“You see it all around you, good (planned) givin’ gone bad….”

20 12 2012

WillWell that is a (admittedly bad) paraphrase of the .38 Special song Hold on Loosely and it is an important issue as many people are working hard to find creative gift solutions. I have heard discussions suggesting that the 90s were the golden era of planned giving, whether that’s true or not I don’t know. What I do know is many people are working harder than ever to make gifts happen and occasionally a good gift goes bad.

I had the good fortune or misfortune (depending on perspective) to have to steward a charitable gift annuity several years ago. The gift had not been well conceived by the organization and as a result, the charitable remainder that would exist for charity would have been surprisingly small – within IRS guidelines, but small. That donor’s words have echoed in my mind ever since “why didn’t they tell me….I would have just given them the money”.

We need to make sure that first and foremost we are honoring our donor’s charitable intent. To do that and be good stewards we should do the following:

1) Expectations – Ensure that the gift meets the donor’s expectations which should include final impact, financial comfort, and timing (e.g. a deferred gift that won’t be realized for 30+ years when they hope to see their money at work).

2) Knowledge – While you are NOT the donor’s financial advisor, you should have a strong understanding of the actual vehicles you are suggesting.

3) Good Business – The financial arrangement should be good for your institution and the beneficiaries of your work. These include no undue financial burdens, risks, or long term commitments.

Planned giving remains an important tool for philanthropy, but with low interest rates, various commercial gimmicks, and some prospective donors with no charitable intent it is important to be vigilant. We need to be able to ensure it is good for our donors, organizations, and our community.
Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall


A Quick Guide to Fundraising in the Wake of a Disaster

31 10 2012

In the wake of hurricane Sandy many non-profits can toss their annual plan out the proverbial and possibly the actual window. A storm of this magnitude will have an impact on countless organizations around the country, not only in the affected area. A thoughtful, but quick re-evaluation of your program is essential.

1) What has the storm done to your case for support and organizational priorities?

Facilities that suffered significant damage may have to change plans to expand, launch new programs, etc. Be prepared to reassess priorities quickly and authoritatively. Membership, annual giving, etc. is likely to be impacted significantly. This will be a double whammy (technical term there) – your donor base may be affected as well as there is a strong sense of urgency around disaster relief. You will need to decide if the impact increases or decreases your sense of urgency.

2) Are your prospects affected?

Regardless of where you are situated in the world, your prospects nay be affected. You will have prospects in the affected regions and if not they may have family, friends, or business interests in those areas. Donors (including foundations) may shift priorities. Like the great recession, you may need to reprioritize and reassess your prospect pool.

3) What does this mean for planned activities?

Evaluate any immediate events planned in the area for the next 60-90 days immediately. This includes fundraisers, cultivation events, and even prospecting trips near the area. Contracts may force you to make certain decisions, but make decisions to move ahead or cancel with eyes wide-open and engage volunteers on the ground to read the situation properly. If you do move ahead, its likely the tone of the event will change.

Finally, a few quick to do’s:

■Contact any individuals with whom you have a strong relationship and check on them!

■Immediately suspend any telemarketing or direct mail efforts to the area (unless you are disaster relief organizations).

■Be sensitive!

■Be prepared to redraft a plan!

■Keep the folks on the east coast in your thoughts and prayers.

Good luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Development Officers: Are Your Call Reports and Donor Related Emails Appropriate?

10 10 2011

I often challenge gift officers to this simple litmus test about their call reports. (I have now already made the assumption that call reports are actually being completed!) If someone read your call report would they be offended and angry?  In all fairness, they might not be thrilled that we created a record of the visit, BUT there is a significant difference between being offended and being unhappy.

The unspeakable may happen at Brown University as they are being asked to turn over donor records as a result of some civil litigation. This court order includes “unredacted” employee email that is being requested.  The issue is not about Brown, but about how development staff everywhere retains data. Reflect for a few moments about your own call reports and emails – how would they withstand the litmus test?

This is not the first run at donor records, but it is a serious concern.  Like wikileaks, some of the damage may be collateral.  Many public universities, museums, etc. have had issues with their state’s open meeting and sunshine laws.  These laws essentially create complete transparency of many donor records and select communication. In states like Minnesota, laws were passed to exempt the University and other state institutions from having to open donor related records.

