When to Hire a Consultant

“I don’t know where to start.”

 “Too many expenses, not enough revenue.”

“We know what to do, but can’t figure out how to get there.”

“If our organization raised more money, we could….”

Hiring a consultant is like hiring a mountain climbing guide. You have goals you want—or need—to achieve, but something inhibits you from reaching them. Maybe this something is internal disorganization or limited resources; perhaps it’s external challenges or competition.

If you were planning to scale Mount Everest for the first time, you could swing by a store to pick up a few supplies and set out hoping for the best. More likely, you’d seek out experts—via books, blogs, individuals who have successfully navigated the elements. You’d pour over trail maps and test supplies before you leave. You’d probably find a seasoned guide to make the journey with you, to lead you through unfamiliar terrain.

Similarly, a consultant can help your organization identify your goals, develop a realistic and timely plan for reaching them, and provides the tools and accountability for you to be successful. You’ll have a knowledgeable partner and guide in the fundraising effort, peace of mind in the process.

And, consultants can be less expensive than you think. At GSB, we’re about serving our client’s best interests, providing only services you need to be successful. Most of our clients secure funding to cover a consulting contract within the first couple of months of partnering with us. With associates throughout the U.S., obtaining local GSB counsel is easy; check our website to find an associate near you.

Data-Driven Fundraising

Data is big business—I mean majorly big business. Consumer information is arguably one of the fastest growing economic commodities in our society, and organizations are paying big bucks to get their hands on this consumer data. From political analysis to product development, data drives strategy and decisions.

In 2012, a New York Times article raised public awareness regarding how companies are collecting and statistically analyzing consumer information. The article’s author, Charles Duhigg, wrote, “Almost every major retailer, from grocery chains to investment banks to the U.S. Postal Service, has a ‘predictive analytics’ department devoted to understanding not just consumers’ shopping habits but also their personal habits, so as to more efficiently market to them.”

While the for-profit industry capitalizes on data analysis to strategically grow profits and customer base, the nonprofit industry seems to lag behind—particularly in the area of fundraising.

Here are three ways to utilize data in your fundraising strategy, without a lot of added cost:

1)    Know your (potential) donors. It seems obvious, but I respectfully suggest that you don’t know your donors nearly as well as for-profit companies like Target or Amazon.com do. Understand why your donors give—and in this regard, loyalty doesn’t count. Find out what they specifically appreciate about your organization. What other organizations do they support, and why? Where does your cause rank in funding priority? What would cause a donor to increase his/her support?

2)    Track your donor-organization contact. It’s not just about when you send a mailing to the donor, but also when and how a donor responds. Did they attend an event or volunteer for a committee? Was a contribution made in response to a personal visit or public recognition? Are donations directed toward specific projects, but not others? Often donors self-identify and subtly communicate their interests. There is a host of data here, if organizations are willing to look.

3)    Tailor your appeals. Yes, this is a plug for segmentation. Not all donors are the same;  we should stop treating them so by expecting them to respond to one-size-fits-all appeals. We hail long-time supporters of our organizations with recognition and thanks, but often treat them as though they’re newcomers to our fundraising needs, oblivious to our previous partnership.

Target’s careful analysis enables them to send coupons for baby gear or power tools to specific customers rather than spamming their entire database with unnecessary material. When I log on to Amazon.com, I’m greeted with book recommendations tailored “just for me” based on previous purchases—and, no doubt, statistical analysis of similar purchases made by other customers.

Implementing data to grow support shouldn’t be limited to for-profit markets. Whether an agency or congregation, your nonprofit organization has similar information available if you’re willing to look for it. Use this data to uniquely message your organization—and your donors—for stronger partnerships and increased support.

To Know Or Not To Know

I had lunch with a pastor friend of mine last week. I asked him if he knew what his church members gave to the church. He looked surprised and responded, “Of course! Stewardship is a spiritual exercise which is our way of giving thanks to God for the blessings bestowed upon us. If I don’t know what my members are giving, I may miss a sign that something is wrong with my members. I could miss an opportunity for ministry.”

How true. As Henri Nouwen wrote in his book “The Spirituality of Fundraising, “Fundraising is, first and foremost, a form of ministry.”

