Tuesday, January 31, 2012

BIG’s Blog: What are you?

An onion is an onion.  But the onion provides a great metaphor because of its construction to help us all think about something that’s really confusing.

You are the leader, or are a part of the leadership team, of your organization’s fundraising group. But if you peel back your fundraising group all the way to its core (as you would peel back an onion) you hopefully will get to the “reason for your existence.”

Fundraising . . . right?

We can study the philosophy of philanthropy and spend a lifetime working through the nuances of “why people give,” but if your group is charged with raising funds to power the missions of your organization and the funds are not hitting the goals that you set, that’s a problem.

We are always comfortable with what we know, and a part of that is forgetting what we “are” and instead seeing ourselves as “what we do.” This is always a big challenge in times of great change like we are experiencing today.


It isn’t just fundraisers that fall into this. It is so endemic that it is easy to find all kinds of similar examples. Take the railroads for example.

The railroads forgot that they were in the transportation business, carrying passengers and freight. They saw themselves as railroads and evolved a culture . . . some would say a romantic narrative . . . around all the history, events and characters (think Casey Jones) of what the railroad culture means.

And insofar as the people that actually built and worked on the track beds, ran the trains or otherwise focused on the operation of the railroad, the culture of being a railroad man or woman made sense.

But for the leaders or members of the senior leadership team that ran the company that actually owned the railroads, forgetting they were in the transportation business was inexcusable.

As new transportation technologies developed, and began to siphon off passenger traffic, why didn’t they follow their customers and incorporate these new transportation technologies into their transportation companies? Why don’t we have Union Pacific airlines, or Burlington Northern airlines? Exactly!

For fundraisers it’s no different today. If you view your fundraising group as direct mail and planned giving, because that is what you “do” today, rather than following communication technology and your current and potential donors as they fundamentally shift how they communicate, engage, and donate, you will actually be worse off than the railroads. At least the railroads had a freight business to fall back on.


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Sunday, January 29, 2012

BIG’s Blog: The 99% and the 1%

I overheard only two words from the conversation of two young ladies behind the hotel desk: “Haiti” and “earthquake.” I immediately opened my smartphone and clicked on my Wall Street Journal app. Under the tab,“What’s News,” there it was under a banner of “Breaking News:” the first report of a report of an earthquake in Haiti.

We digest news and information differently now. Electronic media and word of mouth give us the broad brush strokes of what is happening. But, it is digital media that offers us the deep dive into the details.

We hear things all the time and 99% of it won’t be in our memory banks five minutes later because it doesn’t connect to our lives. But when we do hear something or see a headline about something we personally care about – like “Haiti” and “earthquake” to me; we are immediately going to the internet to seek out all the information we can find.

As direct-mail fundraisers you send out a lot of direct-mail appeals. That is information. If there is a story in your appeal or a particular issue you are addressing to your donors and friends, it had also better be on your website.

For the 1% of the information that matters to us, your website provides something we never had before. It connects seekers of more information to a deeper understanding of the story or issue that is relevant to them.


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Friday, January 27, 2012

BIG’s Blog: U.S. Banks and Fundraisers Need a New Business Model

Nonprofit fundraising isn’t the only sector of the economy that is seeking out a new business model. How about American banks?

The consulting company McKinsey recently released a paper by Toos Daruvata that details the problems U.S. banks face and their need to fundamentally redo how they do business. “By business model, we mean how banks actually operate – how work is done, the degree of automation, the pricing and design of their products, and the underlying compensation systems.”

Aren’t banks still making money? Yes, but not enough. Banks are owned by investors and if an investor’s bank stock investment is worse than other classes of investments, the investor will sell their bank stock. If too many people want to sell their bank stocks, the stock price goes way down.

Today banks are being buffeted in three areas; expanded capital requirements, increased regulations, and consumers and businesses deleveraging. “These forces of change will compel banks to reinvent their core banking business. In five years, branch banking will probably look fundamentally different as branch layouts, formats, and employee capabilities change. The use of Internet and mobile devices will grow exponentially. Overall, the cost of serving each customer in a branch is likely to fall by one-third.”  

But what about fundraisers? If fundraisers stay with current failing fundraising business models then donations will begin to decline and the work or ministry of the organization becomes stunted. Soon donors that continue to hang on begin to see the organization declining and they, too, pull back.

There will be many nonprofit organizations that fail because their fundraising failed to adopt new fundraising business models.

When a bank fails, it is a bad thing. Some people lose their jobs and investors lose their investments. When a nonprofit organization fails – that is a tragedy. Critical services or ministries are lost to those who really needed them.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Death by a Thousand Cuts

At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union’s armies controlled Eastern Europe. Many of these Eastern European countries had been western-style democracies before the war. To his shame, FDR agreed to the Soviet demand to allow “spheres of influence” in the territories (former independent countries) occupied by the Allied armies.

