Thursday, April 28, 2011

BIG’s Blog: The Realization and the Opportunity – Part Two

The Opportunity
In my last blog, I used a recent article by Seth Godin wherein he is talking about changes in our commercial economy as it affects an individual’s job and the commercial sector they work in. Then I comment on what he says, but spin it around so that the perspective is on nonprofit fund raising.

Yesterday was “The Realization,” and today is “The Opportunity.”

Seth writes:

At the same time that our economic engines are faltering, something else is happening. Like all revolutions, it happens in fits and starts, without perfection, but it’s clearly happening.

The mass market is being replaced by multiple micro markets and the long tail of choice.

Google is connecting buyers and sellers over vaster distances, more efficiently and more cheaply than ever before.
Mike’s commentary:

When Seth is talking about “Our economic engines are faltering,” he is talking explicitly of the business models that commercial companies have used for the last 50+ years. But, this has direct application to today’s fund raising methodologies. If your organization depends on direct mail fund raising as a significant portion of your revenue stream and...if you haven’t noticed by now, that engine is faltering.

What will take direct mail's place? He answers that question by stating, “The mass market is being replaced by multiple micro markets and the long tail of choice,” followed by his last statement of, “Google is connecting buyers and sellers over vaster distances, more efficiently and more cheaply than ever before.”

The short answer is that the Internet will take direct mail's place. But, more particularly for fund raisers, the move is away from “mass market” mass direct mail that all looks alike and therefore presumes that all of the individuals that they are mailing to are the same. The shift is to an Internet methodology that connects to multiple micro constituencies via Google literally down to the individual making the decision to contact your organization. Did you know that today some of the largest consumer product companies that used to spend the biggest portion of their marketing budget on TV (mass market) now spend the biggest portion of their budget with Google et al on Search?

And finally, Seth writes about “the long tail of choice.” This is a key concept that has more to do with the shifting attitudes in the generations. Younger cohorts who grew up going to malls and knowing nothing but plenty of assortment and options expect choice even in ministries. The Internet opens them to the world.
Seth writes:

The exchange of information creates ever more value, while commodity products are ever cheaper. It takes fewer employees to generate more value, make more noise and impact more people.

Right before our eyes, a fundamentally different economy, with different players and different ways to add value is being built. What used to be an essential asset is worthless, while new attributes are both scarce and valuable.
Mike’s commentary:

There is a lot here I don’t want you to miss. This is very important. When Seth writes, “The exchange of information creates ever more value,” he is talking about the interactive capability of Web-based communications. A prospect reaches out to your organization and you respond to them via email, live chat or phone person-to-person. Real communication has just happened and you are quickly creating a relationship; a real human relationship.

Seth writes, “It takes fewer employees to generate more value, make more noise and impact more people.” Fewer people...more use of technology...impacting your donors' lives more directly and much less expensively.

Seth writes, “Right before our eyes, a fundamentally different economy, with different players...” This is the challenge to established fund raising organizations. Over the next decade, many of the long-established charities and their great work are at risk of disappearing. It is not that their work is not valuable, but that they will not be able to generate the revenue they need to sustain their ministry/mission. Look around your Development department. When you embrace the new dynamic of what this new Internet-based fund raising opportunity is about, your department will look different. It means new expertise and people doing new things. It also means fewer people.
In closing, let me just let you read how Seth closes his article. But, unlike the rest of his article which pertains more to the commercial economy, this closing could have been written for nonprofit fund raisers and the Opportunity that is before them.

In 1924, Walt Disney wrote a letter to Ub Iwerks. Walt was already in Hollywood and he wanted his old friend Ubbe to leave Kansas City and join him to build an animation studio. The last line of the letter said, “P.S. I wouldn’t live in KC now if you gave me the place–yep-you bet-Hooray for Hollywood.” And, just above, in larger letters, he scrawled, “Don’t hesitate-Do it now.”

It’s not 1924, and this isn’t Hollywood, but it is a revolution, and there’s a spot for you if you realize you’re capable of making a difference. Or, you could just be frustrated. Up to you.


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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BIG’s Blog: The Realization and the Opportunity – Part One

The Realization
For regular readers of my blog, you know that one of the main themes that I watch and then blog about is the changing dynamic of digital communications and the Internet in society, especially as it applies to the fund raising work of Development departments of nonprofits. In fact, this is what Browne Innovation Group was founded to address.

