The Nonprofit Sector’s Most Pressing Issues: The C-Level Exec’s Point of View, Part 3
Below are further insights from Angel Aloma, executive director of Food For The Poor; Danny McGregor, chief operating officer at Greenpeace; Atul Tandon, executive director of the International Network and executive vice president of investor relations at United Way Worldwide; and Tom Harrison, president and CEO of Russ Reid, shared during their session, “Cracking the Shell: Open Dialogue & Discussion With America’s Top Nonprofit C-Level Executives on the Sector’s Most Pressing Issues.”
The panel agreed that just about every organization must engage in social media because that is where the donors are heading online. And the opportunities for engagement and discovery are virtually endless.
Aloma shared that Food For The Poor was struggling to get Facebook fans. Then, an old friend of the organization said he’d donate $1 for every Facebook fan Food For The Poor added — up to $20,000. The organization took to its social-media platforms and shared this information and in four days had more than 20,000 fans.
“Social media brings awareness and guerilla fundraising opportunities,” Aloma said. “My children’s generation uses social media — it is the way things are going.
“Don’t give up on it in fundraising either,” he added. “We no longer have a Web department. We have an emerging media department that includes the Web, iPhone, social media, mobile. As an organization, you can’t afford to be laggards. We want to be on that wave of social media when it hits.”
McGregor said Greenpeace is moving in a similar direction, developing one department that looks at “emerging media,” as Aloma put it. He said the biggest key to social media is understanding what is meaningful action for your organization. “What do we actually want to happen?” he asked.
Optimizing communications channels
“For us, direct mail is still our cash cow and has the largest budget,” Aloma said. Food For The Poor distributes 24 direct-mail packages a year, though mails slightly less to donors acquired through other channels. Aloma added, “Print is slowly dying for us, however our best major donors come from print — so we hold on to it because of the quality of donor.”
Tandon added that he doesn’t like to set hard and fast dollar amounts for each channel and strategy, but prefers to keep testing, learning and adjusting communications based on what works. “It’s a constant process. You can’t afford to be left behind,” he said.
McGregor agreed: “Continue monitoring what’s going on, and continue educating the board. You shouldn’t wait until annual budgeting to change things. Invest in things that make sense for your organization.”
“Get a rough idea how revenue should come in,” Harrison added. “It’s very different for every organization, so figure it out for you.”
Someone from the audience asked, “What industry research is missing? What benchmarks would you like to see?”
Aloma said the most valuable insights are about the donors. Food For The Poor did an emotional inquiry study of its best donors — what occurred when they were first exposed to giving, what was the trigger? It provided Food For The Poor the real reasons donors gave, which were financial efficiency combined with spiritual efficiency of the organization, and they wanted to help save lives. These insights helped Food For The Poor communicate those triggers to keep them engaged. “It was invaluable,” Aloma said. “What makes donors happy in giving?”
McGregor said he’s worried that organizations often look at gross income more than anything else. “We can make bad decisions and grow income in the short term. We should look more at costs. I think that’s the biggest thing missing,” he said.
According to Tandon, the biggest thing missing for smaller, local charities is donor data at the local level. Most of what’s out there is on the aggregate level. “Local level donor data is very helpful. Getting that is a dream in my eye.”
A member in the audience from Amnesty International said her organization is changing the way it communicates to be more donor-centric and asked for advice on how to do that. “We’ve got to start knowing our donors,” Harrison said. “We’re trying to change our donors instead of listening to them.”
“Take every opportunity to listen to the donor and what he’s saying … and have everyone do it,” McGregor said. Everyone at Greenpeace takes calls, does street canvassing, touches donors at every turn to hear what people are saying. Then those insights are spread around to everyone at the organization. “Current donors can be self-fulfilling. Talk to potential donors, too,” McGregor said. “Everybody should be listening. The mistake is often [that] just the two people running the campaign or program listen.”
Food For The Poor makes its fundraisers travel to the communities it serves so they know firsthand what they're asking for. Similarly, all fundraisers should have contact with donors to learn why they are giving, Aloma said. Here are some more tips from Aloma:
- Don’t believe a donor who says he doesn’t want to be thanked. Thank him anyway.
- Pay closer attention to behaviors and actions than words.
- Learn to listen between the lines.
- Know what your unique selling point is.
- Be honest in what you’re doing.
- Get to know your donors as best as possible and how to communicate with them usefully.
“Rule of thumb: Know the gender mix of donors — more than 50 percent are women typically,” Tandon said. “Who makes the giving decision at the household level? Many times, women make the decisions. The safe bias is speaking to women.”
Tandon also said fundraisers must change the dialogue — start with who we are. “Public charities by definition are not beneficiary-centric or donor-centric,” he said. “We’re a bridge between the donor and the beneficiary. Don’t think in one of those camps. You are a means to an end.” He said fundraisers have to be balanced — how do you maximize change in the hearts and minds of donors and in the communities you serve?
To wrap up the session, the panel addressed some of the other major issues from management’s viewpoint.
- Cutting staff in bad times: “Don’t dwell on cutting staff — only do it when you have to.”
- Look for other ways to save money — no $30 dinners.
- Try donor visits — see if a donor is willing to have six to 10 people over for dinner and have a face-to-face meeting with them. “Face-to-face is the best way to expand your donor base.”
- Get dedicated, high-quality donors, and ask them to invite people to a meeting.
- “Strive for excellence in all that we do.”
- Innovation — hard times are the best times to innovate.
- Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist in 2005 — the pace of innovation is escalating exponentially.
- “Don’t be dogmatic. Test and try things; hypothesize.”
- Have an orientation program to explain fundraising, how it works, etc.
- Be proud to ask for money for your organization.
- Read ”Tiny Essentials of Fundraising.”
- “You can’t cut yourself to greatness. We have to grow ourselves to greatness.”
Aloma ended things with the final word: “We all need to remember that we have to inspire passion in our staff — our work is work of passion. You cannot think of you. Think of yourself as providers of dreams.”