Is Fundraising a Lonely Business?

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It's a lonely time out there with lots of my fundraising colleagues. Especially with this being just about the toughest fundraising environment any of us have ever seen.Being a staff fundraiser has always been a lonely business.(And consulting can be pretty lonely too!)This is the time we need to rally our colleagues, our board members our CEO and have give them all a dose of old-fashioned optimism.iStock_000005667780XSmallHere you are, bravely working for your cause with passion in your heart, trying to create new friends and donors for your wonderful cause.And you have to deal with recalcitrant board members who just can't find the courage to do what you do everyday. And you may have a CEO who also is unsure about fundraising and who won't "do right" as we say in the south.You may have unsupportive colleagues who are jealous that you get to go to all the events and travel around to see donors. If you're part of a large development operation with lots of other fundraisers, they may be competitive and view you as a potential threat.Mix all this in with a major recession, donor reluctance, and a sinking stock market, and it sure is hard to keep morale up sometimes!

We're in the Dream Business

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Do you ever consider what we fundraising folks are really up to when we appeal to our donors? Is it hype? Is it promises that we will keep? Is it mission, vision and values? Is it changing the world?Last month at the Bridge Fundraising Conference in DC, I kept hearing a theme echoing through many of the presentations I attended.MLK“We are in the dream business.”It really means that we are selling a happy dream of the future. Of a better world. A better community. People being helped. Smiles. Comfort. Happiness.But in our appeals for help, we forget this all too often. Instead we focus on problems, what's wrong, what we will do to fix things.But the most successful approach - whether you are doing fundraising, sales, bringing together groups of people for a common purpose, teamwork - whenever leadership and inspriation are required - is to picture your dream for the future.Think Martin Luther King, one of the greatest inspirational leaders - and orators - of recent times. His "I have a dream speech" is a spectacular example of inspired dreaming.The dream is so powerful that it's like a great river sweeping everyone up in its path, surging inevitably downstream to a much happier future.When we paint a picture of our dream for happy students, healthy children, cared-for elderly, majestic symphonies, clean sparkling water - whatever we are raising money for - we also capture the power of that mighty river of energy sweeping everyone together.When I work with boards, we talk about dreaming. I tell them they should always be standing high on the hill sharing their vision of a happier world with everyone they know. When they are standing on that hill, solid in their dream, focused on the future, they are more powerful than they can imagine.When you, your board members and your volunteers take a firm stand on the mountain, that's when you have the energy and the power to change the world.That's when nothing can stop you.

After You've Asked for the Gift, What Next?

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So you've popped the question to your donor. You've said "We were hoping that you would consider a gift of $XXX to make something wonderful happen."

The Moment of TruthNow, what's next? Did you know that the next person who speaks loses?You've got to allow your donor plenty of time to think it over. The donor is mulling, mulling, not saying anything. And there you sit! Nervous - and as jumpy - as a frog in a frying pan. I know, the urge to start babbling is strong, mighty strong! But KEEP YOUR COOL!The donor may take as long as a full minute to think this over. He or she is considering lots of issues: can I make this gift?' do I really want to make this contribution?; if I donate money to this cause, will they spend it wisely?; what is my cash flow?; can I sell some stock?; can I ask other family members to go in with me?; what's the timing of all this; do I really believe in this project?

High-income women more likely to increase their giving during challenging economic times because they perceive a greater need.

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Hot off the presses this afternoon is a most interesting new report from the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund Gender Differences in Charitable Giving 2009. The study surveyed high-wealth men and women who had given at least $1k last year to charity. It found significant differences:Women are more likely than men to respond to the recession by giving more generously. When asked if they would typically give more in challenging times "because the need is greater," 35% of the women responded "yes" and only 25% of men agreed.

"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste"

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I was reading today's Sunday New York Times and there in front of me was a killer quote - attributed to Standford economist Paul Romer when he said at a venture capitalist meeting in CA way back in 2004 - "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste."Now how might we apply this in the nonprofit sector? When a crisis is occurring, people find that their tried and true ways of doing things are clearly not working any more. What people had counted on in the past is not pulling through for them today.If you are a creative person offering new ideas, strategies, approaches - then NOW is the time that you'll find people more open to you. In the past, it was easy for those in power to hold on to the status quo and withstand change.

Where's your call to action?

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What are you asking your folks to do? I mean to actually do? In your email communications and on your web site, even in your solicitation letters and your annual report or brochures- are you asking people to take action?I see so very many communications pieces by nonprofits that just seem namby-panby. They beat around the bush. They sorta hint at what help the nonprofit needs.If they are asking for financial support, usually the request is not quite direct enough. ”We’d be pleased if you would consider a gift of $xxx for your annual gift to . . . ” Now I was taught this years ago at Duke University when I was starting out in fundraising – and we were all into being genteel and “nice.” This is the South down here, you know.

80% of nonprofits experiencing fiscal stress

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Have you checked out the recent study of nonprofits from Johns Hopkins University? It's not pretty:Johns Hopkins Study: Impact of the Recession on Nonprofit Organizations· 80% of responding nonprofit organizations reported experiencing fiscal stress in the past year· Almost 40% reported severe or very severe fiscal stress· Experiencing declining revenues, increased costs, restricted cash flow, declining endowmentsHere's a reality check! Some of my nonprofit friends are saying that it's not a recession, it's a "restructuring." One friend says our business will never be the same.

Why donors will give - or not give - in 09

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Many donors speak of an “intense, palpable connection” to their cause. They are giving because of this deep emotional experience of connection and making a difference.If you can help your donors connect deeply with your cause – which we hope is their own favorite cause, then they will give as best they can.You have to help your donors have this meaningful experience. We all talk about it, but NOW MORE THAN EVER – you need to give your wonderful donors this experience – right in front of their faces.

Donors say they are becoming more thoughtful about their giving

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I am such a fan of Penelope Burk’s outstanding research on donor attitudes. If you are not yet familiar with her work, you really should pick up a copy of her seminal book Donor-Centered Fundraising.Burk's latest research focuses on donor attitudes within this terrible recession. As the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported in March, Burk surveyed over 17,000 people in January who had donated an average of $11,500 last year and asked them about their philanthropic plans for 2009.Burk found that* 29% of the donors surveyed said they were giving to fewer nonprofits, and that * 29% of this group reported they were becoming more thoughtful about their giving.

What got us here won't take us there

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"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. . . . Einstein.What got us here is not going to take us where we want to go in the future If there was EVER a time for openness to new ideas, strategies and tactics, it is now.The entire philanthropic environment is in a state of total flux, just like the economy. Bad news comes at us daily. We can expect to see nonprofits fail – and some probably should close down.This quote may just help you create an opening for change. Too often nonprofits and particularly their boards act too conservatively, and end up missing the boat.

Call your donors

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This is an article by Terry Axelrod of Benevon that was printed…

Are You at the Top of Your Donors' Priority List?

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Are our donors sticking with their giving commitments in the…