Sunday, August 30, 2009

Don't take your eye off the ball

I love snakes, fascinating and beautiful creatures. Most people, including me, are scared or at least very wary of them. But many kill them when there is no need. Australian snakes have a fearsome reputation which is pretty unfounded.

Fewer people have been killed by snakes in recorded history than cars kill in one month or so.

My sister knows my enthusiasm for the legless wonders and, joined by my parents, bought me a course to learn more about them for my birthday. But I'm going further and becoming a registered snake handler, on call to rescue snakes from my neighbours. As a volunteer for NSW Wildlife charity, WIRES, people will be able to call me to remove venomous snakes from their homes.

But the course was not without a few hairy moments - as this 'rescue' of an angry carpet python shows.

Friday, August 21, 2009

England Youth Volunteer Awards

Do you know anyone who is a wonderful volunteer - and between 16-25? Nominate them immediately! You only have until the end of the month...

Read more, and nominate here.

Google gives free stuff to charities

A little experiment a while ago showed me that quite a few charities are using Google Adwords in Australia. But not all charities are aware that this is free - Google will give you a grant if you are really nice*.

I thoroughly recommend that if you meet this criteria for digital fundraising that you apply for the grant, if you haven't already. DO NOT apply if you don't meet this criteria ; there are more important things to do that will raise you more money
  1. You have someone responsible for planning and monitoring your online signups
  2. You have someone with the time to be testing different messages to drive traffic
  3. You know why you want people to come to your website
  4. You know where on the website you want them landing
  5. You have calls to action on every page of your website - even if 'sign up for free newsletter'
  6. You have a plan to follow them up, very, very fast (you have 30 days or so honeymoon and should be emailing them 2 or 3 times a week in that period, calling them if you are trying to get regular givers with ten days or so) - separate blog coming on this eventually (I learned lots about it at US conference recently)
  7. You are already on top of your mail program, and are calling top donors to say thank you and remind them about important mailings (there is no doubt that if you are not doing this, you'll make more money than spending the Google Adwords grant)
  8. You have budget to roll on paying for Google Adwords and other online media if you get it working
  9. You have someone who absolutely and totally gets how Google Adwords works.
  10. I am sure I've missed something... comments please!
If you don't meet the criteria above, you can cheat by hiring an agency to do it for you, but even that is pointless unless it fits into a whole strategy which has a decent rollout budget.

*(They don't say 'nice' their version is slightly, but not much, more complicated).

Charities we noted were sponsoring words when typed in on an Australian IP Australian a couple of months back are below. With a couple of months of results, any feedback guys?

· Amnesty
· Leukaemia Foundation
· Greenpeace
· Unicef
· Starlight
· Saving our World
· Make a Wish
· Reach Out
· Planet Cancer
· Red Cross
· Canteen
· Oxfam
· Sick Kids Foundation
· ChildFund
· Compassion
· World Vision
· Flying Doctors
· Save the Children


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who Let the Dogs Out II

Are you a glutton for punishment?

I recently posted my keynote presentation at ADMA Forum - 'Who Let the Dogs Out' but have just found out that ADMA actually record them too. So you can watch the presentation.. and listen at the same time.

It is 48 minutes of me talking though - so be warned. Click here and then click on my name.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Charity board members and the door-mounted-brain-zappers

Last year I did a bit of work in Singapore. I met some lovely fundraisers who work in what is probably the most conservative fundraising environment anywhere in the world, with some really silly laws that prevent the country being a serious contender for being the nonprofit capital of Asia, something to which the Singapore government aspires.

Whilst there I was especially astonished at the level of interference by volunteer boards in the day-to-day running of charity business.

In one meeting I got up to have a closer look at the doors to the boardroom. The only explanation for what was happening in the boardrooms was that there must be tiny brain-zapping devices planted about head-height into the door frame.

Whoever put them there was clever - they were invisible to the eye, but, although improbable, they must have been there. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle helped me to this conclusion. "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, it must be the truth."

