Are you a big duck or a small talker?

In the course of doing some business yesterday, I stopped for a quick lunch. While I wasn’t intentionally trying to ease drop on the table next to me I heard one person say to the other, “…but we’re not a big company…” They all then proceeded to piss and moan about the symptoms of lack of process, lack of structure, wishy-washy management, etc.

I’m as agile and unstructured as the next guy/gal. On the other hand even I understand that there is a difference between the burdens of bureaucracy and adding value by working smart via appropriate process/structure. If a problem keeps bleeding, the answer is not to make excuses and let it keep bleeding. The answer is not to apply yet another temporary band-aid. The simple answer is to fix the problem. Yes, quite often that entails doing things you don’t normally like to do. But that’s why they call it work.

It’s easy to tell when something needs to be addressed or not. When the amount of time lost—note: time spent complaining is included here—exceeds the amount of time it would take to solve the problem, then you know you have a problem that needs to be solved sooner rather than later.

Naturally, you should also be willing to revisit that solution when necessary. In other words, yesterday’s best answer might not be the optimal answer for tomorrow. “That’s how we’ve always done things,” is not an acceptable answer.

The bottom line…

If you want to be a duck, then walk like one and talk like one.

The transformation follows the act(s), not the other way around.

In other words, successful small companies don’t become larger companies and then add the necessary bells & whistles. It’s actually quite the opposite. Successful small companies embrace the necessary bells & whistles as the means to becoming better (bigger) companies. Of course the bells & whistles are going to be a function of an organization’s culture, the personnel involved, etc. One size does not fit all all the time.

When the push is the process the mountain moves closer

“Special Report: e-Commerce Payment Processing & CRM” by Mira Allen and Laura Quinn (NonProfit Times, 1 April 2010). It’s not easy being a 501(c)3. With so much focus on the mission the necessary level empathy for those on the outside looking in can be difficult to muster. This is especially true when it comes to fund raising. Rarely will the guest (outside) be as committed as those fulfilling the mission (inside). Guests have their own mission(s) as well. Work, wife, kids, etc.

In short, successful donor engagement is no longer a once a year push, but an ongoing process. Resources are of course tight so management must embed the push in the day to day process, which in turn needs to align closer to the day the day lives of the target audience(s).

Mira and Laura (from www.IdealWare.org in Maine), cover many of the highlights in how to best to eat the donation elephant.

“As for any campaign, it’s important to formulate a plan before rushing out to ask for money. Start by developing a compelling message to inspire people to donate. Tell supporters a story — not just about why it’s important to support your organization, but specifically what the donations will support. Maybe the goal is a scholarship fund to help more people take advantage of your programs or a new piece of equipment. When possible, put names or faces to the people the campaign will help, or paint a vivid picture of what the hoped-for results will look like.”

Actually, for best results the story should be ongoing. It’s something that should reflect the mission and be constantly reinforced with every “blurb” that your org puts into circulation. Marketing in the 21st century is about a two-way conversation and not just traditional one-way messaging. It’ s a walk the talk world so be prepared to show them what you got. And then keep showing them! Additionally, it’s getting to be more difficult to meet fund raising goals when the marketing machine only gets ramped up once or twice a year. How do you think it makes your donors feel when you only come looking for them when you want money? While that might not be entirely true, if that’s their perception then consider it written in stone.

Whatever your medium, make sure you create compelling hooks to encourage people to donate. A simple “Help support our organization” might not get the same response as a “Help add 100 books to the library by midnight!” Almost any online message — whether ad, email, or status update — should be crafted to grab attention. Entice your constituents with intriguing and motivating calls to action.

At the risk of sounding like a broken mp3, do realize that the hook is for the donors, not for you. It’s not what those on the inside should find engaging and only have time for. What’s most important is what do those on the outside of the .org hear and/or expect to hear. How many times have we all seen an advertisement – not just from a nonprofit – that is about what the sender wants to say, and not about what the receiver is expecting to hear as well as how they are wanting to hear it. A product/service benefit isn’t a benefit unless the receiver thinks it is.  For example, the sender say,”Been around for 50 years…” While the receiver thinks, “Big deal! What are you going to do for me today?” That’s not to say tradition and established aren’t important to some, but hey are certainly further a way from the benefit target than “saves you time” or “saves you money”.

Btw, as a rule any “sales pitch” should avoid “cute” and don’t over think “creative”. If it’s not reinforcing the idea(s) then it’s probably a distraction. Nine of out of ten time KISS is will get the job done. Do you have the time to wrestle with unraveling a “cute” message? Don’t be that sender.

It’s more difficult to tell how many people are responding to your social networking appeals, but you can look for spikes in donations when you post something to Twitter or Facebook. It’s also possible to collect donations inside Facebook (using the Causes application), making it very clear how much is coming from Facebook users.

