Sunday, July 31, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Mobile over PCs

Every other day it seems you hear another voice speaking up for "how well" direct mail works and that it will "really" never die. That is until it does die. And then where are you?

I'll bet you are still trying to figure out how to make the digital online world - email, Facebook, Web site, etc. - work for you.

I've just finished an informal poll of my blog readers. Guess what stuck out? Close to 70 percent read our blog "before" they get to work and slightly more than 50 percent read it first on their smartphone or iPad. Wow!

And my audience skews slightly older (45+) which makes the smartphone and iPad readership even more of a surprise to me and I'll bet to a lot of you as well.

But, is this really a surprise? The big growth in Internet access is quickly coming from mobile. It's with you wherever you go. Hello!


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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Online Fund Raising and Vocations

I recently spoke at the Benedictine Development Symposium held in Schuyler, Nebraska: A world class venue drawing attendees from across the U. S. and Europe.

In our presentation to the attendees, we spent a lot of time sharing the reality of the shift in media and communications from the paper and ink (analog) platform to the online (digital) platform, especially for potential donor targets that are 45 and younger.

We were blunt in saying, “If you’re not communicating with them online, and the younger the audience the more important it is to be online, you are simply not reaching them.”

Apparently, we sparked a memory in a number of attendees. They were asking themselves, “Where have I heard this before?”

It turns out many Development people were already hearing this message from their Vocation Directors. One Development Director said, “My Vocation Director says to forget email for people under 30, if we aren’t on Facebook or texting them, they are not hearing from us.”

One Development Director came up to me after our presentation and said, “I just texted our Vocation Director during your presentation and when I get home, we are calling you together.”


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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

BIG's Blog: Reality

“The sobering reality is that many nonprofits are still hurting (from the recession), and if giving continues to grow at that rate, it will take five or six years just to return to the level of giving we saw before the Great Recession.”

This is a quote by Patrick Rooney, Ph.D., executive director of the Center on Philanthropy, in “The NonProfit Times,” July 1, 2011.

How is your organization changing its strategic plan to address the reality of our times? If you don’t know, begin to analyze your mission and fundraising programs today.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Start with a Plan

I spoke recently at the Benedictine Development Symposium, which is one of the premier gatherings in locale and content in Catholic fund raising today. The Benedictine Symposium draws both domestic and international attendees. One of the main messages in our presentation and in follow-up conversations was emphasizing the need for a comprehensive Development plan to address the fundamental change that is underway in Development today.

Endemic to the Development world is the built-in bias towards what I refer to as “Silver Bullets.” You know what I am talking about. “We would generate more donations if we just had a better Web site. We would raise more money if we had a way to fix our major donor program.”

In my presentation, I used the famous line from the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

It’s never a “one fix” problem; it’s always about taking the time and effort to create a plan...a road where you want to go and how to get there.

This is a big one. If you put a comprehensive plan in place to integrate your offline and online fund raising efforts and more fully maximize your charitable major donor work, you will watch donations grow year-over-year. Or, keep doing what you are doing and your donations will surely decline.

The consensus of the Benedictine Development leaders in attendance is that they are moving to develop new plans. Very progressive!


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Monday, July 25, 2011

BIG's Blog: Do you know why?

Quote for the day! “When you understand the why in life, only then does the how become possible in your mind.” -Bryan Dodge

The world of fundraising is changing. Take the time to understand the “why.” Then build a plan to address these changes.


BIG’s Blog: Understanding Your Data

I spoke at the Benedictine Development Symposium a couple of weeks ago on the coming transformation of fund raising. This transformation is being driven by the shift from paper and ink (analog) communications to the online (digital) communications.

The Benedictines, as a group, are very progressive in adopting new technologies. In fact, they were the first Catholic communities to adopt modern printing technology following the invention 500+ years ago of movable printing type. Needless to say, these Development folks were very interested in learning what this technology shift could mean for their Development efforts.

One attendee asked me, “If I focus on becoming proficient on one new technology or tool this year, which one should I focus on, Facebook, our Web site or email?”

I told her to first focus on becoming fluent and conversant in her donor data. They haven’t changed the basics of marketing communications which is still the foundation for successful fund raising and that is the right message, to the right person at the right time. Success starts with knowing your data so you can target.

Since her organization did direct mail, I told her to learn and focus on analytics for her direct mail program first. Find a vendor who can do real data mining and will educate you along the way. And don’t look for your service bureau or list company or agency to have these skills at the level you need. Although your list company or agency might know way more about analytics than you, ask them how many PhD statisticians they employ. Data mining is heavy on quantitative mathematics and real analytic firms employ people with real degrees in hard statistics and mathematics, not IT.

