Friday, June 27, 2008

Renaissance and the price of gas...

"Canada is undergoing a renaissance in giving: big gifts are getting bigger while new sources of funding are emerging across the demographic spectrum with everyone from new Canadians to kids choosing to give. At the same time, competition for donor dollars among worthy charities is rising, putting an increasing onus on how organizations engage donors and demonstrate value." Globe and Mail, June 26, 2008

I just paid $51.00 to fill up my Toyota Corolla....

Will the changing economic times impact non-profit dollars?

Without a question expenses are going up. Postal rates, delivery charges, travel and overall cost of operation area all rising. This makes it difficult for non-profit organizations to maintain appropriate cost/program ratios.

Dr. Keith Seel from the Institute for Non Profit Studies at Mount Royal College says that changes to the traditional model of funding is just starting to change in Canada. The traditional model being the "400-year old philanthropic culture that put the responsibility of charitable spending on the shoulders of the wealthy merchant class."

Interesting.... but perhaps I'm jaded. The most successful organizations I work with have a healthy balance between the the "wealthy merchant class" (generally called "major gift donors") and the ordinary Canadian. Organizations built of the faithful monthly gifts of individuals have a strong foundation. $35 every month from 35,000 people makes a big impact.

Public charities can learn a lot from the faith community who has a built in penchant for the "tithe." That setting aside of financial aid for those who need it is a revolutionary idea -- and it illustrates the impact of effectiveness when many people join together to accomplish good.

As the economy changes non-profits will have to be more creative, use more innovative acquisition methods and be centred on the return on investment. I believe that generosity is a part of the human psyche and well-positioned charities will continue to grow.

Monday, June 23, 2008

No Emotion?

I just received this from a friend who is the director of a small non-profit...

"Raising money for a cause that allows you to use a starving child as the subject that draws on the emotional strings is cool, but what about us who are trying to raise money for a boring old cement and mortar building? A picture of the building wont draw to much emotion, right? I know i am being a bit cynical but reading your blog and the comments it seems to make sense that we need to find the emotional connection in any fund raiser?"

Without a question.... the starving child (or dog), the earth shattering tremors, the devastating flood waters all create the momentum for donations..... BUT let's be honest -- our goal as fund raisers is to raise funds to support the mission and vision of a specific organization. And our mission and vision may not be relief and development.

In some ways, your question is ironic. As I often have people come to me and tell me that it's so easy to raise money for bricks and mortar and so difficult to raise funds for the operating costs of the organization.

But let me start this dialogue with 2 comments:

1. Raising funds does require "emotion," but I would prefer to use the words vision and passion instead of emotion. In many of the web sites and promotional materials I receive, I see people make a very common mistake -- they completely omit the vision and the passion. What is the underlying passion that inspired you? I'm guessing that at the very core of your vision are the lives of men and women; young people and children whose lives will be transformed by the work you do. That's the emotion. The bricks and mortar are simply the frame within your building. To talk only of the program or the buildings is like analyzing a great painting and only talking about the frame.

2. You need to understand your audience. Organizations like universities, colleges, hospitals and schools have two audiences: the funders and the students. Each have different motivations for coming alongside you. As a fundraiser and/or recruiter, you need to understand the needs, motivations and rational for each of the audiences. Then you need to talk to them. There are a couple of dangers. The first is to completely separate the two. This results in a fragmented mission and vision. The second is to try to "sell" the same product to both of them -- this is dissonant to both groups. In small organizations(let's randomly use the figure under $1 million annual operating budget), the organization has to clearly identify the audience and, as much as possible, speak directly to them. The mission and vision should resonate at the core of every communication.

The growth of an organization is a complex thing. It's a bit organic. A good communicator understands that and is able to position the messages in a way that resonates with the audience. The starving child is not the only image that raises emotions.