Key Points From the Conference
How do you end a fundraising conference on a note that will keep people around for the final session? Not an easy task, but one the DMA Nonprofit Federation seems to have accomplished.
The last session of the 2008 Washington Nonprofit Conference, which took place in Washington, D.C., last week, was fairly well attended. It helped that there were prizes to be had, but the big draw was the promise of a session that wrapped up all the key points of the previous two days worth of sessions.
In all, five panelists were on board for the rehash.
Dana Weinstein, director of membership at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, kicked off the session by reminding the audience of our troubled economic state.
“Because we are in a recession, we may experience a softening of people donating,” she said, adding that nonprofits should worry about trying to recoup the lost donations later, after the recession passes.
One of the points the panelists kept returning to was the need for nonprofits to change the way they regard — and treat — donors.
Charlie Cadigan, managing director of Frontline Data Group, mentioned that a speaker in a session on donor acquisition he attended pointed out that acquisition is an investment and that it is therefore important for development staffers to have a constant awareness of what it means to a donor — on a spiritual and emotional level — when she makes a donation. He said making a donation is an important “part of self-definition for donors.” He suggested that all nonprofits might benefit from instituting employee donation programs and be as interactive with donors as possible.
Dennis Meyer, founder and president of Meyer Partners, said he was impressed by a session called “How to Break Through the Noise and Engage Your Donor,” adding that Jann Schultz, director of donor relations at Operation Smile, delivered a powerful message that could help nonprofits kill off old habits and mind-sets.
“It’s all about the donor,” Meyer said, quoting Schultz.
Weinstein agreed, remarking that nonprofits need to learn to “put the donor first, over your own organization’s pushes and pulls.”
Richard Murdock, president of Murdock Associates, said he was impressed by a session titled “How to Get Information From Program/Field Staff.”
A crucial lesson there, he said, was that there needs to be “a two-way street” in nonprofits between development officers and field staff.
Murdock said that one major barrier nonprofits face is the turnover rate of workers in the field; “those best at getting information.”
Nonprofits need to learn to “improve communications between field people and development people,” he said, adding that this will help them learn how to tell a more compelling story about their work and the people being served.
Furthermore, Murdock said, nonprofits ought to “recognize and incentivize people who do give you good feedback.”
He added that an organization would benefit greatly from having a full-time employee whose only job is to collect stories from field workers.
Weinstein said she enjoyed a jam-packed session Thursday morning concerning multichannel fundraising. Nonprofits should be advised, Weinstein said, that almost one-third of major donors — in this case, those who give gifts of $1,000 and more — are online donors.
In a similar vein, Murdock said that an important lesson gleaned from one session he attended was that nonprofits need to “put e-mail addresses in everything” they send out. He added that organizations need to “stress privacy” and make it very clear to donors that they are not going to rent out their names to other organizations.
Organizations could benefit from explaining to donors why they’re interested in acquiring e-mail addresses and possibly institute an age threshold on communicating electronically with constituents, Murdock said, suggesting 13 as a good place to draw the line.
Panelist Kristin McCurry, principal at MINDset Direct, agreed with Murdock and added that nonprofits would benefit by using listserves for their more local events.
Cadigan spoke of the importance of branding for nonprofits. Older organizations, he said, can become set in their ways and sometimes need to seriously rethink their brands and freshen their messages. Furthermore, he said, when an organization gets to the stage of branding where it’s talking to its staff, it should be sure that “everyone is on the same page” to avoid any diffuseness of message.
Murdock added that a nonprofit should think hard on three things vis-à-vis perfecting its message: What do you stand for, what is the enemy and why do you matter — questions that came out of Friday’s morning keynote address by Fran Kelly, president and chief executive officer at Arnold US.
McCurry spoke of the generosity of baby boomers as donors. “Boomers,” she said, “even when they cut off their ponytails, are still boomers.” She added that the baby boom generation would be less likely to give to their alma maters than generations before them because they “didn’t have a great time in college.” This, McCurry added, is not so good for colleges and universities but a potential boon for other nonprofits.