Monday, June 30, 2014

BIG’s Blog: The Big Pivot

As was bound to happen, the advent of e-books has allowed more books (ideas) to be published. And, yes, a multitude of these books never break out of their friends and family circles, but increasingly we are seeing that a number of new ideas are making it into (digital) print that would otherwise have never garnered publisher support.
One of these books I recently read was by Andrew Winston called, The Big Pivot, Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World.

The premise of the book is that companies and organizations that operate in the public sphere need to change their strategies to deal with three fundamental changes.

First, climate change, which he argues is leading to extreme weather.  Second, billions more people globally clamoring for the middle class are using up natural resources more quickly, and, third, radical transparency brought about by the Internet and social media.

Climate change is real. Of course it’s real. It’s been real for millions of years! But today the phrase sets off alarms politically because the Right thinks the Left wants to blame people for climate change and they don’t see it that way. What’s my take? Well, the climate has been changing as long as the earth has been around. I live in Nebraska and it used to be a warm inland sea millions of years ago. And more recently, Nebraska hosted glaciers until about 60,000 years ago. So climate change? What’s new about that?

But the other two issues he raises do resonate with the fundraisers.

Over the last 25 years more people have been lifted out of poverty than the world has ever seen before. And it wasn’t the UN or government programs that did it. Simply put, in certain countries there was an ideological shift towards capitalism. And voila … millions of people (actually billions of people) were not only lifted out of centuries of poverty, but the economics of their societies changed. Examples of the big populations are India and China. 30 years ago when I was in China, I saw abject poverty on the doorstep of prosperous Hong Kong. Today, Hong Kong is still prosperous, but so are all the major cities and provinces in mainland China.

India for decades was a backwards wasteland of poverty under their socialist leaders. But then political attitudes to capitalism changed and millions are being lifted up.

And, of course, China and India are just the two behemoth countries. Countless other countries on every continent have been transformed by capitalism.

But what are the implications of this economic transformation? Andrew Winston’s point isn’t a political treatise, but rather the practical reality of the implications of huge numbers of people clamoring for increased consumption worldwide.

While Winston focuses on the negative implications of “too many people clamoring for too few resources,” my take is a positive spin on this point as far as fundraising is concerned. In my lifetime, the primary donor to worldwide causes has gone from the U.S. alone, to multiple nations starting with western Europe. Since I work with many groups that are multinational, the surprise to me of late has been the rather sudden rise in giving coming from Africa. Increasingly prosperous Africans are supporting their own charities.

Combine this trend with the opening of the World Wide Web. When you put up your Website, you are in front of the world. And, increasingly, nonprofits … especially faith-based organizations … are receiving donations from all over the world.

And finally, heightened transparency brought about by the Internet. I can go to Angie’s List and find reviews of local plumbers, roofers, or handymen. Or, before I book my next vacation hotel in Cancun, I go to to check out what people who have stayed at these resorts actually thought of them . . . why do you think people would not be leaving comments about your organization online?

Many of you don’t even pay attention to this, do you? It may not even be on your radar, yet it affects how people view your organization.

There is a whole industry out there that does nothing but take care of companies’ (and nonprofit organizations’) online reputations.

Andrew Winston calls this new world “radical transparency.”

Setting aside climate change, the other two “issues” that Mr. Winston raises (the rise of a global middle class with its negative implications on limited resources but its positive implication on philanthropy, and the radical transparency brought about by the Internet) are issues that fundraisers need to be cognizant of.


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Friday, June 27, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Optimism

My friend Jim Clifton, who is the CEO of the Gallup Organization, recently wrote a blog entitled Strategy: Maximize Your Current Customers.
It is an incredibly important reminder that there is much more value in existing relationships than constantly bringing in new customers (or donors in the case of nonprofits).

But what do you do if you have no customers … or donors, in the case of nonprofits?

Of course businesses will never run out of potential customers, but what about nonprofits? If they keep on their current path, they will run out of donors.

