Category Archives: Let’s Get Organized

Good business methods and being organized give back valuable hours.

Charities Cause Fund Development to Fail!

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Mara Leopard

It’s not what an organization does to succeed but rather what it doesn’t do that places it at risk. No charity intentionally follows a formula for failure or works towards mediocrity when it comes to developing funds. How then does failure or mediocrity happen?

There have been many articles alluding to problems facing the non-profit sector. In particular, the issue of staff turnover in the fundraising role has been identified as a major problem for charities.

To keep the right staff, regardless of the type of business, an organization needs to create an environment where staff can succeed and use their time effectively. Greater success means more dollars for programs and salaries. In most cases, this success manifests itself in greater staff retention.

The non-profit sector often neglects to provide this type of environment. Instead, they bring new hires into a plethora of ‘this and that’ with no concrete definition of how things get done. Information is everywhere—and in disarray. New hires often have a mandate to make changes and decisions which they are unprepared to make, negatively affecting operations.

Examples of poor results are endless as charities search for funding and the right formula for success, and not just survival.

Some problems might already be well entrenched, with new ones to be introduced. Do any of the following situations sound familiar? 

  • A new staff member is hired to work special events. With no guidance they make decisions about how the event will be presented to the public. The use of a web-based system to accept ticket sales, a spreadsheet of auction items and a list of sponsors provide their tools. The outcome for the following year is chaos as none of the current year’s information was captured in a useful form.
  • The grant writer left and what they left behind was a spreadsheet and some notes. The new hire requested a list of all grants received, declined and in process over the last 5 years. The task was onerous and the results were incomplete.
  • The charity sent out a new holiday information piece at Christmas to the usual donors. The new fundraiser decided to record all gifts as unsolicited. The charity lost its ability to do any form of comparative analysis or determine the effectiveness of the appeal.
  • Staff acquired the contact list used by the previous fundraiser but there was little hope in understanding who these people were, if they were still active contacts or what role they played in helping the charity.
  • The charity has monthly donors. Some monthly gifts had continually been declined. Did the fund development department connect with the donor to get more information? The donor may have wanted to continue with a monthly gift, or was there a change of heart or maybe it was something else? No policy had been established to address the situation so ‘just let it go’ became the policy of the day.
  • The last fundraiser didn’t connect with staff entering donations data. Gifts were entered without any fund allocations and appeals were set up incorrectly.  Now they have data but it’s not an effective stewardship tool.

The most damning situation of all is where new staff arrive only to find a black hole rather than a wealth of information and knowledge. How easily can they resume the job of fund development when they will need to spend considerable time trying to reconstruct the past in order to move forward?

Implementing information-management practices

These problems are not those of the fundraiser but rather of the charity which has chosen not to establish concrete information-management practices. Implementing change may not be welcomed when practices have been established on an ad hoc basis, however, this is where the good of the charity takes precedence over inconsistent methods. People come and go, when they leave a legacy of their contributions it helps sustain a charity, when they don’t it puts the charity at risk.

It is senior management, with the blessing of the board that needs to establish the rules of engagement. These expectations, when hard-coded for all players from executive director to receptionist, provide the basis for achievable goals and objective performance reviews. They make all staff accountable for their compliance to best practices designed to benefit the charity. In particular, it is those involved in fund development that need to explicitly understand these roles. Fund development and ultimately fundraising are key functions and when these areas suffer so does the charity.

It’s our position that each and every staff position should be well defined with specific tasks that ensure a department functions within the context of the business as a whole. Where we have noted a failure to perform is where there are no well-documented expectations and instead there are general guidelines which a staff member may choose to follow in any manner they consider reasonable. This is where fund development gets into trouble as each person’s understanding of what is expected varies.

No one intentionally neglects important contributions to a charity and its knowledge-base, but some have been better prepared to meet their organization’s expectations than others. This may be due to a better understanding of the importance of information and how it affects activities today and opportunities tomorrow.

And how important is fundraising?  Can a charity do without it?  Just examine the percentage of charitable dollars a charity needs to raise annually to understand the gravity of this question.

Can a charity do ‘it’ better?

The answer to this question is ‘it depends’.  It depends on senior management and their resolve to endorse and support change. It depends on whether the board and management understand the need for a business approach to information management and particularly as it relates to fund development activities. It depends on whether the charity wants to thrive or just get by. It depends on whether the charity has been able recognize practices that cause it to under-perform.

