Saturday, August 31, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Can you imagine selling signage or naming rights on the inside of your church?

Don't laugh; that is where some in fundraising are headed . . . at least in their imaginations.

Why? Because they can't see beyond the current model of fundraising.

Can't you just imagine some of the conversations? "Come on Father, I know that selling advertising space around the statue of the Virgin Mary sounds different, but our direct mail appeals aren't working like they used to, and our current donors are getting old. We need new ideas for donations. Look, corporate sponsorship is huge."

Seriously? Do you really want to go there?

Over the top? Hyperbole? Maybe, but also, maybe not.

It's called our “paradigm.” Paradigm is defined broadly as “a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind.”

Or, in more common parlance, our paradigm is the way we look at the world and believe it operates.

In the Development world of fundraising, especially if this has been your chosen profession for most of your life, you have a set of beliefs driven by experience that guides you.

And then, the very ground underneath your feet gives way. You find the old models that you have learned and perfected your whole life are suddenly not working anymore. They are failing. So your logical progression of thinking is that "I am failing." This leads to experimentation within the confines of how you think your world still works. THAT is what leads to outlandish ideas that could cross all kinds of lines.

What's the alternative? How about taking a breath, sitting back, listening to, and learning what is changing, and why it is changing. Look at how others are already learning and implementing a different direction based on the NEW paradigm of the way your world is really operating today . . . not the way you remember it.

Or . . . just keep doing the same thing and believing that it will change.

But don't be surprised if the idea of naming rights on the statue of the Virgin Mary comes up.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

BIG’s Blog: The Possibilities of Change

We read in the press or see on television news stories about companies bringing a new technology to market and beating the competition. We hear this new technology will change the way we work or live.

But real change comes from a deeper place. It comes from our desire to make a difference in the lives of others. This change takes two forms: the change in helping someone in their physical or emotional life, or helping someone change their spiritual life.

We get so hung up on the technological change without recognizing that the core person . . . the human being . . . hasn't changed at all. Technologies come and go or keep evolving.

But . . .

You can’t be effective at doing your job, whether feeding people, educating people, healing, or helping them spiritually, without the best tools. That’s where technology comes in. Technology is just tools.

When you change the way you are doing something using technology, you do more than simply change something. You change the possibilities for people.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Do you understand what this means for you?

The whole thrust of the article was about Yahoo’s new CEO, Mellissa Mayer, focusing on landing high-profile television talent to Yahoo so they can create broadcast-quality programming right on Yahoo’s Home Page.

Yes, that Yahoo! What do you think Yahoo is today? It’s a Web portal, right? They offer news, weather, and information of all kinds, plus tools like email (, photo sharing via Flickr, and, of course, their own online shopping site, travel site, dating site, and job search site . . . all in one Web portal called Yahoo.

And now they are going to create original programming shows with personalities like Katie Couric et al!

So, what does this mean for your organization?

Well, how do you see your Website? Is it just information about your organization? What else does it offer? Maybe if you host events there is an area to sign up and pay for the event, right? What else? If you have a bookstore or catalogue online, then people can shop online on your Website? What else? Oh, they can donate online? Well, that’s convenient.

Those who have read my blog for awhile know that I have been comparing the breakdown of television networks and traditional television viewing to the decline in response to direct mail appeals. Both are being disrupted by the Internet.

And now online-based Web portals like Yahoo, AOL, Google, YouTube, Hulu, and MSN and many more will be competing directly with traditional television networks for viewership.

How is this possible? Because more and more older people are getting televisions with built-in Internet connections and younger people are watching programming as much on tablets and computers as on actual TVs.

And why? Because it is more convenient. You don’t have to watch a show at a particular time; you can watch it whenever.


CBS, NBC, ABC, ESPN, or even EWTN have nothing on you if you create programming (messaging/content) that people need and want to see.

That’s the “Dirty Little Secret” that scares big media and even online portals like Yahoo, and they don’t want you to know. You don’t need Katie Couric if you have a great message to share and can really touch people. Yes, it is different from creating direct mail, but creating consistent programming (video and audio) and posting on your Website shares your message far and wide, and unlike traditional analogue media, online media is made to be shared via the Internet.

How do you think of Yahoo today? How are you going to think of them five years from now when you will get original programming at their Website?

When are you going to start creating original programming on your Website that tells your story and mission?

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Friday, August 23, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Spare me!

The title of my blog today is the reaction that many readers have shared with me if they perceive that I am writing . . . yet again . . . about how they must shift their Development. “Spare me!”

Today is the end of the workweek; you are probably in the mood for my typical end-of-the-week short and pithy blog. But, unfortunately for you, this one is longer and has real meat and substance. A real “think” piece. In fact, I didn’t write it.

