Tag Archives: charity

Identifying Donor Prospects

The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

Step #4: Identifying your Donor Prospects

One of the most critical steps in achieving improved development and fundraising for your organization is also one of the most energizing—putting down on paper for the first time a list of actual names that represent potential donors. And truth be told, there are as many ways to identify potential donors as there are donors themselves. While there are a handful of consistent characteristics found in each prospecting model, what is most important is whatever process you choose to identify potential donors, embrace it, use it, work it, and measure the results.

I have found that no matter the fundraising effort, capital campaign, or major gift effort, there are three fail-safe questions to ask to determine if the potential donor is truly a “prospect” rather than a “suspect”:

1.   Does the name in question have the financial ability to donate?

2.   Does the name in question have the willingness to participate?

3.   Is there someone on staff, or do we know someone, who can initiate?

There are situations where a certain person may be a HUGE fan of your organization and the work you do—but they are not in a financial position to donate at the level you may be seeking. Or, on the other hand, the person may have HUGE financial resources but has either shown very little interest in your organization in the past, or perhaps has never been exposed to the great work you do. In both instances, and while this is no reason to exclude them from your target list, it means the solicitation/donation process will be harder and take more time.

Once you have formulated your potential donor list based on the preliminary qualifications of one, they do the financial ability to donate, and two, they do have the willingness to participate (meaning the person seems to have a pre-disposition and affinity for your organization or cause), the third and final filter questions is this, “Is there someone on staff, or do we know someone, who can initiate an introduction to this person, or better yet, help initiate a presentation meeting with the potential donor? Is there a supporter of your organization (Board member/Advisory Board member/existing high-level donor/corporate sponsor) that would be willing to provide an “I know this organization and you will want to know them, too” introduction on your behalf?

With myriad organizations doing splendid work, and an endless array of opportunities for donors to contribute and make a positive difference, what becomes the game-changer in prompting a high net-worth individual or a philanthropically-minded family to choose to investigate and explore your organization? Time and time again that game-changer is the potential donor is familiar with, does business with, or admires the person who makes the call or sends the e-mail on behalf of your organization.

As you further refine your list of potential donors, remember Step #3 (Information is Currency), and begin to search out as much information as you can about those names that have risen to the top of your list. What charitable organizations have they supported in the past? What are the nonprofit boards they currently serve on, or have served on in the past? When they support an organization, is it in name and contribution only, or do they become actively engaged in furthering the mission of that organization?

Finally, if you are the person in your organization who leads the development effort, or you are a member of the fundraising team, remember that you have no greater ally than your active, researched and confidential list of potential donors. As charitable giving is most oftentimes a very deep and personal process and experience for the donor, you must also view the very formulation of your prospect list as not only essential and invaluable, but it must be handled with sensitivity and discretion.

While there obviously comes the moment when the time for preparation is over and the time for action and results begins, the focus, energy and care spent in formulating your list of potential donors will undoubtedly yield positive fundraising results—now and in the future.

Next Installment: Step #5: Get Inside the Door!

This is the fourth part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling

2 Comments

Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Excellence in Giving

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to listen to a wonderful speech that was given by Thomas Tierney, chairman and cofounder of Bridgespan, at the 2009 Philanthropy Roundtable Annual Meeting.  For those who have not had the opportunity to listen to it, the speech can now be found on the Philanthropy Roundtable’s website. It was a refreshing oration which I believe every donor (and nonprofit leader) would benefit from listening to. One of the focuses of the speech was to identify several brutal facts facing donors who are seeking to achieve greater impact through their contributions. Since this year, more than any other in recent memory, donors are interested in seeing their seeing their contributions stretched a little further to help more people, recognizing these facts is essential if you want to optimize the impact your philanthropy is having.  

The first brutal fact that Tierney identifies is that donors are only as good as the organizations they give to. This becomes particularly tricky when a donor considers the sheer number of nonprofits that are out there – more than a million at the latest count.

