I wrote last month about the crippling nonprofit fear of investment. Related to that, nonprofits need to understand and embrace the concept of Return on Investment. Nonprofit leaders often exist in such a world of scarcity that they don’t recognize that an investment today can have a huge payoff down the road. And not recognizing the value of a return on investment, particularly when it comes to a nonprofit’s fundraising function, can keep nonprofits in starvation mode.
One of the ways I consult with nonprofits is coaching a development director or executive director to increase money flowing to the organization. We work on getting board members to bring money in the door, identifying new donors, crafting a compelling message, launching new revenue streams, developing an overall financing plan.
This work could have a huge future payout:
- Board members no longer sit on their hands but actively recruit new donors to the organization.
- New donors are acquired through a thoughtful, strategic major donor campaign.
- A compelling case for investment convinces foundations and major donors to invest at higher levels and for longer periods.
- A new earned income stream brings in unrestricted revenue.
- An effective financing plan puts scarce resources to their highest and best use.
If you think of this in terms of return on investment it’s a no-brainer. You have two options:
- Continue to struggle day-to-day for the foreseeable future, or
- Make an investment today in order to dramatically increase funding and sustainability tomorrow
Let’s do the math. If a nonprofit with a budget of $1 million were to spend, say $5,000 on hands-on coaching to develop a financing plan, create a compelling case for investment, get their board engaged in fundraising, and launch a major donor campaign those elements could translate into well over $100,000 of new money annually for the nonprofit.
- A financing plan clarifies and marshals resources so staff and board know exactly where the money flows and who will do what to make it happen. The very act of creating and monitoring a financing plan could increase funding by 5%, or $50,000.
- A case for investment, when done well, becomes the backbone of any and all money-raising efforts. It can be integrated into your website, your social media efforts, your donor letters, your presentations. Telling a concise, compelling story makes donors sit up and take notice and adds perhaps another 2% increase, or $20,000.
- If your entire board starts (in their own unique ways) bringing money in the door that could increase your bottomline as well. If each member of a 15-person board starts to increase their own giving and/or the giving of those in their network by $1,000 each, that’s another $15,000.
- A major donor campaign charts a logical, strategic way for you to identify and acquire new donors. Getting strategic about how you find and recruit those donors will ensure much greater success, perhaps a 5% increase, or $50,000.
So with very conservative estimates the original $5,000 investment in coaching translates to $135,000 in new money every year thereafter.
My favorite example of this is when I helped KLRU, Austin’s PBS station use $350,000 in capacity capital to do many of the above things. After 3 years of implementing a new financing plan, using a new case for investment, and more, they were raising $1.6 million in NEW REVENUE each year. That’s a huge return on investment.
If you make a smart investment in improving the money engine of your nonprofit, that investment will pay off many times over, creating a more secure financial future for your organization.
Photo Credit: MeckiMac
There’s a key practice in business marketing, creating buyer personas, that I think nonprofit fundraisers would be wise to adopt. It is a great fallacy of nonprofit fundraisers to think that anyone with money is a potential donor to their organization. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you want to really succeed in bringing new donors in the door, you need to get smart and strategic about reaching the right target markets for your specific nonprofit, which is the topic of today’s post in the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series.
Smart marketing is about reaching a specific target of people whose values intersect with your nonprofit’s unique ability to address a community need, like this:
This means that you don’t want to send your message out to everyone and anyone. Rather you want always to target a specific communication to those unique people for whom it would resonate.
In the business world, this is called creating “Buyer Personas.” And I think nonprofit fundraisers should develop “Donor Personas.”
Creating Donor Personas means organizing your donor base into groups of people based on demographics, interests, lifestyle choices, etc. Then you want to find out as much as you can about those groups in order to clone them.
So, for example, an animal shelter might have the following beginning list of Donor Personas:
- Animal Activist
These donors are 16-30 years old, highly motivated, interested in advocacy and changing laws and systems to make the world a safer place for animals.
- Pet Lover
These donors are 25-65 years old and have adopted a pet from the shelter in the past few years. They aren’t politically active, but rather are very grateful for the newest member of their family.