So if your head is already in the weekend . . . do this: Forward this email to yourself to be read at your leisure Saturday or Sunday.

Or, if you are up for it today, by all means, read it now!

The piece is a post by Seth Godin entitled An end of books. But it is NOT negative. Rather, it is one of the most thoughtful and real pieces I have read in awhile that ends with hopefulness and even the prediction of a new golden age in books.

But … I DO WANT you to read it as a metaphor for what fundraising is also going through. I, too, predict that as Development moves to the digital, online world, we are going to enter a new golden age of fundraising.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

BIG’s Blog: A Changing World for Fundraising

At last year’s National Catholic Development Conference, Susan Raymond, Ph.D., from Changing Our World, Inc., gave a fascinating and incredibly timely keynote address on the changing demographic makeup of the United States and its impact on fundraising in the years to come. It certainly was a wake-up call to many of those in attendance that I talked to.  

Recently, The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an article, Raising Money in a Changing World, highlighting many of the same themes in America’s demographic transition. In the article, they highlighted Emmett Carson, the president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, saying that nonprofits should already be laying the groundwork in learning about the wishes and hopes of new donors. “Charities that don’t recognize demographic trends are going to shrink and ultimately go out of business,” says Carson. “The populations in the past that have supported them so spectacularly will not have the base of support going forward. This is adapt, change or die.”

Pretty strong words, but Susan Raymond said exactly the same thing in detail a year ago.

Here are just a few of the highlights from The Chronicle of Philanthropy article.

White Americans will no longer be the majority. By 2045, people of color will outnumber whites in the U.S.

Women are gaining economic power. 40% of women with children under 18 are the prime breadwinners in their households. And of these, 37% are married and earn more than their husbands. Nearly half of students now enrolled in law and medical schools are women.

Today’s young adults will push philanthropy to change. Those born beginning in the early 1980s are more demanding, seeking concrete results from their gifts (investments). Charities that tap into their desire for hands-on engagement will win.

Baby Boomers are reaching their prime giving years. Boomers are moving into the age when people start getting organized about their philanthropy and Baby Boomers being 76 million strong will begin to impact philanthropy by the end of this decade.

Secularism is on the rise.  This is a tough one for faith-based organizations now that one in five Americans now claims no religious affiliation. Over the last few decades, religious giving has decreased as a share of all giving. And even donors who are driven by faith are showing more flexibility about where their money goes.

It is way more than just being online, but if you are not online…

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Monday, August 19, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Don’t Read This Blog…

So far so good . . . if you’re reading this, it’s a good sign that you don’t listen to directions and, by implication, might be the type of person that would go against the herd mentality.

There is hope for you and, by extension, the organization that you work for.

We live in a very difficult period of transition from the analogue world of paper-and-ink and broadcast communications to the digital-based Internet world. And today . . . as you read this . . . you are neither a 20-year-old leading a fully digital life, nor an 85-year-old leading a fully non-digital life. You and I are somewhere in between.

And, frankly, that is hard because we have one foot in each world.

So where do you (personally) fall on the digital to non-digital continuum? My guess is you tip non-digital. Oh yes, most of us are using some digital tools, but compared to a 20 year old? Come on! Plus, most . . . not all . . . but most of our digital use is personal, not professional. Or, another way of saying that is that we use more digital applications and tools in our personal lives than we do in our workplace. And that is especially pronounced if we work in nonprofit fundraising.

At some point professionally (that is, our work career) we have to start to move seriously to digital. And that goes double if we work in nonprofit fundraising. What I mean by “seriously” is we have to: A) Learn it, and B) Make it work!

I hear Development Directors complain that none of their digital tools are generating anywhere near what their direct mail programs generate.

Why is that and whose responsibility is that?

Do they believe that there are not charities raising virtually all their donations online? Do they think that direct mail appeal response rates are magically going to turn dramatically UP and that costs of production and postage are going to turn dramatically DOWN?

Look at the twenty-somethings and their adoption of digital communication. That is your future. The world isn’t going back. And unless you shift the direction of your fundraising department by learning how to make online pay . . . you will be out of a job.
But . . . as I said at the beginning . . . I’ve got hope for you because you didn’t follow the crowd that heeded my instructions NOT to read this blog.
Good for You.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Mail Bag

From my recent request to send questions?

We really get mixed messages as fundraisers. I recently attended a workshop and one of the speakers said direct mail is alive and well. But then I read your blog and wonder. What’s the truth?

