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April is coming. Have you inked in your fundraising strategy yet?

27 Mar

The new financial year is round the corner. Have you inked in your fundraising strategy yet?

No matter what the answer to that is: Keep calm. And now, kill the dragon.

Those of you who’ve spent the past month poring over numbers on an Excel sheet, just ask yourself: Is it doable? Depending on the answer to that, pore on.

Those of you who’ve not yet started on your fundraising plan for the coming year, you don’t have to clutch your hairbrush and do a rendition of All by myself. This post is for you.

Your fundraising strategy needs to answer five questions. All of which can fit on one side of a clean tissue. Once you’ve got these fundamentals answered, the rest is about following through.

Let’s go over each of these fundamentals.

  1. Where do you want to go?

This is your concrete goal in fundraising. Not your organisational goal or programmatic goal, though you will have to think about that to get a fix on this one. Write down clearly what’s the direction you want fundraising to take this year.

Do you want to increase the percentage of funds you raise locally by 5%? Or get your first Rs 1 lakh from individual donors? In other words, your target could be a percentage-based target for planned diversification of income. Or it could be an exploration of a new source.

If you’re able to, have a go at where you want it to go over the next three years, and work backward to set this year’s goal.

  1. What do you need the money for?

People will give to people, to state a fundraising obvious. And to get your work to be fundraising-friendly, you need to make it about people. Or cats. Or dogs. You get the drift.

Don’t make it about training workshops, electricity bills and capacity building. There’s a way to articulate all of that in a manner that is about people. If you don’t know how to articulate it that way, get help. Craft this ask, test it, sharpen it. Test again.

A word of advice: Resist the temptation to do advocacy and fundraising at the same time. I could say more about this – but another time. Just don’t.

  1. How do you plan to get there?

Choose three or four methods. If you’re doing this for the first time, fewer. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Make sure there’s a good spread of types of donors: large number of people giving you small amounts, and a few people giving you larger amounts (what’s called Pareto’s principle).

Who is your target audience? The general public? Wrong answer. The 1,000 people who have come to your events in the past two years? Better. The 250 working women who have clicked on your email newsletter? Even better. When you don’t have the budgets, draw the circle as close as you can.

  1. How much of it is like bungee jumping?

Does it feel like you’re standing on the edge of cliff, ready to leap into the wide unknown? It doesn’t have to be that way. Look at the two or three methods you’ve chosen in the light of the resources you have. How much of your time will each take? Are all of them new to you? If so, chances are you’re biting off more than you can chew.

Ideally, you want at least one or two methods to be trusted and tried ones that will take minimal effort to keep going. Those are the bungee cord. You can count on these, and even strengthen these, while testing out the ones that are absolutely new.

  1. What will it cost?

What do you need to get the two or three methods moving? Have you thought about getting them sponsored? Fifteen years ago, I worked with a whole lot of organisations who got their first annual report sponsored, often by the bank where they had their account. So, before you decide that you don’t have a fundraising budget, try and get some sponsorship.

You still have four days in March. Get started on your annual fundraising plan today. And get April off to a kinder start.

If you’d like to chat about how to refine your fundraising strategy, write in to us.

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Writing for rights: Five pitfalls to avoid

8 Mar

Words are for free. And yet, they are loaded with meaning.

As writers exclusively working with the not-for-profit sector, we are conscious of the impact of the words we use. Words shape perceptions and opinion. Words signal to another that you’re of the same mind, or not.

Many not-for-profits that we work with have the programme and the fundraising teams working in separate bubbles. The programme team feels that the fundraising team dumbs down issues and strips it of nuance. The fundraising team feels that the programme team weighs down words with jargon so that it doesn’t make sense to a lay reader.

In much of the fundraising copy of the 80s globally, and the 90s and early 2000s in India, images and words were used to elicit sympathy. They spoke of sadness, wretchedness and urged the donor to lift the person out of that state. While most fundraising has thankfully moved on to using positive images – both visual and verbal – some things remain the same.

