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Increasing share of heart.

Increasing share of heart.

I returned home yesterday from the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference in my usual state: Head and heart full, exhausted but invigorated.

Well, something's not right here.

This year's conference sparked a number of thoughts that I'll tackle in the coming weeks, but top of mind is the idea that I shared at my session yesterday: That despite all of our innovation, invention, energy, talent, and passion, the amount of charitable giving as a percentage of overall GDP has remained flat at 2% for the last forty years. I call this percentage our "share of heart."

On the face this data point seems rather mundane but it is quite striking -- and sobering -- when you stop and think about it. What this tells you is that charitable giving is essentially a function of economic growth. In good times, people give more; in bad times, people give less. This total overall giving is irrespective of the level of need, or the number of nonprofits, or the messages we send, or the hard work you do, or anything really. While certain nonprofits may surge ahead or fall behind, the most important factor to overall generosity does not seem to be generosity at all. It is the inscrutably complex black box called the economy.

The public has a heart, for certain, but only a small share of it goes to the nonprofit space. And over forty years we haven't increased our share of heart at all. As the number of nonprofits grows, the only thing that keeps nonprofits from directly stealing or losing share from one another is economic growth -- growth that, as we've seen over the last five years, might hard to predict, or worse yet, small, or worse still,  actually negative.

To truly realize transformative change we need to come to grips with this mathematical reality and have a hard conversation about why our share of heart has stayed constant. Perhaps we need better salaries, relaxed overhead restrictions, and more advocacy, and all of those might help. But my sense is there's something deeper going on here. Either the general public is hard-hearted and there isn't much share of heart to be had; or what we do isn't perceived as the most effective way to effect social change. Since I do not believe the public's sympathies are tapped out, for my part I've concluded that the impact we're making just isn't compelling enough to elicit more donations. 

And that conclusion led me to my other 2013 NTC sound bite: The fundraising silver bullet is impact. The best fundraising strategy is not to persuade people that we could make a difference. We have to actually show people that we are making a difference. A longer road, to be sure.

I have a fair idea I'll be talking about this more in the coming weeks, but for some background reading I'd direct you to a few previous posts from the last couple of years here and here and here.

More to come.

Averages and outliers

Averages and outliers

My head is still bursting from last week's excellent Run-Walk-Ride Fundraising Council Conference. This year the conference was more vibrant than ever.

One reason was that this year's gathering was the largest ever; more people mean more opinions, more interaction, and more overall passion. I think there was something else, though -- as economic conditions slowly improve, I get the sense that nonprofits are ready to get moving again. It has been a slow few years, and there's a healthy impatience in the air. 

Event 360's Suzanne Mooney has written a nice recap of the conference on our blog. And as usual, we've published a fantastic infographic of this year's results; the astute reader will note some interesting trends as compared to last year. 

For my part, I was grateful for my annual opportunity to address the entire conference. This year I pulled back from my usual tactical advice and outlined a larger imperative I see: The imperative to start swinging for the fences again. After five years of playing it safe, it is hard to see the continued benefit of conservatism. Our most powerful advocates, like the most powerful ideas, are on the fringes -- and so playing to the averages isn't going to get it done.

I have a chance at this year's NTEN Conference to expand on this theme in a lot more detail, and I'm looking forward to doing just that at the somewhat-awkward time slot of 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 13. I hope to see you there.

Heart on sleeves + shovels in hands.

Well, despite all good intentions of writing more frequently throughout the summer, here we are in late July with nary one original post in almost a month. Twenty lashes!

Actually, I’ve been quite busy (although we’re not supposed to say that anymore) with a stimulating roster of meetings, client engagements, and conferences. Yesterday was one example: I had a chance to address the rather wonderful staff of the Nonprofit Technology Network during their summer staff meeting. I discussed a tightly-related group of fascinating topics… er, that is, I kind of rambled around about a loosely-connected set of odds and ends. 

