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So Many Portals, So Little Time!

Jessica Walker

Getting Your Money’s Worth From a Nonprofit Consultant

There comes a point in most nonprofits' lives when they need to go outside their organization and hire a consultant to help with one issue or another. Who better to ask for advice on how to do that well than Ellen Simon, the former head of one of Harlem’s most prominent nonprofits and a leading nonprofit consultant now herself. Thanks for the great advice in this week’s guest post, Ellen!


Celebrate your #Nonprofitluv this February with GuideStar

Each February, GuideStar strives to let nonprofits across the country know just how much we appreciate what they do. That’s why we want to hear from nonprofits like yours that are high-performing and doing great work as they use data to drive their impact-making decisions. Let’s rise together to spread a very extraordinary message across social media this month through GuideStar’s third annual #Nonprofitluv campaign!


Why Are Nonprofits So Terrible At Acknowledging Gifts?

The harsh reality is that most of us in the nonprofit sector are not very good at making donors feel special through the gift acknowledgement process.


3 Big Data Trends Nonprofits Should Take Advantage of This Year

 

Plenty has been written about the applications of big data to the nonprofit and social impact sphere. From administrative and fundraising strategy to the missions themselves, data has demonstrated the potential to reshape the way we do nonprofit work forever. And nonprofits are becoming savvier in the way they collect and analyze their data. So, what can we expect from big data in 2015, and how can nonprofits take advantage of these trends?


Think Like a Donor

The hardest thing to do in fundraising is think like a donor. Let’s face it; thinking like other people is just plain difficult. This may be why most marriages end in divorce. Or why teenagers feel so woefully misunderstood. Yet, getting this one thing right has the greatest power to unleash your donor’s generosity towards your cause.


Using Stories for Fundraising

Which approach raises the most funds:

  1. A well-argued appeal that explains the problem and offers statistical proof, or
  2. An emotional appeal that tells a sad story?

In short, which is better?

Answer: stories

Here's Professor Paul J. Zak writing in the Harvard Business Review, in an October 28, 2014, article titled, "Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling":

"Many business people have already discovered the power of storytelling in a practical sense—they have observed how compelling a well-constructed narrative can be. But recent scientific work is putting a much finer point on just how stories change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. ...

"By taking blood draws before and after the narrative, we found that character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis." [Oxytocin is a neurochemical that motivates us to cooperate.] "Further, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others; for example, donating money to a charity associated with the narrative."

Stories do that, statistics don't, as I explain in my books How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money and Seeing Through a Donor's Eyes.

The whole "statistics vs. stories" debate is pointless, according to the laboratory. And yet it's harder to kill than an urban legend. I guess because it all seems so obvious: "Some people like stories. Some people like numbers." Stories, numbers: even-steven.

But even-steven is not true.

Correctly, it should be stated: "ALL people like stories"—there's feel-good neurochemistry involved after all—"and a few people like numbers, too." That's the brain's true state. Storytelling is universal. It has been more important to human evolution than opposable thumbs, as Lisa Cron points out in her excellent book, Wired for Story.

Story: it is how we learn most of what we know.

In three words: 1) emotions 2) totally 3) rule.

In a contest between two competent appeals for the same charity, one well-reasoned vs. one packed with emotional hooks ... well, it's not even a contest, really. The emotional appeal will outperform the rational appeal by many multiples. Every time.

Why? The human brain's hard-wiring.

With the advent of Functional MRIs and other investigative tools in the late 20th century, neuroscientists were finally able to directly observe a phenomenon they'd suspected for more than a century: the dominance of emotion in human decision making. The discovery would come as a shock.

As USC neuroscientist Dr. Antoine Bechara sums it up, "[T]here is a popular notion, which most of us learn from early on in life, that logical, rational calculation forms the basis of sound decisions. Many people say, 'emotion has no IQ'; emotion can only cloud the mind and interfere with good judgment. But ... these notions [are] wrong and [have] no scientific basis." Instead, "decision-making is a process guided by emotions."

As the New York Times reported back in 2007, "A bevy of experiments in recent years suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control."

Making a gift to charity is a decision to act: a purchase decision prompted by empathy, desire, pleasure, anger, a host of other emotions; psychologists have delineated more than 100 states in the human emotional pantry.

Action is what we want.

But trying to cause action using reason is banging on the wrong door.

Top neurological researcher Donald B. Calne explains: "The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions."

In other words, your reasoning might get me thinking. But it's your ability to touch my emotions that gets me giving. That's why you always lead with emotion in appeals and follow with reason; not the reverse.