Just this week I got a call from a tele-calling agency that took me back to the 80s in the words used and most importantly, in the tone of the caller. The caller painted an overtly purple picture of a child that needed my help, right now.

Hence, to writers of fundraising and tele-calling copy everywhere: Here are five things to keep in mind.

  1. Do not take away agency.

“Geeta is an AIDS victim.”

The use of the word “victim” implies powerlessness and denies agency. Individuals and communities have the power to make decisions for themselves and to bring about change in their own lives, with a little help.

Do write, instead:

Geeta has AIDS”, or “Geeta lives with HIV”, as appropriate.

This states facts and doesn’t strip away Geeta’s dignity.

  1. Do not distort meaning.

“Geeta was fired from her job because of her sexual preference.”

The use of the word “preference” implies that how one identifies is a preference, a choice, or worse, a luxury.

Do write, instead:

“Geeta was fired from her job because of her sexual orientation.”

“Geeta was born a man, but identifies as a woman.”

  1. Do not impose judgment.

“Geeta and her friends were promiscuous.”

The use of the word promiscuous, to indicate sexual behaviour, comes loaded with a certain moral framework. Even where the writer may not necessarily share this moral framework, it’s possible to continue using these words and phrases because they are such a common part of language as it’s used by the general public and the media.

Do write, instead:

“Geeta and her friends had multiple sexual partners.”

This is much more direct and factual, without the weight of morality.

  1. Do not make objects of people.

“Geeta works with the disabled.”

The use of such a phrase strips away any identity that people might have other than the disability that they have. Surely there’s much more to a person than the disability they are born with, or live with? This is a pet peeve that objectifies people, and is often used by people who passionately advocate for the cause of people with disability.

Do write, instead:

“Geeta works with people with disability.”

This acknowledges that the people are people first; that they have a disability is a part of them, but not all of them.

  1. Do not attribute more – or less – weight to actions.

“Geeta decided to get rid of the baby.”

Phrases such as these are implicit with the judgment that abortion is a casual decision. It’s also inaccurate, tilting the meaning against the woman’s right to choice.

Do write, instead:

“Geeta decided to have an abortion.”

“Geeta decided to end the pregnancy.”

We’ll throw in an extra one, for good measure. This is for people who design materials for non-profits.

  1. Do not cram in every sq cm of space with words.

While we understand that print space is expensive, resist the temptation to fill every square cm. Keep in mind that a reader’s eyes can easily glaze over column after column of tightly packed text! Give the reader a chance to take in what you’ve just written, breathe, and form an opinion.

Do, instead:

Let the words breathe. Give them some white space.

As Mark Twain said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

So you think you know your target audience?

25 Jan

It’s a lesson we learn in Communications 101. Know your target audience well. Then budgets and deadlines take over, and we settle for “Make intelligent guesses about your target audience.”

It’s a lesson worth going back to especially now, when many not-for-profits working on reproductive and sexual rights face huge budget cuts under the new political dispensation in the US. And it’s a lesson that the best minds in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign completely missed.

But first – what does “Know your target audience well” mean? For one, it means, “Know who your audience is.” In this case, the answer is not simply, “women”. Who are these women? What is their every day like?

Two, it means finding out where your target audience is in relation to the issues you’re talking about. If an audience segment is tilting in favour of what you have to say, why is it doing so? What are the pain points of individuals in that group that your message addresses? If the target audience is opposed to what you’re saying, what are their concerns, their objections and their barriers?

Not knowing the target audience well – or making assumptions about it – can result in messaging that’s completely off target.

Back to the Clinton campaign. The campaign rested on a big assumption. It assumed that people who support reproductive and sexual health and rights (made evident through their support for Planned Parenthood) would not vote for Donald Trump (because stopping federal funding for Planned Parenthood is a well-known Republican stance). Huge mistake.

