Wednesday, January 30, 2013

BIG’s Blog: If You’re Going to Retire this Decade – Part One

Running the show...being "on" 24/7/365...that is what the job of the CEO is about. It's also what being the Development Director is about. The pressure of orchestrating your fundraising organization to hit your annual goal takes knowledge, experience and ... wisdom.

Remember back in the late 90s and early 00s? When “Idiot" venture capitalists were throwing millions of dollars at start-up companies (can you say sock puppet?) started and run by twenty-somethings? What happened? Right, most of them bombed out and were either acquired by "real" companies - because some of their core ideas were actually brilliant - or they went bankrupt.

Hello...twenty-somethings have enthusiasm and energy. Some rare individuals may actually have a really brilliant insight or idea that can be commercialized into a company... but no twenty-something has WISDOM. Wisdom is what you have a Development Director for.

The Captain of the airplane doesn't fly the plane; that's the job of the first officer - the second in command. So what is the Captain’s job? To plot the course and BE THERE if there is a problem. WISDOM !

Wisdom, however, is also about being discerning of change. If conditions change and turbulence blows up, it is the Captain that takes the controls. The Captain may never have seen the exact conditions she is now flying through, but she has the wisdom and experience to do what is necessary to alter course and bring the plane to a safe landing.

So if the Captain’s main job isn't to fly the plane day-to-day, then what’s her day-to-day job? Answer: constant learning. No one pilot...can have first-hand experience with every single iteration of possible situations faced in flight. It's all about training and high-level learning.

And in those situations where the entire foundation of the industry changes for air-flight...think the shift from propeller-driven aircraft to jet aircraft...all the senior pilots go back to school.


P.S. If you’re interested, or you know someone that might be interested, we will be holding a Webinar that introduces our new e-Learning program, Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters. There is no cost for the Webinar but seats are limited, so if you’re interested in learning more, email me your name and I will personally see you get on the list.

Welcome to BIG's Blog!  Please feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers...and email me a comment at:

Monday, January 28, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Keeping A Theme Going

I can write about, speak about, and talk one-on-one with charitable fundraising leadership all day long, but in the end they have to own the problem and act.

For over thirty years I have run or partnered with other entrepreneurs to build innovative and successful organizations. Then, eight years ago, I switched into a “consulting” mode to share my experience and make an impact in the nonprofit fundraising sector.

After testing the concept, as of the first of the year, Browne Innovation Group has moved from the traditional model of consulting in-person and on-site (which is probably too expensive for most nonprofit organizations) to a low-cost model of e-learning and virtual coaching which has been incredibly well-received.


There are two major reasons. First, literally the entire charitable fundraising sector’s current model is failing; especially those who are heavily dependent on direct mail. Trust me, it isn’t just your organization that is struggling. Second, outside of our methodology, which actually gives you a plan to transform your fundraising organization, all the rest of the industry is just offering their products or services – great products and services they are too - but still, mere tactics. Where do you go to get a comprehensive and unified plan and strategy to pull it all together?

The reactions…

Either you are excited that someone is actually saying what you know in your gut is right and has a plan to fix it, or this kind of straight talk sounds at best, scary, and at worse, off the moon.

We have clients who felt both ways when they first heard our message.

Come on…it is not you or your organization. The fundraising field has shifted. There was a time that what you are doing (your methodology) was successful.

Success stops when you do.


P.S. If you’re interested, or you know someone that might be interested, we will be holding a Webinar that introduces our new e-Learning program, Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters. There is no cost for the Webinar but seats are limited, so if you’re interested in learning more, email me your name and I will personally see you get on the list.

Welcome to BIG's Blog!  Please feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers...and email me a comment at:

Friday, January 25, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Solomon

I read a blog a couple of weeks ago by Seth Godin that contained a very profound statement: “not enough people believe they are capable of productive initiative.”

Is that true?

