Tuesday, February 28, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Things Are Changing Out There

It will be four more years until I write another “leap year” blog.

Don’t you just love the titles of some of the seminars, workshops and webinars you get invited to?  Examples include: Fixing Your Message For Tough Times, Leading in Tough Times, Fundraising in a Tough Economy, etc. etc. No doubt they provide good information, but as my daughters would say, “they sound so much like a Debbie Downer.”

As long-tenured charities, most of your organizations have faced both good economic times and bad economic times. You know that the economy cycles. But you also “feel in your gut” that this last down-cycle is more than just another cyclical recession insofar as your donations are concerned. This time it’s different.

If that is the way you are thinking, you’re right!

Driven by several key trends (a major shift in the generations, technological changes in the way we communicate, societies changing sensibilities about giving, and rising competition among nonprofit organizations) the fundraising world has shifted on its axis. It’s not “business as usual” out there anymore. This time, the recent economic downturn is playing second fiddle to the larger issues mentioned above.

What to do?

The Gallup Organization’s faith-based practice will be addressing these fundamental shifts as well as addressing some of the new expertise fundraisers will need to be successful in the new fundraising environment in an upcoming webinar. But this webinar isn’t the run-of-the-mill “tough times” session. This webinar will address the “whys” behind the issues your fundraising group is dealing with today and outline a new vision that you can begin to move forward with.

I am excited to be one of the co-presenters.

If you’re interested in receiving an invitation, let me know. When we started this blog, I personally knew most of the subscribers. But today our blog is one of the fastest growing blogs for nonprofit fundraisers and I don’t know the vast majority of the subscribers anymore. So please, if you are interested in being included on the invitation list, let me know.


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Sunday, February 26, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Watch Political Fundraising Innovation

The 2004 Howard Dean campaign was widely seen as the first campaign to have significant success with Internet fundraising. Dean’s numbers were eclipsed four years later when the Obama campaign raised over $500 million with a social networking push.

Pay attention to trends in political fundraising. Political fundraising is a kissing cousin to charitable fundraising. But unlike charitable fundraising where innovation is moribund, political fundraising is the arms race of the political class and culture.

Mike Cassidy keeps an eye on the social implications of Silicon Valley innovation for the Mercury News in Sacramento. His recent article, Will Facebook, Twitter, Fundly and the like be the fundraisers of the future? brings to light trends that charitable fundraisers should be watching.  Excerpts below.

As we move into the meat of the 2012 election season, think of the accelerating convergence of social networking and campaign fundraising as the anti-Super PAC movement.

Super PAC money rolls into campaign coffers in the form of six-zero checks signed by supporters who possess unfathomable means and political interests that they’ll spend tens of millions to protect. The social network money, on the other hand, comes from no-name nobodies, kicking in $20 or $50 or maybe $200 at a time, in part because one of their Facebook friends did the same.

It is still the early days for campaign fundraising through social media, but it’s clear Silicon Valley can take credit for incubating many of the tools that are launching the revolution. The ubiquity of Facebook and Twitter and the rise of money-gathering platforms like Fundy, of Palo Alto, are clear signs that a change is taking hold in one of the world’s oldest professions: political fundraising.

It’s hard to be encouraged by much of anything that has to do with campaign finance, but the rise of social networkers as fundraisers is a sweet breeze of change. The viral, grassroots nature of the networks means it is more likely those who previously wouldn’t get involved in politics will. The demographics of the networks means younger citizens – who are among our most idealistic thinkers – are more likely to take up a cause.

No, these social-networked nickel-and-dimers won’t be any match for the Harold Simmonses, Sheldon and Miriam Adelsons, Peter Thiels and Jeffrey Katzenbergs of the world, who can contribute unlimited amounts to PACs supporting candidates. But the brief history of using virtual networks to raise money shows that such efforts can at least have a significant effect.

Dave Boyce is CEO of Fundly, a ready-made platform for nonprofits, including political campaigns, to launch social media fundraising campaigns. He says that at the end of the 2010 election cycle, 120 political customers are using Fundly to raise money. Now the number is 10 times that.

“The big idea is that giving is social. It always has been,” says Boyce, sitting in a glass conference room looking out at a team of programmers in an office decorated in start-up chic. “Friends ask friends to join them supporting a cause.” Why wouldn’t that social transaction move to the Web; the way buying books, picking a restaurant, planning a trip and purchasing songs has?

The pages raise money, sure, but politicians and their supporters hope they will also build a loyal community of voters.