Tina Cincotti summed up the science nicely. "People act because you moved them emotionally—you made them feel something. MRIs show that it's our brain's emotional nerve center that gets activated first. It's not a rational, logical process where we weigh costs against benefits and make an informed decision. Your brain gets involved later, largely as a rubber stamp to make sure you don't do anything too wacky! But it starts with the heart. If you're not hitting your donors on an emotional level, then you're not raising as much money as you could."

The last word goes to Paul Slovic, a prominent psychologist. His research into "psychic numbing" found that big numbers tend to reduce response. Not as many act.

Slovic wrote, "Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue individual victims whose needy plight comes to their attention. These same good people, however, often become numbly indifferent to the plight of individuals who are 'one of many. ...'"

As to why, Slovic concluded, "The reported numbers of deaths represent dry statistics, 'human beings with the tears dried off,' that fail to spark emotion or feeling and thus fail to motivate action."

When you communicate with individual donors—whether it's in your appeals, newsletters, website, e-mails, Facebook postings—it's not accurate to say that statistics are poison. But it's close.

Tom Ahern
© Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Tom Ahern is author of Making Money with Donor Newsletters, Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes, and How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money.


How Many 800-Pound Issues Is Your Board Finessing?

There's a good chance that your nonprofit needs a fiscal checkup. At the BoardSource Leadership Forum (BLF) annual conference and other venues, nonprofit leaders have told me that they made it through the recession by hunkering down and getting lean. First they cut fat, then muscle, and then bone.


A Short Guide to Thoughtful Rebranding

The most successful rebranding projects tend to follow good organizational development processes such as strategic planning—when an organization's path forward is clearest. Fifty-one percent of the respondents in Big Duck and FDR Group's online survey, whose data informed the Rebrand Effect e-book, noted that a new focus of their work and/or a new strategic plan was a significant catalyst for rebranding. Not only that, but organizations that have completed some sort of organizational development process also see better results than organizations that rebrand without one.

Here is a three-year rebranding process. You can certainly do it faster if your resources permit.

Year One: Are Your Vision and Mission Still Clear?

If it has been a while since your last strategic-planning session, start now. (Many organizations regularly undertake some form of strategic planning every three to five years.) Focus on getting your board and staff aligned around your work. This process often involves hearing from leadership as well as the donors, volunteers, clients, and others who make up the external fabric of your organization, through formal or informal research.

Year Two: How Do Your Current Communications Stack Up?

Consider field testing your existing communications to assess their effectiveness. What's your reputation like in the field? What do donors or clients understand about you based on your website or other materials they receive? What's the buzz about you in their circles?

If what you hear reflects your vision and mission well, there's no reason to make changes. But, if you're not happy about what you are hearing, start by setting a new communications strategy and realigning the necessary elements to reflect it. Year two should also include updating or overhauling your website and other online properties, since that's where most people will interact with you. Train your staff and board on the new brand, and consider integrating it into your human resources practices so that staff are consistently trained and coached to be effective brand ambassadors.

Year Three: Are You Communicating with One Voice?

By year three, make sure you're developing campaigns and stand-alone materials that are on message and on brand, so that everything you produce looks and feels consistent, regardless of who's producing it. Is your social media on brand? How about that speech your executive director is about to give? Your e-news? Are you communicating with one voice throughout the organization? In other words, would an outsider experience the various ways you communicate as reflecting one (your) organization's vision and mission? If not, consider appointing someone on your team to review and coach others to help ensure consistency. Twice a year, review your communications informally (on screen or via printouts) to see how you are doing.

No matter how long the steps in this process take, remember that doing them right should always trump doing them fast. Significant changes to your visual identity and messaging that help shape your internal culture and your external reputation should have a long shelf life, after all. Want more ideas on how to survive a rebrand and live to tell the tale? I've recorded a webinar on this topic. I hope it helps!

Sarah Durham, Big Duck
© 2015, Big Duck

Sarah Durham is the president of Big Duck, a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits. She's also the author of Brandraising and the Rebrand Effect.


Building a Business Plan Around the 'Engine for Good'

The pursuit of corporate profits results in many of the world's greatest tragedies — churning out pollution, perpetuating racial stereotypes and deepening income inequality. But what if it were profitable to do good? What if the more good a company did for the world, the more profits it made? Could we reverse our destructive path?


The Shocking Truth about Marketing and Development for Nonprofits

They’re the same thing.

Let me repeat, to make sure you heard this correctly: they’re the SAME thing.