His name was Solomon. My wife and her friend found him abandoned in a rural hospital in Haiti. Solomon was around nine months old and had hydrocephalus. Solomon just lay in his crib and cried because he was always in pain. My wife’s friend Jennet is an ER doctor from Miami who arranged to get a shunt flown in from Miami and the local doctor agreed to perform the operation. The operation was successful but Solomon was very weak. My wife located a children’s home for him but infection set in and Solomon died a week later.

Even now, Solomon’s story is hard to think about because of the pain he suffered in his short life. But my wife and Jennet cared and they undertook an initiative to get Solomon the care he needed and into a better life. How could they not do it?

Where are those that will initiate change in the fundraising industry, even in their own fundraising organizations?

The change that is roiling the fundraising industry began with the Internet…not with the last recession. But the Internet’s disruptive effects are a double-edged sword. On one side, it is killing your current fundraising model. While on the other side it holds the promise of transforming your organization’s ability to raise the needed revenue it needs to fund your missions long into the future. But it’s a different fundraising model and different involves initiative.

Only the charitable sector raises funds to invest in “doing good” with no expectation of a monetary return. To find little Solomons abandoned in hospitals and to try…to take the initiative…to give them a better life.

Isn’t that worth taking the initiative?



P.S. If you’re interested, or you know someone that might be interested, we will be holding a Webinar that introduces our new e-Learning program, Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters. There is no cost for the Webinar but seats are limited, so if you’re interested in learning more, email me your name and I will personally see you get on the list.

Welcome to BIG's Blog!  Please feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers...and email me a comment at:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Transformation

Well, my last blog, “Transitionalist or Transformationalist,” brought some polite and some strong criticisms. The polite ones merely stated they weren’t certain which camp they were in. One person also said the names were too long, so from now on it’s “Transition or Transformation.”

The strong criticisms were people cancelling their blog subscription. It’s not coincidence; it’s happened after I have made equally strong statements in the past. But I keep getting new subscriptions daily, so…

Why do I believe this is not a transition?

First, I firmly believe (after talking to many fundraising leaders) that they do not understand the magnitude of the change the analogue-to-digital shift is having across society and how quickly it is happening. Second, most fundraising groups are not facing up to the fact that the Depression and WWII generations, who have supported their organizations for years, are declining rapidly and the younger generations – beginning with the Boomers – take a very different approach to giving. And third, although most fundraisers acknowledge the rise of competition for the donor dollar, all they see are eroding margins and have no strategy to reverse it.

Finally, I can find no examples of organizations or industries that faced similarly significant technological change and “transitioned” their way to prosperity.

Was there a half-horse / half-automobile as we shifted from horse-based transportation to the automobile?

Was there a half-candle / half-electric light as we shifted from fire light to electric light?

Maybe you can think of a technology transition that created a link between two fundamentally different technologies. I am stumped and cannot.

Don’t confuse cross-over periods with transition. A cross-over period is the time when the old technology is declining while the new technology is rising to replace it…but they are both in use.

In today’s fundraising, direct mail communications and its methodologies will decline while Internet-based forms of communications will create the basis for a whole new way to communicate and engage nonprofit supporters. This is a cross-over.
When we have fully shifted our fundraising, it will not look the same. It won’t be practiced the same. It will be more in-sync with the expectations of younger generations and it will ultimately be more successful than the old methodologies.

One will decline and one will rise. We are living in the cross-over period, but make no mistake, this is transformation.

Bob Dylan said it best, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”


P.S.  If you’re interested, we will be holding a Webinar that introduces our new e-Learning program: Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters. There is no cost for the Webinar, but seats are limited, so if you’re interested in learning more, email me your name and I will personally see you get on the list.

Welcome to BIG's Blog!  Please feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers...and email me a comment at:

Monday, January 21, 2013

BIG’s Blog: A Real Crossroads

Who are you going to believe?

As if its not hard enough to actually do the work to get your fundraising organization on a path to grow revenue again, you have to contend with conflicting advice. This is even harder to figure out when differing advice comes from equally “credible” sources.

