Going A New Direction

Originally, I started this blog a few years ago while serving on the board for a nonprofit that serves the nonprofit community.  It began as a way for me to share my knowledge and opinions about fundraising and its effective and not so effective methods for raising money for nonprofit organizations and schools.  By writing my articles and sharing on different media platforms, I was able to increase traffic to the organization’s website greatly, bringing in readers from all over the country and the world.  It’s an accomplishment that I am proud of.

A couple years later, family events caused me to leave the city where I lived for a very long time, and I moved back to my hometown to care for aging parents.  I continued my blogging, but because I was no longer serving the organization that birthed this blog, I moved the Greater Good Fundraising blog to WordPress.com, and eventually wrote a series on the Ethics of Professional Fundraising.  Many articles were widely shared by fundraising professionals and organizations, and I was greatly honored by those who felt my writing and opinions were helpful to the sector.

Unfortunately, I chose to step away from writing about nonprofit issues.  I took a job in a factory for a while, working nights so I could continue my family obligations.  At that time, I labored anywhere from forty to sixty hours a week, often until 2:00 or 3:00 am, and then got up in the morning to take care of family matters.  I had no time or energy to put into writing.

At the beginning of  2017, I came back to blogging about the nonprofit sector.  I have written a number of posts since the new year began, but it really hasn’t been the same as when I originally started the blog.  I found myself writing about nonprofit topics that took a political turn, largely because of the results of last year’s presidential election.  The observations I started making became rather judgmental because of the political, and sometimes hypocritical actions of many in the nonprofit community, and I strayed away from what made this blog an interesting read, particularly for newer development professionals, because according to much of the correspondence I received from readers early in the existence of the blog, I helped them learn about fundraising methods and donor-centered fundraising by seeing things differently than they had before.

Well, I think it is time to try a new direction for the blog.  Because I am fascinated by what motivates donors to give to the causes of their choice, I have decided to start interviewing real donors and ask them about their causes, their giving philosophies, and their opinions about what is right and wrong about the nonprofit sector.  I want them to tell my readers what is important to them, and let my readers know that each donor is an individual, not a stereotyped demographic.  Those I interview may be a local civic leader or celebrity, a private citizen, an elderly individual, a millennial or even a child.  I believe we can learn from them all.

I have noticed that many in our field of fundraising rely too heavily on demographics when attempting to acquire new supporters, forgetting that no two donors are exactly alike or think and feel the same way.  I hope this new format will give fundraisers and their boards something to think about as they consider their fundraising options in the future.

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Will They Forgive or Forget?

I was blissfully unaware of the events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, until it was pretty much over.  I didn’t spend a lot of time on social media during the day, so when I started getting news updates, one after another, in my email from the Boston Globe, I read with horror about the violence at a “Unite the Right” rally, an event that included participation by the KKK and Nazis, I was appalled.  I started seeking out other sources to get further information and read post after post at various media sites around the internet.

And then, in one report, I found a detail that many of the other sources had ignored.  The city of Charlottesville had tried to cancel the event because they didn’t like the groups or their ideology, understandably, and revoked the permit.  The racist group took the city to court, and with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, the decision was overturned because the city tried to silence the white supremacists by denying their constitutional right of free speech guaranteed by the First amendment.

The irony of Progressives’ money being used to ensure the free speech rights of racists hit me like a bolt of lightning.

A few months back I wrote a post about how progressive organizations had received a huge influx of donations from Progressives and Moderates after the presidential election.  Planned Parenthood gained 300,000 new donors in the last months of the year, and the ACLU received $23,000,000 during that time.  Donors did this to stick it to the new President and his administration.  I’m sure these new supporters thought their donations would be put to use serving Progressive causes.  I’m betting that few of these donors would have ever expected the ACLU would help the KKK or Nazis.