The campaign completely missed that there is a large chunk of Trump voters who are actually Planned Parenthood supporters. A study on healthcare policy conducted just prior to the elections showed that 48% of people who planned to vote for Trump were in favour of continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood. They just didn’t know that voting Trump was contrary to their support for Planned Parenthood. And no one pointed this out to them.

The Clinton campaign, instead of focusing on issues, almost entirely focused on the personality of Donald Trump. Again, huge mistake.

In December, Planned Parenthood conducted a series of focus group discussions with people who supported the organisation but still voted Trump. Michelle Goldberg writes in Slate, “The focus groups are also revelatory. They suggest that the Clinton campaign made a fatal mistake in depicting Trump as outside the bounds of normal conservatism. Clinton’s camp had hoped that doing so would lead Republicans to defect. Instead, it helped some people who distrust conservatism to reconcile themselves to Trump.”

In other words, the campaign should have firmly tied Trump to the Republican platform on which he stood. By focusing the majority of attention on his larger than life personality and derision for his “personal beliefs and actions,” the campaign divorced Trump from many of the specifics of the Republican agenda – such as cutting federal funding for Planned Parenthood. This, despite the fact that Trump had publicly stated that he would strip Planned Parenthood of funding unless it stopped supporting abortions.

Goldberg writes, “But many of the people in the focus groups didn’t know he’d made this assurance, and those who did didn’t take it seriously. It seemed as if Trump’s lasciviousness, which Clinton hoped would disqualify Trump with women, actually worked in his favour. The focus group participants couldn’t imagine that Trump would enact a religious right agenda.”

All this points to flawed campaign planning: not understanding how Trump’s women supporters perceived him and the Republican agenda, and therefore, not knowing where to attack.

The trajectory of this campaign holds invaluable lessons for the non-profit campaigner. Segment your target audience as narrowly as you can. Then systematically get to know each segment.

If you have the budget, invest it in target audience research. Actually, let me take that back. If the campaign is important, then get the money to invest in target audience research. If you absolutely don’t have the money, then get volunteers to at least do a dipstick survey.

Only then can you craft your key messages. And only, only then, develop your communication materials. Never, ever, start a campaign by thinking of what materials you’ll need.

You might think this is pretty elementary. But the best brains got this wrong. And Clinton lost her chance to connect with 48% of the women who voted for Trump.

Do you have an example of a campaign that went wrong or right, because of knowing the target audience well? Write in to us.

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The SDGs, Dobby and the Deathly Hallows

23 Sep

Just two days to go for the Quidditch World Cup 2015, oops, er.. the UN meeting in New York to announce the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successor to the Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs have been accused of being bloated, some of them impossible to measure, and my favourite, “higgledy-piggledy.” The SDGs number 17, and have 169 associated targets. Did they just pull all that out of the Sorting Hat, was my first reaction. A grant-seeker’s nightmare, was my second.

First and second instincts apart, global goals do have their pluses. For one, as The Economist article points out, it has the whole world looking in the same direction, allowing for focused investment and deeper impact. Think of all three houses coming together to fight Voldemort (T silent). Measurability brings with it greater transparency, and boosts confidence that investments will bring rewards, thereby attracting corporates and wealthy philanthropists. And sure, technology (the modern-day equivalent of tessomancy, or reading tea leaves) makes it possible to accurately assess both the extent of the problem and the effectiveness of the solution.

But there are pitfalls. And the pitfalls lie not with the SDGs, but the grants that will follow them.

None of the following is an original argument – it has been made countless times by advocates of local resource mobilisation, also known as the Order of the Phoenix. But since we are on the threshold of a new global order led by wise and powerful witches and wizards, it’s worthwhile to repeat them. (Those who don’t learn from history… and all that.)

The emphasis on making every knut count implies that even more of the money is earmarked for actuals on the ground – syringes, life-saving drugs, food… This puts pressure on the money that’s available for human resources. Not among the large primary recipients of grants, but among the recipient organisations at the end of the line. No, not Dobby. The grassroots non-profit (the jargon we in the sector like to use is CBO – community-based organisation) that is granted a “project” to run, does so with minimal staff (and house elves) just about qualified to implement task ‘x.’

