Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Recently a colleague of mine posted a question on an email forum, asking participants whether or not their mission statement makes a reference to philanthropy. I found this pointed and insightful. In the most recent issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a front page article says that half of our nation's top fundraising executives want to quit their jobs. Findings from a large national study suggest that blame falls on the CEOs. Why? Because they aren't doing enough to create a culture of philanthropy within their institutions and because they generally "don't understand fund-raising."
This is consistent with what the MajorGiving team finds in the field, especially when we are recruiting fundraisers. While several years ago The Chronicle frequently carried articles about fundraisers' tendency to leapfrog from job to job, there now seems to be a shortage of qualified fundraising professionals.
I encourage you to check out the article, as we can safely assume that we'll be reading much more about this.
Talk to you soon!
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I know that there will be countless tributes from my colleagues in public broadcasting about Walter Cronkite and his influence on the entire industry. I grew up with his broadcasts, from the Kennedy assassination to the King assassination to the Kennedy assassination to the Vietnam revelation to the moon walk.
But I have a hazy memory as a six year old in 1962. Our family was in Topeka and my father was on a bomber crew on alert status for the Cuban missile crisis (B-47s). I remember waking up and walking into the kitchen. My mother was chain-smoking cigarettes and my father was in his flight suit. My memory might be hazy, through the fog of years and Mom's smoke, but I remember Cronkite on our black and white TV, the edginess of his voice and the nervous body language of my parents. I had never experienced parental fear, and this was palpable.
From then on, Cronkite was the absolute voice of authority.
photo: Bernard Stein's retirement in 1967, Spokane, Washington.
L-R: Rick Stein (14), Iris Stein (45), Bernard Stein (46), Bob Stein (11)
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Having returned from two weeks in
What really stands out for me is how the Germans have done a better job than anyone at facing up to the Holocaust of World War II, and both the Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum Berlin)
and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in
are stark and stunning reminders of the emptiness in much of
The moral responsibility belongs, rightfully, to
Recently, there has been a resurgence of right wing activity and what had once been seen as a fringe far-right party, Jobbik, grabbed nearly 15 percent of
On a final, more upbeat note, it's Springtime for Hitler at the famed Admiralspalast Theatre (where Hitler would watch operettas) as The Producers finally arrived in
Talk to you soon!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
She has always been a sweet lady, enjoyed by all who meet her. She's feisty and tenacious--and my brother Rick and I have always called her the "Indomitable Battle-Axe." At 87, she's wittier than ever and is a voracious reader. She's my mom, Iris, and today is her birthday.
Last year, Rick asked her if there was one more place abroad where she would like to travel--perhaps as a family trip, and she said that she always wanted to visit her ancestral home country, Hungary. While she is second-generation American on that side of the family, she had always heard stories about life in the old country--in this case, Miskolc, about two hours east of Budapest. There's not much left there of the Jewish population--local pogroms and the Holocaust ravaged what had once been a vibrant and culturally rich community.
This Saturday, I and my two children (in their late teens), wife, brother and sister-in-law will be Iris's entourage, as we visit Hungary--Miskolc, Eger, and Budapest, which is often called "Paris of the East."
I have always wanted to visit Budapest, but now I have a very special reason to go. We will see Hungary through her eyes, listen to her recount the few stories she heard growing up--one of which involves a cousin serving as the concubine to an Austro-Hungarian ruler--all the while saddened that my father, who passed away five years ago, can only be there with us in spirit and memory.
I know that this trip will leave us all with memories we will cherish for the rest of our lives and that Iris's stories and extraordinary humor and grace will continue on to my children and their children, passing forward an enduring legacy.
Happy Birthday Iris! This trip will be great, but being with you has always been a trip!
p.s. I will be trying to post a blog while traveling, but I plan to post to Twitter as well: majorgiving
Photo Credit: Daria Stein
Friday, December 19, 2008
When I was in college riding the subways in New York City in the early 70s there was a series of advertisements that stood out from the rest. Stark, black and white posters regaled a famous Hollywood or New York icon draped in a Blackglama mink coat--with the caption: "What Becomes a Legend Most?" Stars such as Judy Garland, Sophia Loren, Lauren Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, Leontyne Price, now animal rights activist Bridget Bardot, and even Luciano Pavarotti posed shamelessly. But it was their slogan that always stuck with me (it's also a song title by Lou Reed). And now, in homage to that great ad campaign, I offer some thoughts and observations on the qualities I think are essential to being a great major giving professional: "What Becomes a Major Gifts Officer Most?"
Put the donor first - Despite what we all know to be true, validated by the groundbreaking work of Penelope Burk (Donor-Centered Fundraising), so many fundraisers ignore the donors' interest and barely spend any time trying to determine their philanthropic impulses. So many organizations set up barriers between their own fundraising goals and the donors' wishes. Remember, it's the donor who decides how much to give and for what cause. The more attention you pay to your donors, the more they will tell you about themselves--what excites and motivates them, and even how much to ask for.
Make your CEO the hero - The CEO is the architect and true spokesperson for the nonprofit. He or she should be comfortable interacting with CEOs and other powerful people in your community. The more visible and respected your CEO is, the more successful your major gift efforts become. Your CEO's time is valuable; use it wisely. If your CEO is reticent or uncomfortable interacting with major donors, then coaching, training, and consulting may be helpful. Major giving success will be extremely limited if your CEO remains a socio-phobe.
Know that you don’t own the donor relationship - You are the steward of what hopefully is a long relationship the donor has with the institution you represent. When you move on to your next position, if you have performed your work properly and ethically, that relationship will continue. There is a difficult fine line a gift officer must be aware of between enjoying time during social functions and developing a personal friendship with donors. If a friendship becomes too strong, perhaps it is time for someone else at your organization to assume the fundraising relationship with that donor.
Ask For Money!!! - Don't be afraid, it's what the donor expects. I'm amazed at how many major giving officers spend their days not only not fundraising, but constructing elaborate ways not to fundraise. Many of them have become experts on fundraising and can write treatises on the subject, many have received advanced certification and speak at conferences. But, for the most part, they are just pushing paper and managing direct mail programs. There are tools that can make you more efficient, help you identify your best prospects and track your donor interactions, but they are largely worthless unless you are willing to make the ask. If you can't bring yourself to ask someone for money for your worthy institution, then you don't belong in this profession. Period.