I’ve heard from a few friends who donated to the ACLU after the election on social media.  Those who are in my age group, early fifties to late fifties, were unhappy with what happened, especially the injuries and loss of life, but were mostly gratified that the organization was consistent with their mission of protecting the constitutional rights of all citizens, even those with unpopular opinions and ideologies.  While I don’t support racist groups or their vile ideologies, I will admit I was gratified by the actions of the ACLU.  Perhaps, that is because we remember the 1970s, when the organization fought for the Nazis’ right to hold a march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie.  Skokie has a large Jewish population, and at the time, many of those residents survived World War II and the concentrations camps that exterminated so many people.  At that time, I couldn’t understand how anybody in their right mind could fight for the rights of people that awful, and I despised the ACLU for that.  However, at that time I wasn’t quite a teenager, and I didn’t understand that taking away the rights of despicable individuals or groups could set a precedent allowing the government to take away my rights or someone else’s right.  I had to age and mature to understand that.  Many younger people who gave to the organization are not aware of its history, as many schools never get that far in US history courses, and many of their teachers don’t mention these events, if the ACLU even comes up in the conversation.

The fact is, the ACLU is not an exclusively progressive organization.  Its support of the unpopular groups, both Left and Right, is in accordance to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.  That is their mission! German Lopez at Vox.com has written an excellent piece about the history of the ACLU’s actions that will give you some more background that you might find informative.

The question that interests me now as a fundraising professional is, how will these new donors who contributed to “resist” Donald Trump will react to the news that some of the money they gave for what they thought would be liberal causes actually was used to protect the rights of a reviled group of violent racists?  Will they continue to provide financial support and hope that their money is used the way they want it to be used?  Will they only give to specific causes?  Or, will they stop giving to an organization that they feel betrayed them?

I have already seen signs that there is dissatisfaction on the part of these new donors.  According to the Twitter feed for the ACLU, there are some very unhappy former supporters.

Progressive donors have been known to punish nonprofits that disappoint them, although Conservatives have also been known to do the same.  I recall the reaction to the Komen Foundation’s decision to cut off Planned Parenthood after a Congressman from Florida indicated that PP would be investigated for misusing Federal money.  Komen was attacked by Planned Parenthood supporters, and support from donors and volunteers dropped like a rock.  The breast cancer organization really hasn’t been the same since, and now, its chapter in Phoenix, Arizona is closing or has recently closed completely.

I hope for the best for the ACLU.  While I don’t always support some of the causes they support, I have found a greater respect for the organization, because I know that they are looking out for all of us, and not just some of us.

 

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Eschewing Ethics

I read an opinion piece in the Boston Globe today that turned my stomach.  The piece, “Let Psychiatrists Talk about Trump’s Mental State” was written by Leonard L. Glass, a part-time associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and senior attending psychiatrist at McLean Hospital.  In his opinion piece, Dr. Glass tries to make the case that those in his profession should be allowed to violate their professional ethics and openly diagnose President Trump of whatever psychological affliction they deem he may have based on what they have seen on the news or read in the media, without interviewing and examining him in person.  Obviously, Dr. Glass roots his beliefs in his obvious partisanship, and has no apparent need to follow the ethical standards of the medical and psychiatric professions.  Regardless of one’s political party and beliefs, any fair-minded individual should be concerned about this belief.

Most professions, including medical, legal, governmental and nongovernmental, have ethical standards that they are supposed to adhere to, yet I seem to come across stories on a regular basis where individuals and organizations get caught violating those standards.  I know a number of lawyers who have faced suspensions or disbarment for their lapses of good judgment.  There are plenty of politicians who have been thrown out of office for enriching themselves through their unethical behavior while in office.  And, in my chosen field of nonprofit development, I learn of more and more nonprofit organizations, boards, and professionals who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law because of their decisions to forgo their professional standards.

