The Mikuska Group  

Getting people to give in June

I’ve been annoyed whenever I see social impact organizations asking me on social media or in emails to vote for them to compete for $10,000 (or whatever the amount). They’re not engaging donors this way, and not even raising money.

However, The Great Canadian Giving Challenge has helped organizations use the power of their networks to encourage donors to give. In June – one of the slowest times of the year in fundraising.

In 2016, in its second year, the results were impressive. According to givingchallenge.ca:

52,000 Canadians participated, donating more than $8 million to over 8,600 charities, representing a 48% increase in donations compared to June 2014 and a 28% increase compared to 2015. Charities involved in #GivingChallengeCa for 2 years in a row earned 164% more vs. the 28% average increase.

It works like this: During June, donors give either through givingchallenge.ca or CanadaHelps.org. Every dollar donated to a registered charitable organization gives one entry into the contest for that organization.  (Minimum donation of $3).

Organizations have access to a toolkit to help them create customized campaigns, with logos and strategies. The hashtag #GivingChallengeCA helps keep people up to date and gives them a chance to share.

The draw for the $10,000 is July 1. Now go work your social media!

Julie Mikuska.

  ·  

What’s the cost of a lost opportunity?

We often hear people talk about the return on investment related to particular fundraising activities. (We often hear people never talking about ROI, but that’s for a different post!). But how many consider the opportunity costs of their decisions?

In other words, what are you not able to do if you do something else? Consider:

  • Spending time at board meetings reading routine reports means lost opportunities to talk about board members’ roles in connecting with donors. (Hint: use a consent agenda.)
  • Planning events that bring in little money means you’re not out building relationships with donors that may lead to larger gifts over a long period of time.
  • Spending your time on internal reports means less time meeting with donors.
  • Not sending a donor newsletter means you’re losing out on the revenue generated from that mailing.

Maximize your time and opportunities to meet donors, thank donors and ask people for gifts. Measure your activities against opportunity costs. Always ask yourself: do you need to do something or is it time to move on to a different activity with higher potential?

Julie Mikuska.

  ·  

It pays to keep your donors

We hear all the time from organizations about getting new donors. Yes, it’s important to bring new donors in, but it’s even more important to keep the donors you have.

The 2017 edition of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project results was recently published. Here are some of the sobering findings from 10,829 non-profit organizations:

  • Every $100 gained in 2016 was offset by $95 in losses.
  • Every 100 donors gained in 2016 was offset by 99 donors not giving again.
  • The greatest gains were in new donors.
  • The greatest losses were in new donors not giving again.
  • The average donor retention rate was 45%.
  • The average dollar retention rate was 48%.

(Gains are gifts by new donors + recaptured lapsed donors + increases in gift amounts. Losses are decreases in gift amounts + lost gifts by lapsed new and lapsed repeat donors.)

What does this tell us? Organizations do a poor job at keeping their donors, and as a result, they are continually chasing new donors, at great expense.

It’s much more cost-effective to keep the donors you have than to continually chase new donors.

The results vary by size of organization. Smaller organizations fare much poorly that larger organizations, which means resources dedicated to retaining donors make a difference.

The FEP site has tools to help you analyze your data so you can make decisions on where to put your time and money in keeping your donors engaged. It’s not just about the bottom line of how much comes in. You need to know who your donors are.

Don’t treat all your donors the same. Heap more love on your loyal donors and ask them to give more. But do make sure new donors know they are valued and welcome, and chances are some will give again and again.

Julie Mikuska.

  ·  

The RFP shake-down

Why do charitable organizations think it’s appropriate to ask for a donation or pro-bono work in an RFP?

Not that we have any intention of responding to a request for proposal, but my blood still boils when I read an often used clause that goes something like this:

“X Organization is a registered charity which provides funds for research, programs and other activities which promote and advance the health of all members of the community. Our organization is able to engage the citizens of the province in philanthropy by working with donors and partner suppliers. As such, we ask that you please indicate your company’s interest in supporting our organization through philanthropy or sponsorship: e.g. direct discount, no-charge services, etc.”

I call it the RFP shakedown. Where else do you see the beginning of a business relationship where you’re already being asked to do free work (ok, I know graphic designers get this all the time, too) or give money back?

Consulting work is similar to philanthropy in that both are based on trusted relationships. When you engage a consultant, you’re making an investment in your organization. In turn, we provide guidance based on our experience and expertise, and we are fairly compensated for the value we bring.

