All posts by Norman Reiss

ePhilanthropy for Nonprofit Organizations

9 Fundraising Mistakes Your Nonprofit Is Making

(In her guest post, Kristen Gramigna challenges us to re-examine our nonprofits’ fundraising strategy)

The health and vitality of a nonprofit organization depends largely on the effectiveness of its fundraising campaigns.  Fundraising requires a lot of serious planning, execution and follow-up.  Most nonprofits are passionate about their mission to make a difference and accomplish something significant. Not surprisingly, when you dream big, mistakes are bound to happen along the way. While minor bumps and hurdles might slow down the pace of an organization, they should certainly not stop it. In fact, hitting fundraising plateaus is an all-too-common occurrence, be it with any business, political or organizational campaign.

How exactly can nonprofits break free of the rut and steer their efforts in the right direction? Recognizing some of the key fundraising mistakes and understanding how to correct them can be a great starting point.

1. The Underinvested Fundraising Operation
One of the most common reasons why many nonprofits struggle is due to the lack of a solid fundraising plan. Often, charities underestimate the importance of investing in valuable resources and employees. It is not uncommon for many organizations that raise a million dollars or more to have an under performing website or weak financial plan. While hiring a trained professional to carve out a fundraising plan or redesign a website might seem extravagant, not doing so can lead to a painful downward spiral or stagnation.

2. Not Setting Lofty Goals
Many nonprofits don’t dare to think big. While selling baked goods and hosting local clothing drives can be a great way to attract attention to your cause, relying on them alone is probably not a smart idea. Step outside your comfort zone and set higher goals. Creating incremental goals, such as raising 10 percent more at an event or expanding your donor base by 50 in the next three months, can be immensely motivating to the staff. It is not surprising that innovative nonprofits with audacious goals tend to attract more donors than the others.

3. Not Being Interesting Enough
Don’t fill up brochures, newsletters and websites with your mission statement and financial report. Instead, heartwarming print and digital campaigns that are filled with meaningful life experiences can draw positive attention and benefit your fundraising efforts.

4. Putting All Your Eggs In One Basket
Rather than depend on only a few options, it can be a great idea to diversify your fundraising portfolio. A sustainable and healthy program combines different methods, such as product selling, government grants, regular giving, major gifts, middle-donor campaigns and more.

5. Emergency Fundraising
Goals and fundraising deadlines are inevitable and essential. However, when too much focus is on the money, an organization can tend to forget about its true purpose. Aggressive fundraising measures, with a sense of urgency, can strain relationships and take a toll on the reputation of the nonprofit.

6. Failure To Cultivate Long-Term Relationships
Building relationships with your supporters should never be perceived as a waste of time. Successful fundraising is all about cultivating solid and meaningful relationships with the people who believe in your cause. Taking the time to reach out to your prospects will likely translate into larger and more frequent gifts to your organization.

7. Trying To Be The Next Big Thing
Being innovative and thinking out of the box can be immensely beneficial. However, it is important to not get too carried away. Make sure to set aside an affordable budget for research and development. It is never a wise idea to tap into your core revenue streams to try out a relatively new concept.

8. You Are Not Your Target Audience
Do not make the mistake of assuming that your donors will visit the same places as you. Meet your donors at their convenience, not yours. Whether it is the Web or a local church, successful fundraising boils down to being in the right place at the right time. With the increasing popularity of digital technology and social media, it is essential to recognize their potential as powerful fundraising platforms.

9. Not Implementing A Donor-Friendly Mobile Payment System
Make it possible for your donors to financially support you in a convenient way. Gone are the days when mailing in checks and money orders were the norm. Today, more than 91 percent of Americans own cellphones, and many of them use mobile browsers on a day-to-day basis. For a nonprofit, the risk of not embracing digital media can prove to be expensive. Implementing a secure and easy-to-use mobile payment system into an existing blog or website can be the most important step a fundraising department can take. Mobile giving transcends all barriers and is an investment in the future.

Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, offering non-profit credit card processing solutions. She has over 15 years of experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management, and marketing and also serves on BluePay’s Board of Directors.

Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Go Paperless?

(Guest Post by Kevin Corley of Image One)

 Due to their constant need to reduce overhead costs, nonprofits can’t always focus on growth and innovation. But many groups can start to leverage productivity and efficiency by embracing paperless technologies and document conversion services.   

Manage finances

One main benefit of going paperless is an improved ability to manage finances. By reducing office supplies / printing costs and having to store physical records, nonprofits can use funds for more critical demands.