To engage a high performance, fund-development team a charity must first look at the environment they offer to ensure continuity and sustainability.

High Performance: Moving From Chaos to Control

CamelPetra

Camel at rest in Petra

How important is the information your charity uses to sustain itself?  The information we refer to is found in donor gifts and interactions, funding research and grants, sponsorships and planned gifts.

This information is an asset. We can add to this asset by including all the tools that an organization builds to perform its fundraising activities. These tools take time to create, they reflect the organization and they are built at a cost thereby having value. When we hear that information is dull we wonder who is dull, could it be the person who doesn’t understand its value?

How can information be dull when it tells you so many things that enable a charity to react in a timely manner; address a donor at a critical time; enter into discussions that result in a major gift or build a planned giving program with committed donors?

This information is hardly dull it is a charity’s lifeline.

When information is not well tended it gets lost, it’s incomplete, it results in a charity looking less than credible, and it puts the charity at risk.

No matter how important staff members may think they are to a charity, they do change. They move to new jobs and what do they leave behind? In many cases, very little is left for new staff to work with and this loss is a setback to the charity. How many setbacks has your charity experienced? We suggest you look at staff changes in the fund development department and see how it has impacted over the years.

If you took everyone out of your fund development department today, how credibly would your organization be able to continue its fundraising activities? We use the word credibly because the loss or inaccessibility of information also pays a toll.

Story: The new fund development manager came from a high tech company. She met with a key donor for the first time. They discussed the donor’s interest in the charity. She asked if he would be attending the Christmas gala … I always attend came the response. Would you be interested in being a sponsor? … I am already a sponsor was the answer.

For an asset that is called dull … we begin to understand dull is not the right word … essential and valuable is a better way to look at it.

The next question is “whose responsibility is it to manage this information”? We think it is the charity’s responsibility backed up by some very well defined job descriptions that ensure staff members know what is expected of them and how those expectations address the charity’s most valuable asset, its capture and retention.

Dull is not the right word; under-estimated would be more accurate.

From Chaos to Control moving your charity to a High Performance Organization

http://tinyurl.com/ChaostoControl1

Treating your Donors like Customers

FunSmall Blue Butterflydraising has become very much a business and if it hasn’t become a business at your site, it may be time to reconsider.

A charity is a business that offers a product or service that a customer can purchase. Ultimately, what when I am a customer I take home the sense that I have made a contribution, it may be big or small but within my world I have purchased the sense that I am helping someone or some organization and I have made a small difference.

How you treat a customer is very dependent and whether they do repeat business. In some cases, a customer continues to do business no matter how shoddy the service because it’s the only place to purchase what they are looking for. This scenario reeks with potential problems because as soon as a better option comes along the customer is gone.

Consider your favour shopping haunt. When you made your first transaction, did they make you feel they appreciated your business? When you returned a second time, did they recognize you or greet you in a positive manner? If you were interested in a specific product line did, they recognize it … and even better, as you they became more familiar with you did they track your preferences?

Over time were you recognized as a valued customer? How did that make you feel? Did it encourage your patronage? Did you speak to others about your experience and encourage them to support the shop as well? Were you ever invited to a VIP customer evening or did they ever do anything for you in the form of a special gift? Did they update you when changes were forthcoming relative to product lines you select? Did you ever receive a thank you from the service staff that simply acknowledged how much they appreciated your business?

These are the customers a charity wants and needs. And these are the things a charity must be prepared to do if they want embrace and retain their customers. There is a great deal of competition in the marketplace for valued donations and I think valued is the key word. When charities become too entitled or too forgetful or too “busy” to look after and engage its customers, we have long term relationships that fade into one off gift experiences.

If you are shaking your head, it may be time to review the tools you are using to manage your customers and whether the information you want and need to retain is being captured in a form that makes every one of the ideas above not only attainable but easy to manage. Great customer relationships start with a plan that is delivered consistently year after year with the appropriate data capture tools to ensure the job can be performed and performed well.

“The relationship with ones’ donors is as fragile as a butterfly.”

Data Collection: Dropping the Ball on Future Opportunities

Donor Master Records

The donor data is in good form; it’s clean, standardized and duplicates have been removed.  The next step is to examine what has been collected. This would qualify as relationship building content and management / decision making data.

Without going into unique requirements too deeply, let’s look at some of the basic pieces of information that create value for a fund development department. We all understand contact information. This includes phone numbers, email addresses, a home address for private donors and a company address for businesses.

