Wednesday, October 30, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Luddites

From Wikipedia we learn that the original Luddites were 19th century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labor-saving machinery from 1811 to 1817. These artisans smashed and otherwise destroyed stocking framers, power looms, and the like in protest that less-skilled and lower-wage laborers would displace them.

Today the word “Luddite” is synonymous with those who would attempt to hold back technological innovation by personally not adopting and actively nay-saying the innovation.

The worst form of Luddite always emerges when a new technology is shifting “what they know.” In the end, they feel threatened because they must learn something new and, frankly, they don’t want to. They cling to the status quo because that is their power base.

He who doesn’t grow is busy shrinking.

Don’t be a Luddite.

Grow again!

Join us.
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Monday, October 28, 2013

BIG’s Blog: A Best Kept Secret

Is your organization a best-kept secret?

It could be without you even knowing it. A couple of years ago, when I was still doing in-person, on-site consulting, I had a client that was a religious community in a relatively smallish setting. As I always do with new clients, I arrived in the town early so I could just walk around and ask people in the town if they knew of the organization I was working with.

In my unscientific survey, this group did better than most. Five out of ten people I talked to had heard of them. Most of the time it’s two, one or none . . . and the group I mentioned had been in the town for over 50 years.

As I said, my survey was unscientific, but the point remains: this group, even in their small town, was a best-kept secret . . . and that is not a compliment.

This organization, like so many others, has been doing events and direct mail appeals for years, but has tended to stay within the confines of what they viewed their natural constituency. And since they had been doing direct mail appeals across the country, they saw no need to raise their profile locally. And the truth is, it probably made some sense in its time and place.

Today, however, we have the Internet, and that pretty much changes our paradigm of how we think about connecting with potential supporters and the world. Plus, our old methodologies of raising supporters aren’t working as well.

The old model is called “vertical” marketing. In vertical marketing, we controlled the whole process. This process starts at the top with advertising ads or direct mail, and we push out our message through media. It’s our plan, our money, and we are in control of the process.
But with the Internet, there is a new model called “horizontal” marketing. It is all about creating a remarkable mission or ministry and story, and then setting it up to spread person-to-person. But, unlike the old model, you don’t have any control. The interactions are created by passionate outside people who carry your message, tell your story, and talk about your organization. This model also has very low costs.
Aaaah, but since it has very low costs, will it work and will it work for charities?

Here is an example of it already working.

In 2006 (seven years ago) Charity: Water didn’t exist. They were founded in 2007. In 2012 they raised $33 million dollars.

Charity: Water has never sent one piece of direct mail.

If you Google Charity: Water, you get over 20 million hits. Over 20 million!

Charity: Water does only horizontal marketing.   

Okay, now two tough questions for you: 1) Google your organization and see how many hits you get. How much older are you than Charity: Water? 2) How much money did you raise last year without direct mail and bequests? Was it anywhere near $33 million dollars?

A mere six years ago Charity: Water was a best-kept secret. But not today.

How much money were you raising six years ago? What are you raising today?

Is your organization STILL a best kept secret?

Join us.
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Friday, October 25, 2013

BIG’s Blog: You need to be a New Kind of Fundraiser

The next few years are going to make you schizophrenic, I absolutely get that. Why? Because you will have to manage two worlds: the old direct mail program world for the oldsters and the online relationship-driven world for the young ‘uns. And by young ‘uns I am starting with the baby boomers. Sorry, just the way it is.

You do, however, have a choice.  You can be the livery stable owner who puts in a gas pump and hedges his bet that this newfangled auto-mobile might be the future, or just keep your focus on horses. Your choice. Well, that's not entirely true. Your choice is the choice for your organization and your choice could very well determine if your organization has a future.

Think I'm wrong? How many livery stables do you see today? They used to dot the landscape, now they are gone, gone, gone.

Honestly, I still have fundraisers come up to me after a presentation and ask, "Are you saying direct mail is dying?" 

Why is this even a question? All these fundraisers have to do is look at their donor files. Year over year declines in total gifts, even though some are getting larger gifts. And could it be that some vendors are still flogging "direct mail is alive and well?" 

I see this more and more in some vendor circles and it is becoming scary. In a recent Agitator blog about videos, one particularly agitated and vociferous person named Willis Turner was commenting on the fact that videos, even when they go viral, don't actually bring in donations. 