There was never any question that the U. S., France and Britain would allow the countries they occupied to freely elect post-war governments, including Germany. The Soviets had other plans.

But even the Soviets knew they could not quickly impose their domination on eastern countries like Poland and Yugoslavia while the American and British armies were still in place.

The Soviet tactic was to slowly, very slowly, put like-minded communists in leadership positions, change former constitutions, and rewrite laws in these formerly democratic countries. Their thinking was that the populations wouldn’t rebel because the changes were slow and incremental. But they had the effect of slowly ceding democratic rights to the state; the state that was now dominated by Soviet puppet leaders. It was called “Death by a thousand cuts.”

Last Sunday the U. S. Postal Service raised rates yet again. Slow and insidious price increases by Postal management that do nothing to make the Postal Service a better service or that underpin changes that would turn the Postal Service into a viable 21st century organization and business. Death by a thousand cuts.


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Sunday, January 22, 2012

BIG’s Blog: The “Words” Struck a Nerve

“So while the old players are lamenting you can’t do it the old way, nimble players are utilizing the new tools to gain advantage.”

We live in our own worlds. So we can be forgiven when we “misinterpret” people we think are talking about our world, when in fact, they are talking about something else entirely.

But even when we figure out they are not talking about our world, and take a step back, we can’t help but notice how similar the “issues” are.

It turned out that the above quote came from the head of an Internet company who was opining that the SOPA and PIPA bills currently in front of Congress dealing with protecting intellectual property and stopping online piracy actually could have the effect of infringing on freedom of speech and could hurt future Web development. The bills enjoy particularly strong support in Hollywood and the music industry.

I could have sworn it came from a nonprofit fundraising blogger describing the all too prevalent attitude among way too may senior direct mail fundraising executives.


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Thursday, January 19, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Can You Change the World with Donor Service?

“Life is service,” said hotel magnate E. M. Statler, “and the one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow human beings a little more, a little better service.”

Service is about the entire experience. For businesses, it’s about making it easier for customers to spend money with you. Customers will be happier, you will be happier.

Service is about the entire experience. For not-for-profits, it’s about making it easier for donors to donate money to your organization. Donors will be happier, you will be happier.

Every single not-for-profit organization serves somebody. Service is ultimately the core cause of virtually every not-for-profit. Therefore, every not-for-profit should understand the word service.

Why, then, are there still not-for-profit organizations that make it either difficult or impossible to give online?

Spend waaaay more time making your online donation process easier than you do nitpicking your campaign copy!

Your organization’s concern about your donor service says waaaay more to current and potential donors than your copy.

Can you change the world with donor service? Only with happy donors.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Mobile Buying Trends Portend Mobile Giving Trends

You sense that a trend is a hot topic when there is a lot of research around it.

Some time back, I wrote about the prediction that smartphones in 2012 would soon account for over 50% of all mobile phones. Tablet (think iPad and Kindle Fire) growth is also double digit. Both smartphones and tablets are considered ‘mobile’ devices by research companies that are gauging the growing mobile use of online commerce.

Both research from Wakefield Research and IBM showed that the proportion of mobile online retail sales doubled to 11% in December of 2011 from 5.5% a year earlier. And of online consumers that had a mobile device, 38% used their mobile device to purchase a gift.

Not surprisingly, 18-34 year-olds were most likely to make a mobile purchase, and again, not surprisingly, the iPhone and the iPad drove the most retail online traffic.

John Donahoe, the CEO of eBay, recently said that gross merchandise volume from mobile devices in 2011 hit $5 billion for eBay and he expects it to hit $8 billion in 2012. That’s a 60% increase in one year!

To a fundraising industry tied to print and ink direct mail, this research is just another indication that to reach younger demographics...your next generation of must be moving online.


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Sunday, January 15, 2012

BIG’s Blog: The Power of Habits

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

It’s an age-old imponderable, but also a metaphor for what perceptive fundraisers are asking today.

Most fundraisers that depend on direct mail today understand that direct mail’s effectiveness is dropping year after year. But why; and what do we do about it?

The focus turns to “new” digital media and digital communications like email.

But what if the “big story” isn’t the new media or the digital communications we think are important today? What if it’s about the devices?

We all understand today that tablets (think iPad) and mobile smartphones are increasingly where people are accessing their email, search, varied applications like Facebook, and even online news sites.

Aren’t the devices what are changing our habits? Don’t we have to pay as much or more attention to the new habits of access as we do to what we access? After all, my changing habits are what are having me cancel my print edition to the Wall Street Journal, but keep my digital access. The only time I read the print paper is the weekend edition . . . maybe.