Full addresses are usually easy to collect, but phone and email can sometimes be elusive. Acquiring this information may be dependent on what is requested when the ‘Ask’ is being made, or when a donor turns up in person. When a donation is from a non-private donor, the opportunity exists to contact the organization for complete information.

An address lets you contact a donor for a donation, invite them to an event, or send a newsletter. With a phone number, we can contact them personally to say thank you, ask for their support, or invite them to participate in a focus group. Email provides the opportunity to send an eNewsletter, inform them about upcoming events and direct them to a website to further build their interest or send a donation.

How often is some of this information incorrect or simply non-existent? Opportunities lost are not the fault of the software, but the lack of a comprehensive plan to capture data necessary to build a fund development program.

Contacts

Every business, association, foundation, church or service club will have contacts that perform certain tasks.  These contacts are people who interact on behalf of their organization, with the charity. One definitive list that identifies why these people are beneficial, needs to be built and used by all department members.

With one list versus multiple lists, contact information can be kept up to date.  Staff members can move to new positions without leaving holes for the organization to attempt to fill. Contact information for organizations needs to identify ‘who and why and how’ a person or a position, is instrumental to the charity. Qualifying contacts makes access fast and accurate.

Information from the software can be exported to keep email tools and address books up-to-date. When you think about the contact information you collect, think about how this impacts on your ability to keep your community informed by ‘telling your story’, advocacy opportunities and donor support.  Communicating with your ‘audience’ is important to keep their interest and maintain their commitment.

 More Information is Required

This discussion represents only a small part of a much bigger picture when it comes to the type of information we need to ‘flesh out’ the database, making it a powerful entrepreneurial resource.  The ability to run comparative reports on giving history based on business or personal demographics, or select groups of individuals or organizations based on areas of interest, all impact on new opportunities and fund raising dollars.

Incomplete data collection is often supplemented by written notes, comments in emails, or saved in the memory of a staff member … all of these are inaccessible and inadequate as a method of retaining valuable organizational memory.  As part of this project we introduced the 15 second rule.  Accessing what you need in 15 seconds can only be done through the software, the use of a system of coding and a strategy to capture need to know information accurately.

Two areas expand knowledge of our donors. First is the use of the Communications tab to record relationship building information.  Photographs, major gift plans, social networking sites, web sites, web downloads, power point presentations and more can be linked directly to a private or corporate master record.

Second is Dickens, the contact manager.  Dickens records important points of contact that need to be shared organization wide without restriction. Think professional when you think of Dickens.  It takes a moment to record a verbal or electronic transaction. The time is hardly an imposition when you consider the alternative … the loss of valuable historical contact data and of course we look at the benefit …a comprehensive picture of contact activity.

This is the path forward thinking charities are taking as they look at their not for profit organizations from a business perspective.  Personally, we applaud the effort and commitment of the management team involved.  It is no easy task to do a self examination and make changes.  The outcome will find more time freed up for fund raising, less stress and more enjoyment in providing the services they offer.

Spring Cleaning: Preparing the Database

 

Goldfish in a Buddhist Lake

To begin any job, you need the right work environment.  For this project, cleansing the address information in the database was a focal point that would set the stage for all future work.

The Task:  There are two levels of cleansing related to donor address records. First, using the @EASE format we removed unwanted punctuation, ensured address data was housed in the proper fields and corrected typing errors. This put the database in a form where it could be sent to an address cleansing business for a postal code and change of address check up. These corrections were returned and imported along with a code for each record describing the results.

Correct address information is essential if a charity wishes to contact their donors. @EASE uses a unique method to handle address data separating fields for all major address components.  The program assembles these components to create a mailing address compliant with Canada Post whenever an export is requested.  This strategy makes addressing easy to manage and it’s quick to find problem areas that need correction.

It’s not commonly known that address features are determined by each municipality. For example, adding the ordinal suffix ‘th’ for 4 Street in Calgary is incorrect while adding ‘th’ to 11th Ave W in Vancouver is correct. Keeping addresses in good form takes time and effort; a job no computer can do as well as the person in charge of data entry.

With address cleansing completed, the next step was to look for duplication.  Duplicates are master records of organizations and individuals which have been entered more than once.  Naming strategies often contribute to this problem.  In some cases duplicates were the result of an improper or non-existent lookup prior to entering a new donor record.

