Thursday, November 29, 2012

BIG’s Blog: No Blog in December…

My blog will stop during the month of December this year.

I know…I know…what will you read with your morning coffee? Well, don’t lose heart, it will return in January 2013!


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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Re-Set 2

A lot of people will tell you that technology is changing the way Americans actually behave in their everyday lives... and they are right. For some of us, we can remember the pre-microwave oven world. Yes, we actually called it an "oven" because that is how the marketing and advertising people connected this new invention to what we understood as the appliance that cooked food. It was so new, so radical, that it had to be connected in our minds to something we already understood or we wouldn't get it. “Horseless carriage” was common parlance before we started calling it the automobile for the same reason. Do we think of either the microwave or the automobile as radical today?

Technology, especially communication technology, is radically shifting the way we do things...our behavior. Just like it is inconceivable to think about preparing the average family meal without using the microwave today, it is fast becoming inconceivable to be disconnected from our cellphone, or more accurately, our Internet-connected smartphone when we leave home. It is always on our person or within easy reach.

What are the implications? The most obvious is how we get almost instant answers to any question that we need to know or just pops into our head. We don't have to wait...we just ask Siri or type a query into Google. But the other side of that coin is that our connected device plugs into all kinds of time-fillers like Facebook, YouTube, or online games.

We gravitate to the time-fillers because we now have extra time based upon the radical shift in time-saving created by instant Internet access to a world of information.

So, even though we appear to have busy lives, the truth is that we actually have more discretionary time than ever before. It doesn't feel that way because we have bought into the "speed mindset." Instant gratification. And coupled with the consumerist mentality of always thinking we “have to have" the new-new thing, we are constantly on the run and our lives take on a hectic feel.

There is a group of faith-based charitable organizations that could play counter to this societal movement by stressing the message that there are things bigger and more important than our...let's be honest...”selfish" need for constantly satisfying our own desires. Chasing our desires is ultimately empty anyway, and deep down we all know it.

But for these charitable organizations, to carry that particular message, they have to engage "in the world,” not sit within a fortress keeping the world at bay and only sending out an occasional letter. Engaging the world means using the media of the culture of now, not the last century.

The "big idea" of the Browne Innovation Group's new program called Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters is that you must radically change the way your organization engages prospective supporters through social media of all kinds, as well as creating your own media. I say it is "radical" because it is so different from the way you practice fundraising today. In fact, we probably need to change the name of what we are doing. Instead of calling it "fundraising," which puts the focus on developing a transactional relationship, let’s re-name it "friend-raising" to more accurately reflect the shift in focus.

With friend-raising, donations or revenue become a by-product of the relationship that is focused on the mission of the organization and the needs of the supporter who is joining your mission.

I realize the phrase “friend-raising” has been out there in the fundraising literature for some time, but it had no real meaning other than a pop culture tag that sounded cute. I mean, did anyone who used the term ever proffer a notion of really changing the "what and how" we do our job in fundraising?

What we are doing at Browne Innovation Group when we use the phrase "friend-raising" is connecting it to an idea of something that fundraisers can relate to. Just like the marketing and advertising people who helped launch the microwave oven 40 years ago, we are attempting to connect something fundraisers do today, just using a different approach. In doing so, our hope is that it won't seem like such a radical method.

There is always the concern that when we use a word like “radical,” it scares some people. But the truth is there is nothing radical about making friends through sharing your passion about your mission. What is “radical” to my way of thinking is to hold on to a method of doing something after it has been clearly proved to be ineffective.

Please check out our Website [ ] where you can learn more about our new online learning and online consulting program called Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters. Our next group begins in January and there are still seats available. Let us know if your organization is interested.


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Sunday, November 25, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Re-Set

Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, the authors of The Networked Nonprofit, make the point that philanthropic giving, as a percent of the nation’s wealth, has not budged in 20 years. And they state emphatically, “The same-o, same-o special events, large individual donations and direct mail appeals have failed to increase the pool of donors.”

And then The Chronicle of Philanthropy comes out last week with the news in an article whose title captures the gist of the issue; Half of Nonprofits Face Fundraising Troubles in 2012. Guidestar surveyed 500 groups and the results of the survey showed the second highest decline only exceeded by 2009…the depths of the last recession.

Three years after the depth of the recession and in a growing economy, we are seeing donation numbers showing clear decline.

Donor fatigue? Same group of donors being asked to give more and more? Depression and WWII generational cohorts…the youngest of whom are 67… still representing an outsize percentage of donors?

What’s going on here?

It’s either the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result) or pure, unadulterated obfuscation on the part of nonprofit leadership.