This is a big problem for fundraising leadership. To help clarify the conflict and hopefully simplify the options, I am going to list the two worldviews that the two major camps of fundraising Thought Leadership fall into.

The first camp is that of the “Transitionalist.” The Transitionalist believes that the foundation of how we think about and practice fundraising is fundamentally sound, but the tools fundraisers use are changing... and those tools will slowly alter some of our practices. This camp believes that you will somehow transition your fundraising organization to success once again. The Transitionalist sees the rise of online media and all the Internet tools, and they know, because they really are bright people, that you will soon be using these new tools in fundraising. They also clearly understand that what you’re doing today isn’t working. Their counsel is just to incrementally transition these new media and tools into your fundraising mix: “Begin integrating your marketing,” “Create a social strategy,” “Make certain your content is friendly to smartphones and tablets,” “Make certain your online presence is Search optimized.” Do all that and more and somehow these incremental changes will transition to successful fundraising numbers once again.

The second camp is the camp that I am firmly in. This camp is called the “Transformationalists.” Transformationalists believe that the very foundations of the way you practice fundraising must change.

A confession: I was once a Transitionalist. At one time I believed that all established fundraisers could transition their organizations into greater profitability if they just added online tools and techniques. But then I hit a wall. My problem was that I could not find any established “commercial” organizations…and the commercial marketing and communications world is always way ahead of the nonprofit fundraising world… successfully transitioning into the online world. And the keyword in that last sentence is “established.” Oh, to be sure, virtually all commercial companies have been using online tools for sometime, but at that time I was hard-pressed to find ANY that were successful at what they were doing.

So what was happening out there? One word…disruption. Brand-new companies were seemingly coming out of nowhere and successfully competing with the industry giants in sector after sector of the economy. These new Internet-savvy companies were upending long established business models in industry segments that had enjoyed, in some cases, near-monopoly power and influence for years. And here is the secret…these new companies operated completely differently than the entrenched industry leaders.

Which leads me to the question I will close with today.

I would bet that most of my blog readers are “Transitionalist” at heart. You see the rise of online tools and you believe you have to incorporate these new tools into your fundraising mix, but do you see any one of the Thought Leaders in the Transitionalist camp offering a unified theory or plan to get you there? Or, is it just all incremental additions to your current business model?

But you know what? If you are a Transitionalist, you’re in great company. The problem is…you’re dead wrong.

More in my next blog.


Welcome to BIG's Blog!  Please feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers...and email me a comment at:

Friday, January 18, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Seven Big Trends…

My regular readers, when they saw today’s blog title, must have thought, “Mike has finally capitulated to the pressure!” For new readers, I have been known to make fun of other blogs and articles that are constantly spewing forth The Top Five fill in the blank.

Of course we are all drawn to these titles. They promise the holy grail of answers to life’s or business’ most pressing problems, all wrapped up in a neat and tidy little list... whether it’s Seven Big Trends for Small Business, or The 100 Top Movies of All Time, or this year’s list of The Sexiest Men Alive.

Okay, for today I succumb to the siren-call of “lists,” because the attached list of The Seven Big Trends for Small Business in the New Year has 100% applicability to what nonprofit fundraisers are facing.

The Development Director of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, Maria Pippi-Layne, forwarded the article to me. Maria is currently enrolled in the online learning portion of our Acquiring the Next Generation of Supporters program, and wanted me to see that the trends we are talking about in the sessions are being talked about in the press…albeit for small businesses. But, by the way…all fundraising organizations, with a few exceptions, are small businesses.

Okay, so what are the Seven Big Trends?

1. Look to the clouds: This means remote computing. Using the Internet to access a plethora of cloud-based programs and tools from customer management systems to Skype, Dropbox, and Google Docs.

2. The era of social: Fundraisers can no longer ignore the outreach potential of social media anymore than the typical small commercial business.