The second fact is that excellence in giving is self-imposed. It is very easy for a donor interested in average returns to stroke a check to the organization of his choice and continue on his or her merry way.  However, donors who want to see more children helped with their donation must raise the bar in their giving.  It was easy to appreciate his view that, unlike the for-profit sector, there are no predators in the nonprofit world.  In other words, if a charity underperforms, there is no larger charity that will come and absorb it. Underperformers, although often quite well-intentioned, abound in this sector.  It is left up to the donor to determine what nonprofits meet their high expectations.

The third fact that donors must face is that there are obstacles and handicaps that appear in the nonprofit sector, which are not present in the for-profit world that most donors are familiar with.  There are no capital markets for nonprofits, nor any sort of pipeline for identifying and promoting talent. Effective nonprofits must be repeatedly asking themselves the difficult questions about how they define success and how they are going to achieve that vision if they want to have the kind of impact that discerning donors are looking for.

Compound those brutal facts by this week’s press release issued by a collaborative of nonprofit watchdogs, including GuideStar and Charity Navigator, which essentially encouraged donors not to rely on overhead and fundraising ratios as a measurement of effectiveness in their favorite nonprofits: tools that have been historically used to determine a nonprofit’s efficiency.

I completely agree with what the press release had to say.  Overhead ratios do not relate to the impact that a nonprofit is having on its target population.  Not to mention these ratios encourage nonprofits to sacrifice investing in resources and talent that would increase their effectiveness but would negatively affect their ratio. On top of it all, I have never seen two nonprofits interpret the rules for determining overhead costs in the same way.

So what does that leave donors? Since excellence is self-imposed, how can donors interested in achieving more than average returns on their donation navigate the obstacles presented by the nonprofit world and find the partners that deliver the results the donor is looking for? It can be terribly overwhelming. The good news is…there is help. 

Our role at Operation Kids is to provide the research and resources necessary so that our clients can make informed giving decisions and achieve the impact they are hoping for – without taking any fees. We do this because we firmly believe that more donors giving to more effective charities results in more lives changed. If you are interested in raising the bar in your charitable giving this holiday season (or any time), contact us and see if we can help you.

 -Christopher Lindsay

2 Comments

Filed under Initiative: Charitable Giving & Accountability

Information is Currency

Anyone familiar with Commissioner David Stern of the NBA knows that the term “information is currency” is a very important mantra of his. It is his belief that information about every aspect of your organization, information about other organizations with which you compete, information about what programs, initiatives or projects are working—or not working—all of this information is the same as currency. And the more information that you have and hold, the richer you are!

In other words, the more key facts and data you are able to assemble regarding all aspects of your own organization and processes, your competition, and prevailing market conditions, the smarter you are and the better your organization’s planning and decision-making will be.

Well known management consultant Peter Drucker said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” One of the driving forces behind successful companies is the notion that the relentless search for data and information—and the encouragement within an organization to take whatever time is needed to ask the right questions—is as important, if not more important, than the answers that follow.

As a nonprofit fundraiser, where the competition for charitable dollars is fierce and where there are always more requests than there are gifts, it is even more critical that members of a nonprofit development team be prepared and armed with as much key information and data as possible in advance of approaching and meeting with a potential donor.

If I am in the process of approaching a potential donor with a gift proposal, either to my own organization or to an organization I am representing, and in advance of a meeting with that potential donor, pieces of information that may be of benefit to me might include:

  • Is this person known for his/her philanthropic giving? Does (s)he have a history of giving?
  • What types of causes or organizations have they supported in the past? Is there a trend or pattern to the type of causes they have supported?
  • In regard to their past giving, is there information about how much they have given? How much in total, and how much in individual gifts?
  • Is his/her spouse or family involved in the charitable giving? Is multi-generational philanthropic giving important to the family?
  • Is the donor apt to participate and provide support beyond the actual donation? Does (s)he often sit on boards, or does the donor participate in on-the-ground volunteer efforts?
  • Does the person tend to seek recognition for the support (s)he provides, or does the donor eschew publicity surrounding his/her gifts?
  • Does it appear the donor’s gift had the intended impact and results? Was the charitable endeavor a success?
  • Has the donor ever been involved in a charitable gift or initiative that was not deemed successful? And why?
  • Does the mission or purpose of your organization present any present any philosophical or political obstacles that would stand in the way of the potential donor giving?

