Clear the “Pathway to Giving”

Clear the PathBy Brendan Kinney, Moderator of #fundchat

Smart nonprofit organizations create as many pathways to giving as possible: mail and phone are obvious, but then there are gifts via the web, mobile, and social networks. And the method of giving that your donors use is just as important as the platform they use to make their gift. Donors should be able to give by cash and check of course, but then there are credit cards, EFT, and PayPal and more.

As you add pathways for donors to support your cause, stick a Post-It note to your forehead with the following letters: “K.I.S.S.” Repeat after me: Keep It Simple Stupid. The worst thing we can do is make gift giving difficult. In our quest to provide as many ways to give as possible, we overlook the donor who just wants to make a gift.

If you are expanding your pathways to giving or simply performing an audit of the monster you created, consider the following:

Customer Service is Key

A great way to surprise your supporters and donors is to take their phone call. When a donor is having difficulty making a gift to your organization, you hope they will pick up the phone or compose an email message. You should be listening! What better time to help a donor than when they are in the moment, trying to make a gift to your organization, but have a question or are having trouble with your website.

Make sure that someone on your staff is responsible for answering these questions by phone, email…and yes, on social networking sites. There is no more basic service that you can provide than to be available for your supporters and donors and to do everything you can to help them make a gift to your organization.

Align Path with Preference

Do you throw the kitchen sink in with your appeals? You know what I mean: you’re adding that crucial “P.S.” to finish up your winter appeal and you feel you just have to list the website, include the phone number, remind them of the courtesy reply envelope, and plug your monthly giving program. Wrong. Instead of making things easier, you’ve created a speed bump in your pathway to giving. Your donor is now faced with a decision, not how much to give to your organization, but how.

Show some respect to your donors by encouraging them to give the same way they did last time. Chances are, you have this information in your database already (and if you don’t…tsk! tsk!). When you send a letter to John and Jane Smith, you know they gave by phone last time, so their letter can be personalized to include this giving path and this giving path only. You can also take a closer look at your database and see who typically gives in response to, say, your spring phonathon. Those folks ought to be the first to get a call come April.

Obviously, you want to give your donors as many chances to support your organization as possible, but go farther by clearing the clutter on their pathway to giving.

Match Giving Path to Method

When you’re preparing an appeal, think carefully about matching the giving method to the pathway to giving. For example, it doesn’t make any sense to send someone an e-blast solicitation and then ask them to call a phone number. Don’t send a direct mail letter and neglect to include a courtesy reply envelope/postcard. And for goodness’ sake, don’t call someone who has asked not to be solicited in that fashion before.

If you send an e-blast, the “Make Your Gift Now” link should take them right to your giving form on your website. Do not, under any circumstances, link them to a special landing page, a flowery page listing all of the great reasons to support your cause, or some fancy video you’ve put together. They are ready to make a gift, otherwise they wouldn’t have followed the link! (The other cardinal sin is to make your online giving process unnecessarily long, but that’s another blog post altogether.)

When a donor or potential donor receives your appeal, your goal is to provide so much grease that their gift giving is effortless.

Connect the Dots for Donors

Our donors are often generous with the wallets. What they are more protective of is their time. So when you are reaching out to donors about methods or paths of giving that take some explanation, realize that it will take more than one letter, email or phone call; it may, in fact, take many conversations.

Whether it’s the complexities of a charitable gift annuity, gift of stock, or your monthly giving program, you job is to connect the dots for donors. That means demonstrating the impact of not only their gift, but their method of giving.

For example, you may want to increase the number of donors who use your monthly giving program by EFT (electronic funds transfer from a checking or savings account). A donor may ask, “Why can’t I just send my check like I do every year?” Take the time to connect the dots. Explain how their using EFT as their method of giving not only saves them time (no writing checks) and is convenient (no need to remember when to send their gift) but it also helps the organization save money (you don’t send a renewal by mail) and helps those that you serve (less time asking for support and more time providing services).

