Tag Archives: fund development

The Knowledge Driven Charity Behoves Donor-Centric Fundraising

temples baganDonor-centric fundraising is all the rage. It makes a great deal of sense. Know who your donors are and why they are motivated to support a charity; ensure their gifts are allocated as requested; do the appropriate stewardship to show the charity understands their giving goals with supporting information. The final piece is the donor’s interest in how the charity runs. Is it efficient? Does it use its time and resources effectively? Is it able to meet its funding goals and are donor dollars well used?

We think this sounds wonderful until we look into how the charity is functioning at a more in depth level. Experience has shown us that many charities use their donor management system for receipting and usually this is tasked to a single individual. Fund development staff is often several steps away from any meaningful interaction with the data other than report requests.

This begs the question, how does a charity employ a donor centric approach to working with its donors under these conditions? A further observation has to do with staff turnover and the effect on information retention, pertaining to interactions with donors which would be used for future fundraising and stewardship support.

Running a charity begins at the top. It is incumbent on senior management to employ a methodology that ensures the best possible care of all types of information a charity needs to support a donor-centric approach to its valued donors. People can and do give their money anywhere they choose to, so what is the best way to influence donors and ensure their interest remains strongly attached to a specific charity? What would you like donors to know about how the charity functions in support of both its goals and those who support them?

Let’s begin with the Knowledge Driven Charity.  First and foremost it will address the capture of important data.  Standards exist which include everything from how to search to ensure a donor record is new to prevent duplication, to how the information is recorded to give maximum benefit to the donor and a fundraising team. Next is the gift and where it is positioned to show donor support. Values like ‘designated’ in the fund field provide little information, so how can the data recorded by appeal or campaign, be entered for maximum effect? This pertains not only to the charity but for the donor as well.

How charity staff work is equally important to a Knowledge Driven Charity. Taking too long to perform a task, being unable to access reports, not knowing how to pull a reasonable export, these are a result of training or the lack thereof. The idea training is expensive is a misconception. What is expensive is guessing how things work and making poor decisions on how to achieve work with charity data.

The Knowledge Driven Charity documents a non-profits’ best practices, describing for staff how to perform jobs recorded in easy to follow and maintain, point form. There is skilled labour in this marketplace so why let these skills leave without an appropriate capture. The time saved by staff and the recognition gained those by those who share their knowledge is of great value to an organization whether for profit or not.

Here’s an example. An engineer firm sent out field managers to check certain aspects of their jobs. One such manager had a check list. He used this list before every trip to ensure he had all the right tools to do whatever was necessary. The other field operatives did not and subsequently wasted company time with trips back and forth to the office to pick up what they forgot.  The solution was simple, the check list was now a company resource and the expectation was that all field managers used it to ensure no more unneeded trips, wasted time and more importantly unneeded cost. In the world of a charity, this might be a word processing skill or who to create a report or how to properly build an in memory campaign. Time is expensive and when it is wasted there is a consequence which impacts productive actions sidelined by waste.

Naysayers will tell you a knowledge approach would be difficult to implement, hard to maintain, too costly for a charity to consider. Our position is that it is not difficult because staff members become the champions of an improved workplace as stress is reduced and productivity soars.  A culture of Plan First is the rally cry. Time is freed up and accountability sets in as ones actions will affect another. ‘Too costly’ is what the charity is currently experiencing through costs associated with busy time.

Write these new methods into the documents that define the charity. Include in all job descriptions specific requirements with consequences to address any laxness that undermines the team.

Implement the Knowledge Driven Charity. Identify the charity’s commitment and share it with donors and funders. Be prepared for the Reaction and for the Results!

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.

For High Performance Fund Development Staff A Charity Needs a High Performance Environment

Winter 2013 leaves CostaRicoYou’ve just hired a new fund development manager. On paper, it looks like a good decision. Once they are in place its important to assess their performance. This can be difficult when the elements of their job are not clearly defined. Determining if a new staff member fits into a high performance mould can only occur when those at top levels in management have designed the specifications required to build and maintain high performance working environment.

It is all too common to find employees with job descriptions defined at a very macro level, leaving the actual day-to-day work to be re-defined and changed with every new staff member. This scenario allows for lost information, very poor data management, undocumented procedures (or no procedures at all!) and an overall disaster. Without the right level of leadership, staff may be left entirely out on a limb, without the resources they need to efficiently manage their time and succeed in their job. How then, can you truly assess their performance when their time might be eaten up with busy work and productive actions take a back seat?

Information management tends to be a major issue that is overlooked and under addressed in many charitable organizations. Dollars in, relationships with donors and advocates, research and more are directly impacted when there are no specific guidelines on how to record and retain information to ensure compliance and support accountability; attributes of a high performance environment.

Take a look at your organization and consider your information gathering functions. We are focusing on information and fund development because charitable dollars are a charity’s lifeline and processes concerning its management are often overlooked.

In our experience, the lack of detailed job descriptions to define the expectations of a particular staff role, are often far too open-ended. These expectations are the basis on which consistency, compliance and accountability can be determined and where there is a lack of framework, staff are forced to make decisions they may not be qualified to make; at which point, assessing their performance becomes more difficult because omissions that arise may be tied to organizational problems and not the employee’s capabilities.

