Tuesday, October 29, 2013

You Can't Find A New Land With An Old Map

You can't find a new land with an old map
I was struck by a few recent experiences that painted an incredible picture of the challenges and opportunities in today's market place.

Several weeks ago I was sitting with a friend who has been in the business a very long time, we were discussing the level of job satisfaction for many professionals in our industry. We didn't see many challenges through the same lens at all. Our perspectives were completely different. At one point, with a bit of frustration he said Jay you have all the answers. To be fair I love a good intellectual debate fueled with passion about the business of philanthropy. However,  I am always seeking answers because I think that they are continually changing and in addition that our questions become stale. While doing the same thing and expecting different results is insanity, it is equally insane to keep doing the same thing and expecting the same historical results. 

Last week I was captivated by this interview with Russell Brand. I was impressed with his ability to
stay on task and simply challenge the status quo. To begin conversations about new governing models was not what I was expecting to hear from this comedic actor. I encourage you to watch the clip from beginning to end, it wraps up with some how real powerful language. Now I am not on the same page with Russell regarding the need for a revolution for the philanthropic community, but there is great energy in passion. 

Putting these two experiences together helped me realize a couple things. While my friend could've been frustrated with me the biggest story is that the answers he has always known to be true are becoming less relevant in today's marketplace. The way we've done business over the last five decades will not address the unique challenges we face in today's marketplace.  Look around and study closely the “experts”, most of what is being sold is repackaged yesterday’s news.  Do you need to bring Russell's message into your organization?

Take a look at your own world. Are you measuring the same things that you did 10 years ago?  Are you always testing old assumptions? Over the next 4 weeks I am putting together several mini-sessions that give you the tools to challenge the status quo in your organization with new questions and new metrics that challenge decades of conventional wisdom.  If you are interested click here.

Russell Brand

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How Do You Draw Retention Conclusions From The Fundraising Effectiveness Survey?

There have been all sorts of blog posts recently about how terrible the Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report is with regard to donor retention. For the life of me I just don't get what all the fuss is about. Peter Drucker set us all straight decades ago when he said that every business is designed perfectly for the results it gets.

Back in the early 90s when I had my first boarding school position in the Northeast part of my responsibility at that time was to also be a student advisor. I had one particular student that really was struggling, and had been really getting a lot of negative feedback from teachers. His parents were not all that happy with him either. I recall sitting with him on one of those grade New Hampshire mornings, he walked into my office head down clearly dejected because he had just done poorly on the exam. He handed me the exam with the big red letter at across the top and showing a result of 58. I asked him how much time he had spent studying and preparing for the exam, his response was that he hadn't studied or done any preparation. I stared at the paper for about a minute; he squirmed in his seat waiting for the criticism he had come to expect. I lifted my head, smiled and said you are amazing. You were able to get a 58 with out doing anything, you should feel very proud of your accomplishment. His mouth dropped as he looked at me completely bewildered, while also starting to fit a little straighter. You can figure out the rest of the story.

What is remotely surprising about the fundraising effectiveness report? The report itself measures short-
term performance. If you scroll into the methodology behind the report itself you will discover that there aren’t any metrics for donor longevity. Many bloggers suggest the results of this report demonstrate how poor our retention rates are. You could argue that the report itself doesn’t even measure retention. There is information on year over year money and donors, along with stats on recapturing past donors. But that is not retention. Retention and keeping the customers requires other stats not measured in this report. If the report doesn't measure longevity of relationships, it is in fact not measuring donor retention.

Retention is a byproduct of designing donor connections with a longview. All the conversations that are related to thank you, building relationships, leaving out the ask, how much you ask doesn't matter, be donor centered, these will very little impact without metrics that span 5 and 10 years.

Donor retention will not be resolved by tweaking, it route will require a complete rethink of what we measure, our internal culture and crafting our communications in a way that recognizes how our donors see themselves in their world.

It took 50 years to get to the place we are, and every report suggests that the nonprofit industry has significant opportunity in what is labeled as untapped resources. Some of the questions we need to ask ourselves:

1.Do we want to continue taking advice from the same people that got us here?