Six main issues arose when identifying duplicate records:

  1.  Establishing a procedure to ensure data entry staff performed an adequate lookup to see if a donor already existed, prior to adding a new record. Using a wild card search particularly for company names, service clubs or church groups. Checking by postal code for names like Smith, Brown
  2. Ensuring that complete names are sourced when a donation is received or a contact entered.  Understanding that a few extra seconds at the point of entry makes a big difference is important to impress upon staff. Knowing your donors and contacts helps to ensure better quality data entry.
  3. Defined naming standards for groups like businesses, banks, service clubs, churches, & unions.
  4. Providing a resource area in the KMS to record web-sites and other resources to lookup complete names for groups like service clubs, and banks.
  5. Employing methods on all input forms whether printed or electronic to get better information including whether a donor has given before or is new, helps with address changes.
  6.  Accurate keying and a quick check before moving on will improve data quality.

The task of clean up was extensive.  Many years of staff turnover created duplicate donors who were in fact the same organization and entered more than once.  Duplicate organizations were provided with a standardized naming convention.

Examples like Telco companies with multiple offices were brought down to one organization by using the Other Address option.  Service clubs like Rotary were updated to use the naming standard shown on their website.

This work continued for several weeks and involved staff and volunteers to clean up as many duplicates as possible.  Was the task complete?  The answer to that was no, but we were in a good position to identify and resolve any areas missed.

Creating standards helps prevent or at least circumvent the problem of entering duplicate donor master records.  A master record identifies a unique donor and is linked to their gifts.  When more than one master record exists finding information like total donations for a given donor, becomes impossible.

Developing a standard for entering organization names helps to address what type of information is required.  A donation allocated to a group simply called Knights of Columbus begs us to ask … which K of C group is being credited.

Rules of entry become rules of “what to ask” or “when to source more complete information” when an organization interacts with a charity and where an accurate identity is inconclusive.

Service clubs, churches and church groups come immediately to mind when you think of naming convention issues. Less obvious are the names of businesses where the addition of the word “The” to the name of a business or not, can create duplicate entries.

Suggestions that we offered used the web as a resource.

Here are a few examples.

Most service clubs have a branch number associated with their name.  In most cases service clubs have standardized their naming strategy.  Here’s an example of how Rotary International identified correct names for groups in Edmonton Alberta Canada .  The club name showed as Rotary Club of Edmonton followed by the group’s name, not the name of the group followed by Rotary Club.

Royal Canadian Legions have a unique number for each group; the Ladies Auxiliary shares the same number.  When receiving a donation from either group, the number should be included as part of the name to prevent confusion or the inability to credit the donation correctly.

Churches can be difficult when dealing with multiple communities as church names could be identical.  The use of Parish is another area to be explored.  Is the parish the same as the Church?  Decisions need to be made and documented.
We have recommended the use of the EaseKMS to record decisions that affect data integrity like naming strategies. Whatever the decision is, it needs to be part of the basic training for existing and new staff members.

The use of a Resources folder that contains listings of group websites is beneficial when more information is required.
Addressing for all service clubs and church groups can be a further area of discussion.  How often is the current address that of the current president.  We recommend that all service clubs have a Board Change quality so that new information can be updated on an annual basis.  Where possible, the groups PO Box or main church address should be used rather than personal information.  Phone and email become valuable when contacting individuals and a conscious effort to collect this information needs to be included as a policy and procedure.

@EASE provides the use of Other Addresses for all corporate master records. An ‘Other Address’ could be a branch office or simply a different building housing staff in the same city.  The ability to group a company and its participation with a charity around one master record rather than multiple records enables staff to keep information current, up to date and accurate.

There are some instances, where grouping a series of branches under one corporate master record would not suffice.  In the case of bank branches, we recommend that each branch be handled as a unique corporate record, linked by an @EASE membership to show the bank’s full participation.

Managing data of any kind is not easy. When dealing with people and companies, information requires thought and standards to ensure the charity has the best information possible.  Periodic monitoring is advantageous to ensure standards are being adhered to.

Order: How to Save your Sanity in a Fund Development Department

 Order is valued in a working environment. It empowers those who work in it. Lack of order creates chaos and wastes resources. The resources we speak of are human, financial and time.

There is a cost to the lack of order.  Things which are difficult to find, jobs that should be easy but take vast amounts of time erode morale and add a financial burden.   Order and business rules go a long way to making a working environment efficient and staff time effective.  It is just the beginning as other requirements will turn up later in the project.

The KMS will be the repository for many things the charity will want to retain.  Evaluating the use of the KMS and its content will be a job that is performed periodically by management and staff.