So, take a strategic approach to connecting the dots for those methods or pathways that require a little extra effort. Write an article for your newsletter, include an insert in all acknowledgements about stock gifts, planned giving, etc., and rotate those messages every month or quarter; send a direct mail piece to existing donors (they don’t need to be sold on supporting you) that describes the path in clear and concise language. The possibilities are endless, but the point is to invest your time in connecting the dots.

The Big Picture

The hard part is over; you’ve provided your donors with as many ways to support you as might be convenient for them. Now, don’t blow it by confusing your donors about which option to choose. Remember those donors who just want to make a gift.

They’ll thank you for it.

Brendan Kinney

Brendan Kinney is a fundraising and marketing professional. He has worked in higher education and public media and is the moderator of #fundchat. You can follow him on Twitter at @brendankinney.


5 Tips For Starting A Successful Twitter Chat

By Brendan Kinney, Moderator of #fundchat

HashtagsIf you are not familiar with Twitter chats, it’s when a group of people who share an interest or a passion “get together” on Twitter to connect with one another, share ideas and advice, and on occasion, have a few laughs. They do this by following a particular hashtag so that everyone who is interested can “listen in” and participate in the conversation.

Just over two months ago, I launched #fundchat. I wanted to create a hashtag that would become widely used by nonprofit development, fundraising and marketing professionals. I saw it as an outlet for my interests and a way to connect and learn from others who shared a similar passion.

As the humble moderator of this fledgling group, I have learned a lot (sometimes the hard way!). So I wanted to share my insights about Twitter chats:

Set the Stage
First, I created the basic building blocks, including the Twitter account (@fundchat) and established a blog ( Then, I got to work: promoting the Twitter chat and marketing the heck out of the initial conversation, networking with others, joining in on other chats, and more.

For #fundchat, I chose Wednesdays at 9 pm EST as the weekly time for #fundchat primarily because it didn’t look like many other chats were happening at the same time. I scanned a great list of Twitter chats provided by Robert Swanwick. I noted that there were a few other chats around a similar topic, but not exactly what I was after.

“I saw #fundchat as an outlet for my interests and a way to connect and learn from others who shared a similar passion.”

While anyone can participate by following the hashtag in their favorite Twitter client, I’ve used Twebevent with great success. It’s has the functionality of Tweetchat, but includes a header and other details so that it serves as a “homepage” for the chat. Many participants find it easy to use and a great way to follow the conversation.

I set a launch date and waited at the appointed time. I was a ball of nervous energy, worried that the chat would be with myself! To my delight, about 15 people actively participated in the first #fundchat and many more “listened in.” Since then, the word on #fundchat has spread, and week-in and week-out, the community has “hashed” it out over a wide range of topics.

Honor Other’s Time
Some chats are free-flowing, but I chose to develop a weekly topic and 5 to 10 related questions. That way, folks can decide if the topic is interesting enough to participate and if they like, they can spend time thinking about the questions ahead of time.

When someone decides to participate in your chat, they are giving up their time. As moderator, it’s your job to ensure that their time is not wasted: create clear rules, spread the word, connect with key influencers, set the topic and questions, and keep the conversation moving.

I’ve also used polls and surveys (I’ve used with success) to get input from the community about topics, the best day and time for the chat, and more. Although unscientific, it’s a way to get buy-in from participants and the results in themselves can be the topic of a blog post!

Watch the Clock
As moderator, time management is one of your key tasks. Yes, it’s important to set the topic and get the questions together each week, but keeping the conversation moving is critical.

As I’ve seen in other chats, I typically provide about 10 minutes per question. For the first #fundchat, I only had five questions prepared. However, during the course of the conversation, my fifth question ended up being covered, leaving me one question short! Luckily, I was able to come up with a new question on the fly, but the experience taught me to always have more questions than you need.

“As moderator, time management is one of your key tasks.”

Trying to keep the chat to one hour is challenging. If there are more than five or six questions, I will shrink the time between questions to eight or even six minutes. The risk with too many questions is that you don’t give participants enough time to provide thoughtful answers. Also the banter between questions helps establish community and cement connections.

It’s important to let participants know when the next question is coming, so I remind the group, “Next Q in 2 minutes…” When I forgot to do this once, I was roundly scolded, reminding me that once you set a precedent, your job as moderator is to stick to it.