2. Will we realize our capacity by keeping all our systems, strategies and tactics the same?

I spent the last half-decade in rethinking fundraising metrics, if you are interested in viewing new models click here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Donor Voice vs Penelope Burk

I recently read a blog post over at thedonorvoice that tried pointing out the inaccurate assumptions regarding pace of solicitation that Penelope Burk had made in recent research. This particular post highlights for me the vast amounts of “myths” in the market on this critical topic.

If you are a practitioner who believes that cadence will play no role in retention, I encourage you to test this for all of our benefit by setting up hourly automatic solicitations for your entire donor pool. I suspect not many people will choose this path and most of us would agree for quite obvious reasons. The assertion that pace will play no role in retention is the equivalent of suggesting one could not overdose on heroin. Although sharing data that provides no insight into how to improve the retention problem I guess potentially gives organizations the opportunity to be lost but making great time.

Having spent most of my career building advance models focused on retention and increasing donor retention by over 280% I can tell you that both Penelope Burk and the folks at thedonorvoice are correct, the problem is that they are also both incorrect. If you've never produced retention it is possible to look at statistical studies regarding groups of people and arrive at what would be perceived as logical conclusions. The problem in practice is that while groups of people are predictable, individuals within that group are not.  There is just no 100%, ever.

Retention is achieved through a personal understanding of how each donor will react to designed touch
points. There is no 100% assumption that you can safely drape over any group without a certain degree of statistical error. You just have to determine if the risk of error is worth, well, the risk.

Donor retention is both a serious problem and an incredible opportunity. Our systems, models, and strategies for five decades have been designed to generate transactions not customer satisfaction. We have built a fundraising culture almost entirely on acquisition. Continued focus on transactions only will do very little to impact the retention of your most valuable assets. 

If you are interested in how to have real impact check out this read from Tom Asacker.

In the meantime the point this info graphic makes reminds me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Has The Annual Report Become A Shrine To Transactions?

The fall is a great time of year, it's back to school, it's back to work from summer vacations, it's the start of annual fund season, football and it is the time of year the publication houses are excited about printing millions of annual reports. A google search reveals 768,000,000 results for annual reports less than %4 of that number for customized donor experiences.

What I find remarkable about this habit of producing annual reports is I can't quite tell if we do it because of the impact or because it is exactly what we have always done. If the AFP Fundraising Effectiveness (Ineffectiveness Really) is correct we are mere creatures of habit.

In many ways the annual report is our industries shrine to honoring the transaction. Our obsession with tying success in fundraising to simple measures around transactions has produced the lowest donor retention numbers our industry has ever seen. And please remember the annual report that describes how awesome the organization is is not at all about our most valued customers.

I ask you to consider if something else is at all possible? Do individuals wish to be funding a deficit? Or do they desire making a difference? Which would you value?

Might it be possible that the annual fund is actually an opportunity for people to become stewards of an
institution? What would your communications strategy look like if you were designing an opportunity for donors to have a sense of purpose and feel a level of responsibility in ensuring that the organization's mission could be maximized. Wouldn't that be more powerful than conversations such as: “doesn't really matter what you give as long as you participate.” That statement diminishes the organization, its purpose and trivializes individual investment and commitment.

I hope that you will consider that creating an opportunity with real purpose is what your donors and prospects desire. Here is a quick test to evaluate where your organization is:  write down on a sheet of paper the current average length of time your donors stay on the books, compare that with what that number was five years ago and then compare it to the same number of decade ago. If you don't know those three numbers it's highly possible that your organization has been building and maintaining a fundraising model that honors transactions.

It is remarkable that in an industry that suggests real success is about the quality of relationships that not a single national Association recognizes organizations that have had the longest relationships with financial supporters. There is also no recognition for those organizations that have dramatically improved the length of time they sustain their most important relationships. We do however award organizations that have turned their annual reports into beautiful works of art. Artfully honoring transactions appears to be valued.

Might it be time to honor something other than financial transactions? What does the data on your donors suggest, continuing 5 decades of similar strategy or creating something else? 

If you are interested in reviewing online tutorials on new ways to approach your Annual Fund click here