Is the Civil Sector in Death Spiral Mode?

Withering Tree 168x300 Is the Civil Sector in Death Spiral Mode?

Wither civil society?

Today’s post is a quick – yet very thought-provoking – share.

I happened upon Ruth McCambridge’s feature story for Nonprofit Quarterly, Jeremy Rifkin: The Future of the Economy is There for the Civil Sector to Claim.  In it she dissects Rifkin’s op ed for the New York Times, “The Rise of Anti-Capitalism.” I often hear a lot of doom and gloom about our sector, so this inspired me.

Maybe we’re not in a death spiral. Yet.

But we do have to create our own future.Continue Reading

Clairity Click-it: Events; Mobile; Social Media vs. Social Business; Acknowledgment Plan; Email Appeals; Corporate Sponsors

Mouse with mouse 300x174 Clairity Click it: Events; Mobile; Social Media vs. Social Business; Acknowledgment Plan; Email Appeals; Corporate Sponsors

Click-it! No, not me. Your mouse!. Then, enjoy your read.

This week’s links are a real potpourri of pretty darn interesting stuff. Check ‘em out!


Click-It: The Secret of the Five Top. Simply brilliant advice from Seth Godin.  I dare you to try it at your next fundraising event. And if you’ve done it, let us all know how it worked!


Click-It: Top 5 Reasons to Use Mobile. This post has all the data you need to Continue Reading

Are You a Troglodyte Fundraiser? 3 Ways to Leave the Cave

Cave dweller 300x192 Are You a Troglodyte Fundraiser? 3 Ways to Leave the Cave

Get out of the cave. It’s stunting your growth!

In case you don’t know, troglodytes are hermits who live in caves. There are 3 ways I’ve found that folks in the development profession fit this description.  Are you a cave dweller? If so, here’s how to get out more.

  1. Get out from behind your desk.
  2. Begin to embrace social media.
  3. Think outside the cave.  Continue Reading

Stop the Nonprofit Fundraising Treadmill: 3 Reasons I Want to Get Off

Treadmill Stop the Nonprofit Fundraising Treadmill: 3 Reasons I Want to Get Off Philanthropy; Not Fundraising

I’ve often wondered why we’re the only sector that defines ourselves by what we’re NOT. Nonprofit.  Why not what we ARE? Social benefit.  Rather than focusing so much on how to scrimp and save and be as cost-efficient as possible, shouldn’t we be focusing on how to spend and grow and be as big and effective as possible?

Nonprofits are stuck in a vicious cycle that jeopardizes their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed. Three “town criers” have recently shed light on the growing problem. Though they come at the problem from different perspectives, it is arguable that they’re headed in the same direction.  Let’s take a look at the underlying reasons for the sector’s inability to build sustainable capacity.Continue Reading

Philanthropy; Not Fundraising: How Inbound Marketing Enhances Opportunity for Human Connection

Dylan Times are a Changin Lyrics Philanthropy; Not Fundraising: How Inbound Marketing Enhances Opportunity for Human Connection  In my last post I channeled Bob Dylan, calling for a change in the way we do fundraising. Because the times truly are a changin’…

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command, your old road is rapidly agin’…

When I grew up in fundraising I had a shoe box as my database.  I wrote grant proposals on yellow legal pads.  When we got our first FAX machine I complained that now folks expected us to mail and FAX them (so double the work).  When email came on the scene I complained that now folks wanted us to mail and FAX and email (so triple the work). But it was still the same old road of outbound marketing.  At least I understood what it was all about.

Now we’re on a new road entirely.  Because folks are coming to us.  They’re telling us what they want.  They’re defining our brand.  And they’re doing so in real time via a multitude of online channels and using a multitude of Web-connected devices. Opportunity is knocking.Continue Reading

Philanthropy; Not Fundraising: Why Online Marketing Revolution Demands Nonprofits End Business as Usual

Dylan Times are a Changin Philanthropy; Not Fundraising: Why Online Marketing Revolution Demands Nonprofits End Business as Usual

No more transactional fundraising folks. Transformational philanthropy is today’s game.

Once upon a time I knew what I was doing. I attended The Fundraising School, discovered a host of tried-and-true techniques, mastered the art and science of fundraising transactions and went forth to apply the tools at my disposal. Money was raised.

Fast forward several decades, to sometime about five years ago.  I had a dawning realization. I no longer knew what I was doing. I had somehow entered “wing and a prayer” territory. The culprit?  Revolutionary and disruptive technology that, simply put, has ended “business as usual.”