Pastors should not only know what their members give annually, they should make discussion of a member’s giving an annual occurrence in order to unearth any ministry needs as well as to unleash the joy of generosity.

My friend shared a recent example: “Marjorie, a longtime member of my congregation, stopped giving in the middle of the year last year. It was my first clue that something was wrong. Turns out, she had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which I did not know. I called her and was able to begin end of life ministry, which could have been delayed had I not known her giving habits.”

To be sure, donor confidentiality is important, and steps should be taken at a church to make sure that the fewest people possible have access to the giving records of the membership.  Pastors, though, need to be one of those few people. It is not an invasion of privacy for pastors to know the giving habits of their members–rather, it is ministerial acquiescence not to know those giving habits. If this is the case in your congregation, it is time to have a serious meeting with the council to begin the process to change policy.

3 Tips For Fundraising From a Small Shop

Let’s face it, in recent years few development programs have increased staff. More often, fundraising officers are asked to do more with less, leaving them burned out or too stressed to know where to begin. Here are three tips to maximize your time and optimize your efforts:

1) Prioritize. You can’t personally get to everyone in your donor pool, nor should you. Consider how much time you will devote to stewarding long-term relationships, recapturing lapsed donors and acquiring new financial partners.

  • We know keeping a donor engaged is less costly than acquiring a new one. Maintaining those long-term relationships can result in greater support, both now and later.
  • Devote time to re-engaging former donors who have stopped giving. They know your organization and have emotional reasons to reconnect. Start with those who were strong supporters.
  • Have at least one strategy to attract new donors to your cause. While you should encourage your current supporters to introduce you to potential donors, be specific: Host an event where long-term donors bring a potential new donor, ask faithful supporters to write five letters to friends in their network who would resonate with the mission of your organization.
  • Don’t forget the self-identifiers. People who volunteer, who send a gift before you asked for it—or for more than you anticipated, who demonstrate an interest and loyalty to your organization seemingly “out of the blue” are people you should get to know.

2) Plan. Map out a year-long strategy for whom, how and when donors will hear from you. What do you want them to know? When do you want them to know it? How will you communicate and how will they respond?

  • Donor communication isn’t limited to mailings and donor visits. Also consider events, press releases, non-donor directed material, thank you notes and church announcements.
  • Consider the receiver’s perspective. Too often we communicate in ways that donors find incomplete or ill-timed. Just as in storytelling, donor cultivation requires a thoughtful process of bringing the person along to an engagement with the organization. How do the messages a donor receives from your organization tell the story in a thoughtful and logical manner?

3) Systematize. Critical for small fundraising shops, but incredibly valuable for larger ones, developing systems for donor cultivation will streamline the office work and keep moving donors along in engagement with the organization.

  • Automate your steps. Establish timelines for each step of the process from donor identification to calls and follow-up, from gift received to acknowledgement and receipt, and annual fund contribution to conversation about estate gifts. Wherever a donor is at in the process, you can move them to the next step based on your automation.
  • There are a number of tools available to help you automate. Online calendar reminders are a great way to track next steps. Consider outsourcing a step or two, such as arranging annual delivery of birthday flowers to a major donor with a local florist, or use an online vendor like www.sendoutcards.com to pre-arrange birthday and holiday cards.

When you prioritize, plan and systematize, you can allocate more time executing the task at hand, finding more time for donor cultivation and minimize missed opportunities for communication and strengthening donor engagement.

Celebrating, Not Pledging

I don’t necessarily enjoy being on Facebook, but it does keep me connected. I am part of several denominational Facebook communities where pastors can share questions and get support.  I normally just skim my way through, but the stewardship posts normally catch my attention, and they often get my blood pressure going.

The other night, someone posted that they were so excited that the congregation decided not to pledge this year!  I was furious and perplexed.

Studies show that those who pledge give many times more than those who don’t.  The same people who complain about pledging are willing to get married and take out mortgages—both forms of pledging.  By not pledging, we proclaim that something is not important.

If we believe what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, your heart will follow,” then for our organizations to get the hearts of our members, they have to be investing their treasure in them.  The average donor gives less than 3 percent of their income to the church.  The median member gives 0.9 percent.  Therefore, the majority of our members are not investing their treasures in our organizations or churches.