It takes time and effort to assess and document the tasks that are important to the success of both your staff and your organization. In a system with no specific requirements and methods, individual staff will each come up with their own processes, which may add to confusion, inefficiency, poor outcomes and less than satisfactory results. Put one, two or three people through the same job over the course of several years and you wind up with a chaotic environment where information is both everywhere and nowhere.

One fact remains consistent; you cannot assess a staff member’s overall performance if some of their most basic tasks have not been defined. We place the onus on senior management to design systems that address all departments, allowing the charity to create a high performance work environment to support high performance hires!

Have You Forgotten Something?

Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud

The evening for the gala had arrived and the charity and its staff were enthusiastic about the event and the potential it offered for further financial support. The room was beautifully decorated; the guests were dressed for an evening out. It was festive and colourful.

The evening concluded with a live auction and the items offered held a high ticket price. Guests participated actively through the bidding process. Each person who attended knew the money being raised was for a good cause and they wanted to be part of the solution. By the end of the night, the charity had exceeded their goal and everyone, guests and staff included left feeling that the gala had been a success.

The following day, charity staff gathered to ensure they finished the job by entering all details of the event. They entered everything including the  total number of dollars for cash purchases at the event. Those colourful glass beads had been a hit.

This is where we would like to add commentary and make a suggestion. Some charities enter the dollars raised for the silent and live auction as one accumulated amount. If this is entered as a total amount, information is lost about which guests opened their wallet in support. Keeping track of how much a guest spends in support of an auction gives the charity a chance to do something a little special for these guests in the following year … maybe first choice at the front tables or an invitation to a special reception. This would constitute a loyalty opportunity offered by the charity to a valued supporter.  Good idea?! You bet it is!

Here’s an even better idea. Send a thank you note to show the charity’s appreciation for the guest’s support shown by purchasing auction items. Yes, they did receive something but every good business person understands how priceless a simple thank you can be.

We have spoken to guests who have purchased items and in some cases for considerable value. Their contribution was not entered into the Donor Management System so they had become invisible as supporters of the charity. Not only that, a thank you or expression of appreciation would have shown the charity to be a grateful recipient for the additional funds. But none was sent!

Large donations receive some form of thank you, then why not for the purchase of auction items? This does not mean the charity needs to mention everything bought unless of course it is one high ticket item and they choose to do so.

Imagine the chagrin of an executive director or fund raiser who chances on a conversation with a guest who has offered valued support in the past only to be blindsided by their lack of information.

And please don’t suggest this all takes too much time as that is one of the most ineffective excuses of all. Basic civility, something which appears to have been lost in the last few years, can be regained by taking one little extra step  which will set a charity far above the not for profit crowd. A High Performance Fund Development Team never misses an opportunity to do it better!

The Webster Dictionary defines civility as ‘a polite act or expression’. Remember “gimme gimme” will not get forever. A thank you will be remembered as will the lack of one.

Knowledge Management for Better Fund Development Results

Bangkok Flower Market Orchids

Fundraisers OD!

Fundraising is all about money.  It is identifying an opportunity and orchestrating a successful delivery.  If you keep the relationship between opportunity and delivery simple, it is easy to see what is important, if you want your fund development program to be successful.

Opportunities come in many forms. Most are the result of a concerted effort to make things happen.  The reality of the fundraiser is not only investigating potential opportunities but retaining what they have learned.

Inspiration vs. Perspiration … effective fundraising will increase one and decrease the other.  Which one has the greater impact on your fund development program… inspiration or perspiration?

It is said that those who are successful will do the things that those who are not, won’t do  Many of the activities of success are not draped in drama and glamour but rather come down to good practices and hard work.

As a Not for Profit Organization one of your most important tools, if not the most important, will be the data management tool you use to capture and manage your opportunities.  To be effective and have a long lasting impact this tool will be coupled with well-defined processes and procedures to ensure that it is used to its fullest extent.  The search for this tool can be aggravated by an unsupportive board or by the idea that the organization can get along without it … because they aren’t ready yet … or that they will build their own.

Any one of these three attitudes presents an enormous risk to an organization and the information it gathers, as its knowledge base is what it thrives on.  After 16 years of working with charities our advice is to invest in a system at start up; one that is supported by good management and data collection methods … the same methods that a business would use to market and sell a product.

Factors that undermine the work of committed staff are found when opportunities cannot be addressed due to:

  • lack of time
  • lack of staff
  • lack of morale
  • lack of funding for programs, and
  • the inability to meet goals and objectives.

Little or no data management along with poor processes are major contributors to these factors.

Leadership from senior NP management is essential.  Firemen do not fight fires with a shovel and a pail because it is cheap. And you cannot fundraise effectively without a good quality data management tool.

  Opportunities

Fund development is marketing.  It is telling your world who you are, what you do, the benefits you provide and identifying how people can participate.  Some charities are masters at marketing, everyone knows who they are and what they do.  Others assume everyone knows who they are when in fact their exposure is minimal.

