Sunday, September 30, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Technology Isn't Just About Fundraising, Its About Ending Poverty Too

All our lives we've seen from afar the ravages of poverty afflict millions of people, most from sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. Several of our client organizations work in those areas.

But there are glimmers of hope being brought about by new technology. Hugh Evens and Simon Moss, who write for the Huffington Post, an online newspaper, wrote an article that gives you a glimpse of new innovative uses of technology that are tackling problems that keep people who live on $1.50 a day in poverty.

So, here is the irony. As you’ll read in the below article, those living in poverty in some of the poorest areas of our world are eagerly adopting technologies made available through the Internet as quickly as they can to pull themselves out of their current states. Yet, First World fundraisers, many of whom are raising donations for just these populations are slow to give up their 20 and 30 year old pre-Internet technologies that are starting to fail.

Does anyone else see irony in that?


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Thursday, September 27, 2012

BIG’s Blog: The Secrets That Everybody Already Knows

It all started five years ago…circa late 2007. Fundraising numbers were down. It was a terrible recession. But then came 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and now 2012. Guess what? The numbers haven’t come back, in fact, in many cases they have gotten worse. We’ve got answers though. The recession is still here, it really never went away. The economy is still in the tank, so that explains why our numbers are still down.

Except that… the economy really has come back. Nobody is boasting that it is robust and growth is anemic, but we’ve technically been out of recession since 2009. Yes… 2009.

Nope…something else is going on here.

The Direct Marketing Association tells us that direct mail response rates have fallen 25% over the last nine years. That started before the last recession (Source: 2012 Response Rate Report).

No…something else is going on here.

I just returned from the National Catholic Development Conference’s annual meeting where I spoke to about 40 different organizations. Guess how many grew last year over the year before? Exactly four. But if you took out bequests, they, too, were down. And projections for this year? They are working hard to hold even with last year.

So what’s going on?

The answer lies in your donor file. A simple age overlay would show that between 65% and 85% of your current donors are over 67 years old. They fall into the Depression and WWII generational cohorts. Yet this group only represents 12% of the population and, frankly, many are getting to the point they cannot give.  

The big question is, “Where are the Boomers?” The Baby Boomer generation represents about 24% of the population, and they range in age from 48 to 66. And according to Pew Research, they have been and continue to be donating their money to all kinds of charitable institutions.

But here is the deal. When my 86 year old mother makes a donation to a charity, she is giving a gift. When my 56 year old wife makes a donation to a charity, she is making an investment.

Gift versus Investment…very different approach, very different expectations.

A gift says: “I trust the institution and only expect a thank you.” An investment says: “I want to know how and where my money is spent and I want to be kept apprised of the results.”

Very different.

To attract younger donors, beginning with the Baby Boomers, fundraising organizations must change the relationship between the donor and the organization. They must become supporter-centered, not organization-centered. What is organization-centered? It’s about the organization…this is what WE do, this is who WE are…it’s about THEM. While organization-centered works for my 86 year old mother whose generation “trusts” institutions, it does not work for my 56 year old wife’s generation where “institutional trust is gone.”

This isn’t something new. Commercial businesses have had to change their relationship approach over the last twenty years. Successful companies today know that they must be customer-centered. If they do not treat the customer as king or queen, the customer will vote with their wallet and leave.

Fortunately charities that are supporter or donor-centered understand that they don’t have to treat their donors as kings or queens, but rather as co-equal partners in the mission.

What does co-equal mean? It means open communication and transparency, as well as responsiveness.  

If your organization has anywhere near 65% to 75% of your supporters in the Depression and WWII generations, you are frankly headed towards a collapse in donations. Not a fall-off…a collapse. Will my 86 year old mother be around in ten years? I certainly hope so, but we are planning accordingly. Yet it seems many charitable fundraising organizations are betting their organizations that my mother WILL be here ten years hence.

You MUST develop a plan to attract younger supporters, and very quickly.

For fundraising organizations that want to find an end to the donation slump…develop a new plan that moves your organization toward being supporter-centered rather than organization-centered. This will be a key first step in transforming your fundraising organization for the future and will go a long way in laying the foundation for solid financial support long into the future.