If all was well with the world of fund raising, there would be no need for a consulting practice like BIG, dedicated to helping established nonprofit fund raising departments develop a new strategic plan to address these fundamental changes to our economy and in society that are reshaping “How” and “Where” we communicate with new and existing donors.

Recently, one of my favorite writers shared some thoughts that were both extremely insightful and practical to what all nonprofit fund raisers are seeing and dealing with today.

Over the next two blogs, I am going to use Seth Godin’s insights juxtaposed against how they translate to the problems that nonprofit fund raisers are facing. Seth lays out first, the Realization of this Fundamental Change and then shares the Opportunity that this Brave New Digital World opens up.

Seth writes:

It’s one thing to read about changes the Internet brought; it’s another to experience them. People who thought they had a valuable skill or degree have discovered that being an anonymous middleman doesn’t guarantee job security. Individuals who are trained to comply and follow instructions have discovered that the deal is over...and it isn’t their fault, because they’ve always done what they were told.

What’s actually happening is this: we’re realizing that the industrial revolution is fading. The 80-year long run that brought ever-increasing productivity (and along with it, well-paying jobs for an ever-expanding middle class) is ending.

It takes a long time for a generation to come around to significant revolutionary change. The newspaper business, the steel business, law firms, the car business, the record business, even by one, our industries are being turned upside down, and so quickly that it requires us to change faster than we’d like.
Mike’s commentary:

Change always comes faster than we’d like. But, the truth is that this change has been happening since the early to mid-90s. Remember, was founded in 1994 and their Web site went live in 1995. That was 16 years ago and Amazon changed retailing forever. Today, it isn’t just the fading recession that is keeping all those open spaces empty at your local mall. It’s the combination of people from the old economy jobs that are still out of work and hence not spending money and all the new online retail competition.

Yet fund raisers see this fundamental change going on around them, but, just like the newspapers, the steel companies, law firms, car dealers, the music business and computers – do you own an iPad yet? – the nonprofit fund raising world “as a whole” is slow to adapt to the digital Internet age. The implications of the Internet are going to start hitting fund raisers very soon and it may not be pretty for those that don’t actively seek to embrace it. And the fact that you have a Web site, send emails and e-newsletters, and arm your charitable gift officers with smartphones isn’t even close to enough. Just like the newspapers who still have readers, but have seen their number of advertisers decline, so too established nonprofit Development departments have donors, but are finding it tougher and tougher...and more get new donors.
Seth writes:

I regularly hear from people who say, “Enough with this conceptual stuff; tell me how to get my factory moving, my day job replaced, my consistent paycheck restored ...” There’s an idea that somehow, if we just do things with more effort or skill, we can go back to the Brady Bunch and mass markets and mediocre products that pay off for years. It’s not an idea, though; it’s a myth.

For a while, politicians...promised that things would get back to normal. Those promises aren’t enough...and it’s clear to many that this might be the new normal. In fact, it is the new normal.
Tomorrow, the Opportunity.


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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BIG’s Blog: DRTV and Web Video

For those of you who read my Monday (04-25-11) blog, Gail’s blog yesterday was a great segue way--talking about DRTV (Direct Response TV) as a real potential adjunct to your current direct mail fund raising program.

Of course, in today’s world, you don’t just put video in paid broadcast like DRTV; the same video in different length versions can be on your Web site as well as emails with embedded links to YouTube.

In fact, you can build whole campaigns around DRTV, Web, and email with video, plus direct mail. Your direct mail fund raising team has lots of direct marketing expertise and it can be argued that all marketing in the digital age is direct marketing . . . so you direct mail marketers . . . start thinking about incorporating video!

Now, think of the most successful direct mail package you or your team has ever put together. Then, check out the below “successful” online video campaign appeal and then ask yourself, “Why can’t we do that?”

Water Changes Everything.

BTW, when I looked at this video I was visitor 49,178. What’s your number? Email me and let me know. I’ll share the numbers and we can see what viral videos are all about.


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Monday, April 25, 2011

BIG's Blog: Have you considered DRTV?

I recently attended the Direct Marketing Association of Washington's monthly luncheon on Using DRTV to Affordably Increase Response from ALL of Your Media. Ron Guberman, President of Media Reactions, Inc., gave a persuasive presentation on why DRTV should be a part of your marketing/fundraising strategy.