Keep A Record
One of the more frustrating aspects of Twitter chats is creating a transcript. But transcripts are a great way to keep a record of the conversation for future reference and to provide for those who couldn’t participate in the live chat.

Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find a workable solution. For the first five editions of #fundchat, I had the time to pull together a “curated transcript” using Storify. Unfortunately, it is a time consuming process to “drag” each Tweet into the new timeline and to rearrange the questions and answers in chronological order. I also learned that Storify doesn’t provide a look back beyond a week. I tried using Topsy to get to them, but the results weren’t complete.

Finally, I was referred to by (they were nice enough to provide a referral after they had a few  technical problems). After some back and forth with the folks at Hashtracking, they provided me with a beta testing opportunity. I’m still getting a feel for their service, but so far it’s very impressive. They offer stats, participant report and a full transcript of the chat. The results of our first Hashtracking report are terrific.

Create A Water Cooler
Having a place for your community to gather when not participating in the chat, is incredibly helpful. I took the spaghetti approach by throwing everything out there and finding out what sticks. I created a Facebook page, LinkedIn Group and a blog.

So far, the blog has proven to be the most “sticky.” Closing in on 1,300 visits in just 8 weeks, the blog is a launching pad for each chat session, providing information about how to participate, that week’s topic and questions and more.

“If #fundchat ended its run today, I would chalk it up as a success.”

Recently, I invited members of the #fundchat community to share their insights in more than 140 characters by creating a “guest blogger series.” I’ve published four to date and more in the queue!

If #fundchat ended its run today, I would chalk it up as a success. People have come together to share their experiences, advice and ideas. They have connected professionally. Some have gone out for drinks together.

The most gratifying outcome of #fundchat is that a real community has developed around this humble little hashtag. The people I’ve met are generous, caring, funny and smart. Without them, #fundchat would just be eight letters preceded by a pound symbol. As long as they find the conversation worthwhile, #fundchat will continue to be a worthwhile resource and positive experience.

Brendan Kinney

Brendan Kinney is a fundraising and marketing professional. He has worked in higher education and public media and is the moderator of #fundchat. You can follow him on Twitter at @brendankinney.

What Nonprofits Can Learn From Volkswagen

Guest Blog Post by Ligia Peña.

I have been loving Volkswagen cars since I was young. Simply put, they are good, stylish cars that are a pleasure to drive. But this blog post is not about cars. It’s about loyalty: Volkswagen style.

After many years of living without a car in downtown Montreal, I decided in June of 2010 to buy a car. There was no doubt in my mind that it would be another Volkswagen. After all, my last car (15 years ago) had been a Jetta and I had some great adventures with it! As a new client, I automatically became a Volkswagen “Plus Member.” Admittedly, I had no clue what that meant. Little did I know that I was embarking on a journey.

Within a couple of weeks, I received a welcome package – I mean fancy, Apple-style packaging and all – with a letter addressed to me, a catalog of VW accessories and a shammy to clean my new (gee, thanks VW, throw in the guy who’ll clean the car and now we’re talkin’!). At Christmas, I received a greetings card. On my birthday, a friendly birthday card from the dealership.

I have subsequently received free movie passes, invitations to special events and just today, I was invited to the “ultimate freedriving tour.” As VW put it: “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover Autobahn-ready performance in conditions you’ll never get on the road.” Wow! Being adventurous as I am, how can I say no to that?

After I registered to the event, I realized VW has been thanking me for being a customer and making sure I remain loyal to their brand. By using these events, reminders,and other perks, VW was treating me to a complete customer experience that put my needs and interests at the forefront.

The birthday and Christmas cards, the free movie tickets, the Autobahn-like driving experience are all part of the VW loyalty program they carefully designed to ensure that customers like me feel special, valued, cared for and respected. Intrinsically this ensures customer loyalty and, naturally, return business.

As it has become apparent, what I have talking about is the company’s approach to long-term relationship building. Much like you and I do every day with our donors. In the past, I dismissed their cards and letters as just another marketing piece. It took the “ultimate freedriving tour” to hook me and make me realize that I am loyal to the brand because I like and believe in the product.