- Dog Devotee
These donors may have may or may not have adopted a pet from the shelter, but they are fierce dog lovers. They don’t understand cats and are not interested in them.
- Cat Fanatic
Again these donors may or may not have adopted a pet from the shelter, but they are obsessed with cats and their welfare.
So how do you go about developing your Donor Personas? Start with these four steps:
- Group Current Donors
Take a look at your current donor base. Can you place people into profile groups like I did with the animal shelter above? What do some of your donors have in common? Do patterns and groupings start to emerge around a combination of demographics, lifestyle choices and/or worldviews?
- Ask Questions
Select a handful of current donors in each donor persona group and give them a call or send them an email. Tell them that you simply want to understand their motivations for giving so that you can find more like-minded people. Ask them a handful of questions like “Why do you give to us?” “Where did you hear about us?” “What do you do in your free time?” “What’s the best way to communicate with you?” Anything that will help you understand better what motivates them to give, how they make decisions, where they hang out, etc.
- Create Profiles
Armed with a deeper understanding of what makes these different groups tick, flesh out your donor personas. Give each group a descriptive name, like “Pet Lovers” above, list their various characteristics (demographics, interests, anything you know about them). Then circulate these donor persona descriptions to your staff and board. You might even want to attach a fictional picture to each persona to make it more visually captivating.
- Market to the Personas
Now that you understand your donor groups better, create different content and opportunities that resonate with these different groups. For example, you might want to engage your “Animal Activists” via social media when the city council is threatening to pull some of your shelter funding, but you might ask “Pet Lovers” to virtually adopt shelter animals with a monthly contribution. Now that you know your Donor Personas better make sure you target all of your marketing and fundraising activities accordingly.
Stop telling your story to anyone and everyone. Start figuring out what motivates those who already love you and use that information to build an army of additional supporters.
If you want to learn more about finding individual donors, download the Creating a Major Donor Campaign step-by-step guide. And if you want to move your nonprofit from fundraising to financing, check out the e-books, guides and webinars that can get you started on the Financing Not Fundraising page.
Photo Credit: Camera John
A new report from the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and 21/64 gives us the first real glimpse into the minds of the next generation of philanthropists, and it’s fascinating. These are not your father’s philanthropists. Millennial and GenX donors (wealthy individuals, or individuals who will inherit wealth, born between 1964-2000) will control more philanthropic dollars than any previous generation. And more importantly, they think about giving in very different ways than their parents or grandparents did. Which means nonprofits need to pay attention.
This next generation of philanthropists is so critical because it’s estimated that $41 trillion will transfer from the Baby Boom to these next generations in the next 40 years. And since much of this wealth could become philanthropic, some have predicted “a new golden age of philanthropy.”
But it’s not just the unprecedented wealth that makes this new generation of philanthropists so important, it’s the fact that they want to fundamentally change philanthropy. According to the report: “They want to make philanthropy more impactful, more hands on, more networked.”
The key findings from the report are that these NextGen donors are:
- Focused on Impact. “They see previous generations as more motivated by a desire for recognition or social requirements, while they see themselves as focused on impact, first and foremost.”
- Giving Based on Values. “They fund many of the same causes that their families support and even give locally, so long as that philanthropy fits with their personal values.”
- Looking to Be Engaged. “Giving without significant, hands-on engagement feels to them like a hollow investment with little assurance of impact.”
- Paving Their Own Way. “While they respect their families’ legacies and continue to give to similar causes and in similar ways as their families, they are also eager to revolutionize philanthropy.”
This report is further proof of the major trends changing the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Given where the sector is heading, there are three things nonprofit leaders should understand and embrace:
- Outcomes are here to stay. In order to compete for funding you must be able to prove the results of what you are doing, what change you are creating. NextGen donors are doing their homework and want to understand what impact their dollars will have. To stay relevant, you need to start by creating a theory of change and then figure out how you can being managing to outcomes.
- Giving has gone social. NextGen donors rely heavily on their social networks to make decisions, including their giving. And they offer their knowledge of worthy causes to their friends as well. So if you aren’t part of the social network you will be left behind. Start to open your organization to become a networked nonprofit and watch your support and influence grow.