Additional issues exist for development staff members who keep “other records” whether at their home, on their hard drive, or in writing in a file.  Such documentation is “discoverable” in court issues, is most likely something that should never be written down, and often lies outside of the organization’s record keeping policy.

Some quick guidelines for call reports and work emails:

1)      If you wouldn’t say it to the donor or prospect – don’t write it down, electronic is a permanent record. Use the litmus test – “If the prospect saw this…”

2)      Create a working guide for your organizatin about what is appropriate: a brief summary of the contact, pertinent details, next steps with the relationship, and a plan.

3)      Avoid judgmental comments about personalities – little good can come from them. Make decisions about the situation instead.


Good luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Annual Giving: Why ‘Who’ Means More Than ‘How Many’

18 08 2011

Today’s guest blogger is Cassie Hunt,  a colleague of mine at the firm.  Cassie is a leader in fundraising operations and annual giving, particularly in the area of using data to strengthen annual giving programs.

I once met that very rarest of development staff members: an annual giving director who hates data.  Anything involving spreadsheets, analysis and numbers in general make them break into a cold sweat.  Unfortunately, when running an annual giving program, this can be a significant handicap, though one that can be overcome once the value in analysis is understood.

The appropriate analysis and application of data can make or break an annual giving program.  To solicit the masses as annual giving programs do, you have to be able to use information to segment and evaluate your efforts.  To be truly effective, however, you really need to look beyond the basic data points to the next tier of information.  Most directors can report on their dollar and participation totals, cost-per-dollar-raised for mailings and phonathons, leadership giving numbers and retention rates, but leading programs around the country look not just at ‘how many’ or ‘how much’ but ‘who?’  Here are a few examples of when the ‘who’ is more important than the ‘how much’:

  • If we retain 75% of our donors overall, but only 15% of our first-time donors, how can we introduce more stewardship for that pool? Knowing the retention rate alone is not enough.
  • If we have a donor who has given online for ten years in a row, should we continue the expense of sending her direct mail and calling her in the phonathon? Knowing how many gifts came in online is not enough.
  • If we acquire 200 donors a year but they are all new graduates, how can we adjust our acquisition tactics to attract more older alumni?  Knowing we acquired 200 donors is not enough.
  • If a leadership annual giving officer makes her 200-visit goal, how do we make sure she is visiting the right people?  Knowing how many contact reports she wrote is not enough.

When you evaluate how your most recent fiscal year ended, look beyond the obvious numbers to what they are really saying.  Your data can be your greatest asset if you know how to interpret it and how it can guide you to better decisions and a more efficient and effective program.

Special thanks to Cassie for her contribution to the Marshall Art of Fundraising this week.  Managing data for annual giving is a critical skill that allows the development professional to maximize solicitation outcomes. Have a great week.

Good Luck! – Mark Marshall

Is Your Fundraising Program a Trend Buster?

20 06 2011

The former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill coined the phrase “All politics is local”, well perhaps one can say that “All philanthropy is local”! The GivingUSA Report serves as a valuable benchmark for everyone working in the philanthropic sector of the economy.  The impact of philanthropy will be profound over the next few years with flat or declining federal budgets.  Giving USA had several important statistics that should make you look at your own program and create a benchmark for yourself.

The rise in giving was projected at 2% when adjusted for inflation.  However, I know many non-profits whose fundraising rose by significantly more.  So why did theirs rise more than the average?  Well, lots of unique situations…..but you should be exploring what it will take for you to beat the trends.

Step 1) Review Programs.  Are we getting the most out of our programs?  Examine your major and planned gifts, annual giving, corporate and foundation programs.  Are there things that can increase the projected results?

GivingUSA also predicts tough years ahead for the fundraising environment.  Which in fairness, is based on a model utilizing the economy and philanthropic trends associated with the economy and therefore not based on IRS data.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s “What the Dog Saw”, there is a great discussion about how the stock market is difficult to predict.  Know why?  It is driven by emotion, whether its 9/11 or political scandal.  The markets react illogically.  What does this mean for philanthropy?

Step 2) Appeal to Emotion. Can we engage our donors in a way that helps them suspend their natural cautions? Are we inspiring them to act?  We get so caught up in the business of our organizations we need to stay focused on the passion!