Using Data to Build Nonprofit Advocacy Capacity

Washington Nonprofits (WN) is the state association for the 58,000+ charitable organizations in Washington State. As a new organization (3 years this fall), we’ve sometimes struggled with how to serve the incredible diversity that is our sector. This article retraces our journey over the past year to learn how to use data so that our nonprofits can better drive social change.

Maps: Who, What, Where

A little over a year ago, Washington Nonprofits received a database from the Urban Institute with information on all of the 23,500+ federally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofits in Washington State. The data included information of each organization’s federal employment identification number (FEIN), type of service, address, and reported expenses. We knew that maps would be critical to making sense of the data but didn’t know anything about mapping. With the help of a graduate student intern, we quickly became adept at making Google maps. A key step in this process was discovering the wealth of easy to use geographic data on the state OFM website. This information allowed us to overlay virtually any political boundary including city, county, legislative districts, and congressional districts. This summer, we sent the maps to our entire congressional delegation and the four state legislators who comprise our legislative nonprofit delegation. WN believes that maps can be a tool to create stronger relationships between nonprofits and our elected officials.


Marrying Social With PR At Your Nonprofit

Social media is an excellent tool for spreading the word about our organizations and causes, but with so many vying for attention the exposure we seek doesn’t just happen organically. We need to catch the attention of the major media outlets that are dedicated squarely on nonprofits to help boost our presence. How? Keep reading.

Identify Your Pitches

When are you going to need exposure? Always, of course, but most especially when you are doing something innovative or exceptional, like:


5 Tips to a Better Board Report

You know your board of directors—the elected or appointed group of people who jointly oversee your nonprofit’s activities—is vital to your organization’s success. They quietly meet every so often and decide your nonprofit’s future in terms of finances, strategic direction, and sometimes even specific initiatives. And it’s your job to give them enough information to understand just how hard your team is working, what you’ve achieved, and what you have planned, without overwhelming them or getting them too far into the weeds. No small task!


Five Tips to Launch Your Grantseeking in 2015

Reprinted from GrantStation


IRS Issues Final Regulations on New Requirements for Tax-Exempt Hospitals

Reprinted from EO Update


Fundraising Training Exercise: Active Listening—What Did You Hear?

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money


The Articles You Read Most Last Year

Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising, and a little about boards—that's what GuideStar Newsletter subscribers wanted to know about last year. Here are the 10 articles Newsletter recipients read most in 2014:

  1. Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Boards and Fundraising, by Kay Sprinkel Grace, published in our March 20, 2014, issue
  2. Five Tips for Planning Your Next Fundraising Event, by Laura Huddle, published in our February 6, 2014, issue
  3. Top 10 Major Donor Fundraising Trends for 2014-2015, by Gail Perry, published in our August 7, 2014, issue
  4. Top Five Damned Fool Questions about Charity Golf, by Tom King, published in our August 21, 2014, issue
  5. Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Building a Planned Giving Program, by David Valinsky, published in our December 18, 2014, issue
  6. Fundraising Training Exercise: Where's the Money? by Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson, published in our May 1, 2014, issue
  7. Fundraising Training Exercise: Where Do You Stand? Fundraising Continuums, by Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson, published in our March 6, 2014, issue
  8. Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Direct Mail Fundraising, by Jeff Brooks, published in our January 16, 2014, issue
  9. Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Cultivating Donors, by Thomas Wolf, published in our February 20, 2014, issue
  10. Board Wrinkles: The Questions I'm Most Often Asked, by Jerold Panas, published in our May 15, 2014, issue

Suzanne E. Coffman, January 2015
© 2015, GuideStar USA, Inc.

Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's editorial director and editor of the GuideStar Newsletter. She thanks the authors and publishers who generously shared their wisdom with GuideStar's readers in 2014.

Kay Sprinkel Grace Laura Huddle Gail Perry Tom King

Four Key Indicators of Nonprofit Success

Richard Brewster

Saying Sayonara to 2014: Our Top 5 Blog Posts

It’s been a big year for The GuideStar Blog. In 2014, we published 227 new posts, aggregated over 250 comments, and averaged over 10,700 site views per month! Our authors have provided blog posts on an array of topics, ranging from Big Data, to nonprofit leadership, to nonprofit communications, to fundraising.Throughout this year, our blog’s goal has remained unchanged: to help nonprofit professionals and their supporters become more effective and efficient.


Going Responsive

Recently my colleague, GuideStar’s Product Manager Scott Menzel, told you that www.guidestar.org is mobile unfriendly—but that it’s about to change.


Does Rigorous Data Analysis Thwart Effective Storytelling by Non-Profits?

Data

Data