- Donors are more than a checkbook. This next generation of donors doesn’t want to just write a check, have their name on a wall and be done with it. They want to really get to know the causes in which they invest. And the word “invest” is an apt one. These donors want to give money, time, mind-share, networks to things they believe in. And if you can employ that passion and investment effectively you will get so much more than just dollars. So figure out how to engage donors in much deeper, more meaningful ways.
This is a really exciting time for philanthropy and ultimately for the nonprofit sector it funds. But it’s up to nonprofit leaders to understand these fundamental shifts and adapt accordingly.
Photo Credit: www.nextgendonors.org
I’ve written before about when nonprofit fundraising goes really wrong. An organization that I donated to a few times refused to leave me alone after 11 years of ignored solicitations. Today I want to flip it and talk about a nonprofit that has done a great job at fundraising. (In some ways they mirror my earlier post about when fundraising goes really right.)
Foundation Communities is a nonprofit in Austin, Texas that provides affordable housing and support services to low income families and individuals. About 4 years ago a friend invited me to a lunch at a Foundation Communities housing complex. It was NOT the traditional nonprofit gala luncheon.
Instead, when we walked into the common area of the housing complex there were box lunches waiting for us. The executive director and a couple of board members gave us a 5-minute description of what Foundation Communities is and does and why they are passionate about it. Then we watched a 10-minute video of the program in action and interviews with their some of their clients.
Finally our group was split into smaller groups led by a board member to tour the complex. On the tour, the board member explained how Foundation Communities uses an innovative financing model to acquire ineffective housing, renovate it and make it livable and affordable, while providing much needed after-school care, financial services and other help to the residents there.
At the end of the presentations and the tour we were asked to fill out a brief card with our name, contact info, and if/how we’d like to get involved with Foundation Communities (volunteer, take another tour, meet with a staff member). We were also asked if we could recommend a friend who might like to come to a future lunch. Foundation Communities holds these informal lunches every month. With that, the hour was up and we were on our way.
After that interesting and compelling introduction to the organization I started giving an annual gift. They were always very prompt with both an email thank you (since I made my donation online) and a paper thank you explaining how my gift would be used and all of the great work Foundation Communities is doing. Every once in awhile I would get an email about another specific campaign for which they needed my help. For example, right before school started one year they asked me to contribute the cost of a back pack and supplies for one of the children in their program. I found the email timely and compelling, so I complied.
When I gave my annual contribution again this year at Christmastime, I received a very nice voice mail from their Development Director thanking me for the gift and inviting me to call her back if I wanted to learn more about the program or had questions. I also received my usual email and paper thank yous, but this time with a special handwritten note from the executive director on the paper thank you.
I continue to give year after year to Foundation Communities because I am impressed by the organization, the results they are achieving, and the organization’s leadership. But I also continue to give because I appreciate how they treat me as a donor. They are informative, gracious, timely, transparent, but not annoying or needy.
Obviously Foundation Communities is way ahead of the curve, but I think they could take it further and gain even more support in the process:
- Instead of assuming that I want their paper newsletter every month (which I do not), they could ask me via email, phone or letter how and when to best communicate their results with me (email, phone call, social media, etc).
- Because I have a giving history with the organization, they could attempt (via email, phone, social media) to get to know me and my interests in order to 1) understand how to find more donors like me and 2) to explore whether they can increase my giving level.
- Since I have given to them over time, and I am active with social media they might explore whether I would be willing to tap into my networks to find others interested in supporting their organization.
Foundation Communities is doing a lot of things right. Other nonprofits could learn from their example about how to consistently and effectively build a donor base. But I’d also love to see Foundation Communities build on their great work to secure even more support.
Photo Credit: Foundation Communities
I can’t tell you how often I hear nonprofit leaders complain about how difficult it is to raise money, how tired they are of banging their head against the wall, how difficult this economy is. Well, there really is a better way. And it starts with a really good money plan for your organization. But again and again I see the same mistakes being made in nonprofit fundraising plans, which is the topic of today’s installment of our regular Financing Not Fundraising blog series.