“It's friends and neighbors talking to each other, not just the campaign talking to supporters,” Barry says. “It’s really a way to create a community, a community of individuals who care about something.”


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Thursday, February 23, 2012

BIG’s Blog: The Fundraising Blogosphere

No doubt this is not the only fundraising-themed blog you read. And have you noticed, especially since the first of the year, more and more references to Internet-based fundraising?

Two blogs that I really like (mostly) are Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog and The Agitator. Both focus on fundraising and cover broad themes, but are mostly marketing-related. Both are very good (mostly). But you couldn’t help but notice that over the last 18 months, more and more of their blogs reference Internet-based marketing fundraising themes. In the Agitator’s case, they used to have many posts about improving direct mail fundraising.

The problem with this is that they “assume” your organization has shifted fundraising methodology and is now focusing on a digital strategy. They never told you this was a necessity if you were going to survive or how to do it; they just assumed you had already done it.

Fair assumption? I don’t think so.

I would love to blog about Internet-based marketing tactics and go deep on subjects like social media, SEO and SEM, Mobile apps and Web. But what good are these topics if your organization isn’t organized to take advantage of them?

So what is step number one? Take the time to develop a new plan. A plan that gives prominence to digital marketing. How do I define “prominence?”  Budget, Budget, Budget!

The message other bloggers are increasingly sending out by writing about Internet-based fundraising is that “it is important!”  

But you have to be organized to take advantage of it.


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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Strategy

I get about a call a month from Development Directors or leaders of nonprofit organizations asking me about our strategy development methodology. This also tends to be the majority of my conversations at conferences, especially if they have run into one of our clients.

So much of the fundraising culture is what I term “Silver Bullet” oriented. Fundraising groups – and the one my wife and I help start is no exception – are understaffed. To compensate, the standard operating procedure is to add those technologies or services that make an immediate impact on fundraising without increasing the workload. Well, that’s at least how they are sold. Fundraisers want to believe that using a new tool, technology, or service will be the Silver Bullet to help their fundraising efforts. This “hope” also applies to consultants like Browne Innovation Group.

But back to strategy.

First of all, if you’re still not there, the fundraising world, along with many other sectors of the economy have been “disrupted” by the Internet; you probably aren’t interested in a discussion of strategy methodology. Succinctly put, the Internet changes everything. And that means your strategy of direct mail and planned giving as your organization has practiced them for 60+ years needs a reset. That is where understanding a consulting company’s strategy development methodology is important.

As the leader of your fundraising group, you already know the world has shifted, but you also must have certainty about the process of changing course. Altering the strategic direction of your fundraising organization seems much harder than it ultimately is. We always fear the worst.

The strategy you develop must be simple and the goals few. This may seem counter-intuitive, but that is probably because most people confuse strategy with tactics.

As you might expect, arriving at the right strategy for your fundraising organization takes time, thought, discussion, and consensus building. There is no cookie-cutter approach. The tactics you employ in implementing your strategy, though important, are secondary and constantly changing, especially in the digital realm. But spending the time and effort to develop your unique strategy for your fundraising organization gives you the roadmap that other groups just do not have, and keeps you on course to revenue growth and sustainability.


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Sunday, February 19, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Assume He Is Right

Recently, Kevin Roberts, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, one of the top five largest advertising and marketing agencies in the world, made the claim, "Marketing is dead."

Mr. Roberts made this statement in his keynote address to other advertising and marketing executives and went on to defend his claim by explaining, "We have a much higher calling now. Your role is not to market stuff at people, but to create a movement. You've got to create a movement and inspire people to join your movement . . . We've moved from interruption to interaction."

What the heck is this guy talking about?

Higher calling? Are advertising agencies going to start a “movement” to get people to buy McDonald's hamburgers, Ford cars and trucks, Kenmore appliances or Tide detergent? 

A movement? Really? 

Okay, so what is happening here?

Here is my take:

The traditional advertising agency and marketing world is seeing what is going on with social media (Facebook, Twitter, et al) and it scares them to death. Unlike traditional broadcast media (TV, radio, print, et al), where the message is “pushed” to consumers, and agencies know how to make money placing media buys, the huge growth and reallocation of marketing dollars to Web-based media and social media where agencies don't make much money is troubling for their business models. 

They see that social media in particular isn't about overtly “selling” things.  Anytime some company tries to sell on social media, there is a huge push back.

