September 15, 2014

My take on ice buckets

Now to the ice bucket challenge.

Notice how long it’s taken me to comment.

Everyone is writing about the ice-bucket challenge. Part of me says … so why would I? On the other hand, why not?

My opening comment: Yes, yes, yes. Amazing. Stunning.

The ice bucket challenge raised millions and millions of dollars. So much money that it doesn’t matter (I suppose) if any of the participants become real donors rather than gimmick responders.

My earliest thought was: “Yippee. ALS raised some one-off money. But will the donors renew or were they just playing the game?”

But the reality is, ALS raised sooooo much moonneeyyy… That actually transitioning into donors (more than a one-off game participant) doesn’t matter much. That’s my perspective today.

BUT! And this is my constant ongoing worry based on what I see all the time: For heaven’s sake… please let’s not think that it’s okay just to do one-off gimmicks and forget about donor retention.

For example, consider slacktivism: Read Seth Godin’s great blog about ice and slackers. And watch out for the weasels that Jeff Brooks’ thinks are coming. And check out The Agitator’s September 5 ice bucket versus leaky bucket.

Now every NGO is going to try to invent a gimmick that goes viral. But how often do things go viral – not very often! So how much time will organizations invest in creating a gimmick? What will be the opportunity cost?

Where is the long-term thinking and strategizing? Neither fundraising nor relationships nor life have Twitter versions. Fundraising and donors and people and relationships and living and life and… is more than Twitter…is more than a blog…is more than an ice bucket.

How about all those “likes” on your organization’s Facebook page? Are the likers giving you money? How about that peer-to-peer fundraising? Did my mom give your charity a gift after I no longer got her to do so because she’s my mom?

How many more ice-bucket challenges will there be that actually work…and raise so much money that retention doesn’t matter? Just because there is technology and social media and the internet and and … Does that mean that everything we really know…like loyalty…can be ignored?

I hope not.

June 26, 2014

Favorite quotations: relationships

I’ve told you before: I collect quotations … and have since I was a teenager. Notebooks full. And from various sources …. romance novels, spy and police action, science fiction fantasy, serious literature, business books, etc.

I use quotes to inspire myself. To include in articles and start chapters in books. I use quotes in my workshop handouts.

So here are some favorite quotations about relationships and relationship building. Maybe you’ll find a use for them – even if it’s “just” inspiration!

“Relationship fundraising is an approach to the marketing of a cause which centres not around raising money but on developing to its full potential the unique and special relationship that exists between a charity and its supporter. Whatever strategies and techniques are employed to boost funds, the overriding consideration in relationship fundraising is to care for and develop that special bond…” [Relationship Fundraising: A Donor-Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money, 1992]

Sir Denys Lasdun, English architect said, “The architect’s job is to give a client not what he wants but what he never dreamed that he wanted; and when he gets it, he recognizes it as something he wanted all the time.” Just substitute “fundraising” for “architect.”

“You’ll have more fun and success when you stop trying to get what you want and start helping other people get what they want.” [Dale Carnegie, 1930s American self-help guru, How to Win Friends and Influence People]

“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 emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated.” [Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game]”

June 13, 2014

Who knew? Tips for fundraising

I hope you find these tips useful – and even curiously enjoyable.

1.  Over and over I hear about the increased giving through social media, through an organization’s website. But is this giving? Or are people just paying through your website. Were they actually solicited through direct mail or telephone or? “Giving” and “paying” are a distinction that makes a big difference. Read this:  The Agitator Communication Versus Transaction.

2.  Read Norma Cameron‘s A Fundraiser Bill of Rights, posted on SOFII. Thanks, SOFII for sharing this globally. Tom  and I talked about writing one but never got around to it. Wow. Norma! This is great!

3.  Have you seen Every Annoying Conference Call — if it were in real life.  This is sooooo funny and sooooo true and sooooo frustrating.

4.  Check out Pamela Grow’s e-news, February 27, 2014: The cult of donor-centricity. This is sooooo good!

5.  And finally, for today, check out social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk: Your body language shapes who you are. Remember that old saying, “Fake it till you make it.” And check out Albert Mehrabian’s communications research:

  • 7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
  • 38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
  • 55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression.
February 2, 2014

Memories from SMU

Imagine me humming Barbara Streisand’s version of the song.

I’ve told you before how much I love teaching in the  Masters Program in Philanthropy and Development at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Okay. Sure, dorm living isn’t totally great. But honestly – even dorm living has its good moments!

The SMU experience is for those who want to work with a team, your very own cohort. If you want an intense exploration of philanthropy and the NGO sector – and, actually, life and your own philosophies.

Check out these videos that we watched and talked about in the first course, “Frameworks for Thinking and Working.” You can apply these to your management, your fundraising, your leadership…and your life, too.

