Back and better than ever...

Well, without meaning to I've let over three weeks slip by without a single post. I figured it was high time I posted an update lest you all think I was trapped under something heavy (When Harry Met Sally reference, yes you're welcome).

2013 is off to a great start for me, and I hope for you. Lots of more detailed posts to come but here are a few tidbits of what has me thinking and wondering:

  • First meeting of the Invisible Children board last week. What this group has done and continues to do is nothing short of amazing to me; more to come in the next weeks and months. I couldn't be more honored to be a board member.
  • Spending time applying non-linear regression models to fundraising data -- oh dear, this is really more interesting than it sounds. Hopefully I'll have some way to illustrate that in coming weeks! Stay with me people...
  • Speaking of fundraising data, I'm presenting at the annual Run-Walk-Ride Conference again this year. It's become an annual ritual I very much look forward to. If you're going to be down in Atlanta March 13-14, drop me a line so we can connect.
  • Speaking of fundraising data again, Chuck Longfield of Target Analytics/Blackbaud presented some helpfully alarming statistics about donor retention last week at the Nonprofit DMA conference that are worth your review. I say "helpfully alarming" because there have been people in the industry (like myself, ahem) trying to highlight the need for better engagement for years. Seems like no one wants to listen to the idea that engagement is hard work. Twitter is great for communicating but it ain't gonna magically create more donors for ya! Trust me on this. I'm hoping Chuck's presentation will rattle some cages. More here.
  • Switching the subject before I fall off my high horse, we've recently launched the 2013 Muckfest MS, a series of 18 obstacle races. Think Wipeout. With mud. And beer. You need it. Give it a look here.
  • Ulrich Schnauss, who has the best name in music, released his new album A Long Way To Fall today. I love everything he does and would recommend it without question.
  • Speaking of music, am I the only one who thinks the new version of iTunes is atrocious?

See, I'm back. :-) More soon.

This just in: Fundraising is hard.

In the category of "Tell Us Something We Don't Know," last week Compass Point published UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, which concludes, among other things, that nonprofits struggle with high turnover, difficulty finding qualified staff, and a lack of a holistic orientation towards fundraising. I had no idea!

I intended to write a summary and commentary on the piece, but the week got away from me – and better still, Katya Andresen of Network for Good has already done both for me here

Oh, I don't know – I don't mean to be so snarky about the study. It's a good read, and worth a few minutes of your time. That said, I'm not sure I'd consider it groundbreaking. If you've been in the nonprofit space for more than two weeks you knew all of this already. 

Fundraising is hard work, and despite what some people will say it isn't sales or marketing or communications. It is its own discipline. It requires practice and patience and determination. And more than ever, it requires leadership.

Yes, fundraising is hard work, but it is work worth doing – and work that, more than ever, desperately needs to be done. Call me old fashioned, but if we want better fundraising leadership the place to start is within ourselves. I'm not saying we don't need structural and cultural change; that would help. However, to overcome the obstacles we have to decide we're going to stop complaining about them and start figuring out ways to climb over them. 


Finding needles in the social media haystack.

It's a cold, blustery day outside so I'm huddled in my office with a hot cup of coffee catching up on a week's worth of reading. One article at the top of my list this week is  this short piece on Trends and Outliers, the blog of TIBCO's Spotfire data visualization software. In a nutshell, the post outlines efforts by researches to use Twitter information as the basis for predictive models. Professors at MIT have created a model that they say can predict hot topics before they go viral, while a researcher at UC Riverside is building a model that forecasts stock prices based on Twitter chatter about various firms. 

Interesting stuff, with potentially fantastic implications for fundraising. Imagine being able to shift through a pile of tweets to find donors more likely to give at year end. And at the same time, as seems to be the case with all applications of predictive modeling, I see sinister undertones as well. Do we want our global economic health, for example, to be dictated by the whims of millions of Twitter users? Although I guess one could argue that we're not far from that reality already...

In any case, worth a few minutes of your time. I hope you are warm and cozy wherever you are!


Optimism: Yet another reason to try multichannel fundraising.

I thought this post on Beth Kanter's blog from Frank Barry (@franswaa) of Blackbaud was worth sharing: It's an overview of Blackbaud's 2012 State of the Nonprofit Industry report. Not surprising, "flat or decreasing funding" ranks as one of the top problems cited by the nonprofits surveyed. More interestingly, nonprofits who use multichannel approaches are more optimistic about their fundraising prospects and are up to three times more successful than groups relying on fewer channels.

