The Mikuska Group  

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.

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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.

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Volunteers strengthen your organization

Volunteers can strengthen your organization if you’re able to define your needs and how they can be filled by them. You have to have a plan to oversee the volunteers, and to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of your volunteer program.

Your volunteers must be an integral part of your organization, not just “those people in your boardroom stuffing envelopes”. While that is a worthwhile endeavour, chances are people willing to give their time have some talent that you can tap into to help even more.

Some examples:

  • offer training in researching potential donors for a major gifts program. Curious people who love research appreciate this type of opportunity. They can even do it at home, on their time.
  • many professionals are willing to help on a short-term or project basis in areas such as:
    • communications and marketing
    • mentoring staff and board
    • graphic design
    • human resources or legal advice
    • technology and social media
    • strategic and management planning
  • relationship management – make the most of your database by using volunteers to record your ongoing relationship with your donors and friends. Training on not only how to enter data, but how to produce reports will help you better manage your fundraising program.
  • ambassadors – the volunteers you have most certainly talk about your organization outside of their volunteer hours. Make sure you equip them with the key messages you want to convey and empower them to use them!

How can you use volunteers in your organization?

Laura Mikuska

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Silos hold grain, not donors

Have you encountered these scenarios?

  • You want to get a receipt to a donor within a couple of days, but your finance department batches receipts and sends them out once a month.
  • You want to create a donor-focused newsletter but the communications staff insist on making it a marketing piece instead.
  • Your donor wants a meeting with program staff and when you try to set it up, staff are suspicious of the donor’s motives and say no.

In all of these cases, staff are working in silos. They are protecting their turf because they don’t see how it’s in their interest to open their processes and departments to be donor-focused.

What can you do to knock down the silo walls?

  • Talk about why and how donors are so important to your organization – revenue and engagement.
  • Help staff learn about why donors give, why they give again and why they don’t.
  • Tell staff why their actions or inactions affect donor loyalty.
  • Share the 7 Principles of Donor Love. (with thanks to Agents of Good.)

And don’t keep your donors in your own silo. Share stories of joyful giving with others to show them that donors care.

Julie Mikuska.

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Ask how to communicate with donors

I recently made a donation in memoriam to honour a friend who had passed away. I made it to an organization that I wouldn’t ordinarily support as I have little interest in their mission, but because the family had asked for donations for that organization, I honoured their wishes.

Imagine my surprise when the very next day, I received their email newsletter! I haven’t even received a receipt, yet they feel they know me sufficiently to further communicate with me. Plus the e-news has three separate asks to give, give and give again.

This organization made the mistake of assuming it knows how a donor wants to receive communications. They didn’t ask me, and I believe they have a default setting that automatically sends their e-news to anyone with an email address. I would have been pleased to be offered a choice about how they could keep in touch with me, or not.

Perhaps you’re scratching your head about how many of your donors don’t give again. Making one small change to how you engage with your donors will make them feel appreciated and part of the organizational family.

Ask. You may be surprised at the response.

Laura Mikuska

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Thank you never gets old

I recently received a call from the chair of the board of a museum I support, thanking me for my monthly gift and giving me an update on the new executive director.

It was a delightful call and it made my day. I felt appreciated and close to the museum and its people.

A few days later I was invited to attend a fundraising tea for another organization I support, to raise money for a scholarship in memory of the founder’s mother. As I was not going to be able to attend, I sent my regrets and made a gift online through their website.

Almost as soon as I hit “submit,” my phone rang and I got a heartfelt thank you from the development director. Wow! Talk about making me feel good about giving!

It didn’t stop there. After the tea was held, I received a package with two packages of tea (pina colada and African chai!), a handwritten thank you from the founder and a response card for me to send back to wish the scholarship recipient well.

It’s important to say thank you, over and over. It really never gets old.

Julie Mikuska.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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