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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Video Stories

The commercial world is just catching on to what a few exceptional nonprofit fundraisers have already figured out; that telling a story through short videos connects with people in a powerful way.

Now the commercial marketing world is working to humanize brands. As one of them said, “Practically no one is going to share a video that’s nothing more than a typical commercial featuring a new Mustang or other new car, but they might share a touching story of how someone felt about their first Mustang 10, 20, or 30 years ago, and how they felt that first day cruising down the highway with the top down.”

Here are what commercial marketers say are the unique benefits from video stories for brands: The video comes across as authentic. They are real people sharing real memories that reflect positively on the brand. Then, there’s the endorsement by a satisfied customer expressed in a warm, friendly, non-salesy manner. And finally, these stories personalize the brand.

I’m not saying marketing people can’t use every tool in the box to promote products . . . but they are going to be out there making the kinds of videos that your organization should be making. And instead of the subject being the poor and homeless, trafficked girls, the hungry, the mentally ill or retarded, or the marginalized, the subject will be Clorox, jewelry, a new car or motorcycle.

Your stories will REALLY connect because they are not contrived. They are real.

Tell your story in video.

And if you need help finding the right videographer, call or email me and I’ll send you a short list of some of the best.

If you want to see what I am talking about, click on the link below and then click on Rachel’s Wish:


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Sunday, September 23, 2012

BIG’s Blog: When Things Aren’t Working

My dad had a different attitude toward buying cars. Unlike most people today who trade every three or four years, my dad’s attitude was, first, you always buy a used car, preferably one to two years old, and second, you drive it until the problems call into question the very soundness of the car.

When fixable things broke, you fixed them . . . but the basic car was sound. When the very basis of the car’s soundness was called into question and your family was put at risk, you got rid of the car.

When things aren’t working, when things are really broken down, that is precisely the time to shift to a new model.

What applies to cars also applies to fundraising.

You need a new model.


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Thursday, September 20, 2012

BIG’s Blog: A Note from Jeff Norton circa 2008

Rummaging through some old files on my desk, I found a note from January of 2008 from Jeff Norton, who is the Operations Director of the Columban Fathers. The Columbans are a client of ours.

The note Jeff sent me was an AFP e-newsletter, and the headline was, “Direct-Mail Donors Still Dwindling.”

The Third Quarter 2007 Index of National Fundraising Performance, done by Target Analysis Group, examined direct-mail charitable transactions from 72 charities involving more than 39 million donors and 70 million gifts totaling more than $1.9 billion in revenue for the 2 months ending in the third quarter (Q3) of 2007.

The first headline: New Donors Hard to Find. The major factor is noted as a decline in acquisition rates.

The second headline: Reasons for Declines. The index offers several reasons for the decline in donors: 1) A changing generational profile in the United States, 2) Changing attitudes of donors about giving, and 3) A change in focus by fundraisers toward higher-dollar donors. “I do not think direct mail is dying, but it is changing,” said Carol Rhine, senior fundraising analyst at The Target Group. “The catalogue industry has learned this: They still send the catalog, but customers no longer order through the mail. They get information in the mail, but they buy over the phone or online. Direct mail has to change so it can accommodate the trend.”

Do you remember one of Albert Einstein’s famous quotes, besides “E=MC2?” It had to do with the definition of insanity. Goes like this: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

“Direct mail isn’t dying, but it is changing.” Really?

I do give Target Analysis Group the kudos for noting the three key issues for the decline. But today nothing has changed except that the numbers have gotten worse. But I don’t have to tell that to Development Directors…they’ve lived it in watching the declining numbers for the last four years.

Let’s just say it… “Direct mail is dying.” In fact, it is in terminal decline. It isn’t coming back. But, direct marketing is still alive and well. Lists turn into information, and Mail Packages turn into other forms of digital communication.


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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

BIG’s Blog:  The Power of  Facebook – Not the Stock Price

September 19, 2012

Kudos to Catherine Taylor for her article that finally asks the “right” question: “What If We Got This Facebook Thing Wrong?”

People talk about Social Media and, of course, they mention the 800 pound gorilla in the room – Facebook. But all you hear at fundraising gatherings is, “Nobody is bringing in revenue from using Facebook.”

Newsflash, Facebook is till trying to figure out how to leverage their network to bring in more money, too.