3. Your workplace is everywhere: Technology enables people to work from “wherever” by being connected from virtually anywhere.

4. Video conferencing instead of business travel: Travel is costly plus a major hassle. More and more meetings are happening online which makes for happier and more productive employees and happy CFOs.

5. Applications keep things moving: Applications or “Apps” are really software. And the real trend is that software is changing sector after sector of the economy…not the least fundraising.

6. Talk just got cheaper: Internet hosted phone systems [VOIP – Voice Over Internet Protocol] mean you can virtually avoid long-distance charges; maybe not completely but almost. Big savings!  

7. Devices talk amongst themselves: The Holy Grail is getting all your devices to sync up. It’s not perfect today all the time…but we are getting there.

So what’s missing off the list for fundraisers?

Right…  “How do you pull together a strategy that incorporates the above trends, plus many more important developments to improve fundraising? “

Well, that is why Maria was so excited. Her organization is learning how to connect the “dots of change” to create a strategy THAT WORKS. And “works” is defined as connecting with younger supporters and raising more money.

Knowing about trends is nice-to-have knowledge. Connecting the trends together with a strategy that achieves your organization’s goals is what fundraisers are looking for.


Welcome to BIG's Blog!  Please feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers...and email me a comment at:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

BIG’s Blog: The Fundraising Business Model Must Change

One thing a newcomer to the nonprofit fundraising world like myself (8 years in)
learns very quickly is that the whole of the fundraising industry (with few exceptions) is extremely incestuous, and I chose the word “incestuous” very carefully.

The nonprofit organization (NPO) fundraising world has two sides; the organization side and the vendor side. And the path that most people in the industry follow is to begin their career on the organization side and then sometimes migrate to the vendor side. While young people and others just entering the nonprofit world tend to want to work on the organization side, this tends to change as they get older, get married, and are forced to take on more life responsibilities.  If they cannot land a fundraising management position or earn more money in their fundraising position, but want to stay in the nonprofit sector, they typically move to the vendor side.  This is especially true of nonprofit consultants.

This arrangement is not unique to the nonprofit world. In the commercial sector of marketing, for example, people routinely move back and forth between the client side and agency side . . . and there are other areas in the commercial sector where this also happens. The big difference between the nonprofit and commercial sectors, however, is that in the commercial sector, people move across many different industries, creating cross-pollination of ideas from one industry sector to another.

This cross-pollination of new ideas rarely happens in the nonprofit fundraising sector, which is why the same methodologies and practices get passed around in one big circle.  Hence my term, “incestuous.”

Now to be fair, practices don’t evolve in a vacuum. The advantage of this incestuous system in NPO fundraising is that “best practices” move much faster than in the commercial sector. However, these best practices are merely the perfected iterations on the fundraising business model that virtually all NPO fundraising organizations use. The one element that is missing in the NPO fundraising sector is “innovation.”

“Group Think” and “Institutional Momentum” are anathema to a culture of innovation.

And if things don’t ever change, then this system works just fine.

But of course, things do change. Fundraisers today face three major changes to their fundraising environment, and the changes they face are unprecedented within the history of their industry.

The three major changes are:

1) Declining Numbers of Donors - the generational shift in supporters as the Depression and WWII era cohorts decline in number and the Boomer, Gen X and Millennial-era cohorts rise to take their place.
2) The Rise of Competition for Donor Dollars – the proliferation in the number of NPOs over the last twenty years.
3) Communications Shift - the societal technological shift in how we communicate.

And coupled with a culture that clings to the status quo, the prospects for fundraising stability, let alone a return to year-over-year growth look dimmer and dimmer with each passing year.

What’s the answer?

It certainly isn’t iterations on the current fundraising business model. This has been described as akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It may make you feel like you are doing something useful, but in the end, the ship is going down.

What about the common refrain of “thinking outside the box?” On the surface it sounds promising, especially to those who are used to a status quo culture. But again, if we are merely addressing “the current fundraising business model,” now referred to as “the current box,” at the end of the day, it is still the same box.  