Since I am not a physician, psychiatrist, or lawyer, I cannot claim extensive knowledge of professional ethics for those fields, but as someone who wrote a series of posts about the ethical standards of the Association of Fundraising Professionals only a few years ago, I have a good deal of knowledge about the subject.  I don’t consider myself an expert, but I do have a pretty good idea of what a fundraising professional can and can’t do.  Most of the horror stories I have read about individuals and organization are a result of ignoring the ethical standards put in place by the AFP.  Stealing from the organization’s coffers to enhance one’s personal lifestyle, enriching a board member by using their business when other businesses would be more appropriate, or doing things that shine a bad light on the organization are unethical behaviors that should never take place, yet every week a new story is published.  I find these tales appalling, and every time I read one, I can only shake my head.

It seems to me that a major reason for the many problems is that too many people now ignore the ethical standards that are put in place for a reason.  I don’t see ethical practices followed by many in the business world, and that is why profit is far more important than fair treatment of employees and customers.  (Does anyone know if business schools even teach ethics anymore?) The government has a number of offices dedicated to ethics, yet many politicians from both political parties, including President Trump, don’t believe ethics apply to them. (Aren’t politics and ethics oxymoronic?)

When was the last time you read through the AFP Code of Ethical Standards?  Some people in our field read them annually or more often, while others have never read them or even heard of them.  I know of a few cases where an individual knows the ethical standards and then, knowingly violates them, and the organization that employed them suffers the loss of support of its donors to the point of having to close their doors and end their programs.

I guess what I am saying is, don’t be like this psychiatrist, Dr. Glass, who believes that professional ethics should go the way of the dodo because they interfere with his political activism, but take more time to study the ethical beliefs of your profession, and  make sure that your decisions are in line with your profession’s ethical standards.  Maybe we can slow that slide down the slippery slope that our society seems to be experiencing.

 

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Some Supporters Can’t Support That

Last night, a couple of stories from the Tony Awards started circulating on social media.  The first and most surprising to me was that the award show cut the presentation of a lifetime achievement award for one of the finest actors of the stage and screen of my time, James Earl Jones, and that appalled me.

The second news item was that Delta Airlines and Bank of America pulled their sponsorships for the Public Theater’s production of the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, due to the director’s decision to use a Donald Trump look-alike as Caesar.  If you recall from your school days or the movie adaptation, Caesar is stabbed to death by Roman Senators in their effort to keep Rome from being ruled by an Emperor.   From what I read in the New York Times article, the depiction of the assassination of Caesar (Trump) is rather graphic, so after a campaign in the media, both companies chose to end their financial support.

That doesn’t surprise me in the least.  Businesses have their reputations  and their stockholders to consider, and being connected to such a questionable and politically motivated performance is not something they need to be connected to. These are businesses that provide services in all parts of the country, not just the more liberal anti-Trump coasts, and they really can’t afford to drive off half of their customers.

As I continued following the tweets and posts, I read a great many comments crying foul, particularly from many of my associates in the development field in the nonprofit sector.  Some cried censorship, bemoaning the lost financial support as a way to silence the theater and director, infringing on the First Amendment Rights of Freedom of Expression.  What those people fail to understand is that a sponsor, like any other donor, has a right to stop supporting an organization for any reason, but especially if the organization does something that can create controversy and go against the beliefs of the donor or business.  The sponsors are not denying the theater company the right to express their beliefs, but are simply using their right not to support the manner which the Public Theater expresses its vision.

Controversy and politics can have a deleterious effect on nonprofit organizations, and the Public Theater should have been aware of the potential risks.  Remember a few years ago, when Komen decided not to renew financial support for Planned Parenthood because of a potential Congressional inquiry?  That ended up costing the breast cancer foundation millions in support, even after they backtracked on their decision.  What about the time an employee of an organization posted a picture that appeared to be disrespectful to those buried in Arlington National Cemetery?  It cost the employee her job and her employer financial support from donors.  You read stories like these all the time, unfortunately.

Honestly, I think the Public Theater will survive and will find support from other sources.  There are many businesses and philanthropists that share the director’s vision and dislike for President Trump who will step up and replace the lost funds.  It might take some effort, but it can, and probably will be done.