As traditional broadcast begins to decline in effectiveness, and more companies want to be in web-based media, the agencies are beginning to feel at risk. If they are going to remain relevant and bring value to their clients, they need to help their clients position strategically  in a way that is in synch with the media. And for social media this means proffering the positioning of “creating a movement.”

It might surprise you, but I believe Mr. Roberts is dead-on with his idea of “creating a movement,” especially through social media. But I don't see this being effective for commercial companies like McDonald's, Ford, Kenmore or Procter and Gambles' Tide brand. Frankly, that is just silly. But web-based social media is perfect for creating movements about things people are passionate about. Like for instance . . . your organization???


But the use of social media isn't just “bolting it on” to your current direct mail and planned giving. It is completely different! 


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Friday, February 17, 2012

Boomers are the "Tie that Binds"

Nonprofit fundraising is going through a very “perilous moment.”

With a few exceptions, the leadership of virtually all charitable organizations and the leadership of their fundraising arms are firmly in the control of the Baby Boom generation.

This is both good and bad.

Bad in the sense that Boomers, age 48 to 66 didn’t grow up with the micro computing revolution the way the Gen Xers and Millennial generations did. Hence, Boomers are constantly playing catch-up with technology primarily because it is not intuitive in the way it is to younger generations.

But good in the sense that Boomers aren’t afraid of technology and more importantly, they have the wisdom and experience of years of managing people and organizations.

Only Boomers will relate to my next statement. Change, from a technological perspective, is so much faster today than when we started our careers.

Digital disruption has come to nonprofit fundraising.

Boomers in leadership have three options.

First, pretend disruption isn’t happening and continue business-as-usual until you retire.

Second, pretend like you are addressing change by “bolting on” new digital tools and technologies, but without a clear vision of how all of this is going to work out until you retire.

Or three, stop and develop a plan for transforming how your organization does fundraising.

Boomers’ value to their organizations is more important in this “perilous moment” than it has ever been. By virtue of their long history with their organization, they are uniquely qualified to lead this change.

The legacy of the Baby Boomer generation has been bringing about change in society, in technology, and in the world at large. For nonprofit Boomer leadership, this is the moment you must step up and lead change.

Boomers are the bubble generation. Sandwiched between the Depression and WWII generational cohorts of the old world and the Gen X and Millennial generational cohorts of the Internet age, Boomers are the “tie that binds,” and only they are perfectly positioned to lead the change that must come.


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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

BIG’s Blog: “Built Here”

After selling the database marketing firm I founded in December of 2000, I decided to put my entrepreneurial and managerial experience to work helping launch start-up technology companies. From 2001 to 2005 I helped run two technology companies along with their tech-savvy founders.

What these young companies had going for them were their young engineering-types who were bringing innovative products and services to the market. What they didn’t have was business, finance, and managerial experience. It was a great fit and it was exciting to be a part of these young and fast-growing companies.

In both companies the engineers were constantly on the lookout for new ideas or variations on existing ideas that might be incorporated into their products and for new tools that would make them better. Most had worked for large aerospace or defense contractors. One of the engineers said it best, “If some company called and wanted to pitch us their product or service, we were all ears. We always took those meetings because you never knew what you were going to see. And if their product or service was better than what we were using, we always bought it.”

The opposite of this insightful approach is the “built here cultural mentality.”

The “built here cultural mentality” pervades the nonprofit fundraising sector. Nonprofit fundraising organizations may agree to a meeting with a potential vendor, but when they see or hear the product or service, their cultural reaction is, “we can build that in-house” . . . “built here.”

I see this cultural attitude playing out in fundraising organizations whether small or very, very large. How else do you explain why late into the 2000s, some very large fundraising organizations maintained – at significant expense – their own home-grown donor management database systems built on outdated computer hardware that in many cases the original manufacturer wasn’t even supporting anymore?

Most of these fundraising groups finally replaced these aging monstrosities but unfortunately the cultural mentality of “built here” still predominates. When the next issue of “change” comes up, the internal “built here” naysayers step up in unison singing the song that, “we can build it better in-house.”

The slight variant of the “built here” cultural mentality that still fits the “built here” thinking process is the use of favored “local” vendors. Forget the fact that the favored vendor may know just slightly more than the internal staff – which is very little – and clearly has no deep or rounded experience with the needed technology or service. And, of course, both internal staff and the favored vendor certainly know that hiring an outside firm would expose the favored local vendor’s lack of expertise and, more troubling, those internal staff that support them. So, the “built here” naysayers keep out new state-of-the-art products or services.

