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BIG’s Blog: Robin Williams

What is life, if not full of challenges?

Take any challenge in life … we all will react slightly differently depending on our pre-programmed personality. I like to say that life is a Bell Curve, and in any particular challenge or set of circumstances, a group of people will all fall out slightly differently in how they react. Some faced with a challenge will grit their teeth and take the problem head on. At the other end of the Curve are those who hide in their office or however else they run away.

Sometimes a mental illness is the reason for how we react.

Some people, it seems, need to ride the edge of the knife; that was Robin Williams. We now know Robin was struggling with depression.
He was as big a star as our baby boom generation produced, and we all loved him. As big a star as he was, he seemed like the kind of guy who, if we met him, would make us feel comfortable. We knew he would make us laugh because he could make any subject funny.

He first hit our radar back in the 1970s with Mork and Mindy. He was the manic comet we couldn’t get enough of. He didn’t need writers, it seemed, when he showed up on The Tonight Show or any of the other talk shows. His wit and non-stop banter kept us laughing and guessing what he would say next. He was the energy in any room. Any movie or TV show that he was in was a must see. Even as we quit going to movies, we made the exception for Robin Williams, because we knew our investment would be rewarded with hard-to-come-by laughs. He always made us laugh, even in his serious roles; they always had some laugh lines for Robin.

Robin Williams was out there for us, but he was living with mental illness. Mental illness affects one in four American adults each year, costing $193.2 billion in lost earnings, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And of those 61.5 million Americans, 25 million live with depression. Nine of 10 suicides are committed by people suffering from a mental illness, and in 60 to 70 percent of the cases where depression was the disorder.

You’ve got to believe that Robin Williams always knew what was happening to him. Even we could see, as we all got older, that there was a hole in his soul. He was so funny, but when he quit talking, there was a faraway look. Then we heard he was in rehab again. The hole in his soul was covered over by the applause and adulation, but that was always fleeting and it was never enough. When the applause stopped and he had to be by himself, he must have felt all alone. He never looked comfortable alone.

The mantra today is “60 is the new 40,” except than when you’re sixty, you know it’s a lie. As the reality of being a 60-year-old man sets in and, if you’ve been like Robin, running so hard for so long and you know you can’t keep it up after sixty … you feel and see the end drawing near. It becomes real. You’re supposed to slow down, but how does a comet like Robin Williams slow down? And if you’ve fought depression along the way as Robin did, it starts rising again. The hole in your soul has never been filled.

If you don’t believe you were born on purpose, for a purpose, and you have no god to cling to but yourself, you are oh-so-alone.

And the depression really becomes too much …

We all loved Robin Williams and it hits us hard that one of us is suddenly gone too soon. It’s very close and personal because it seems he’s always been around.

Not all people with depression are suicidal, but a high percentage of those who are suicidal are depressed.

It’s a sign of strength to ask for help. Things can get better.

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BIG’s Blog: Guest Post from Bill Jacobs of Analytical Ones

Optimize the Decline . . . While You Get Online
The company I founded back in 2002, Analytical Ones, helps a lot of nonprofits analyze their donor giving database and conduct primary research (like survey studies) to give a comprehensive report of the nonprofit’s current picture of their donor base. Like reading a map to get to a destination, you can’t know where you are headed until you know where you’ve been and your current location.
During the past two years, there has been a roiling of the waters, so to speak, in fundraising strategy throughout the nonprofit industry. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who reads Mike’s blog regularly: We are in a transition period in fundraising. We are moving from the way we used to raise funds (primarily via direct mail) to how we are going to raise funds in the future (online).
So strategies throughout the nonprofit space have been adapting to strategic initiatives of what I refer to (in a Johnnie Cochran-esque manner): Optimize the Decline While You Get Online.
In case that isn’t straightforward enough, let me explain.
If I did a database file analysis of your organization, I would bet that most of your donations are still being driven by your direct mail appeals. I’d also bet that in the past 5-years you have seen revenue from this channel start to slip. More concerning, you have fewer donors each year.
In addition, I bet you have seen an increase of your donations from online giving rise during each of the past 5-years.
But here is the rub: the rise in online revenue isn’t covering your decline in direct mail. Yet.
So you are stuck in the fundraising purgatory. You are still dependent upon the old ways of fundraising, but smart enough to read the writing on the wall: unless you adopt a new online fundraising strategy, your organization’s future is in peril.
The temptation is to do one or the other. But you can’t. You need to optimize your net revenue from direct mail today, even as your direct mail fundraising declines, while you begin to invest in your online future.
Nobody said it would be easy.
But it’s the only way to manage this paradigm shift.

-Mike (And Bill)

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BIG’s Blog: Fundraising Today?


It used to be that media was scarce. If you owned a media you charged people dearly for the privilege of posting information or an advertisement on it. Today, media is abundant and everyone can be a publisher.


The words “information overload” get bandied about as if we are all stumbling around numb from too much information. What nonsense. The truth is we are finding more and more about things that interest us and not just the generic, middle-of-the-road information put out by one national publication. On the Internet, we seek and find what we are interested in.


When I surf through nonprofit Websites I just want to cry. I have met the people behind the missions and they are exciting and engaged … but when you look at their Websites there is a disconnect. They are … for the most part … electronic brochures. An overstatement? Hardly. Look at yours today and then go back tomorrow. Does it convey the dynamic mission you are carrying out everyday?

Think about this: What if you turned your Website into an online magazine? The number one thing that would change is people’s expectations (both inside your nonprofit as well as people on the outside). You wouldn’t go to CNN’s Website tomorrow and see all the same stories you are reading today. If the common wisdom is that we are all on “information overload,” it certainly isn’t your site they are referring to. Change the expectations. Is your organization dynamic? Is everyday different? Then why isn’t that reflected in your online front door?


Online is instant access. Everybody (even you) expects what they want when they want it. When people come to your Website the first time, they want to know immediately what you are about and, many times, they want to connect. Look at Amazon; you cannot only find what you are looking for today, but they are moving heaven and earth to deliver the same day you order. And you can’t update your Website daily? To fight this expectation is delusional, let alone having people that actually search out your site click off and leave.


From your Website to every single message you send or post online, they must be optimized for mobile, and primarily mobile phones. We’re all connected. If you are a nonprofit fundraiser and you don’t have a strategy that syncs with mobile, you’re screwed.


There is no such thing as a busy signal. We expect to be able to reach everybody right away. And the corollary to that is, you better be there when they reach out.


Tell them what you’re doing. Tell them why you do it. Let them know who the “we” are. Make it personal. Why? Because friends take care of friends.


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BIG’s Blog: Life Expectancy

We all know that fundraising organizations need a strong “programmatic” approach that both generates new supporters and develops on-going (annual) revenue from current supporters.

Historically, this has been direct mail for many organizations.

So what is the future programmatic approach to develop new supporters as well as developing relationships with them?

For the baby boomer and younger generations, it must be built online.

In four years you must be generating the majority of your new supporters as well as annual revenue online.


Simple.  Life expectancy in the U.S. According to the CDC and the 2010 U.S. Census, average life expectancy in the U.S is now 78.7 years, slightly higher for women, slightly lower for men.

Your current donor base is aging rapidly. Today, the majority of your donors are from the Depression and WWII-era generations. This means that the youngest of the WWII generation, born in 1945, is 69 years old. That’s only a few years away from the average life expectancy in the U.S.

The next four years are critical for your Development organization. You will experience an acceleration of shrinkage in your direct mail-generated file of current supporters from the Depression and WWII generations.

In four years, your growth, as well as the majority of your revenue must be coming from 100% online-generated supporters.

What is your plan to get there?


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BIG’s Blog: The Future is Mobile

If you read any press about tablets (iPads, Kindle Fire, etc.), they say that tablets are dying because sales numbers have fallen off. Don’t believe it.

I have an iPhone and an iPad and my 62-year-old eyes do much better with the tablet than trying to read on an iPhone.

And guess what?

The smartphone manufacturers are going to start offering bigger smartphones. 72 million baby boomers can’t be ignored. Look for the next Apple announcements to offer a “bigger” iPhone.

And as to why tablet sales have fallen off after initial massive sales following their introduction … you don’t buy a new tablet every two years (like you do with your smartphone) because the tablets aren’t subsidized.


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BIG’s Blog: I’ve Just Heard of You

I’ve just heard of your organization.

Maybe I read something in the news about you?

Maybe a friend told me about your organization and to check it out?

Maybe I saw a YouTube video that caught my eye or somebody forwarded me something you had written?

But if I did see or hear about your organization, why should I care?

Hearing or seeing something about your organization introduces you to me. And since more and more of us get our news, information, and entertainment online, if you’re not reaching me online, you don’t exist.

For several generations, editors of newspapers, magazines, and even radio and TV networks knew that they had to grab our attention or their numbers in circulation or viewership would flag. And if their numbers were dropping, they couldn’t charge as much for advertising in their media. Thus, they wouldn’t bring in as much revenue.

So they produced stories or programs that we wanted to see. If they didn’t, they failed.

So today you are online… big deal, everybody is online.

You’ve only got a few seconds to get my attention. Maybe it’s the headline of something you wrote or was written about you. Maybe it was a picture or a video.

It grabs me … or it doesn’t.

If you’re not as serious as those editors of yore about getting people to really pay attention … exactly why are you wasting your time online?

And as I mentioned earlier, if you do get my attention, why should I care?

Being there (that is, online) isn’t enough anymore. The world is online. Yet being there is what most nonprofits brag about: “Hey, check out our new “updated” Website and we’re now on Facebook and Pinterest …!”

How many people are making contact with you online?

How many are connecting with you online?

How many are supporting you online?


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Today we’re publishing another “blast from the past” that, although is relevant for all of you, will be especially helpful for those currently taking our online course.  Enjoy!

BIG’s Blog: Who is Clayton Christensen? Part 2 (April 2, 2014)

So what is the lesson that nonprofit fundraisers can take from the example raised in Part 1 of this series about Professor Clayton Christensen and his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma?

First and foremost is the realization that change happens and your fundraising business model … the way you do fundraising … is no exception.

Except that …

Except that the change from analogue to digital that society and we are going through is way more than the run-of-the-mill changes/iterations that we have been through in the past. This change is “shifting” society.

For fundraisers, the shift in communications from analogue (print and ink) to digital is as big as “discount retailing” was to the 1950’s Dayton Hudson department stores, or the invention of “digital photography” was to Eastman Kodak.

In Part 1 of this series, we shared the success of Dayton Hudson in creating a new and separate division for discount retailing named Target, and the failure of Kodak in attempting to transition their whole business model from dependence on film to digital photography.

So what do we as fundraisers learn from these examples?

First, even though you can see the handwriting on the wall saying a new innovation is the wave of the future, you must still bring in revenue today. . . as well as figure out how to make the new innovation work for your fundraising organization. Don’t abandon your current business model if it’s still working (the way Kodak attempted to do). Leave it alone and untouched. Today it is providing revenue even though that revenue will decline over time. Maximize and optimize existing revenue.

Second, use the Dayton Hudson model for innovation by creating a totally separate, new operating group that, in the case of fundraisers, is 100% online. Let it have its own separate plan, employees, and budget. From day one, make it clear that the goal of this new group is to be self-sufficient and to (as quickly as possible) be raising its own revenue, separate and apart from your current fundraising team.


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BIG’s Blog: Who is Clayton Christensen? Part 1

Today we’re publishing another “blast from the past” that, although is relevant for all of you, will be especially helpful for those currently taking our online course.  Enjoy!

BIG’s Blog: Who is Clayton Christensen? Part 1 (March 31, 2014)

Over the last several years in both articles and blogs outside the nonprofit fundraising space, the references to Clayton Christensen are becoming more and more common. Yet virtually none of the 30 or so nonprofit fundraisers I have talked to recently have heard the name . . . hence the Two Part subject for this and the next blog.

Clayton Christensen, or, more correctly, Professor Clayton Christensen wrote a book that was first published in 1996 called The Innovator’s Dilemma.

The major theme of the book is that, from time to time, innovations (technological or otherwise) will arise. These innovations may have the possibility of displacing the existing product or business model of a company or even an industry.

When this happens, leaders face a dilemma because the new innovation never comes fully birthed and ready to displace the existing way of doing business. Therefore, adopting or incorporating the innovation into the business brings with it significant risk of disrupting current operations. However, it is also equally risky to the leader who sees the inherent value of the innovation to lose much long-term by not pursuing the innovation.

The leader thus faces a dilemma based upon this new innovation. The key decision then is how to incorporate the new innovation into the organization to minimize the disruption of current operations, yet allow the new innovation to find its feet so it can grow and achieve its potential.

Examples of both successful adoption and failed adoption are illustrated in the stories of Dayton Hudson Corporation and Eastman Kodak.

Dayton Hudson Corp., based in Minneapolis, was a major regional department store chain. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new retail innovation called “discount retailing” had come on the scene and had the potential to significantly impact department stores who were, at the time, the dominant form of retail with names like JC Penney and Sears being at the forefront.

The department store’s business model was to turn inventory twice a year with an average 40% margin. Discount retailing’s innovation was to turn their inventory eight times a year with an average 20% margin.

Dayton Hudson’s management decided that discount retailing was such a threat that if they did not react, their ability to grow as a company could be significantly affected. Rather than disrupt their existing department store business model, they chose to set up a separate operation with its own management team and business plan, and even created a separate name for this new division. Today we know that company as Target. Target has been so successful as the dominant profit generator for Dayton Hudson that the corporation officially changed its name to Target Corporation in 2000.

Eastman Kodak was the story of corporate success from its founding through the end of the 20th century. Kodak was arguably one of the most successful corporations in American history, and through the end of the 20th century dominated photography, owning 89% of the market for film in the United States alone.

In 1975, however, Kodak’s own engineers developed the breakthrough technology innovation for digital photography. Kodak’s CEO at the time, George Fisher, understood the implications of this innovation and the impact it would have on their traditional film business. He set a decade-long plan in place to shift the entire company to digital, even reaching out to young technology companies Microsoft and Apple in distribution partnerships. Yet Mr. Fisher and his successor could not overcome internal resistance to the plan since the film business was still such a dominant product and produced massive profits. Below the level of the CEO, resistance to shifting stifled digital product development. Digital photography product innovation was left to outside companies, and with the shift from analogue to digital post-2000, Kodak’s film business collapsed and are today in bankruptcy proceedings.


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BIG’s Blog: Big Data is Great, but…

Life doesn’t come down to charts, spreadsheets, and data…but experiences.

I can almost hear the cheers of the age fifty-and-older crowd of long-tenured fundraisers whose jobs never included data crunching and analytics in the good old days.

Of course, crunching data is about looking for trends and actionable information. For instance, if you see that 50% of your current donors giving by direct mail always give in the same two months of the year, why are you mailing them another eight times? They have clearly demonstrated a “trend” that should be actionable. This is where charts, spreadsheets, and data can actually save you a lot of money.

Unlike your brethren in the commercial world, fundraisers aren’t selling a product. It is about engaging people in the heart or soul of your mission … the experience.

The mission is the experience.

It is about, first and foremost, making people feel your mission.

What exactly are Geico’s commercials selling? And Flo from Progressive Insurance, she really doesn’t talk much about insurance, does she?  

It’s about connecting a positive experience to their brand of insurance.

And after the Geico and Progressive ads run on TV, where do they go?

Right … YouTube! Why do you suppose they put them on YouTube?

So what about charitable organizations?

Ah, the obvious … sharing the experience of your mission in a way that is real, engaging, and, many times, connects to people.  

For sixty or eighty years, your organization has been sharing those experiences via direct mail appeals.

But direct mail appeals are one-dimensional marketing mechanisms in the increasingly multi-dimensional world dominated by the Internet.

Sharing experiences is what the Internet is really good at, plus that is where the people are.


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BIG’s Blog: “It’s Online S—-d”

Struggling fundraisers are seeing their historical workhorse (direct mail appeals) begin to decline in effectiveness. But the nonprofit direct mail industry is still billions of dollars…that’s billion with a “B.” But for fundraisers, costs keep rising, responses keep falling and margins are compressing. You mail more to get less and less. Last year the American Cancer Society drastically scaled back their mail, including ending acquisition mailings, saying, in effect, we cannot count on direct mail to acquire our future donors.

So what does this mean?

It means you change your perspective on your direct mail fundraising program…and quickly!

Do you know how to do that?

Get up…go on…get up from your chair or couch and walk across the room.

Now, you are looking at your immediate world from a slightly different perspective.  

From this new perspective, admit to yourself…even saying out loud …“direct mail is not our future.”

There…you’ve done it.

You have now joined the growing group of large (think American Cancer Society) and small (think Our Lady of Angels Association) and all sizes of nonprofit organizations and charities in between in admitting your organization’s future revenue growth will not come from direct mail.

Now what?

Two things…

First, understand direct mail isn’t going to go away tomorrow. But…something has changed. Now you are under no illusions that mail is your future. So rather than “living the fantasy” that direct mail will go on forever, you correctly shift your “thinking” and “planning” to…A) “managing the decline,” and B) “building for the future.”

Managing the Decline

How do you do that?

It revolves around analytics, but more on that another day.

Building for the Future

Second, so now you are managing the decline of your direct mail program to maximize excess revenue, but where is the growth? How do you grow new supporters and keep them donating?

Do you remember James Carville, the so-called Ragin’ Cajun who was Bill Clinton’s campaign manager when he first ran for president? When asked by the press about the centerpiece of their campaign platform, he famously said, “it’s the economy stupid.”

So then, borrowing Carville’s lingo to answer the question “How do we generate new donors and increasing revenue without direct mail?” Or, stated another way, “What is our future?” The answer is, “it’s online stupid!”


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BIG’s Blog: Follow the Money

When you want to know what is really happening, especially in the realms where people or businesses are choosing to spend their money … you follow the money.

One person’s actions are not necessarily representative, nor are they a statistically valid trend for a whole population. However, when we begin to compare our behaviors and habits today to five years ago, even we can see things are changing.

Five years ago (2009), I watched regular TV programming. Admittedly not as much as I used to, but still, I watched television at the regularly scheduled broadcast times. But also, five years ago I began to record some programs using my new DVR.

Today, other than a few big sporting events, with maybe the Oscars thrown in, I rarely watch live TV. In fact, since acquiring Netflix streaming three years ago, I have not watched but maybe two live shows on TV.

Am I so different from you?

Little by little, step by step, our behaviors and habits are changing when it comes to how we get information and entertainment. It never happens overnight, so we just gradually shift without even noticing it.

And what is at the heart of this change? That’s right, digital disruption.

So when people’s behaviors and habits begin to change based upon new digital online technologies like DVRs and Netflix, pretty soon businesses who depend on reaching people through advertising start to notice.

For years broadcast networks have seen their advertising decline as new alternatives like Netflix and, of course cable TV, began to dominate. A network broadcaster may only have one channel, but cable TV delivers them all.

But just last week, cutbacks lead by GM and Procter & Gamble saw the first big pullback in ad revenue for the crucial “upfront” of ad dollars committed to cable networks for the fall season.

And what are the advertisers shifting their marketing dollars to? You guessed it: digital media, including online video.

“Cable TV networks have been a bright spot in the overall TV ad business in recent years, taking ad dollars away from broadcasters as they have ramped up original programming and built loyal audiences. That momentum is stalling.”

Stalling? If my habits (and yours) are any indication, it will soon be in freefall!

So if the big boys are switching from “traditional” media to digital and online, what about you and your direct mail? There is nothing more “traditional” than direct mail.

And it isn’t that direct mail doesn’t still work in generating net revenue, but just like broadcast networks and now cable TV … it’s not what it used to be. The decline is already underway.

For fundraisers, digital and online fundraising must start generating significant revenue … and soon.

And you need to do it while you still have direct mail bringing in the dollars.

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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BIG’s Blog: Distant Thunder Portends Rain

It’s been a busy first half of the year! This week we are featuring a few of the “best-of-the-best blog posts” (as judged by reader’s reactions) that you might have missed. Enjoy!

BIG’s Blog: Distant Thunder Portends Rain (January 22, 2014)

Throughout the 1990s while I ran a database marketing company, our sole customer base consisted of the retail branch networks of large retail banking organizations (Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo). Electronic banking had been on the scene for a decade, but in the late 1990s its adoption really began to accelerate. To help our bank clients we would always put out predictions of trends we were seeing across the whole of our network of common bank clients to help them get a sense of what was coming. We found this was valuable since a trend that caught on in Indiana and California might take off in other markets as well.

One of those trends that I personally took ownership of (and had major economic implications for our banking clients) was the coming decline in the growth of printed checks by the bank’s retail customers as electronic banking caught on and gained momentum.

There were two major check printing companies, Deluxe Check and Harland, who together easily controlled 80%+ of the retail check business with banks.  I had a small team that tracked the slowing growth of check volume by these two companies in hopes of allowing us to validate to our clients the decline in checks that was surely coming. By the mid 1990s, year-over-year growth in printed checks for these two companies had slowed to the low single digits. In 1995, the growth was under 2%. This gave me the confidence to predict in my January 1996 prediction that check volume would fall for the first time. I felt I was on fairly safe ground.

In 1996, however, printed check volume rose 4.3% over 1995. Huh? 

Although I felt chastened, I could read the trend lines, and every subsequent year until I sold the company in 2000, I predicted that “this coming year” would see the expected drop-off in printed check volume. And every year up until 2000, check volume grew.

Though I sold my interest in the company and moved on to another industry, I kept my eye on check volume.

In 2001 the worm turned, and for the first time in over 100 years, check volume declined, down 6% in 2001 over 2000. Then came the waterfall. Check volume, which, for the past decade had been growing by low double digits – but still growing – suddenly went into freefall. Off by 14% in 2002, then another 17% in 2003, and then I quit tracking it because my long-predicted decline had arrived.

The banks were fine. By this time they had long-seen the trend to electronic banking and had been building out their electronic banking infrastructure and downsizing their check-processing capacities. They were ready for this major shift.

The check printing companies? Well, that is another story. They clearly saw the shift coming and they knew the end of their check-printing gravy train was coming to an end. They tried to diversify and to date have had some success. Are they still printing checks in 2014? Of course, but every year their volume drops. These check companies are still scrambling to find the new growth business that will be their future. 

So why am I dredging up a story from my past?

Well, its because it really is an apt comparison to the fall-off of analog printing in general and direct mail (printed matter) in particular.

In fact, when I compare printed checks for banks being displaced by electronic banking, and printed direct mail appeal communications being displaced by online communications, I am struck by “the Internet” being the common thread. From the inception of the Internet in the 1990s, it has been disrupting industry after industry.

Recently The Agitator (another well-read blogger in the nonprofit fundraising space) played up the same post from AnalyticOnes I mentioned in Monday’s blog over three separate posts. That fact is quite remarkable for The Agitator. The post we were both focusing on is Unsustainable Trends (Part One and Two).

The implications contained in these two posts are not only the evidence of the coming fall-off in direct mail that so many have been predicting, but also show exactly why the fall-off is coming. Their conclusions are based on the data that AnalyticOnes has compiled in their work with nonprofit fundraisers . . . especially those with large direct mail programs.

Once you read these two posts and have digested the implications, you are left with two questions.

First, you now understand that it is about managing the decline of your direct mail program. Growth is coming to an end if it isn’t here already. How do you maximize and optimize your profitability as your program declines?

Second, what takes direct mail’s place?

My suggestion …

Call AnalyticOnes for the answer to the first question.

I think you know who to call for the second question.


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BIG’s Blog: Customized for You

It’s been a busy first half of the year! This week we are featuring a few of the “best-of-the-best blog posts” (as judged by reader’s reactions) that you might have missed. Enjoy!

BIG’s Blog: Customized for You (February 21, 2014)

There are few people alive today who are as consistently insightful in their analysis of the changing world around us (especially in the marketing realm) and as prolific in sharing their insights as Seth Godin.

Recently he wrote a blog entitled Done to us vs. things we do.

When I read the blog, I was stunned. His thoughts captured and encapsulated the emotional tug-of-war that many baby boomers face as they lead fundraising organizations today in a world that we personally enjoy but aren’t certain how to navigate professionally.

“Malaria, the atomic bomb, the McCarthy hearings, television’s ubiquity, the decay of the industrial base – these are mammoth changes, changes that came from all around us, changes we had to withstand.”

Seth is talking about changes that personally affected us. You and I could name other changes in our lives over the past 50 or 60 years that we had to endure. They were forced on us. For us in fundraising, we have recently had to endure changes that are ending the era of the printed word, and with it direct mail as well as the shrinking pool of supporters with a trusting nature of institutions. As Godin says, these are mammoth changes that we have to deal with whether we like them or not. They are forced on us. But then he switches gears and talks about us personally.

“Today, we’re personally faced with an entirely new kind of change – changes we can choose to make, the changes that are available to us as opposed to changes that are forced on us.”

From a personal perspective, we as customers are facing a widening world of choices. You don’t have one choice in a phone. You aren’t tied to one cable monopoly. We can shop online or at the mall. Walls are falling and choices are opening up. You have freedom and options.
“No one had to cajole you into living with the changes of the last fifty years, because here they were, like it or not. You had no choice. Today, most of the change – in media, in culture, in commerce – is there if you want it. You can choose to be a media company, a buyer, a seller. You can choose to go out on the long tail, choose to be weird, choose to enter the connection economy.”

Freedom and choice are becoming the watchwords of our new world. The consumer … and the donor … are now in charge, which has huge implications on how companies must treat their customers if they want to keep them. And for charities, which have long been organization-centered (read self-centered when it comes to being transparent and accountable), they, too, must become customer oriented. In other words, charities need to be what you would personally expect them to be.

“In many ways, this choice makes the change ever more difficult, doesn’t it? The future isn’t so much about absorbing or tolerating change, it’s about making change.”

That’s really it in a nutshell isn’t it? We all personally love the freedom and choice of our changing world because we can personally choose or not. It’s up to us. We have the choice.

But it also means that our organizations have to change to offer choices that are in line with the terms of the people who may want to connect with us … not just our terms.


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It’s been a busy first half of the year! This week we are featuring a few of the “best-of-the-best blog posts” (as judged by reader’s reactions) that you might have missed. Enjoy!

BIG’s Blog: Remember the Titans (February 17, 2014)

Every man (or woman) is a master of his own life. Abraham Lincoln said it slightly differently: “Every man owns his own face.” With very few exceptions, we own our own life. And this means that those of us in leadership positions also own the fate of the organizations, groups, or teams that we lead.

Most of us will never have in our personal lives the freedom and the power we enjoy as leaders . . . and we are loath to give up that power. Mother Angelica, the cloistered nun who built EWTN Global Catholic Network, once asked an audience why it is that we suffer aches and pains as we grow older. Her audience gave no response, so she answered her own question. “It’s because we are so powerful, it’s God’s way of keeping us humble.”

We prize humbleness in our leaders, don’t we? Because we intuitively understand that power is corrupting. I mean, seriously, when was the last time you remember a national leader “admitting” they made a mistake in a policy or action that they took? Oh, yes, there has been a steady stream of apologies and admissions of personal failure for sexcapades, especially from those in the highest offices in the land . . . but admissions of failed decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions? Nary a peep.

Humbleness is also when we face something overwhelmingly difficult and see failure beginning to set in … and we seek help.
Our usual reaction is to tough it out, thinking it is temporary and “things will turn around.” But what if they don’t turn around?

Sometimes we are lucky and we get to see this internal drama played out in art. And in seeing it in someone else, it challenges us.
There is that great scene in Remember the Titans where, in the final game for the state high school football championship, assistant coach Bill Youst (played by Will Patton) is the defensive coordinator and is getting his butt kicked by the opponent’s offense. Coach Youst tries every trick in his book, but nothing is working and the other team keeps scoring. Head coach Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington) is riding him to get his defense to stop them from scoring.
Coach Youst was supposed to be the head coach of the Titans, but the school board wanted a black coach to lead the first integrated high school football team in Virginia in 1971. Coach Youst stayed on as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator because of his commitment to the players.
As his defense is getting beaten, coach Youst’s first response to coach Boone is, “you just focus on your offense.” But soon coach Youst has to admit to himself that he is out of ideas . . .  and with the game on the line, is it going to be about him or the team?

Head coach Boone had been a defensive coordinator in his previous job, but he respected coach Youst enough to let him make the calls … win or lose.  

In the end, coach Youst admits he is out of ideas and asks head coach Boone to run the defense. Coach Boone, to his surprise, switches roles and hands the offense to coach Youst. The switch works and they win the game.
I know … I know … Hollywood ending, right? But what is the turning point? When coach Youst admits he is out of ideas or when he humbles himself for the sake of the team?  
What has worked in fundraising for decades is shifting under your feet, even as you read this. This is big … very big. And no one person has all the right answers, especially as a 40, 50 or 60-something fundraising immigrant into the brave new digital online world.
But what you do have is the power to shift your future by seeking out help.
Remember the Titans … or, better yet, remember coach Youst!


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BIG’s Blog: You can never go back

It’s been a busy first half of the year! This week we are featuring a few of the “best-of-the-best blog posts” (as judged by reader’s reactions) that you might have missed. Enjoy!

BIG’s Blog: You can never go back (February 14th, 2014)

I take way too many arrows in my back about my position on direct mail because too many people A) don’t read my words, and B) don’t listen to what I actually say in my Webinars and speeches.

My position on direct mail is that direct mail … done correctly … is a fantastic vehicle to generate new donors and annual revenue.

I love the predictable, beautiful mathematics of direct marketing. You test . . . if all looks good, you up your quantity and test again . . . and if the numbers validate, you roll out. I have been a direct marketing professional for almost 40 years! And, yes, I still consult occasionally with nonprofit fundraisers in direct mail techniques.

That is my real position. Keep using it as long as it is working for you.
But …
The best days of direct mail are in the past. Some would say “way in the past.” For nonprofit fundraisers who use direct mail, the best I can surmise is that the last good year for all fundraising organizations was 2005. Since then some have still been able to make it work while other programs are failing fast.
With each passing year, the symptoms of decline become more obvious and acute.
The truth is, as much as I love direct mail marketing, you can never go back. Time marches on, and though I would love to turn back the clock to when direct mail fundraising was simple and profitable, its best days are in the past.
But just when you are ready to join the “club of the disrupted industries” like the music business (which has seen album sales tank for the tenth straight year), new voices are popping up, talking about how the Internet and digital technology can create a new music business model. New people are coming onto the music scene, and despite the talk of doom and gloom, they see the prospects for massive growth.

As I list some of the new ideas that are now being touted in the music business, I will connect the ideas from it to the fundraising industry where, by the way, I see massive growth.
1) Holistic, multifaceted online music services that tie together many of the individual music-related elements today (social, streaming, downloads, concert tickets etc.). I know most of you have heard of Spotify and Pandora for streaming music, but have you heard of Kickstarter or GiveMob for fundraising? These are the new acquisition tools of the online world. Coupled with other elements and technologies, they help you reach people faster.
2) Direct artist-to-fan and fan-to-fan engagement. When you send your direct mail to prospects or donors, is that a person-to-person connection? It used to be state-of-the-art 20 years ago, but now the Internet has changed the definition of connection. And as far as fan-to-fan connection in the music world, why do you think fans want to connect to each other? Could it be they share a passionate common bond with the artist and their music? How about your passionate supporters who share a common bond with the people and the mission of your organization? The tools exist to let your passionate supporters talk to each other. Why wouldn’t you do that?
3) The rise of music festivals fueled by social media. Just imagine what you could be doing with technology-driven engagement in offline (real life) and online connection. Music festivals are where fans come together to hear music. How about creating a live and virtual conference to re-ignite your supporters?
4) Younger players in the music ecosystem inherently understand that a multipronged, community-based business model of fan expansion and direct ongoing engagement is the new normal. Young and new start-up nonprofit charities are already all over this (this is part of our online e-learning Courses), and unless you don’t want a future, you had better be figuring out what they already know and are succeeding at. New start-up charities don’t have an arms-length relationship with their supporters and neither should you.


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BIG’s Blog: Your Direction

Orson Welles, the famous movie actor and director once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

I would alter that only slightly for fundraisers. “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on when you alter your fundraising direction.”


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BIG’s Blog: When Times Get Confusing

Bob Lefsetz writes, “When times get confusing, it’s easy to revert to the habits that got you here. More often than not, that’s precisely the wrong approach. The very thing that got you here is the thing that everyone who’s here is doing, and if that’s what it took to get to the next level, no one would be stuck.”

Fifty years from now, smartphones will look quaint. Today’s bandwidth speeds will be laughed at just like we laugh at floppy disks from 20 years ago. The revolution in online fundraising we embraced (or fought) will be in the rearview mirror.

How will they remember you? As the person who had the foresight to start the shift before it was too late, or as the last Director of Development?

The Internet is changing how you do your life, and will do the same to fundraising.


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BIG’s Blog: Summer Reading

Can we all agree that when the Independence Day (aka The 4th of July) Holiday falls on a Friday, it is the perfect summer holiday “extended” weekend? My office building was emptied out by noon on Thursday, and the only folks around on Thursday morning were the rookies and me. So, Thursday to Monday, that’s not a holiday, that’s a vacation. And this on top of most of you taking off some additional vacation time over the next couple of months.

So with all this newfound time on your hands, how about some professional (yet enjoyable) summer reading?

Journalists and political types were the first to publish their “what I’m reading” list as a kind of badge of honor … “Look at the highbrow books on my reading list!” And their lists were so long you wondered if they really read all those books or just published all the titles they thought would make them look so darned learned.

I used to think it was only a Democratic thing, since most Democrats have a fixation on highbrow literary patter and ideas, even though they have trouble crafting their ideas into laws that actually work in the real world (Obamacare et al). But now Republicans have joined in as well with their reading lists. So, although the Congress and the White House are collectively getting little or nothing done of any consequence in Washington, at least we know they are passing reading lists across the aisle.

So, in keeping with this time-honored (though dubious) tradition … I want to throw out a short list of books for you to think about acquiring and reading this summer. Of course, my recommendation is that you get them in e-book form. I still buy print books, but only after I have read the e-book version. The print books I buy tend to be the ones I consider really worthy or classics. And I extensively mark them up, as well as tabbing hundreds of pages with Post-It notes.

Here are my three recommended books to read this summer of 2014, as well as my reasons why you should take the time to read them.

The three are: The New Rules for the New Economy (New Rules) by Kevin Kelly, With Charity for All, by Ken Stern and Difference by Bernadette Jiwa.

Order is important.

My suggestion is that you read them in the order I have listed below.

New Rules was written back in 1997. In technology terms that seems like ancient history, but Kelly gets so much right back in the 90’s about our world today, it is almost spooky. In fact, if you tried to connect a common thread between all the tech titans or legends of the last 15 years, with names like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and even Mark Zuckerberg, the common thread is they all (and many lesser tech leaders as well) read this one book. Kevin Kelly and his book are honored in Silicon Valley and tech circles worldwide for the prescient insights and predictions that predate the actual arrival of the groundbreaking technological gadgets that we all take for granted today. But this is no history book. Rather, it is a primer to you and me today about how the Internet really works and, just as importantly, how it evolves. Why it is important? Because your fundraising future is online, and the sooner you understand why the Internet is different, the sooner you start changing and growing revenue again.

Ken Stern, who wrote With Charity for All, was a highly successful Executive Director of a large nonprofit organization. Vast and largely unexamined, the world of American charities accounts for fully 10 percent of economic activity in this country, yet operates with little accountability, no real barriers to entry, and a stunning lack of evidence of effectiveness. In With Charity for All, Ken Stern reveals a problem hidden in plain sight and prescribes a whole new way for Americans to make a difference. The thrust of his book is an argument to re-think and reorganize how nonprofits are run, and the need for increased transparency and accountability in delivering results. Why is it important? Because it isn’t just fundraising that is in need of a major shift. The core way that nonprofits are thought about and operate needs to be examined.

Finally, Bernadette Jiwa’s book, Difference, is a very easy-to-read primer on the importance of story and the ongoing narrative of your organization in the Internet age. Although written for companies, it is easy to transpose from the corporate world to the nonprofit world … “Marketing (fundraising) is not a department, it’s the story of how you create difference for your customers (supporters).”

Good reading and …


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BIG’s Blog: What is your Cell Phone … Really?

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that police must get a search warrant from a judge before being able to search for any information on a person’s cell phone. It wasn’t even close at 9 to 0.
Today’s cell and smart phones aren’t just telephones; they carry virtually all the information about us. They are as sacred to us as our homes and are an extension of the private “us.” Now the Supremes have said our privacy is guaranteed.

Then we hear that Amazon will soon offer its own line of smartphones. Why would Amazon want to sell its own phone … other than currently missing out on a market opportunity where almost two billion devices are sold worldwide while we spend (collectively) over $1.5 trillion on wireless services? Er, that’s enough to get Jeff Bezo’s attention, isn’t it?

But when it comes to Amazon and Bezos, my guess is it is equally an extension of their primary strategy of driving more retail purchases through online access points, of which the cell phone is rapidly moving into first place. But more than just today’s purchases, if Amazon offers its own device, what do you think the default will be between search results when you’re searching for something online? Or, even if they aren’t that blatant, they at least know what you’re looking for. The police have to get a warrant to search your phone, but you and Amazon are buddies … joined at the “online and virtual” hip.  

Remember a couple of years ago when you had friends bragging that they didn’t … and wouldn’t … own a cell or smartphone? They all have one today, don’t they? And now the Supremes have extended your First Amendment rights to your smartphone.

So are you getting what all the fuss is about with cell phones?

For my regular readers, and especially those who have been through our program, this is just another validation of the mainstreaming of our world shifting online. Keep your fundraising focus online … and keep moving.

For the rest of my readers, including some long-term readers who still are mightily resisting moving their fundraising focus online, this is yet another “drip” of information that says you seriously need to rethink holding on so tightly to the past.

Clayton Christensen is a professor we talk a lot about in our online program. He wrote the book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. In his book he points out that, in regards to disruptive innovation, the fundamental things people do in their lives change relatively slowly. But, as he makes clear, we do change because our basic needs and desires don’t change until some inventor or innovator comes up with a better way to help us do what we were already doing (or wanted to get done).

In other words, the new innovation proves that it makes our life better, easier, or both.

That’s why your Luddite friends have smartphones today, even though just yesterday they said they never would.

Here is what you really need to understand about the importance of cell phones to your future as a fundraiser:
Right now, people (millions of them) want to know who your organization is and what you do to help people … and how they can help. And many of these people will donate to your Cause, Mission, or Ministry.

And when people want to know about your organization and want to support you … your job is to make certain both of those things can happen.

Today and into the future, the cell phone will be the major contact device (along with computers and tablets to a lesser extent) connecting your organization and your supporters.

Your job is to make that happen.


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BIG’s Blog: The “Big Change” in Fundraising

If your number one focus when you approach somebody about your organization is only on raising money, like it has been for the past 60 years, then going forward your strategy will fail.  This means that your organization, starved for revenue, fades to irrelevance.

I can almost hear it now; “What planet does this guy live on?”

Okay, let’s start at the beginning … literally. The whole “big change” in fundraising revolves around the “chicken or the egg” question, the idea of “what comes first?”

We all know that there has been a major change in attitude towards charitable giving by baby boomers and younger generations. If you’ve somehow missed this memo, you may be in the fundraising business, but you’re not in the game. And that last point of “not in the game” describes way too many professional fundraising leaders today.

In fact, in introspective moments, several leaders of charities have shared with me that they are wondering if their fundraising efforts, and, hence, their organizations, are dead and they just don’t know it yet.

What are they talking about? Unlike the commercial world where even if a company has built up a great brand over the years, if things change and sales start drying up, they feel it immediately. Not so in the fundraising world. All the work you’ve brilliantly done for decades with the Depression and WWII generations is paying off today in large gifts and bequests. But these riches today hide the fact that your future … your donor file … is growing older and shrinking. Take away bequests and … you get the picture.

So what is the major generational attitude towards philanthropy that has changed with the boomers and younger generations compared to the WWII and Depression era cohorts?

Beginning with the boomers, institutional trust is gone. Boomers do not trust institutions and your organization (by any definition) is an institution.

Yet boomers do give … after you build their trust.

How do you build trust?

First, you build trust by not focusing on the transaction first. If you want to be successful, you don’t send a letter to a boomer and ask for money, especially if they have never heard of you before. Rather, you offer them information about the work of your organization. Information is Good but Selling is Bad. Nobody ever … ever … wants to be sold. And whether you try to pretend that sending an appeal letter isn’t selling … if you are asking for money up front … you are selling.

Second is the recognition that, beginning with the boomers, they don’t give gifts. And by gifts I mean “no strings attached.” You give a gift to your nephew at a birthday party. There are no circumstances under which you are going to take that gift back. That is what I mean by “no strings attached.”

But for boomers and younger generations, when making a donation to charities … there are always strings attached. Boomers don’t give gifts (even if they call them gifts); boomers invest in charities … and an investment is a very different animal than a “no strings attached” gift. Investments are made with certain expectations, the top two of which are Accountability and Transparency.

So, can you do all the above through a direct mail appeal program or even events?

Not even close.

When you have a mailing program, you start with some significant costs like printing, postage, etc. Let’s face it; you have to ask for a donation upfront to re-coup your upfront costs. But then, you’re back to starting with a transaction … which is selling. When you hold an event, everyone knows that you are going to ask for a donation … a transaction. The question people answer before they ever show up is, are they going to donate or not? If they choose to give, they show up, if they don’t, they stay home. For those that show up, you have a chance to share what you are really about … and that’s a good thing. But those who didn’t show up never got your information.

The big change in fundraising is that you must build trust up front. Building trust leads to developing a relationship. A relationship can progress to friendship. And then … and only then … can you ask a friend to support your Cause/Mission/Ministry.

So the answer to the chicken or egg question is this: Trust comes first.


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