Actually, and this goes for you for profits as well, there’s a tool from Google called URL Builder that is an extension of their free website Analytics offering.  In short, you can add parameters to each of the links you post and Analytics will be able to better track that incoming traffic for you. And not to worry, the URLs generated with URL Builder still work with URL shortening services like TinyURL, Bit.ly, etc. Yes, URL Builder adds 120 seconds extra step but it’s time well invested if your .org want to analyze and understand what worked and what did not.

Understanding a non-profit and loss statement

“Helping Hands” by Jessica Tsai (CRM Magazine, February 2010). It’s not easy being a 501(c)3, aka non-profit. By their very nature the measuring stick that the rest of the world use to define success has been removed. Therefore, the challenge is to define what cause’s  success will look like and communicating that to the public/target. Easier said than done, eh?

On the other hand there are a fair number of best practices, free tools and other reasonably priced resources that readily available yet too often ignored. So maybe the issue isn’t so much profit vs. non, but must adapt vs. adapting isn’t so important when all that’s needed is another grant and some more volunteers?

But does it have to be that way? From the outside (i.e., guests) looking in (at the brand) is there really a difference in perception and expectations? In  saying, “But we’re different…” are non-profits actually doing themselves a disservice? Does the fear of competing create an organizational environment that is unable to compete?

Common sense-anomics

“On My Mind: Measuring Good-Cause Effects” by Raymond Fisman (Forbes, 10 December 2009). As the holidays get closer and resolutions are being made for 2010, doing well by doing good is probably on quite a few to-do lists. If that sounds like you, then give Mr. Fisman a few minutes of your time, please.

Now before you jump to conclusions, there is one bit (in the third from last paragraph) that is not fully explored but seems rather intriguing:

Interestingly, in the months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, there was a big boost in sales probability and price from Giving Works for all Ebay sellers, young and old. So, when a national spotlight shines on particular causes, it may be possible to do well by doing good.

Possible conclusion? Be specific, and possibly current, about the cause you’re supporting. Just saying, “we do good” and “a percentage of sales goes to charity” might not be enough. Makes sense since most people would want to know exactly where their money is going. Don’t you prefer clarity and transparency over vague and mysterious?

If your message falls on deaf ears/eyes, does it still make a sound?

“Prospect Research” by Waddy Thompson (The NonProfit Times, 15 September 2009). Please note: The link to Mr. Thompson’s article will actually take you to his web site, not NPT.com. NPT, being an old media outfit (?), did not have the article posted on their web site. They also did not respond to an inquiry as to whether it was going to be added any time soon. And old media wonders why they’re losing readership. I don’t get it. Actually, they don’t get it. Oops, I digress.

Waddy does a super job here in laying out a framework for segmenting your mailing list and why that matters. What’s beautiful is that this mindset works for all types of businesses, not just 501(c)(3)s. With tools such as Salesforce.com or Zoho’s CRM offering (http://crm.zoho.com/crm/) the possibilities are powerful, inexpensive and nearly endless.

Here is another article of interest (that has been sitting in the to-be-posted pile, so please excuse the delay, the information is still spot on): “Email Segmentation for Higher ROI” by Peter Prestipino (Website Magazine, February 2009).

Don’t forget, targeting your message is not only good for you but it’s even more good (note: the word play was intentional) for your guests. They, just like you, have limited time and attention. The better you stay on *their* message, the more likely they are to keep you in their conversation. It’s not so much about what you want to say, but about what they want to hear. Right? Right!

Getting (NPO) guests to buy the passion

“Hello? Arkansas? Yeah, It’s Facebook” by Mark Hrywna (The NonProfit Times, 15 June 2009). Great and inspiring article but for the moment try not to be distracted by the social network hype. Using social networks is a tool, not a panacea. It still takes time and resources to use that tool . What’s nice is that when the work is done well then the fruits of that labor can scale rather well (i.e., the pool of guests / donors is large).  It should be noted that Arkansas Children’s Hospital Foundation (ACHF) “recently hired someone to take over direct marketing efforts and social networking.” In other words, to reap the fruits an investment must be made, managed, maximized, etc.

In addition, Ben Tanzer, senior director of strategic communication at Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA), makes an essential point when he says:

The goal is to create as many platforms and portals as possible, providing people with different opportunities that the organization eventually will cross-link, and as Tanzer describes it, cross-pollinate. PCAA is focused less on fundraising and more on “helping to refine the message so when people learn about the organization they get what we do,” he said.

Being available is half the battle. It is still important for the brand to clarify their message, a message that needs to resonate with their perspective guests. The NPO has to figure out what it is that their guests are willing to buy. Simply asking for money is probably not going to be enough.

Finally, with success stories such as this one the clutter factor is going to come into play fairly quick. Soc-nets are where the guests are so they are certainly not a channel to be ignored. On the other hand, that channels’ ability to deliver “get rich quick” results will in all likelihood diminish as the level of noise and competition increases.