Ron spoke to the fears that hold most organizations back from testing DRTV in their strategy. The list included:

• Initial costs too high
• Threshold too high in TV as well as risks
• The ability to work with new media (daunting)
• Concerns on the ROI

Ron addressed the myth about the high cost and stated that this is no longer true. The costs to create an ad can be less than $10,000 by using existing photos, voiceovers and other resources.

Using DRTV allows you to show and tell the audience about your mission. But, the presentation must be: compelling, persuasive, impressive, engaging and delivered with high fidelity. Incorporating these touch points effectively will influence the behavior of the audience: your prospective constituent.

So, what is stopping your organization from testing DRTV in you marketing plan? The concerns about ROI can be put to rest. The analytics that monitor both Web and inbound calls are extensive.

I would suggest that if you have not considered DRTV because of fear that you should consider speaking to the experts in this industry. The nonprofit and profit examples presented were compelling.

My take away from this event is: Let the experts do their job and your organization’s mission will reap the benefits.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

BIG’s Blog: The Post Office Closes Tomorrow

Any of you still listen a lot to commercial radio? Do they still do those interruptions for the Emergency Broadcast System or was that a relic of the Cold War? What I particularly hate about those interruptions is the obnoxious noise blast in the middle followed by the guy saying, “This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcast System; if this had been a real emergency etc., etc.”

I reference those radio interruptions with the obnoxious noise so that, in your mind, you will hear that obnoxious noise after you read, “My headline is Fiction; My headline is fiction.” We don’t want panic here.

The headline in the newspaper and online is, "The Post Office Closes Tomorrow." The money losing ($7.8 billion last year) U. S. Postal Service succumbs to the Tea Party-inspired Federal budget cutting new attitude among law makers to stop funding multi-billion dollar deficits to money losing, quasi-governmental entities. Let’s also pretend they de-fund Planned Parenthood just for good measure.

What’s your first move after coming out of a hastily called Board/Council phone conference where you have assured the Board/Council that the sky is not falling, even though you personally are wondering whether it is?

There is an old saying, “Nothing focuses the mind like running out of money.”

So, there is the scenario. The USPS has announced its closing since the congress refuses to continue to fund its losses. What is your first move to continue to generate donations?

That’s it.

I don’t know how you process emergencies in your mind but that specter is what I want you to take the next ten seconds, ten minutes or ten hours thinking about as reality today.

You never know; you may be well served by having thought about this scenario even if it’s only for ten seconds.


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Thursday, April 21, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Competition in Fund Raising

Do you believe that fund raising is competitive?

As recently as 1997, the Internal Revenue Service listed 690,000 nonprofit corporations or foundations. By 2010, the number was over 1.5 million. And, of course, this 1.5 million doesn’t include all of the unincorporated local organizations that raise money.

With or without competition, what is the key metric typically sited for fund raisers? Most boards or councils would say that the number one metric is, "Did you raise more revenue than last year?" All the fund raising ways and means still focus on this one key metric.

But, focusing on that metric without getting into the numbers and information below the numbers puts the organization at great risk for the future.

We can probably assume that most of the donors giving to your organization also give to other nonprofit organizations. The question for today is, "How many of your donors would consider your organization in their Top Five of organizations they regularly give to?" "The Top Three?" "The Top Two?"

How many of you know the donor's names who consider your organization their #1?

How many stories have we all heard of the donor that regularly gave ten or twenty dollars a year for years and years and then left a bequest of a million dollars or more?

How do you know if you don’t ask?



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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

BIG's Blog: Changing Technology – It’s not going away!

An interesting article was posted on April 11, 2011 by McKinsey Quarterly on Internet standards and mobile technology. The article focused on the changing technology and the role it plays within industries and organizations.

The article addressed a new concept defined as Web-centricty. Though a future concept, this is an example of how technology is changing at a fast pace.

At a recent fundraising conference, a speaker made the statement that direct mail, email, telemarketing and web are “old technology” and Facebook, Twitter and more are the “here and now.” To some organizations in attendance, that statement was a scary thought. If this is true, the question is, “How does a nonprofit with limited resources compete with the 1.5 million nonprofits in the US today?”

For starters, let’s look at current staff. Does your organization have the personnel with the skill set to address these new forms of communication? Do you know what skills sets are needed to address the technology?