It is time to go beyond thinking outside the current box.

Fundraisers today need a new box. Fundraisers today need a new fundraising business model that addresses the fundraising environment the way it is today…not the environment of 20, 30, and 40 years ago.


Welcome to BIG's Blog!  Please feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers...and email me a comment at:

Monday, January 14, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Big Changes Are Coming…Messenger Change

The online world changes the way fundraisers communicate. The old paradigm of vertical communications (your plan, your money, and your control) shifts to horizontal communications (you create a superb mission and story that others carry your message from person-to-person on the Internet). This shifts the power from you being in control through paid intermediaries (TV, magazines, direct mail) to unpaid passionate outsiders.

Who has more “power” to share your message? A friend sending an email with a link about your organization or the postal service delivering a piece of mail from an organization the recipient has never heard of?

Do you know how many people are connected to the Internet today? Try over 2 billion.

But how do you reach them? Your knee jerk reaction is to immediately think of a way to “push” a message out to them. After all, it is theoretically possible to reach them all, and the cost of sending them each an email would be theoretically zero.

But “push” online communications are not the most effective. The Internet connects people best and most effectively one person at a time. But a message…a story…can get passed along as people who know you share your message with their friends and family. By passing along your message, they validate you to their circle of friends and family.

You’re doing this today yourself by passing along all manner of online communications from jokes, recipes, blogs, news, and more. Why do you think it is any different or less effective for charitable organizations?

Trusted messengers who pass along your communications amplify your message. This is what builds your network in the coming Golden Age of online fundraising.


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Friday, January 11, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Big Changes Are Coming…Changes in Attitudes Towards Charitable Institutions

Philanthropic attitudes have changed as the generations have shifted. The Depression and WWII generations gave unquestioningly to charities that they knew because they trusted institutions. Beginning with the Baby Boomer generation, however, institutional trust is gone (and this applies to Gen X and the Millennial generations as well).  Secondly, the younger generations, beginning with the Boomers, do not look at their donations as gifts but rather investments in your mission and organization. They partner with you and invest with you.

This is a very different philanthropic attitude…fundamentally different…from the older Depression and WWII generations. If you don’t get this and heed it…your fundraising efforts to the Boomer and younger generations are doomed to fail. Don’t doubt me on this.

Here is the good news. The Depression and WWII generations represent only 12% of the population today and their numbers are decreasing rapidly. The Boomers, just by themselves, represent over 25% of the population and are quickly moving into prime giving years.


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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Big Changes Are Coming…Competition Change

There are over 1.2 million 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable corporations in the United States. The number of charities you were competing with for donations when your organization started fundraising years ago was a fraction of that number.

Today, you need to clearly state your mission and the reasons to support your organization in a few words. It must be clear, concise, and brief. What is your mission? Who are your supporters? What does your supporter consider valuable?

Today you cannot put your organization out there as a “me too” charity.

People have choices…lots and lots of choices.


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Monday, January 7, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Big Changes Are Coming…Message Change

When I started in the direct marketing business, most mass direct mail letters began with “Dear Friend.” The personalization technology of individual names in the salutation didn’t come into common usage until the 1980s. And, of course, it goes without saying that there was no variable text in the letter. The letters were all the same…word for word.

Of course this meant that we treated our prospects as one big homogeneous group; as if they were carbon copies of each other. What craziness!

Today we can…and should…know each individual supporter by name and what motivates them to support our organization. We need to speak to supporters based upon their interests. What do they view as valuable?

Can you use analytics and information to improve your direct mail response? Of course you can. But you are missing the big advantage of online communications. The real advantage of communication online is that you communicate in the NOW. With mail, you are dealing with a time delay, not the real-time interaction of using the Internet.

The other huge driver of message change is the ability to capture and analyze huge amounts of information about each and every supporter and would-be supporter. This phenomenon even has a name, they call it “big data.”