Follow a system -- such as Moves Management -- to organize your time - Many development organizations have a slap-shot approach to their efforts. An organized, systematic method is the "science" of fundraising that will enable you to grow the "artistic" part of the work. It enables you to develop attainable revenue and contact goals and eliminates the chaos. And it facilitates good reporting and dialogue between you and your boss. The best major gifts officers plan their donor calendars and interactions and are able to forecast what donors will give. To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat: "be careful of not knowing where you're going, because you might get there."
Become an expert listener - Always listen to the donor and know that your agenda comes second. I'm not suggesting that your donor visits should be purposeless, but donors will give you vital information that will assist you in ascertaining their financial situation as well as their receptiveness to your projects. You'll learn more about them, about life, and about yourself.
These are just some of the qualities I find that answer the question "What Becomes a Major Gifts Officer Most?" Are there qualities I've omitted? Please share your thoughts about this with the subscribers of MGTalk* or in the comments of this blog!
Talk to you soon!
*this posting is copied from the MajorGiving.com discussion forum on major gifts, MGTalk. You're welcome to join in and subscribe!
Monday, October 27, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Amidst the roller-coaster ride of the stock market, along with great skepticism and uncertainty about the federal government's bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, banks, homeowners--you name it--philanthropy seems to be holding its own for the time being. On the MajorGiving.com listserv this past week we've been discussing the fact that many nonprofits are leaving money on the table by not having in place at least a rudimentary planned giving program in place.
I find this not only shocking, but reckless.
In a recent posting on the Planned Giving Design Center website, Robert F. Sharpe, Jr. discusses the economic impact on giving and advises us that right now donors--particularly older people--might be looking for gifts that provide income to themselves or to loved ones in the present or near future (charitable remainder trusts, charitable gift annuities) or that provide future income benefits and security to a loved one (charitable lead trusts, charitable remainder trusts with wealth replacement). Sharpe further tells us that "all roads now seem to lead to gift plans [that] ... should be structured so as to possess as many of the following attributes as possible:
The impulse towards a bunker mentality right now is understandable among nonprofit managers who fear the unknown and are risk-averse (and wary of making a financial investment). And, while it would have been better for most of them to have launched planned giving programs when times were good, it's still not too late. With donors now keeping an ever more watchful eye on how their philanthropic dollars are being spent and on ways for their dollars to have maximum value for both the institutions they support and for their own economic well-being, it seems unconscionable not to roll out or expand your planned giving program now.
- enables a client to make a large gift in relation to his means in a way that addresses a personal financial or economic challenge that would otherwise preclude the gift;
- provides maximum benefits to the charitable recipient within a reasonable period of time;
- places no undue investment risk on either the donor or the charitable recipient; and
The not-for-profits and advisors who master the incredible flexibility and power of these planning tools, as well as the tax savings, asset management, predictability and other advantages they bring, will find no shortage of eager donors and clients.
- affords the donor with maximum tax savings and other economic benefits.
Talk to you soon!
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
I was listening to one of several local public radio stations yesterday morning, and I was struck by the urgent tone of their fund drive. Shades of the old days...when on-air fundraising constituted begging and haranguing and creating the false dichotomy of "send us money or we'll shut down this station." It always reminded me of this great National Lampoon cover (believe it or not, I recently mentioned it to a bright, young professional, and she said, "I didn't know that National Lampoon had a magazine").
Fundraisers are more than ever being swept up into the urgency of meeting financial goals, so much so that good principals are being ignored. The desperation I heard yesterday as this station was struggling half-way into an hour of Morning Edition and needed to raise $800 to meet a $1300 goal made me shudder and switch over to music on my i pod. While I don't think that anyone could have forecast the current state of our economy at the beginning of the year, the hopeless frenzy of their tone led me to doubt the fiscal soundness of their organization.
While we're all watching the stock market in disbelief, and while this may be the most dire financial crisis we've seen in a long time, philanthropy should hold its own--historically it has during other major financial setbacks. The last thing nonprofits should do is suggest that their own financial underpinnings are too weak to hold. Why would any donor invest in a sinking ship?
I certainly wouldn't sugar-coat the messages; being clear about your need for financial support in order to provide your service to the community can be a powerful and compelling message in itself without the histrionics and hand-wringing.
I'm a fan of marketing whiz Seth Godin, who recently posted in his blog:
Challenging times require innovation and an eye towards opportunity. This applies equally to the nonprofit sector as it does to for-profits.
Inc. magazine reports that a huge percentage of companies in this year's Inc. 500 were founded within months of 9/11. Talk about uncertain times.
But uncertain times, frozen liquidity, political change and poor astrological forecasts (not to mention chicken entrails) all lead to less competition, more available talent and a do-or-die attitude that causes real change to happen.
If I wasn't already running my own business, today is the day I'd start one.
Talk to you soon!
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
An Early Commitment Stimulates Community Giving.
Nothing arms a major giving effort better than having an early, generous commitment from the board. It communicates the leadership is committed to institutional success and the value of philanthropy. As an ongoing practice, once it becomes enculturated, early board giving establishes a standard that leaves little doubt about the expectations of board members. At the early stage there might be some board attrition, but often this is because these board members never felt fully committed to the institution.
A Board Goal Helps to Balance Diversity of Income within the Board.
Every board needs representatives from a variety of constituencies being served by the institution. This obviously includes racial, ethnic and gender diversity, but a board is also enriched by professional diversity. For example, if your nonprofit serves pre-school children, then a board representative from a child services agency can provide valuable advocacy and perspective. Similarly, an educator should always be part of the mix of a balanced community nonprofit board.
By establishing a board goal, one that is both dollar and percentage based, you are able to take into account the different financial capacities of your board members. More affluent ones should be able to balance the more limited financial capacities of other board members.
Board Visits Should be Well-Planned and Should Team the CEO with the Board Chair.