If you’re new to the series, our Financing Not Fundraising blog series shows nonprofits how to break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities and instead work to create a broader approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.
Here are the 7 mistakes to avoid in your fundraising plan:
- Not Having A Plan At All. Yeah, not even having a plan is a huge mistake. It boggles my mind how many nonprofit organizations expect that money will magically appear at their doorstep. It takes an overall money strategy, what I call a Financing Plan, to effectively marshal your resources (staff, board, other volunteers, technology, materials) so that enough, and the right kind of, money comes in the door to achieve your goals.
- Creating Just A One Year Plan. You cannot expect to create a financially sustainable organization if you are only planning for money one year at a time. Your financing plan should project at least 3-years into the future in order to ensure that you have sound financial footing from which to operate. A true financial strategy takes a long view and plans accordingly.
- Including Only Private Dollars. Your money strategy must include ALL sources of money flowing to your organization, making it a Financing Plan. You cannot just plan for individual, corporate and foundation dollars, you also must plan for how government and earned income sources will flow, if they are appropriate to your model. And if you don’t have other sources of money beyond private dollars, you probably need to at least explore whether diversifying makes sense for your organization.
- Not Connecting It to Your Strategic Plan. Ok, I’m going to assume that your nonprofit has a strategic plan, even though many nonprofits don’t have one or they have a poor one. But once you have a strategic plan in place, you have to connect your money strategy to that plan. What good is it to have lofty program goals if you have no idea what those goals will cost (expenses) and how you will raise the money to make them a reality (revenue). You must have a multi-year financing plan that directly relates to your multi-year strategic plan.
- Ignoring Capital Goals. You can’t just raise revenue (the day-to-day money to keep the organization going), you also probably need capital (the money to build infrastructure, technology, systems) once in awhile. If you don’t include dollar goals for the amount of capacity capital your nonprofit needs, I doubt you will ever raise it. You cannot continue to operate with infrastructure, staffing, technology and systems that are inferior to your needs and goals. Determine how much capacity capital you need and include those goals in your financing plan.
- Not Giving Your Board a Role. You cannot leave the burden of raising money solely on the shoulders of your staff. One of the key responsibilities of a nonprofit board of directors is to ensure the financial viability of the organization they serve. So this means that the board as a whole and each individual board member must understand and play a role in the money strategy of the organization. So start by requiring each board member to give and/or get a certain amount (usually your major donor level) and then make sure your board “money committee” is active and engaged, and finally integrate money into every meeting and conversation your board has. Money MUST be top of mind for the entire board.
- Not Focusing On High Return Activities. Some fundraising plans include activities that a nonprofit has always done to bring money in the door without analyzing their effectiveness or expanding into new or more profitable activities. Start by analyzing the return of every money raising activity you engage in and then focus your money strategy on those that actually have a positive return.
I would love to see more nonprofits create a smart, long-term financing plan for their organizations. Because the reality is that those that do so will create more sustainable social change.
If you want to learn more about how to creating a financing plan for your nonprofit, sign up for our Creating a Financing Plan webinar.
And if you want to apply the other concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series, or download the 27-page Financing Not Fundraising e-book.
Photo Credit: Hiking Artist
Nonprofit donors, particularly foundations and wealthy individuals, have an enormous amount of power in the sector. Sometimes they use that power for good and sometimes (often unknowingly) they use it for ill. And because of the power imbalance between funder and fundee, it is unusual that anyone ever tells nonprofit donors what they could do to really help the sector and the organizations they love.
So here are the five things I would LOVE to see more nonprofit donors do. And if they did, it might just transform the sector.
- Take Risks
The higher the risk, the higher the potential payoff. A nonprofit organization may not be able to guarantee the outcomes or numbers that they are projecting, but you can’t realize big numbers and outcomes without taking risks. What if instead of always taking the safe route of investing in well-proven programs, you took a chance every once in awhile and funded a new innovative solution? What if you set aside a portion of your giving to invest in those crazy, bold, awesome new ideas? Because the complex problems we are facing require completely new solutions, and those require risk.
