Of Metrics and Mission: Data Matters

“A revolution has begun: data are transforming the nonprofit world.” This quote from an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, written by Nicole Wallace, points to a major trend toward the use of data to guide program development, fundraising strategy and many other central elements of nonprofit business.

In truth, the push for better, more meaningful data has been going on for some time.  Funders have been asking for measurable objectives and evaluation plans for over twenty years. And for all of that time, small and mid-sized nonprofits have been wrestling with the challenge of how to quantify their impact on the community, what to measure, and how to afford a proper evaluation process.

In the past month, I’ve heard two new ideas that I think are worth sharing.

1. I met a young woman who has recently taken a new position at a small nonprofit in Montgomery County, PA with the title “program improvement administrator.” Intrigued, I asked her to describe her role.  She is focused 100% on quality improvement.  Her job is to help the organization better understand what they do well so they can enhance it, and, at the same time, understand where there are gaps and how they might fill them. I believe the position has the potential to add great value if only because it will force the organization to systematically consider the impact it is having, the impact it wants to have, and what it can do differently to enhance that impact.

2. At the 2014 AFP Franklin Forum, keynote speaker Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League, shared the outline of an evaluation process he has instituted for his organization and all of its regional affiliates. He provided valuable suggestions to address two of the most common challenges of developing metrics.

First, in response to the challenging question of what to measure, Morial advised that the organization focus on the very purpose of its existence, at the heart of the mission statement, and create ways to measure the organization’s impact on that.  The mission of the Urban League is to enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights. He and his administrative team crafted four aspirational goals related to the mission, including having every child prepared for college, work, and life; every child graduating from high school; every person having a good job that pays a living wage and provides benefits, etc. But each of these goals begs the question of how to measure progress over time.  Compared to what?

The second insight Marc shared goes to that point.  He and his team developed a baseline study that they publish every year that creates an “equality index” comparing the relative condition of African Americans and Latinos to white Americans in the United States on parameters like employment, health, and civic engagement. They developed programs that they believe will directly impact on these parameters, thereby moving the needle on the equality index. And every year they report on how the relative condition of African Americans and Latinos has changed.

The missions of most small and mid-sized nonprofits are not as far reaching as the Urban League’s mission.  If our purpose is to impact our community, or a particular population in our community, we need to consider existing baseline data, or collect our own.  Then we need to be sure our programs are aligned with our desired impact. And, as we measure year after year, we need to consider how we can adjust our programs to enhance our impact and fill in the gaps where they exist.

It is time to take a “do it yourself” approach to the question of measuring impact and come up with a sustainable, meaningful process that will help your organization meet outside expectations and enhance mission impact.

Engaging Celebrities in Fundraising

The B’more Gives More campaign on Giving Tuesday 2013 effectively engaged well known Baltimore personas, like the Mayor, as leaders of the charge to get people to make a gift to charity on December 3rd (Giving Tuesday).  Even more exciting was their strategy to ask celebrities who hailed from Baltimore to retweet information about the campaign to their followers on Twitter. B’more Gives More raised an astounding $5.7 million for 300 local nonprofits on Giving Tuesday 2013. (http://bmoregivesmore.com/)

I wondered about the likelihood of getting celebrities to retweet posts about nonprofit organizations that may be connected to regions or causes they care about.  A post by “EngageYourCause.com” offers great advice on how to get your tweet retweeted by a celebrity.

1. Do your research. Celebrities, especially those with very high follower counts, are inundated with requests to “Please retweet”. Find out what topics the celebrity tweets about and whether or not that meshes with your cause….

2. Engage before the ask. There are many ways to engage a celebrity before asking them to retweet a post. Build a relationship with them. While people with millions of followers don’t often have time to respond to every tweet they receive, they do read them. They also notice who is retweeting their posts on issues they care about. Take the time to do a few retweets of your own and talk to them like you would other non-celebrities on Twitter. It will go a long way to showing them that there is a human behind your cause.