This annual practice is time-consuming, but it also sets the pace for all board activity and provides the donor/board member with the courtesy that should be accorded all donors—a respectful face-to-face meeting. There is no harm in telescoping your intention of asking for money in advance of the meeting, but it is equally important to say that the meeting is an opportunity for each board member to ask questions, comment and offer insights that he or she might feel constrained to do within a board meeting. Because the primary purpose of the meeting is to make a request for money, any contentious issues should be tabled for a follow-up conversation.
Calculate Your Goal and Make it Attainable.
Suppose your board is comprised of 20 members and their total giving is $50,000. Analyze each board member’s gift potential and structure the campaign on the basis of reasonable giving growth for each person. One board member might be able to jump from $5,000 to $10,000, while another might find it a stretch to go from $250 to $360. Once you have made your calculation, set a percentage goal that is slightly less than the projected dollar goal, as you want to be sure that you can declare victory.
Rehearse Your Key Talking Points.
Ease of communication and an obviously strong rapport are essential to communicating effectively with your board. Make sure you are clear in your objectives and draft talking points for each visit. Base your approach on who has the stronger relationship with a particular donor, and let that person take the lead.
This approach will take training, practice and fine tuning. It is most successful when it becomes a codified agreement between the board chair and the CEO, and after several years, your board will no longer consider it novel, but, rather, a standard operating procedure that facilitates a better and more open exchange between the board and its leadership and the management of your nonprofit.
Talk to you Soon!
Monday, March 24, 2008
A couple of weeks ago my wife told me that a colleague of hers (they're university professors) wanted to start a small, local fundraising effort among faculty and students to provide relief to a student who recently lost everything in a fire. He circulated an email asking for $25 or $30 donations, or whatever people could afford. Another professor (an ordained minister) wrote back to him and suggested that he should try to run the fund through the university's development office so that contributions would be tax deductible.
It's amazing that we've become so inured to people's personal hardships and accustomed to bureaucratic systems for handling our philanthropic activities that we assume we have to adhere to formal constructs just to get money to people in need. Thankfully, in this case, sanity prevailed and they proceeded with their small collection effort.
In an interesting article in February on one of the Chronicle of Higher Education's blogs, Face Value, an alumnus from Williams College is advocating for the college to permit alumni to fund requests from students and student groups directly on-line and to have personal interactions with them. The donor feels, "the College wants to control the money. It does not trust students to ask for reasonable things. It does not trust alumni to refrain from funding unreasonable requests. It worries that student awkwardness will harm its relationships with alumni donors.”
I believe that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg here. It has been hard enough for nonprofits to accept that their major donors want accountability and the opportunity to designate where their dollars go and how they are spent. Now lower-level gifts (which are in decline because of the economy) may become even harder to generate for general unrestricted operating support. Being able to give on-line has brought a new level of immediacy to philanthropy for younger people, and institutions are going to have to be creative in their approach rather than refuse gifts from motivated donors who want some ownership of the projects they help to fund.
Talk to you soon!
Friday, February 29, 2008
One of the pleasures of writing a blog is that you start paying attention to other blogs. I've been watching one for a while--Don't Tell the Donor.org, which is one of the most irreverent sites I've found in the nonprofit blogosphere. The site's conceit is that the author maintains anonymity because he/she works for a nonprofit and risks being fired if the opinions expressed go a bit too far. The author doesn't blanch at being a social critic of the practices and excesses of the nonprofit world, and the posts are insightful and supportive of those of us who work for or with nonprofits.
A recent one, entitled, The best fundraisers are those who can tell a story, features a video of Professor Brian Sturm from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: "He describes storytelling as a way of organizing information, conveying emotions, and building community."
At our 2007 conference--MajorGiving: The Conference 2007, we held two breakout sessions all about telling your institutional story. While everyone's story-telling ability varies, it's clear that being able to talk about your organization in the most compelling fashion is a sure-fire way to gain attention and audience.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I held a "buzz party" for the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), on whose board I serve, and one of whose stories (a rather compelling one about their courage to produce a controversial work over the objections of a couple of board members) I told at the major giving conference. Because we live in Winchester, Virginia, which is about 40 minutes from CATF's home in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, we wanted to introduce the theater company to our community. We rented the local arts council, hired a local 15 year old jazz sax prodigy, and slaved to do the hors d'oeuvres ourselves. About seventy people attended, and for all of our efforts, what mattered the most was the mesmerizing and compelling story of the theater and its upcoming season that was presented by CATF's Producing Director. There's a certain evangelical quality about him, and I began to appreciate how this man lives and breathes the mission of his organization. The audience at the party was spell-bound, and I was told by at least a dozen of them that they were planning on attending this season.
I think we do a disservice to the organizations we serve when we don't communicate our mission and service in an exciting way. Humans respond to narratives, and, just as all books, plays and movies are, in essence, variations on the same myths that have been told for thousands of years, making our institutional stories new and relevant is central to our ability to win the hearts and minds of our donors.
Keep messages about your organization fresh and exciting and donors will respond!
Talk to you soon!
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
OK, I fell for it. The incentives offered by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), appealed to my lust for new technology and a deal that was almost too good to be true--for $400 I would provide a poor child in a developing country with a laptop, add to the trove of technology in my home, and receive $400 worth of T-Mobile internet hotspot access. Seduced by the Maharishi of M.I.T., who spun this latest romp into venture philanthropy, I skipped the math, ignored my blogger/critic curmudgeonly spirit and nearly tripped over myself to take advantage of this offer.
As you may know, I have been critical of gimmicks in fundraising. I believe that the best fundraising practices--barring emergency appeals for tsunamis and hurricanes and the like--are about relationship building rather than mass marketing. OLPC is a classic example of incentive-based fundraising that does little to engender a long term relationship with the donor. And this project is one where their vaulting ambition o'er leaped itself, as the pitch was even more about the technology than the mission or the communities being served. OLPC's website is clever, but it seems to promote the toys rather than the outcomes. Even its wiki is light on stories involving communities being transformed by the technology--and you have to work hard to go beyond the hype.
So what have I learned?
- Shame on me for bobbing for the bauble--I should know better.
- The world would be better if all children had access to this type of technology, but after reading about numerous shipping delays (interesting article on the Boston Globe website), I'm skeptical that this foundation has the ability to deliver. Furthermore, they have failed in their efforts to collaborate with a variety of important manufacturers (including Microsoft) and countries that have their own manufacturers and requirements.
