Sunday, December 13, 2009

Insight from the Heartland

In searching the web for examples of insight into, and or innovations in, philanthropy, I came across some wonderfully sound, simply-phrased advice dispensed on the website of the Nebraska 4-H branch. The information appears to have been posted years ago but it is still very much germane and I know of many universities and non-profits that would do much better if they would heed to it. Here are some selected excerpts, some of which I follow with brief comments.

"Are your group goals clear, specific, and action-oriented? Clarify what your group will do with the money raised. It is easier to raise money for specific projects than for the general support of an organization." Too many philanthropy-seeking organizations state their fund raising objectives in the form of broad categorical objectives such as faculty excellence, financial aid, or capital improvements rather than specific projects designed to produce results (e.g. to raise an additional $10 million to double the number of the most qualified, first generation students in five years).

"People donate money in direct relation to how strongly they believe in the program or group. Your success in fund raising indicates the popularity of your program. If contributions are not coming in, it may indicate the need to revise your program, to update your product, to change your image to be more responsive and appealing to the concerns and interests of prospective contributors. Publicize the good works of your organization. Sell your program rather than the need for money. People don't buy Buicks because GM needs money." This is so refreshing to read. All too often, when an organization fails to raise money, the tendency is to blame the fund raising apparatus rather than to ask if the program or initiative was ill-designed.

"Map out your strategy. It is what you do in advance that counts the most... Your market is everyone who will benefit directly or indirectly from your organization or cause." A strategy is the means of reconciling internal aspirations with external realities. The more market-sensitive your plans, the greater your chances of success.

"Understand that you must work with the world as it really is, rather than as it should be. People come prepackaged with different ideas, emotions, and values. To make your fund raising plan succeed, you have to do your homework and take the time to think about what makes the targeted donor tick. Each person give for a different reason. Tailor your appeal to the specific concerns, needs and interests of the individual." Hard to say it any better than that. We have to align our aspirations with the sensibilities of those that might support us.

"Give value for value. Clearly indicate what donors will receive in return for their contribution. This might include:
A statement of exactly what their contribution will buy, (e.g. $75 will send two kids to camp).
A statement of how the donor will directly or indirectly benefit as a result of your group or program, (e.g., we will lobby on behalf of you and other ranchers to....").
Personal recognition.
Good public relations for the donor.
A tax deduction.
Feeling good about themselves and what their contribution makes possible.
A sense of immortality. "
There are those who might say this advice is too transactional in tone but there is something about it that strikes me as genuinely American and makes me smile, including the "sense of immortality" you might achieve by giving $75 to send a couple of kids to camp.

"Give your personal testament as to the benefits of the group or program. Be upbeat and positive. The advantage (or disadvantage) of face-to-face communication is that your personal commitment and enthusiasm (or lack of it) are going to show through. Be specific rather than speaking in generalities (e.g., "I would not be able to speak to you except for the public speaking skills and confidence I've gained through Scouts. Your support will provide other young people with the same opportunity.") Look the prospective donor in the eye, and ask for the targeted amount." If someone in a Scout uniform made that pitch to me, there's no way I could say, "no."

"Practice. Never ask for a donation without having practiced first. Our natural fear and discomfort in asking people for money is overcome through good preparation and practice."

"Follow-Up. Acknowledge the gift with a personalized letter. Report on results. Be accountable. Interview benefactors and publicize how the program has benefited them. Build a donor relationship in anticipation of next year's fund raiser."

"Celebrate. Get together after the fund drive. Frankly discuss the work, share funny stories, applaud your success, and strategize on the hard cases. Fund raising is more imposing for new members, so give them an extra boost. Reward yourselves for a job well done."

"Be Prepared for Disappointments. Sometimes things go wrong. How do you rebound from a fund loser, and save morale? Get together as a group as soon as possible to talk about what went wrong and what can be done immediately to recoup your losses. If there were any mistakes of judgment, the chairperson should quickly accept responsibility. Simply say, "It was my fault." The purpose of your meeting is not to pin the blame. Make a list on paper of what went wrong and what to do differently next time. It is a great psychological relief to pin down the precise problem so it doesn't seem like everything went wrong. Stop dwelling on the "failure," and instead focus on what you will do to make up the loss." I'd love to see some variation of this played out at a university or oh-so non-profit. I'd better not push it any farther than that.

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