3. Be prepared. Is your server ready to handle the traffic if the tweet goes viral? There’s nothing worse than getting the exposure, but not being able to capitalize on it due to poor planning. Also, think about the landing page people will hit after the tweet. Unless the cause is extremely compelling, people are not going to want to make a donation if this is the first time they’ve heard about your organization, but this would be a great time to point them to a pledge or an email sign-up form to get their information and engage with them again.

4. Don’t put all your eggs in one celebrity basket. While getting a tweet from a celebrity is great, it should be considered a bonus and never the end goal of any strategic plan. Who else are you working to engage on Twitter? Try to find people with 10k-20k followers who are talking about your cause. You might find that engaging with those “influencers” is more valuable than chasing the holy grail.

For more, check out http://www.engageyourcause.com/resources/2012/06/21/how-to-get-a-celebrity-to-retweet-your-tweet/.

Events – Smaller is Better

When planning events, most nonprofits think “big.”  How can we get more people to attend and spend more money to net more revenue? But that kind of thinking often results in spending more money, using more labor, and having less quality interaction with event participants.

When it comes to events, smaller is often better.  A small dinner with 10 guests can provide more personal involvement and greater investment in your organization over time.

These events are likely to be much less expensive and much less labor-intensive. But, most importantly, they provide a better opportunity for personal interaction with guests that can lead to a strong connection to the Executive Director and current Board members (your true believers) — and a clear mission connection to the organization.

These smaller events are much more valuable to the organization than big “fundraisers” for building relationships that can lead to sustaining, unrestricted funding and meaningful involvement over time.

#GivingTuesdayBucks 2013 a Success

The success story that is #GivingTuesdayBucks 2013 goes well beyond a story of gifts made and donations received; beyond a story of increased awareness of needs in Bucks County and the important role that nonprofits play in meeting those needs; and beyond a story of numerous local nonprofits that ramped up their individual capacity to participate in a social media campaign and benefit from online giving.  It is a story of the successful collaboration of more than 80 organizations from all parts of the County that attracted attention far beyond expectations and put Bucks County, Pennsylvania on the national map.

As part of a national day to inspire philanthropy, #GivingTuesdayBucks did not disappoint. With 52 of the 83 nonprofits reporting their results, over $38,600 in donations were received through more than 360 gifts.  This was only the second year of existence for Giving Tuesday and only the first year of participation by Bucks County nonprofits. Growing awareness is likely to result in increased donations in years ahead. But the impact of this year’s donations is significant and as varied as the scope of the participating organizations. Many nonprofits indicated that the donations they collected will support core operations – an important priority as no organization can exist without such support. Of those that identified a particular need to be met with Giving Tuesday donations, the following projects were memorable: bully prevention for youth across Bucks County; respite vacations for two families facing cancer; assistance with vet bills for an animal rescue organization; repairs to a historic bridge along the Delaware Canal; and support for Camp Courage, a summer camp for kids on the autism spectrum.

Feedback from participating Bucks County nonprofits tells the story of organizations with a wide range of levels of experience with social media and online giving.  More than a handful had no capacity to receive online gifts prior to this fall and pushed to acquire it in order to participate in #GivingTuesdayBucks.  Many more were motivated to build their capacity in social media marketing, generating some of their first Facebook posts, tweets, and YouTube videos to support their involvement. Others used the opportunity to build their capacity to track and better understand the impact of their organizations’ outreach activity on website traffic, online giving, and social media engagement.

Statistics from the shared website of #GivingTuesdayBucks (www.givingtuesdaybucks.org) suggest that the initiative was also a success from the perspective of building philanthropic awareness in the region.  The site experienced nearly 3,200 unique visitors from its launch in mid-October through December 3rd.  There were 799 visitors to the site on December 3rd alone.  Many participating organizations reported that their boards were energized by the experience and they were pleased with the results that frequently included attracting new followers and donors and reestablishing connections with lapsed donors in a very inexpensive way.