While the process of identifying a potential donor, making the actual donation proposal, and receiving the formal commitment of a gift may often take many twists and turns, the road is far more manageable with solid information and preparation. It is far better to be over-prepared and not have to use the information you have gathered than to be under-prepared and find yourself in an awkward or uncomfortable situation where you are thinking to yourself, “I should have know that information before I walked in the door!”

Information is indeed currency, no matter the task or the assignment, and the more we have accumulated, the more successful we will be.

Next Installment: Step #4: Identify your prospects

This is the third part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling

2 Comments

Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

I give to charity, but I am not a philanthropist….or am I?

Several Thanksgivings ago, my wife and I found ourselves at Arlington National Cemetery.  As we stood conversing near Robert E. Lee’s old mansion, admiring the view of the Potomac below, we were approached by a woman.  She wished us a happy holiday and then went on to tell how she had traveled to DC the day before so that she could attend the funeral of a son who had been killed in action in Iraq and buried at Arlington.  I was surprised by the sudden appearance of the woman and by the recounting of her grief.  Not quite sure what to say, I expressed some generic statement of sympathy and we quietly parted ways.

Fast forward a few years and I find myself this Thanksgiving eagerly waiting for the return of a family member who is serving in Afghanistan. It has been an incredible year for our family as we have watched this young man transition to military life and depart on his first tour of duty. While his time with us on leave will be short, our Thanksgiving together this year will be particularly meaningful. But with his homecoming, I am reminded of that experience at Arlington. Looking back, there was definitely more that could and should have been said. I am not one to live in the past; I simply wish that I had understood the woman’s loss with the same clarity that I do now. If I had, I would have done more to share my sincerest gratitude for her son’s service and my heart-felt grief at his sacrifice.

It is amazing how age and life experience can deepen our understanding of the value of people and blessings in our lives. And it has been my experience that with that self-reflective discernment comes an enhanced capacity to take action.  There is certainly reason enough this year for us to be particularly grateful for blessings that we might have taken, more or less, for granted in years past.  You don’t have to look far to find many that have lost jobs, lost homes and lost hope. Unfortunately, at the same time, the nonprofit sector finds itself in an interesting predicament.  While the needs of many have grown, corporations and foundations have had to cut back their funding to accommodate their own financial losses.

This year, more than ever, we need philanthropists – individuals who value clarity, effectiveness, and significance in their giving.  And philanthropy is not something reserved for only those of high net worth.  It is the distinction granted to individuals who are grateful for their material capacities, who personally identify with the needs of people and causes that parallel their own experience, and who wholeheartedly pursue their self-perceived charitable duty. So this year, as charitable opportunities abound, take a moment to reflect on what inspires your giving and volunteering. In doing so, not only will you have a much more rewarding experience, but you will also ameliorate the circumstances of those around you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who Are You? What Can You Do?

Who is your favorite charity? What do they provide?

With over 1 million registered nonprofits in the United States and more than 30,000 primarily focused on children’s needs and issues, it is critical that nonprofit organizations are able to clearly and succinctly define who they are and what they do, as well as articulate the services they provide.

But as a nonprofit organization, can you define who you are and what you do? From a fundraising and development perspective you should be able to clearly outline those benefits you offer donors for associating with your organization. Sometimes this is defined as a brand platform, but it can also be as simple as answering the question, “What do we want the public and our target constituents to immediately think of when they hear our name?”

For instance, when any of us hear the words “Coca-Cola,” what comes to mind? What about “Nike” or “GEICO” or “American Red Cross”? It is not a fluke or simple luck that when we hear these organizational names we all generally conjure up the same images, feelings, and expectations.

These organizations have gone to great lengths to define who they are as a brand, the “technical equities’ and the “emotional equities” they own, and how they differentiate themselves from other brands in the same product or service category. This process is no less important to nonprofit organizations who are trying to grow and prosper in a space where the competition for the charitable dollar is fierce.