The reason to learn analytics first on your direct mail programs is so you are already conversant in data mining and analytics when you make the leap to analysis of your online programs. Online analytics is essentially direct mail analytics on steroids.

First and foremost, understand your data.


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Thursday, July 21, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Really Learning Something

We all read that a class of students will retain only 15% of what the teacher taught on any particular day.

It is also true that people learn differently; some learn better through hearing, some learn better through reading, etc.

But, if you “really” want to learn something, commit to teach it.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BIG's Blog: Give them what they want.

In a 2010 donor study conducted by Cygnus Applied Research Inc., 74% of the respondents indicated that they would continue to give support indefinitely to the nonprofit if they received the following:

1. Prompt and meaningful acknowledgements for their gifts

2. Assurance that their gift was be used as donor requested

3. Show the results of their prior gifts at work before they are asked for another contribution

I doubt that there are many nonprofits that can say they treat their donors in this manner. If donors are telling the organization how they want to be treated, why aren’t you listening? Is this not a part of the engagement process?


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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Do You Audit Your Nonprofit?

EWhen was the last time you called your published phone number during business hours to check how your receptionist answers (or doesn’t answer) the phone?

When was the last time you had someone not known to your staff send through a donation to audit how quickly and completely the donation was processed, the thank you sent and the donation receipted?

When was the last time you had someone not known to your staff call and ask questions about your mission or ministry to see how knowledgeable the answers were?

All of this falls under the topic of donor service.

Donor service is to nonprofits what customer service is to commercial companies.

Now sign up for Netflix or purchase something from Then compare how fast and complete their product fulfillment is – this compares to your organization processing a donation. And call their customer service number and see how their customer service compares to your donor services calls.

Your donors are also customers of many companies including Netflix and Zappos. Their expectations of your donor service are consciously compared to the best customer service they receive.


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Monday, July 18, 2011

BIG's Blog: Responsibility

In my last blog, I asked the question, “Who is responsible for constituent and donor engagements?" The answer is EVERYONE. Leadership must take an active role in leading the engagement strategy. Fundraising staff as well as departments within the organization should be responsible.

The generational shifts between the Depression and WWII era down to the Millennials is so vast that everyone needs to be involved in establishing a new set of engagement strategies. This generational shift also includes a religious shift between the "pre-Vatican II” and “post-Vatican II” Church. Together the religious organization must create messages to which every generation of cohorts and donors can relate.

How will you present your mission to future cohorts and donors? Once you answer this question, the organization can begin to develop a plan.


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

Sunday, July 17, 2011

BIG’s Blog: The Attention Economy

We are all very interested in and pay attention to the economy of money. But, as fund raisers, there is another economy we need to pay attention to and that is the attention economy.

At the risk of getting too far ahead of some of my readers, the subject of the attention economy is going to be more and more important to your success as fund raisers in the years to come.

Today, we measure fund raising activities such as response rates on appeals, the number of presentations or asks by our Charitable Gift Officers or the cost to raise a dollar.

But, with all this activity that is fairly easy to measure, we may be overlooking the more important economy growing around attention.

What happens if I send too many mail appeals spaced too close together? Do I have that permission?

If our Web site was easier to navigate, would our donors go there more often?

Do we offer acknowledgements by mail or email, making it a donor’s choice?

Are we wasting donors' attention sending them emails about subjects they don’t care about? Will they stop opening our emails?

Like real estate, they aren’t making anymore attention. That’s why keeping your donor’s permission keeps their attention which keeps your organization top-of-mind. And top-of-mind means continued donations.


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Thursday, July 14, 2011

BIG's Blog: A Huge Change

There is a huge change underway in how nonprofits communicate with their constituents and donors. Direct mail is increasingly becoming an outdated way of fundraising. The organization must generate more funds outside the confines of the traditional strategies.

Today organizations must look to new fundraising tactics that include social media to attract constituents to their mission. What does this look like and who is responsible for creating this engagement?

My upcoming blogs will address the engagement process and who is accountable for leading this change.


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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Relationship is a Lifetime Pursuit, Not a Google Moment

Consider the fact that in the course of our lifetime we all used to take pictures with film and today virtually all of us only use digital photography. The great innovation that most of us remember in the film processing era was one-hour photo processing. Oh my gosh – ten days down to drop it off before lunch and pick up pictures and film after lunch!