- Perform more due diligence about any nonprofit before donating. Not only is the delivery mechanism suspect, but the technology itself is controversial, and it has been harshly criticized (OLPC seems to be reeling from a stinging article in The Economist).
- Be wary of promises and examine each nonprofit's track record.
- If you're a startup nonprofit with a great idea, don't forsake the donor. The nature of the emails I received from OLPC was presumptuous. The marketing hype promoted the enlightened self-interest of the donor, but I found the follow-up messages about the delays to be fatuous and downright insulting. Over the course of a month, all they did was reinforce my fears that the organization was run by arrogant messianic geeks who were contemptuous of anyone who didn't drink their Kool-Aid.
- Don't make a gift in order to receive something in return. Give because you believe in the mission, vision, and values--and the track-record--of the organization.
Talk to you soon!
Sunday, February 24, 2008
I have been a big fan of Nicholas Negroponte ever since my latent inner geek became unchained when I read Stewart Brand’s 1988 book about him, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M. I. T. Over the years, his think tank and laboratory has been the leading edge in all things digital, and his own writings in Wired, many of which appear in his 1995 book, Being Digital, provide historical perspective, prognostication, and peroration.
I was not surprised when he turned his attention to the developing world and created the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC). It's a great idea--at a low cost distribute special laptops to third-world children that can function in the harshest environments and network together wirelessly, and package it as a "gimme" for American donors. Here's the pitch: for $400 you give one and you get one. Even better, OLPC managed to get T-Mobile to provide all "donors" with a free year subscription to their internet hot spots at Starbucks and airports around the country--a $400 value. Everybody wins with this deal!
Well, I was excited and made my “contribution” of $400 in mid-December, understanding, of course, that I might not receive my laptop until right after Christmas—this was made clear in my thank you letter on December 20th. On January 6th and 10th I received identical emails thanking me for my gift and advising me of my order reference number. Then, on January 20th, they sent me an email message to tell me that my laptop was in the queue for shipment and that I would receive another email on the 23rd to tell me when I could expect it to arrive.
I found this strange, and I wondered whether there was a supply/demand problem that would affect third-world children from receiving their laptops--after all, that's what this program is all about.
On the 24th my email from them advised me that they were awaiting the arrival of new inventory and that I would hear from them in a couple of days. On the 31st, they finally acknowledged a problem and advised that I would receive my laptop within 45 to 60 days, and that a dedicated phone line was set up to handle refund requests from those who want to reconsider their "contribution." They also finally touched on the mission side of the equation:
In the meanwhile, please know that laptops are in the process of going to Mongolia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Rwanda and Haiti as part of the "give one" side of the equation. Fortunately, OLPC's mission of getting laptops to the children in these countries has not been delayed. In Mongolia , the children are already enjoying themselves and learning new things with their XO laptops. Please see: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Ulaanbaatar.
A week went by and I finally decided to ask for a refund. I called their number, and it took twenty minutes for the person on the other end to locate my gift, perhaps because my reference number was different in three of the emails. Upon finding it, she asked if I would accept a $200 refund so that a laptop would still be provided to a child in a developing country. I explained that they failed to gain my confidence in their ability to deliver on anything and that I would rather re-direct the funds to a philanthropy in which I felt confident. She said she would pass my comments and I would receive a refund on my credit card within seven business days. Three weeks later, there’s been no credit to my account.
Why am I not surprised?
In my next post, I’ll share some lessons learned from this experience as well as general observations of incentive-based philanthropy.
Talk to you soon!
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I can't believe a month has passed since I posted to this blog. First there were the holidays, then the post-holidays. The most time-consuming thing, however, was my group's second annual get together--MajorGiving: The Conference 2008, which we held in Baltimore on January 17th and 18th. A modest "boutique" gathering of about 75 professionals, the event featured a half-day plenary session by Robert F. Hartsook titled after his book Nobody Wants to Give Money Away. The essence of his presentation was that donors want to change lives and invest in causes that have enormous impact, rather than "give" money away to unrestricted funds. Whenever I or another presenter discuss the disconnect between large-gift philanthropy and restricted projects, I feel a palpable discomfort within the audience. And yet, this is a message that all consultants and presenters bring to conferences.
I was marveling with my group after the conference about how many "superstar" author/presenters we have connected with over the years--last year it was Jerold Panas, this year Bob Hartsook, and in the past we have intersected with Kay Sprinkel Grace, Judith Nichols, and Marianne Briscoe. All of them are wonderful presenters who share important messages.
However, they all essentially say the same thing.
So why do we present them at our conferences? I think we finally realized the answer: everyone has his or her own muse. You may hear the same message a thousand times, but one day a new voice might be the catalyst for you. For me it was in the late 80s and the presenter was David Dunlop at Cornell University--one of the inventors of Moves Management ® . I also benefited from mentoring from several key people, including Dunlop.
So we keep trying to make the same message new and fresh and relevant to audiences. I don't know who will be the headline presenter next year, but I'm optimistic that he or she will be the catalyst for one of our attendees.
In the meantime...go out there and find your muse.
Talk to you soon!
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Last week, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) called on Congress to ban percentage-based fundraising. This came in the wake of recent revelations that several veterans charities fundraising costs far exceed acceptable standards and that only a pittance of their contributed revenues go to their intended beneficiaries (contained within my blog on December 13). In a December 18th press release, CEO Paulette Maehara says:
If you examine the charities that have extremely high fundraising costs, including several of the groups highlighted during the hearing, you’ll almost always find that these organizations pay their fundraising firms on a percentage basis. The one single reform proposal that would make the most difference in stopping fraud and strengthening public trust in the charitable sector would be for Congress to ban percentage-based fundraising.The release also states that AFP has developed a position paper on why percentage-based fundraising is unethical, which it summarizes in the release:
- charitable mission becomes secondary to personal gain
- donor trust can be unalterably damaged
- there is incentive for self-dealing to prevail over donors' best interests
- the very philanthropic values on which the voluntary sector is based are undermined.