Who loses?

The “built here” cultural mentality has been debilitating to fundraising organizations during the last 20 years of direct-mail fundraising methodology. But, it will be deadly as fundraising organizations transform away from the familiar ways of doing things.

Fifteen years ago a home-grown donor database was a poor choice based upon the cost to maintain and update the inefficacy compared to off-the-shelf donor software solutions. But the organization could still survive.

But the challenges of today’s fundraising environment isn’t about transitioning, it’s about transformation. There is no internal naysayer cohort that can even pretend they can say it can be “built here.” But the cultural mentality of “built here” still rules.


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Sunday, February 12, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Rallying 300,000 Friends

By now we are all aware of the dust-up between Susan G. Komen for the Cure, formerly known as The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America over Komen’s cut-off to Planned Parenthood of support for breast cancer exams for women who can’t afford them.

Which side you come down on is not the point of this blog.

My point is to showcase . . . yet again . . . the growing power of social media services such as Twitter and Facebook to galvanize people’s passion and to move people to action, so that you think seriously of how transformative not only Twitter and Facebook are, but the whole real-time, always-on Internet.  

The battle between these two well-known organizations didn’t play out in the media. Oh sure, the media reported it, but even the online media were constantly playing catch-up.
The battle played out on a person-by-person basis as each person weighed in and forwarded their thoughts and others to their friends who did the same. This happened in real-time. The cacophony got the attention of the media and in this case, the Komen organization.

And then there was the 22-year-old nanny who was working two jobs . . . one for a nonprofit . . . who started a petition on asking Bank of America to rescind their newly announced $5/month fee on her debit account. Over 300,000 people quickly signed her petition and the Internet lit up. What happened? Bank of America backed down and dropped the fee.

I worked in the commercial world all my adult life up to six years ago. From a commercial perspective, I see some value in using social media. But social media is made for focusing on things we are passionate about. And passion is what nonprofit charities generate.

With McDonald’s, it’s about the burger. But with your charity it’s about the work . . . the mission. Only 8-year-old boys who have been deprived too long get passionate about a Big Mac, but the rest of us can get really passionate about the causes we care about.

Can you just “bolt on” social media to the fundraising methodology your fundraising organization has been using for years? Not a chance!

If that’s your plan, you need to face the fact that you still don’t “get it.”

Find somebody who can help you.


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Thursday, February 9, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Turns Out We’re Biased

When we make decisions, we see what we want to see. We go with our “gut” and let hope override risks that don’t fit with our hopes.

You think that is bad? Actually, it’s worse. “We are often confident even when we are wrong,” says David Kahneman in his new book Thinking Fast and Slow. “An objective observer is more likely to detect our errors than we are.”

Here is a term you are going to be hearing more and more: Big Data. Huge amounts of data and decision science, also known as analytics will soon be driving daily decisions.

Computer systems will analyze billions of bits of data with self-learning algorithms to help us reduce our human biases from our decision making. And the big news: they will do it in real-time. For example, setting dynamic retail prices at Macy’s, prescribing a certain medication at your doctor’s office, or raising and lowering fare prices to maximize passenger loads and revenue for airlines. Actually, all three of those examples are already happening.

Want to see what I am talking about in story form? Rent the movie Moneyball; it’s just out on Netflix.

This is Moneyball in all kinds of industries. And it is already happening.

But what about fundraising? For those fundraisers that use direct marketing; can you see an application?

How about dynamically analyzing individual giving data to determine the “optimum time,” the “right message,” and the “optimum amount to suggest” when contacting a donor. All with an eye towards minimizing costs, maximizing revenue and enhancing the relationship with the donor. One, maybe two, “asks” a year, and still seeing year-over-year growth in each donor’s file. I call this “pushing out costs.”

Watch this very carefully! This is a key part of the coming Golden Age of fundraising.


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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Madonna’s Secret

I have to admit I actually kind of liked Madonna’s Super Bowl half-time show. Very surreal lighting effects, a few costume changes, and of course a cast of thousands can make pretty much anybody look good. And it worked.

But was this the Madonna from the 1980’s?

Besides my daughter noticing that her face looked “really tight,” her real secret to her longevity is reinvention.

The sexy girl reinvented herself as the glamour girl who then reinvented herself as the hip-hop girl. I’m probably missing a few reinventions but you get the picture.

It happens all the time in the world of entertainment as well as politics.

How about fundraising?