Nonprofits can learn a lot from Volkswagen about loyalty and stewardship. So whether you are creating a new stewardship program or freshening your current one, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I do or what can I do to make my donors feel special, valued and respected?
  • What am I doing to ensure my donor’s loyalty to my organization?
  • How am I creating a unique experience for my donors?
  • What journey do I want to take my donors on?

Take the time to think how you would want to be treated as a donor and the answers will come to you. We all want to be part of something bigger than we are – as fundraisers it is our job to facilitate that process for our donors.

Good luck and enjoy the ride!

Ligia Peña, M.Sc., CFRE, is a Fundraising Coach and Diversa Consultants ( located in Montreal, Quebec. Ligia Peña has 10 years of experience in fundraising and communications in the community, humanitarian, and governmental sectors. Since 2006, Ligia has been consulting small to medium-sized charities on fundraising, campaigns, communications, strategic planning and governance. Ligia is a board member of the Quebec chapter of the AFP and she volunteers for Equitas – a human rights education organization. Follow Ligia on Twitter.

10 Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media Fundraising

Guest Blog Post by Nathan Hand.

1. Don’t think social media changes the age-old strategy, at least not completely

The name of the game is still relationship building and communicating with the right people, in the right medium, about the right need, at the right time, and asking the right amount – amongst all the other clutter in their lives.  While all the social media platforms give us new mediums of asking (in addition to direct mail, in person, phone, etc.) it also adds to the clutter we fight.  There’s still a donor pyramid and those you connect with still mostly enter at the bottom.  The goal is, and will always be, to connect people to the causes they care about, facilitate their philanthropic dreams and help people be their best.

Tweet. Tweet.2. Do – use social media to drive web traffic

A fundraising study by Guidestar in late 2010 came up again the other day on Twitter.  Advice for Good shared what many of us found to be the most interesting piece of info from it, as it relates to social media and fundraising – that social networking websites like Facebook only account for 10% of online donations. It DOES NOT mean that social doesn’t drive the majority of online giving (or indirectly influence it).  It only means that as far as we can tell, Facebook Causes isn’t the answer and I haven’t seen a Twitter tool that allows you to literally give via Twitter.  And I don’t want one – funnel your social through your site where you can track and control conversions.

3. Don’t –  think a ‘LIKE’ always means it

In the same piece of research from Guidestar, only 6% of people who ‘liked’ an organization actually financially supported it. Plus, in order to publicly trash you or your organization on Facebook – at least in the most thorough way – they must ‘LIKE’ your page to tag you in a post. Even in a negative one. Check out Kyle Lacy’s great example. Until Facebook develops a ‘HATE’ button – there’s no way to separate the haters from the lovers.

4. Do – give easy, specific & real ways for people to help

We’ve had most success asking for specific items (digital camera, LCD projector, volunteers on Saturday at 5pm, etc.).  Sometimes they might be ‘budget-relieving’ – other times we simply would’ve gone without.  People want to help and more and more they want to know exactly what they are giving or funding with a donation.

5. Don’t – just ask for things

Similar to the fact that text-based giving only really works for disasters or specific urgent needs – the same goes for Twitter.  We’ve had more success asking for smaller donation amounts in accordance with a professional sporting event (pledge $.25, .50 or $1 per point for tonight’s NBA/NFL/NHL game – especially if the team is good or at least has a strong fan base, playoffs, etc.) It’s all part of harnessing the timely excitement.

6. Do – ask for intangibles

Faith-based? Ask for prayers.  New to Twitter? Ask people to ‘donate’ their #FollowFriday to your organization.  In a voting campaign? As long as you’ve got a real shot – DM a few of your most loyal supporters and a few with high klout/followers and ask them to donate a tweet or two. But in all of these – as with any fundraising medium – make it as easy as possible for them.

7. Don’t – ask too often

Again, like any other medium, if all supporters hear is asks, they’ll stop listening.  Share stories, results, quotes, stats, kudos, and more. It’s about building relationships.

