Patience and Persistence

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.

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Proceed With Caution

July 28, 2011 § 3 Comments

Prospect research, social media, and ethics #APRA2011

The 2011 APRA International Conference is underway, and alas, I cannot be there. I am observing the twitter feed from my perch in Chicago, however, and seeing that there is some really great conversation going on. I wish I were there!

One of the interesting conversations is about (what else) social media! Folks are debating the ethics of using social media as a source for prospect research content. I’m gathering from some of the tweets coming from Austin that people think the information shared through those channels is fair game. Jeanine Flores tweeted the question: Is it still too soon to use social media and analytics? My response is no, it’s not too soon, but I do think that researchers always need to be discerning about the source.

My rule of thumb when gathering information about prospective donors goes to the following question: Would the prospect be happy to see the information in their profile if they were to have access to it? If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t use the information. Some may argue that if the social media is in the public realm, open and available for anyone to see, it’s okay to use it to build solicitation strategy. While the information may be out in the open, it is important to consider the intended audience. If a blog is out there to share with family and friends, even if it is open for anyone to see, gathering any information from that source can pose a risk to the relationship between that prospect and the organization.

To illustrate my opinion, I will say that any information that someone posts on LinkedIn is fair game. This is a professional networking site, and the intention of using this tool is to expand your professional network. Presumably, the end users want their information to be discovered here. Facebook, on the other hand, is more personal in nature. Also, I don’t assume that people have a clear understanding of the privacy settings on Facebook. While I would not say that everything shared there is off limits (if you do indeed have access to it), be mindful and discerning. For myself, I will simply not look for or use any prospect information from Facebook.

In addition to this debate, I saw a few tweets referring to the need for every organization to establish a social media policy which includes something about prospect research and ethics, or that the confidentiality and ethics statement for the prospect research team includes something about the use of social media.

The bottom line on social media as an information resource: be discerning, proceed with caution, and when in doubt, don’t use it.

Defending Prospect Research: A Response to the WSJ

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.

Honoring Black Nonprofit Leaders

February 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

As Black History Month 2010 comes to a close, I want to give a shout-out to Rosetta Thurman who all this February has been honoring community leaders in her series 28 Days of Black Nonprofit Leaders. Thank you for sharing these wonderful and inspiring profiles!

Social Innovation Conversations

February 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

If you are a nonprofit professional or work in any way with social benefit organizations, you should be reading the Stanford Social Innovation Review. If you are not, start now, or at least check out their blog and social media now and then.

The other day I stumbled upon the Center for Social Innovation’s Social Innovation Conversations podcasts while I was listening to my Stitcher podcasts. Yet another tremendous resource from Stanford. On the way to work, I listened to a lecture by Priya Haji, who talked about her company, World of Good, and its associated nonprofit organization, World of Good Development Organization. The combined mission of these organization is to improve economic and social conditions of women living in poverty. The business model is based on selling goods from impoverished communities that are produced ethically, sustainably, respectfully of the culture of the people, and ultimately get money back to the communities where they come from.

Haji’s enthusiasm and inspiration are infectious, and listening to this on my way to work made for an uplifting bus ride. Especially knowing that I am working with colleagues who are dedicated to ending hunger in the U.S.

For nonprofit professionals, it is important to be realistic about the challenges that our organizations face. It is equally important to find messages of hope and optimism, and sustainable business models that help us to think differently about what we do every day so that we don’t get stuck in a rut.

We should all be reading the SSIR and listening to its podcasts to keep up with industry trends as well as looking for inspiration.

Walking the Walk

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.

Professional Evolution: A Eureka Moment

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.

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