In an ideal world, a CBO would have its own larger vision of what it must do to benefit the community it serves. It would then raise funds from local and other sources to do what it must do. But seldom is that the case. Most small organisations have their eyes fixed on the project – and the project alone. Suddenly, usually at the time when the grant is coming to an end, they are exhorted to diversify income sources, find the Philosopher’s Stone of Sustainability and basically produce a fourth name out of the Triwizard Cup.

Would they have done things differently if they’d been told that one day the grant would come to end? That’s a bit like saying would Harry Potter have done things differently had he known “neither can live while the other survives”?

Usually, once the grant ends, once the success of the programme leads to its logical close, priorities shift. The CBO either scrambles for existence, closes down or what’s most common, waits for the next project.

And here’s where grant-makers can learn from The Deathly Hallows, and do things differently this time around.

For those not tuned into Potterwatch (oh, but you’ve stopped reading a long while ago), a quick and dirty guide to the Deathly Hallows. To defeat death, a wizard has to be master of three magical objects known as the Deathly Hallows, comprising the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Invisibility Cloak.

Here’s our version of the Hallows for grant-making.

  • The Elder Wand: Build a strong core. In other words, strengthen the organisation by helping build a strong core team, a powerful vision and solid systems.
  • The Resurrection Stone: Strengthen communication, to bring back to life forgotten, dead or non-existent supporters.
  • The Invisibility Cloak: Wear the cloak of invisibility. Enable the organisation to have such a diversified portfolio of supporters that your project is but a small part of the whole.

For more tips on how not to be a Muggle with grant-making, see https://nosmallchange.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/grant-dont-grunt/.

Let the fun and games begin, at the World Quidditch Cup 2015, in New York!

Grant, not grunt

24 Aug

Vu’s post in Nonprofit with Balls this Monday, “Funders, your grant application process may be perpetuating inequity,” couldn’t have been more well-timed. (Link to the post at the end of this one.)

Over the past few weeks, we have been working with community-based and led organisations working with men who have sex with men and transgender people. Most of these organisations have just been registered or are in the process of doing so. Most are in desperate need of resources to meet the immediate challenges of the community. The annual amounts to be raised are comparable to the monthly spend on biscuits in the nutritional programme of a large non-profit. The organisations are staffed by well-meaning and committed community members who are – and rightly so – focused on getting their programme off the ground. They have some way to go before they move from the road of “we’ll do what we get funds for” to “how do we get the money to do what the community’s needs.”

The story of these CBOs is no different from those we’ve seen hundreds of times in the past 15 years that we’ve been doing this.

Small organisations aim for the mirage-like oasis of self-sustainability, which is an intrinsically noble goal. But the quest often means that such small CBOs have to somehow transform into expert grant writers and makers of spiffy presentations that wow high net worth and corporate audiences. The other option is to raise resources by building avenues for generating income, in other words, by setting up business ventures. But this too requires business development skills if returns are to justify investment. And that’s something that again, most CBOs don’t have.

Grant-makers could make this quest just a bit easier – and infinitely more meaningful, especially for small community-led CBOs – by doing these four things.

  1. Go for function, not form. Typically, at the workshops we conduct, we drill into participants the basics of good communication – often running the risk of oversimplification. We’re happy if participants leave having understood just one thing well – how to tell a good story or how to talk about your achievements, rather than activities. But come Monday morning, as they fill out the next 14-page format to please the grant-maker, all the understanding comes undone.

Grant-makers, review your reporting requirements and ask for stories or for achievements – things that the CBO can actually use in their next presentation or elevator speech. The skills they develop in writing and sending you a good story of change are skills they can use with other donors, including individuals and corporates. This would be a much better way to build the capacity of the CBO for real.

  1. Help them through the language barrier. We find that once they learn the basic elements of good communication, most CBOs can write strong concept notes in their local language. But the ordeal of expressing themselves in English wrings out any poetry or power that the story might hold.