People like what your organization stands for. They trust you. But that doesn’t mean that your graphics and look can’t be more modern. And it isn’t just the look. It is also the channels you use to communicate with your donors and prospective donors.

Madonna has been successful. But rather than start putting out the “best of” albums of her old hits, now she is doing hip-hop.

You don’t have to play hip-hop on your website or get BOTOX, just update your look and expand your communication channels.


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Monday, February 6, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Timidity

Monday’s blog was tough sledding for many of my readers . . . No One Can Serve Two Masters.

Change is upon us and you have to be open to things you might not have thought of.

At Browne Innovation Group, we try not to sugar-coat the fact that the world of fundraising is changing but we want you to be a winner!

The winners will adopt new fundraising business models and will continue to grow their revenue stream for their organizations. It isn’t easy, but it certainly is rewarding. Just ask our clients.

The losers won’t move and that will be that.

There are many people who understand the perilous crossroads that many organizations are facing with digital disruption. One of those is the blogger and author Seth Godin. His recent blog was dead on.

In search of a timid trapeze artist

Good luck with that, there aren't any.
If you hesitate when leaping from rope to another, you're not going to last very long.
And this is at the heart of what makes innovation work in organizations, why industries die, and how painful it is to try to maintain the status quo while also participating in a revolution.
Gather up as much speed as you can, find a path and let go. You can't get to the next rope if you're still holding on to this one.


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Sunday, February 5, 2012

BIG’s Blog: No One Can Serve Two Masters

Jesus’ lesson goes way beyond money as the book of Matthew relates in Chapter 6, Verse 24. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

The shift in fundraising methodology is so profoundly different that you need to separate your existing marketing fundraising functions along the analogue and digital divide. Separate direct mail from all digital and Internet-based marketing. Donor services need to be placed in the digital group as well, but I’ll talk about that another day.

The only exception to this hard and fast rule is if your fundraising group is very small; five or fewer. But if you have a significant, long tenured direct mail fundraising group with dedicated staff and your program is still viable, leave them alone.

Trying to force direct mail managers and staff with deep experience in the science and art of direct mail fundraising to take on elements of the new digital marketing just doesn’t work. Been there – tried that. It doesn’t work.

No one can serve two masters.

Digital and web-based fundraising applications are new and rising and are just now beginning to deliver a financial impact while analogue (direct mail) is still the dominant fundraising financial driver. . . even though long term it is declining.

Take your digital and web-based marketing functions and separate them. Manage them separately. Staff them separately. Prepare separate budgets.

No one can serve two masters.


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Thursday, February 2, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Finding a 21st Century Roadmap

Let’s be honest, this change is massive. It’s bigger than just one thing, which is why we blog each time about just one element. We do this so that rather than “gulping” the elephant, you can eat it bite by bite.

Today I want to elevate one sub-group of my blog audience which is . . . interestingly enough . . . the oldest group of fundraisers in the nonprofit sector; they are the Catholic religious communities.

But secular nonprofit groups should still pay attention; there is much you can learn.

I am highlighting Catholic religious communities because virtually all of them were raising donations before direct mail fundraising became common fundraising practice. In fact, some of these religious communities pre-date the Postal Service.

Before mass marketing fundraising, individual members from these communities would travel out to churches, groups, and events, connecting with individuals by way of sharing stories about who they were and what their communities were about. They developed supporters one at a time. They kept in touch with these supporters. Over time they formed deep relationships with these supporters.

You could say that direct mail supplanted this personal contact methodology and you would be correct. And as direct mail fundraising evolved, the personal communication gave way to the “mass” communication. The process of acquiring supporters, thanking supporters, and just communicating with supporters evolved into a “mass” process. And insofar as all other fundraisers followed the same process, it worked for all. But that didn’t mean it was the most comfortable for the religious communities.

Today through technology we have evolved personal and interactive ways to communicate using the Internet. Many Catholic religious communities are seeing the connection to the “old ways” of connecting as becoming the “new way” of personally connecting to their supporters; returning to a more comfortable approach to developing relationships with supporters. One joked with me the other day that the past 80 years was a small aberration for her group and they wanted to return to their roots and connect personally with their many supporters. She viewed the Internet as allowing them to develop the depth of relationship they used to enjoy between themselves and their supporters.

Catholic religious communities are drawn to this more personal person-to-person contact methodology, but are struggling for a 21st century roadmap.

Many of these groups are engaging with us and it is exciting! Collectively, we are integrating the new technologies with the “old ways” of personally connecting and communicating. Very exciting indeed!


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