If I hear one more person explain it away as, “Oh, it’s complicated,” I will seriously lose it!

It’s not complicated. If your fundraising organization cannot hit its goals during a time of general growth in the economy, their plan is failing. It doesn’t mean they are bad people, it just means that their methods aren’t working anymore.

If your database of donors is 70% or more over 70 years of age…you have deep structural problems with your fundraising plan.

Business-as-usual will not get you turned around. Nor will a more robust economy.

You need to quickly re-think your strategy to fundraising. Obviously something has changed since you learned fundraising awhile ago, and you have been heads-down practicing your profession. Even the best and brightest need a re-set from time to time.

Watch for my Wednesday blog and learn how you can positively change the course of your fundraising results.


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Friday, November 23, 2012

BIG’s Blog: A Virtuous Cycle versus A Vicious Cycle

For some reason, we hear way more about “the vicious cycle” than we hear about the “virtuous cycle.” Both are economic terms but are opposite sides of the same coin, so to speak. Both refer to complex chains of events that reinforce themselves through some sort of feedback loop. A virtuous cycle has favorable results, while a vicious cycle has detrimental results.

What does this have to do with fundraising? Well, today, about everything. The goal needs to be to move into a virtuous cycle whereby we are aligning our fundraising methods and organization with younger supporters, beginning with the Baby Boomers. This alignment is driven by how people, approximately age 66 and younger, actually consume information, communicate, and think about their relationship with the organizations they support today. Okay, if you want to get very precise, then cede the older Boomers to the WWII generational cohort and focus on those born in 1952 and later. This group tops out at age 60 and very much represents the digital-adopter cohort.

Right now fundraisers continue to focus on the method of fundraising rather than the target of their efforts. By focusing on the method – because that is what they know – they don’t see that the target has shifted in how they communicate. The result is that declining direct mail results have started a vicious cycle that spirals down until the fundraising organization essentially collapses. Three years? Five years? Eight years? Next year?

But almost every fundraising organization I talk with points to their updated Website, Facebook page, and their increasing use of emails as proof that they have “shifted” with their target prospects and current donors.

Yet, the vicious cycle of decline continues.

What’s the problem?

Well, unfortunately, something has to break the vicious cycle.

In economic terms, the cycle will continue in the direction of its momentum until an external factor intervenes and breaks the cycle.

There are two ways you can read that. Either it’s inevitably a bad ending, or, through choice you can bring the vicious cycle to an end and replace it with a virtuous cycle which, as I pointed out above, has a favorable result.

For fundraisers, it’s not pre-ordained. It’s a choice.

In other areas of life, some things are out of your control and happy endings are not possible. I was watching the PBS Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl the other night. To see what those poor farmers and their families went through on the southern plains, especially southern Kansas and northwestern Oklahoma, you actually started to wonder why they would put up with that life year after dry and dusty year. Then, in one of the interviews with people who were children back then, now in their eighties and nineties, one of them said, “We learn slow. If our crops were failing one year, we just worked harder the next year doing the same thing we had failed at before.”

Eventually, the natural disaster of the drought and dust bowl years broke most of the farmers and they started the great American migration west that is the basis for John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath.   

Those farmers and their families were at the mercy of elements beyond their control. But fundraisers can choose to end their vicious cycle and begin a virtuous cycle that will bring a much happier ending to their story.


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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Thanksgiving

I almost used the quote below for Labor Day, but the more I read it, the more I saw that the genius of the message was focused around the interior phrase, the opportunity.

We are blessed beyond what we can imagine in this country, even with all our shortcomings and travails. But as Americans, we are always a work in progress, always reaching for the new frontier. And that goes double for the many of us who work in the charitable nonprofit field.

Teddy Roosevelt’s quote goes to the heart of thanksgiving for us; it is a gift worth giving thanks for, to be able to work at what we all love.

Life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. – Teddy Roosevelt.


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Sunday, November 18, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Keep It Simple Silly

Fundraising leaders feel overwhelmed with the coming shift to digital marketing; SO MUCH to learn and to do.

It’s all in how you approach it.

Keep it simple.

Keep it simple.

Focus on learning and implementing one thing at a time.

Focus on learning and implementing one thing at a time.

The KISS principle (Keep It Simple Silly) works almost every time.

On the other hand, make it complicated and IT will likely fail.



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Thursday, November 15, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Donors Are Consumers Before They Are Donors

People in the western world – and the United States in particular – have shifted as consumers. They don’t make buying decisions they way they used to. And that applies to giving decisions as well.