A couple of years ago, during one of the periodic discussions about the topic in public broadcasting, a colleague posted on a listserv:
Regarding commissions: I think the reality of the situation is that underwriting isn't really fundraising, and hasn't been for the past 15 years. It is sales of airtime, condoned by the FCC and the IRS with favorable tax consequences, but, well, if it looks like a duck... So, the AFP code should and does apply to membership fundraising, capital campaigns, etc., but to apply it to underwriting puts our salespeople at a real disadvantage in the marketplace.I didn't agree then, and I don't agree now. One of the worst case scenarios that I have seen arise from this mindset was with a client of ours in a capital campaign. An underwriting salesperson had a solid relationship with the prominent head of a business that underwrote Nova on the public television station. The underwriting rep was asked to open the door for the station's CEO and development director to engage in a conversation about the capital campaign. The rep stonewalled and demanded a commission should the donor make a gift to the campaign. His argument was that the capital campaign gift was likely to erode the donor's underwriting support (the donor did make a gift to the campaign and the station gave the rep a "bonus").
I've shared my thoughts before on percentage-based compensation (see November 6 blog), and I have expressed my concerns over the declining credibility of nonprofits in the eyes of donors. While I'm skeptical that Congress will ever ban commissions in fundraising, I think that state charity boards can provide more oversight, and I think that it's time for the public broadcasting industry as a whole engage in a discussion over the inherent contradiction of calling advertising underwriting and then selling on-air announcements as commissionable contributions.
Talk to you soon!
Monday, December 17, 2007
Three people who touched a part of my life recently died.
My wife and I met Allan Bérubé, a MacArthur Award-winning independent scholar, in Liberty, New York when we dropped our daughter off at the legendary (and decrepit) Catskills performing arts camp, Stage Door Manor. He was running a lovely B&B with his partner, and we had decided to explore the region and the ghost towns of Borscht Belt resorts. Allan fascinated us with his stories and anecdotes, particularly those that related to his book and subsequent PBS documentary, Coming Out Under Fire, about the difficult and sometimes accommodating relationship between the U.S. military and gays in World War II, published in 1990. His obituary came as a shock to me and is well worth reading. We were in Liberty when Allan and a team of his friends were using a crane to position the recently relocated Munson Diner--a vintage chrome relic about to be demolished--from Hell's Kitchen in NYC. After several years of restoration work, the diner opened in Liberty just one month ago.
Just today I read Dan Fogelberg's obituary. Dying at the young age of 56, Fogelberg was a gentle balladeer, whose album Souvenirs seduced me away from listening almost exclusively to the Grateful Dead (this was over thirty years ago), particularly with its Zen-inspired song Part of the Plan. While most of his music has never been on my top 100 play-list, listening to him has always cheered me up and given me a sense of inner peace. I will miss him.
A couple of weeks ago I saw that the guru of subscriptions, Danny Newman, had died. To most, his life and death may be an overlooked footnote, but for anyone in performing arts management and marketing, he was a legend. His book, Subscribe Now! Building Arts Audiences Through Dynamic Subscription Promotion was a well-thumbed resource on all of our bookshelves. Very practical and simple, his book helped to fuel an explosion in performing arts subscriptions in the seventies and eighties (I once had the opportunity to attend a master class of his). Even today, his advice is followed, though box office sales techniques have evolved significantly since he began his quest. Indefatigable and bursting with enthusiasm, Danny Newman had an almost naive Horatio Alger personality. According to his wife (as quoted in his New York Times obituary), "even during his final illness he was often ready with one of his famous trademark expressions: 'We’ll get out of this mess yet.'"
Talk to you soon!
The Third Sector, "the UK’s leading publication for everyone who needs to know what’s going on in the voluntary and not-for-profit sector," reports that a new social networking web system for nonprofits will be coming on-line soon. Entitled MyCharityPage, it will provide nonprofits (and maybe donors) with the ability to create their own pages describing their activities, and, like Facebook and MySpace, users will be able to create their own blogs, share videos and photos, etc.
I've signed up for their waiting list, and though it seems to be a UK thing right now, can a US version be far behind? Naturally, there will be plenty of opportunities for retailers to glom onto some of the online action. Already named are Currys, Marks & Spencer and Body Shop. As you may know from my last entry (Point of Purchase Charity Comes Under Fire), I take a dim view of businesses co-opting charitable causes.
I'm fascinated, however, by the phenomenon of social networks as being played out in two of the most popular versions, Facebook and Linkedin, both of which I joined some time back but have only now been exponentially expanding my universe of friends and contacts. It's difficult not to be pulled into the Vegas-like distractions of Facebook. Everywhere you look there's some new action, game, "funwall" posting of a friend, contest, YouTube video with people beckoning you to join in the fun (interestingly, The Third Sector also reports on a health organization in the UK that has chastised Facebook for trivializing mental disorders by allowing a light-hearted "mental health exam" to be offered throughout their network).
Linkedin is far more austere and business-like. But there's little or no action--Facebook plays into our collective ADD with all of its neon-charged commotion, and Linkedin seems pretty boring. I'm still unsure what advantages there are to being connected on these sites(though my kids tell me that it's indispensable to them) , or how much revenue they generate, but its catching on among my friends and colleagues, who seem equally perplexed as I am why we find ourselves being invited to participate in movie trivia contests or download Vampires applications.
Talk to you soon!
Thursday, December 13, 2007
A story in today's New York Times reports that while the trend of building donations into the cost of retail items has escalated, it has led to a host of worries about the accountability of those dollars. With very little transparency and often just the word of the retailers that the funds will find their way to the nonprofits, many observers and analysts feel that the lack of regulation, along with no registration requirements by state charity boards, makes it likely that consumers will be scammed. In some cases, the charities are unaware of products carrying their logos or that money is due them from the sale of items.
I have always been uneasy about retailers co-opting the good will generated by nonprofits. For me, philanthropy is a thoughtful act--as a fundraising professional I believe that we are in the business of helping people to make intelligent decisions on where to direct their charitable dollars. As the article noted, giving at the cash register is somewhat coercive. Worst of all, I fear that this is yet another burgeoning scandal that erodes donor confidence in the management of nonprofits.