If, in the course of our relationship, we are moved to make a donation, we may do so, and we often do. But don’t ask us to make that part of any proposal or contract.

Julie Mikuska.

  ·  

Hits and misses from annual appeals

It’s that time of year again when I reflect on appeals received over the past year. As in the past, there were some good ones, some just okay and others truly awful.

Let’s start with what didn’t work:

Being too abstract. It’s really hard to get excited about inclusion and diversity. Or advancing learning and creativity. Or re-imagining our role as a museum. The problem is, I just can’t see myself in these concepts. I need stories and problems to solve.

The problem is too big. How can I “bring help and hope to millions of people living with drought”?   Yikes, how will my $10/month solve that?

The ask is to buy a calendar, become a member and help achieve the same goal as last year. No appeal to my heart or my desire to a make a difference in the world. And no, I’m not buying calendars for my friends and family. And I don’t care about helping you raise $6,000.

Using statistics to show impact. “We give away over 190,000 bowls of soup and 240,000 cups of coffee each year.” Interesting statistic – is that good or bad? What’s the problem to be solved and how can I, as one person, make a difference? Better to tell me a story about someone who comes for soup and coffee.

Telling a story but failing to tell me I’m the hero. A few organizations have jumped on the storytelling bandwagon without closing the loop and putting the donor in the story as the one who’s making any success possible. Remember – the story is the vehicle to tell donors about the difference they’re making in the world. Not the difference the organization is making.

And now with what did work:

Liberal sprinkling of YOU throughout the letter. Key to getting my attention!

  • We can all be proud of our museum and what the future holds, thanks to you.
  • Your support is the wind (and wind-machine!) beneath our wings – we could not enjoy our success without you.
  • You know that something so simple – learning to cook – can be life-changing.

Strong calls to action.

  • You can help. Join me, with a monthly gift of $10, $15 or $25.
  • Click here to donate now.
  • I am asking you to join me and once again give your most generous donation. A gift of $50, $75, $100 or any amount you can give would be greatly appreciated.

There’s still a lot more that you can do in your appeals. Tug at my heartstrings, make me mad, make me sad – get a reaction!

Julie Mikuska.

  ·  

Stop trying to educate donors

I’ve seen it too often. An earnest letter from an executive director trying to educate me into giving.

It’s not working. The more information you shovel at me, the more distant I become. It’s usually full of jargon, too, which puts me off at the first acronym or org-speak. What you, the organization, knows does not “convince” me.

Examples of meaningless jargon (at least to me): barriers to employment, food insecurity, creating opportunities, changing social conditions, culturally focused service model, community economic development. Abstract words without context are not convincing.

I encourage story-telling. But only tell me success stories where I have had a hand in that success. Me, through my donation. Don’t tell stories just for the sake of a story – you need conflict and the means of resolving the problem – me!

What donors need is the pull of emotion – anger, despair, love, joy. Put away your organizational binders and write a heartfelt appeal to your donor.

You’ll be glad you did.

Julie Mikuska.

  ·  

Taking choice away from your donors

Are you taking choice away from your donors or potential donors by not asking them to give? Are you assuming they can’t or won’t give and so you don’t ask?

We’ve heard it often.

“Oh, we can’t ask that person. They have kids in university so they will have no money for us.”

“Our patrons are low-income. They don’t have any money to donate.”

“We can’t ask her! She just gave us a big gift.”

All of these excuses are based on what you assume about people. By not asking, you are taking away their opportunity to make a difference in the world through your organization. Remember – it’s not about the money. It’s about the donor feeling good about the effect she can have on people who need her help.

Think about it:

  • The people with kids in university might have a very keen interest in your cause.
  • Your low-income patrons will likely feel good about being asked to give and they may well give what they can.
  • And the one who just gave a big gift? She’s clearly already invested in what you do, so if there’s a project you think she might be interested in, ask!

Ask yourself why you’re not asking.

Julie Mikuska.

 

  ·  

Ethical fundraising is not like sales

It’s amazing how often we’re asked if we take a percentage of funds raised, and how astonished prospective clients are when we say no, that happens to be unethical. Up until that moment, they have equated fundraising with sales, where the seller seeks to maximize profit.

Ethical fundraising is multi-faceted. It seeks to engage donors in long-term relationships that benefit both the donor and the organization. It is not focused on the “bottom line”. It is transparent and honest. It does not look at donors as “low-hanging fruit.” It is respectful.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has a Code of Ethical Principles and Standards that all members must annually sign. It has 25 ethical standards that members must meet. Laura and I are members, and we urge everyone who is in development to join.