“As usual, lots of interesting information about engagement but not a word about money. Or about how posting videos of people dancing at your sister’s wedding relates to fundraising.
The ‘norm’ of online communication keeps getting more sophisticated (and more expensive, in terms of time if nothing else), yet very few are bragging about how much cash is coming in.
Sure you can capture all kinds of cool data, but in terms of actual revenue, online is more like advertising than direct marketing. Sooner or later, as the novelty begins to fade, people are bound to start wondering, ‘what’s the real ROI?’”
Who ever said videos were supposed to bring in dollars?
Yet this guy is considered a "professional" fundraising expert. Actually, Willis Turner is an ace copywriter. Problem is, the whole of "push" marketing, of which direct mail is the media and copywriting is the art form, is dying. Not because Mr. Turner isn't good at his craft . . . he may well be one of the best, but it doesn't matter if the media is dying.

I am certain in 1915, there were tens of thousands of blacksmiths in those livery stables who were true craftsmen.

But for him and others to carp from the sidelines that videos don't bring in dollars is like saying auto-mobiles in 1915 made noise and could get stuck in the mud, whereas a horse . . .

And what is our transportation mode of choice today?

Seriously, can you imagine Mr. Turner’s thinking and attitude in the commercial world where companies like Proctor and Gamble, Ford Motor Co., and many others have already figured out that "push" marketing is fading and they need to start using online media (of which video is huge) to connect with their prospective customers?

Young ‘uns just laugh at these arguments. In fact, they do something even worse . . . they quit paying attention. The media and marketing game is over and nearly everyone under 55 understands that just like the phone book, direct mail as a viable fundraising art and media is heading into the pages of history. It’s not an “if,” it’s a “when.”

Are you expecting the auto-mobiles of 1915 to be the automobiles of 2013 overnight or you won't move? And that this transformation to 100% online fundraising is going to come fully birthed with all the whitepapers and scholarly studies done for you or you won't shift?  

Do you really think you have that kind of time?

If that is where you are at, I would say that the uneducated livery stable owner in 1915 who put in the gas pump to hedge his bets on the newfangled auto-mobile was way ahead of you. 

I started this post off by saying that I "get it" that the next few years will make you schizophrenic – managing dual programs. It can't be helped as we are in a crossover time . . . but the public has already spoken; vertical "push" marketing is dying. Relationship-based horizontal marketing driven by the digital, interactive Internet is your future. 

Join us.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

BIG’s Blog: The Brightness of the Invention of the Light Bulb

The invention of the incandescent light bulb has much to teach us about today’s world of fundraising.

It is said that Thomas Edison went through 1,000 failures in design and components before finally coming up with a light bulb that would stay alight for many hours.

1,000 failures! That’s a lot. Who would have the time or the patience today?

Yet once Edison had solved the riddle of the basic design and components, the light bulb could be easily reproduced by the millions and even improved upon.

Nobody is asking Development/Advancement professionals to do the heavy lifting of re-inventing fundraising. To most, that is waaaay out of their level of competence and comfort zone. All their leadership and boards are doing is asking if they have considered a Plan B when direct mail appeals become economically unviable.

Actually, Browne Innovation Group is one of a small group of companies that does offer a viable fundraising business model that is built 100% online.

And, naturally, the brightest fundraisers move first.

Join us.
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Monday, October 21, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Giving up my Blackberry was Hard

Can we all agree that Change is hard?

We have purchased my mother a computer and walked with her step-by-step in how to use it to do simple things, like using email and finding Websites. She keeps saying it is too hard, however, and doesn’t use it. The same with the cell phone we bought her a few years ago.

Change is one of the constants in life, but at some point some people just don’t want to change . . . and it seems the vast majority of Development Directors fall into that category. Admittedly, most are over age 55, but age really has nothing to do with it.

I’m over 60 and you know what? There are a lot of elements of life today that I enjoyed more before the Internet . . . but I’m not sitting around trying to keep my finger in the dike of technological change. Do you really want to give up your laptop, your tablet, and your smartphone and go back to mail and landline telephones as our sole means of personal communication?

And for the core element of your fundraising strategy, you’re going to keep doubling down on direct mail appeals? Direct mail? Take a breath and step back for a moment. What part of the narrative of the struggling U.S. Postal Service don’t you get? You’ve heard of the coming rate hike? And somehow that rate hike won’t affect your mail program’s net margins?

Am I anti-direct mail? Of course not; I ran two large companies built on direct mail.