One of the common threads of our discussion was the sense of cynicism that seems to increasingly pervade our culture. Even the most optimistic among us are finding it hard to keep our upper lips stiff. When movies become massacres, political half-truths masquerade as informed debate, and economic conditions don’t appear to be particularly well-conditioned, who can blame us for adopting an attitude of resignation? 

Further, what are we to make of the fact that major corporations appear to have grasped onto the ideas of “impact” and “change” as just one more marketing approach? How should we react when we have behemoth institutions promising to help us “Live Better,” empower our potential, and restore the environments they’ve destroyed? We can excuse ourselves our bouts of skepticism. 

And yet, despite all of that, perhaps more optimism is exactly what we need. As a member of the small constituency of sappy, overly sensitive guys out there, let me argue that in a world of choreographed demagogues and overly-inflated blowhards, perhaps we need a few more people who cry at weddings and sing love songs at the piano, at least to restore some sort of cosmic equilibrium. 

The fact is, it has never been easier — and more socially acceptable — to be a skeptic. Hipster coolness, self-righteous apathy, veiled elitism, and detached cynicism are the new cool. We go through life alone together, commenting and criticizing on everything around us, disappointed but not surprised. 

But for those few of you out there who are still reading, I say this: While everyone is sitting on the bleachers complaining about the game, you may have noticed that no one is actually on the field. With so many leadership opportunities and so few taking advantage of them, there’s no easier time to be a world-changer. 

We’ve got “detached cynicism” covered. What we need are a few more hearts on sleeves and shovels in hands. The personal bravery; the whispered hope; the patient dream; the small optimism; the incremental improvement; the tiny change for the better — I will never believe that any are in vain. 

Happy summer.

May 9th Webinar: Deeper Segmentation Techniques for Fundraising!

If you looked at the exclamation point in the subject heading and said, “Huh? That doesn’t look exciting at all,” you can just stop reading now.

But for those of you who get excited by the idea of fundraising segmentation (I know you’re out there!), I wanted to let you know I’m hosting a free webinar next week to explore practical fundraising segmentation techniques. I’m going to try some new visualization techniques that may or may not work, so that in and of itself will provide some excitement above and beyond the subject matter!

This webinar is a follow-up to my presentation at the Nonprofit Technology Conference last month, but will be a complement to it — attendance at that presentation is not a prerequisite. So for those of you who did not attend, I promise you’ll still get something out of the presentation.

It takes on May 9 at 1:00 Central, and you can register here. Hope to see you there!

Notes from 2012 NTC - Day Two

The astute observer may note that I’m actually posting notes about day two of NTC on day three of NTC — take it as a sign of how packed day two was. 

Another long but fulfilling day of conversation. I spent an alarmingly large part of the day, and drank an alarmingly large amount of coffee, at the hotel restaurant, which essentially became the office for dozens of NTC attendees all day. There were times the waiters looked a bit annoyed with tables of six people spending $8 on coffee, but I know they made out on the breakfast and lunch tabs so hopefully it evened out for them in the end. 


  • Great meeting with Donna Wilkins of Charity Dynamics. Besides being an expert on social and mobile fundraising, Donna is an astute industry observer. I always enjoy thinking big thoughts with her.
  • Spent some more time with the leadership team at StayClassy, specifically planning for a fantastic new social impact conference later this year. Stay tuned!
  • Our team had a chance to sit down with Nyla and Amy from Mama Hope and hear about their take on development and how to turn it on its head. Exhiliarating and Inspiring.
  • Interesting meeting with Jonah from Altruicity — he’s trying to bring richer outreach and phone experiences to the space. Some potential applications for our clients.

I’m not sure if the above sounds like much, but that takes us to 6:00 last night and a very tired NTC attendee! A highlight of the evening was going with the kick-butt Event 360 team over to House of Nanking for dinner. WOW. Yum. 

Okay, no more procrastinating — I’ve got to put some final touches on my presentation for later this morning. Just keep swimming…

The presentation is being streamed live, so I hope you’ll come along!