We need to expect more of our constituency, not less.  It is about their hearts.  I’m not interested in not having the heart of my people in my organization, therefore I am not willing to let people not pledge.  Our organizations deserve our best.  If they don’t, then we need new leadership in our organizations.

Ignorance Will Kill the Kingdom

I was speaking with a group of pastors the other day.  The topic of stewardship came up, as it often does when I am in the room.  We talked about how larger portions of congregation budgets are being provided by fewer donors.  There used to be the 80/20 rule that 80 percent was given by 20 percent of the people.  Recent studies have shown a shift to 90/10, and worse.

The critical problem occurs when these large donors leave, either because they move, they get mad, or they die.  Making up the difference from a few large donors can be nearly impossible for many churches.

When you have a large donor or several, you should celebrate.  However, you should work exceedingly hard to raise up other donors.  Just because the Smiths will write a check at the end of the year to balance your budget, doesn’t make that a good thing.

In fact, when you have that situation, growing your donor base should become even more critical.  I suggested to these pastors that they encourage these large donors to use their gifts to help raise up other generous donors.  This can happen by matching or challenge gifts.  Even better, it can happen by personal witness and faith sharing by the donors who understand generosity.  If we are going to replace these donors someday, we have to be teaching the next generation how to become like them.

Offering Plates

I have definite ideas about offering plates.  I think offering plates should be round, large, (at least 12 inches in diameter) made of brass and heavy.  A person receiving the plate from a pew neighbor should have to put both hands on the plate, and it should not rise up in the air when it is received. Felt material in the bottom of the plate is optional.

In other words, the receptacle should be worthy of the gift.  If I’m making an offering to God, and putting money in an offering plate is a symbol of giving something of myself, then that act needs proper attention.

I may be obsessing about offering plates because I have read three books recently with “offering plate” in the title.  For a while now, however, I’ve been observing the passing of the plate ritual in congregations, and I’m not very happy with what I see.

The ritual has changed.  I can remember when receiving the offering took an usher on each end of the pew to keep the plates moving smoothly and reverently.  Nowadays, the passing of the plate is anything but smooth because there are sometimes whole rows where nobody puts in anything. What’s an usher to do?

Last Sunday, I had to chase down the plate in the pew behind me because the first person on my pew shook his head when the usher offered the plate.  The person in the middle of the row ahead of me actually held up her hand like she was stopping traffic to indicate that she didn’t need the plate, either.

I’m fairly confident that this negative body language does not indicate that these worshipers have no intention of giving; rather, it is a sign that they have already given. They either write one check monthly or use automatic bank draft.  Either of those methods of giving is good and represents “first fruits” giving. Congregation leaders should encourage such systematic donations.  But where does that leave the passing of the plate or receiving the offering?

Are there ways we can keep the emphasis on the offering as an important part, maybe even the most important part, of worship despite the many conveniences of non-cash contributions?  Consider the following:

  • The pastor can state, before distributing the offering plates, that now is the time in the service when we offer something of ourselves to God. Passing the plate symbolizes our giving something we value to God, even when the money doesn’t go in the plate at that very moment. An announcement such as, “We now worship through our tithes and offerings,” can remind people that we’re still in worship mode, not transacting the church’s business. Quoting the first verse of, “We Give Thee but Thine Own” is also good.
  • Place filled offering plates on the altar (or other place significant in the worship service) even if they are moved later to prepare for communion elements.  Sacrifices have a rightful place on an altar and are central to our worship.
  • The choir anthem, which is most often sung while offerings are being received, could be placed at another time in the service thereby giving both the financial offering and the anthem more emphasis.
  • Worshipers who contribute once a month (by check or bank draft) can be encouraged to place an additional offering representing something they have given up during the week or something or someone for which they are especially thankful.
  • Some congregations have available in the pew row preprinted cards that state this person gives electronically. This allows the person opportunity to use the offering plate and serves to remind others about electronic giving.
  • Children and youth can be encouraged to place their tithes and offerings during Sunday worship.  Parents who contribute in other ways should explain to their children how and when they are giving.
  • Occasionally receive a designated offering by asking everyone who is able to come forward and place that offering directly on the altar or some other place of significance.

Giving is worship and deserves our best presentation.

What Is in Charge?

I recently led a workshop in a large banquet hall.  I was invited in as the speaker.  I was excited to be with this group. I knew of a few in the group who had been eagerly awaiting my presentation.

