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Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Do I Have To?" No One Really Likes Your Donor Cultivation Events

I heard the most refreshingly honest thing from a significant donor the other day.

"Please don't invite me to another dinner party."

As a charitable sector, we plan a lot of donor cultivation events. We know we need to connect with our donor base. Inevitably, we think of things from OUR perspective: it would be so much easier if we could organize a small event and invite our best prospects. That way we can talk to all of them at once!

Have you ever stopped to consider that your donors may not like these events and come in spite of that?

Think about it. You've been invited to an event where you don't know if you'll know anyone, you don't know if you'll like anyone, and you might get stuck with someone that talks your ear off about something you don't care about, or worse, don't agree with. The food will be lackluster, the drinks will be cheap, and you'll lose an entire evening over it.

So let's think about this from the donor's perspective. What does the donor want?

Customized attention
It doesn't need to be one-on-one, per se, but your cultivation activity does need to reflect the interests of your donor or prospective donor. Ask them what they want to do to deepen their engagement. For some, it actually might be a dinner party. But for most, it will involve some kind of customized VIP experience.

Don't say "no" for them
Maybe you think that your idea of how to deepen the relationship is too much time for them, too arduous a request, too daring, or too tame. Don't automatically toss out the idea--ask the donor what they think. You never know when they might say, "Wow, I've always wanted to do that!"

Respect their time
That said, respect how much time they have to give to you. If they can only commit an hour, create an experience for an hour. It's better to schedule a return experience than leave them bored and frustrated by how much time this took.

Have them truly experience your mission
Whatever you do, make sure it connects somehow with your mission. In fact, that may be why your donor doesn't want to attend your reception or dinner party: it's so removed from what they think your mission is, that it's of no interest.

Above all, listen to their needs. It doesn't matter what YOU want to do, if it's not what the donor wants.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ms. "Ethics Matter" Appointed to NANOE's Board of Governors

By Jim Anderson, CFRE

Ms. Ethics Matter's
NANOE "Press Release"
I was quoted today in an excellent article/expose published by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The article,  "New Nonprofit Puts Money Over Mission and Ethics" was written by Timothy Sandoval regarding what many consider the unethical business practices and self-serving fundraising philosophies of an organization who calls themselves the "National Association of Nonprofit Organizations and Executives" (NANOE). In the article the "founder" of NANOE, Jimmy LaRose calls me a liar. I view that as an invitation to prove that my experience and my story are true.

In the article I explain what I view as deceptive and misleading business practices employed by NANOE. If you are or have ever been on a fundraising organization's mailing list you have likely received NANOE's "spam" communications or text messages proclaiming with grandiosity that you have been "nominated" for "appointment" to their "Board of Governors." Sounds pretty special, doesn't it? It's not. You haven't been "nominated." It appears they acquired your email address "somehow." I think that "acquisition" is very shady. But we'll save that for another blog.

Here's my proof that "you" were probably never "nominated" by anyone.

Tim at the Chronicle contacted me for an interview and I shared that I believe NANOE is in violation of the FTC's CAN-SPAM Act and that those flowery, flattering emails they send to "everyone" are intended to trick trusting fundraisers into believing that they have received a legitimate nomination to a prestigious board when in fact it's an automated process with no one actually nominating the recipient and no one looking at the submitted nominations before automatically sending the "Press Release" announcing their appointment to NANOE's "board of governors."

I explained that I have personally accepted multiple NANOE nominations that were NEVER OFFERED using fictitious names and new email addresses. I did so to test my assumptions that this was just a reprehensible, deceptive marketing tactic that was part of a broader money making scam attempting to mislead the unsuspecting. Like everyone, I hate spam. And, I really hate deceptive business practices and purposefully misleading marketing tactics.

Tim shared my story with Jimmy and asked if it was true that "anyone" could sign up with an email that had only existed for minutes and instantly be accepted as a member of NANOE's Board of Governors. Tim called me back two days ago on Tuesday, March 28th and told me Jimmy claimed that my story was impossible, nominations are specific to the individual and the button to accept "NANOE Nominations" had been removed "some time ago."

I knew that was untrue. I had already been "appointed" to their board of governors using a fictitious name and brand new email address. And I still had their web page open in my browser. I hadn't refreshed their page in a few days. The accept "NANOE Nominations" button was still on my screen. I told Tim what I saw on the website and sent him my earlier "Press Release" email proving that my "previously created" non-existent person had been appointed to NANOE's board of governors. (Yes, I am currently multiple NANOE "board of governor" appointees.)

Still... it bugged me that my personal experience was called "impossible." It bugged me that Jimmy was claiming his "pez dispenser" for board of governors appointments didn't exist. It annoyed me off that Jimmy was calling me a liar.

So, I did it again.

Photo #1 - When you click the "NANOE Nominations" button in the top left of the homepage, this is your first pop-up window. 

Minutes after ending my conversation with Tim, I returned to NANOE's homepage and repeated the process using the name "Ms. Ethics Matter." I had seen how they automatically spit out their "press releases" and I really wanted them to "appoint" "Ms. Ethics Matter" to their board of governors. For an organization that proclaims "Ethics + Accountability = Failed Practices," this is ironic isn't it? Jimmy claims his nominations are real and you cannot accept a nomination unless you had received an invitation. But, Jimmy is a liar. And Jimmy knows he is a liar. But liars don't care. They just lie about lying. Problem solved.