According to Yale University report, its Student Employment office alone saved $100,000 in the year after switching to an electronic process to replace timesheets. Additionally, the Yale School of Medicine realized $92,000 in saving when it eliminated paper course packets with iPads

Manage data

With paperless initiatives comes the switch from physical to digital formats for information. Digitizing enterprise content allows them to then adopt other cost-savings solutions such as cloud storage.

A recent First Nonprofit Foundation report highlighted just how significant a difference moving records to paperless platforms can make. UCAN Chicago used over 4 million sheets of paper in 2010, a figure which they cut to 2.8 million just two years later after prioritizing document conversion services.

Manage compliance

One concern about going paperless is regulatory compliance and the maintaining of nonprofit status. A financial audit could pose a risk for firms that haven’t optimized their records, and when everything is stored on paper it can be easy to lose or overlook a document that could spell the difference between continued nonprofit status or not. Digital formats help to ensure audit compliance.

Investing in paper conversion services can save nonprofits time and money, allowing them to harness the benefits of digitized records quickly while driving ROI and productivity. An investment into paperless technology is an investment into an organization’s future, and one that needs to be carefully planned and executed. The right support from a document conversion service will ensure success and flexibility in adapting new paperless trends as they develop.

(Image One is committed to helping businesses and nonprofits through the use of document imaging hardware and professional service.)

Why You Need to Court Your Donors

heartThe Feb. 12 #501TechNYC meeting focused on Getting Your Donors to Fall in Love With You (although with all the focus lately on donor retention, maybe a better title would be ‘Getting Your Donors to Stay in Love With You.’)  Here’s a brief resource list:

One interesting takeaway came from  an audience member who described how her organization’s staff took the time to get to know their supporters – e.g. knowing how they read enewsletters, how they prefer to keep in touch and how they personally relate to the nonprofit’s mission.

If the only time you reach out to supporters is when you’re asking for a gift, don’t be surprised if you need to keep replenishing your donor base every year.

(Plan to join us at #501TechNYC next month, when several #14NTC presenters – including me – recap the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference.)

Do You Work For a Data Driven Nonprofit?

Nten recently released Collected Voices – Data Informed Nonprofits, a report summarizing a year long collaboration of staff at 18 nonprofits to discuss data collection, analysis and presentation concerns.  Some major points:

  • Nonprofits primarily collect data for funders.  Often there isn’t enough focus on using data to evaluate programs/services to determine how well the organization is achieving its goals.
  • Data by itself isn’t useful unless it is analyzed and presented clearly to decision makers.  Program staff aren’t hired to data collection experts;  they need to be guided why having reliable information is important
  • Many of us ‘manage by intuition’ rather than by information.’  Relying on data is a much stronger approach.
  • Silos aren’t only a problem within an organization but also between organizations.  There is much to be gained by sharing data with other nonprofits, and learning from each other.
  • Since so many of our systems need to connect with others, it’s important to choose software that ‘play well’ with other products, not that lock us into a proprietary platform.
  • Is your data stored primarily within departments and not shared with each other?  This can result in data redundancy and not knowing which information is accurate.
  • How you can you present data clearly to influence future decisions?  Having strong data is useless if you can’t streamline it for management to understand quickly.
  • Many organizations use dashboards to easily share data internally and externally.  This is a great approach, but it’s also important to periodically review data you’re collecting to make sure it is still relevant.

For more on this topic, join Nten’s Nonprofits and Data interest group or attend the session, How to Turn the Data Dream Into Reality on Wed, Mar. 12 (day before the start of the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference) in Washington DC.

If your organization does great work but you don’t have the data to prove it, you’re missing an opportunity to improve donor retention, attract new supporters and effectively measure your nonprofit’s impact on the communities you serve.

How Does Your Nonprofit Rate in Online Fundraising?

Are you making it easy for your supporters to donate online?  Find out in this Online Fundraising Scorecard, recently released by Dunham & Company.  The main areas studied were email registration/communication, online donation experience and gift acknowledgement processes.  For example,

  1. Do you make it easy for supporters to join your email list?
  2. Do you offer valuable content that is likely to encourage constituents to want to receive your communications?
  3. Do you use a welcome series for new email sign-ups?
  4. Do you have a gift acknowledgement / stewardship process to  help attract further support?
  5. Are you open about your privacy policies?
  6. Do you demonstrate the impact of how donations are used to achieve your mission?
  7. Do you test which content will resonate best with your list?
  8. Do you use a single call to action and keep messages concise?
  9. Do you make it easy to make an online donation?
  10. Have you taken the time to view how your emails and website look on mobile?

Even if you’re aware of many of these best practices for online communications / fundraising, most likely you will find something in this report worth implementing.  Download it today.