Arguably the greatest success of #GivingTuesdayBucks is grounded in the broad-based collaboration of 83 nonprofits representing the full spectrum of diverse causes present in Bucks County. Participants were genuinely interested in putting aside perceived competition for donors and, instead, working together to draw attention to County-wide needs and to engage many more people in the work of making the County an even better place to live. They were led by a committee of 16 individuals with diverse talents who added additional responsibilities to their already full plates for the sake of creating something special. It was because of this unique local collaboration that #GivingTuesdayBucks received surprising national attention, including a specific mention in the White House Blog (http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/11/26/celebrate-givingtuesday) and the United Nations recap of Giving Tuesday (http://www.unfoundation.org/blog/top-ten-givingtuesday.html).

None of this could have been accomplished without the support of #GivingTuesdayBucks media partner The Bucks County Herald; website partner IQnection; and the #GivingTuesdayBucks committee. Members of the committee included Laura Biersmith (Mercer Museum), Marissa Christie (United Way of Bucks County), Alex Dashkiwsky (Heritage Conservancy), David Ford (Family Service Association of Bucks County), Eric Jacobson (IQnection Internet Services), Florence Kawoczka (Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County), Jen King (Penn Foundation), Tony Luna (Pearl S. Buck International), Melissa Mantz (Bucks County Housing Group), Jessie Marushak (Bucks County Opportunity Council), Ann McCauley (Bucks County Audubon Society), Jenny Salisbury (A Woman’s Place), Tammy Schane (Heritage Conservancy), Liz Vibber (Catalyst Center for Nonprofit Management), Joe Wingert (Bucks County Herald), and myself, Kathy Beveridge (Spark Nonprofit Consulting).

Plans for #GivingTuesdayBucks 2014 are already underway, and there is every reason to believe that participation and impact will continue to increase going forward.  More than 86% of responding organizations indicated they are very likely to participate again in 2014. Stay tuned, Bucks County.

It’s Not Who You Know

“There’s a lot of wealth in the area, but a lot of it is with younger people who have not come into the giving mode. They need education, and persuasion.”

This quote from H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest appeared in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday by Peter Dobrin, the Inquirer’s Culture Writer.  In the same article, fundraiser Eileen Heisman, president of the National Philanthropic Trust, comments, “We always have new generations of wealth, but you have to know where it is and figure out strategies to cultivate it, and that takes a lot of very creative work.”

The article has a lot to say about the new generation of donors, what they care about, whether they feel a sense of obligation to give, and what they may or may not be looking for in terms of involvement with the nonprofit organizations they choose to support.  These are all important things to consider.  But what really interests me is the article’s subtle emphasis on the important role of fundraisers. Not just professional fundraisers, but also volunteer fundraisers, i.e., board members.

Too often, board members assume that fundraising is about “who you know.”  If they don’t already have a relationship with someone who makes six figure gifts, they are inclined to think, and to say at board meetings, “I don’t know anyone with money.”  In reality, potential donors are all around us.  And fundraising is not a phone call.  It is a process – one that takes education, cultivation, creativity, and persuasion.

Fundraisers need to educate potential donors (everyone) about the mission and importance of the organization. We cannot assume they know about our good works.  We must talk about them.

Fundraisers need to cultivate relationships with potential donors. When I think of cultivation I think of gardening. You plant the seeds, fertilize, pull the weeds, protect the seedlings, stake up the young plants, and eventually, you get to enjoy the fruit of your labor. Similarly, the fundraising process takes time, care, and dedication.

Fundraisers need to be creative. They need to think about what kind of invitation will make a potential donor say yes, making that first connection to the organization. And once that connection has been made, they need to create a path along which that potential donor is likely to move toward greater engagement with and more giving to the nonprofit.

And fundraisers need to be persuasive. Fundraising is convincing and persuading for a cause.  How will the gift enhance the mission, leverage other donors, and bring value to the community?  What will convince this donor to make this gift on this day?

