Fundraising: It’s a contact sport! Helping your natural partners be successful.

14 06 2012

“I don’t want to shake your germy hand, I just came here for your money” says Dr. Sheldon Cooper of television’s Big Bang Theory – the Benefactor Factor Episode.  Now the show is some seriously good humor and that particular episode is a must see for development professionals who enjoy a little crass humor and this particular episode doesn’t necessarily paint a great picture of fundraising. In all seriousness Sheldon, misses what some faculty members, physicians, program managers, and non-profit leaders (sometimes called natural partners) have a hard time grasping – the need for partnership with donors.
Meetings with donors should be an opportunity to “bear witness” for their project, institution, or program.  Too often we try to guard the donor or the faculty member, when what we should be doing is down playing the fundraising discussion and helping them share with prospective donors what makes their work matter.  Unlike the crew on the TV show, we don’t trade our morals to donors, but we do need them to share their passion for their work.
Tips for preparing your natural partners to engage donors:
1) Put them in an environment they are comfortable in (not everyone does the cocktail party well). Meetings in labs, classrooms, exhibit halls, etc. can make the experience seem natural.
2) Share the strategy and focus on their role (e.g. make it clear their role at this moment is not to ask – unless it actually is!). Define success for this meeting.
3) Role play – What possible questions might the prospect ask? Do they know the two or three key points that should be articulated to the prospect?
4) Know the limits of your partner – how long is the right time to have the engaged?
Most of our partners don’t react like Sheldon for the purpose of thwarting fundraising efforts. As one highly trained surgeon said to me “I don’t know how you can do this fundraising job it is stressful!”  In many ways this is a tremendous compliment to our profession. Our job is to help them play their role in the fundraising process whether it is through grateful patient program, donor dinners, tours etc. Their involvement is critical to your success.
And yes…every once in a while you have to shake a germy hand or two – it’s good for you.

Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall


Non-Profit Pride: The Value of Belief in Your Institution and Mission

16 05 2012

How passionate are your volunteers and donors?  This week I had the good fortune to be sitting with friends in Prague when I spied a young woman wearing a Mizzou shirt and pointed it out to a friend with Missouri connections.  He shouted out “M-I-Z” and without hesitation, the group of young ladies responded Z-O-U! It is that pride that we later hope inspires alumni and friends to support their alma mater. While this pride is not unique, it is admirable.

Donors and friends of other organizations carry that same pride. If patients feel good about the hospital they frequent, they will gladly associate themselves with it. There is a strong sense of pride that they chose an excellent organization to secure their health care, often demonstrated by their giving as a grateful patient or volunteering their time. This sense of pride is also exhibited by many membership organizations.  Members display window clings on their cars, wear the public radio sweatshirt, or use other visible memorabilia.

This sense of pride is also tied to mission – I have seen donors proudly talk about what their non-profit has accomplished.  This often is demonstrated by their citing tangible outcomes: children fed, patients served, achievements of alumni. We don’t all have shiny new buildings or the newest building – but what we do have is results that we can share and have our friends want to be our champions and our donors. Pride and belief equals financial support!

Give yourself a pride checkup:

1)      Is your constituency proud to say they are affiliated with you?

2)      Do donors and volunteers have critically important information that is proof of you fulfilling your mission?

3)      Are you presenting meaningful opportunities for your constituents to identify themselves as part of your community and organization?

If the answer to any of the above is no, then you should plan to strengthen your constituent engagement. Those engagements can be newsletters, social media, and a wide range of personal contact – particularly donor visits.   That same pride that instantly welled up in those young ladies to identify with their school is the same pride we as fundraisers depend upon to encourage donors to support their schools, hospitals, and museums.

I hope if someone shouts out to your donors — they will enthusiastically shout back “That’s me!”.

Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Donor Benefits, Grateful Patient Programs, Etc.: Not a perk, but an opportunity to understand the mission.

3 05 2012

Recently, the Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an editorial about a Texas hospital that had been the subject of an investigative report on a “grateful patient/VIP program”. While I know little about this particular instance, it raises important questions about these types of programs.  Are they necessary and do they matter? Absolutely! Not just at hospitals, but at zoos, orchestras, colleges, etc.

What do I get in return for my membership at the zoo, gift to my alma mater, or local hospital?  Well often I get special educational e-mails, invitations to special events, and finally the occasional extra access opportunity.  The payoff for the organization is steady support and most importantly – an opportunity to deepen my commitment to their mission and as a result, more support. There is a third beneficiary that is often ignored – the general public.  My steady and/or increasing support helps make programs available for the general public. 

Why the issues at hospitals? There is a perception that there is “better care”.  It is not better care, you don’t get more blood because you are a donor, docs don’t try a bit harder during surgery, but you get a visit from an executive who shares the vision of the hospital with you, “free parking”, or perhaps a bottle of water.  So it might be a slightly better experience. Who is the real beneficiary?  The community members who cannot afford to make that gift and now enjoy a new emergency room, better rooms, or the tests performed with equipment purchased through philanthropy. 

Programs like these are critical to deepening the understanding of organizational missions and relationship building.  The development community must implement programs like these ethically and with sensitivity.  Not every grateful donor program should be alike.  They should be shaped by factors such as their community, needs, and history. Grateful donor programs and benefits are important to public and private institutions alike if we want to have both of these types of organizations thrive in our communities.

Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Diversity and Donors: Are You Preparing to Engage Your Future Prospects? (Part I)

12 01 2012

Take a look at your prospect pool and think of it as a snapshot of your world today.  Then take a look at what the prospect pool might look like in 5, 10, or even 15 years.  The reality is it will look vastly different.   Change will occur for some non-profits much faster than it will for others, but it will change for everyone. We must prepare to engage our future prospects.