But a commitment to ethics goes well beyond the development staff. In a culture of engagement and philanthropy, the CEO/executive director, board members, staff and volunteers must all learn about ethical fundraising and how it will, in fact, make it easier to engage donors.

So what does ethical fundraising look like?

  • You look at potential donors as givers rather than a source of dollars. You focus on the person and their relationship to your mission.
  • You make a personal gift before you ask others for theirs.
  • You have excellent policies on privacy and confidentiality and you communicate them widely to staff and volunteers and to donors. You have regular training for anyone with access to personal information to prevent inadvertent breaches of privacy.
  • You pay fundraisers a salary based on their qualifications and experience. You do not pay a percentage of funds raised as this leads to staff working in their own best interest (i.e. to maximize their profit) rather than that of the donor or your organization.
  • Your development staff (in fact, all your staff and volunteers) maintain a professional relationship with donors, and do not accept more than token gifts from donors (e.g. a meal).
  • You do exactly what you’ve agreed to do with donors’ gifts. If the original purpose of the gift is no longer relevant, you go back to the donor or their designate to change the use of the gift. If they disagree, be prepared to return the gift.
  • Your board members, staff and volunteers disclose conflicts of interest. A conflict is not necessarily bad, but it is important to be open so that decisions are made on all the information.
  • You give accurate information about the tax implications of donations and planned gifts, but you also advise donors to seek their own financial advisor’s advice.
  • You have a clear policy on gift acceptance that is understood by board, staff and volunteers and is available on your website. That way, you don’t accept gifts that would have a negative impact on your organization’s mission and image.
  • You are honest and transparent about why you are soliciting funds and how it relates to your mission. You make sure all communications about fundraising are accurate and clear.

If you live and breathe ethical fundraising, your donors will thank you. And you can turn around and thank them.

Julie Mikuska.

  ·  

Fundraising vs philanthropy

Fundraising is an activity. Philanthropy is an attitude.

Take, for example, the attitude of a board member who only participates in fundraising by buying tickets to the gala. He may not even attend the gala but in his mind he has done his part.

Contrast that with another board member who organizes a table at the gala, asking friends and colleagues to attend and find out more about why she is so involved and passionate about the organization. She makes sure to introduce everyone at the table to the executive director and other staff and volunteers who, in turn, bring stories about individuals whose lives have changed because of donors. Some of the friends at the table participate in the auction at the gala; they are all asked to give in the fall appeal.

In the first example it’s all about the transaction. It’s impersonal. No new people are invited to change the world through the organization and the opportunity has been lost. But it was considered fundraising.

In the second example the board member is modelling philanthropy. She is engaging her circle of friends and asking them to join her (because of course she has given her gift first as well as buying tickets to the gala). She makes sure her friends know how cherished donors are, and she gives them the opportunity to give. It’s personal and emotional, heartfelt and warm.

Are you a fundraiser or philanthropist?

Julie Mikuska.

  ·  

What happens when your fundraiser moves on?

There’s been a trend among social impact organizations for some time that sees development staff stay for about 18 months, then move to another organization or leave the profession altogether. For many organizations, this becomes a set-back which may take months or years to make right.

Know that this may happen in your organization, what can you, as leaders, do before and after it does?

Before:

Take steps now to understand what’s going on with major donors, where they are in the donor cycle and what the quality of the relationship is with them.

Make sure all contacts with donors are being recorded in your database. Great notes make for a great institutional memory.

Support your staff through professional development, career advancement and great working conditions. (who knows – they may not leave after all…)

Encourage a culture of philanthropy and engagement throughout the organization, so that donors may have relationships outside the development office.

After:

Do not rush to hire an experienced fundraiser, especially one who doesn’t understand your mission, as you may be in the same position in 18 months.

Do consider recruiting someone who has a passion for what you do and the skills to be come a development professional, and invest in a consultant to coach them into a new career.

Examine the reasons they may have left (as they may not be forthcoming about underlying conflicts that caused them not to want to continue working there). For example, did you pile every conceivable type of fund development activity into one job? It’s hard to expect one person to do events, major gift fundraising, direct mail, third-party fundraising, ticket sales, etc. and do any of it well.

If the departure was sudden and you didn’t have time to debrief on donors, call them and explain what the situation is. Don’t just leave them hanging.

Take steps to stop the revolving door. You and your donors will be much better off.

Julie Mikuska

  ·  

Blog Archives

Articles By Category