- Provide Capital
I know I sound like a broken record sometimes but a nonprofit can not survive on revenue alone. Every once in awhile a nonprofit organization needs money to build or strengthen their organization. Money for technology, systems, staffing, evaluation. You may not think these things are sexy, but they are incredibly necessary. Because how in the world can you have an effective, efficient program if you have no mechanism for tracking data, or evaluating results, or streamlining systems?
- Provide Patient Capital
If you make an investment in something risky or in building an organization, that investment takes time to pay off. You cannot expect a nonprofit to execute on a change plan in a couple of weeks or months. The bigger the investment and change you seek, the longer it takes to see results. Take a deep breath and let your investments pay off, over time.
- Leave Your Ego at the Door
Oh please, please, please don’t assume that just because you have money you have all the answers. Most nonprofit leaders are program experts who have been working on their particular social problem for some time. They may not have all the answers, but they probably know more than you do. They live in the trenches. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be open to new ideas, questions and insights, they absolutely should. But at the end of the day, invest in them and get out of the way so that they can do what they do best.
- Support the Sales Function
We all understand that in the for-profit world a business can’t exist if it doesn’t have a process for selling the products it creates. And that process takes money. Whether you hire a sales team, or do advertising, or shout from a megaphone you must have a way to encourage people to buy your product. The same is true in the nonprofit sector. The only difference is that “sales” is called “fundraising.” Nonprofits must have a process for bringing money in the door in order to keep providing programs. And that process has costs–a Development Director, a donor database, materials. Don’t thumb your nose at the sales function. It is absolutely critical to the success of the organization. So help fund it once in awhile.
God love them, but sometimes nonprofit donors drive me nuts. Their hearts are in the right place, there is no doubt. But if we could encourage them to provide more risky, patient, self-less capital it could transform the sector.
Photo Credit: yellowmeansgo
There was a great post in the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s Money and Mission blog last month debunking the myths around nonprofit endowments. An endowment is a corpus of money set aside by a nonprofit to generate long-term income for the organization’s operations. I can’t tell you how many times I hear nonprofits say that their money woes would be solved if they could just raise an endowment. Some even forgo easier, more reasonable forms of revenue generating activities in order to pursue pie in the sky endowment campaigns. That is crazy.
Today in this month’s post in the on-going Financing Not Fundraising blog series, I’m explaining why most nonprofits should kiss their endowment dreams goodbye and focus instead on finding a more realistic path to financial sustainability.
In case you are new to the series, it discusses how nonprofits must break out of the FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) box and instead create a broader, more strategic approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.
I’m not suggesting that endowment campaigns are wrong for all nonprofits. But here’s why they don’t make sense for most:
- Endowment money is extremely difficult to raise. The majority of donors want their dollars to go directly to the day-to-day work of a nonprofit. It is hard enough to convince a donor to fund growth or capacity capital campaigns that strengthen the organization. But to convince a donor to give a nonprofit money to put in the bank so that the organization can be relieved of some of the burden of otherwise finding a sustainable revenue engine is a really hard sell.
- Endowments are an inefficient use of money. Let’s say a nonprofit was able to raise an endowment of $1 million and then enjoy an annual 5% return. This would give them $50,000 of operating revenue each year. Sounds great, right? Wrong. If instead the nonprofit could use ALL of that $1 million as capacity capital to build their infrastructure, staffing, technology, or systems, those transformations to the organizational structure could yield many times more than $50,000 per year in financial sustainability and/or social impact.
- Endowment campaigns require a major donor base. Most nonprofits have not yet figured out how to attract and retain major individual donors. Thinking that you can leap frog the donor cultivation process by going from a few small individual donors to large, endowment donors is crazy. It takes years of on-going cultivation of high capacity donors to secure endowment gifts. Nonprofits would be far better served by using their time and resources to create a solid annual individual donor campaign based on pull marketing efforts for smaller donors and one-on-one cultivation of larger major donors.