Fundraising’s most pressing issue is that soon, many nonprofit organizations won’t have any new or existing donors to maximize. The fall-off in new donor acquisition, plus that 60%+ of first time donors who never give a second gift is making the economics of acquiring new donors with traditional methods unsustainable.

This is the dirty little secret in fundraising that NOBODY wants to talk about. It is the impending disaster.

D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R !

Is that putting too fine a point on it, or is it strong enough for a real wake up call?

The world is online, but you would never know it by how most fundraising organizations are merely playing around with online. Most fundraisers aren’t committed to online . . . and what online applications and technologies they do use are in support (supposedly) of their direct mail appeals.

There is no focus on how to make online actually bring in revenue or make it a standalone revenue center.

How about your organization?

Are you committed to online, or are you just using it to support your direct mail appeals?

And why are you not using online as a standalone revenue center?

Is it because you are scared you can’t make it work?

Is that what you’re scared of?

Yet when your new donor acquisition is drying up and even your base of supporters is growing older and smaller … you’re scared about online not working?

But wait … hold it a minute. Wasn’t this blog post supposed to be about optimism?

It is.

Because if you want to know the first steps in how to shift online successfully… where your fundraising can grow and develop sustainability … you can email me for free information.


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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BIG’s Blog: The Dynamic of the Internet

We all understand the dynamics of how mass marketing – advertising – helped scale businesses and nonprofit fundraising through the years.

With commercial companies, whether on a local or national level, they could plug into paid advertising that brought their advertising message into almost every home.

For nonprofits, the primary advertising vehicle for message delivery was direct mail. They paid to have tens of thousands of letters delivered to a mass list of people who showed a propensity for supporting organizations like theirs.

We all get this because we lived through that time.

Today, however, we have this new invention called the Internet and we are all connected.

And when I say connected … I mean we are all connected … individually.

Mass has become the connected individual.

How many individuals are connected on the Internet? About 2 billion people connected worldwide, with more connecting daily. So, theoretically, that is pretty much everybody you might want to connect to.

So what is the other difference between “mass advertising” and the “individual-connected” Internet?

Oh yeah, the cost.

Media used to be scarce, so whoever “owned” the mass media you wanted to use charged dearly for it. But today, the Internet has broken all the mass media monopolies, and the Internet’s ability to connect everybody is essentially free.

The opposite of “scarce” is “abundant,” and the Internet has created abundant opportunities to connect.

But the Internet operates under different rules.

The old world of media was about vertical, top-down communications. Your money, your plan, and you were in control of the message … as far as reaching a “set audience” at a “set time” for a “set price.”

But the new online world of Internet-connected individual communications applications and media is about horizontal communications. You create a remarkable product, or, in the case of nonprofits, a remarkable mission, then you tell your story and set it up to spread person-to-person. On the Internet, unpaid but passionate advocates carry your story (your message) to others. But you have no direct control.

We all kind of like the control we have with paid media, don’t we?

But we also like not having to pay for messages through the Internet, don’t we?

Don’t misunderstand; we still need to use the old media for awhile because it is still working with an older segment of people we want to reach, but every year that group gets smaller and smaller.

But in the main, we really don’t have a choice, do we?

Of course we have a choice, but it is a different choice than maybe you’re thinking about.

Our choice is to shift our focus online.

Because, other than the oldest mass segments of people we want to reach, the vast majority … most individuals …  have already gone online.

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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Monday, June 23, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Most are already dead


A huge number of long-tenured charitable organizations are already dead … they just haven’t admitted it.
This is especially true of some faith-based organizations and communities … especially some Catholic religious communities and even some congregations. Their leadership struggles against declining members, rising costs, lack of new blood (vocations), and, worst of all, a lack of vision.

If you are worried and want to take your organization’s temperature, go down the hall and stick your head into the Development offices. How many of the staff and leadership are over 55? How many over 60?

Do I exaggerate? Maybe, but only a little.

Is it any wonder that you haven’t had a new fundraising idea in eons that really made an impact? And why your Development Director keeps making their budget based upon Bequests?