For several years, corporations have been enamored of "cause-related marketing." While I have some friends in the nonprofit community who work in this area, here too I have my misgivings and question the motives of companies when they align their public image with high profile charities. I have also found that corporate "philanthropy" (where I gained some of my earliest chops as a fundraiser at the Hartford Stage Company during the era of big giving by United Technologies, Aetna, The Hartford, and The Travelers) carries big strings for the nonprofit. At a time when only 4.3% of all philanthropic dollars come from corporations, declining by nearly 7% from the previous year (Giving USA 2006), I am convinced that nonprofits must redouble their efforts in the growth areas of fundraising--individual gifts, bequests, and foundation support.
While composing this blog, I noticed a new article in the Washington Post about a study by the American Institute of Philanthropy that reveals how eight veterans charities, including some of the nation's largest, have given less than one third of the monies they raised for veterans and the wounded. One "group passed along 1 cent for every dollar raised... Another paid its founder and his wife a combined $540,000 in compensation and benefits last year." I'm sure that we'll be reading a great deal more about scandals in nonprofit land over the next several months
Obviously, we continue to advise our clients to maintain strict policies of transparency.
Talk to you soon!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
My good friend and colleague Mark Laskowski posted an absorbing observation on his blog today about Robert D. Putnam's recent article (you SHOULD know Putnam from his important work, Bowling Alone, which revived the theory of social capital and placed it into a latter day context). The most interesting point (for me) of the blog was his report that a wide schism has grown between two different camps over the correctness--political or otherwise--of Putnam's somewhat controversial statements to the point that ethnic diversity temporarily "reduces social solidarity and social capital." Of particular interest is the fact that most of the rank and file have lined up either for or against Putman without having read his article.
Laskowski's blog points out the intellectual sluggishness of people who are all too willing to have avatars of their adopted beliefs (or shared delusional systems) mediate for them the philosophical constructs of their lives. It's far easier to listen to a pundit deride someone's writings than to engage in one's own critical inquiry.
Having just returned from an all-too-brief holiday in Spain, I found myself perplexed about how the EU is going to survive the low birthrate of its indigenous population while weathering the advancing growth of immigrants. Europe is far more grounded in historical values and grudges than the USA (where we're certainly dealing with our own debate over immigration) and each of its countries is struggling to define policy that conforms to EU multi-cultural standards while safeguarding the status quo. In my discussions with Europeans now and over the years, I have found that they are as prone as the rest of us to accept the views of their pundits than to seek their own meaning.
Mark's blog reminds me that my own writings can easily persuade and influence others. Obviously this is both desired and unavoidable. However, I hope that whatever else may come from this blog, readers will understand that my personal ethos is about independent thinking. While Dorothy Parker said "you can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think, " I'm less cynical and feel that the current tools of our trade promise more engagement and debate.
Talk to you soon!
Friday, December 07, 2007
Monday's Chronicle of Philanthropy Daily Update reported that the Financial Times posted an article discussing the fact that donors are now expecting considerably more accountability from the nonprofits they support. The article quotes Stuart Danforth, an investment consultant in Boston:
“Strategic philanthropy is broadening from the corporate realm to the personal realm. It’s about individuals being more strategic in their giving –- they’re not just giving money to a good cause, they’re trying to effect change for a reason.”
There are many reasons why this is happening—some covered by the article, others not. Largely, business professionals are accustomed to seeing tangible, measurable benefits from investments. Also, entrepreneurs want to play a greater advisory (even supervisory) role in how dollars are used strategically. Younger people, too, want to have a greater hands-on role in the nonprofits they support, and far more donors are cognizant of scandals affecting charities (see last week's MajorGiving: The Blog).
I also think that smaller nonprofits are suffering because they lack sophisticated oversight by their grass-roots boards. In my own town of Winchester, Virginia, several groups immediately come to mind—organizations that live hand-to-mouth and would crumble under wide-spread donor scrutiny. I don't claim to have immediate solutions for these small groups—but historically, they often fold and are replaced by something similar. For the groups I do work with, there are some important lessons to be learned:
Transparency—if you don't make your financials and activities truly transparent in an easily accessible way (i.e. Your website), donors might suspect you're hiding something.
Education—if what your organization does falls out of the pale of understanding of the general public (I think of the cutting edge theater whose board I sit on), then you must demonstrate in more complex ways how your programs provide an otherwise unserved need to your community. Perhaps, too, as is the case of this theater, you must work overtime to show that what you do has an impact on the region's livability and desirability as a destination.
Board Development—all too often this is ignored. It's one of the most important roles of the CEO (some say the most important). Boards are there not just to raise money but to provide invaluable expertise in fiduciary matters and to serve as community barometers. I can't tell you how many organizations I've worked with that don't have board orientations, handbooks, or clear succession plans.
These are just a few thoughts that come immediately to mind. This is a very large issue that is going to consume the time of many people like myself who worry about the future of the Nonprofit Enterprise.
Talk to you soon!
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
While visiting The Alhambra in Granada this past Friday, I was struck by the lack of any collection boxes. And I found no literature reminding people that the cost of operations far exceeds the revenue they receive from the price of admission (€10); nor were there wall plaques at this world-wonder listing its generous donors. When I joined up with my friend and frequent travel companion Marino on Saturday and shared my observation, he commented that there is plenty of philanthropy in Europe by corporations but individual giving is rather minimal. Of course, like the U.S., corporate giving is likely to decline at the culmination of mergers and consolidations which will be the ultimate outcome of the EU countries' rapid move to American-style capitalism. Ultimately, important places like The Alhambra, because of their world status, will receive the lion's share of corporate support (maybe even naming rights—The BP Alhambra, The Nestle Acropolis), while smaller NGOs might languish as their tax-based funding evaporates.
Political advertising in Spain calls for the lowering of taxes, which is understandable but also likely to impoverish NGOs. While some European countries are slowly moving towards some form of philanthropy, it's slow going. Even the Picasso Museum of Malaga—a splendid new facility in the artist's home town shows no signs of fundraising activity. Nearby, the city's 16th century cathedral bucks the local trend and requests a “contribution” in the form of admission. Marino tells me that the Church has been forced to resort to this because it no longer receives government subsidies.
Talk to you soon!