Take the time to review your current personnel and their skill sets. Make sure data analytics as well as programming abilities are included in the review. Get outside help from the experts if you are uncomfortable in dealing with the technology.

The reality is that new technology is not going to go away.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Is This the End of Email?

Last week, an article’s headline caught my eye: "Is This the End of Email?"

I try to keep up with a lot of writers, blogs and other publications to see if what they are wrting about has relevance to fund raising. So, when this headline caught my eye out of all of the articles that I was looking at that day, I couldn’t resist teasing you with the same headline.

The author, Jeanniey Mullen, starts out telling about her work life before email . . . which many of us can relate to . . . and then walks us through her career and the impact email had both on her personally and her jobs. But, then she takes it to another level by . . .

Wait a minute; you just need to read the article yourself.

Is This the End of Email?


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Monday, April 18, 2011

BIG's Blog: The Challenges of Integrating Technology

“There are so many channels in today’s environment and all organizations need to take advantage of integrating them. You need to move quickly and master campaign integrations today because they’ll change tomorrow.” This statement was made to me by the vice president of a Christian organization about our changing world.

Continuing our discussion from yesterday’s blog on trends that affect nonprofits the most; if nonprofits don’t learn how to integrate technology quickly, it will be a challenge to keep donor's attention on our missions.

Today, people go to the Internet for everything: pay bills, search for a vacation, buy a book or find a friend. The list goes on. When and how will your organization reach out to this growing audience?

But, how does one go about “moving quickly” into the use of this technology when that is not the culture of the organization? The answers:

• Have a plan
• Hold internal discussions about the direction to manage expectations
• Seek out guidance in areas where it is needed

Technology is changing the way nonprofits communicate with their donors. But, that has always been true. I remember, in the early 90s, training religious staff to use personal computers. New technology provided this organization with the ability to thank donors the next day and have real-time access to their data. This was new technology back then.

To make this story short, the week-long training was extremely difficult for staff. Before leaving their office I explained to the executive director that it would take three months before staff would learn to adapt to this change.

After an angry call from the president, a second week-long training session and numerous phone calls walking staff through the new processes, things finally began to settle down. The staff overcame their fear and began to understand the value of this new technology. Six months later, I received a gift from this organization. I laughed when I opened the card. Inside it said, “We should have trusted you.”

Integrating technology can be challenging for staff. But, there are ways to make this change go smoother. In upcoming blogs, I will present ideas for you to consider.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Fast Changing World

When you hear people talking about the “fast changing world” (whether it is me writing about it in some of my blogs, or others) while one person may not be able to pinpoint all the changes that are affecting them, nonetheless, they feel it and know it’s real.

In the fund raising world, the three societal areas that affect our industry the most are: 1) Generational shifts, 2) Information technology coupled with the rise of the Internet, and 3) The rise of competition for the donor dollar.

There is so much to say about each of these topics. For fund raisers who are looking at the declining effectiveness and profitability of their large and long-tenured direct mail fund raising programs, these are the three crucial societal catalysts that are driving that change.

More to come . . .


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Thursday, April 14, 2011

BIG’s Blog: What’s with the Box?

I’m going to share a short compliment I received and then encourage you to begin thinking in the same way.

One of my fund raising friends emailed me this week and said, “Mike, you don’t want us to think outside the box (a lot of consultants talk about thinking outside the box); you want us to think about a new box, don’t you?”

Yes; he got it right.

Since Gutenberg’s printing press started creating the modern form of mass produced printed books over 550 years ago, we have lived in the world of transferring knowledge and information through the printed word.

Now comes the digital word.

You’re reading the digital word right now.

We’ve about thought “outside” the old box long enough.

Now comes the new box.

All you fund raisers, start thinking about the new box.


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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Maximize Direct Mail Income

I know . . . I know . . . yesterday we announce that we have moved into the Post-Direct Mail era and today I lead off my blog talking about direct mail. "What’s with that," you are saying...?

Yes; yesterday was a red letter day for BIG Blog readers. I challenged those of you whose organizations are overly dependent on direct mail for fund raising revenue to put a mark down in the sands of time so that going forward, you are in the Post-Direct Mail era.

