Help Beth Kanter Win America's Giving Challenge and Help The Sharing Foundation!

Anyone who's a regular reader of The Bamboo Project knows how much I respect Beth Kanter and the work she does. So when she asked me yesterday to join her in raising money for her favorite cause, the Sharing Foundation, I was thrilled to rise to the challenge. Last year Beth raised almost $50,000 for the Sharing Foundation netting her a matching $50,000 as the winner of the Network for Good/Yahoo competition, so she's no slouch in the fundraising department. Even more amazingly, she's been doing this mostly by working the Web!

This time Beth's's participating in America's Giving Challenge where her goals are to:

". . . raise money for the Sharing Foundation, share stories about the Sharing Foundation and its supporters, and share what I'm learning about using social networks to raise money as an extra organizational activist on my blog over the course of the 50-day giving challenge."

The top 8 individuals with the most unique donors for their cause will win $50,000 EACH, while 100 charities will be awarded $1,000 based on the number of donations they receive through the Challenge. The minimum donation of $10 can buy a young Cambodian student a school uniform (so he/she can go to school) and a month's worth of English lessons in the Sharing Foundation's ESL program.

Here's where you come in. Beth has put together a wiki on the cause that you can find here. She lists several ways for you to get involved and there are a few I want to emphasize in particular:

  • If you're a blogger, please volunteer to write a blog post (or several!) sometime between now and January 31, 2008. Sign-ups are here.
  • Cut and paste the widget above into your blog sidebar so that we can spread the word to your readers as well. Feel free to email to friends and family, too.
  • January 11 is Beth's birthday--how about making a donation that day as a little present to her, especially if you've benefited from her incredible generosity and knowledge! Of course, feel free to donate any other day, too. :-)

This is an awesome effort that is worth it on so many levels. Please consider joining us and helping out. And be sure to keep reading Beth's series on her experience. It's a great way to learn from her online fundraising activities about what does/doesn't work.

Dear (Insert Nonprofit Name Here): Please Stop Bugging Us For Money

Mailing_2 Regular readers know that I don't spend a lot of time here on nonprofit fundraising strategies. However, this gem of a post slid into my email box this morning via a Google Alert for "nonprofit" and I felt that I needed to share. Here's what at least one donor thinks about how many nonprofits handle the fundraising process:

We don’t like being annoyed with repeated mailings. We really don’t care whether our “member” status is on the line. And we really, truly aren’t fond either of unrequested merchandise (we’ll make an exception for a really good calendar) or the guilting of sending stamped return envelopes. . .

For every nonprofit/charity we support now, there’s another within the same general sphere that we could substitute. Given some of the examples we see now, we’re inclined to suspect that some of those will nag us a whole lot less–and most of those will spare us the trinkets.

And here's what he's thinking of doing about it:

Maybe it’s time to do what we thought about last year. Just a simple spreadsheet (or another page on the donations spreadsheet we already have). One number per group. Add one for each mailing we receive. Add five for each unrequested trinket we receive. When giving time comes around, subtract two from the total, multiply by five, and modify last year’s donation by the resulting percentage. In other words: Send us three letters, lose 5%. Send us six letters and two trinkets, lose 70% of this year’s contribution. (Send us just one letter a year…and the contribution goes up 5%.) There are always worthwhile places to send that freed-up money.

While Walt notes that nonprofits like Second Harvest and Doctors without Borders do a find job of raising money without annoying donors, many others seem to not get this. Note that in comments another donor has now resorted to using a sharpie to black out any identifying information when she sends in a check to avoid being put on mailing lists. She also refuses to use credit cards or Paypal for her donations for the same reasons.

Seems pretty drastic and like a lot of nonprofits may need to be re-thinking their mailings.

Two Interesting Nonprofit Projects

Emerging from an unplanned blogging hiatus . . . A couple of interesting nonprofit projects came my way this morning via my Google Alerts.

The First Nonprofit IPO
In the for-profit world, an IPO is an "initial public offering"--the time the company sells stock to the public. Homeward Bound of Marin (CA) County is taking that idea into the nonprofit sector, launching their own IPO--an "Immediate Public Opportunity--to end homelessness. They've put up 200,000 shares at $32/share for anyone to purchase in support of their Next Key initiative. Warren Buffet bought the first share in what appears to be a carefully-crafted marketing campaign. Of course, the returns on this investment for the stock-buyer are not financial, so this is really a catchy way to fundraise. But a pretty cool idea for the Marin County area outside of San Francisco, which is a major IPO hotbed.