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Another scandal hit the American Red Cross. According to an article in today's New York Times, "the American Red Cross ousted its president, Mark Everson, on Tuesday after learning that he had engaged in a 'personal relationship' with a subordinate employee." For me, the juicy part was not in the salacious details (pretty cliché, though no info was provided), but that Mr. Everson was most recently Commissioner of the Internal Revenue (naturally, a Bush appointee). As much fun as this is, it's also devastating news for an organization that has ricocheted between scandals and has lost much donor trust.
I have been fascinated by the hubris demonstrated by leaders of large national philanthropies--United Way of America, Smithsonian Institution, and the American Red Cross, just to name a few where it has been customary to recruit CEOs from outside of the nonprofit community. I don't think we are doing enough within the nonprofit sector to convey to our boards that, while leadership and business management skills are essential qualities to look for in a CEO, they are subordinate to scrupulous attention to the institution's mission. Too many board members have read Good to Great without reading Jim Collins's accompanying monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors, where he draws clear distinctions between what constitute leadership qualities in the public and private sectors. He even goes so far to say that the for-profit world would benefit from recruiting non-profit professionals who have perfected their "legislative leadership."
At a time when nonprofits are facing greater skepticism and doubt, the online fundraising world has been rattled by news that one of its largest service providers, Convio, was the victim of hacking that compromised the security and gained access to the email addresses of thousands of donors to 92 nonprofits. A New York Times article points out that most of the affected charities responded sluggishly to the news, and when they did something, it was in the form of an email notification. The article quotes experts on security who feel that the nonprofits need to do much more to notify donors and alert the public to such breaches including utilizing traditional media. Of course, most nonprofits shy away from such adverse publicity despite the fact that donors care deeply about transparency.
On a personal note, my alma mater, University of Connecticut, notified me on November 6th (one day after the breach) about the issue. The Times article doesn't identify them as one of the four nonprofits that had communicated the breach to their donors by November 16th, but UCONN sent an email (interestingly enough, "powered by Convio") that included a link to their foundation website which goes into great detail about the incident and has a very good FAQ section. I'm proud of UCONN's rapid response and feel that they are doing everything they can to keep donors up to date.
What this bodes for on-line giving remains an interesting question. While I have given online in the past, I generally enjoy the tactile pleasure of writing checks for my charitable donations. I'm probably more gun-shy now about making on-line gifts and suspect that it will take more effort on the part of nonprofits (and Convio) to demonstrate to me and other donors that it's safe.
Talk to you soon!
Monday, November 26, 2007
I read a fascinating little snippet on the DNA Genetics website about astronomers finding a huge void in the universe. Apparently, the hole is a "billion light years across, which is roughly 10,000 times as large as our galaxy or 400 times the distance to Andromeda, the closest 'large' galaxy."
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill physics Professor Laura Mersini-Houghton says, “standard cosmology cannot explain such a giant cosmic hole” and goes further with the ground-breaking hypothesis that the huge void is “… the unmistakable imprint of another universe beyond the edge of our own“.
I'm a moderate fan of scifi and my favorite stories (dating back to the original Star Trek) are those that relate to parallel universes. Most of them are cheesy little fantasies of meeting alternative versions of the same characters, sometimes very savage.
This led me to wonder whether fundraising is necessary in a parallel world or whether all needs are taken care of and there's no suffering. In this parallel world will the arts and public broadcasting thrive because there are enough public dollars to go around? Or maybe money is unnecessary and never even existed.
Talk to you soon!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
At the TCG Fall Forum, Peter Gelb, CEO of the Metropolitan Opera, in the event's keynote, demonstrated the extent to which the Met is willing to innovate and cultivate new audiences. In addition to showing us gorgeous footage from recent productions, he talked about how he was hired with the purpose of kicking up a lot of dust, changing old paradigms, and building a strategy of new audience development while maintaining stability with the current audience. Largely he has been successful, and not just because he has found new efficiencies in management, but because he has made opera exciting. He has taken opera to the streets--free large-screen broadcasts in Times Square (opening night of Madame Butterfly), introduced $20 rush orchestra tickets and broadcast live performances to movie screens around the world. He's brought directors from the theater world to stage operas, and he even recruited design celeb Isaac Mizrahi to create the costumes for Orfeo ed Euridice.
What has resulted is a revitalized Met. According to Bloomberg.com,
Sales during the 2006-07 season rose 7.1 percent to 810,225, said Gelb, who succeeded Joseph Volpe in August. In all, the Met sold 83.9 percent of tickets offered for its 3,800- seat opera house at Manhattan's Lincoln Center compared with 76.8 percent last season.But, more importantly, Gelb has succeeded in ridding the Met of its stuffy image, has brought opera to the masses and, in a stroke of marketing genius designed to draw a more traditional theater crowd, ran a marketing slogan that exlaims "Great Opera is Great Theatre."
My favorite lines of his from the conference:
"The average age of our our audience five years ago was 60. The average age today is 65."
And, when describing the stilted qualities of most of the famous guest stars before his reign, "the perception was that they just came to park and bark"
Talk to you soon!
Friday, November 16, 2007
Just yesterday a discussion ensued on a public radio listserv about whether or not stations should require employees to contribute to the organization. Overwhelmingly the response was negative, though I noticed that many of the people posting said that their station encouraged employee contributions and even provided for payroll deduction.
I agree that employee giving is a good thing, but I'm a bit unsettled by the notion of making it compulsory or coercive. I have seen a lot of push back from employees of nonprofits, many of whom feel that the lower salaries they generally earn constitute some form of "involuntary" philanthropy. While I think that's a fallacious argument--after all, no one is forcing them to work there for less money--I also disagree with the classic nonprofit mindset that says "if we can demonstrate 100% employee contributions, it will speak volumes to our prospective major donors." I have never had a donor conversation where one of the key talking points was that every employee was a contributor. I don't think donors really care about this or that it's an especially compelling point to make. Sure, it's nice, but what major donors and foundations want to see is how generously the board supports the organization.
Sadly, in public broadcasting many boards evolved where the ethos of giving was never enculturated. We should be striving for full board giving first. If you have ever applied for a Kresge grant, you'll remember that they place primary emphasis on your board and want documentation showing that each member has stepped forward.
Talk to you soon!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Are we doing enough to fund innovation in the arts?
