This post was written by Marc Chardon and Hal Williams. It was orginally featured on The Huffington Post, May 18, 2012.
The storm, for nonprofit organizations, is fully brewed. The demand for services is up; contributions have barely regained their pre-recession levels; government funding is way off; and expenses are rising. We are tempted to call this a perfect storm.
This turmoil, however, is actually imperfect. Although it's tempting to blame the economic downturn for all that ails nonprofits and charitable giving, the reality is that the current uncertainty is the new normal.
There are five key shifts affecting the environment for nonprofits that have co-mingled with the economy to create the potential for continued rough times if organizations don't change:
Donors are dramatically changing what they want from philanthropy. The fundraising appeals that used to bring in record donations no longer work, even in a stronger economy. Smart nonprofits want the check writer, not just the check.
Contributors increasingly shift from funding programs to investing in results. They are less interested in how many are served, than in how many are improved. Soon, information on nonprofit effectiveness will trump information on efficiency and even sustainability.
Many donors have moved from a desire to support multiple groups working on a single issue to investing more in the specific organization that produces the strongest result. Blending in for nonprofits is now less useful than standing out.
Donors want to see data, not just hear a few stories. Donors want to see data showing impact beyond the few stories that can be told. They will use the same business sense that they used to make their money in deciding how to give it away.
Execution of programs no longer defines the results. The shift is from the program to the participants and how these individuals make progress toward improving their lives and conditions. A great predictor of success lays in the extent to which a person engages in his or her own achievement.
Nonprofits cannot ride out this storm. They have to find a way to succeed within it. Put differently, we are not interested in how groups manage in tough times. Too often, that is about staying afloat. We are focused, instead, on how these groups thrive in a new reality, which is defined as both having a destination and reaching it.
So we begin the conversation, and we hope you'll join in. In the posts that follow, we'll dive deeper into our take on how to navigate the imperfect storm, organizing our thoughts as a response to the five shifts noted above. In all cases, our responses share one premise: that loosening up is better than hunkering down.
Hal Williams is the former CEO of The Rensselaerville Institute and currently an Outcome Guide who has helped foundations and nonprofits both large and small use an outcome-based approach.
Unless you've been on a long term digital detox, you have likely noticed it's an election year. Although we are more than 6 months away from the general election, many campaigns are in full swing. Below are a few tips for your electoral organizing efforts.
1. Get some counseling. While you made need some therapy after the elections, you’ll definitely want legal counsel before you start. First, last and many times in between, check with your legal counsel about what is and is not permissible for your organization when it comes to the elections. There are also a lot of great resources to get you started from the Bolder Advocacy Initiative of the Alliance for Justice. Check out their resources to help you navigate the rules of electoral activity here.
2. Consider your impact. Yes, 2012 is a presidential election year. And yes, the media will be blanketed in coverage of the race. But there will also be initiatives, referendums, school boards members, state legislators, and more on the ballot. These will also have lasting impact and receive state and local media and blog coverage. Consider where and how your organization might have an impact or be a key player.
3. Make it mobile and social. Do you have a resource that might help your constituents on election day? Whether it is a polling site locator, candidate guide or any other type of resource that is good to reference on election day, do your best to make it mobile friendly. People will be waiting in line at the polls, checking facebook or twitter on the bus or train and you want your information to be quick and easy to read.
4. Make the most of your resources. Making a voter guide? Send it in the mail, highlight it multiple times in e-mail (if you have capacity, customize your content based on districts), add it to your volunteer orientation kit, tweet a tidbit and link to the full guide, bring it to your major donor meetings, have it with you when you table, schedule time for volunteers to hand it out at a public event.
5. Check the mail. Vote by mail is required in WA and OR. Be sure to adjust your communication calendar in these states to reflect the ballot in hands date and deadline for return. In addition, many states offer the option to vote absentee with no excuse and mail in options continue to grow, especially in CA, CO and HI. Keep these folks in mind while drafting your GOTV plans as well.
There have been a number of posts recently about the power and importance of donor thank you letters. Some have come from my incredible colleagues here on the Connection Cafe, especially Rachel Muir's "7 Ways to Say Thanks" and Cheryl Black's "Girl Scout Cookies" posts, and I have to mention yet another great article by the Agitator team reminding imploring people to test, test, test even when it comes to the thank you, but when I received this thank you update email from Charity Water, I couldn't stop thinking about it.
While I received an email thanking me at that time, their purpose was a simple update on a gift I made about 6 months prior to their Water Forward campaign. In case you're wondering, Charity Water "invested (my) money with local partners, Relief Society of Tigray (REST) and Action Against Hunger (ACF) in Ethiopia and Pump Aid in Malawi, to build and rehabilitate freshwater wells and spring protections for people in need." To top it off, they let me know that once the projects are complete, they'll send a project report similar to this one informing me on the final outcome.
Color me impressed.
It reminded me of an experience I had when I was a high-schooler raising money for a community service trip to Ecuador with Amigos de las Americas. I was responsible for raising the vast majority of the total cost of the projects, so I took to letter writing, car washing, lawn mowing, baby sitting, just about whatever I could (legally) do to raise money as a 15-16 year old kid. When it was all said and done, I had a ton of thank you letters to write. I took to the seemingly overwhelming task, and if I remember correctly, finished just before the trip started.
Once home, my parents suggested that I write yet another thank you letter to update the supporters about all the latrines that were built, the toothbrushes that were distributed and all of the other accomplishments that their donation made possible. I responded as any typical teenager would by saying I didn't have enough time and did everything I could to avoid it. After a few weeks (months?) passed, my mom responded by giving me the most memorable birthday gift of my life: a box of monogrammed stationary. It made the point and I turned around those thank you letters as quickly as possible.
So I'd be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to thank Charity Water for doing such a great job with their donor stewardship program and showing all of us how it's done. Rather than a box of monogrammed stationery, another donation is likely to materialize in their future.
The sixth annual Convio Online Marketing Benchmark Index Study is now officially released. At a macro-level, we continue to see online engagement growing at a healthy rate. In fact, over the past five or six years, online fundraising has grown at a similar rate to retail e-commerce, good news for nonprofits.
I’m particularly encouraged by a new metric we added this year: growth in monthly giving. As monthly giving typically increases a donor’s lifetime value, this positive trend is very good news for the nonprofit sector and the causes being served.
For a summary of trends seen in the benchmark, watch my video here. For all the trends, including information by vertical, download the full Online Marketing Benchmark.
Another great success story! CHOICES - the Center Helping Obesity in Children End Successfully - is a grassroots organization whose mission is to fight against the deadly epidemic of childhood obesity. By promoting weight management and lifestyle changes through nutrition education, peer socialization, physical activity and community involvement, CHOICES hopes to significantly reduce the presence of childhood obesity in their communities.
When CHOICES found themselves struggling over excel spreadsheets, custom databases and playing hide-n-seek with constituent data, they decided they needed a better solution to the chaos - a solution that would help them focus on what really mattered to them - their mission. They searched for a system that could 1) consolidate all of their data into one, easy place, and 2) a system that was user friendly and wouldn't require extensive training for employees. That's when CHOICES turned to Convio Common Ground.
Here are just some of the results that CHOICES has experienced after implementing Common Ground:
"We see a difference in our fundraising numbers on a weekly basis, in comparison to previous campaigns before Common Ground. Every week there's someone donating and that never happened before. Thanks to Common Ground, our mission is getting out."
- Sedessia Spivey, Business Consultant
Read more about what CHOICES is doing and experiencing with Common Ground here.
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