You see, very powerful, rich, clever business people, would spend the day wheeling and dealing, laying off hundreds of people, hiring loads more, spending millions on marketing, buying a foreign telecommunications company before breakfast, and brokering a deal between China and Australia to buy uranium over lunch.

Then they would go to the charity board meeting, walk through the door with the zapping things and turn into absolute gibbering idiots. They would start arguing about the colour of the logo at the charity ball, who would sit next to who and then give the fundraisers grief for not performing miracles and recruiting tons of donors with no money to spend.

On top of that, they would be scared to actually ask a friend for money for their charity.

In Hong Kong I investigated to see if the same thing was happening there. The answer was yes, but thankfully with a few exceptions (more exceptions than Singapore).

I reflected on my experiences of being a fundraiser and director at my previous (UK) charity employers and my experiences in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It would appear that these zappers are pretty universal in boardrooms around the world.

So, fellow fundraisers, what are we to do about it?

Well the first thing is to understand why charity boards exist. They are there to govern. Not to manage and certainly not to do.

You may have heard the phrase ‘... in America, it is Give, Get or Get off...' which us Australians (and Brits) used to think was the case for all charities in the USA. Well, news flash - it isn't: most charities over there have board members who refuse to ask for money too. Just get over it. It is not their job to ask - it is yours. Sure, you can try and get some of them to help but don't depend on them.

There is a great book, Tiny Essentials Of An Effective Volunteer Board by Ken Burnett. Buy it. It is cheap, and tiny - and takes about an hour to read. Get all board members to read it and it will revolutionise your charity. Whatever happens, it will revolutionise your career.

Ken thinks there are five key roles for boards:

1. Watchdogs (protect public interest, brand [mission] guardian etc)
2. Strategic oversight (help develop strategy)
3. Hire and fire CEO, including monitoring performance / targets etc
4. Support management
5. Understand and approve finances

That seems sensible enough. What goes wrong though is that many boards have a total lack of understanding about fundraising. Fundraising is like a secret that is on view for everyone to see, but non-fundraisers don't actually know what happens.

The non-fundraising people of the world think charities get money from events, companies and possibly just by magic. They don't really think about it.

They don't know that across the sector, government is the biggest contributor.

They don't know that of non-government net funds only about five to ten per cent comes from companies, and about the same comes from events.

They wouldn't be expected to know that bequests account for about a third of net funds, and that those pesky junk mail letters and cheeky backpackers are dragging in nearly half.

They have no idea how expensive it is, or that everyone doesn't do things for free.

They expect charities to get free advertising, free print and free everything else.

Your board members - no matter how clever they are - don't get this either. How can they do any of the five key roles without understanding fundraising?

Logically, a charity board should comprise people with different areas of expertise enabling them to govern wisely, asking the right questions, setting the right parameters, recruiting the right CEO.

Some charities aim for a wide spectrum of board members, but it is a mystery why they never seem to ask fundraisers to be on their board.

I wondered about this; why don't boards ask fundraisers to go onto boards? Maybe they are worried about having a fundraiser from the competition on the board? What about consultants like me then? I would never want to be a board member of a client, that has a clear conflict of interest, but surely I have something to offer?

I thought maybe it was just me - bolshy, agitating, impatient; mathematician fundraisers with my personality would probably be too much. But I chatted with a few other consultants and senior fundraisers and found I was not alone.

Probably this is self-fulfilling; as I said before, boards in general don't get fundraising, so they don't understand the skills they need.

The solution is obvious. Boards need to be taught the basics and economics of fundraising. The reality. We need a board fundraising induction kit. A couple of years ago, I offered free places for board members accompanying staff to fundraising training courses but got hardly any take ups.

A typical master class nowadays will have less than five per cent of attendees being board members of a charity.

But there is a board management and fundraising kit, and I suggest you put it together for each and every one of your board members now and for every new board member appointed. The kit comprises of:

  • two books - Tiny essentials of an effective volunteer board (Ken Burnett), Tiny essentials of fundraising (Neil Sloggie)
  • a few other publications (listed at the end)
  • a presentation (at least annually) about fundraising, not your fundraising but the sector's

For your presentation, I recommend you nick bits from Givewell's annual report on giving but keep it simple. Although not written for this purpose, my white-paper ‘Ten tips to fundraising in a recession' has a load of useful charts and a good section on why return on investment is the wrong measure for fundraising.