But, if you were taking a specific picture of something and you saw your shots didn’t get it quite right, you still had to wait and take the picture again.

Then came digital photography. Take the picture, look at it, adjust and shoot again. What amounted to “instant” processing.

We’ve all gotten used to instant with the speed of modern digital communications.

But, with relationships, we need to balance the instant information (the so-called Google effect) against the reality that human relationships build over time. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers says it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at basically any endeavor: to learn a language, learn a musical instrument or learn to cook. But the same “proficiency” applies to relationships I think.

As fund raisers pass from the slow analog print and ink world to the many forms of digital instant communications, we still need to be mindful that building relationships with our donors is a lifetime pursuit and not a Google moment.


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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

BIG’s Blog: The Internet Changes Everything

I think it was 1996 and I was invited to a Venture Capital conference in Silicon Valley. The first morning keynote speaker was Larry Ellison, the chairman and CEO of Oracle Corporation. Today I can’t recall much about the conference or most of the people I met, but, I will never forget the first four words of Mr. Ellison’s morning speech.

When Mr. Ellison was introduced, he strode to the podium, thanked the host who introduced him, welcomed the assembled audience and opened his speech with the four words, “The Internet changes everything.”

As I said above, I can’t remember too many details of that conference fifteen years ago, but, I will never forget those four words as I recall them every time I hear of a new online business, or see how the Internet is disrupting old business models.

I cannot know with certainty if Larry Ellison was the first to gain that insight or coin that phrase or even if he knew at the time he shared it how truly profound it would be fifteen years hence.

But, to this day, that phrase informs my thinking across all aspects of my life and work, especially my work with faith-based nonprofit fund raising organizations.

These words need to inform your thinking as well.

For the balance of your career or term of leadership, in all issues that are raised, remember to look at them through the prism of "The Internet changes everything."


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Monday, July 11, 2011

BIG's Blog: Quotes for the day?

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” John F. Kennedy, Thirty-Fifth President of the USA

“You can’t expect to meet the challenges of today with yesterday’s tools and expect to be in business tomorrow.” Unknown Author

Fundraising strategies must change. Nonprofit organizations must learn to adapt to the change or miss out on the future.


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Sunday, July 10, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Being Exceptional is a Choice

Below is a blog post from a recent Seth Godin blog entitled: When did you get old? Please read the following, paying special attention to the highlighted line.

At some point, most brands, organizations, countries and yes, people, start talking about themselves like they’re old.

“We can’t stretch in that direction,” or “Not bad for a 60 year old!” or “I’m just not going to be able to learn this new technology.” Even countries make decisions like this, often by default. Governments decide it’s just too late to change.

The incredible truth is that: it never happens at the same time for everyone. It’s not biologically ordained. It’s a choice. It’s possible to put out a hit record at 40, run a marathon at 60 and have your 80-year old non-profit change its business model. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but that’s why it’s worth doing.
Yes, he actually wrote, “Have your 80-year old non-profit change its business model.”

Much of the subject matter of my blogs revolves around the need for changing your business model for fund raising. And I think there are a few of my blog readers that think the change that I talk about is too hard for their organization.

My point is this: here is a blogger who is NOT even from the nonprofit world, yet he sees and reads enough to know that nonprofits have to change their business models – especially in fund raising – if they are to survive. Is it easy? No. Will it take work to make it happen? Yes. But can it be done? Yes again!

Why did he include nonprofits and changing business models as almost a clichéd example like putting out a hit record at 40 and running a marathon at 60? Because we have all heard stories of older singers who came back with a hit song or a 60-year old marathoner who was seemingly too old but does what most 20-year olds don’t even try. And yes, another big stretch – a traditional old nonprofit that shifted gears to stay relevant with their constituents today so they can still help the people they serve tomorrow.

If it were easy then everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be exceptional.

Why not choose to be exceptional?

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Donor Service – Customer Service - Expectations

Some time ago, I was flying to Texas. The flight had two legs. The first leg went into a hub and then the second leg took me to my ultimate destination.

I made it to the hub, but they cancelled my second leg. Worse, they couldn’t get me on a flight to my ultimate destination until late the following day as the next few flights were all overbooked. Since I would miss my window for my appointments, there was no point in going to my destination. They flew me back to Omaha.

But, the story doesn’t end there. They called me and apologized. They gave me a free ticket plus reimbursed me for my whole previous trip. By the way, it was Southwest Airlines.