8. Do – follow, monitor and support your closest champions

Put a ‘I’m on Twitter’ tic box on your physical donation cards and online. Create lists for your supporters, volunteers and advocates. Support their efforts where appropriate. If they do something great for another organization – don’t get jealous – RT it. Remember that most people support and follow 7+ organizations and it takes us all to create and support the great world we live in and the wonderful organizations that make up the nonprofit world.

9.  Don’t – forget you have other work to do

It’s easy to get sucked in to social media and spend all day clicking, posting and tweeting. Spend time setting up your monitoring tools and profiles and then determine when/how you’re going to check in on it. I’ve got it down to about 3 or 4 five-minute check-ins a day. If you want to be really responsive, set your phone to receive notifications when your organization is mentioned. Note: this only works while you’re small and don’t get several mentions a day. Also, you can only have Twitter account associated with one phone number…for now.

10. Do – guess and check!

Otherwise known as “experimenting,” it worked in elementary school math and it works in social media fundraising. And, because it’s still new and we’re all still learning – it might be the most efficient form of learning.  No one’s followers are the same and no one has tried everything.  If you’ve got an idea and you stay (somewhat) within the rules of the game – try it! Just make sure to contribute to the conversation and tell us if it worked!

Agree? Disagree? What worked or didn’t work for you? Please share in the comments!

Nathan HandNathan Hand is an AmeriCorps alumnus, holds an Executive Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Georgetown University, a Masters in Philanthropic Studies from Indiana University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from DePauw University. Nathan is Vice President of Development at School on Wheels, an organization helping homeless children in Indianapolis. He writes at sharing thoughts for nonprofiteers and helping visitors navigate the world of giving. For more, follow Nathan on Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to his blog!

Data Integrity is Key to Your Fundraising Success

Guest Blog Post By Meg Hoffman

What are the essential components of your fundraising program? Major giving? Membership? Events and marketing? From my experience, the most often under appreciated (yet essential!) function of any fundraising program is “development operations.”

Data integrity is one of the essential roles of development operations (DO) and key to the success of any development department. Whether you use Raiser’s Edge, Donor Perfect, or any other system, data integrity is crucial for how your department functions and achieves eventual success toward your fundraising goals.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Most importantly, you must be vigilant in entering the data into your system as accurately as possible. If a donation is accidentally entered with an error – for example, if Jane Doe’s gift is entered as $100 instead of $1,000 – the acknowledgement letter will not recognize the correct amount of the gift. This becomes frustrating for Jane and very embarrassing for your organization. A mistake like this can indicate the team is careless, even if an error like this rarely happens (perception is reality!). Plus, the department is now at risk of losing Jane as a donor and any future gifts she might contribute.

Attention to Detail

It is essential to be focused and articulate when working with your data. I know many of us get glazed-over eyes when we spend too much time in the database. I’m guilty of this, too! If you feel this happening, get away from it! Go for a walk outside; spend some time on another task; take your lunch break. Lack of concentration is a threat to your data integrity.

Trust, But Verify

Check the acknowledgement letters against the data and against your photocopies of the original transaction before you mail them. Whether it is a copy of the check or a printout of the online transaction, dig it out and compare. For every single letter (you heard me!). Make sure Jane’s address matches the one on her check or how she entered it for the online transaction. Show your donors respect and show you value their support by making sure the  letters you send to them are pristine. The only exception to this is if you know her as a donor and know she has a different “preferred address” for her mail.

Compounding Errors

Another risk you face when data gets entered incorrectly is the domino effect. Let’s go back to the example of Jane’s $1,000 gift accidentally entered as $100. It’s possible she will not bring the error to your attention and the amount will go uncorrected in your database. Now it’s time to pull the donor lists for the annual report. If that is the only gift she made during this fiscal year, she will be put in the “Under $250” category instead of being credited for her significant contribution. This is unfair to her because her generosity is not recognized at the appropriate level.

The problem is compounded because Jane may also be overlooked as a potential major gift donor; her name will not come up in the query of “donors who gave $1,000 or more this fiscal year.” This results in a missed opportunity for stewardship and cultivation, and also results in missed donation opportunities for your organization.