In James C. Collin’s powerful management book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, Collins suggests great organizations take the time and effort necessary to develop what he calls the “Hedgehog Concept,” which, in short, when applied to nonprofit organizations, asks three defining questions that must be clearly answered:

  1. Can the financial model of our nonprofit organization become stable, sustainable and viable?
  2. What can our nonprofit organization be the best in the world at?
  3. What “lights the fire” of those working for our nonprofit organization?

The exercise of defining who you are, what you are, what you can provide (and be the best at the world at!), led me to a discussion with an associate of mine who founded and runs a billion-dollar, multi-national company. He asked me this compelling question, “If you only had 30 seconds during an elevator ride with a potential donor or client you had been trying to reach for months, how would you best introduce and explain Operation Kids?”

Out of that conversation came our own 30-second “Elevator Speech”:

Operation Kids is the leader in providing customized philanthropic services for individuals, families and companies. For more than a decade, we have managed the charitable giving process for our clients, helping them make informed giving decisions and achieve greater impact. Our philosophy is that by supporting a researched community of charities serving the most important issues facing kids, we improve the lives of more children while increasing the accountability and effectiveness of charities serving them. Our clients know…their giving is “OK.” And because of the ongoing generosity of our founders and supporters, our service is free. This is the charitable gift Operation Kids offers its clients. Your passion, our work, more lives changed.

While many organizations can easily be introduced and explained in 3-5 minutes, it is a very productive and positive exercise to craft an introduction (who you are/what you are/what you can provide) that is deliverable in 30 seconds or less. Not only will having this distilled-down, crystal-clear “Elevator Speech” prepare you for that oh-so-important opportunity with a targeted donor or client, it also becomes invaluable as your organization further defines what benefits it can offer your key audiences, including donors.

As you better understand who you are, what you are, and what you provide, this organizational solid-footing also helps you better formulate and package the benefits you can and must deliver, to either direct-service recipients or to participating donors and supporters. It forces your organization to ensure that what you are offering is a natural extension of who and what you are.

You become an organization that not only succinctly talks the talk, but also effectively and efficiently walks the walk.

In 2 Weeks: Step #3: Information is Currency!

This is the second part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling

2 Comments

Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Lessons from Ghana: Making a Difference

My recent trip to Africa reminded me of some of the finer points of delivering assistance and support in areas of great need. These are lessons learned from many years of being involved in areas like Thailand, New Orleans and other areas of unique and extraordinary need.

It is my experience and observation that generous people are drawn to certain areas and certain types of need. The conditions in many regions of Africa are a perfect example: Celebrity focus, news headlines and other media reports has created an awareness of living conditions in parts of Africa. That is good. However, awareness does not always represent a solution: sometimes action does not even represent a solution.  As we like to say within our organization, “Generosity is not the issue, effectiveness is.” Part of being effective is delivering what is truly needed in the eyes of the beneficiary.  

When delivering aid to a people, regions and cultures we may not fully understand, there are things to be aware of that, in context, easily explain why so many efforts do not work. I am going to try to articulate a couple of these important details and perhaps spark deeper thought and discussion when it comes to international giving.

Truthfully, we cannot underestimate cultural differences. We frequently see aid delivered in the form that the donor feels appropriate, rather than what the community in need really desires and recognizes. We saw this after the deadly Southeast Asian tsunami in 2004 when well-meaning groups shipped large quantities of coats and scarves to a hot, humid region of southern Thailand; the intentions were good, but the effort was lost on people with very different and specific needs. We see a similar dynamic in many international efforts: housing development for people who culturally would not live in the types of shelter being constructed; a failure to involve appropriate and respected leaders who can be the lubricant between those who want to help and those in need; Last but not least, trying to jump ahead of the process and bring people to a point we as donors feel they need to be, rather than a point they desire to be.

As donors, we need to consider the culture we seek to aid from a perspective of dignity and sustainability. Anthony Oliver-Smith writes,

“The best outcomes imaginable [are] systems in which people can materially sustain themselves while beginning their own process of social reconstruction.” 

Essentially his is the “Teach a man to fish …” philosophy. The sound bites and clips we see in the media, which serve a great purpose by bringing public attention to global need, often abbreviate the situations to the point where a generous and prosperous nation like the U.S. is compelled to react immediately. Again, it is with the best of intentions, but in ways that we see as appropriate from our perspective.