Philanthropy and Grantmaking Course Awards $4,000 to Local Nonprofits
Also from California comes this story about a Fresno State College class on Philanthropy and Grantmaking that participated in a hands-on learning experience in the grant funding process:

The class began the semester investigating needs in the community, identified two focus areas for funding (youth and housing), researched nonprofit organizations meeting those needs, developed a request for proposals and invited six select organizations to apply for funding. Students then evaluated and scored the proposals and oral presentations.

The award money was provided by a local foundation. A great way to learn about the grantmaking process.

Robin Good's Ten Ways You Can Use YouTube to Promote Your Online Content

Robin Good has a nice guide to using YouTube to promote your organization. His suggestions:

  1. Create and customize your own channel.
  2. Choose your niche.
  3. Create short form viral content.
  4. Tag and categorize.
  5. Create niche-targeted playlists
  6. Promote your video with YouTube email and bulletins.
  7. Leave video responses.
  8. Join or create YouTube groups.
  9. Chat in the streams
  10. Use active sharing.

As always, he has good examples, clear instructions and additional resources. Even if you're not currently using YouTube, it might be worth a visit to see if maybe you should get it on your radar screen.

Getting More Bang for Your Buck--E-mail Outreach and Landing Pages

Katya Andresen of Katya's Nonprofit Marketing blog has a good post on six steps to better email outreach.

One of her pointers is to use a landing page in your e-mail. That is, have a link in your email that sends readers to a specific page in your site or blog. This is useful for a couple of reasons. First, you can easily measure the success of your email campaign by keeping track of traffic that lands there, particularly if the only way to get to the page is through your email. And second, you can customize landing pages for recipients of your emails so that the landing page really complements your email campaign.

So how to make a landing page? There are two things to consider--the marketing aspect (what should you have on the page?) and the technological aspects (how will you actually go about making the landing page?)  I talked a little about this last month when I posted about Tony Karrer's Blog Newbie Guide, but all of this bears repeating in the marketing context, I think.

What Goes On Your Landing Page?
Seth Godin, master of all things viral and marketing, says that a landing page should cause one of five actions:

  • Get a visitor to click (to go to another page, on your site or someone else's)
  • Get a visitor to buy
  • Get a visitor to give permission for you to follow up (by email, phone, etc.). This includes registration of course.
  • Get a visitor to tell a friend
  • (and the more subtle) Get a visitor to learn something, which could even include posting a comment or giving you some sort of feedback

According to Seth, you need to decide what you want your customer to do when they get to your landing page and then optimize your page to make that happen. He recommends trying to get a visitor to do only one, maybe two of the things from the list above--never more. So as you're putting your landing page together, you need to carefully consider what needs to be on that landing page to encourage your email visitor take one of these five actions.

For example, if you want a visitor to tell a friend, then you need to have a "Tell a Friend" button on your landing page that makes it easy for the visitor to send the information on to someone. If you want permission to follow up with the customer, then you have to give them something that will make them want you to continue contact and you have to include a form where they can sign up to be contacted again. And as always with a web-based tool, you can easily include audio, video, photos, etc. to make your message more compelling and interesting for the visitors who click through.

It's critical that you think carefully about what you're trying to accomplish with your landing page because everything you have on the  page should encourage visitors to take the specific action you've selected. A good article to check out to help you with this thinking is Digital Web Magazine's 11 Ways to Improve Web Landing Pages. This article from Taming the Beast might also be helpful.

Strategies for Making a Landing Page
When it comes to putting together a landing page, you have a few options. If you have a cooperative webmaster who's willing to throw together a quick page for you each time you run an email campaign, then that may be the way to go.If you personally know HTML and can put together a page yourself, that's another route. But for my money, the easiest way to do landing pages (and to provide yourself with the ongoing flexibility to create them) is to get yourself a Typepad Pro account.

This is one of the reasons that I think Typepad is such a great tool. If you have a Typepad Pro account ($14.95/month), you can create unlimited blogs. So each time you would need a new landing page, you would just create a new blog (it would only have one page) that you can customize completely for your email campaign.

If you'd like, you can create a design template to use each time you create a new page--probably the easiest thing to do. Or you can design something different to go with your campaign each time you need to. It's really up to you.