But thank you Catherine for saying what needs to be said…

But what none of these headlines can get at is the powerful flip side of Facebook, the part that has incalculable value, but, as its revenue models are structured now, is unmonetizable. What is it? The power of being able to connect with people who mean something to you.
It’s the way users derive value from the site, but, while a brand may piggyback on this interest, by overtly buying into the News Feed, or by harnessing data from Facebook interactions, those things have nothing to do with the value that people derive from it.
Once again, I’ll return to two examples from my personal life to illustrate what I mean:
Last night, I spent time scrolling through MOPS, the acronym the locals use for the Moms of Pelham Facebook group. (Yes, rocket scientists, that’s where I live.) Here are the topics covered in the five most recent posts:
1.     The time of the high school football parents’ meeting last night.
2.     The sorry state of a local vegetable garden.
3.     A request for mason recommendations to repair a slate walkway.
4.     A reachout from a newcomer about the local elementary school.
5.     A recommendation for a new pediatrician.
What kind of value do you put you on a group capable of doling out advice and information on gardening, the school system, and local masons, all at your fingertips? Of course, these groups have existed online since we were all using dial-up modems to experience the wonders of America Online. But what separates the Facebook experience from its precursors is critical mass. 
Pelham is a town of 12,000 people, and 680 of them are members of MOPS. Engagement levels are incredibly high. Almost every post gets at least one comment. In fact, it’s far more common that a post will have comments than “Likes.” But, while there’s plenty of discussion about goods and services, there is virtually no local advertising, except for a right hand column ad from our ubiquitous State Assemblywoman. And I’m really not sure how well advertising would go down, unless it was part of the kind of well-thought-out social media content strategy that most advertisers, let alone Mom-and-Pop stores, haven’t yet engineered.
As powerful as MOPS is though, it only scrapes the surface of how deep Facebook connections can go at their best. And, so, now, for my other example:
For years now, my family and I have wondered whatever happened to the family that used to live down the hill from us, especially their youngest son, who moved from my hometown when I was seven, and was one of the closest playmates I ever had. You know how this story ends, because you’ve probably experienced it. He was wondering about us all these years too. And now, we’re reunited, on Facebook.
It’s impossible to put a price on that. A CPM?  A market cap? Are you kidding me? 

Fundraisers are first and foremost about building relationships. Acquiring, building, and nurturing; that is what Facebook’s real power is all about. And the money?… Same response every Development Officer gives their boss after calling on the prospect for the first time…“the money will come.”   


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Sunday, September 16, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Bought/Ordered Your iPhone 5?

Okay tech-fans, have you bought or ordered the just-released iPhone 5?

When you finally go into the store to check it out, buy, or pick it up, the conversation won’t be about 3G or 4G but LTE. Even Sprint, which is just rolling out its LTE network and is way behind AT&T and Verizon, will still talk about it. That is because LTE is what you have been waiting for; real speed. The cellular companies love it because its utilization costs are less but they are going to charge the customers more. Sprint is the only one today with a truly unlimited data plan, but look for that to be phased out as Sprint’s LTE network builds out.

With the iPhone 5, the computer is now in your pocket/purse. The looming battle is between Apple and Google.  Blackberry and Nokia have fallen too far behind and don’t have the software infrastructure to compete. Going forward the focus is on software.

Mark Andreessen, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and now co-founder of venture capital firm Andreessen-Horowitz, who has invested in Facebook, Groupon, Skype, Twitter among others, has put forward the thesis that “software will eat the world.” What he means by that is that moving forward six decades into the computer revolution (he goes back to computers starting in the 1950s), that all the technology required to transform industries through software finally works, and can be widely delivered. And oh, by the way, the cost of technology is dropping and the application power is growing.

More and more major industries are being run on software and delivered as online services – from movies to agriculture to national defense.

The iPhone 5 is in the category of smartphones, and by the end of this year, smartphones will be over 50% of the U.S. market. So penetration of smartphones will grow but now the attention turns to apps. Apps are software.

Now it’s about what you can do with your smartphone. It’s about how you use your smartphone. What functions do you need? With LTE the speed is there and that’s what will drive software creativity.