But, oh yes; today we are still overly dependent on direct mail as our main channel for fund raising. I am certainly not telling you to stop using direct mail. Absolutely not. But I am going to suggest that you begin to take a different approach to how you plan your direct mail. And that different approach is to MAXIMIZE your direct mail profitability.

Let’s start with acquisition. Acquisition is a very big annual investment for your direct mail program. With list universes shrinking, that tells us that everybody’s donor file is shrinking. This varies from sector to sector, but specifically in the faith-based sector (or Religious sector as it is referred to in the Target Analytics 2010 Index of National Fundraising Performance report) the list universe is definitely shrinking. Instead of doing the same thing that you did last year, I would suggest you work with your trusted list broker and really narrow down the prospect lists. Next, contract with an Analytic group to create a model that will have the effect of mailing much fewer names, BUT generating essentially the same or higher response. The net is you MAXIMIZE your income.

This is not new. Back in the 1990s, we were routinely using analytic methodology by scoring prospect list files to MAXIMIZE response into the profitable range. This is hugely important as the age of prospect lists – especially in the Religious sector – has aged dramatically. Our old lifetime value calculations go out the window as someone comes on your new donor file at age 86, whereas ten years ago the average of new donor ages might have been 76. Big difference!

Analytic groups can also help you MAXIMIZE income on your house mailings too.

If you don’t know where to find an Analytic group, drop me an email and I’ll give you some leads.


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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Draw a Line in the Sand.

Last week, Target Analytics released their Target Analytics Index of National Fund Raising Performance for calendar year 2010.

When the terrorist hit the twin towers on 9/11, the United States was changed forever. Even today, we continue to fight terrorists who would destroy us and our way of life. But, we forget about the war most of the time?

Even as our major fund raising channel – direct mail – becomes less and less effective, unless a report like the one from Target Analytics comes out and catches our attention, we pretty much continue the same course.

Perhaps the bigger problem is, "Do we know what to do?" What can replace direct mail as a major source of revenue?

But, before we get to that discussion...and we will get to that discussion...let’s put a big red “X” on the calendar today, or make up a sign and put it on your wall or whatever you need in your office as a reminder that April 13, 2011 was the day that you began to actively move your fund raising organization away from it’s dependence on direct mail.

Okay, that is a big step. Do you feel it? Do you feel the change that has just come over you and soon the rest of your organization?

You have just put a marker down in the sands of time and now you are telling everyone that your organization has moved into the Post-Direct Mail era. This is very exciting...maybe a little scary too...but still very exciting.

Take the rest of the day off. Just kidding. Well, at least go have another cup of coffee and get ready to start talking about new directions in tomorrow’s blog!


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Monday, April 11, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Something Big is Going on Here.

Last week, Target Analytics released their Target Analytics Index of National Fund Raising Performance for calendar year 2010.

Most...but, not all...of the clients we have worked with, as well as the many fund raising organizations that we have talked to experienced their last good direct mail fund raising year in 2005. We define “good” as measured by net contribution to the organization, not top line revenue. Since that time, the vast majority have seen revenue flat to slightly increased in the Religious sector, donor numbers decline, and declines in retention rates with the Religious sector having the largest declines in first-year donor retention for the whole index.

But, even more important, (and, of course, Target Analytics did not have net profitability information), the net profitability due to contracting margins on direct mail has fallen consistently since 2005.

This isn’t one or two bad years that we can blame on the economy, the report states, This continues a trend that predates the recession. The results indicate that these declines are consistent with a fundamental and structural change in the effectiveness of the direct mail channel.

What, if anything, can turn this situation around?

Frankly, nothing is going to turn this trend around. Are your children, nieces and nephews going to go back to reading printed newspapers as their major source of news...even if they got it for free? Or, hitting closer to home, how has the digital revolution changed how you consume news?

So; what to do?

We will take that up in tomorrow’s blog.


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Sunday, April 10, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Is This Your Organization?

Last week, Target Analytics released their Target Analytics Index of National Fund Raising Performance for calendar year 2010.

For readers of this blog, this report is probably the best overall comparison of performance for fund raising organizations like yours. Although not exclusively direct mail fund raisers, the vast majority of our audience depends heavily on direct mail for a significant portion of their fund raising revenue.

For the participating 83 organization that made up the index, a median 76% of revenue came from mail, 4% came from telemarketing and 3% came through the Internet (large gifts and bequests are not counted). The question is, "Does this approximate your organization?"