Grant-makers, either evaluate concept notes in the local language (you can afford to hire someone to do the job) – or fund the cost of a skilled communicator who can recast it into English BEFORE you make the grant. Including the cost of these skills in the grant budget, if it’s offered at all, doesn’t help.

  1. Don’t bury them with bureaucracy. It looks like monitoring and evaluation will soon be elevated to the status of a legit science (just kidding; fingers crossed). While the principle of monitoring indicators of success is fine, it makes drudgery of work. Recording attendance sheets in triplicate, before and after psych evaluations, auto-rickshaw bills and Instagram photos of every meal consumed (okay, I’m exaggerating now, maybe not the Instagram food shots) turns up the heat on an already wilting-under-the-pressure CBO.

Grant-makers, dump the excessive paperwork. If your donor asks for it, then please educate your donor.

  1. Pay for staff, not elves. The task of raising resources involves submitting proposals, concept notes, presentations, budgets and sundry attachments, all to be done by the already overworked and extremely underpaid CBO staff who are not qualified to do all of this in the first place. The desire of grant-makers to keep management budgets low means that very soon, all non-profits will be staffed by elves who creep in at night and do the work of men and women.

Grant-makers, provide core funding to hire skilled staff or paid volunteers who will actually show up. And this might sound like an unabashed plug – but pay for consultants who will actually implement, and not just give advice.

And here’s the inspiration for this post – Vu’s post: Funders, your grant application process may be perpetuating inequity

Look up now: Your donor is leaving!

20 Jan

161142__icebop_lYour donor is walking out of the door. And you’re so busy turning cartwheels for a potential donor that you don’t even notice.

In the absence of donor attrition studies in India (if anyone is doing them, I’d love to hear all about it), here are some findings from the 2013 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey conducted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and The Urban Institute in the US:

  1. Every $100 gained in 2012 was offset by $96 in losses due to donation attrition.
    This means that for every Rs 100 raised, not-for-profits lost Rs 96 because of a drop in other donations. In other words, you think you have Rs 196 in the pot, but you have only Rs 4!
  2. Every 100 donors gained in 2012 was offset by 105 in lost donors through attrition.
    This is even more shocking. For every 100 new donors recruited, 105 donors were lost because they just stopped giving.

Last week we talked about how donor retention had finally jumped ahead of acquisition as a priority for not-for-profits. This is in the US. At home, it’s business as usual.

While not-for-profits are willing to earmark budgets for donor acquisition, very few see donor retention as a priority. It’s time to wake up to the stampede of the departing donors’ feet.

Plan for donor retention, the very minute that you make plans to acquire the donor, and not long after the donor has been acquired.

Finally! Retaining donors comes first

9 Jan

Donor retention jumps ahead of acquisition as a priority for non-profits, according to the just-released Nonprofit Communications Report 2015. The report, which surveyed more than 1,500 non-profits primarily in the US (a few in Canada and fewer still in the rest of the world) is indicative that non-profits are finally heading in the right direction.

I’m kicked about this enough to consider printing out a placard and carrying it with me on meetings to non-profits in India. Many of the NGOs we talk to see acquisition as the main basket for investment – and communication to retain donors as a soft – and secondary – option. Sure, you need to have donors in the first place to retain them, but I’ve also seen scores of examples of donors coming when you spread the word – and ask. I’d therefore argue that both need to be done simultaneously. The truly visionary ones are those that build their brand, communicate consistently, and ask clearly – till the donors come – and the donors do come.

Going back to the report, the top priorities of the non-profits surveyed were as follows;

  1. Engaging community
  2. Retaining current donors
  3. General brand awareness
  4. Acquiring new donors, and
  5. Thought leadership.

The top four communications channels that non-profits most preferred are website, email marketing, traditional social media and in-person events, in that order. The top three social media sites turned out to be Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Interestingly, the report shows the differences in priorities in the same non-profit between the communications director and the development director. To know what these areas of conflict were, get your copy of the report at http://npmg.us/2015.

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