When I arrived, the hall was set with large round tables very far away from the podium and screen.  I shared with the event organizer that the set-up wouldn’t work. Half the group would be seated with their backs to me. This seating arrangement wouldn’t allow for good dialogue as I made the presentation.  I majored in hospitality, and this really bothered me.

She winced.  Then proceeded to share why she couldn’t ask the event staff to change the set-up without a huge fight.  So, I started to change the set-up myself, only to be told that I couldn’t do that.  We had to leave the set-up as it was.

So, who is in charge?  Not the speaker, not the event organizer.  Unfortunately, not even the guests are in charge in this situation.  In this situation, it is the support staff who run the show.

Who is in charge where you are? Or maybe better, what is in charge?

Are you the church leaders who only talk about mundane issues like whether the coffee is good or whether to pay the organist an additional $10 per month?  Maybe you just talk about how far behind the budget you are.

Or, are you an organization that launches new programs because your program director thinks would be fun, not because the market you serve needs the program offered?  Or, do you just offer what the marketing department says it can make work, even if it isn’t fully aligned with your mission?

The strategic plan needs to be in charge.

Whether you are a church, a hospital, a camp, or a Fortune 500 company, the strategic plan should guide you.  For faith-based organizations, in the planning you should welcome God’s guidance and then follow it as the plan is implemented.  Your plan comes from your mission, which is to serve your market as best you can.  Your plan makes sure that your support staff are focused on what is most important − your mission.

Listening with Half an Ear

How many times have you made a discovery call on a donor prospect, only to leave having done most of the talking?

As fundraisers, we are often the first contact a prospect or donor has with our ministry or organization, and we are responsible, therefore, to inform them about its important mission and vision. Yet that can leave precious little time to find out about their spiritual and philanthropic needs.

Exacerbating this is society’s decreasing span of attention.  The social media lifestyle has lowered our capacity to really listen to what another is telling us.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it “impatient, inattentive listening.” (See Bonhoeffer full statement below.)

Every major gift workshop you have attended has told you the same thing−that successful major gift fundraising begins with relationships.  These cannot be cursory relationships, however.  The most successful fundraisers I have known are those who truly cared about their donors and their donors’ lives−who celebrated life’s joys and mourned life’s sorrows side by side.  It is in relationships like this that we experience and share the true spirituality of fundraising.  Relationships like this start by listening with no preconceptions.

The next time you visit with a donor or donor prospect, be aware of how you are listening.  Use your active listening skills, and spend the time to find out what is truly important to them.  Ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer.  There will be plenty of time later to make the case on behalf of your organization.

The following is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community”:

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

Overhead vs. Outcomes

As donors clamor for greater transparency from nonprofit organizations regarding the use of charitable support, the default tendency is to trumpet minimal overhead as good stewardship of donor funds. But is minimal overhead really the best stewardship of those contributions? Perhaps our focus is misplaced.

Some organizations, such as the American Red Cross, have built strong reputations on directing a high percentage of contributions to specific mission initiatives. While this approach serves some organizations well, more often it leaves others with underpaid staff and underfunded budgets, limiting the potential reach of the cause. Instead of seeking the best, some organizations must compromise for the cheapest.

I’m not advocating high overhead for nonprofit organizations. It is imperative to maintain careful consideration of use of funds for the greatest impact on those served through the ministry. Rather than champion the cheapest of charities, let’s shift our focus—and our language—from one of simply redirecting donor funds to leveraging those contributions for greater impact. Let’s talk outcomes.

If current donor support can accomplish X (number of people served, new ministry initiatives begun, etc.), how much more could be accomplished if donor support doubled? Tripled? To really inspire donors, don’t just double or triple your statistical numbers. Consider the broader, non-tangible benefits.

Instead of reporting how an organization spends donated support, donors are seeking greater impact—desiring to see the needle move on causes about which they care deeply. How are monies pooled together to address new needs, new areas of ministry that are reaching new people—or people in a new way? Sure, it may be that those gifts are used to fund a new position (thus, increasing the dreaded organizational overhead). But instead of focusing on the new hire, highlight the currently untapped work the new hire will accomplish, ways that work will broaden the ministry and how the ministry will be better positioned.