What can you think of that has been done the same way for 50 years? For too many nonprofits the answer is fundraising and marketing (aka “development”).  And it’s beyond time for a change.  In fact, a sea change. It turns out Bob Dylan got it right.Continue Reading

Why the Human Dimension is Key to Social Business Success

Human dimension Why the Human Dimension is Key to Social Business SuccessWe’re really hung up on technology these days. And jargon. We use terms like “social media” to describe a range of practices – from digital communications to any form of customer-centered marketing that embraces the ways in which people interact, inform themselves, form communities and co-create within the current zeitgeist.  Then we mix it up with terms like “social business,” tending to again describe a range of meanings – from…. social enterprise to digital business to social ecosystem to social sales.

We’re confusing the heck out of ourselves, and it’s contributing to fuzzy thinking. It doesn’t so much matter what we call it, as long as we avoid common mistakes and get buy-in from our stakeholders that’s based on tangible, perceived benefits. You say potato; I say potahto.  What we should be able to agree on is that it’s not simply a matter of technology.

Make no mistake – we’re in the midst of a digital revolution that has fundamentally altered the ways people communicate and do business. There’s been an explosion of internet connectivity in the past decade. Social media is an important tool in today’s world.  If we ignore this, we risk becoming irrelevant.  However, using social media does not ipso facto make you a “social business”.

When we apply social media with ignorance it’s not much better than ignoring it entirely. For profit businesses do this as much as nonprofits.  In fact, they could learn a lot from nonprofits about the human dimensions of success – values, relationships and people.  The very definition of philanthropy – the social benefit sector’s financial engine – is “love of humankind.”

Because of the digital revolution we’re all social businesses now, whether we accept it or not.  We must accept. We must adapt. There’s no choice. We must move beyond outbound “telling” marketing to “inbound” sharing marketing. We must source the wisdom of the crowd, and shift our focus from outcomes to value.

What Fortune 500 Community Managers Can Learn from Nonprofits about Social Business, my monthly guest post on the Windmill Networking Blog, is all about the evolution we all face. It’s about how to be more social. How to build better relationships. How to get clear on the values that connect us and our constituents.

Please check out the article, with the actionable tips and checklist, and let me know what you think.

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Chris Beckett

Do You Make These 5 Social Media Mistakes?

stopsign 300x223 Do You Make These 5 Social Media Mistakes?

Stop Making Last Year’s Mistakes

Happy 2013!  Since 13 is one of my lucky numbers, I know it’s going to be a good year. You’ll see that Clairification has a fresh look, and that’s going to be the theme for this year.  A fresh look. A clairifying look, if you will.  So… since so many of you have questions about social media, let’s start by blowing out a few cobwebs and clearing our heads.  Because if you think any of these things, you’re making a mistake.

Continue Reading

Games Board Members Must Play: How Your Nonprofit Leaders Can Help or Harm You

FollowTheLeader WHT original Games Board Members Must Play: How Your Nonprofit Leaders Can Help or Harm You

The absolutely most important game a board member must play is ‘follow the leader.’ In my last post series on “The 3 Ways We Go Wrong Asking Nonprofit Boards to Help Raise Funds” I spoke of the unique job board members have as role models. A growing body of research shows that human beings are, first and foremost, social creatures.  We use the brains of others to think for us and as storage space for our knowledge about the world. In considering whether and how to get involved with any nonprofit, people will look first to the board for guidance.

We ignore this at our peril.

We develop and learn about the world around us through the filter of other people. Board members are the filter through which others in our community will view us. The New York Times columnist David Brooks, author of “The Social Animal,” notes that we are not separate individuals but “emerge out of relationships” and are deeply formed and shaped by them. He states that “people learn from people they love.”
herd mentality Games Board Members Must Play: How Your Nonprofit Leaders Can Help or Harm You

If we really want to change things we need to understand how people behave. It was Aristotle himself who first described humans as “social animals,” and indeed his observation from 350 B.C. has been borne out by the field of evolutionary anthropology. According to the authors of I’ll Have What She’s Having: Mapping Social Behavior, we are a ‘we’ species, not a ‘me’ species. People tend not to think for themselves; they follow the lead of others whom they respect and admire. We are products of a herd mentality. 