What were my expectations when I learned of the cancelled flight? Hassles, hassles, and more hassles plus having to sleep in an airport. Why did I have those expectations? Because that is how I was treated by other airlines in similar situations.

Do I fly those other airlines that caused me the pain? Only as a last resort, will I fly Southwest again? Yes! Will I tell my friends and family about my experience with Southwest? Yes. Did I tell my friends and family about the horrible experiences on those other airlines? Yes, again.

There are many charitable organizations that I call where my call goes to voicemail in the middle of the day. How did they know I was a vendor and not their largest donor? They didn’t.

Forget your donor’s expectations or mine; what is your expectation when you call a company or a charitable organization with a question? Don’t you form your opinion of that organization by how they respond to your phone call?

If I am hitting on an issue that you think your organization might have, your problem is bigger than you think. Ten years ago, lousy customer service was unfortunately the norm. But, no longer. Today, with companies like Southwest Airlines and to name just two, the bar of expectations has been raised for every organization whether commercial or nonprofit.


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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

BIG's Blog: Identify and Analyze

“If you fail to identify and analyze the obstacles, you don’t have a strategy!”

Has your organization invested the time and money to identify the obstacles that keep it from achieving its mission and goals? If the answer is “no,” my question is, “When will you take the time?”

Today, both the religious orders and their fundraising offices are facing major challenges. How can these two entities work together “hand-in-hand” to develop strategic plans that meet both of their needs? The answer: Invest time and develop good communication between the entities.

James Baldwin, an African-American writer once wrote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Display this quote as a daily reminder and you will overcome obstacles and achieve your goals!


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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity: The capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information [1].

So, where am I going with this?

I talk to many, many Development Directors and Executive Directors of Development, as well as leadership of fund raising organizations, yearly. The groups I talk to are all heavy direct mail fund raisers.

The comment I hear a lot is, “We know direct mail isn’t what it used to be and we worry about its future, but, what can take its place?”

The hard “news” is that the process is going to be different. Not bad, just different. The truth is that fund raisers are going to have to learn new things, master new techniques and technologies and disciplines. Not hard, just different.

But, I think in some cases the real issue is the worry that they can’t learn new tricks . . . so to speak. But, guess what? Neuroscience is on your side. In fact, it’s called Neuroplasticity: the capacity of the neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behaviors to new information. Some call it learning.

Remember when you first got Microsoft Outlook or some other computer program? It seemed overwhelming. Two weeks later you were proficient and two months later you wondered how you lived without it. Neuroplasticity!


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Monday, July 4, 2011

BIG's Blog: What does good strategy look like?

In my last blog, I recommended the article posted by McKinsey Quarterly’s: The perils of bad strategy.

There were some key points in the article that I want to expound upon in this blog.

Richard Rumelt, author of the article, suggests a successful strategy is one where the leader has identified one or two critical issues that need to be addressed which then become the focus of the plan/action.

“A good strategy does more than urge us toward a goal or vision; it honestly acknowledges the challenge we face and provides an approach to overcoming them.”

Today, our industry faces many challenges: changing demographics, technology and the costs of fundraising. Religious institutions also have challenges: decline in vocations, mission changes and the lack of distinction between religious orders.

From a fundraising perspective, the challenges of the religious institutions can affect the relationship with constituents and donors. These individuals want to know the “Who," “What," and “Why” their support is needed before they will consider a donation.

The challenges of both the fundraising unit and the religious institution must be addressed sooner rather than later. At President Ronald Regan’s first inaugural address he stated, “We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding--we are going to begin to act, beginning today.”

Will your strategy preserve your mission into the future? Is “NOW” not the time to act? If not, when?


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Sunday, July 3, 2011

BIG’s Blog: Innovation

I am always asked by Development Directors and Executive Directors the same question: “Is e-marketing guaranteed to generate as much money as direct mail?”

And I always answer the same way: “I guarantee you it will not – initially.”

Typically, nobody likes that answer.

How old is direct mail marketing? 100 years old? 80 years old? Is there anything you don’t know about direct mail marketing?

How old is e-marketing? 17 years old? 15 years old? 10 years old? What do you know about e-marketing? Probably very little.

Here is a helpful approach. While your direct mail is still profitable, get very serious about engaging online marketing. Try new things, even if they don’t turn out the way you hoped they would. At least you’ll learn something. Trying new things is innovating. Innovating means sometimes you will fail. But unless you are failing, you’re not trying hard enough.

By-the-way, innovation is what built America.

Happy 4th of July!

Cue the fireworks . . .


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