My Perspective:

I don’t pretend that I don’t see the Target Analytic report results through “my prism” of what I see going on in the faith-based fund raising sector today. I believe, and quite justifiably so, that the report confirms what I have been writing and talking about for the last four years. And that is that we have already moved into the Post-Direct Mail era. Saying that we are in the Post-Direct Mail era doesn’t mean that direct mail as a fund raising channel isn’t being used or can’t still be effective. It merely means that the direct mail communications channel is a part of the analog printed world of newspapers, magazines and books that each day is being supplanted by the digital world of online news, Kindle eBooks, Web sites, email, etc.

The results of the Target Analytic’s report spread over the last five years point to the accelerating decline in effectiveness of direct mail as digital media gains more and more momentum.

In tomorrow’s blog, we will specifically examine the implications of the results in the Religious sector.


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Thursday, April 7, 2011

BIG’s Blog: The Implications are Irrefutable!

One of the blogs that I follow regularly is The Agitator. Regular readers of my blog know that I mention The Agitator as their focus is the direct marketing fund raising world.

Yesterday’s Agitator blog referenced a just released report from Target Analytics (a Blackbaud Company) that drilled into the direct marketing fund raising results ending 4th quarter of 2010 of the Top 83 Direct Response Fund Raisers that they follow. The implications are not good, but only underscore the long-term trend decline for those organizations that are overly focused on direct mail.

There is no point in me even trying to add to what Roger has already written so well and I urge you to read not only his blog, but also the report embedded in the Agitator blog. Roger writes, the "same-old-same-old plans are simply recycled year after year."

What is irrefutable is that we are all at an inflection point, or said another way, a moment of change when the same old programs that have served us so well for many years are starting to sputter and decline.

There is no clearer call for developing a new strategic direction for your organization than the results of this Target Analytics report.


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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Is Your Fund Raising Group Harry and David or

Last week, Harry and David, the venerable, been-around-forever, Christmas gift company filed for Chapter 11 bankrupsy reorganization. I, for one, am glad to hear that they are attempting to reorganize as I can’t imagine a Christmas without someone sending me their Golden Pears. But, then a little over a year ago, I thought I had seen the last Chevy as GM was headed for the scrap heap of automotive history before Uncle Sam stepped in.

Would I have made it through life if GM would have disappeared? Would the sun have come up if there were no more Buicks, Corvettes or Chevy trucks? Heck, I’m old enough to remember American Motors and Rambler, both of which are now long gone from the automotive scene. The truth is that life would have continued on just fine “thank you very much.” Today, I am driving a Nissan.

So, now it’s Harry and David’s turn to figure out how to be relevant and run a profitable business. I’m pulling for them and might even send some of their cheese or fruit to loved ones next Christmas, but, after that, it is up to the people running Harry and David to get their business model humming profitably again.

And then there is Zappos, for those of you that haven’t heard of them, is an online retailer of first shoes and now apparel and accessories. Zappos was started in 1999 and as their CEO tells it, sales in 1999 were next to nothing. But, in less than eight years, sales had topped a billion dollars. In fact, Zappos' growth was so fast that it caught the attention of another online retailer by the name of who bought them in 2009.

So yeah, Zappos can sell all year around whereas Harry and David really make it in the fourth quarter of the year. But, come on; Harry and David has been around for 75 years, Zappos only 12. General Motors is over 100 years old and Hyundai and Kia haven’t been selling cars in the U. S. for more than twenty years and they seem to be doing just fine without bailouts or bankrupsy.

The point is that no organization, whether for-profit or nonprofit, is guaranteed success; mine included. Each generation of leadership has to face the challenges of their time to not only stay in business, but also, to prosper.

Fund raising organizations are no exception. And, especially for those fund raisers that have been around a long time, these are very challenging times. In fact, it may be the most challenging time ever.

If you want to be successful you don’t study failure; you study success. While we are not planning any trips to visit Harry and David, our first trip taking nonprofit fund raisers was so successful that we are lining up trips with other clients to visit Zappos. I don’t know about you, but, I want to learn from an organization that grew from “next to nothing” to a billion dollars in less than eight years. Join us.


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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

BIG’s Blog: The Milk Stool Becomes a Chair

For those of you that have worked with me, and for others that have heard me speak, you no doubt remember the "Mike Browne Milk Stool." As you all know, a milk stool has three legs. When you are milking a cow, the darn cow moves around; you need to be able to rock this way or that way depending on the way Old Bossy moves.