If your direct mail program is still generating positive returns, then by all means keep it going. But also . . . please . . . realize that there are forces at play that will eventually undermine the profitability of your organization’s direct mail fundraising program.

I get it that 100% of any group will not all adopt an innovation at the same time. I clearly understand that the adoption of any innovation is an S-Curve. But Development Directors walking and whistling into an unprecedented collapse of their major means of generating new donors as if nothing has changed . . . is just silly.

Two Facts that are Hard to Miss:

  1. Generational Shift: Though the Depression and WWII generational cohorts only make up 11% of the population today, they make up upwards of 85% of your supporter base.
  2. Technological Communications Shift: This is more commonly referred to as the shift from analogue communications to digital. Who is reading your direct mail? Answer: the aforementioned Depression and WWII generations. Everybody else, including the Baby Boomers, is online.

But this post isn’t about the Postal Service or the world of digital communications . . . it’s about people acting old and not liking the fact that the world (their fundraising world) is changing faster than ever.

I am flummoxed by the change as much as any of you . . . but I am not letting it overwhelm me. And please don’t think that I am some wunderkind early adopter; I refused to give up my Blackberry until I was forced to. Yes, I know . . . no apps on a Blackberry!

But “the facts” and the dynamics of our new online communications infrastructure (not to mention how Powerful and Cost Effective it is in reaching people) are undeniable. Want proof? I transformed my consulting practice into a 100% online model and, in the process, transformed it into an education and training organization. I also could afford to lower my price 86% from what I had been charging for in-person, on-site consulting, which lead to increasing the number of nonprofit fundraising organizations I helped by 533%.

But as Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) said, “I’m all for Progress, it’s Change I don’t like.”

Nobody our age likes change. But, come on, there are new online fundraising models that are 100% online. I just happen to think ours is the best . . . and apparently more and more fundraising organizations are agreeing.

Join us.
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Friday, October 18, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Orphans aren’t just in Haiti

Sometimes you just need to step back from the day-to-day of thinking about fundraising and remember the many reasons WHY we raise those dollars.

Most of my readers know that we (mostly my wife) are involved in orphan care in Haiti. But as those of you who are involved in the world of orphans know, many are right here in our midst in the US of A.

Each and every orphan is not only a person, but a person with a story . . . and the common part of the story of every orphan is to belong to a family. Something that most of us take for granted.

Here is a reminder in the story of one young man named Davion. Here is his story …

ST. PETERSBURG — As soon as they pulled into the church lot, Davion changed his mind.
''Miss! Hey, Miss!" he called to his caseworker, who was driving. "I don't want to do this anymore."
In the back seat, he hugged the Bible someone had given him at the foster home. "You're going to be great," Connie Going said.
Outside St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, she straightened his tie. Like his too-big black suit, the white tie had been donated. It zipped up around the neck, which helped. No one had ever taught Davion, 15, how to tie one.
''Are you ready?" Going asked. Hanging his head, he followed her into the sanctuary.
This had been his idea. He'd heard something about God helping people who help themselves. So here he was, on a Sunday in September, surrounded by strangers, taking his future into his own sweaty hands.
Davion Navar Henry Only loves all of his names. He has memorized the meaning of each one: beloved, brown, ruler of the home, the one and only.
But he has never had a home or felt beloved. His name is the last thing his parents gave him.
He was born while his mom was in jail. He can't count all of the places he has lived.
In June, Davion sat at a library computer, unfolded his birth certificate and, for the first time, searched for his mother's name. Up came her mug shot: 6-foot-1, 270 pounds -- tall, big and dark, like him. Petty theft, cocaine.
Next he saw the obituary: La-Dwina Ilene "Big Dust" McCloud, 55, of Clearwater, died June 5, 2013. Just a few weeks before.
In church, Davion scanned the crowd. More than 300 people packed the pews. Men in bright suits, grandmoms in sequined hats, moms hugging toddlers on their laps. Everyone seemed to have a family except him.
Davion sat beside Going, his caseworker from Eckerd, and struggled to follow the sermon: something about a letter Paul wrote. "He was in prison," said the Rev. Brian Brown. "Awaiting an uncertain future ... "
Sometimes Davion felt like that, holed up at Eckerd's Carlton Manor residential group home with 12 teenage boys, all with problems. All those rules, cameras recording everything.
Davion wants to play football, but there's no one to drive him to practice. He wants to use the bathroom without having to ask someone to unlock the door.
More than anything, he wants someone to tell him he matters. To understand when he begs to leave the light on.
''You may be in a dark place," said the preacher. "But look for the joyful moments when you can praise God."
Picking at his fingers, Davion wondered what to say. And whether anyone would hear him.
Davion always longed for a family. His caseworker took him to picnics, put his portrait in the Heart Gallery, an organization devoted to helping foster kids find permanent homes. But he had thrown chairs, blown his grades, pushed people away.
When he learned his birth mother was dead, everything changed. He had to let go of the hope that she would come get him. Abandon his anger. Now he didn't have anyone else to blame.
''He decided he wanted to control his behavior and show everyone who he could be," Going said.
So someone would want him.
''I'll take anyone," Davion said. "Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don't care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be."
All summer, he worked on swallowing his rage, dropping his defenses. He lost 40 pounds. So far in 10th grade, he has earned A's -- except in geometry.
''He's come a long way," said Floyd Watkins, program manager at Davion's group home. "He's starting to put himself out there, which is hard when you've been rejected so many times."
Davion decided he couldn't wait for someone to find him. In three years, he'll be on his own.
''I know they're out there," he told his caseworker. Though he is shy, he said he wanted to talk at a church. "Maybe if someone hears my story ... "
The preacher spoke about orphans, how Jesus lifted them up. He described an epidemic, "alarming numbers of African-American children who need us."
Then he introduced Davion, who shuffled to the pulpit. Without looking up, Davion wiped his palms on his pants, cleared his throat, and said:
''My name is Davion and I've been in foster care since I was born ... I know God hasn't given up on me. So I'm not giving up either."
(At publication time, two couples had asked about Davion, but no one had come forward to adopt him. If you want more information about Davion -- or any of the 120 foster children in Pinellas and Pasco counties who are waiting for families, call Eckerd at (866) 233-0790. If you can't adopt but want to donate time or money, call Eckerd at (727) 456-0600.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Quit drinking the Kool-Aid