Diversity, in this instance, means a variety of things: gender, race, sexual orientation, age, etc. There is tremendous change occurring in our donor bases, and our programs and donor strategies must be inclusive to allow all prospects to become partners in philanthropy. Not to mention, ignoring these changes only allows us to underperform.  Look at a few examples of the differences:

Women in Philanthropy

  • Barclay’s Wealth Study in 2009 indicated that women give away a higher percentage of their wealth than their male counterparts. 

    More women tend to be donors than males in most cultures.

  • The 2010 World Giving Index demonstrated that in most societies a larger percentage of women are donors.
  • The American Council on Education indicates that women represent 57% of student enrollment. At the same time, a cursory review of several higher education boards shows that women make up only 33% of the membership.

 Young Donors

  • The Barclay’s study also indicated that younger, entrepreneurial individuals are far more likely to be committed to philanthropic causes.
  • The CAE report indicates that our alumni participation is on a 10 year decline at both public and private institutions.

    Alumni participation continues to decline.

  • If the Barclay’s study is correct, then our young alumni programs are clearly off the mark and need to be revisited.

 People of Color

  • A recent Reuters study indicated that there is growing disparity in wealth between white Americans and Americans of color.
  • That same study also indicated that African Americans are more likely to cite philanthropy as an important goal.
  • The US Department of Education indicates that between 1976 and 2007 the percentage of African American Students nearly doubled.  Is this represented in our alumni programming?

 What does this mean for fundraising programs?

At the CASE V conference in Chicago, I had the pleasure of presenting with Monique Dozier of Michigan State University and Marilyn Foster Kirk of the University of Illinois Chicago. Both of these Universities have several things going for them.

1)      They have a good understanding of the diversity that exists currently in their prospect pools and, most importantly, understand what their prospect pool will look like in the future.

2)      They have developed strategies for inviting broader communities to participate in philanthropy at their institutions.

3)      There is a commitment at the highest levels of the organization to broadening participation in philanthropy.

In a few weeks, I’ll continue this topic in greater detail, but I want to leave you with some things to review in your own program:

  • Do you understand the diverrsity, the life cycle of wealth, timing, and nature of giving in your prospect pool?
  • Do you know what your prospect pool will look like in 5, 10, and 20 years?
  • Have you developed strategies and tactics that match your current and future pools?

Your thoughts about this important topic will be appreciated as we explore this further!  Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Your 2012 Calendar Year End Giving Begins Now!

3 01 2012

I know, I know…the year just began.  However, a cursory review of multiple websites indicated that many non-profits, including those with sophisticated development shops, were not prepared for the onslaught of online giving. According to blackbaud’s Report on Online Giving,  there was a 34.5% increase in 2010 over the previous year and it is likely we will see similar increases for 2011, if consumer behaviors are any indicator.

So why begin now?  Web design is rarely controlled by the development office and even when it is the process of changing something like this can often be slow and agonizing. It’s a great time to do a check up of your online giving strategy and tactics.

1) How many clicks does it take to get to the giving page? (a shout out to the much heralded Tootsie Pop)

  If you need more than two clicks, prospective donors may get lost and/or frustrated. Ideally there is a “give now” button on the first page.  If that front page button is not possible, it should be in a logical place and all links or references should point in the right place.

 2) Do your direct mail pieces provide the web address for making a gift?

 Every direct mail piece should always include a response piece.  Better yet, give each prospect an instant response piece via the web.

 3) Do your e-solicitations and newsletters provide a ready link?

 Effective case stating should inspire.  Newsletters can be inspiring and they provide important examples of an organization’s mission and the programs to fulfill that mission.  A link in each newsletter should allow donors to act on impulse to make their gift.

Map out or review your online giving strategy in January.  Develop a plan to modify or implement an effective program and be prepared for your fiscal year end and/or next December.  It may take 10 months to implement – begin now while the missed or potential impact is fresh in your mind.

Remember – No annual fund or annual giving program is complete without a comprehensive strategy that includes online giving.

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

Succession Planning: It is Just Good Business for Fundraising

3 10 2011

Do you have a succession plan? A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article highlighted the number of presidential turnovers that will occur relatively soon at major institutions. It is not just the president’s departure that causes issues for fundraising across the non-profit community, but board member and development professional departures as well. This is exacerbated when there is the confluence of continually high development turnover and a best practice of board term limits is a real threat to the relationships with our best prospects and donors.

Years ago, a vice president I worked with saw his retirement and some transition coming, he ensured that the relationships with those prospects and donors would be secure.  This gentleman looked at his staff and wisely thought about who would be there in five years.  The next step involved his engaging stable staff in those relationships that could be an important bridge to the future. Did he just hand those relationships over?  Of course not, but when he retired, not a single donor was lost. He ensured that existing relationships could be built upon to serve the organization for the future..

Do a check up on your organization?

1)      How secure are your top donors or prospects? How many relationships with your organization do they have?

2)      What would happen if you had turnover – the CEO, Chief Development Officer, or a key volunteer?

3)      Five years from now, are we positioned to have stronger relationships than we do today?

Think about the following:

1)      Include members of your team in key relationships that will bridge your best donors to the future.

2)      Ensure each important prospect or donor has multiple contact points with your organization.

3)      When there is transition in your organization, make a priority of maintaining those relationships (including gift officers, boards, and presidential transition teams).

Good luck!

Mark J. Marshall