Maybe you want all your agency’s staff to watch these together and talk. For sure, let’s have the fundraising staff watch and talk about.


January 15, 2014


Think like a fundraiser, feel like a donor. Very nice blog at Hillborn. Canadian publisher and e-news and blogs and… The author of “think/feel” is Jose van Herpt at Good Works. And she is co-author of a great book on bequests, Iceberg Philanthropy.

For ever-reliable nagging (absolutely necessary!) about measures (key performance indicators/KPIs), read I really like this one at this moment. Lifetime value (LTV) anyone? I sure home so.

For small development offices, read The Grow Report. Good tips. Good resources. Pam knows what you’re trying to do. And here’s a reference from Pam, “a beautiful, thought-provoking piece from Richard Perry of Veritus. Listen to me please.” And Pam asks us, are you listening to your donors? Really?

Read this interesting article by Mark Hierlihy, CauseMark, about selfies. I’m so bored with the focus on self. But when Mark talks about capturing special moments…and the possible use for NGOs…pretty cool!

I’ve said it before – and I say it again, “Social media (and technology) are not the answer to all life’s problems.” In fact, technology and social media are getting to be a problem. Have you seen the “get off the phone video“?

Here’s an interesting question: Do you see your donor services staff as a cost center or profit center? Check out the conversation at The Agitator, 01-13/14.

December 27, 2013

Great stuff from other people

“What’s attention worth?” asks Seth Godin in his 12-17-13 blog. “Marketers that fail are often impatient and selfish.” (Think fundraisers!) “Impatient, because they won’t invest in the long-term job of earning familiarity, permission and trust.” (Think fundraisers and fundraising and your boss and boards that want money right now! Hurry up!)

Earn! Earn familiarity. Don’t pursue visibility, hoping that “everyone will know you and then send money.”

Earn permission and trust. Remember how important trust is to loyalty. Just read Adrian Sargeant‘s work. Read The Agitator. Read Jeff Brooks and Tom Ahern. Read all the great people.

Now think about Seth’s word “selfish.” So many nonprofit organizations and fundraisers and fundraising programs are selfish. Focused on the organization and all the good the organization does. Forgetting (or on purpose ignoring?) donor centrism and customer centrism.

Wow. Basic flaw. It’s not about you and your organization and your amazing staff. It’s all about the wonderful donor whose investment allows you and your organization and your amazing staff to do stuff. And without those donors, you won’t be able to do much.

You can’t demand attention, as Seth so clearly notes. It’s not about you. It’s about the person who is paying attention. “We call it ‘paying attention’ for a reason. It’s worth quite a bit, and ought to be cherished.”

That’s good fundraising.

November 17, 2013

Useful tips for customer and donor relations

Check out Charles Green‘s The Trust Matters Blog. Read this wonderful book, The Trusted Advisor, co-authored by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford.

I really liked a few of the “Blog Picks o’ the Week” in The Trust Matters Blog. For example:

And I really liked Think Like a Buddhist, Sell Like a Rock Star. Read about these statements:

I hope lots of this sounds familiar. This is your nonprofit’s work…. Selling tickets to your performance. Selling enrollment to your school. Engaging your customers. And who are your customers? Your clients and your volunteers and your donors and…

Maybe you want to subscribe to Charles Green’s blog. For sure, you want to pay lots of attention to trust. Adrian Sargeant tells us that is one of the key drivers of donor loyalty.

Filed under: Resources / Research

October 29, 2013

Lovely thank-you letters

Sometimes nonprofits behave as if the thank-you letter is the end of the relationship with the donor. After all, we got the gift. The donor is ours. Let’s move on to the next donor.


For the first-time donor, the thank-you letter is the start of the relationship. For loyal donors, the thank-you letter is a meaningful continuation of the donor journey, an important wayside moment.

Or maybe not. Maybe your thank-you letter is just pro forma, not particularly interesting, somewhat boring. Not worthy of a smile, not particularly special.

Tom and I are long-time donors to NCLR, the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “The audacity to fight for justice. The perseverance to win.” I like that “positioning statement.” NCLR launches legal battles, goes to court for justice.

So here are my favorite parts of the letter that accompanied the annual report. No solicitation. Just a thank you.

Let’s start with the salutation: “Dear Simone and Tom.” As loyal donors, the executive director calls us by our first names. And she knows that it is “Tom,” not “Thomas.”

First sentence: “I am honored, as always, to enclose NCLR’s 2012 Annual Report.”

A paragraph I particularly like: “I have also included our 2013 Donor Survey. It would mean so much to me – and would help to share and improve our communications with you and our careful stewardship of your giving – if you would complete it and return it to us. (And then Kate, the Executive Director and signer of the letter, offers me the online link, too.)

Here’s the paragraph I just love! “The accomplishments highlighted within this Annual Report are as much yours as they are NCLR’s — without you, none of this would have been possible. There is truly no way to fully express what your support and investment mean to NCLR.”