Last weekend I attended a conference in New York City held by the Theatre Communications Group (TCG), which is the nation's service organization for nonprofit professional theater. Called the TCG Fall Forum, this annual event brings together board members, artistic directors, managers and senior staff from theaters around the country. As a trustee of a fabulous professional theater, Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, I find it essential to attend these meetings, both to learn what other theaters and their trustees are doing to stimulate ticket and contributed income, and to gain inspiration from artists. Last year's Fall Forum fulfilled the latter, and we were privileged to hear from the Public Theatre's Oskar Eustis, dancer and choreographer Liz Lerman, and from Ed Waterstreet (in a beautifully interpreted sign language presentation) of Deaf West Theatre. This year was more cut and dry, as the main discussion was about how to fund innovation.
While the presentations were somewhat rudimentary, what I gained from them was an awareness of how most theaters are risk averse and nervous about aging audiences and how the traditional subscription model may no longer be the most effective marketing strategy. One manager suggested that we consider eliminating subscriptions and marketing departments altogether and sell individual tickets for $20.
CATF is a very daring theater, but we are facing the same challenges of filling seats and generating contributed income. Innovation and cutting-edge theater is risky, but I cannot imagine serving as a trustee of a theater that plays it safe. The other night we approved the budget. As a member of the finance committee, I can say that we asked the staff to make some very tough decisions to ensure that the spreadsheet balanced. I'm concerned that we aren't investing enough in artistic growth. Because we are in a capital campaign for a new performance space, we cannot project unrestricted contributions the way we would like. On the positive side, once our campaign is complete, our fundraising efforts for unrestricted gifts can be redoubled and we should be able to invest in artistic growth and innovation.
I'll have more to say soon about innovation, as I am concerned that public broadcasting is not investing enough in this area.
Talk to you soon!
Friday, November 09, 2007
There's an amusing story in the Sydney Morning Herald about how cover bands are necessary but much reviled in the music scene. Artists performing original works are extended a much higher status than those who play tried and true favorites. The punchline of the article is that symphony orchestras and opera companies are just that--cover bands. And, in Australia at least, they consume a disproportionate amount of state arts funding. According to the author, it's a rare new work that ever gets produced, as classical music audiences seem to prefer the safe and the familiar.
In the U.S., where federal spending of $124 million (down from a high of $175 million in 1992) represents less than 1% of total arts philanthropy, the National Endowment for the Arts distributes most of its money to safe choices, largely due to the backlash against their funding more controversial work in the 1980s.
Traveling this fall, when I have come across public radio stations offering classical music, it's usually been from the canon of our favorite seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century dead white composers, with a rare twentieth century piece (Copland, Bartok, Mahler, Gershwin), and an occasional piece by a living composer (Philip Glass). For many of those stations, it's cheaper and more efficient to carry American Public Media's excellent syndicated service Classical 24, which offers a good mix of classical music that mainly plays it safe.
In the U.S. we are rarely exposed to the leading edge of orchestral music (after all, symphony orchestras around the country are "swimming in debt and hemorrhaging audiences," to paraphrase an article in Crosscut Seattle), but I find that public radio pledge drives are the least convincing when they talk about classical music. Maybe livening up the format and playing more than "cover bands" won't bring in larger fundraising revenues, but it might validate the fact that the small amount of federal funding public radio receives is for "community service." And I believe that communities are better served through greater artistic risk.
Talk to you soon!
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
I'm in Honolulu visiting our client Hawaii Public Radio. It's a whirlwind trip--Sunday-Tuesday, and an all-day journey back on Wednesday. At best I had part of a rainy day to see a little bit of the place (my first visit to the state). The balance of the time is all work.
More rain! I'm touched by the concern everyone here has for me. People take it personally that it has been raining since I arrived. I have assured them that I'm fine with it. After all, as a major giving consultant, I'm something of a rainmaker.
Last night I spoke to the Hawaii Public Radio board about capital campaigns. Interestingly, as my brother Rick said in his comment on my last post, it's not unusual for board members to raise the question of percentage-based compensation. This was the case last night. After explaining the AFP line to the group, I also asked, "how would you feel about HPR if your gift of $100,000 was 'discounted' thirty or forty percent and your gift ended up being $60,000? What would that say to you the donor? What would that say to HPR's donor constituency?" There was a brief pause, and another board member said, "I never thought about it that way, but it makes perfect sense."
HPR, is a well-managed organization that strives for transparency. Donors today have increasing resources available to them (like Guidestar and Charity Navigator) to investigate the charities they support. Any nonprofit seeking major gifts or foundation funding needs to understand that donors are more savvy than ever in assessing an institution's efficiency and performance, and a big red flag is an excessively high percentage of the budget dedicated to fundraising expenses.
Talk to you soon!
Friday, November 02, 2007
"The changes, which include the addition of seven new standards and the alteration of one standard, now allows for-profit businesses to join AFP as members and actively promote ethical and efficient fundraising."
This announcement from AFP is most welcome. As a long-time CFRE, I have annually signed a statement that affirms my commitment to the AFP Code of Ethics. It's great to see that they are now placing pressure on businesses serving the nonprofit sector.
I am especially happy with the following amendment to the standard regarding percentage-based compensation:
"Standard 21 now reads (new language in italics): Members shall not accept compensation or enter into a contract that is based on a percentage of contributions; nor shall members accept finder’s fees or contingent fees. Business members must refrain from receiving compensation from third parties derived from products or services for a client without disclosing that third-party compensation to the client (for example, volume rebates from vendors to business members)."
I have a great deal more to say about the matter of commissions and percentage-based compensation as it especially relates to public broadcasting, but I'll save it for another post.
Talk to you soon!
This is a new mode of communication for me. For many years I and members of my consulting group, MajorGiving.com, have posted articles in the "free resources" section of our website and shared our ideas about fundraising and nonprofit management through our listserv MGTalk.
This blog presents an opportunity for me to share my thoughts in a less formal way. I plan to discuss my views of the nonprofit and fundraising worlds, but also a myriad of other topics based on what I read and observe, and on my experiences.
If you find yourself reading this blog, I encourage you to add your comments and let me know what you think.
Talk to you soon!