Lessons From A Great Man

Al Siegel
Alfred Siegel, Deputy Director,
Center for Court Innovation

A few days ago my organization lost our beloved Deputy Director, Alfred Siegel to a sudden heart attack.  At our office afterwards and at his funeral yesterday, there has been an outpouring of emotion like nothing I’ve seen for anyone I’ve ever worked with.  Clearly this was a man who had an impact on many, many people (see email from our director), even those – like me, he did not work with on a daily basis.

Why was Alfred so loved and respected?  It went far beyond his expertise in criminal justice, which made him the person everyone went to for advice.  From what I’ve learned especially in the past week, he cared intensely about all of his co-workers, regardless of their position in the organization.  The day before he died, a former colleague stopped by the office to say hello;  Al was preparing to leave for home but delayed his departure to chat with his old friend.

Most of us spend more time at work than we do with family and friends.  Yet we don’t always take the time to get to know our co-workers and to extend relationships beyond the office.  From what I’ve observed in my 2 1/2 years at the Center for Court Innovation, our staff are more than co-workers to each other – and everyone has been especially supportive since Al’s untimely departure.  These relationships don’t end when the job ends;  many who attended his funeral were past co-workers who he continued to stay in touch with.

I am fortunate to work for an organization where people truly care about each other.  I will strive to follow Al’s example to be more of a friend for all of my colleagues, not only those in my department or who I am working with on current projects.   Building relationships is the key to success both personally and professionally, and no one did this better than Alfred Siegel.

Getting Your Tech Team Off to a Good Start in 2014

Get through the post-holiday and seasonal blues by trying these tips:

  1. Most of us don’t like to keep detailed time sheets, but it IS a good idea to keep your colleagues informed by sending weekly updates about projects you’re working on. (This is especially helpful in documenting your accomplishments at salary review time.)
  2. Many tech folk like to socialize at work mostly with other tech folk.  Encourage your staff to mingle with colleagues in other departments  – don’t wait until you’re on a project when you need to work together.
  3. For help desk staff, what types of issues are most often reported?  Take the time to plan training or additional documentation for both new and experienced staff members.
  4. For new systems that you rolled out last year, contact users to find out how things are going.  Don’t assume that if you don’t hear anything that everything is fine.
  5. Encourage staff to participate in professional organizations like Nten to get additional insights about what other nonprofits are doing;  they’re probably dealing with many of the same challenges that you are.

Wishing you a healthy and joyous 2014!

What To Do AFTER the New Database Rolls Out

(This is a review of a session I presented with Elizabeth Pope of Idealware at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference.Slides now available.)

14NTCMany of us have managed or participated in a database rollout.  Usually the most attention is given to the planning, design and implementation stages to make sure that the eventual system will meet organization needs.  But despite good intentions, sometimes things don’t work out well, and users are as frustrated with the ‘new’ system as they were with the database it replaced.

Below are some suggestions for making sure things go smoothly AFTER the new system has been rolled out:

  1. Plan to be on site not only when the new system goes live, but at regular intervals afterwards.  No matter how much time was spent in planning, new items will arise when users start to use the new software.  Unless your users are a long distance away, DON’T rely only on email and phone to get feedback.
  2. Make sure that programming resources, whether in house staff or outside contractors, are available to tweak the new system (e.g. minor screen changes, what fields are required etc.).  Clearly you can’t do everything that users ask for, but it’s important to show that you are responsive to their needs.
  3. When scheduling training, don’t try to cover too much in one session.  Better to have multiple classes and dedicate each to a specific task.
  4. Make sure you get feedback not only from managers, but from staff who actually do data entry.  Don’t assume that staff are communicating to their managers their experiences in using the new system.
  5. Give realistic timelines for when updates will be done, and keep users regularly informed of progress.  Use a variety of communication channels – not just email.
  6. Quickly come up with monthly reports that will demonstrate how well data is being recorded (or not).  Don’t be surprised if you discover staff are still entering data in their old database  or personal spreadsheets (in which they are more comfortable  using).
  7. Develop a group of ‘power users’ who can help train / guide other staff members.  But make sure their managers are OK with their assuming this role.
  8. Plan periodic check-ins to determine how well the new database is working out.    In most cases, the problem isn’t the product – but make sure to take the time to listen to users who think that it is.

Want more ideas?  Read Missy Longshore’s 6 Key Steps to Post-Implementation Tech Project Success and Tracy Kronzak’s Why CRM Implementations Fail and How to Avoid It.