Name withheld - California

Dear California Fundraiser,

You are correct in saying my position is that direct mail appeals are not alive and well. If direct mail as a fundraising media/vehicle were generating revenue like it used to, why would anyone have to argue it is alive and well? In fact, if mail were alive and well, wouldn’t the U.S. Postal Service be in the black instead of in-hock to the U.S. Treasury for billions? But all that is fluff; here is the truth to guide you. If a mail program generates revenue for your organization, then keep mailing it. If other programs do not generate revenue for your organization, terminate them; the odds of them returning to profitability are slim.


In response to one of my blogs: Balloons at the Beach

Great allegory!

ML, New York

Excellent blog that communicates the new fundraising model message.
Per your story fundraising results:
Old way    - $1,000
New Way - $50,000
% Change – 4,900%

GH, Chief Financial Officer, New York


In response to one of my blogs: The Internet

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the blog. We enrolled our daughter in a new high school. They have taken out their library and replaced it with a technology center. The high school requires that all students have a smartphone and bring them to class.

LP, Pennsylvania

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

BIG’s Blog: What is really lost from Gilligan’s Island?

For Baby Boomers and those who can remember when three national television networks dominated, today’s digital disruption has basically ended what we perceived as the national conversation.

We have lost the national cultural meeting place where a small clique of men at CBS, NBC, and ABC determined what we would watch and, news-wise, what was important.

What has it come to? Today, a 12-year-old with a smartphone can rival Rupert Murdock as a publisher to millions.  

Today, I can post a blog that is seen by thousands as they are having their first cup of coffee, without the intermediaries of a printing plant or delivery boys. And the same people who read my blog one moment can shift from that to the New York Times,, or Horse & Hound in minutes and without getting ink on their fingers.

So, setting aside the “ink on the fingers thing” for a moment, are we better off now in seeking out what we want to read and deciding for ourselves, or were we better off being told what was important?

I mean, that is really what the question is . . . isn’t it?

We can complain that there is no real national conversation, as we remember it, around what happened last night on Gilligan’s Island, because today people are seeking out their own entertainment interests from the gazillions of choices available. But was that old world real or contrived? We never were really a homogenous whole, were we? What got covered news-wise was what some local or national editor deemed to be important. If we didn’t like Gilligan’s Island, we would feel out of the mainstream of our friends, family, or co-workers.

It reminds me of the time I stopped in a New York City art gallery. I was looking at a showing of paintings I really liked but had never heard of the artist. One of the people who worked in the gallery approached me and briefly talked about the artist and then said, “this painting,” pointing to one of the paintings, “this painting is very important.” I couldn’t believe it, as the painting that she was pointing to was the one painting I didn’t like in the least. Important to whom?

It’s the same with determining what charity we will support. Forty years ago there were fewer charities. Today, just in the United States, there are over a million individual 501(c)3 nonprofit corporations. Why so many? Probably because not everyone sees the same problem or the same solution.
The new online world allows many more to tell their story, reach out, and create relationships with those of a like mind and heart. Will all the new charities succeed? Probably not. But then they are all going after the people you would love to have supporting your charity.

Yesterday is yesterday. Gilligan’s Island is long since in reruns and is no longer a part of the cultural conversation.

Today is today. And today’s world is the world you need to generate supporters in.  

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Monday, August 12, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Quote to Start the Week

“A society grows when the old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.”

Does that speak to you today? It does me. Maybe because, at 60 years of age, I understand my mortality and am drawn to the sentiment of sacrificing today for a better tomorrow . . . and as the proverb makes clear, a tomorrow that “those who sacrifice” will not benefit from.

That’s the challenge for today’s Baby Boom generation of fundraising leaders, isn’t it? If you are one of them, you have the power and the choice.

The power to begin the process of moving your fundraising department towards a serious online strategy where you can begin capturing younger supporters.

The choice to move, knowing it will take time to build  . . .  or not to move and leave it for the next leader. If there is a next leader.

It’s hard, isn’t it?

The online world with all its new technology tools, buzzwords, and new ways of doing things makes you feel like a fish out of water. Moving to seriously change the way you fundraise will, for sure, upend how you do things now and, frankly, will be tough sledding for a while.

But then you are the hero, the visionary, the Steve Jobs of your department.

But in the beginning, the change is hard.

This isn’t theoretical; I hear it in the questions and the voiced concerns of the smart, generous, and committed Baby Boomer leaders who are taking our courses and learning how to move their Development organizations into this new digital fundraising future.

Make no mistake, these people are heroes. Unlike 20 and 30-somethings, they are immigrants into this digital world. Young people are the natives who intuitively know the language and can more easily navigate their way around these new technologies. Young people, however, don’t have the wisdom or experience to know how to change organizations; that takes gray hair. Week in and week out these courageous Boomer generation fundraising leaders are learning what they don’t know and putting it all together. They are committed to their organizations.

They are planting trees for tomorrow.

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