As we at AU like to say, “The internet… You can figure it out now. Or you can figure it out later. But you will have to figure it out.” No pain, no gain, eh?

Talking tough is cheap. Get going!

“How to stay up in a down economy” by Julia King (Computer World Magazine, 25 May / 1 June 2009). Whether you’re unemployed, under-employed, or even over-employed, Ms. King has some pearls to share. One of the best is:

Don’t watch CNN. It just induces hysteria.
– Paul Glen
(ComputerWorld Columnist)

There is one suggestion we’d like to add, as well as one comment to supplement the article’s list.

Suggestion: Start a blog that speaks to your desired profession. One, it will give you an outlet. Two, it will keep you involved and engaged as well as serve as a real live diary that you didn’t waste your downtime watching Oprah. Three, anyone can fake a resume but over a series of weeks that’s not possible to fake a blog.

Supplement to Ms. King’s point 4: Contact a local non-profit(s) and offer them your pro bono talent. This is good for you (for all the reasons lists for a blog), as well as good for your community. NPOs can also be a good opportunity to develop new skills to break into a new field.

Can you tweet me now?

“Social Butterflies Can Raise Money” by Michele Donohue (The NonProfit Times, 1 April 2009).  It’s difficult to go a day without someone asking, “What about Twitter?” or “How can I use Facebook?”. True success stories do seem to be somewhat limited at this point in time. However, all hype aside, when an 800 pound guerrilla – make that two 800 pound guerrillas – walks into your room and beats their chests it’s probably wise  to sit up and listen.

Most Twitter articles tend to focus on how you could / should use Twitter. Yet more often that not the blank stare is followed by, “But what do I have to say that that’s important?” While not mentioned directly, this article highlights another strategy for using this tool… Get others to Twitter about your company, event, etc. to their network. It’s possible you might be asking the wrong question. It’s not a matter of what you have to say, but how can you get others to say (good) things about you. Let them define the what, while you focus on supplying whats to Twitter about. It might not be necessary to build your own network as much as try to capitalize on ones that are already there and are sympathetic to your cause / brand.

While we’re on the subject of non-profits, this issue of NPT also had: “Spending more in a down economy” by Tom Pope, as well as “Destroying The Integrity Of Nonprofits” by Richard A. Viguerie. Unfortunately, Mr. Viguerie’s cutting-against-the-grain insights are not yet available online.

Time for a tune-up

“New Leader Overhauls Ford Foundation” by Stephanie Strom (New York Times, 13 April 2009).  The Ford Foundation is $11 billion strong and actually the second-largest foundation in the country after the Gates Foundation. On one hand this is pseudo feel-good story. On the other it’s another lesson in the need for ongoing analysis, evolution, and marketing. Stand still and the guy / gal / company / foundation behind you will run you down. Ford would know.

Once is enough?

Study Shows First-Time Online Donors Often Do Not Return By Stephanie Storm (New York Times, Wed 18 March 2009)

Whether you’re an NPO or not this is must-read. The article is just a few paragraphs but if you’re extremely pressed for time the best insights come closer to the end:

“Direct mail may not be a Maserati, but it’s very effective because it is very highly evolved,” said Lori Held, membership marketing director at Trout Unlimited. “We know how to ask for money using the mail, but most organizations are still trying to figure out how to do that online.”

Nonprofit groups face a number of challenges in trying to reach donors electronically, Ms. Held and others said.

For one thing, they must have a team dedicated to fine-tuning and improving their Web site and another team for e-mail marketing, both of which are added expenses. Nonprofit solicitation materials often get caught in systems that trap spam and other unwanted e-mail. Other systems eliminate the compelling images that are so effective in direct mail.

Still, the demographics of online donors are enticing for charities. The study found that of the donors who made at least one online gift in 2008, roughly a third had incomes greater than $100,000, while about one-quarter of those giving in other ways fell into that category.

“I think what we’re learning is that we need to be less worried about what channels these donors use and offer them a variety of channels through which they can give,” said Mr. Smith of CARE.”

Four things:

1) Conclusion: Most people are pragmatic in their charitable giving. This study is strictly from the NPO’s perspective. However, the real gems would be to understand the donors’ decision making process.  It might just be that your average Joe / Jane likes to “distribute the wealth”. Like it or not, if these are the rules then NPOs need to learn to play by them.

2) It would be helpful to know what unique identifier(s) were used to track each donor. Obviously there might be a big difference in the results between using individuals (e.g., Mr & Mrs Smith) or the Smith household. Also, did the study include or exclude anonymous donations? That could in turn effect the percentages calculated.

3) Evidently the Obama campaign actually did quite well in inspiring donors to give smaller amounts repeated times. What was their secret? Maybe that is their secret?

4) It’s nice to know that an AU state of mind just got a bit less lonely.