Paid spokespeople don’t carry the weight that they used to carry in days gone by. Why? Because people have access to tons of online information and comparisons as well as other buyers’ reviews of products or services. In fact, more and more research is indicating that because of all this huge availability of accessible information, people are getting confused. And the result of the confusion is that more and more people are looking to trusted friends and acquaintances for recommendations.

So what are the most important words in the last paragraph? Right, it’s trusted friends.

Do you really think you can practice paper-and-ink fundraising in the same way it has been practiced for 60+ years and it will still work as well as it did ten years ago? Isn’t your paper-and-ink fundraising akin to the yellow pages when virtually every donor you desire to reach (not that you already have) is carrying around a smartphone?

Consumers have shifted, and donors are consumers before they are donors...which means the donors have shifted.   


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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

BIG’s Blog: We Are In a New Relationship Era

It’s time for a bit of soul searching for me. In these messages to you I have not been talking enough about the loss of attention and the loss of trust by the “average” potential supporter.

Top-down marketing (also known as Vertical marketing) is becoming less and less effective by the day… by the hour…even as Horizontal (peer to peer) marketing is becoming the dominant force in consumer decisions, and that includes choices of giving. It should be obvious, having just come through a presidential election cycle where both parties (but one party in particular) spent gazillions to influence behaviors and attitudes…and didn’t. No amount of paid push-advertising today can influence what people can find for themselves about a person, organization, or candidate online, or influence people who have a relationship with a friend or peer who is opining online for free.

Very quickly we are overturning one hundred years of mass marketing through proxy (newspapers, radio, and television) and returning to the local bazaar where people got to know each other, caught up on news, haggled over goods and services, and passed on stories about people and groups who were helping other people and making a difference.

We are quickly moving back into that type of relationship era, but now, it’s being facilitated via the Web.

All this nonsense that digital tools and social media are stifling or cocooning people from real relationships…total nonsense. Try telling that to the tens of thousands who found their significant other online. Or the school reunions where the first few awkward hours are gone because everyone is on Facebook.  The in-person reunion only throws gas on the relationship-fire that keeps burning up the Internet as people go their separate directions, but stay connected with the lives of their classmates.  

So what does this mean for fundraisers? It’s all about relationships. It has always been about relationships. Today you can organize your fundraising group using inexpensive and easy-to-use technology to manage a hundred, a thousand, a hundred-thousand, or a million relationships. And if you don’t start doing this quickly…the more behind you become.

But, back to “loss of attention” and “loss of trust.” If they are under 50, you have a choice: send them a letter or call them on their cell phone. If you call them on their cell phone in a way where they actually invite you to call them…you gain their trust. That’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


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Sunday, November 11, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Shifting Demographics Matter

As the recent presidential election showed, when Obama carried 80% of the minority vote, the Republicans just could not overcome the numbers in a tight race. Former president George Bush understood and courted the Hispanic vote, the current crop of Republican contenders and the party’s standard bearer…not so much. Self-deportation…please!

Three days before the election I read that the race would come down to the Hispanic vote turnout. Guess what? It did, and it did not go well for Romney.

The presidential race is bringing to the forefront the shifting demographics of the United States, especially with regards to the Hispanic population. In 1960, Hispanics made up 3.5% of the population. Today it is north of 17% and by 2050, Hispanics are projected to account for almost one of every three Americans.

Just like politicians, fundraisers need to understand and be ahead of the curve of demographic change. For some fundraising groups like Catholic fundraisers, the rise of Hispanic numbers isn’t about catering to another minority segment, but potentially developing ongoing relationships with the dominant group.

How can Catholic groups make inroads? Well, Pew Research reports that of definable groups, Hispanics have the highest ownership percentage of smartphones.

Shifting demographics means shifting fundraising tactics.


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Thursday, November 8, 2012

BIG’s Blog: The Election’s Over…

The election is over, but what is the takeaway for savvy fundraisers?

We learned, courtesy of Pew Research, that among the 13% of adult Americans who contributed to one of the presidential candidates in this year’s election:

67% donated in person, over the telephone, or by mail.
50% donated online or via email.
10% donated by sending a text message from their cell phone or using an app.

The percentage of online donations grew again this presidential election cycle and this was the first time that the Federal Election Commission allowed campaign contributions by text messaging.

What are the implications for charitable organizations seeking to make it easy for their supporters to donate?

Traditional mail and telephone still hold the lead, but if you add together online and text messaging donations and call them “digital,” they easily become the growth channel.