Marketing can be done on a one to one basis … or it can be done more effectively by passing your message along to larger groups.  Marketing requires a strategy and examining options that may have been overlooked.

Fund development is engaging the public or specific audiences in the support of your charity.  How you engage these groups is dependent on what you know about them and the potential for a relationship.

So where do opportunities come from?  They come from examining your charity and the impact it has on your community.  They come from knowing what complementary groups have accomplished in other areas.  They come when you apply a creative approach to your target audience and bring forward appealing ideas.

Telling your Story

The ability to tell your story can take a great deal of time … or it can be relatively easy.  The key to better use of your time starts with some documented planning and an investment in setting up the initial building blocks.

Who falls into the story telling category?  Media is an obvious one, but it may extend further than just your current radio and TV stations and key newspapers.  It might include community papers and journals.  Your client base, if you are program driven, is another group that could use a broader perspective of what you do. Let’s look further.

There are people in your community that work as influencers for you.  This might include Members of Parliament and your Legislative Assembly, or the Councilors and Mayors of the various communities you service.  It might also include people who have senior positions in organizations that you need to remain close to … like a health authority.  Then … there are groups like service clubs, associations and unions whose membership could also have an interest.  Corporations and major businesses that benefit from the services you provide could be another target group, particularly when they publish a newsletter and welcome submissions.

Is sourcing these groups going to be easy? … Unfortunately, a good deal will be ‘not interested’ before finding those who are. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

The key to taking a proactive approach to telling your story and keeping it in front of your target audience is to have rapid and accurate access to the right groups.

What most organizations do, is skip the use of their data management tool and store this information over several systems, often duplicated, on paper, in word documents, or excel sheets …  lots of places where access to the information awkward and time consuming if it can be found at all … and when found … inaccurate!

 Engaging the Public

You all have donors.  Retaining them and developing the long-term commitment of these donors is very important.  Increasing the size of annual gifts is a goal.

New donors are another challenge.  But what about other opportunities?…  opportunities that have the potential to get others helping you.  There is an old adage that says ‘many hands make work light’.  Service Clubs can be a source of this activity, as can unions, employee associations and small businesses who want to help.  When you are talking to groups, are your recording all the right pieces of information that will open doors for you.  Better yet, are you asking the right questions while you are getting to know them better?

Relationship building takes time and needs to be strategic.  Just as important is your ability to retain what you have learned so that it can be capitalized on at the appropriate time.

Researching Common Interest

Corporations and Foundations often have gifting criteria …adding descriptive keywords to your system allows you to source funding opportunities right from your own initiatives.  The first time an organization is researched it is a investment.  If this information is lost, and the organization needs to be researched a second or third or fourth time … it is a cost in both time and resources and potentially the loss of valuable funding.

Not only are we interested in what they will fund for, but when they accept proposals, who is head of the community investment department, have they provided a proposal format, did we asked them for money in the past successfully or unsuccessfully?  A quick profile on the organization should offer answers to all these questions.

Being late or not submitting proposals could cost an organization thousands of dollars.

Organizational History

Board members, committee members and volunteers; who were these people from the past?  When looking at a profile it would be beneficial to know more about the commitment people have shown.

Staff turnover is a given and frequent for some organizations.  Retaining organizational history and knowledge is an area that needs to be addressed in an electronic format as it again impacts on potential opportunities that are often hidden away in old file boxes or in the memories of past employees.

Leaving your Legacy

Leaving a legacy of well-defined opportunities should be a goal.  Starting over from scratch every time a staff change occurs is neither profitable nor desirable.  Solid expectations and the implementation of policies and procedures regarding information retention need to exist if an organization is to grow.  Ask yourself what  will your legacy will be?

Delivery

The fun side of fundraising is delivery.  A great opportunity has presented itself and now you move into delivery mode.

Delivery should bring about the capture of all elements of the event or activity, and how your audience participated whether it is a direct mail, a third party event or a special event.

Take a special event for example.  It has a series of elements, none of which should end up on a spreadsheet but rather all should appear your fund raising software tool.

  • Sponsors
  • Ticket Sales
  • Auction Item Donations
  • Donations
  • Prizes
  • Revenue Items
  • Silent Auction Sales
  • Live Auction Sales
  • Volunteers

By keeping all transactions together you can easily receipt those who get receipts, thank those who have contributed to your success, build bid sheets for the event, invoice sponsors and for tickets sales, have a list of who donated what for next year’s auction and have a complete invitation list for next years event.

All of the above activities take no more than a few minutes to complete providing the data has been recorded, giving the fundraiser and their staff more time to focus on the event and enjoy the event themselves.

Building a Knowledge-base

Selecting a database should be done based on what it will do for you today and how it will support you in the future.

@EASE has been built and designed to build a Knowledge-base for an organization.  It is our opinion and belief that the days of the donor database are well past.  Our philosophy is to develop a powerful tool that speaks to your strengths and gives you the access you need when you need it.

We have designed @EASE to be easy to use so that all members of your organization can participate and help to build a successful future.

Hands-off management of your most important asset does not, and will not work.  We need senior management that are comfortable enough to be involved in how a knowledge system is used and populated to create and sustain a bright, productive future.

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.