We do more and more with smartphones and other portable devices. Doesn’t everyone see this? Yet in my last presentation, a guy asked me, “Are you saying direct mail is dead?”

Come on, go out and buy the new iPhone 5. Play with it, use it, figure out what all the hype is about and let it become an indispensable part of your life – the way it is already for 150 million Americans. Then let’s talk about building a real online plan for your fundraising organization so we can connect with those folks.


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Thursday, September 13, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Can Fundraising Really Change?

Not only can fundraising methods change, they absolutely will change, and dramatically within the next five years.

However, since it’s Friday, I thought I would share a story of mine that will make the point. And I think those in fundraising will relate to it.

In the late 1980’s, most retail banks… not their credit card operations… were essentially advertisers. The bank marketing directors typically came from the world of advertising agencies. It was very common for marketing people to move back and forth between what they called the “agency side” and the “client side” in all sectors of business, not just retail banking.

As such, these marketing directors’ expertise was in broadcast, print, billboards, and public relations. Direct marketing or direct mail advertising was a scant percentage of their advertising mix and typically for banks, it was a bank brochure sent through the mail.

All this changed with the arrival of database programs that could run on personal computers in the 1980s. This new tool allowed bank marketers to create a database of the bank’s customers by household, with all the accounts and account balances for every bank customer. More to the point, the opportunity for bank marketers was to see households that were already customers of the bank but didn’t have certain bank products. Those households then became the most likely prospects for cross-selling additional bank products and services.

The bank marketing directors were some of the smartest folks I have ever worked with. They remind me of a lot of Development Directors. Bank marketing directors began to allocate more and more budget to direct marketing because it delivered a return on their marketing budget that they could prove to their CEO and the bank’s Board of Directors was driving growth and profitability for the bank.

And, of course, the major direct marketing media in the 80s and 90s was mail.

I understand the irony in the story I have just told you of the situation many Development Directors face as their direct mail fundraising… the transformational savior for bank marketers in the 80s and 90s as well as being the growth engine for nonprofit fundraisers from the late 1970s through about 2005…is now in terminal decline. But nothing is going to suddenly change and bring back direct mail fundraising to the profitability levels of 10, 15, or 20 years ago.

As direct mail marketing took more and more of traditional advertising budgets for retail banks in the 1990s, so too online and mobile will inevitably displace direct mail fundraising budgets into the future.

Although for fundraisers there is a caveat.
And what is that caveat?

The caveat is that this shift to online and mobile will happen much faster.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Connectedness

Maybe we are missing the real significance of the change that has taken place with the personalized connection of mobile devices; specifically the smartphone.

At a certain level, we have looked at mobile as just an extension of our PCs and laptops instead of as a whole new phenomenon. Understandable, as they come at us so fast.

As fundraisers, what we know is donor acquisition and ongoing contact via direct mail appeals and an occasional phone call. That, to us, is connectedness with prospective donors and our current donors. We keep looking at the digital world as an “electronic” version of our printed direct mail world.

Remember when websites first came out? Our original websites were nothing more than electronic brochures.

We keep doing the same things.

We keep looking at the digital online world (and now mobile) and we try to figure out how it fits into the world that we understand.

Reminds me of that old saw: “Today’s Generals are always fighting the last war.”

What if the mobile smartphone device doesn't fit into any of our preconceived processes of connecting because it is something completely new?

What we are seeing with smartphones is personalized connectedness that "is something completely new.” Not only is this personalized connection from one person to one person, but it opens a single individual to the universe of all people holding a smartphone device.

Clearly digital connectedness began to happen when the personal computer came out with email . . . but email as connectedness was just a variant of the telephone.

But the smartphone is carving out its own space and value-in-being as something completely different. With “apps” and the cloud, the smartphone is quickly moving into the realm of the computer, as are tablet devices.  But the smartphone stands alone as “the connector” in mobile since its very raison d'être (reason for being) is to be a communication device. And for fundraisers, the multi-function smartphone communication device is the real game changer.


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Sunday, September 9, 2012

BIG’s Blog: The Wonderful World for Fundraisers

As far as fundraisers are concerned, it is becoming just a fundamentally different and a fundamentally wonderful world.

Have you ever experienced something you had just seen, tasted, or read, and wished you could share it with all your friends at once?