Look, here's the thing. For 60+ years you've had a very successful methodology that generates you large numbers of small donors through direct mail. Most of you understand the math of direct mail marketing, but let's just summarize by saying the math works if you get a very minimal response . . . say 2 to 3 %.

This direct mail methodology has been very good to your organization. It allowed you to build a base of supporters that you could go back to repeatedly. And of course once you had the repeat giver metrics down, you knew what you could spend to acquire a new donor. Acquiring new donors allowed you to grow.

But all that is beginning to fail.

The good news is that a new methodology is rising and it is built 100% online. This new methodology allows you to cost-effectively generate very large numbers of small givers, and some of those small givers - just like your direct mail methodology - will turn into larger givers, and some will leave you bequests.

But it won’t happen if you keep thinking that mixing online with offline is the magic potion to prosperity. How is that integrated marketing working for you?

Exactly how much mail does Amazon send out? Do you think they would do better if they integrated mail with their Web marketing? Seriously?

If your mail appeals are still working . . . don’t mess with it. If it is starting to slide, sending out email blasts and linking to your campaigns on Facebook isn’t going to bring them back.

Several years ago, when I was still drinking the Kool-Aid of integrated marketing for nonprofit fundraisers, I actually visited the corporate headquarters of Borders Books. Do you know what their senior marketing manager told me? You guessed it; he told me they believed that their bricks-and-mortar business model combined with their corporate Website would someday overtake Amazon.

Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid.

Quit drinking the Kool-Aid.

Join us.
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Monday, October 14, 2013

BIG’s Blog: Guerrilla Marketing Lives On

Jay Levinson died earlier this month. You may not recall the name, but you have heard of his book, Guerrilla Marketing.

Jay studied Psychology in college, which lead him into the advertising world working for some of the big agencies in the heyday of advertising (as depicted in the television series, Mad Men). Though no one would accuse Jay of being anything like the Mad Men characters, he was the cerebral thinker . . . the creative mind.

Working for the big agencies like Leo Burnett and J. Walter Thompson, he created (or co-created) memorable campaigns such as the Marlboro Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Allstate’s good hands, and United’s friendly skies.

His real fame, however, came later in life when in his 50s.  He authored Guerrilla Marketing, which described how to employ unconventional ways to promote a business, brand, or an organization on a limited budget. The book was a runaway bestseller with over 21 million in print and translated into 62 languages.

Two things really stand out about Jay Levinson’s life.

First, even with 50 or 60 years behind you, you can be innovative and an agent for change.

Second, we desperately need Jay Levinson-type people in the nonprofit fundraising world today.

Join us.


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