Data Matters

The bottom line: Always be extremely careful with your data! It is the backbone of your department, what your department produces, and how your department interacts with its donors. Donor relations are, in my opinion, the most important part of fundraising but can’t be effective unless you protect the integrity of your data.

And when you make a mistake, ’fess up to it! Apologize to Jane Doe in whatever way is appropriate for the situation. This is where stewardship and the relationship you’ve built with her thus far are key and if handled correctly, could end up being an opportunity to move that relationship forward.

Have you ever had any “data-gone-bad” situations? How did you resolve or rectify the damage?

Meg Hoffman is a fundraiser based in Boston with a human services organization. She has more than five years of experience working with nonprofits, including an international microfinance organization and a family homeless shelter. Last year, she received her master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and plans to become a CFRE when eligible.

The Cost of “Free”

A guest blog post by Ephraim Gopin.

freeThe word “free” will light up the eyes of a nonprofit professional, especially the CEO of a small nonprofit. If something can be had for free, why pay for it?!

But is “free” really free?

Take social media: Yes, the outlets themselves are free. BUT, if we adhere to the time = money principal, then social media is unbelievably expensive! Your staff must spend a lot of time on multiple platforms engaging people with the hope they eventually become volunteers, donors or, at the very least, share your posts with others.

And we ALL know what happens when you pass off the task of managing your social media to a volunteer: if you’re lucky they have an hour per week to share, post or like and then no one is around to engage and respond quickly. Eventually, people stop paying attention to your posts. But hey, at least you didn’t waste precious budgetary resources!

Or websites/graphic design, a pet peeve of mine: Websites and brochures are not cheap, especially if you want it done professionally and within a time limit. Here’s an example of how this “free” approach can backfire:

In order to save money, the CEO where I once worked decided we should search for students learning to become graphic designers and have them design our brochures and annual report. Right now, some of you are shaking your heads side to side because you know what happened next: we found plenty of eager students thrilled to add to their portfolios. What we did NOT get was a single, usable design.

And in the end, we wasted time (there’s that money thing again!) hoping against hope that the project would bring positive results. Guess what? The product wasn’t ready for a fundraising trip, so we hired a professional company, paid for and received beautiful brochures.

This is NOT a blanket indictment of volunteers. They are the best cheerleaders your organization has. Volunteers can build beautiful websites and design stunning reports, raise money and operate programs. But it’s the RELIANCE on getting things for free that hurts many nonprofits.

Free means no deadlines because you can’t demand from a volunteer that they complete a project on time. You can ask nicely, cajole, plead or beg but they have lives to live as well. The same thing can happen when you pay but at least in these cases you can terminate a contract and try to recoup any losses.

As a fundraiser, I have always believed you spend a buck to make a few bucks. That includes overhead, distribution of materials and more. We may think donors will have pity on our nonprofit if they see a brochure that is not professionally designed;  the donor knows the organization has no money, giving them more incentive to donate.

My experience has shown the complete opposite! Donors want to see that your organization has invested in their experience, for example, a well structured website which is easily navigated and can boost donations! Donors are only too happy to show their friends to whom they are donating if they feel the love.

Many of us in the nonprofit sector are always busy putting out fires and have no time for strategic, long-term thinking and planning. As staff is downsized and budgets slashed, the temptation to cut corners when possible is very real.

But stop and ask yourself, what is the real cost of “free?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for #fundchat Guest Bloggers!

Submit a post!What a ride!

Since #fundchat launched just a month ago, the response has been fantastic. With each chat, our community of nonprofit fundraising and marcom professionals grows; people are making are valuable connections.

I want to thank everyone who has joined in this community. Each hour-long chat has resulted in a flood of tips, ideas, encouragement and a little fun thrown in for good measure.

But sometimes, 140 characters just doesn’t do your thought, idea, or insight justice.

So, starting today, #fundchat is welcoming guest bloggers to submit a post for the #fundchat blog. Over time, this blog can become a central hub for the #fundchat community and a repository of expertise and advice from which others can benefit. Guest bloggers will retain the rights to their work under our Creative Commons license.

If you would like to submit a post for consideration, send a DM to @brendankinney or contact me via email. Can’t wait to hear from you!

– Brendan