The beauty of this approach for me is that it puts the landing page firmly in your hands, making it easier and more likely that you will include one in your email campaign. When you have to rely on someone else to put it together for you, then it can really slow you down or make it likely that you'll just give up and send your target audience to your general website. But if you learn how to put together your own landing page, then it becomes as easy as putting together an email or a brochure. It also becomes second nature for you to include one in your email marketing.

For more info on creating landing pages, try this hack, which has step-by-step instructions for you to follow. I've used these on several occasions and have found them very easy to follow.

So what are you waiting for? Don't you have a landing page to create?

When Funding Priorities Change

An article in this morning's Marin Independent Journal about the impact of Marin Community Foundation funding cuts led me to this article on the Foundation's recent decision to change their funding priorities:

The foundation announced in June that its board of trustees had decided to split its giving equally between sustaining and initiating grants. As a result, nonprofit organizations that serve some of Marin's neediest residents will have to reconfigure their operations or face the possibility of losing millions of dollars in funding.

The change will result in a shift of more than $35 million from sustaining grants to fund new initiatives over the next four years. The foundation gave nearly $26 million to Marin organizations during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Among the reasons they cite for their decision are the proliferation of nonprofits with similar missions and programs and the desire to have a bigger impact. Not surprisingly, this policy change has upset a lot of people from the nonprofit community. But I see it as a change that is actually moving in the right direction.

One of my all-time favorite books is Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. In it, the authors argue that in visionary organizations, there is a tension between the need to preserve the core and stimulate progress.

Preserving the core means that an organization is very clear about its organizational mission and values and sticks to the strategic and tactical decisions that support their core organizational culture. A strong core gives everyone in the organization a sense of purpose and clear guidance for making decisions and taking action.

While preserving the core is important, there's also a need to stimulate progress. Organizations will not grow and flourish if they do not continue to take new action in light of changing circumstances. Recognizing that there's a tendency to stick with the "tried and true" even when the world is changing around you, the most visionary organizations have developed policies for themselves that force their organizations to change and adapt. 3M, for example, requires that a percentage of its business each year must come from new products and services. They will never completely rely on what they've done in the past--no matter how successful--because they know that eventually this will spell their demise.

From what I can see, the Marin Community Foundation is attempting to put this strategy into practice within the nonprofit/social sector environment. They recognize that their continued funding of existing programs will ensure the continuation of the same old same old and discourage innovation or change. They want to be more strategic in their support and to drive greater innovation and collaboration. This is a bold move, one that other foundations and nonprofits themselves should consider. Ongoing change is a fact of life. Developing strategies and policies that encourage the change cycle can have great benefits and create an environment that allows changes to be more strategic and coordinated. I'll be curious to see how things turn out.



Potential Donor Looking for Nonprofit Wish List

Sarah of Freedom for IP is looking for a way to create a "nonprofit wish list" similar to an Amazon Wish List that allows her to:

  • Create a list that she could give to friends, family, etc. where they could donate money to support one of her favorite nonprofits, in lieu of giving her gifts. She's interested in unrestricted giving (and aren't all nonprofits looking for those opportunities?) so existing sites like Changing the Present aren't cutting it for her.
  • Combine this nonprofit wish list with her list of the "material stuff" she would also like to receive.

A few Chip-In Widgets might get her toward her first goal, but I think a little API magic is required to get her toward her second one. Lacking that expertise, I'm opening this up to the nonprofit community to consider, because I'll tell you what--the first person who figures this one out may have a pretty killer app on their hands.


Fidelity Report On Giving Offers Some Insights for Nonprofits

While I'm neither an expert on fundraising or marketing, I end up touching both at least a little in my work. So I was intrigued by a report from Fidelity indicating that Boomers are on track to give 20% more than the average donor in 2006. This amounts to an average donation of $6,000, which to many nonprofits is NOT chump change.

Other key findings include:

  • "The 78 million Baby Boomers in the United States are on track to give approximately $100 billion to charity in 2006, a 25 percent increase over last year's estimated $79 billion in charitable donations by the Boomer generation."
  • "While the greatest share of working donors (43 percent overall, and 47 percent of Baby Boomers) believe they will have to cut back their giving amounts after they retire, only 20 percent of retirees (age 60 and over) actually had to do so, and another 32 percent were able to donate more."
  • "The Gift Fund's research also shows that more than half (52 percent) of younger donors (ages 25-39) are taking the time to carefully plan their giving each year. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of this group plan to give more of their paycheck to charity over their lifetimes than their parents did. Correspondingly, parental discussions on charitable giving were most common among younger donors, with almost half (46 percent) saying their parents spoke about it with them at least annually. And not surprisingly, younger donors report that their giving behavior is impacted most often by their parents (26 percent)."

