Saturday, 22 March 2014

That Mythical Beast... 

the Fundraising Board.

     So here I am again, shaking my head when everyone else is nodding in agreement. 

I read a terrific blog this morning on questions fundraisers should ask the organisation during the interview process. You can read it here:  *

I agree with pretty much everything except:

2) It’s the job of the board of directors to work with you in setting the development goals and in raising the necessary funds, not yours alone. Does 100% of the board make a gift or get a gift? Are they required to give? How involved is the board in fundraising? Is there a board committee whose sole purpose it is to cultivate donors, to share contacts and to make “the ask”? 

Yes, it is their job. But the reality on the ground, for small and medium sized charities, is far from that ideal. This ideal is flogged constantly at all our fundraising conferences in the US. But it's largely determined by the size of your charity.

First let's take a look at the US charity sector by size. There are over 1.5 million charites. Only about 40,000(2.6%) have a budget over €1 million and only about 10,000(.66%) have a budget over $10 million. (2012 est.)

The bigger the charity, the better it looks on a c.v. to be a board member. Those charities can attract some pretty heavy hitters who have the connections and the confidence to raise big money. Once you have a few heavy hitters it attracts a lot of ambitious people who want to be part of that network.

However, the boards of smaller charities are usually made up of people from the community who have some programmatic expertise, or have volunteered in or been touched by the programmes. They tend to be heavily focused on mission and services, not on fundraising. They hire fundraising staff so they don't have to do it.

Here are the various board scenarios I've seen in action:

The Heavy Hitters - Your charity board is one of the rungs toward the top of the social & business ladder. You probably have a waiting list of people who want to play with the big guys.

The Engaged Board with a variety of skills - They all give, even though some of them only give$100 a year. A few have connections they share. They sell tickets, help bring in a few sponsors and secure auction items for the gala. One or two might....might get involved in a major ask.

The Working Board - These people have all come to the board through some level of involvement or expertise in the programmes. They're generally supportive of fundraising but don't want to be involved.

The Well Meaning but Clueless Board - This is usually a charity moving from all volunteer to their first paid staff, including a fundraiser. They don't understand why you can't just do more bake sales and pub quizzes to bring in the $1 million they hired you to raise. Ah bless... such nice people.

The Nightmare Board - These social climbing showboats want you to make a name for them. They want high profile events and lots of publicity but they bring very little to the table. They'll make your life miserable, blaming you for the failure of all their bad ideas. We've all been there....walk away!

I'm sure there are a number of variations on these themes. But my point is, the ideal that is constantly flogged to us is exactly that, an ideal. So go ahead and work toward it. But, if  you'll only work in charities that meet the ideal... you're a precious little so and so. Good luck with that.

For those of us who work in small and medium sized charities, relax and work with what you've got. You may be able to move it toward the ideal or you may not. But you're still responsible for raising funds. Don't use the Board as an excuse. Work around it...that's just reality. If it's a nightmare, walk away. 

*101FUNDRAISING is a terrific blog. You can follow them on Twitter  @101fundraising

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ugly Stepchild...?

     Anyone who knows me… knows I’m not a secretive person. But up until now I’ve only given random public glimpses into the donor communications programme that built Merchant Quay Ireland’s fundraising income from €200K a year to €2.2mil a year in 5 years(in a recession). Over the next few weeks I plan to put my results out in public. From Acquisition to Appeals and Monthly Giving. Some of it will be beautiful… some of it… not so much. 

     Let’s start with what is often the ugly stepchild of fundraising... the Donor Newsletter.

     Newsletters are a HUGE part of our fundraising programme. A great newsletter tells wonderful stories about how donors are changing the world. A great newsletter also raises funds… by thanking, not asking. Our newsletters average a 7:1 ROI (700% return on investment) and they drive donor loyalty and retention. As you can probably guess, our newsletter is no ugly stepchild… it’s our precious baby.

  My newsletters are written by the extraordinary Lisa Sargent. She also writes a great e-newsletter called The Loyalty Letter. Below is an excerpt.

Can You (Finally) Ditch Your Donor Newsletter?
Never-Before-Revealed Results Offer New Insights

     Sooner or later, someone in your organisation will ask if it's (finally) time to replace, cut back on, or eliminate entirely, your direct mail donor newsletter. What I reveal here suggests these are the wrong questions to ask altogether... 

     Since 2010 -- as part of a simple donor communications plan that MQI's Head of Fundraising Denisa Casement and I orchestrated – MQI has mailed donor-focused newsletters three times every year.

Until this year, 2014. 

This year, the newsletter increases to four times.

Seriously? Who in this day and age mails more? Why not just switch to email? (After all, it's "free.") 

MQI's direct mail donor newsletter response rates, never before revealed, show you why we upped the ante:

  • 2011, response rates of 6.35%, 6.59% and 8.00%.
  • 2012, response rates of 7.40%, 7.33%, and 12.08%.
  • 2013, response rates of 9.90%, 12.38%, and 12.73%.

Upward trajectory. From a newsletter. And a profitable one, at that.

For the record, this hasn't killed their donor retention rate. Au contraire. It now stands at sixty percent, double that of most U.S. nonprofits. (And no, their file is not dying. We do acquisition rollouts 2-3 times per year. The database has grown over 5X in as many years. Five times.) *see note

So if your direct mail donor newsletter is underperforming, the question is NOT: should we cut back on mailings? 

And it is NOT: Should we replace it with email only?

And it is DEFINITELY NOT: Do we ditch it altogether?

The real questions you should ask are: 
WHAT are we not doing... 
HOW do we do what's right... 
And HOW FAST can we transform our direct mail donor newsletter so it gets (much) better results?

Five years ago, MQI's team took a chance and invested in a relentlessly donor-centric fundraising and communications program.

So the question to ask isn't, Should you ditch your donor newsletter?

The question to ask is, What kind of success story do you want your nonprofit to tell in 5 years?

I'll be anxious to hear it.

    Lisa Sargent


     Lisa and I will be presenting a masterclass on How to Do Donor Communications for Relationships, Retention and Results at Fundraising Ireland’s National Fundraising Conference.

     We’ll cover all facets of our donor communications and reveal 5 years of detailed results from Donor Acquisition, Appeals and Newsletters.

     To read Lisa’s Loyalty Letter in its entirety, click here

You can follow both of us on Twitter 
@lisasargent2        @DenisaCasement 

*The donor base has grown from approx 500 to over 13,000. Lisa only had figures from our 2nd year on.