Tom and I are part of the team. As Tom always says, we are on the field, part of the team. We donors are not up in the grandstands cheering the team on the playing field. We are on the playing field, too.

And then the last sentence of the letter: “Without the right words, I am left only with the two that come closest: Thank you.

And Kate signs it, “In gratitude.”

Look at those two final sentences together: “There is truly no way to fully express what your support and investment mean to NCLR. Without the right words, I am left only with the two that come closest: Thank you.”

Yes, I might make some tweaks. For example, I might say: “…what your support and investment mean to NCLR and all those fighting for justice.” Or: “…what your support and investment mean to the fight for justice.”

Whatever… I was moved. The letter is staying in my files as a good example. Tom wants to put it in his donor-centered communications slide show when he presents. And that donor survey? Yes. Yes. Yes. Smart and important. Donor satisfaction with the fundraising office is one of the major retention criterion.

October 17, 2013

Yet again, resources

I know. Maybe you’re tired of me recommending resources. But hey! I see myself as a curator of good info.

1.  I recommend that everyone subscribe to Roger Dooley’s neuroscience marketing e-news. A recent issue offers this very cool persuasion concept. (And then The Agitator people produced an e-news with more info, too. And, speaking of persuasion, check out Robert Cialdini, the influence guru. Read his books, too!)

Roger Dooley also tells us how to persuade people with BYAF (But You Are Free). This can double your success rate. Read this one and try it.

And – for amusement but also insight – read the newest Roger, “Women Can Be Irrational, Too.”

2.  Never forget those great agitator people, Roger Craver and Tom Belford. A must-read for all fundraisers (and their bosses and boards) is the October 3, 2013 myth-busting e-news from The Agitator is “Dangerous Myth #1: Too Much Solicitation Causes Poor Retention.” Read it. Destroy that myth in your organization. And raise more money.

3.  Check out Larry Johnson’s “Misplaced focus-misspent energy.” Also see Larry’s book The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising.

4. Look at the love pyramid from John Lepp of Toronto’s Agents of Good. The love pyramid can replace that typical donor pyramid. Just try it!

5. I subscribe to Seth Godin‘s daily blog. I read Seth for his general strategic approach to stuff. My most recent favorites:

  • “When to speak up,” September 28, 2013. Seth talks about decision-making and speaking up. The blog makes me think about conversation, which is inquiry not advocacy. Conversation, both formal and informal. Avoiding dysfunctional politeness. Remembering that silence is consent. Complainers complaining about decisions made when those complainers didn’t offer insights before the decision was made. So check out that blog.
  • And here’s one for sales people (which includes fundraisers): “The failure of the second ask,” September 19, 2013. Seth says: “Asking the first time might be brave. Asking again (more forcefully) after you get a no is selfish and dumb.”

6. Then there’s Jeff Brooks and his daily blog, Future Fundraising Now. My recent favorites from Jeff:

7. And today’s last recommendation, visit the new on-line learning community, the Knowledge Fountain. The Knowledge Fountain offers courses, and provides an on-line chat room about nonprofit topics. Take a look. Topics include social media and analytics, fundraising, marketing communications, personal productivity, and more.

Filed under: Resources / Research

August 27, 2013

Customer centric is the DNA of fundraising

Malcolm Sproull, Fundraising Manager  for SHINE, New Zealand, posted the following on LinkedIn:

“I came to the philanthropy/non-profit sector after 25 years in relationship selling and marketing in the commercial world. I never knew anyone could ask anyone for money if the asker wasn’t customer centric. It’s the fundamental DNA of relationship selling, which was the foundation for Ken Burnett’s book Relationship Fundraising.

“But your book [Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships] was the first I came across in the non-profit sector illustrating the need to be so focused and to put one’s energies into seeking out the “pre-disposed”.

“It was the first time I had confirmation that the relationship selling principles I was then applying to the non-profit sector were not off the rails. At that early entry into the non-profit sector on many occasions I thought I had stepped into the Twilight Zone. Your books and those of Tom Ahern’s were and are a brilliant help.”

Thank you, Martin, for that marvelous testimonial about Keep Your Donors, written by Tom and me. But more importantly, thank you for your insights. Hey everyone, pay attention to what Martin says:

  • A donor is a customer. Think customer centric. Then you’ll understand donor centric.
  • No one can ask for money unless they are donor centric!
  • Customer centric and donor centric are the DNA of relationship building.
  • For heavens’ sake, read Ken Burnett’s seminal book Relationship Fundraising.
  • Focus. Identify those that you suspect might be predisposed to your cause. Avoid cold calling.
  • Once you’ve identified some predisposed, qualify them as prospects…or leave them alone! A prospect means someone who has actually expressed interest. Don’t confuse the predisposed and actual prospects.

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