Updated 3/22/14
Didn’t make it to #1eNTC?  View Slides & Collaborative Session Notes.  I’ll also be presenting at the Mar. 26 #501TechNYC meeting, #14NTC Takeways: What We Learned at the 2014 Nonprofit Tech Conference.

Postmortem on a Failed Database Project

About a year ago, I introduced a new database to a site that had previously maintained most of their information on Excel.  We brought in a vendor who helped migrate the data into the new system.  Last week, the Project Director told me (not to my surprise) that they wanted to move back to Excel.

Here’s what happened:

  1. When selecting the vendor,  we chose someone who offered a reasonable price and who came with positive referrals.  But based on staff feedback, there were signs early on that he was having difficulty translating our business flow into the new system.
  2. The data migration was done, but my co-workers didn’t spend enough time verifying that the data had come over successfully.  By the time (later) they realized there were problems, it was more difficult to address them.
  3. The work ended up taking considerably longer than expected, creating some tension with the vendor (we had a maximum price contract).
  4. It was very difficult to move staff away from Excel, especially since we hadn’t made a clear enough business case for using a database instead of a spreadsheet (not obvious to most non-IT folk)
  5. We underestimated the training staff would need.  We tried to fill in the gaps later, but by that time there was frustration with the new system.
  6. I tried to do damage control by bringing in a second vendor later (after we had stopped working with the first company) to handle support.  They did a great job, but it still wasn’t enough to stem the bad feelings.
  7. I found out late in the process that staff were already using another database to enter data (required by a grant), which explained why they didn’t seem too eager to use the new system.

What could we have done differently to get a better result?  Perhaps by focusing too much on a low price, we didn’t realize the importance of dedicating enough time to the discovery stage where our requirements would be fully detailed.  We also could have done a better job in setting expectations about the implementation process – and to ask managers to require staff to learn and use the new database.  Or, we could have picked a different site that had more of a pressing need (they were doing reasonably well with Excel and their ‘other’ database).

(Interestingly, at the same time that we began this project, we began another pilot project with an entirely different database, which staff seem to be much happier with.)

Moral?  Choose your partner carefully, make sure system requirements are fully detailed, and make sure staff are required and motivated to use the new system.

3 Nonprofits Using Mobile Payments

(Guest Post by Kristen Gramigna)

The world has gone plastic, at least when it comes to paying for things. PayPal recently published a prediction that consumers would fully convert to mobile payments by 2015, rendering the traditional wallet useless.

More and more people are using their smartphones to pay for just about everything. The advancements in mobile payment platforms are cropping up faster than a lot of businesses are prepared for, especially nonprofits.

Big brands give small businesses a helping hand
Since around 2009, multiple platforms and devices have hit the mobile payment market. The trouble is that, initially, nonprofits were left out of the mix. Platform providers must have seen the void in the market, because mobile options have become the newest way for nonprofits of all sizes to raise funds, host auctions, and participate in community events.

The Salvation Army is giving it a try, with a mobile version of their Family Store. And for the third year in a row, bell ringers will be using smartphones with mobile payment capabilities to accept donations this Christmas. Recent reports indicate that the organization is expected to hit their $2 billion goal without missing a step, a far cry from the 2009 totals.

Partnerships that change the way the cookie crumbles
Some nonprofits have been able to survive the mobile drought longer than others because they have an established brand, but the cumulative sting of lost sales affects even an established brand.

Before the Girl Scouts of America partnered with a mobile payment provider three years ago, their trademark cookie sales had started to decline. The reason: people just weren’t carrying cash anymore. According to the latest statistics, after introducing mobile payments, the Girl Scouts’ sales increased almost 15%, and in some areas sales increased four times over.

How mobility changes philanthropy
Organizations and donors alike are attracted by the convenience and seamlessness of the transaction. Donating is no longer a multi-step process that relies strictly on a website. Automatic alerts are set up to remind past donors to make a repeat contribution. Increased security has also made it easier for individuals to set up personal fundraiser campaigns with affiliations to larger organizations.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has been accepting mobile donations for a while. For Komen’s 3-Day fundraising event, individual fundraisers to set up organizationally supported auction sites, and mobile payment options allowed them to easily separate donations and purchases that went toward the fundraising effort.

Nonprofits using mobile payments have had so much success that partnering organizations and platforms are now offering incentives such as free readers and reduced transaction fees. Providers are waiting to see what nonprofits come up with next. One thing is for sure: mobile pay is here to stay.

Author bio:
Kristen Gramigna is Chief Marketing Officer for BluePay, a credit card processing firm, and also serves on its Board of Directors. She has more than 15 years experience in the bankcard industry in direct sales, sales management and marketing.