- There is no magic bullet for financial sustainability. When I hear nonprofits talking longingly of endowments it is with an unspoken assumption that once secured an endowment would solve all of their money problems. But the truth is that there is no magic bullet for sustainable nonprofit funding. The only way to create a sustainable funding engine for your nonprofit is to create a financial model that fully integrates with your mission and core competencies. I’ve found that the nonprofit leaders who are most interested in the endowment magic bullet theory are those who are most uncomfortable with money. Instead of fearing money, you must embrace it and learn how wield it to your advantage.
Instead of wasting time, effort, and resources on endowment campaign planning, move your nonprofit to true long-term sustainability by creating a financing plan for your organization. Stop trying to “solve” your money problems and instead embrace money as an incredibly useful tool for creating lasting social change.
If you want to learn more about applying the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series, or download the 27-page Financing Not Fundraising e-book.
Photo Credit: Library of Congress Archive
Last month I launched a new regular series on the blog called Reader Questions. I receive so many great questions from readers that I decided that at least once a month I would pick a reader’s question to answer. It can be about anything related to nonprofits, social entrepreneurship, boards, financing, fundraising, social innovation, philanthropy, you name it.
This month’s question comes from a nonprofit leader in Hong Kong. But his question is universal:
Congratulations on this great idea! Also for the excellent training given by your Webinars. I have one question–I am working in Hong Kong in a charity. Our goal is to organize a fundraising office here. As you may know, Hong Kong is a place where most of the people speak Cantonese. I speak English, and my staff is very limited–we are two. We are trying to develop our major donor program but it is quite difficult for us to expand and grow our portfolio of major donors. Any advice about how to expand our major donor list?
Thank you for your answer.
This is a great question and one on the minds of many, if not most, nonprofit leaders. Major donors can sometimes seem to be the holy grail of the nonprofit world. In order to expand your major donor list, you need a network of more than just you and your fellow staff member. The first place to look is your board. If correctly trained and successfully integrated into an overall major donor process, the board can instantly expand your network, your knowledge base and your ability to secure major gifts. And especially in your case, they can expand your ability to reach beyond your own language and cultural networks.
There are several steps to finding major donors for your organization.
- Define a Major Gift. Your organization’s major donor level completely depends on the size and capacity of your current donor base. A major gift for a nonprofit is a level at which you have a few donors, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility, but most of your donors reside below that level.
- Create a Goal. Once you have defined a major donor level you need to develop a major donor goal. How much are you currently raising at and above the major donor level you have just defined? What level of investment are you willing to put into this effort (additional staff, materials, database, etc)? Given that investment how much do you think you can grow those major donor gifts in this first year?
- Break the Goal into Pieces. If you want to raise, say $100,000 from major gifts in the first year, you need to determine how those gifts will come in. You should get a lead gift of 10-20% of the goal, so your lead gift would be say $15,000. And then develop gift amounts at each levels below that, $10,000, $5,000, $2,500 and so on. You determine how many prospects to ask by the rule of thumb that it takes 4 asks to get a yes.
- Create a Prospect List. Prospects must meet 2-3 of the three “C”s: 1)The Capacity to give a gift at or above your major donor level 2) A Concern, or interest in your mission and 3) A Connection to someone at the organization. So don’t just put together a list of anybody and everybody, work with your board, friends, other donors to the organization, staff, volunteers to brainstorm names of people who fit 2 or 3 of these criteria.
- Begin to Cultivate. Once you have a list of people who meet 2 or 3 of the Cs, start to get to know them and let them get to know you and your organization’s work. Invite them for a tour, a meet-and-greet, a friend raiser. Start to develop a relationship.
- Make a Compelling Ask. When you think they are ready, make an in-person, specific ask in an amount that you think is right for them, for a project that fits with their interests. Make sure that you have a compelling case for investment that you draw upon in order to convince a major donor prospect to invest.
If you want to learn more about finding major donors, watch our Finding Individual Donors webinar or download our Creating a Major Donor Campaign step-by-step guide.
Securing major gifts doesn’t have to be so hard, even for a very small staff. As long as you have a broader network of people willing to be involved, a compelling case for investment, and a systematic process for moving prospects to donors, you can find major donors. Good luck!
Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine
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