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.

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.

Crisis and Opportunity: Making Media Connections Conference

June 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

#mmc2009

I had a fantastic day volunteering at the Making Media Connections conference.  Chicago is the epicenter of civically engaged journalists, techies, and media activists. The world of journalism is experiencing tectonic shifts, being impacted by the recession and trends in technology and social media, and the presentations at the conference was all about how this professional community is responding to those shifts. It is truly at a crisis moment. I have heard that the Japanese word for crisis also means opportunity, which in this case is a very apt translation.

One of the exciting things that came out of this conference was the intersection of different professional worlds coming together that had never had the occasion to do so before. Particularly, I am excited about the non-profit and media community coming together. It makes sense that in this time of crisis and opportunity the worlds of philanthropy, advocacy, and media would connect. Out of this intersection, a creative response is growing in terms of the creation of new tools and innovative ways to use them to create social change.

There is no doubt that social media tools have the potential of being co-opted by corporate conglomerates, and to a certain degree we can only expect that to happen. The panel on media policy that I attended emphasized that we still need to focus on accessibility issues for existing and established technologies (public TV, radio, and print media), and make sure that the public maintains the ability to produce their own content and keep access to a variety of information resources.

However, there was so much optimism about the potential to use social media tools to do good and not evil, it is easy to believe that out of this convergence of activists, community organizers, policy wonks, non-profit leaders, journalists, bloggers, and many others that something really exciting and good is being born. People were able to share their challenges and successes, building collaborative solutions to complex problems.

Community activists of all persuasions need to be vigilant in participating in the process of developing media policy. The issues of net neutrality, low power FM radio, and public access TV should be in sharp focus for all of us.

These are indeed exciting times. Darkness certainly looms as people are being laid off and companies are going into bankruptcy. But hope and inspiration abound as people build their own companies, become consultants, or create innovative jobs in response to the shifting economy. I was thrilled to meet so many optimistic activists and learn about the incredible work they are all doing.

Knowledge Management: Salvation

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 Arnold Schwarzenegger in the first Terminator when he comes back in time to kill Sarah Connor (I spell my name differently), or totally good, like in T2 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. 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. With technology, we have tools that house information. 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 to learn and give shape to their organization’s knowledge management system and abide by the policies. Whatever the role, fundraising professionals are responsible to and dependent on each other. Ultimately, the frontline fundraisers are responsible to enter their contact reports, prospect researchers must enter the latest ratings and philanthropic associations, gift processors need to make sure that gifts are entered accurately, and the events manager needs to enter the latest activity. Over time, these data points become an organization’s institutional memory.
However, knowledge management systems are more than the database, hard files, and email system. While tracking the data points in your information system is significant, the protocols and policies that dictate how communication channels are facilitated are equally important. It is easy to forget that the information in peoples’ heads or is shared in a conversation are also information assets. Just as important as the technology that houses the data are policies and guidelines that give shape to formalized relationships and how that information exchange is communicated and captured. A knowledge management system must provide guidelines for how those mushier data points are 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.

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.

Slacktivism, Shmacktivism!

May 22, 2009 § 3 Comments

How Social Media Activists are Changing the World

I have seen and heard a lot of nay-saying lately in the media about social networking tools, to which I feel compelled to respond. Within the last week I’ve encountered at least three different critiques about tools the likes of Twitter and Facebook, accusing thier users of  “slacktivism,” like this opinion piece by John Ridley, who says that People who use Twitter are hypocrites, or the piece in Foreign Policy which claims that the tools foster “feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact.”

To this I say “pshaw!” I can say first hand that these tools have real impact, especially when it comes to community organizing and raising awareness of issues. I work in the nonprofit world, where social benefit organizations are exploring the exploding number of communication tools available to see how they can be used to motivate people into action, whether it is getting out news, inviting people to an event, informing people of volunteer service opportunities, or encouraging folks to make charitable contributions. Getting people engaged with these tools is the whole reason they are so successful.

Last winter, I went to a rally at the Center on Halsted when Fred Phelps and his clan were in town ready to hurl their anti-gay hatred at this wonderful Chicago institution. One of the primary ways the organizers were able to get the word out was through Facebook and Twitter. Over 200 people showed up, and we successfully delivered the message to Phleps & Co that hate is not welcome here.

Right now, marriage equality activists are organizing and communicating with each other about local actions when the Supreme Court decision in California that is announced on Tuesday, May 26th. Through online tools, we are getting the word out and as a result people are going to hit the streets all over the country on Tuesday night.

Next week in San Jose, CA, people from all over the world are gathering for the NetSquared conference, which is all about the use of social technologies for progressive social change. People representing all types of nonprofit organizations that are working for environmental justice, human rights, and world peace are coming together to learn from each other and collaborate. The projects they work on include Handheld Human Rights, which uses technology tools to document human rights abuses in Burma, and PublicStuff.org, a mobile application that enables citizens to make meaningful connections with their local government leaders and hold them accountable to meet needs in their communities.

There’s also the example of the Sunlight Foundation which promotes the creation and use of online tools to improve access to government information. The Sunlight Foundation promotes tools like Filibusted, which allows users to keep track of which senators have used the filibuster to stall debate, and Know Thy Congressman, a widget that convenietly provides very useful information about any congressperson, including their voting record.

Social media is more than just Twitter and Facebook, and though those are wonderful community organizing tools, too, there are so many more under development. Activists all over the world have used and created these tools to raise visibility for their issues. These are not perfect mediums, and they are only as good as the people who use them. 

Finally, as I was writing this post, I learned via Twitter that the prolific nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter wrote a post for Mashable about how social media is changing the nonprofit landscape. Her examples further illustrate the point I am making.

Nay-sayers be darned! Social media tools are helping activists change the world.

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