But for the last two years I had both the print and the digital subscription. What changed? I got a new smartphone with the ability to access the WSJ app and I got the iPad that gave me the ability to access through the WSJ app or the WSJ website through the Internet. Now my habits dictate that the print edition is constantly old news and so I cancel it. The devices are moving me and everyone else to focus on digital access. The devices are changing our habits.

Changing habits drives real change.


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Thursday, January 12, 2012

BIG’s Blog: When Does It Get Serious?

Fundraising results are trickling in and we are hearing it’s a mixed bag of results for last fall and Christmas season giving. Not surprisingly, our clients are mostly reporting gains. Of course, many of our clients have been some of the most successful fundraisers over the last ten years.

Our clients’ “transformation” initiatives for which they engaged us haven’t fully kicked in, or in some cases are still in the building phase. We tell all our clients to think of the initiative as a “Decade of Transformation.”

Do we wish they would move faster? Of course; but the pace of transformation needs to be driven by the organization.

There is one womens religious community that can’t move fast enough. They understand that their opening to the world is through the Internet. And they understand that transforming their fundraising approach to "Real-Time" and "Always-on" will not only expand donations, but will also affect every other part of their community from vocations to expanding missions.


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Introducing BIG TV! (Retry!)

Dear Friends,
I apologize for the hard-to-read text on our first email!  
I want to introduce you to Browne Innovation Group’s latest tool for communicating with you.  We call it BIG TV.

Please forward this email to your associates, nonprofit fundraising peers, and friends.

Thanks for watching,


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Figuring It Out – Or Not

An article in the WSJ had a call-out box that got my attention: Digital technology continues to roil all manner of once-dominant companies.

The article was about Barnes & Noble, the once-dominant book retailer that left smaller bookstores quaking in fear to a struggling giant, grasping for a plan to ensure its long-term relevance in the publishing industry.

I’m betting Barnes & Noble will figure it out. Why? Because the article goes on to tell us that they are not trying to figure it out all by themselves. In addition to engaging outside consultants, they are talking to groups and individuals far and wide. They even instituted a strategic-review process.

How does that differ from Borders Books that went out of business last year? I’ve heard that “the geniuses” that ran Borders stated over and over:  they didn’t need outside help and could figure it out themselves.

Proverbs 20:18 Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance . . .


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Sunday, January 8, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Disruption

This year . . . 2012 . . . is going to be a critical “decision year” for a lot of fundraising organizations and their leadership.

What’s the scariest word for people managing businesses and organizations today? No, it’s not recession, depression, unemployment or the skyrocketing cost of healthcare. Those are big problems and worries, but nothing compared to Disruption.

Disruption is an existential threat. Disruption is a term economists use to define the effect of organizations failing to reinvent themselves for the digital future.

Sector after sector of the economy has faced the “changing force” of digital disruption.

The music industry was one of the first to face it when a couple of engineers created Napster. Napster allowed people to share their music back and forth without having to buy their own album. The reaction of the music establishment was to get Napster shut down. In this battle they succeeded, but they ultimately lost the war. Today, the old model of distributing music is, if not dead, certainly dying. Remember when Best Buy had a huge area of CDs? Today, the shelves of CDs are gone and Best Buy only sells music online. And now there is and other music sites that are practically like the old Napster.

Why isn’t the music establishment trying to shut down Because even they are seeing the explosion of new artists as the public demands the ability to get their songs online. And the big hook is free music. A new business model for the music industry is emerging and digital plus the Internet is at the heart of it.

And now disruption is coming to fundraising.

Years ago a wise person told me, “Hope is not a plan.”

Guess what? Having a website, doing email marketing or . . . the latest buzz word . . . “integrated marketing” won’t in and of themselves somehow miraculously transition your fundraising into a successful digital model.  

You think that bolting on digital tools to your current fundraising organization is going to carry you to the new fundraising Promised Land?

I cannot install a brand new state-of-the-art Bose sound system in my old 1986 Ford F-150 pickup truck. The electrical system can’t handle it.

Where’s the plan?

Every month we get email and mail requests for proposals to provide comprehensive reviews and evaluations of direct mail programs. Beginning January 1st of this year, we will no longer provide that service. Perhaps a better way of saying it is; “We will no longer waste your organization’s TIME or MONEY providing what is essentially a useless service.”

The gist of these requests comes down to the following: “Our direct mail program has been declining in effectiveness for some years; we need recommendations to make it profitable again.”