The project’s goal was to eliminate time wasters and let the client find what they need, when they need it by implementing a system that supports order.

Re-organizing how information is stored on the client’s network is step one. The 15 second rule is something we have introduced.  If you can’t find what you are looking for in 15 seconds, someone didn’t take the time to save it properly. This mindset enables staff members to make adjustments to improve a situation. Aha! Continuous improvement, a concept that has lost favour amongst all the new management theories, has raised its head.

One of the key methods to establishing order is creating a set of common folders on the client’s computer network, The main folder is referred to as the KMS with all related folders set up as its subfolders.  KMS stands for Knowledge Management System.

The overall structure is flat with few reasons for creating further sub folders.  There are two main folders that require further subfolders; these include donor communications and grant proposals. For all other areas, we created one level of folders enabling access to all electronic tools used by the charity. The toolset includes merge documents, instruction sets, presentations, sponsorship packages and more.

The benefits of the KMS are many.  KMS use must be mandated from senior management down. Adherence to the principle being this is the one and only source for business building tools is fundamental to maintaining order. No longer will stashes of electronic files be allowed when they should be saved in the KMS.

What are the benefits?  Here are a few:

  1.  Control and Continuity: Processes and tools acceptable to the charity are available to all staff.
  2. Cost: Once created an electronic tool can be reused many times over.  The initial cost of development is spread across the number of times it is used.
  3. Time: If staff can find what they need (the 15 second rule) without an endless search, the cost of staff time in locating what they require is insignificant.  The outcome is more time to do what impacts the bottom-line.
  4.  Morale: There is nothing more demoralizing than working in a disorganized environment.
  5. Capture Knowledge:  Recording how jobs are performed develops best practices. How staff perform jobs or improve them can be recorded for the benefit of all others in the organization.
  6. Shareable: A shareable resource is being built with multiple contributions giving employees credit for the value and often time saving suggestions they make.
  7. Brand or Image:  What goes out for public consumption brands a charity. Communications of all types are a reflection of the organization.  The page formats, fonts and messages need to be managed.  With only one copy of a document available for multiple users, the charity prevents creative outputs by well-meaning staff.
  8. Training: A training environment is created for new staff.  It’s no longer “do the job as you wish”, rather the mantra is “this is how we work at our charity”.  They have all the KMS resources at their fingertips to ensure continuity and consistency.  New staff members are quickly raised to a level of performance valuable to the charity.
  9. Conformance:  New or existing staff can be identified for further training.  If training does not address the problem, other actions can be taken.

The Bottom Line

Order and business rules of engagement go a long way to making a working environment efficient and staff time effective.  This is not the end of what we might need, it establishes a start, as other requirements will turn up later in the project.

The KMS will be the focal point of many things the charity will want to retain.  Evaluating the use of the KMS and its content will be a job that is addressed periodically by management and staff.

The Perfect Storm

Nothing seems more mundane than discussing a donor database. It is, however, a discussion that more clients are having as they realize the value of quality data in their search for funding.

Really, what is the purpose of a donor database?  It keeps track of your donors and what they have donated. It provides a spot for notes and relationships; and it records receipts and gifts designated to specific areas. Okay, this all sounds good but is just being good, good enough or is good really complete.  These are the questions we helped answered for a client who wanted to take their donor database to the next level.

The client is a progressive charity that supports a vulnerable sector within our city.  They have recently expanded their services.  Their funding comes from private individuals, companies, service clubs, associations and foundations.  Government does not fund them.

The renewed interest in the management of their donor data was two fold.  First was the issue of acquiring more dollars to support their programs; the second issue dealt with better use of staff time as some tasks seemed to take far more time than one would deem reasonable. This takes time away from more productive activities and can impact on morale and some other periphery issues that they wanted to alleviate.

A key factor that motivated this renewal was their management team.  They had the perfect storm in a positive way.  They had a group of managers who were all on the same page, keen to make improvements and willing to put in the effort to make change happen.

This situation was a consultant’s dream. No deadwood, speed bumps or road blocks to deal with, just a group of individuals open, interested and ready to commit to working smarter not harder in the pursuit of their common goals.

More and more, we see clients who come forward to make a strategic change in how they view and manage the use of their donor database. They need to take data from a keyboarding input task to a fund development level.  At a fund development level there are many more things that can be done at the point of entry of any piece of information that makes it useful now and valuable in the future. Data is no longer one dimensional but multi-dimensional relative to its use as an entrepreneurial resource and a source of intelligence.