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Let's do it together.

Let's do it together.

The first three months of Plenty have been a whirlwind. It is hard for me to believe that we've only been around since the end of November, because in only a few short months I've learned so much from the fantastic team here.

It wasn't easy leaving Event 360, the company I helped found eleven years ago. Event 360 specializes in event fundraising. Through our work we raised nearly a billion dollars for charity. As the CEO, I was responsible for strategy, for presenting a great deal of our client-facing work, and more than anything, for helping drive the values of the company. Event 360 was (and will always be) my baby, and I'm tremendously proud of what I helped accomplish there.

And yet over the last few years I found my goals and aspirations changing. In particular I became increasingly interested in the philanthropic mechanics behind events -- a mechanic we call peer-to-peer fundraising. As my time and attention steadily turned towards constituent analytics. multi-channel approaches, and overall nonprofit strategy, it was harder for me to devote time to large-scale events.

When I finally talked to my partners at Event 360 about leaving, I found willing friends. They saw my evolving interests and supported my desire to do something new.

To say that I started Plenty from the ground-up would be a complete fabrication, because of course no one does anything worth doing by themselves. And in my case I was very fortunate to have six compatriots join me in the launch. From the beginning, we have tried to put as much emphasis on the foundations of our young firm as we have on the compelling work we do with our clients. We wrote Plenty's values together; we picked the brand together; we assess our performance together. 

I was reflecting on all of this while I was at the Run-Walk-Ride Conference in Atlanta last week. In a lot of ways, RWR was our coming-out party. Run-Walk-Ride is a tremendously important conference for the peer-to-peer space, and I've been lucky enough to present there for many years. But this year was the first time I attended with a business card that said, "Plenty."

It was fantastic to see the Plenty team share their expertise and energy throughout the sessions. Our group contributed in so many ways, and it was hard not to be struck by the sheer amount of competence and commitment the team brings to the table. But they bring something else, too. They bring a spirit of inclusiveness -- an eagerness to enlist others to create something bigger than themselves.

In the lead-up to the conference, our team was talking about something we could do at our conference booth. If you've ever staffed a sales conference, you know that "the booth" can fill even the most hard-core salespeople with dread. Working at the booth can be tiring; it can be nerve-wracking; it can be mind-numbingly boring. And so coming up with "something for the booth" is the trap of every trade show. It is easy to talk so much about SWAG and tchotchkes that you miss the core purpose of the booth, which of course is to engage with others.

In any case, we were kicking around ideas and a steadily escalating array of giveaways. Finally, someone on the team suggested we do something very basic: Hand out Post-It notes and ask passersby to write down what they are "Happy to have plenty of." It seemed like a corny idea, but no one had a better one, so we went with it.

You know what happened? People walking by the booth were interested to be asked to contribute. They stopped what they were doing and turned towards us. They would laugh and write a silly thought, then pick up another slip of paper and write something more meaningful. It's funny -- often in our desire to connect with others we forget to ask them to engage with us. We forget that they are the most important part of the conversation.

By the end of the conference, our board was covered with notes about abundance and reflections of gratitude.

I can't think of a better metaphor for my first three months at Plenty. We decided, "let's do something meaningful, together," and that was the most important step. 



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.

The State of Event Fundraising

Thanks to David Hessekiel and the wonderful folks at the Run Walk Ride Fundraising Council, I had a chance yesterday to riff for an hour on "The State of Event Fundraising." An overblown title, to be sure, but when David approached me several months ago about speaking I told him I wanted to steer away from my usual mix of strategy and analytics. Instead, I wanted to speak at a broader level about what I'm observing and thinking about.

In a nutshell, I think the dynamics in the nonprofit space are changing, and I'm not sure that we're reacting fast enough. I don't have many of the answers, and I haven't even articulated all of the right questions. But I know enough to know that I should starting talking it through with other thought leaders in the industry.

My fears of appearing overblown turned to performance anxiety when I learned that over 500 people had registered for the presentation -- a new record for Run Walk Ride. As it turned out, over half of those actually showed up and stayed to listen to my ramblings, which can be found on Slideshare here or at the bottom of this post. The entire hour-long presentation, with audio, can be found at Cause Marketing Forum.

I'm not sure what to take from all of that -- y'all don't have enough to do on Thursday afternoons, apparently . But I think what it means is that many others share my anxiety that the dynamics are changing, and many others share my hope that we can benefit from those changes. 

I look forward to sharing some of the observations, thoughts, cautions, and ideas over the coming weeks. 

Analyze this: The whitepaper!

Tomorrow at the 2010 Run Walk Ride Fundraising Conference in Dallas I’ll be delivering the keynote presentation about moving beyond traditional event fundraising metrics and towards a broader set of measures to create deeper insights about event fundraising programs. As part of the conference work, Event 360 has just released a new whitepaper, in partnership with Convio, on the same subject. This is obviously a deep topic — too deep to cover in any one short document — but I’m pleased with the depth we were able to offer. You can download an advance copy of the paper from the Resources section of Event 360’s website.

The 18-page guide is designed to help event fundraisers move beyond only reporting the past and start using analytics to predict the future. A case study featuring the Komen Global Race for the Cure highlights how we used analytics to help transform their highly attended event into a strong fundraising event.

Get the guide for free here. Thanks for reading!

The Importance of Focus

This past week I had the opportunity to lead a webinar for the Run-Walk-Ride Fundraising Council, an organization designed to support fundraising professionals who focus on athletic fundraising.

The title of the presentation was “Doing More With Less” — and not surprisingly, given the difficult economic climate, a number of nonprofit professionals came on the call hoping to find ways to stretch, pull, and tweeze their dollars.

I opened the presentation by sharing the brutal fact that if we define “doing more with less” as literally increasing activity with fewer resources, we’re in for disappointment. It can’t be done; the immutable laws of physics will get in the way. Unfortunately, we cannot create something out of nothing.

However, if we define “doing more with less” as creating better results with fewer resources, then at least have a fighting chance of accomplishing something. More than a fighting chance, actually, because in my experience a great deal of fundraising activity does little more than occupy our time, while the true results come from a few key areas — specific groups of people, specific messages, specific appeals, and so forth.

The real key to thriving in times like these is not to put on another pot of coffee and double the number of hours you and your team are logging. The key is focus. Focusing on the donors, participants, tools, and areas that bring in the results requires an ability to identify those key areas, a willingness to redirect efforts to them, and a discipline to let other activities go. 

Focus is the watchword for fundraising in a difficult climate, and the organizations that understand that are not only coping well with the recession, they are well preparing themselves for the good times ahead. 

For more information and to listen to the entire webinar, click here. (For access to the slides referenced in the presentation, click here.)