Who can't use a dose of increased optimism?

Most of the groups I talk with understand they need a multichannel strategy but have a hard time getting off the dime into new approaches. Usually the culprit isn't a lack of ideas, but ironically, a history built upon huge success in a single channel. That is, a nonprofit will find success in one channel and naturally build its organization around that channel. But ultimately this can create a structure that is too rigid. In other words, business processes are often the biggest impediment. 

If your organization has processes that are overly centered on a single way of approaching donors, diversifying doesn't need to be as difficult or as scary as it sounds. Like everything else, the key is to start small. Initial forays into major giving, digital giving, direct mail, or event fundraising can be bite-sized -- you don't have to start by hosting your own triathlon. 

Better results are a compelling reason to diversify in my book. And the prospect of being happier and more optimistic each day? Sign me up!

Full infographic at the source link below. 


Another way to look at Hurricane Sandy donations.

Figure 1: Disaster giving over the last decade. Click to enlarge.

I wanted to follow on Monday's post about the fundraising results from Hurricane Sandy. If you remember, some observers have commented on the fact that the overall donations generated following Sandy have fallen far short of other recent disasters.

Let's first take a look at the fundraising results we looked at on Monday. Figure 1 shows the results of post-disaster fundraising from five recent disasters: the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and Hurricane Sandy. The numbers estimate U.S. private giving three weeks after each disaster.

Setting aside for a moment the tragic thought that there seem to be an increasing number of severe natural disasters, we can see that yes, there does appear to be a downward trend in response. Note that I did not access primary data for the graph, and so there are likely to be inevitable inconsistencies in how the numbers were measured. In fact, I can guarantee we're not looking at a strictly apples-to-apples comparison. But we're interested in order of magnitude, and in that sense we can see that both Hurricane Sandy and the Japan earthquake and tsunami seem to have inspired notably less generosity from the U.S. than the other three disasters.

But is that the whole story? Is giving perhaps related to the overall scale of the disaster?

This is where we find ourselves on tricky ground both ethically and empirically. From an impact standpoint, scale is certainly a matter of perspective. Even one lost home, pet, or loved one is heartbreaking. How can we quantify physical loss and emotional pain? If your heart aches, it aches. 

On the data side, we're on equally rocky footing. I attempted to see if I could quantify the scale of each disaster in economic cost. Given enough time, I could probably find the correct sources and create normalized data -- but I can tell you it does not appear to be an easy task. For example, the economic loss from Katrina is estimated to be far higher than that of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami -- in large part because of the amount of development on the Gulf Coast as opposed to that in rural India. But does that make Hurricane Katrina more tragic?

Figure 2. Disaster impact as measured in overall loss of life. Click to enlarge.

What if we turn to a more verifiable -- and macabre -- statistic: Number of deaths. These statistics are, sadly, very easy to find. And, without sounding crass, they do not need to be indexed for inflation. Figure 2 presents total confirmed deaths attributed to each disaster.

What do we see? Well, we see a different picture. It's hard not to be struck by the enormity of the crises in the Indian Ocean and Haiti. Again, this is not to say that the other disaster weren't crises; our attempt here is to find a way to compare the relative impact. The overall loss of life from the disasters in the U.S. was far less than the disasters in other parts of the world. 

Figure 3. U.S. giving as compared to loss of life. Click to enlarge.

Now let's go back to the giving numbers. We now have enough information to take our data analysis one level deeper. Figure 3 shows a basic scatterplot of U.S. giving as compared to overall loss of life. In this admittedly very small dataset we can see we have two groupings: A linear trend for overseas disasters, and a separate, very steep cluster for the U.S. disasters. 

All of which takes us to figure 4, which shows dollars donated per death. From this graph we can see that on a relative sense, the response to Hurricane Sandy is the most generous by far. It is a grisly metric, to be sure -- and let me say once again that I in no way mean to imply that some losses are more important than others.

What I am trying to do is show that the truth is often in the interpretation. In matters of giving data, as in most things, it is worth doing a bit more digging before deciding you have the whole picture. I don't contend that figure 4 is the whole story, either -- but it is a valuable addition to the discussion.

Figure 4. Donations per death. Click to enlarge. 

For my part, I do not believe that our country is less generous, or less responsive, or weary of providing relief. I believe that people give according to the perceived scale of the impact. At least on this  measure, the response to Hurricane Sandy has been laudable. At a time of political weariness, economic sluggishness, and sustained appeals for help, we continue to respond to the call.