Fundraising is not mysterious. It is hard work that takes time, thought, and creativity. Everyone can do it.  And if you believe in the mission of your organization, it is well worth the effort.

Are You a Social Entrepreneur?

The concept of social enterprise, by definition an initiative that operates like a business, producing goods and services for the market, but managing its operations and redirecting its surpluses in pursuit of social and environmental goals, is increasingly acknowledged as a strategy to help nonprofit organizations diversify their revenue streams.  While some traditional nonprofits shy away from this “new approach,” my own sense is that many have the skills needed to be successful at creating social enterprises.

Here are some key concepts pertaining to social enterprise (taken from Enterprising Nonprofits by Dees, Emerson, and Economy) and some reasons I believe you – and many nonprofits  – may already have a “leg up” on being a social entrepreneur.

1. An entrepreneur is “an innovative, opportunity-oriented, resourceful, value-creating change agent.  (Most of the nonprofits I know were established by people that meet this definition to perfection.)

2. The best measure of success for social entrepreneurs is not how much profit they make, but rather the extent to which they create social value. (Nonprofits are skilled at identifying needs and figuring out how to create the greatest social value for the lowest cost.)

3. Mission is at the center of successful social enterprise. It is the lever that moves hearts and minds and creates the “bottom line that all social sector organizations hold in common: changed lives.” (Nonprofit leaders are skilled at leveraging change through the effective communication of and engagement with the mission.)

So, what’s different about social enterprise from what nonprofits do on a daily basis?  Basically, it’s an openness to experimentation with market-based approaches and businesslike methods within the social sector.

How can nonprofits build knowledge and a comfort level with this kind of experimentation?  I’d suggest this is an ideal opportunity to engage board-level volunteers who may bring a wealth of experience with markets and business methods. As with anything new, expertise can be developed. And this can happen all the more speedily and readily if trusted volunteers are engaged to advise and reassure us.

Mobile Misconceptions

Another natural disaster. Another chance to see that mobile devices can bring in a lot of money for organizations at their most critical times.

Still, many nonprofits are dragging their feet about using mobile technology to fundraise.

Why? Some worry about what kinds of information can be collected, how data correlates to existing databases and that a new method of reaching out means a lot more work for fundraisers.

Most supporters actually expect you to use mobile systems. For some nonprofits, 20 percent of their web traffic comes from mobile devices. And those users are more engaged donors.

To do mobile right, consider these facts from mGive and The mGive Foundation:

  • Many nonprofits have multiple emails going to one person and many dead emails. Today, people average three email addresses compared to one mobile number.
  • According to the 2012 eNonprofit Benchmarks study, email lists have an open rate of 14 percent; text message open rates are 97 percent.
  • Emails are more likely to be left unread compared to text messages. Text can also drive supporters to open emails for more information.
  • You can use mobile to conduct polls, receive live feedback at events, track open rates of text campaigns, generate ROI for social media through giving apps and social sharing options, plus so much more.
  • Capturing survey and other information via mobile enables you to collect the data shared in the heat of the moment – not just when someone is online. You can use that data to drive awareness, giving and more when you combine it with information you already have.
  • People use their mobile devices to text, visit websites, post to social media sites, email, share photos and videos – and take or make a phone call. So mobile engagement creates a more personal relationship between you and your donor.
  • You can measure your relationship with donors. When your organization sends out a mobile call to action, the feedback is more immediate and complete, allowing you to tailor your tactics as needed.

How to start your mobile strategy? First, change every form (online and offline) to capture a mobile number.

Then start tracking — age ranges, giving rates, volunteer hours and more. That information will help you establish your mobile strategy.

Great Fundraising Letters Do This!

Today’s donors — and don’ters – are being assailed from all directions. How can you make your end of year appeal letter stand out and get the funds you need for your non-profit?