Yet every year your Development leadership and some staff attend the same-o, same-o Association or Development Conferences or Symposiums. They spend all that money and what changes? Answer: Nothing!

And here’s the worst part: Your Development staff isn’t a mirror reflection of your base of donors … your Development staff is younger! Huh?

But unlike so many long-tenured Development organizations that are mired in mediocrity … or worse … complacency, some faith-based fundraising organizations are breaking out!

A few years ago their leadership had some “sleepless nights” after they studied the average age of their shrinking base of donors. They asked themselves, “What can we do to attract younger supporters?” They knew that part of the answer was moving online . . . after all, isn’t that where the world is now?

But here’s the big surprise: Most of the organizations to date that decided to break out are Catholic religious communities and charities (send me an email and I’ll send you a list).

These organizations actually decided to take the first steps to learn what they didn’t know.

Seriously, would you have guessed that Catholic communities and charities would be leading what is essentially a fundamental shift in how they think about and practice philanthropy/fundraising?

Catholics? Aren’t those the same people who, a little over a century ago, were saying things like “We don’t need this electricity thing, candles work just fine!”

And now they are in the forefront of a philosophical, as well as tactical, shift in fundraising.

Philosophical Shift: It’s all about creating the relationship first, then building community around a shared passion in the work/mission/ministry … and then asking friends to support the work. Not … begging for dollars upfront (transaction-centered fundraising).

Tactical Shift: Online is where people are today and where they communicate. If you are not 100% online with your fundraising efforts, you are losing everyday.


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Friday, June 20, 2014

BIG’s Blog: You Don’t Give Gifts

If you’re a baby boomer like me, you don’t give gifts to charitable or nonprofit organizations/institutions.
I’m not getting personal or judgmental, and I’m not trying to say you personally don’t donate to any number of organizations … in fact, you probably do.

What I am saying is, “You don’t give gifts … as in no strings attached.”

And, by the way, neither do your brothers, sisters, or friends.

Giving gifts with no strings attached is how your parents gave (provided they are of the WWII or Depression era generations). Your parents trusted institutions … your organization is an institution. And because your parents trusted institutions, they gave with “no strings attached.”

If you’re a baby boomer or a member of an even younger generation, YOU DON’T GIVE GIFTS!

You may call it a gift, but you DO NOT give a gift as in “no strings attached.” There are ALWAYS STRINGS ATTACHED.

The major strings are things like Transparency and Accountability.

Boomers and younger generations don’t give gifts … even if they call them gifts. Boomers (us, you and me, and younger generations) invest in charitable and other nonprofit organizations.

The mindset and level of expectations of investing is very different than merely giving a “no strings attached” gift.

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

BIG’s Blog: YouTube It

Have you ever heard of the Geico camel?

Me neither … until I did hear of it.

And why had I not heard of it? Because most Americans my age (I’m a baby boomer) don’t watch that much live TV. In fact, other than sports or an occasional awards show, anything that I think might be worthwhile on TV, I will DVR.

So I am pretty immune to television commercials. If I am watching something I DVR’d from broadcast or cable, I am blasting through the ads. In fact, I probably watch more Netflix than anything on regular TV so I just don’t see that many commercials.

Think I’m unique? Don’t bet on it.

Have my media-watching habits changed in the last ten years? You betcha … and so have yours!

We all remember when there were only three broadcast-television networks. If you watched TV, you were watching one of those three networks. This meant that the cultural conversation was fairly homogenous.

Not anymore. In fact, we were never really homogenous . . . but with limited choices, it just seemed that way.  

Media has fragmented to appeal to the real heterogeneous audiences that … in reality … always existed. With few exceptions, there is no single cultural conversation, but rather many niche conversations.

Here is something I have learned if you occasionally have to face one of those “clueless cultural moments” … go to YouTube and type it in.

Anything about anything is on YouTube.

Oh, by the way, is your fundraising organization’s story (or stories)  on YouTube?