I asked Ken Burnett for his top half dozen tips for effective boards and he sent me 21.Here is a little selection.

The board serves the organisation, not the other way around.

  1. Make sure everyone fully understands the different roles of the board and the management ‘top team'. Management manages. The board governs. Define the different roles, making clear what governance means.
  2. Keep the CEO involved (and management team too). Never meet without the CEO, unless in a crisis that involves replacing the CEO.
  3. Reduce paperwork. Make sure your meetings serve the need of the organisation, not the trustees.
  4. Get the board's balance right: introduce formal terms of service, retirement policy, gender balance, age, representation from the field, regions, retaining institutional memory etc.
  5. Run good, enjoyable and informative meetings. Make sure they start and end on time.

If you are a fundraiser, you may feel that you have little influence on the board - particularly as to how it is selected and run. If you are right about that, then it means the board needs you more than it knows. Go through the proper channels (usually the CEO) but make sure they know about the help they can get, and that you are only trying to help your beneficiaries.

Good luck.

The books mentioned can be bought from White Lion Press. My white paper is available by emailing Justine.

Also, check out:
The Essential Trustee: What You Need to Know (Free - UK)
Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards (USD$27- USA)
Board Membership with Purpose and Fun (Free - UK)
Facing the Financial Crisis - Ten Smart Things Your Board Can Do Now (Free - USA)
A Process For a Formal Governance Review and Evaluation (Free - UK)

I originally wrote this for Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine and their monthly e-bulletin.

It's a good fundraising rag - even for those beyond Australia's shores.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Charity Newsletters are rubbish

OK, they are not entirely. But they also not necesarily the best thing fundraisers should be spending your time on.

Good newsletters are good, but let's face it - there aren't many of them - so stick with personalised letters. Tom Ahern, the world's leading charity newsletter expert disagrees.

Check out my debate with him on Sofii. And below are the slides from a masterclass in Melbourne where we 'proved' newsletters were rubbish - usually.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stupid charity ads

Charities wasting money drives me nuts. Especially (but not only) 'awareness' advertising for fundraising. Often free design from clever, top flight ad agencies.

ADMA, the Australian Direct Marketing Association has invited me along to help judge work for awards beyond charities. I really enjoy this, but it never fails to confuse my commercial counterparts that I only work for charities. Their confusion comes from the fact that they are pretty honest about the fact that they don't charge charities for work, 'they just do it for awards - great for marketing'.

But I won't name them, because I am too, um, polite. (Though Todd Sampson, CEO of Leo Burnett in Sydney said it in front of hundreds of people at the FIA Conference, so happy to name in - and give him respect for honesty.)

Jeff Brooks, creative director at Merkle has no such qualms. His blog, 'Donor Power Blog' is brilliant stuff, and one of my favorite areas he blogs about is 'Stupid Charity Ads'. Here he doesn't mess about and says it like it is - including taking a very unsubtle shot at Todd's agency and their WWF ad.

Check out these 'stupid charity ads' including the 'Leo Burnett edition.'


Friday, August 7, 2009

Urgent - read this blog now!

After years of testing, with evidence from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and more recently in Hong Kong, we see that urgency and clear explanation of need in fundraising emails, mailings and phone calls boosts response.

We also know that it continues to work. Quite often the first time this approach is used will witness a considerable lift in income, especially if tied in with a target, deadline and specified ask amount. We see that the lift tends to stay there for years afterwards too.

Evidence from the commercial world also backs this practise up – check out Dell’s website any time and you will be confronted with something like this:

‘Book now’, ‘Hurry whilst stock lasts’ etc – Holden is running a ‘Holden Owner’s Grant’ which has been ‘extended – limited time only’.

It is a well known sales fact that creating urgency and immediate action increases sales. And charities are no different to companies.