The fact is that when people are in desperate circumstances, you usually find that some sort of displacement is at the heart of the situation. Whether it is caused by political unrest or natural or man-made disasters, there is almost always a dual sense of disconnect from the things they hold dear and at the same time a pride in what they consider to be their heritage. In these stressful times, many look to religious tradition for identity; they seek to reestablish what is meaningful to them. They depend on those they trust the most. That is the starting point.  

We as donors and as caring global neighbors need to remember this. Again, quoting Oliver-Smith,

“We should approach the goals of reconstructing and reconstituting community with a certain humility and realism about the limits of our abilities. Such humility and realism have not characterized to any major extent, the planners dealing with uprooted peoples to date.”

Our usual American-driven focus on cost-containment and efficiency must be maintained to be sure, but not to the point of excluding the needs and wants of the very people we are trying to help. I cannot say it any better than Oliver-Smith:

“Donor-driven …designs [can] endanger the connection that people establish with their built environment, violate cultural norms of space and place, inhibit the reweaving of social networks and discourage the re-emergence of community identity.”

With this backdrop, the Forever Young School in Ghana (the dedication of which was my reason for traveling to Ghana in the first place) is a model. It was created in partnership with local leaders. It was built by local artisans. It is staffed by local teachers who received training from outside sources, but are allowed to teach in a manner relevant to their local community. The dignity and autonomy of tribal leaders is recognized and respected. Local culture was not considered an obstacle, but an asset from which to build. The project is well-designed and takes into account details in a variety of areas, including transportation needs, recreation, academics, health and medical support. It has become the cause of community celebration!

The day we arrived for a special ceremony opening the school, families and local leaders assembled at 4:00 am to prepare for our visit, which was not scheduled until 2:00 that afternoon! They sang for us, they danced, they provided food … the sense of gratitude was at a level that can only been seen when a proud and deserving community is helped to achieve what they need in a manner meaningful to them.

As a result, I left feeling like the donors and organizations that supported this school had created something they could feel proud of – both from a relief-of-needs perspective and a donor efficiency perspective.

It was truly inspiring.

-Rick

Leave a comment

Filed under Initiative: Charitable Giving & Accountability, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Bringing a Smile & A Hug to Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back

Operation Kids had a blast this past weekend at the Ragnar Relay Wasatch Back! Our morning started at the break of dawn along with our friends at Best Buddies. Best Buddies actually camped out in their RV, and came ready to roll up their sleeves. And man did they!

Brett, from Best Buddies, handed out flyers and gave hugs to the ladies, while the rest of the Best Buddies crew manned their booth. Brett worked the crowd with his magnetic charm and warm smile. While it’s hard to keep your mind off the pre-race jitters, our friends at Best Buddies helped ease everyone’s minds and made everyone remember that there is a great cause to run for.

Several members from our team took snapshots of the runners and the Ragnarian fans throughout the race.  We even managed to capture a few photos of our Best Buddy pals while they were working. As the first day ended, Operation Kids and Best Buddies anxiously awaited to serve breakfast/lunch at Exchange 30 in Heber City, UT, for the next day.

On Saturday, breakfast started out busy! We were on a roll and then the torrential rain caused the runners to stay in their vans. However, we were not going to let that stop our fundraising efforts for the breakfast/lunch. With the help of Best Buddies and the Best Buddies volunteers we brought the food to the runners! 

After serving breakfast/lunch at Exchange 30, our crew moved to the finish line in Park City, UT. The weather turned into a storm straight out of the Wizard of Oz! Operation Kids along with Best Buddies hung in there until the crowd started dwindling down in numbers due to this unusual weather.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time interacting with the all of the runners and spectators. Operation Kids would like commend and thank our Operation Kids volunteers, the Best Buddies volunteers for all of their hard work, and of course Ragnar! Most of all, our fundraising efforts were for Best Buddies of Utah, and we cannot thank them enough for their contagious energy and “never give up” attitude.

 P.S. Here are a few flickr photos from the Wasatch Back, more will be posted soon! And don’t forget to check out who won in the Operation Kids/Best Buddies drawing.

-Brandon aka “the intern”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized