August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
The mantra for taking the long view on fundraising
This ongoing recession is putting many into crisis and panic mode, including nonprofits. The scarcity mentality is inspiring some organizations to contract instead of expand. Fundraisers are have to work harder to make their goals, and some organizations are being forced to make difficult choices.
I have always taken the long view on fundraising; the work you do today may not result in a major gift tomorrow, but perhaps next year. It’s an exercise in patience and persistence.
I read a blog post recently from the ML Wagner Group that has some sage advice for small nonprofit organizations in terms of setting up fundraising infrastructure. What I like about this piece is the emphasis on information management, whether it is about communication, establishing clear policy, or relationship management. Investing in your information management systems may sound expensive at the outset, especially to organizations with limited means. But an organization’s information is probably one of it’s most important assets. Investing in the infrastructure to manage it wisely is critical for your long-term fundraising success.
Information systems that work well will support the relationships with your constituents and donors and ensure their continued engagement and support. By taking the long view of fundraising and embracing the mantra of Patience and Persistence, organizations can look at this economic downturn as an opportunity to learn from this situation. Organizations can take the opportunity to build their institutional memory strategically so when the next economic downturn happens they will have loyal and engaged constituents there to help see them through tough times.
May 22, 2010 § 1 Comment
This week, the Wall Street Journal published a blog post about prospect research, asking the question “is your favorite charity spying on you?” A very unflattering and biased way to introduce the topic and the debate. I cut my professional teeth in non-profit fundraising as a prospect researcher, and it is a job that I came to love, and I was proud to work for organizations that make the world a better place. Every once in a while, an article like this appears in the press, and I feel the need to speak up and defend not only a noble profession, but one that is vital to successful philanthropic fundraising.
Many colleagues have already spoken up about this article, pointing out that we have a well-established code of ethics and a Donor Bill of Rights. Also, the same resources we use in our day-to-day work are employed by the for-profit industry for the same purposes, and, as someone aptly pointed out, by journalists as they research their stories. Why is the Wall Street Journal picking on charitable organizations, and not private industry who are less likely to adhere to any ethical standards?
Information is an asset, and any charitable organization would be wise to make investments to enhance, manage, and protect that asset. Organizations who have a long-term goal of creating institutional memory in order to foster good relationships with their donors will be more likely to thrive. I have worked for organizations whose investment in their information assets have maintained successful philanthropic relationships with families and corporate donors for generations. Prospect research ensures better fundraising success and better donor stewardship.
Part of the job of a prospect researcher is to identify new potential donors. Time and again we hear that one of the main reasons people don’t give philanthropically is because they aren’t asked. We identify opportunities, encouraging philanthropy by matching interests to the programs we support.
When I started out in this business, I remember a major gifts officer telling me that savvy philanthropists expect us to do our homework. They expect us to keep good records and know something about their interests. They don’t want to be solicited beyond their capacity and be embarrassed, and for less than their capacity and be insulted. Nor do they want to have us waste their time with solicitations for causes that don’t interest them.
I am proud to be a prospect researcher. I have never met a researcher who didn’t love his/her job. It’s interesting work; we’re always learning new methods of research, analysis, and information management, not to mention the fact that we learn about fascinating and inspiring philanthropists. I was saddened to see the Wall Street Journal and Anne Kadet being so quick to judge without even talking to someone in the profession.
February 28, 2010 § Leave a comment
December 3, 2009 § 1 Comment
In a recent blog post, Seth Godin challenged nonprofit professionals to put their money where their mouth is. If you work for a charitable organization, if you don’t give, why are you in that line of work?
Whether it’s a charitable gift or a volunteer shift, those of us who work in nonprofits, especially those of us who have more administrative duties keeping us away from the front lines, should get in the trenches on occasion. It is a matter of responsibility, as well as staying in touch with why we do the work that we do.
August 2, 2009 § Leave a comment
I just completed my fourth week on the job as the director of philanthropy operations at Feeding America. This is a new job for the organization, so, while they have clearly defined the parameters of my role there, I have a wonderful operation to build something new.
As an information professional in fundraising, I have always been clear about how my work supports the front line for greater success. I find and track information about relationships between the organization and it’s donors. This information and knowledge management provides a history and context for current relationship cultivation. I always thought that my the focus of my job was content and technology to manage it.
My perspective on knowledge management in the context of nonprofit organizations has been evolving, and I have come to understand that it is not about information and technology, but how people interact with technology, and how they use technology to interact with each other.
Whether it is relationships between individuals within the organization, between donors and executives, or between people and technology, my job is to help people use tools and procedures to have better overall organizational success. What I do helps information flow through the proper channels and get to the right people and get recorded in the right way for posterity’s sake.
I often refer to my job being helping the left hand to know what the right is doing, and that is still pretty apt. But when I thought about it in terms of relationships and institutional success, it contextualized knowledge management in a whole new way for me.
May 28, 2009 § Leave a comment
The Human Component in Fundraising Information Systems
My spouse and I went to see “Terminator: Salvation” last weekend, and it got me thinking about the merging of people and technology in fundraising knowledge management systems. When we create systems to manage the daily onslaught of information that we all face, our tendency is to focus solely on the technology and resist acknowledging that people are an integral part of the system. Information management systems are like cyborgs in that the human component is necessary for the technology to work efficiently.
Too often we think of technology as being totally evil, like when in the first Terminator, when the cyborg goes back in time to kill Sarah Connor, or totally good, like in Terminator 2: Judgment Day when the good Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back to protect her. Either way, we give technology too much power; it will either entangle data in an irretrievable mess, or it will be the magic bullet that will meet all of our information needs and be our salvation. While some tools are better than others, they are not going to solve our problems for us.
In order to save the world, we need the Terminator, but we also need Sarah Connor. It is the same with information technology tools; we need the hardware to house the data, but it is the human component that turns that data into knowledge.
Since people don’t yet have the ability to install a USB plug into our brains and do a data dump into the network, people need give shape to their organization’s knowledge management system. Whatever the role, fundraising professionals are responsible to and dependent on each other. Front line fundraisers enter their contact reports, prospect researchers enter ratings and biographical information, gift processors make sure that gift data is entered accurately, and events managers enter the latest activity. Over time, these data points become an organization’s institutional memory.
Like the cyborg, knowledge management systems are more than just hardware; the also have a human component. While than the database, hard files, and email are significant, how people communicate and facilitate relationships is equally, if not more important. It is easy to forget that the knowledge in peoples’ heads or that is shared in a conversation are also information assets. Policies and guidelines formalize relationships and how information exchanged and captured. The regular prospect meetings and formal liaison assignments within organizations are critical aspects of managing your information assets.
The knowledge management system as like a cyborg: the technical and the human are integral parts of the whole, and they don’t work well without each other. Your individual and collective success depends on it. Resistance is futile.