The Geico camel is: Click Here


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Monday, June 16, 2014

BIG’s Blog: Kill Off the Old Gray Mare … Not Yet!

If we could all hop in a Time Machine and go back 110 years to 1904, we could observe a dynamic that is very similar to what fundraisers are facing today.

In 1904 there were these noisy, smelly contraptions rambling around the countryside and city streets. They were the earliest forms of what would later be known as automobiles. But back then, they were very rudimentary, and people called them “horseless” carriages.

Henry Ford’s breakthrough assembly line process that dramatically lowered automobile costs was still almost a decade away. But even then there were a few who saw the advantage of not being tethered to a horse to get around.

Right before everyone’s eyes was the future.

But did everyone rush home and sell their horses or, worse, kill the old gray mare?

Of course not!

In fact, most people who purchased one of these early automobiles probably still kept their horses for a while. Think about it . . . the transportation economy – other than railroads – was still built on real horsepower.

But the internal combustion engine was shifting the playing field. Every year, more people bought automobiles because the autos got better … a trend still seen today.

This meant that, over time, the demand for horses waned. Pretty soon livery stables, which were on every corner, became early gas stations.

What’s the connection as a fundraiser?

Today your annual revenue is still tethered to direct mail. Direct mail has been your engine to acquire new donors and bring in annual dollar revenue.

But now direct mail is in terminal decline.

Integrating or adding the new so-called online channels to a direct mail campaign not only doesn’t really move the needle in terms of lifting revenue over what the direct mail would deliver by itself, but it completely misses the transformational power of these new interactive online technologies.

If your direct mail appeals are still generating positive revenue, then keep them. Don’t kill off the old gray mare.

But for heavens sake, learn the lessons of history. When a transformational technology comes along, you don’t hitch your old horse to it; you keep your old gray mare going as long as she’s useful and then put her out to pasture. You focus your time, energy, and investment on the new technology.

Focus and invest in your future!


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Friday, June 13, 2014

BIG’s Blog: How many…

How many of your direct mail pieces, even those sent to past donors, don’t even get opened?

What’s a great response to current donors … 13%?

So that means 87% of current donors didn’t respond with a gift. And worse … how many of that 87% “deep sixed” (didn’t even open) your mailing package? And these are your BEST donors!?

And you spent all that time on the copy … how many revisions … to get it right so you could most effectively share your mission’s need. And you have NO idea how many of the 87% - current donors – didn’t even read it.

When you get a direct mail appeal from a charity (yours or another), we all know that opening the letter obligates us to at least consider sending a check to help.

So there is the hurdle of … “if I open this letter, am I obligating myself to give?”

Face it, there’s a hurdle.

Is there an alternative? How about this?

Assuming you have a compelling mission, if everyday you were posting a really well-written story on your Website and weren’t asking for money, how many more people would read about your work and know about your organization/community?

No hurdles.

Right now some readers are feeling slightly uncomfortable at what I am describing and suggesting. I understand that.

Then why am I raising the issue?

Because the world has shifted and people’s “sensibilities” (yours and mine) have changed. My above questions would have been nonsensical 25 years ago.

Do you think that direct mail is becoming less effective only because more and more people are online? Not to mention the increasing costs to produce and mail . . .

The Internet has changed the playing field … the rules have changed … and along with it, people’s sensibilities.

You’ve heard of Google, right? You know, the place where you can look up anything … find anything?

So if you just put up stories on your Website … just stories and information … and NEVER asked for money on your Website … YES, I’m saying REMOVE your donate button! Without the hurdle (the obligation to give), how many more people would actually read your stories?

And, of course, there a bazillion more people online than you could ever afford to mail to.  

Here is a thought to ponder. Doesn’t it make more sense to share who you are, what you do … and why … and let people make up their own minds in their own time without an implied obligation?’

I know … I know … it turns transaction-focused fundraising upside down.

Build a relationship first before asking for support.

What a concept!

But how would you rather be treated?


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