My colleagues and I are big proponents of the deadline / urgent approach – in every call to action. The Obama campaign was notorious for its superb immediate calls to action, and near instant gratification. With political advocacy group Get Up!, campaign urgency is a big factor in their ongoing success. I receive maybe thirty requests a year from Get Up!, usually all urgent – check out this extract from one of their emails ...

"Dear Sean,
The Murray-Darling is at breaking point - literally dying of thirst.

The Murray-Darling Basin accounts for over 40% of Australia's agricultural production and grows almost a third of all our food. It's Australia's food bowl. Could we survive without this mighty river system?

It's time to implement urgent solutions to save it - as things heat up in the coming months, the Coorong Lakes at the Murray's mouth may even dry up completely before summer's end. Click here to help save the Murray-Darling before we turn our nation's food bowl into dust bowl:

Now GetUp! often has real deadlines – legislation, events, court cases, hearings etc – this may make it easier. Yet we frequently manage to get across a sense of urgency in campaigns, even for organisations with long, long lead times such as medical research.

This is done by talking about funding options, missing out on vital research etc. And to ‘create’ deadlines (beyond Jesus’ birthday and the annual tax office visitation) you can use ‘an important meeting ...’ as a deadline. There are always upcoming important meetings where finances are discussed, and money is always needed in the bank for then, so this makes sense.

But, out of a fear of reducing life-time-value, some fundraisers fear these techniques. In a masterclass a fundraiser once said “I am sick of all this urgency – surely the donors must be too?”

Well, firstly, this fear is unfounded – it doesn’t seem to push donors away, even after years of it.

A small proportion might complain, but not enough to worry about. Having said that, if every single communication is ‘urgent, give us money now’ I think (but have no evidence) that you might begin to wear out donors with the same message.

My recommended solution is to balance urgent messaging (which doesn’t always have to have the word ‘urgent’ mentioned) with donor care – communicate occasionally with donors, with no ask for money. Do this twice a year or so, plus some extra emails. Explain the impact of what they donated, update on case studies. I mean beyond newsletters – use direct letters that say thank you and acknowledge the donor for their support.

When the last fundraiser told me they didn’t want to do all this target, deadline and urgency stuff I just asked them if they didn’t need money next week. Of course they did.

The moral of the tale? If you need money next week, don’t be scared to say so.

Every month I write something agitating like this for Fundraising and Philanthropy magazine - for their e-briefing 'The Agitator'. Subscribe to their e-briefing here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fantasy League Football

Calling all fundraisers and friends - who like Football (the proper sort, with a round ball).

Let's get a bit of competition in the Pareto Fantasy League.

I have done it for years, and am still rubbish (last year I did a 'lucky dip' random team and it did better than my painstakingly chosen team) – but it is fun and easy.

Register a 'Fantasy League Classic' team on It costs ten English squids.

You can take hours picking a team, or 5 mins like me - click Lucky Dip and then move a couple around. You must have a goalkeeper, 2 fullbacks, 2 centrebacks, 4 midfielders and 2 strikers. Plus 5 subs.

Once you have set up a team, let me know your team name / registration and I will invite you into our league.

Even for English born Pareto staff, we are NOT making this a requirement of employment, and continued relationships with clients and suppliers is NOT dependent on them putting in a team.

First match is 15 August: Chelsea (booo!!!) v Hull (yaay!!!)


Saturday, August 1, 2009

International payments and more

Our IT manager, Bob Mason loves PayPal. So do I - incredibly convenient and fast. But we have only just realised that you can now do monthly giving, and charities can get a big discount on fees.

This should have great implications for charities like The Sumba Foundation - a small but brilliant charity that I want to support but international charges are too high for smaller ongoing regular gifts.

Paypal charges 1.1%+30c per transaction for charities - which is 52c on a $20 a month donation; comparable to local banks.

I notice only a few charities actually accept PayPal, but I expect this to change pretty soon. If you are in a charity, then please accept PayPal online - it makes it easier for the donor to give!

Setting up an account is easy, but make sure it is a "Business type". Registering as a charity is a little more complex though; email PayPal and they give you the instructions.
Disaster Fundraising Guide download it here