For the rest of you that are hearing this for the first time, about twenty years ago, I formulated the following three rules that I refer to as the 'legs' of the three-legged milk stool.
  1. Grow revenue yearly – no excuses.
  2. Hire smarter than yourself.
  3. Utilize a personality profiling tool in your hiring and management of personnel.
Again, for those that are learning these for the first time, these three rules have helped me be successful in the many businesses that I have run through the years.

First, Grow Revenue Yearly.
This one is the easiest to understand as there is no organization that doesn’t need to grow and that goes double for the nonprofit world. For nonprofit fund raisers, the goal must be to grow revenue every year – no excuses.

Second, Hire Smarter Than Yourself.
This rule actually has two beneficial effects. By telling managers to hire smarter than themselves, you are sending a message to any manager that may feel insecure that they will be judged on the capability of their staff. Those misguided managers that want to hold all the key information and have their staff be dependent on them, as if this will protect them in their job because then they believe they are indispensable, get smoked out with this rule. The second benefit of this rule is that the DNA of the organization gets stronger and stronger as you continue to hire smart people.

Third, all leaders and managers MUST understand the science of personality profiling.
Essentially, this is understanding that everyone – everyone – has key strengths based upon their personality traits. These are, many times, called people's natural talents. When you match the talents or traits you need for a particular position with someone that does that job as easily as breathing, then that is the heart of matching the right personality to the job function.

Well, guess what? Today I am changing my milk stool to a chair – four legs. I have been thinking about this for about eighteen months, but, it is becoming clear to me that this fourth leg to my chair is so important to organizations operating in today’s environment that I must put it out there.

The fourth leg of my chair is: Incorporate State-of-the-Art Information Systems.
We are in the information age, yet most nonprofits are woefully behind in having up-to-date information systems that can give them the information they need to understand their donors. Technology is moving at a breakneck pace. And, that pace of change seems to be ever-increasing. This, we all know. What is less known and does not have enough focus put on it is the fact that the costs of these information systems has dramatically dropped. We have all heard the analogy that today’s average laptop computer has more computing power that the entire air traffic control system circa 1965. The information systems that are available to small, medium and large nonprofits today are so much more user friendly and powerful than they were as recently as five years ago.

When was the last time you up-graded your information systems?

Many blog posts to come will focus on this topic. For today, what is important is that the milk stool has grown into a chair!


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Monday, April 4, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Crossing 'Another' Tipping Point

It was just over a decade ago that consumers and industry people were watching the Internet broadband penetration rate. Ten years ago, if you had high-speed access to the Web, you had a very different experience than those folks that were still on dial-up.

If you need to re-live those dial-up days, go rent the movie You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Experts speculated, marketers, agencies and media companies developed strategies, and new technology companies raised capital based upon the tipping point of high-speed adoption, as this would bring more people to the Net; hence, more commerce. They figured the tipping point at around 50%.

Well, guess what? 2011 could be the year that the mobile Web crosses the tipping point. The industry is estimating that smartphone penetration will be over 50% in the U. S. by the end of the year.

Today, your online donations are growing because of the investments you made based upon more and more people going online as high-speed Internet networks became standard.

What’s your plan for mobile?


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Sunday, April 3, 2011

BIG’s Blog: “My Real Job is Continued Growth”

Recently, I was talking to a very smart, but, also very sure of himself, Executive Director of Development about his operation. The major part of his organization’s revenue comes from direct mail.

I was doing most of the listening.

He told me that his direct mail top line revenue is still growing five to eight percent per year, but, that he continues to face a margin squeeze on his direct mail program and also worries about the U. S. Postal Service upheavals. He said that mail as a fund raising channel is very mature and that there really isn’t much he or his team doesn’t know about direct mail fund raising.

To be honest, I thought this was probably the end of our conversation since after all; I don’t talk to many direct mail fund raisers who are growing their direct mail top line five to eight percent per year.

Then he switched directions on me.

He said, “But my number one job is to make certain that ten years from now we are still growing donations and I don’t see direct mail taking us there.”

At that point, it turned into a very interesting two-way conversation.


Welcome to BIG’s Blog and yes, by all means forward our blog to your friends and co-workers.