My only hope from all this is that nonprofits learn this valuable lesson:  If you court controversy, realize that not all supporters can or will continue to support you, and they will leave.  It is their right as donors, and they are using their freedom of expression to let you know you may have gone a bit too far.

 

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Nonprofits and the Relationship Attention Deficit Disorder

Ten years ago, I went through a pretty traumatic divorce, and when I thought I was ready, I signed up for a couple of online dating services which I won’t name.  I tried it for a few months, but nothing came of it, and I found I really wasn’t ready after all.  I decided to give online dating another try late last year, and I ran into many of the same issues that I encountered the previous occasion.

After signing up initially, a subscriber puts together their personal page, adding a few complimentary photos, answering some personal questions, and telling prospective partners what you’re looking for in a relationship.  After you finish, you start browsing through profiles while other browse through your profile.  Someone might send a “flirt” to let you know they’re attracted by what they’ve seen in your profile, or someone might actually take the time to send you a thoughtful message.  You start a conversation online, which may go on for several days, but the relationship doesn’t progress to phone conversations or meeting in person, and as time goes on, more flirts and messages come in, and you or the person you’ve been communicating with start losing interest because there might be someone better out there in cyberspace.  Before you know it, a good thing that you just created is over.  You’ve lost a potential relationship because you are looking for something better, and not making the necessary effort to create a truly lasting relationship.  I refer to this as “Relationship Attention Deficit Disorder.”

Those of you who are married or in a relationship are quite lucky not to have to deal with some of the insanity of dating in these modern times.

The charitable sector shares something in common with many of those people who show characteristics of “relationship attention deficit disorder” by those who use online dating services.  Like those who have captured the attention of someone in an online setting, they make an initial effort to acknowledge their supporters’ interest by sending an obligatory acknowledgement of appreciation for a donation, but few seem to go beyond the impersonal thank you.  The organizations might sign the donor up for an e-newsletter, often without permission, that ends up in a spam folder unread.  Rarely, though, do organizations take the time to truly reach out and build a stronger relationship by making a simple phone call or sending personalized letter to the new donor, and after a period of neglect, the new donor moves on, and it loses out on future support.

Charitable organizations need to change the way they work with supporters after the initial contact.  I believe they need to do a better job of making more personalized attempt to find out what it is about their organizations’ mission and programs that attracted the supporter, and use that information to build upon, so the organization can increase the donor’s support, both emotionally and financially.  Organizations have to make donors feel more personally involved, if they want the supporters to stick around and continue to be more involved in their missions, instead of simply assuming that a donor will continue to support at their initial level.  Year after year, I read reports indicating that for the new gifts that organizations receive from new donors, they lose nearly as much by past donors which do not come back.  That is a failure of organizations to truly engage their supporters, and is the price paid for continuously searching for something or someone better than what they have already.

If you are part of an organization, especially a smaller or new organization wishing to grow, I recommend spending more time and energy communicating with your supporters, donors and volunteers, and encourage them to stick around and take part more in activities, and be real partners in your mission and programs, and avoid being guilty of “relationship attention deficit disorder.”  Don’t put more emphasis on finding new and better donors and supporters than you do on involving and stewarding the people who are already part of your organization’s family of supporters.

 

 

 

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True Believers and Mercenaries

When I was a student teacher my senior year in college, I was trained by a first grade teacher I observed the previous year.  When I observed him in action with his students, I admired how he worked with and dealt with his young students.  I could tell he loved what he did.  He found teachable moments in mistakes and set aside lesson plans when an opportunity arose. I thought could learn a great deal from him, so I requested him as my mentoring teacher.

When I returned to his classroom as a student teacher, I found he had changed.  Over the previous summer, he had started working on his MA in School Administration, and he no longer was as passionate about teaching his students as he was before, showing more deference to school policies regarding the children’s conduct and behavior in the classroom, and he did not stray from the curriculum.  He was still a competent teacher, but the profession was no longer a passion, and classroom teaching was now merely another step in furthering his career.  While I could not criticize him for doing what he needed to follow his career path, the enjoyable learning experience I had hoped for turned out to be quite unsatisfactory for me. As for me, I tried to maintain my idealism and taught because I loved it.