Remember these tried-and-true-but-somehow-not-followed-by-most-fundraisers tips:

  1. Write to a person – from a person.
  2. Make sure the letter fits the addresses. If that person is new to your organization, a line or two explaining what you are doing is needed. If that person is a donor, start with thanks!
  3. Be specific. If you need $10,000 for the new heart monitor, say so. And let them know how close you are to getting it.
  4. Give them limits. If $10 will feed a family of four for a month, ask for that amount – but make sure you also give them the opportunity to feed 3 families or 10 families.
  5. Tell a story – and tug on those heart-strings. Paint a picture about the problem and how your organization fixed it to make your message – and your mission – more compelling.
  6. Add visuals – a lunch bag for food appeals, a child for pediatric research.
  7. Make it scan-able – short paragraphs, simple sentences, vivid words, subheads in bold, lots of white space. Use the word “you” often.
  8. Use colored paper to stand out.
  9. Include your website many, many times. (Most donors will go online to check you out or donate.)
  10. Add a P.S.  This is the most widely read part of the letter. Include the call to action and a deadline. Keep it to a line to two.

Three Keys to Successful Board Recruiting

A recent post by Rick Moyers (Against the Grain) emphasizes the importance of recruiting the right people to be on nonprofit boards.  Moyers suggests that the lackluster performance of many nonprofit boards may have more to do with difficulty recruiting the right people than with a lack of board training or confusion over board roles (the typical scapegoats).

You can read Moyers’ post here:


I agree.  In fact, I think it is fair to say that many nonprofits feel hopeless about their ability to recruit and retain the strong and committed board members they require to succeed in their mission and, particularly, in fundraising. Their desperation leads them to think they should take anyone they can wrangle and be grateful for whatever limited time (let alone money) those individuals are willing to give.

I believe great board members are out there waiting to be asked to join the right board. But they have to be identified and approached by the right people in the proper way. Successful board recruiting, in my opinion, requires three things:

1. The right mindset. When we go into our recruiting activity with the idea that nobody is going to say yes to us, we virtually guarantee failure. Likely volunteers can smell our desperation. Instead, we need to remember how important our mission is and how valuable and important is the role of the board. We are providing an opportunity to lead. The right person will be honored to be approached and will look at us as carefully as we look at her when considering the right fit for our board.

2. Widespread outreach. We need to cast our net farther than those few families in our community who are approached for every leadership opportunity. There is a great pool of talent and wealth out there, and many people with a reason to care about our mission. Finding them is a networking challenge that is best accomplished by talking with a lot of people about the qualities and skills we are seeking for our board and what we will require of a board member.

3. A systematic approach. Keeping track of the connections made during the kind of networking envisioned above is a good way to identify potential board members and donors. Keep an active spreadsheet of contacts and what is learned through them. This information will be critical to evaluating and selecting the right board members and following up appropriately with all of the nonprofit’s new community connections — whether for future volunteer opportunities, donation requests, or to seek advice when a particular form of expertise is needed in the future.


Show Donors You Get Results — and Get More Donations

A new survey of 15,000 donors, published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, says that they want to give to organizations that achieve strong results. Fundraisers need to show their charities are fulfilling their mission.

This is great news for fundraisers because four out of five Americans plan to give at least as much this year as in 2011.

That information should also resonate with the 44 percent of donors who said they could have afforded to give more last year.

Who is most apt to give?

More than any other age group, donors age 65 and up cited nonprofits’ need as a reason to give.

Middle-age donors want to know the charity they give to is the best of all organizations working on that mission.

While donors under age 35 care about results, they care more about building a community of like-minded givers: They want to get their friends and family to support a cause they believe in. They are also more apt to give to new causes. And they plan to give more in 2012 than in 2011.

An executive summary of “The Cygnus Donor Survey: Where Philanthropy Is Headed in 2012” is available free online.

You can read the complete article at http://philanthropy.com/article/Many-Donors-Would-Give-More-if/132437/