The positive thing about us social animals is that we are hard wired to coalesce in groups. Today modern psychology and neuroscience reveal that the human species has just as much of a capacity for empathy and altruism as they do for selfishness and greed.  Frans deWaal writes of this in The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, and Darwin talked of survival of the most empathic when speaking of communities. Significant work by the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, led by Dacher Keltner, also supports this notion. Work in the field of developmental psychology reveals we possess a neural capacity for empathy that guides us from the day we are born. As babies, we cry at the sound of another baby crying. We are attuned to each other’s emotional needs. We want to help one another.
At the same time, we’ve a tendency to pay tribute to the alpha male (or female) within the group. We look for guidance… power… strength… authority… leadership. And, if you will, the board represents the alpha males in your group/organization/community.
Simply put, what the board does matters. It matters a lot.  Foundations and businesses will ask what the board is doing before they commit.  Potential individual donors will decide how much to give based on the size of gifts committed by the board. New board members will decide whether they can abstain from fundraising based on the level of involvement in which they see existing board members engaged. And so on. We want to follow the leader.
Without a board that leads by example it will be extremely difficult for any social benefit organization to survive and thrive. You see, it’s not what we say that really matters.  It’s what we do.  People won’t magically fall in line behind us just because we have a good case for support.  Lots of organizations have a good case for support.  People will line up behind a leader way before they’ll step up to the line on their own.
influencer1 Games Board Members Must Play: How Your Nonprofit Leaders Can Help or Harm You

It turns out that influencers have tremendous power and clout. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, Duncan Watts in a series of publications on social networks, Nicholas Christakis in Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, and Stanley Milgram who developed the notion of “Six Degrees of Separation” (though he did not use that phrase himself) teach us that networks matter, and that some folks within networks are more influential than others.  These are the folks we want to bring onto our boards.  And these are the folks we want to be sure will use their influence on our behalf.

Influencers influencing; this is the most important role board members can play for our organization.

Do you have a good way to help your board members step up to their role as influencers?
Other posts to help your board members embrace their leadership role in fundraising/financing:

Occupy Philanthropy: How to Raise Money in 2013

pyramid Occupy Philanthropy: How to Raise Money in 2013 October 15th marks the one-year anniversary of the community based Occupy movement. Since philanthropy is about creating a caring community, I’m taking a quick break from my current series of posts about boards and fundraising to remind us what we need to do to fully occupy philanthropy and connect with our best donor prospects as we move towards 2013.

 Occupy Philanthropy: How to Raise Money in 2013

If we view the entire world as one big neighborhood then it is incumbent on us, as Mr. Rogers used to tell us, to be a good neighbor. To everyone. This means paying attention to all our ‘would-be’ helpers. And not just at the top of the pyramid, but deep within our own database.  Here’s where we find smaller donors plus many who contribute to our earned income – the parents, patients, event attendees, subscribers and purchasers of services.  These are the folks who are ‘linked’ to us.

Not everyone who can give is immediately apparent. While many nonprofits operate on a major donor model of fundraising (which makes sense when 80 – 90% of the donations are coming from 10-20% of the people), I’ve long held that we’re missing a huge opportunity by not paying more attention to the 99% of folks who are already in our database making smaller gifts.  Sometimes these folks make multiple gifts, or have been giving for many, many years. When we don’t fully occupy our supporter base, we leave money on the table.

Is it okay to partially occupy your potential constituent universe and leave money on the table?  Personally, I don’t think so.  While many organizations are content to simply balance their current budgets, shouldn’t we strive to do more if our mission is vital?  And what about all the people who could become inspired and fulfilled as active supporters of our mission?  Don’t we deny them this opportunity when we ignore them? People want to be part of the solution; not part of the problem.

Part of philanthropy’s role in the web 2.0 and 3.0 world is to shape how newly connected groups grow and change the world around them. Technology is empowering people to come together like never before, and we must not ignore social media. We can learn a lot from the 99% about what is valued about our work, and how we could do what we do better.

It’s not enough to pay attention to the top of our donor pyramids; especially as  many nonprofits have donor pyramids that are in danger of toppling over. Let’s take a page from Aristotle, who emphasized the middle class as the core strength of a viable democracy. Let’s desist in focusing only on the select few and strengthen our cores.  The people at the heart of our constituency will always hold far greater sway in their spheres of influence than will we.

The digital revolution has handed us an opportunity to occupy the entire landscape.  The truth is that most organizations have not had true donor pyramids in a long time.  Yet many nonprofits still cater to the 1% (or 10-20%) to the detriment of much of their base.  I confess that I too was a proponent off this strategy for many years. But that was when our fundraising stool had three legs; it now has four (the new leg being peer-to-peer digital engagement). Donor neglect of all but a handful of our supporters creates a disaffected and disenfranchised base.

Our job is to equip folks to recruit those they know to participate in a cause we all value, and to assist them in coaching others into greater engagement and investment. Not only do we have the technological tools to make this happen, we also are in a zeitgeist (witness the Occupy and Tea Party movements) where people desperately want to be able to exert some control over the society within which they live.  The public benefit sector can give people the control for which they urgently yearn.

If we occupy anything, let’s occupy a philanthropy that truly is of the people, by the people and for the people. 
How do you empower your base?