Seems like there might be some opportunities for Boomer and Gen X marketing here.


Monthly Fundraising--Nonprofit of the Month Club

Monthlysocks Via Escape from Cubicle Nation, I found Monthly Socks, a "sock of the month" club that allows you to sign up and receive socks on a monthly basis. Since it's Christmas and these kinds of "Thing of the Month" packages make great gifts, it got me to thinking . . .

What about  nonprofits banding together for a sort of "donation of the month" club?  Let's say I'm buying a gift for my Aunt Sally who has everything. She loves the environment, so rather than buying her a gift she doesn't need, I could buy an "Environmental Package." Each month, a different environmental nonprofit would receive a donation in Aunt Sally's name and Aunt Sally might get an e-mail update, a video or some other piece of information about the cause that lets her know how this month's donation is being used.

Or I could buy a "Children's Package" that might include a donation to 12 different nonprofits that serve children. Or a "local package" that let's me support 12 different  nonprofits from my local area. There could be "Arts" packages or "Helping Women" packages. You could even have a complete "mix and match" package that would let individuals select 12 individual nonprofits from any category they wanted.

It wouldn't have to be 12 nonprofits. Three, four or six nonprofits could also be organized with each nonprofit getting 2, 3 or 4 donations per year. The point is setting up a more consistent package that gets people in the habit of giving without having to solicit the funds as frequently and without donors feeling like you're "hounding" them.

Offering the broad kinds of possibilities I'm suggesting are probably more appropriate for an organization like Network for Good to set up. They would be in the best position to set up a variety of different cause-related groups because they are working with a broad range of nonprofits.  But there's nothing to stop nonprofits that share a common mission or customer base from self-organizing and marketing the idea on their own.

I can picture, for example, local nonprofits that help victims of domestic violence banding together to create a ""Break the Cycle" club. Donors' monthly donations might first go to a domestic violence shelter, then to a job training program for victims of domestic violence, then to an organization that works specifically with the children and then to an organization that counsels and works with perpetrators. This seems to me to be a wonderful synergy that could benefit all the organizations, both in terms of advocacy and getting their message out, as well as in increasing their fundraising efforts.

If anyone's aware of something like this going on already, let me know--I'd be curious to see how it's working. I think it's an idea with some interesting possibilities and the technology is making it ever easier to automate this cycle of giving.


What Are Our REAL Obstacles?

"Lack of money is no obstacle. Lack of an idea is an obstacle."

--Ken Hakuta

I have this quote written on a Post-It, adhered to my laptop as a daily reminder to me of where the real barriers lie. Working with nonprofts, it's easy for me to slip into believing that if only we had more money we could do X. But while I appreciate that lack of resources is a barrier, I always have to remember that it's not an insurmountable one.

Squidoo_logo If you think about it, some of the best, most creative work gets done when we have to operate within constraints. Haiku, for example, has a very rigid form--three lines, 5 syllables in the first, 7 in the second, 5 in the third. Yet you are expected to say so much in those few syllables. Sounds like working at a nonprofit--do much with little.

Surprisingly, creativity can not only survive, it thrives on constraints. Constraints provide focus to problems. They allow us to be clear about what is and isn't there and that can give shape to our solutions.  But we have to be willing to see lack of resources as only a constraint, not as an insurmountable obstacle. We have to be willing to be creative within those constraints rather than throwing up our hands in despair.

I thought about all this as I read an article last night by Seth Godin on "Flipping the Funnel." In the article, Seth shares several very creative ideas about using, blogs and Squidoo with your "fan base" to market your nonprofit and do some fundraising. These strategies cost next to nothing, but they do require you to think differently about how you relate to your fans. (His thoughts about using Squidoo are particularly interesting and I want to do some additional thinking and research about that as a viable strategy for raising money and engaging your donor base. You can also read more about using Squidoo for nonprofits here and here.) 

What struck me the most about all of this was the fact that Seth understands the notion of constraints, while still refusing to be bound by them. He sees constraints as merely challenges to overcome, challenges that he welcomes to some extent. These obstacles have not held him back, they've merely forced him to figure out a better way around them.

I wonder what would happen to us if we were able to see our lack of resources as opportunities to shape creative ideas? What if we moved from thinking that lack of resources was our problem to thinking that our roadblocks may lie in a lack of creative thinking?