Of course you have. And you've heard the old saying: "A picture is worth a thousand words." And you've probably read my retort: "Well then what is a video worth?"

Back in the 1980s, Mother Angelica of EWTN fame spent a small fortune - hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars - to have the capability to upload her programs to a satellite for rebroadcast through cable systems and people with their own dishes across North America.

Do you realize that today you have the same ability to push your messages out as EWTN? But of course with EWTN, CBS, and all the rest of the traditional broadcast networks, it’s about audience. Their value is getting a lot of people to watch their programs at the same time.

But EWTN, CBS, NBC, ESPN... have nothing on you. They can only reach a finite audience, but you can reach the world.

You know what's happening, don't you? You and everybody else are tuning out traditional network TV programming. Their numbers have been collapsing for a decade or more and now the cable systems and the dish networks are also shrinking.

And do you know why? Because screens are proliferating.

We still have the TV screen, but now your PC or laptop computer is also an important screen, or more recently, your tablet device screen. But the most important screen is quickly becoming your smartphone screen.

With fewer and fewer exceptions, a mass audience at one point in time is giving way to viewers of all kinds of content. And, of course, time and space is not a factor since we can call up what we want to view, when we want, where we want, and on whatever device we choose.

Your organization can have just as much potential impact as any major television network or cable system. Ponder that for a moment.

The genie is out of the bottle, and for fundraisers looking to get their message out, it is a fundamentally different and fundamentally wonderful time.

So now that you know, what does that mean for getting your message out to a world full of potential supporters?


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Thursday, September 6, 2012

BIG’s Blog: The Connect World

Today we live in the connect world.

First connect.

The Internet is the connection.


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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Mobile is NOT a Strategy

They will remain anonymous, but several well-known writers and bloggers in the fundraising world have lately been putting out silly statements about the rise of mobile. Such as, “Why it’s time to have a mobile strategy” or “Mobile deserves its own strategy.” What??

Of course mobile is rising. As smartphones and tablet devices grow more powerful in their capabilities driven by free or inexpensive applications (apps), their numbers grow and they become the number one way to connect to the individual for friends and family, businesses, and fundraisers.

But the only people who need to develop a strategy for mobile are the phone companies or the mobile device manufacturers. For fundraisers, or businesses for that matter, mobile becomes a “tactical” channel to customers, constituents, and donors. Mobile is a part… albeit a growing part… of a larger fundraising strategy.

You don’t develop a STRATEGY around a tactic. You develop strategies around goals and objectives.

A better way to say it is “What is your plan for mobile?”


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Sunday, September 2, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Picking Up Allies

It was just five years ago that two “facts” came together in my mind, merged and started me down the path that is the focus of our practice here are Browne Innovation Group.

Fact #1. Direct mail fundraising as a core strategy for growth in annual giving was going to fail. I have been a direct mail marketer almost all my working life; first leading a mail order merchandise company and then founding a direct marketing agency. I was not only a member of the Direct Marketing Association; I was the establishment of the DMA.

Fact #2. The Internet will be the growth engine for new donor acquisition and growth in annual giving for fundraisers for the next twenty years. Fundraisers who have depended on direct mail to be their “big net” in growing their donor file, which in turn grows bequests, are now seeing their donor file shrink (a new phenomenon) which portends declining bequests in years to come as well as annual revenue.

This insight led to the development of our Transformation Fundraising program which helps fundraisers transform their direct mail-centered Development group into a donor-centered strategy that is built on the Internet.

Since this seemed so obvious, I could not understand why other consulting groups were not singing the same song. Now the chorus is beginning.

Beth Kanter, author of The Networked Nonprofit also has a blog. Last Friday, September 1, the title of her blog was: Redesign Your Nonprofit Organization for Success in the Age of Connectivity. Beth has been an early and consistent advocate for utilizing the Internet’s capabilities, particularly social communication platforms, to not only connect with donors and supporters, but actually using these Internet-based tools to manage your nonprofit organization including fundraising.

Our whole consulting practice is about transforming fundraising, which inherently means redesigning your direct mail-centric organization. Beth Kanter is a significant voice in the nonprofit world and she is now stating explicitly, “It’s time to redesign your nonprofit organization for success in the age of connectivity.”


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