Over the years that I have been involved in the nonprofit sector in one way or another, I have noticed that boards that are charged with hiring new leaders have two basic choices.  Either choice can work out well, according to the short-term and long-term needs of the organization, or either can end up a disappointing disaster that a board may not want to repeat the next time around.

I call the first option the “true believer”.  The “true believer” is the one who identifies the problem they wish to solve and is driven by the mission,  then comes up with ways to make that happen.  The “true believer” is often personally affected by the issues they wish to address, for instance, they have a loved one who was stricken with some particular disease, or perhaps they were a student at a particular college or university, and they are personally passionate about their particular cause.  “True Believers” often start their careers in other fields, but because of their personal attachment to the cause, they change careers and join an organization as a volunteer or board member, then work their way up the ladder.  Often, if not usually, they learn their skills and responsibilities while serving at the organization, or they bring their transferable skills and knowledge from jobs outside the sector.  Sometimes, they will go back to school to earn a degree in Nonprofit Management, going into debt later in life so they can follow their passion.  For the “True Believer”, most of what they do is for the organization and its mission and will often, but not always, stick around for a long time.

The second option is what I call the “mercenary”.  Just as it sounds, the “mercenary” is highly skilled and educated to perform the job effectively, in order to get a higher income.  They went to school specifically to get the skills and knowledge to run a nonprofit smoothly, but their interest in the mission is not as strong as their interest in the paycheck, and when a better paying opportunity comes along, they are out the door, regardless of the mission.  Many times, the organization they left the first for is nothing like the organization they joined.  “Mercenaries” see each professional move as an advancement, another rung up their professional ladder.

When hiring for a leadership position, a board should consider the organization’s needs carefully, looking at both the short-term and long-term needs of their organization.

If the organization has been failing with certain aspects of running their nonprofit, hiring a “mercenary” to improve things may be the route the board should go.  As I noted previously, most “mercenaries” know what they are doing, they know what needs to be done, and they get it done.  “Mercenaries” can be excellent interim directors, contractors, and consultants.  I am acquainted with some excellent individuals in the sector that I consider mercenaries and would trust them to do a great job for any organization that hires them.  Unfortunately, many of these same people will only stay with the organization until they find the next opportunity a year or two later.  Then, the board must go through yet another search to replace them.  Supporter relations tend to suffer, morale slips with the employees and board, and soon the organization is back where it started.  Honestly, I would not suggest a “mercenary” if the board is seeking a long-term leader.

If the board is looking at the long-term needs of its organization, they might consider a “true believer.”  Because their passion for the mission is what drives them, a “true believer” has a vision for improving the programs and adding new programs to further the mission.  The “true believer” will actively seek new ways to attract more support from a wider audience, and they will be eager to share their enthusiasm with employees, volunteers, board members, and anyone willing to listen.  “True believers” are in it for the long haul, and long-term leadership is something any organization needs.  The downside of hiring a “true believer” is that often they are not as well versed in the business side of the organization, and often overlook the details involved in running their organization.  They might not have the complete training they need, so they will need to further their education by returning to school or attending professional workshops to get up to speed.  They may not be aware of things like professional ethics, bookkeeping, or human resources.

The best choice an organization can opt for is a candidate with qualities of both, the “true believer” and the “mercenary.” As a board, you want someone who is competent in the day to day duties of a leader, someone who can manage their employees effectively, someone who understands the importance of building relationships with individuals, businesses, private foundations, and government.  But, a board should also seek someone who has a personal stake in the goals of the organization, someone who looks at the big questions and seeks the answers through innovation and collaboration, someone who will stick around long enough to effect that positive change.  I have known a few leaders that have the qualities of both “true believers” and “mercenaries,” but they are a rare commodity in my personal experience.

 

 

 

 

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Reactionary Giving

Source: Reactionary Giving

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