Expectations have changed. The same-o, same-o message sent to Baby Boomers and younger generations will get tossed out. What they will respond to are their interests in your organization.


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Friday, January 4, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Big Changes Are Coming…Media Changes

Fifteen years ago (1997), television, newspapers, and direct mail were King. We had just started to use email and many organizations were putting up Web sites for the first time. And cell phones? Cell phones just made phone calls.

Today we have one billion smartphones worldwide connected to the Internet. Computer-based software is quickly giving way to Cloud-based software applications (apps) that can be accessed by all manner of Internet-connected devices. Old media has had to morph into online versions with connectability or shut down. Direct mail and the postal service, which is direct mail’s distributor, are on life support. Meanwhile, every month brings a new online social platform, technology, or online media of some sort.

In fact, a better word for what we used to call media is “medium.” The word medium conveys a sense of connection or transfer. This is what media is morphing into . . . a giant medium of new platforms and technologies built on the underlying platform of the Internet.  


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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Big Changes Are Coming

My friend Doris is 96. To put that in perspective, she was contemplating turning 40 (and all that society says about that) before I was born. Yet when I was 14, I could sit down with her and we could have wide -ranging conversations on subjects that interested the both of us. So how could Doris be interested in what a 14-year-old boy found interesting? Because we talked of things of shared passion, and age doesn’t have anything to do with that. Today, our conversations are exactly the same.


I think it is because Doris is insatiably curious and she is not afraid of change, since she has seen so much of it in her life.

For those of my readers who are in the management and leadership of fundraising organizations, 2013 will be an inflection point year. Don’t doubt me on this. What is an inflection point? It is a mathematical term for the point on a curve at which the sign of the curvature changes.

And you thought that geometry, trigonometry, and calculus were a waste of time?

The societal changes in both generational composition and the shift and adoption rate of personal technology have reached critical mass. For fundraisers, this means that the reasons you have been seeing annual fundraising dollar declines is because the former dominant generations that have supported your organizations are declining in number, and the non-digital technology you employed to communicate and develop relationships are becoming less and less effective with younger and potential supporters.

Your reaction will make all the difference to the long term viability of your organization and will follow one of three paths: You will keep doing the same things you have always done and somehow expect the results to change... which is, by the way, the definition of insanity. You will not change the way you practice fundraising but you will bring in digital elements under the guise of modernizing. Or, you will reach out for a new fundraising model that is targeted at younger generations, starting with the Baby Boomers.

Many fundraising leaders are struggling with this. Change is hard…but so is failure.

Need more convincing? Over the next few blogs I am going to cover – in detail - some of the big changes that will re-shape HOW your organization must change to be both relevant and effective in fundraising for the next 20 years.

1. Media Change – This is probably the easiest to wrap your head around because you see it every day.

2. Message Change – It’s not the same letter to everybody.
3. Competition Change – More than ever, you must be laser-focused on your mission and your natural constituency of supporters.

4. Change in Attitude toward Institutions – Starting with the the fact that Baby Boomer generation institutional trust is gone.

5. Change in the Motivation of Philanthropy – What motivates younger generations to social action?

6. Messenger Change – More and more, people look to their peers for recommendations; can you find others to talk for you?

So why did I start this blog about my friend Doris? I introduced you to Doris to illustrate that, although she is of the Depression-era generational cohort, her curiosity and social interaction places her in the same mindset as today’s Millennials. The changes we will discuss in fundraising are not “off the moon.” In truth, they are more human and social in nature than the aberration of third party media communications that have dominated our methods for the past 80+ years.  

Successful fundraising is about people connecting to people around a cause or passion that they both share. Yes, every cause and organization is multi-dimensional, but that just means there are more chances to connect with more people. And that is precisely the Golden Era of fundraising we are headed into. Different? Yes. Better? Definitely!


Welcome to BIG's Blog!  Please feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers...and email me a comment at: