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BIG’s Blog: The Big Pivot

As was bound to happen, the advent of e-books has allowed more books (ideas) to be published. And, yes, a multitude of these books never break out of their friends and family circles, but increasingly we are seeing that a number of new ideas are making it into (digital) print that would otherwise have never garnered publisher support.
One of these books I recently read was by Andrew Winston called, The Big Pivot, Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World.

The premise of the book is that companies and organizations that operate in the public sphere need to change their strategies to deal with three fundamental changes.

First, climate change, which he argues is leading to extreme weather.  Second, billions more people globally clamoring for the middle class are using up natural resources more quickly, and, third, radical transparency brought about by the Internet and social media.

Climate change is real. Of course it’s real. It’s been real for millions of years! But today the phrase sets off alarms politically because the Right thinks the Left wants to blame people for climate change and they don’t see it that way. What’s my take? Well, the climate has been changing as long as the earth has been around. I live in Nebraska and it used to be a warm inland sea millions of years ago. And more recently, Nebraska hosted glaciers until about 60,000 years ago. So climate change? What’s new about that?

But the other two issues he raises do resonate with the fundraisers.

Over the last 25 years more people have been lifted out of poverty than the world has ever seen before. And it wasn’t the UN or government programs that did it. Simply put, in certain countries there was an ideological shift towards capitalism. And voila … millions of people (actually billions of people) were not only lifted out of centuries of poverty, but the economics of their societies changed. Examples of the big populations are India and China. 30 years ago when I was in China, I saw abject poverty on the doorstep of prosperous Hong Kong. Today, Hong Kong is still prosperous, but so are all the major cities and provinces in mainland China.

India for decades was a backwards wasteland of poverty under their socialist leaders. But then political attitudes to capitalism changed and millions are being lifted up.

And, of course, China and India are just the two behemoth countries. Countless other countries on every continent have been transformed by capitalism.

But what are the implications of this economic transformation? Andrew Winston’s point isn’t a political treatise, but rather the practical reality of the implications of huge numbers of people clamoring for increased consumption worldwide.

While Winston focuses on the negative implications of “too many people clamoring for too few resources,” my take is a positive spin on this point as far as fundraising is concerned. In my lifetime, the primary donor to worldwide causes has gone from the U.S. alone, to multiple nations starting with western Europe. Since I work with many groups that are multinational, the surprise to me of late has been the rather sudden rise in giving coming from Africa. Increasingly prosperous Africans are supporting their own charities.

Combine this trend with the opening of the World Wide Web. When you put up your Website, you are in front of the world. And, increasingly, nonprofits … especially faith-based organizations … are receiving donations from all over the world.

And finally, heightened transparency brought about by the Internet. I can go to Angie’s List and find reviews of local plumbers, roofers, or handymen. Or, before I book my next vacation hotel in Cancun, I go to to check out what people who have stayed at these resorts actually thought of them . . . why do you think people would not be leaving comments about your organization online?

Many of you don’t even pay attention to this, do you? It may not even be on your radar, yet it affects how people view your organization.

There is a whole industry out there that does nothing but take care of companies’ (and nonprofit organizations’) online reputations.

Andrew Winston calls this new world “radical transparency.”

Setting aside climate change, the other two “issues” that Mr. Winston raises (the rise of a global middle class with its negative implications on limited resources but its positive implication on philanthropy, and the radical transparency brought about by the Internet) are issues that fundraisers need to be cognizant of.


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BIG’s Blog: Optimism

My friend Jim Clifton, who is the CEO of the Gallup Organization, recently wrote a blog entitled Strategy: Maximize Your Current Customers.
It is an incredibly important reminder that there is much more value in existing relationships than constantly bringing in new customers (or donors in the case of nonprofits).

But what do you do if you have no customers … or donors, in the case of nonprofits?

Of course businesses will never run out of potential customers, but what about nonprofits? If they keep on their current path, they will run out of donors.

Fundraising’s most pressing issue is that soon, many nonprofit organizations won’t have any new or existing donors to maximize. The fall-off in new donor acquisition, plus that 60%+ of first time donors who never give a second gift is making the economics of acquiring new donors with traditional methods unsustainable.

This is the dirty little secret in fundraising that NOBODY wants to talk about. It is the impending disaster.

D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R !

Is that putting too fine a point on it, or is it strong enough for a real wake up call?

The world is online, but you would never know it by how most fundraising organizations are merely playing around with online. Most fundraisers aren’t committed to online . . . and what online applications and technologies they do use are in support (supposedly) of their direct mail appeals.

There is no focus on how to make online actually bring in revenue or make it a standalone revenue center.

How about your organization?

Are you committed to online, or are you just using it to support your direct mail appeals?

And why are you not using online as a standalone revenue center?

Is it because you are scared you can’t make it work?

Is that what you’re scared of?

Yet when your new donor acquisition is drying up and even your base of supporters is growing older and smaller … you’re scared about online not working?

But wait … hold it a minute. Wasn’t this blog post supposed to be about optimism?

It is.

Because if you want to know the first steps in how to shift online successfully… where your fundraising can grow and develop sustainability … you can email me for free information.


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BIG’s Blog: The Dynamic of the Internet

We all understand the dynamics of how mass marketing – advertising – helped scale businesses and nonprofit fundraising through the years.

With commercial companies, whether on a local or national level, they could plug into paid advertising that brought their advertising message into almost every home.

For nonprofits, the primary advertising vehicle for message delivery was direct mail. They paid to have tens of thousands of letters delivered to a mass list of people who showed a propensity for supporting organizations like theirs.

We all get this because we lived through that time.

Today, however, we have this new invention called the Internet and we are all connected.

And when I say connected … I mean we are all connected … individually.

Mass has become the connected individual.

How many individuals are connected on the Internet? About 2 billion people connected worldwide, with more connecting daily. So, theoretically, that is pretty much everybody you might want to connect to.

So what is the other difference between “mass advertising” and the “individual-connected” Internet?

Oh yeah, the cost.

Media used to be scarce, so whoever “owned” the mass media you wanted to use charged dearly for it. But today, the Internet has broken all the mass media monopolies, and the Internet’s ability to connect everybody is essentially free.

The opposite of “scarce” is “abundant,” and the Internet has created abundant opportunities to connect.

But the Internet operates under different rules.

The old world of media was about vertical, top-down communications. Your money, your plan, and you were in control of the message … as far as reaching a “set audience” at a “set time” for a “set price.”

But the new online world of Internet-connected individual communications applications and media is about horizontal communications. You create a remarkable product, or, in the case of nonprofits, a remarkable mission, then you tell your story and set it up to spread person-to-person. On the Internet, unpaid but passionate advocates carry your story (your message) to others. But you have no direct control.

We all kind of like the control we have with paid media, don’t we?

But we also like not having to pay for messages through the Internet, don’t we?

Don’t misunderstand; we still need to use the old media for awhile because it is still working with an older segment of people we want to reach, but every year that group gets smaller and smaller.

But in the main, we really don’t have a choice, do we?

Of course we have a choice, but it is a different choice than maybe you’re thinking about.

Our choice is to shift our focus online.

Because, other than the oldest mass segments of people we want to reach, the vast majority … most individuals …  have already gone online.

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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BIG’s Blog: Most are already dead

huge number of long-tenured charitable organizations are already dead … they
just haven’t admitted it.
is especially true of some faith-based organizations and communities …
especially some Catholic religious communities and even some congregations.
Their leadership struggles against declining members, rising costs, lack of new
blood (vocations), and, worst of all, a lack of vision.
you are worried and want to take your organization’s temperature, go down the
hall and stick your head into the Development offices. How many of the staff
and leadership are over 55? How many over 60?
I exaggerate? Maybe, but only a little.
it any wonder that you haven’t had a new fundraising idea in eons that really
made an impact? And why your Development Director keeps making their budget
based upon Bequests?
every year your Development leadership and some staff attend the same-o, same-o
Association or Development Conferences or Symposiums. They spend all that money
and what changes? Answer: Nothing!
here’s the worst part: Your Development staff isn’t a mirror reflection
of your base of donors … your Development staff is younger! Huh?
unlike so many long-tenured Development organizations that are mired in
mediocrity … or worse … complacency, some
faith-based fundraising organizations are breaking out!
few years ago their leadership had some “sleepless nights” after they studied
the average age of their shrinking base of donors. They asked themselves, “What
can we do to attract younger supporters?” They knew that part of the answer was
moving online . . . after all, isn’t that where the world is now?
here’s the big surprise: Most of the organizations to date that decided to
break out are Catholic religious
communities and charities (send me an email and I’ll send you a list).
organizations actually decided to take the first steps to learn what they didn’t
would you have guessed that Catholic communities and charities would be leading
what is essentially a fundamental shift in how they think about and practice philanthropy/fundraising?
Aren’t those the same people who, a little over a century ago, were saying
things like “We don’t need this electricity thing, candles work just fine!”
now they
are in the forefront of a philosophical, as well as tactical, shift in
It’s all about creating the relationship
first, then building community around a shared passion in the work/mission/ministry
… and then asking friends to support the work. Not … begging for dollars
upfront (transaction-centered fundraising).
Tactical Shift: Online is
where people are today and where they communicate. If you are not 100% online
with your fundraising efforts, you are losing everyday.

Welcome to BIG’s Blog!  Please
feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers…and email me a
comment at:

BIG’s Blog: You Don’t Give Gifts

If you’re a baby boomer like me, you don’t give gifts to charitable or nonprofit organizations/institutions.
I’m not getting personal or judgmental, and I’m not trying to say you personally don’t donate to any number of organizations … in fact, you probably do.

What I am saying is, “You don’t give gifts … as in no strings attached.”

And, by the way, neither do your brothers, sisters, or friends.

Giving gifts with no strings attached is how your parents gave (provided they are of the WWII or Depression era generations). Your parents trusted institutions … your organization is an institution. And because your parents trusted institutions, they gave with “no strings attached.”

If you’re a baby boomer or a member of an even younger generation, YOU DON’T GIVE GIFTS!

You may call it a gift, but you DO NOT give a gift as in “no strings attached.” There are ALWAYS STRINGS ATTACHED.

The major strings are things like Transparency and Accountability.

Boomers and younger generations don’t give gifts … even if they call them gifts. Boomers (us, you and me, and younger generations) invest in charitable and other nonprofit organizations.

The mindset and level of expectations of investing is very different than merely giving a “no strings attached” gift.

Drip, Drip, Drip.


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BIG’s Blog: YouTube It

Have you ever heard of the Geico camel?

Me neither … until I did hear of it.

And why had I not heard of it? Because most Americans my age (I’m a baby boomer) don’t watch that much live TV. In fact, other than sports or an occasional awards show, anything that I think might be worthwhile on TV, I will DVR.

So I am pretty immune to television commercials. If I am watching something I DVR’d from broadcast or cable, I am blasting through the ads. In fact, I probably watch more Netflix than anything on regular TV so I just don’t see that many commercials.

Think I’m unique? Don’t bet on it.

Have my media-watching habits changed in the last ten years? You betcha … and so have yours!

We all remember when there were only three broadcast-television networks. If you watched TV, you were watching one of those three networks. This meant that the cultural conversation was fairly homogenous.

Not anymore. In fact, we were never really homogenous . . . but with limited choices, it just seemed that way.  

Media has fragmented to appeal to the real heterogeneous audiences that … in reality … always existed. With few exceptions, there is no single cultural conversation, but rather many niche conversations.

Here is something I have learned if you occasionally have to face one of those “clueless cultural moments” … go to YouTube and type it in.

Anything about anything is on YouTube.

Oh, by the way, is your fundraising organization’s story (or stories)  on YouTube?

The Geico camel is: Click Here


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BIG’s Blog: Kill Off the Old Gray Mare … Not Yet!

If we could all hop in a Time Machine and go back 110 years to 1904, we could observe a dynamic that is very similar to what fundraisers are facing today.

In 1904 there were these noisy, smelly contraptions rambling around the countryside and city streets. They were the earliest forms of what would later be known as automobiles. But back then, they were very rudimentary, and people called them “horseless” carriages.

Henry Ford’s breakthrough assembly line process that dramatically lowered automobile costs was still almost a decade away. But even then there were a few who saw the advantage of not being tethered to a horse to get around.

Right before everyone’s eyes was the future.

But did everyone rush home and sell their horses or, worse, kill the old gray mare?

Of course not!

In fact, most people who purchased one of these early automobiles probably still kept their horses for a while. Think about it . . . the transportation economy – other than railroads – was still built on real horsepower.

But the internal combustion engine was shifting the playing field. Every year, more people bought automobiles because the autos got better … a trend still seen today.

This meant that, over time, the demand for horses waned. Pretty soon livery stables, which were on every corner, became early gas stations.

What’s the connection as a fundraiser?

Today your annual revenue is still tethered to direct mail. Direct mail has been your engine to acquire new donors and bring in annual dollar revenue.

But now direct mail is in terminal decline.

Integrating or adding the new so-called online channels to a direct mail campaign not only doesn’t really move the needle in terms of lifting revenue over what the direct mail would deliver by itself, but it completely misses the transformational power of these new interactive online technologies.

If your direct mail appeals are still generating positive revenue, then keep them. Don’t kill off the old gray mare.

But for heavens sake, learn the lessons of history. When a transformational technology comes along, you don’t hitch your old horse to it; you keep your old gray mare going as long as she’s useful and then put her out to pasture. You focus your time, energy, and investment on the new technology.

Focus and invest in your future!


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BIG’s Blog: How many…

How many of your direct mail pieces, even those sent to past donors, don’t even get opened?

What’s a great response to current donors … 13%?

So that means 87% of current donors didn’t respond with a gift. And worse … how many of that 87% “deep sixed” (didn’t even open) your mailing package? And these are your BEST donors!?

And you spent all that time on the copy … how many revisions … to get it right so you could most effectively share your mission’s need. And you have NO idea how many of the 87% – current donors – didn’t even read it.

When you get a direct mail appeal from a charity (yours or another), we all know that opening the letter obligates us to at least consider sending a check to help.

So there is the hurdle of … “if I open this letter, am I obligating myself to give?”

Face it, there’s a hurdle.

Is there an alternative? How about this?

Assuming you have a compelling mission, if everyday you were posting a really well-written story on your Website and weren’t asking for money, how many more people would read about your work and know about your organization/community?

No hurdles.

Right now some readers are feeling slightly uncomfortable at what I am describing and suggesting. I understand that.

Then why am I raising the issue?

Because the world has shifted and people’s “sensibilities” (yours and mine) have changed. My above questions would have been nonsensical 25 years ago.

Do you think that direct mail is becoming less effective only because more and more people are online? Not to mention the increasing costs to produce and mail . . .

The Internet has changed the playing field … the rules have changed … and along with it, people’s sensibilities.

You’ve heard of Google, right? You know, the place where you can look up anything … find anything?

So if you just put up stories on your Website … just stories and information … and NEVER asked for money on your Website … YES, I’m saying REMOVE your donate button! Without the hurdle (the obligation to give), how many more people would actually read your stories?

And, of course, there a bazillion more people online than you could ever afford to mail to.  

Here is a thought to ponder. Doesn’t it make more sense to share who you are, what you do … and why … and let people make up their own minds in their own time without an implied obligation?’

I know … I know … it turns transaction-focused fundraising upside down.

Build a relationship first before asking for support.

What a concept!

But how would you rather be treated?


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BIG’s Blog: Mid-week Musings on Change in Fundraising

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  – George Bernard Shaw
I write and speak extensively, all with the core message that fundraising is changing before our eyes. The analogue world of print-and-ink direct mail appeals (that built the revenue that powered your organizations for the last 60+ years) is in decline. And as direct mail declines, you lose your engine to acquire new donors.

So many hear my message, but don’t act.

“The most talented captain can’t save a ship with a hole in it.”
– Unknown

Way too many fundraising professionals who are experts in the art and science of direct marketing (direct mail appeals) continue the delusion that mail will last forever. Seriously, if I see one more fundraising association-sponsored workshop with the title, Direct Mail is Alive and Well … I will become physically ill.

We all know that the future is online . . . but you keep telling yourself that nobody has a way to make it work . . . which of course is utter nonsense. You cling to the illusion instead of doing the work to make the change.

“It’s so easy to talk ourselves into failure before it even shows up.” – Seth Godin


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The Age of Paying Big Dollars for Databases…or other technology…Is Over!

Last Monday (June 2, 2014), Apple held its 25th anniversary WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference). This used to be Steve Jobs’ big stage to announce new devices, but last Monday, the show was all software.

Watch the opening four minutes of the video that Apple prepared to kick off the conference. By the way, don’t try to watch it in the Chrome browser (owned by Google); they kinda sabotaged it into not playing.

Why is this important for fundraisers?

Because “software is eating the world,” as Marc Andreessen has famously said.

When we talk about the Internet disrupting virtually every sector of the economy (including fundraising), we are really talking about software programs (also know as Applications or Apps) that can be accessed through the Internet. The Internet is the platform . . . the Apps or software are the functionality.

Up to now, what made Apple was their hardware devices; first the Mac, then the iPod, then the iPhone, and finally the iPad.

Jobs’ brilliant move wasn’t just “devices so cool you had to own them,” but also the seamless integration and functionality of, first, iTunes (99 cents to own a song), then opening up code so software developers could create Applications that would ride on the iPhone, iMac, and iPad. Thus expanding the Apple Store to include the App Store . . . and today over 10 billion App downloads!

Today, Apple has over 9 million registered developers from 69 countries.

9 million people writing software code so you and I can have the functionality we want on our phones, tablets, or computers.

How many software developers worldwide do you think there were prior to the App Store?

Apps are software and more and more … software (Apps) is cheap.

So what is the spillover effect for fundraisers? Unless you are lazy, or your fundraising organization is very large, you SHOULD NOT be paying anything close to what you have paid in the past for technology, including donor databases and Websites.

A shout-out to our program alumni who already learned about this in our program and who, in reading about the Apple WWDC conference focusing on software, recognize that they are really a part of the mainstream, rather than the cutting edge. It only feels like the cutting edge when you operate in the nonprofit fundraising world.

When you move your fundraising online – as you inevitably will –  your infrastructure costs in technology WILL NOT be significant investments (as they have been in the past) for your organization. Yet, you will be able to connect with and engage far greater numbers of people … many of whom will support your mission or ministry.


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BIG’s Blog: Interesting time of year

This is a really interesting time of year. Well, actually, there are two interesting times of year: the months of June and December. See, our online program that runs 18 weeks and ends with a field trip to Las Vegas begins twice a year, in January and July; two terms a year. This is the program that teaches professional fundraisers in their 40s, 50s and 60s (who are “immigrants” to the brave new online world) what they need to learn to acquire the next generation of supporters.

Throughout the rest of the year I am speaking to groups, at conferences, and doing Webinars. These are good venues to share our insights about what is really happening in fundraising today, and how fundraisers need to be intentional about moving their fundraising activities online with a business model that drives engagement and dollars.

Throughout the year we are sending out Program Overviews for our Acquiring the Next Generation online program. But of course we are all busy, right? So making the decision pops to the top of the “To Do” list typically in either June or December . . . about 30 days before the program begins.

After doing this awhile, I have seen that the people who are considering our program and requesting a Program Overview fall into three categories.

The first category is “the long-term successful.” If you are a board member of an organization or in leadership, these are the people you hope you have leading your fundraising organization. They are all smart, results-oriented, and totally pragmatic. They probably have a successful direct mail program today but are not fools; they clearly get that the future is online. They just want to invest in a plan to get them there.

The second category is also made up of extremely smart people who are primarily trained in theology, human services, the liberal arts, or are pastors. Pastors typically don’t learn business or fundraising in seminary. Now they find themselves making business-like decisions about marketing, budgets and income projections and, frankly, spending money is not in their comfort zone. They tend to spend a lot of time on costs, even a relatively inexpensive program like ours. It is understandable, but the good news is that our program is essentially education, and they connect with that.

The third category is by far the largest. Again, these are really smart people (are you seeing a trend here?). These are people in the fundraising organization (sometimes the Development Director and sometimes a subordinate position) who inherently believe the future of fundraising is online, but face difficulties like getting their leadership to seriously consider a model of fundraising other than what everybody knows and what they have been doing for years. They desperately want their organization to go through the program, but have trouble getting leadership to agree.

There is a fourth category, but I hesitate to share it. These are the leaders of fundraising groups who do not request our program overview. Many read my blog and attend industry conferences where they always take my call or greet me. In truth, they are genuinely nice people, but as a group, they are what I call the “Excusers.” They always have a different excuse for passing on our program. They tell me that they couldn’t agree more that online is the future, but the time just isn’t right. They also tell me their direct mail programs are producing better than ever. They all assure me that they will be calling. But of course they never do. As a group, they obviously know something I don’t.
But then for every Excuser I know, there are leaders who are the opposite of the Excusers, like Debbie Korzak who is retiring as a Development Director next year. She clearly sees that the future of fundraising is online and is making certain their designated new Development Director takes our courses so their organization has a future.

Interesting time of year is right …


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BIG’s Blog: What is the alternative?

What is the alternative to not donating to your organization?

Silly question, right?

The alternative to not donating to your organization is to donate to another organization, right?

But how about the alternative of not donating to any organization?

Or, how about this … never ever donating?

Professionals in philanthropy tell us that the United States is stuck at about 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) going to charitable and other philanthropic causes (north of $320 billion a year). And we have been stuck at that same percentage for over 20 years. This means that as more nonprofit organizations come on the scene, we just divide the money pie up in smaller and smaller slices. Kind of makes it hard to grow doesn’t it?

So what is the problem? Why can’t we break above 2%?

The philanthropy professional class’ answer is that we just need to “give more.” But that just lets them off the hook, especially those in fundraising. People in philanthropy use examples like, “If everybody gave up a morning coffee for a year it would mean an additional $220 billion to charities.” Like giving up a coffee is going to happen!

But … as usual … they are missing the bigger point, which is that too few people give.

The “audience” of people who give to charitable or philanthropic causes has been defined by how nonprofit organizations connected with them. Meaning that if you missed the message, it hit you at the wrong time, or it “wasn’t your thing,” you didn’t give. And today that is the real number that is stagnant.

The “audience” for giving has been defined by how charities communicated and marketed themselves.

But the good news is that the “audience” paradigm is fading as the new “Internet” paradigm is essentially taking over. And this offers the opportunity to start growing again.

What is the audience paradigm and what is the Internet paradigm?

The audience paradigm is what we have all grown up with. This was the world of scarcity. You only had a few TV channels, a few radio stations, and maybe, at most, two newspapers in your town. In direct mail, it was the sum total of the limited lists available for you to rent. All the media were owned by a few (scarcity) so you paid dearly for the privilege of using a media. And of course that is where the eyes and ears were. And it worked … until it didn’t.

The “audience” paradigm isn’t working well today, is it?

And why is that?

The “Internet” paradigm is taking over.

The Internet destroyed traditional media monopolies. Local print newspapers, print magazines, television networks . . . and twenty years ago, would you have imagined that the U.S. Postal Service might go out of business? All brought about by the invention of the Internet… hence the Internet paradigm.

We all understand the concept of a media-based audience. An audience is a set number (readers, viewers, number of names on a mailing list, etc.).

With the Internet, although it is true that at any single moment in time, theoretically, there are X number of people on the Internet, as you expand that single moment in time, the number of people on the Internet becomes the total number of people who can connect to the Internet, which is about 2 billion today. That’s pretty close to infinite isn’t it? And that number keeps growing.

Still isn’t clear? Okay, look at it this way. If you print and mail 10,000 newsletters and mail them, your audience for that newsletter is 10,000. But when you put up a Website, even if you never update it (which of course would be stupid), what is the size of your audience? Right! The number is essentially all the people connected to the Internet … essentially infinite.  

So the Internet paradigm is destroying the whole limitation idea of “audience.”

So as the audience paradigm begins to decline in effectiveness, since virtually everyone has moved to the Internet, doesn’t it become obvious that your future is online?

But being successful on the Internet doesn’t mean you use the same “push” message marketing you used in advertising during the audience-based scarcity of the media era. In fact, using marketing or advertising as you have used it in the audience paradigm isn’t going to work. New paradigm … new approach.

But the really good news is that the Internet paradigm can grow and scale beyond anything we have seen using the audience paradigm.

You do want to grow don’t you?


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BIG’s Blog: What’s the old joke?

What’s the old joke?  “Since I graduated (from high school or college) I haven’t read a book?”

That was practically me until three years ago when I bought an Apple iPad. Prior to that I read dead tree magazines and newspapers, but very few books. The newspapers I read daily and tossed. The magazines hung around a bit longer. But books? I finished maybe ten since I graduated from college in 1975. Oh, I bought more books than that and probably started 40 or more over the years, but I actually only finished a handful.

Of course we could all say that. Isn’t that what everybody does? Start a lot of books, get the core idea, but never finish them? 

That has all changed for me with the digitization of “information.” That’s all books and magazines are anyway, right?

But for me, and I suspect thousands … perhaps  millions … of other people, the digital transformation of information has changed our habits, which, in turn, changes our lives.

Today, the better description of my reading habits is more like consuming information.  Funny, I would never have thought to equate reading a book with consuming it five or ten years ago. But consuming is a more apt description for the process I go through now, reading three to five e-books a month, plus at least a hundred articles a month . . . and those hundred articles are just in the fundraising sector. I still read widely beyond our sector as I suspect most of you do as well.  I haven’t even mentioned listening to podcasts on either my iPad or iPhone.

So, basically, I can say that the cloud-connected tablet has changed my life … for the better. And it’s not just me. My sons with mental disabilities’ constant companions are their iPads. And my granddaughter, who is only six months old, is already watching and attempting to play with kid’s games on the iPad. Actually, it’s quite remarkable to watch my boys and my granddaughter on tablets.

My iPad is with me wherever I go. Cooking in the kitchen (following recipes etc.), sitting on the porch watching a movie, navigating to my destination … I could go on and on.

The tech wizards have absolutely changed our lives … and I haven’t even mentioned apps!

So, if it has changed my life, my boys’ lives, my granddaughter’s life (well, she’s barely had a life), and countless others, then what has happened? Answer: Society and civilization are changing.

Are there people who haven’t changed? Yes, in fact, many. And of course that explains why your direct mail appeals to current donors still produce excess revenue.

But what about me? I’m 62 and I don’t open your direct mail anymore. Notice I said “anymore?” But you argue that you and others do open mail … and at least so far, enough people are opening to make it pay. 

Ah, but you and the people who are still opening mail are not timeless …

… but your mission is timeless, especially if your missions or ministries serve people . . . and what mission or ministry ultimately doesn’t serve people? You can count on not running out of souls to serve.

But what if more people become like me and quit reading your mail? What happens to your annual income and, equally important, how do you generate new supporters?

I just told you that I personally “have been changed” by the digital transformation of information. My habits have changed. And guess what, I suspect yours have too.

It’s only a matter of time … and I suspect a short time … until both of us have stopped reading direct mail appeals.

Then what?


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BIG’s Blog: Online Tools Can Help Supporters Raise Funds From Their Networks

The above title, Online Tools Can Help Supporters Raise Funds From Their Networks, was an article published May 29th in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s online edition (I don’t read their dead tree printed version). They even have a section called “Online Fundraising.”

So you read the headline and ask yourself, “Do our supporters have networks?”

Frankly, your question is a good one and points to a big (no, make that a huge) problem for you and your fundraising organization. The truth is YOUR supporters DON’T HAVE networks, at least not in the sense that the article is describing them. Your supporters have friends and family … but not networks.

Your supporters, who were 99.9% acquired via direct mail, are mostly in their 70s and 80s with a few in their 60s sprinkled in. Most use a computer and some use tablets and smartphones. But these folks don’t have networks in the sense that the Chronicle is describing a network.

The article is describing online networks of primarily friends. It is talking about younger people who use social networks and other online channels to stay in touch with their friends daily… if not more often. It is a concept that people over 65 find hard to grasp. “Why would anyone need to connect with their friends hourly?”

The point is that this “online network phenomenon” is not remotely a part of the vast majority of your older, direct mail-acquired donor’s life experience. And that means it probably isn’t important to your fundraising team’s plan.
Yet there is the article about “networks” and supporters in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.  

Whose supporters are they talking about?

Do you think the Chronicle would be writing an article about “networks” if they weren’t important?

A part of this blog’s readership has already shifted online. Many have been through our online learning program. They actually get what the authors of the article are writing about and, for them, it is valuable information. Valuable … as in, it is information they can use to grow revenue for their organizations.

But for too many reading this post, it seems unnecessary … even worthless. It just doesn’t connect to your supporters . . . at least your supporters today.

So how many more articles, association sessions, or webinars about online fundraising are you going to attend while nodding your head in agreement before you go back to your fundraising organization and actually make online growth part of your fundraising?

And sorry, being online is more than having a website, sending out email blasts and having social media pages. Come on, how does that generate new supporters and, ultimately, revenue?   

I mean seriously, today you are not only hurting your career by delaying … you are now beginning to seriously impact your organization’s financial future.
Wouldn’t it be nice to read a fundraising publication story about online fundraising and be able to say, “We’re already doing that!”

Isn’t it time to figure this online thing out?


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BIG’s Blog: Always a Crisis

Seth Godin is one of the best thinkers in marketing communications who is actively writing about our changing marketing environment. He recently wrote a blog post entitled Tribal organizing (right and wrong, slow and fast).

In his blog he touches on fundraising to make a single point, but I think for fundraisers, what he is getting at is the point!

Where are fundraisers going off the rails today?

Today, most fundraising … ESPECIALLY DIRECT MAIL FUNDRAISING … is all about Crisis, Cash, and Cliffs.

Crisis: Every mail package is a mini-crisis or a full-blown crisis. “Emergency need for urgent action NOW!” There is always a reason why the benefactor must pull out their checkbook NOW!

Cash: Every crisis demands only one solution … CASH. “You can help solve this with cash … now.”
Cliffs: The organization lurches from cliff to cliff … or so it seems. There is no future, only the imperative issue of the NOW. Emotional energy is drained just reading the appeal as the organization’s mission is viewed as riding the edge.

BUT THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE. The answers are Connection, Commitment, and Conversation … communicated online.

Connection: Our mission is a journey and we want you along for the whole ride. This is about building a relationship.

Commitment: We are not just about today, but are committed to the long haul of our mission. We want you to join our commitment to the cause so that, together, we can do more over the long haul.

Conversation: Put your stories and updates out there. Keep the community and supporters “in the know” about what’s happening every … single … day.


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BIG’s Blog: Busy Being Born?

“Ability is what you’re capable of.
Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.”
-Lou Holtz

Successful professional fundraisers’ abilities have never been questioned until recently. But when the very foundational fundraising methodologies, the way they have done their jobs for decades, is being digitally disrupted, boards and leadership are raising questions. Yet the only hurdle for professional fundraisers is to learn something new. And, truth be told, they have been doing that throughout their professional careers.

Ah, but the rub may be motivation. If I am in my late 50s or 60s, am I really motivated to expend the effort learning something like the new online digital world that I perceive as so different from what I know today?

And then there’s my attitude. Which will it be in learning new things?  Reluctantly and begrudgingly or, enthusiastically?

Here is some motivation, because …
“He’s not busy being born is busy dying.”
-Bob Dylan

And those words apply to both people and organizations.


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BIG’s Blog: Remember on Memorial Day

When I was growing up back in the 50s and 60s, Memorial Day was about going to the cemetery and placing flowers on loved ones’ graves. We would see the flags on veterans’ headstones, but it wasn’t exclusively a remembrance of those who had served in our armed forces.

People still decorate family and friends’ graves, but Memorial Day has taken on more of a focus on the fallen from our recent and past wars since 9/11.

In America, we are still free. If this isn’t driven home to you everyday as you read or listen to the news from places like Thailand, Ukraine, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and on and on … then you aren’t paying attention.

This Memorial Day, remember that it is those men and women in our armed forces who have secured our freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and even freedom to demonstrate.
If you see a man or woman in uniform this long Memorial Day weekend, remember to thank them for their service.


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BIG’s Blog: The Way to a Donor’s Heart (and Data) Is Trust

Natasha Smith, the Senior Editor of the online publication, Direct Marketing News, wrote a good article last week entitled: Trust: The Way to a Customer’s Heart (and Data). Obviously, you can see from my title that I totally ripped off her core idea … even though I am personalizing it to the fundraising world. Why did I jump all over her article? Because what pertains to customers of commercial enterprises pertains to nonprofits as well.

Her arguments about trust leading to brand loyalty for products we buy is spot on … if a bit obvious. But the real process that fundraisers need to pay attention to is connecting trust to sharing data.

People understand that there is a heck of a lot of data that organizations (commercial or nonprofit) can obtain for “marketing” purposes. And, just like the commercial world, if people trust the brand (commercially, Apple remains #1 in brand loyalty), they will allow their data to be shared. If they trust … they share.  This is only going to be more important moving into the online world.

And you think that just because you are a charity or even a faith-based ministry or mission that you don’t have to worry about gaining people’s trust?

Think again!

Open … Honest … Transparent … Accountable. These are the new bedrocks that make up Trust to younger generations (starting with the boomers) that are online.


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BIG’s Blog: It’s How We Learn About Stuff

You’re no different than me. You’re out at dinner with friends or family, and someone brings up a subject (anything, trivia, etc.). This has been happening forever. We used to just argue who was right and the whole process dissolved into shouting and laughter and then we moved on.

Not today.

Someone reaches into their pocket or purse and pulls out their smartphone and “Googles” it. (Yes, the noun Google has become a verb!) And, voila, we have an answer. Life is changed, behavior is changed, and we are all the “smarter” for it. WE GOT THE ANSWER.

We still dissolve into laughter, except for Uncle Morty who swore on his mother’s grave he was right about the answer when, in fact, he was wrong. But he’ll just order another drink and all will be fine.

So what does this have to do with fundraising?

Come on, do I have to paint you a picture?

First of all, the people you want and need to be talking to are online. And when I say they are online, I mean THEY ARE ONLINE. Just like you, their habits and ways of doing things have changed with the invention of the Internet and digital personal tools like smartphones, tablets, etc.

Second, everybody … and I mean everybody … carries within him or her a mental list of what is important to them. We say things like “Aunt Judy has a ‘heart’ for kids with mental disabilities,” because her son was born with Down syndrome. So, with the advent of the Internet, at any moment or on a whim we can look up Down syndrome or anything else, INSTANTLY! Do you know what a “keyword” is? Google will let you buy (for a period of time) any word or word couplet. Then when someone queries that word, your Website URL pops up. THEY CAN FIND YOU!

Third, have you heard of Kickstarter? It is a Website for raising funds and there are lots of sites just like it popping up. People go to these sites to invest money in startup efforts, like people raising money to start a business, or getting funding to make a movie or a record. But some nonprofits are using them to raise money for a project.  PEOPLE BY THE MILLIONS ARE GOING TO THESE SITES.

So what does this have to do with how you raise funds for your mission or ministry today?

Probably not a darn thing!

You’re still stuck in the mindset of lists, advertising, mail, making calls, and on and on … “It’s how we have always done things!”

Meanwhile millions of people are on the Internet looking for you (they may not know they are looking for you), but because they have a “heart” for your mission or ministry, they are LOOKING FOR YOU … AND YOU ARE MAKING IT SO HARD TO BE FOUND.


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BIG’s Blog: Your Story

Politicians ultimately only have one thing to sell to the voters and that is themselves . . . but the voters want to know what a politician stands for. Sometimes the issue and the politician’s position are straightforward and simple, but other times the issue is complex. The most successful politicians know how to connect with their constituents by simplifying the most complex issue into a story . . . a story of how the issue and the politician’s stand on it will affect the lives of their constituents. They tell stories, and in the end, it is the narrative (the story) the politician lays out that people actually vote for … under the guise of voting for the politician.

Not-for-profits in general and charities in particular need to act in the same way. A politician’s “issue” is the charity’s “mission or ministry.” The charity must tell their story about how they “do” mission or ministry and what it means to the person listening or reading their story. Their story either connects or doesn’t … when people hear it. People will support a charity if they connect to its story.

Stories used to be passed by word of mouth around the fire.  Stories were then passed through the written word and, later, the printed word. Then came the technology of capturing sound, and finally film. Today our digital-based Internet world is “all the above,” and stories are carried through all kinds of channels.

But it still comes down to the story.

When people hear about your organization for the first time, what they really want to know is this: What is your story?


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