gets lost somewhere in translation. You’re not listening to my story. And rest assured, that can get pretty ugly. Check out this article about fundraisers denying me my story.

Seth is pretty darn great at talking about story telling and story listening and who the story belongs to. Here’s one of my Seth all-time favorites. “The brand is a story. But it’s a story about you, not the brand.” And the “you” is the prospect, the donor, the customer, the buyer…

Here’s how Seth describes marketing – and what I call the non-listening problem. “Marketing is the empathetic act of telling a story that works, that’s true for the person hearing it, that stands up to scrutiny. But marketing is not about merely sharing what you, the marketer believes. It’s about what we, the listener, believe.”

And here’s one last thought: “Everything is a tale. What we believe, what we know. What we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating an emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated.” [Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game]


January 18, 2016

Inspiring success … and sharing success!

I received this email below from Vicki in Queensland, Australia. Thank you, Vicki, for inspiring us all.

“Earlier this year – at the Fundraising Institute of Australia conference in Brisbane, you inspired us. You asked us to go out and create extraordinary experiences for our donors. And that stuck in my all year.

“I’m a member of the Queensland FIA committee and I help organization our professional development breakfasts. We only have two each year plus the Christmas drinks event. At the recent Christmas Drinks event – as a way of celebrating the great work our fundraising professionals do all year round, we asked that people share their Extraordinary Experiences.

“We had some lovely stories and I just wanted you to know that you have been the inspiration behind this. Each person that shared their story received a special certificate and the best storyteller received a bottle of Moet!

“The celebrations were held poolside at the beautiful Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa.”

Inspiring each other to develop extraordinary experiences for donors. Experiencing extraordinary experiences yourself. Sharing stories and listening to other people’s stories.

How perfect this was. And there were prizes and apparently it was warm as they were poolside!

November 30, 2015

My donors…Your donors…Our donors…Whose donors?

“Yes, the Smiths are my donors,” said the Major Gifts Officer. The Annual Fund Director responds, “But the Smiths used to be my donors.”

The direct marketing team talks about their donors…not to be confused with the donors belonging to the special events team.

And me? I’m thinking this is rather weird and slightly uncomfortable. I’m wondering how the Smiths and Jones and Mrs. Thomas and all the other donors would feel if they overheard fundraisers talking.

Perhaps we fundraisers and our organizations could improve the conversation by – at the least – talking about the donors as our organization’s donors. Possibly – at least – the donors are part of our organization’s family.

Donors as part of the organization’s family. Donors as part of the team working together to save the children and the cats and dogs and the tundra and the trees. Donors as teammates fighting for human rights and healthcare and more theatre.

That certainly sounds better.

But…Be careful.

What do you think donors think about? Do you think donors think a lot about your organization? Do you think your donors think about belonging to your organization?

Donors think about their own lives and their own joys and worries and challenges and jobs and families and schedules and responsibilities and……….

And when it comes to giving time and money, donors think about their own interests and their aspirations. Donors think about what they’re trying to accomplish with their gifts.

The Smiths look for an organization to give through to fulfill their own aspirations. The Smiths don’t think about belonging to your organization. Furthermore, I suspect the Smiths get rather annoyed when they used to speak with that person in the annual fund and then got transferred to a major gifts person.

Donors don’t belong to us. Donors belong to themselves.

And while we fundraisers and our organizations (hopefully!) think lots about donors because we are donor-centered (hopefully!)……donors just don’t think that much about us.

Here’s what Jeff Brooks said in his October 22, 2015 blog:

  • Your donors are not your donors — as in, an asset you own or control.
  • But your organization is their charity — something they use to accomplish their goals.
  • Keep this distinction in mind, and your fundraising will be a lot better.



October 28, 2015

Bad government regulation…silent NGOs…cautious fundraisers…

I’m thinking this is a recipe for failure:

  • Several cups of: Government that doesn’t analyze; and, eliminates any input from fundraisers.
  • A couple cups of: Overly sweet NGOs with no tartness or saltiness at all.
  • Add a big dose of fear.
  • Add a pinch of arrogance.
  • Mix well to ensure no discernible flavor.

And there you have it… Nonsensical government regulation…sour and rotten. Accompanied by very few dissident voices because fear overcomes clear thinking and the will to fight.

Damn it. This is a too-commonly baked recipe in the nonprofit sector. 

Are you wondering what I’m taking about? A current British recipe resulting from the suicide of Olive Cooke. Her death is attributed to the crass fundraising strategies of ignoble nonprofits. Yes, that’s the hue and outcry from British media, and some vocal leaders of the nonprofit sector, mostly unchecked by thoughtful leaders.

What a silly, sorry accusation for an apparently lovely woman who gave time and money to charities that she cared about. How unfortunate that the nonprofit sector isn’t more respected and valued. Too sad that condemnation and threats cause so many to stay too silent.

So now there will be new regulations in the U.K. Bad new regulations that will hurt those in most need.

[A momentary aside: Despite the absurdity of “suicide due to fundraising,” it’s certainly valid to ask how NGOs and their fundraisers raise money. How we treat donors…How often we contact donors…What kind of choice we give donors…How we justify our voracious fundraising strategies with so little care for our donors…And on and on and on. Perhaps this is the wake-up call our sector needs?]

Don’t think that this can only happen in the U.K. Oh my, no! I’ve seen similar recipes in the U.S. for decades and decades. I listen to worried colleagues around the world.

Surely this entire situation – including response from the media and the sector and donors – is a useful conversation to have in your organization. What to do? Try the following:

  1. Assign your staff to read about Olive Cooke and the U.K. debacle. Then read Adrian Sargeant’s blog and The Agitator blog by guru Roger Craver. Now talk.
  2. Spend some time at an upcoming board meeting talking about the British situation. Then identify similar situations in your country. Talk about your NGO’s role in speaking out for or against public policy. Talk about how you might respond to donors who might be curious or even worried.
  3. Gather together some of your fundraising colleagues around your community – maybe your local fundraising association. Explore topics like: Position of the nonprofit sector, its value and respect for it… Speaking out as a sector, focusing on facts rather than hysteria and frenzy…

More recipes like this produce a weakened NGO sector. And a weakened NGO sector harms our communities, our societies, and – yes – the entire world.

So let’s get our act together. Please.


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