Our firm arguably has more experience in direct mail marketing (read direct mail fundraising) than many consulting groups. I personally have practiced direct mail marketing for over 35 years. We could make recommendations that would tinker around the edges and improve performance. But in helping you momentarily improve your declining direct mail fundraising performance, you only postpone dealing with the real issue which is fundamentally transforming the way you think about fundraising and practice fundraising in the new digital world.  

The real issue is that the digital future has arrived for fundraisers.

2012 is going to be a "critical decision" year for fundraisers.


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Friday, January 6, 2012

BIG's Blog: Misprint Alert!!!

In the fifth-to-last paragraph of today’s post, the text should read, “Fundraisers AREN’T being manipulative,” rather than “Fundraisers are being manipulative.”
We apologize for the controversial misprint!


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Thursday, January 5, 2012

BIG’s Blog: 2012 Will Be the Year You Make Your Move!

In early 2010 – two years ago – Forrester Research wrote: “Changes to technology, media, and society at large have led the advertising industry into an ‘adaptive marketing’ era, defined by greater interaction with consumers and initiatives tailored to the individual. The era will see marketers (read fundraisers) create more holistic (read integrated), consumer-focused (read donor-focused) strategies, while abandoning ‘push’ marketing. Companies will also seek to create consumer ‘experiences’ instead of campaigns and change their strategies to reach ‘individuals’ instead of segmented audiences.”

Three things really pop out of that prediction:
1) abandon “push” marketing
2) create consumer “experiences”
3) reach “individuals” instead of segmented audiences

I really do pity the poor consumer product marketers today. Old line advertising (push marketing: as in push out your message) is fading in effectiveness. Telling consumers “what to buy” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Virtually nobody makes a serious purchase today without searching on the Internet for ratings, comparable products, and, of course, price comparisons.

A few companies get the “experience” part right (think Apple); most really struggle. Come on, a toothpaste experience?!?!

And targeting individuals instead of segmented audiences; now that’s a radical departure for marketers that grew up with an audience paradigm.

Nonprofit organizations are different. Nonprofits aren’t schlepping a product or service. With nonprofit organizations, it’s the cause.

And, ladies and gentlemen, the new adaptive marketing era which seeks to create an “experience” through tools and technologies is tailor made for nonprofit fundraising marketing which seeks to touch emotions.

Fundraisers aren't being manipulative. A nonprofit’s cause is all about emotion. That is what motivates individuals to give of their time, talent and treasure.

Are you beginning to see why I talk all the time about “The New Golden Age of Fundraising?”

I’m not making this stuff up. Forrester Research is an independent technology and market research company that provides advice on existing and potential impact of technology, to its clients and the public.

What we (you and me) have witnessed over the last two years has vindicated their prediction from 2010.

It’s time to make your move!


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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Apple Still On Top

If my house is a microcosm, Google Android better get its act together. The latest Android I’ve seen, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with 4.0 version of Google’s mobile OS, is very fast and runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, but is actually bigger than the iPhone.

Too late for my wife who loves her new iPhone 4S after struggling with two versions of Android smartphones. And Siri, Apple’s built in digital assistant is the icing on her Apple iPhone cake. Both my 20-something daughters are jealous of mom’s new phone, so guess what they will buy when their current Android smartphones are up for trade?

According to Neilson figures that were just released, Apple is still on top with 29% marketshare of smartphone sales, then HTC running Android at 21% and Blackberry at 17%.

I’ve got a one-year-old Blackberry flip but no touchscreen, and a minute selection of apps compared to Apple and Google. Back in 2007, when the iPhone first came out, Blackberry was king. But Google and Apple evolved their platform, bringing in the apps marketplace for the apps that brought more people to smartphones.

Smartphone penetration of the mobile phone market will pass 50% this year.

What are your donors carrying in their pockets and purses? And are you planning to communicate with them through their smartphones this year?


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Sunday, January 1, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Playing Golf With My Brother

My brother likes to play golf with me...but there is a problem. My brother really likes to play golf but he doesn’t have any clubs, golf balls, or tees.

When we play golf, we have to share the same clubs and other golf paraphernalia.

The other big problem is neither of us hit straight down the fairway. I tend to hit to the right and my brother tends to hit to the left.

Can you imagine how hard it is to play all over the fairway with one bag of golf clubs?

Some nonprofit fundraising groups that want to transform themselves into internet-connected, new media-savvy fundraisers are having trouble breaking old habits.

Which brings me back to my point; if you are going to play golf, you have to have your own golf clubs. And if you are going to build a fundraising team that works in the technology-connected world, all the members of the team need to have their own technology tools.

Trying to share computers, tablets, or smartphones isn’t going to work. These are the basic “tools” of the work you are doing. Everyone working in fundraising needs their own computer, tablet, and smartphone.


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