For charities, the question is this: How do your donation channel percentages compare to this last presidential cycle? If you’re like most groups I talk to, your online (or digital) might be a high of 10%. However, most fall into the 5% range.

The presidential election cycle provides a great comparison of what people are really choosing for contribution channels.

60% of the people who contributed to the presidential election choose a digital channel for one or more of their contributions. If your fundraising organization is at 10% or under in digital donations, then the question is: What are you missing in donations with such a low number?


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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Being Stuck

You want to move but you’re afraid to move.

The whole world is going digital, yet what you know is direct mail. Nobody said you should dump your direct mail program, as long as it is working for you. Hopefully, it still is.

What direct mail and online fundraising have in common is that they are both “big nets.” You have to have a big net to keep bringing in new supporters. Planned giving and its off-shoot, major donor, are not about bringing in new supporters. I know that you know this, but lately, some of your fundraising brethren are pulling back on direct mail to invest in major donor work. That makes no sense.

Planned giving and major donor work is icing on the cake of “big net” fundraising, which is direct mail (especially acquisition) and online. Direct mail and online are known as “annual giving” and they are the base of your triangle of giving. Without a big net effort, you don’t have the supporters who turn into major donors or bequests.

But, back to the issue of “being stuck.”

Online is very different from direct mail, and none of us feel comfortable with what we don’t understand. At Browne Innovation Group we will offer an online education program called Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters, beginning in January and focusing solely on “online.” But as my blog reader, I’m giving you a heads up. Let me know if you are interested, and I’ll see that you receive information. If you learn about online and become conversant and comfortable with it, maybe you’ll also become unstuck.


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Sunday, November 4, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Nothing Moves until Something is Sold

An automobile, a brand of detergent, an iPad, or an idea; nothing moves until something is sold.

Whether it is the car salesman on the lot describing the features of the new car you are looking at, or the very capable young tech salesperson at Best Buy or the Apple Store, showing you all the reasons why you should part with $400 to own a new iPad. Or maybe it’s your idea for streamlining a process that keeps generating complaints from your donors.

Nothing moves until something is sold.

That’s a big challenge in fundraising today, but not because we don’t have creative and talented people who are able to tell the story, or clearly communicate the mission. No, the problem is that the megaphone grows smaller and we are reaching fewer and fewer new potential converts to our cause.

“But that’s not true,” some say, “why, we are on the Internet through our Web site and Facebook page.”

Yes you are. But how is that working for you? How do you handle the contacts? How do you engage people who come to your Web site? What are the metrics you monitor to see what their interest is and if they are engaging and donating?

A friend of mine owns a gas station on I-70 in the middle of Kansas. He once told me, “A million dollars goes past my station every day.”

How many potential supporters and potential donors (because they really are different) come to your Web site and never return?

Nothing moves until something is sold.

This may not be a pressing issue to you today, but as your megaphone of direct mail grows smaller and smaller, year after year, this shrinkage will soon affect your planned giving.

It’s far better to be building a new megaphone today before the other one is gone. Your message and your mission are as relevant today as they have ever been, but without a viable megaphone to get your message out, your message will not be heard.

And nothing moves until something is sold.


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Thursday, November 1, 2012

BIG’s Blog: All the Slow (fill-in-the-blank) are Dead

My blogs cover a lot of tough facts and topics that many fundraisers would rather not have to read. Facts are stubborn things. I get labeled…and rightly so…as the purveyor of too much doom and gloom about fundraising today. Yes, I am guilty; they are inconvenient truths. But frankly, no one is more tired of having to go over the same plowed ground again and again than me.

The truth is, I cannot wait for the day that the vast majority of fundraisers have shifted their fundraising methodologies primarily to digital means. That would open so many new areas to blog about. So, please, hasten the day that you will view my posts as uplifting by passing them along to your fundraising brethren who…how shall I say this delicately…are more oriented to the status quo than you.

One of my favorite bloggers is Seth Godin. A while back he wrote a short blog entitled “All the slow hedgehogs are dead” that I believe is destined to be a classic. I put it forth below in its entirety. Maybe, instead of me having to remind fundraisers – yet again – that direct mail is in terminal decline, Seth’s story can carry a similar message and let the readers draw their own analogy.

For fifty years, it was a national disgrace.
Motor cars in the UK often left behind road kill. Hedgehogs would meander across the road and splat.
Today, you hardly see that anymore. One reason is that there are fewer hedgehogs due to suburbanization. The real reason, though, is that slow hedgehogs became former hedgehogs, which meant that they were unable to produce more slow hedgehog kids.
The new hedgehogs were fast.
Draw your own organizational analogy,


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