Source: Giving USA 2011

So, take stock in how your sector did in 2010. The Chronicle of Philanthropy highlights the different sectors.  Decide what you did or did not do to help you break the trend. Programs that are constantly reviewing themselves are best positioned for success. So make your Philanthropy Local and beat the trends – I bet you can outperform the forecast and industry with focused efforts.

Good luck!

– Mark Marshall

The Science of Fundraising: How Nonprofits Use Analytics

3 06 2011

Today’s guest blogger is Joshua Birkholz, author of “Fundraising Analytics: Using Data to Guide Strategy”.  Josh is a leader in the analytics field and is passionate about its applications for fundraising.

Only 10 short years ago, the word, “analytics,” was barely in the vocabulary.  You could count the fundraising analytics professionals on one hand.  Sure we had heard of data mining and seen demographic clusters in the early days of screening.  But, no one would have guessed that nonprofits would be building their own identification models using their own data.

Today, in-house fundraising analytics professionals number in the hundreds.  Nonprofits are using predictive models to:

  • Identify new major or planned gift prospects
  • Risk-adjust their campaign gift pyramids
  • Determine ask amounts for direct marketing
  • Segment mailing and event populations

Nonprofits are using descriptive analytics and visualization for:

  • Conducting complex portfolio analysis
  • Forecasting and simulating fundraising production
  • Evaluating regional gift officer allocation
  • Making really pretty charts and graphs (useful ones at that)

 This next decade will see some of the most amazing advances in analytics.  With the ubiquitous nature of prospect management coding springing from the metrics-driven ‘90s and ‘00s, nonprofits will be able to predict the optimal cultivation strategy for new major donor prospects.  By connecting analytics to the ever-growing field of fundraising talent management, we will be able to predict top performers at the hiring stage.  Decision science will find its way into all areas of campaigning, strategic planning, donor relations, and social media. 


A special thanks to Josh for his insights and the interesting perspective of the infograph. Today’s professional fundraisers must master both the science of fundraising and the art of fundraising. I offer this for further thought, the science alone is not a magic bullet, but when deployed in a thoughtful way — the impact on philanthropy can be significant. Have a great week!

– Mark


Lessons Learned: Operational Priorities – Guest Blogger Chris Cannon

6 04 2011

Chris Cannon is the first in a series of guest bloggers.  Chris is widely recognized as a leader in development operations.

 Special Guest Blogger: Chris Cannon, Author of “An Executive’s Guide to Fundraising Operations”

Exceptional fundraising requires discipline and focus on the “big rocks.” You may have heard the story: a professor stands before her students with a glass jar, some big rocks, some smaller stones, some gravel, and sand and a glass of water. The question posed to the students: “What’s your strategy to getting all of these materials into the jar?” If student starts with the little stuff (the details, if you will) means that water, sand, and gravel keep the big rocks from fitting in the jar. Put simply, the exercise teaches students that one must start with the big rocks in order to fit everything into the jar. You can fit the smaller items around the big rocks once you have them in the jar. If it’s not too obvious, the big rocks are your best donors and prospects. The smaller items are details like your fundraising operations.

How can you focus on the big rocks while ensuring that the details are handled well enough? Here are three simple techniques that are expounded upon in my book, An Executive’s Guide to Fundraising Operations:

1)      Disciplined focus on top of pyramid. Simply put, no matter how bad the database, reporting, gift processing and other areas may appear, nothing is as bad as missing your fundraising targets because you lost focus and didn’t engage your best donors. Do whatever you need to do—hire staff, outsource, and retain counsel— to allow the time needed for the big rocks.

2)      Use metrics and don’t let anecdotes get in the way. A $50 gift processing issue is not worth a day of time from the chief fundraising officer. And, it’s equally important that you don’t use a few anecdotes to evaluate operations. Instead, decide on metrics (99.5% accuracy for gift entry, for example) and manage to the metrics, not the anecdotes.

3)      Train and Trust. Your team should make you feel like you can ignore operations. The better they are, the more training they have, and the more you trust them, the more you can reasonably focus on the big rocks.

Concerned about operations affecting your focus on the big rocks? Check out the confidence calculators at www.fundraisingoperations.com. Here you can determine whether an issue really needs your attention.

Special thanks to Chris for his contribution to the Marshall Art of Fundraising.


Email: mjm@bwf.com        

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