On multiple occasions I used a fictitious name, a fictitious company, an email I created only moments earlier and a phone number that amused me to accept a nomination that had never been offered. In the case of Ms. Ethics Matter, her phone number is the US Congressional Switchboard.*

Photo #2 - This is your second pop-up window. You can enter any name, phone number, or email. Don't worry "everybody" gets appointed to the NANOE "Board of Governors."
Photo #3 - This is your third pop-up window. Hurray! You have been "instantly" appointed to the NANOE Board of Governors. Ms. Ethics Matter received her email confirmation (Photos #4 and #5 below) 19 seconds after I clicked "submit."
*Photo #1a - This is the original screen shot in this series of three photos. I took the second screen shot (above) minutes later after repositioning the homepage for a cleaner background. 

After being appointed to the NANOE board of governors AGAIN, only 19 seconds after clicking "submit," I sent the time stamped confirmation email "Press Release" and time stamped screen captures to Tim, AGAIN. This was two days ago as you can see in the photos. Tim called me back yesterday, Wednesday morning and told me Jimmy claimed I fabricated the story. He claimed I edited an earlier "legitimate" press release and that I photo shopped the screen captures.

Really? Really...who are you going to believe "me" or your lying eyes?

Here is Ms. Ethics Matter's congratulatory "press release" trumpeting her successful appointment to the prestigious NANOE Board of Directors.

Photo #4 - Ms. Ethics Matter received this congratulatory "press release" 19 seconds after I clicked submit.

Photo #5 - Jimmy claimed I used an old, "legitimate" confirmation email and edited it so I opened the address detail to prove it's authenticity.

Because of Jimmy's claims I had "fabricated" this whole story, Tim asked me to prove to him I was telling the truth AGAIN while he was on the phone with me. So yesterday, Wednesday morning, I took a screen capture of their homepage with the "NANOE Nominations" button and the pop-up window which appears when you click the button. I sent this to Tim immediately while still on the phone. My computer clock is visible on screen, and the photo is time-stamped proving the date. Tim said "That looks like proof to me."

Photo #6 - Screen capture of the NANOE homepage yesterday with the "NANOE Nominations" button in the upper left corner.

When I tried to move to the next screen to accept another non-existent nomination, we learned the link had finally been disabled sometime in the last 24 hours after Tim had shared with Jimmy that Ms. "Ethics Matter" had just been appointed to NANOE's board of governors.

It remains to be seen if we'll all keep getting "nominated" to NANOE's board. But the "pez dispenser" button for board of governors appointments is gone. With the button having magically disappeared, I'm not sure how you would accept your nomination that no one ever made. But on the bright side, I guess that means Jimmy's claim that "it's impossible" to do what I did, over and over again, is true. Finally.


If you would like to consider membership in a reputable, ethical fundraising association here are a few places to learn more. (I am not compensated in any way by any of the following organizations.)

Arlington, Virginia, US

Association for Healthcare Philanthropy
Falls Church, Virginia, US
Chatswood, NSW

London, UK

*If you do call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121, ask to speak to your representative about an issue important to you. Maybe stricter enforcement of the anti-spam CAN-SPAM Act and other FTC violations.

Mission First: Why Philanthropy is About Mission, not Money

Lowell DCT
Lowell Observatory
Discovery Channel Telescope
Photo: Dr. Michael West
"We're seeing things that no one's ever seen before." 
--Dr. Deirdre Hunter, Astronomer

I had the privilege of spending the majority of two days at Lowell Observatory as they unveiled the conceptual vision of the "next frontier," so to speak, of their research, learning and community engagement. As a former director of development for the Observatory (where they discovered Pluto), and a current donor, I'm very proud of Lowell. They have made groundbreaking discoveries for over a century, but even with that pedigree, the project that was discussed was thrilling.

You may wonder, is it a new telescope? No, they did that already with the Discovery Channel Telescope.

Is it a new building? Well, that might be part of the project, but not yet.

This project is about conducting transformational research to inspire people to change their view of science, the world and the universe.

This has been the unchanging mission of Lowell Observatory for 123 years. While it's not the stereotypical nonprofit cause of "children and puppies," it is inspiring to many amateur astronomers, scientists, educators, history buffs, and families who are curious about our little blue dot's place.

While there are still questions about the project, I can already see that this vision is capturing people's imagination. I can also see this project capturing the imagination and passion of current and future donors in a big and inspiring way.

This proposed new project is big. (Like "brontosaurus big," according to Dr. Jeffrey Hall, Director of Lowell Observatory.) And it will require a lot of money. But the thing is, we didn't talk that much about money.

Mission always comes first.

Dr. Hall aptly noted to the board, "We have made the error in the past of putting money first." That approach shook the core of Lowell Observatory's culture and even threatened the financial viability of the organization. "If you want to know why we do what we do, go speak to a high school class, and connect with a young person who wants your card afterward to follow up [about scientific study]," Dr. Hall added. "That's why we do what we do." By refocusing on their mission over the last several years, Lowell Observatory is poised to be the most successful in its history.

There are some people, however, who would argue that this approach is flawed. You've heard the old saying, "No money, no mission." But now there is an organization that believes that money should be the prime focus.

In an article published by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "New Nonprofit Puts Money Over Mission and Ethics," the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations and Executives claims that they are for "nonprofit executives who know money is more important than mission." The founder is also quoted as saying, "they’ll say: ‘Jimmy, if we do what Nanoe is saying, we’ll have to stop serving kids.’ And you know what I say? I say, ‘Stop serving kids.’"

That approach is wrong. 

James Langley, founder and principal of Langley Innovations, and consultant to Lowell Observatory, astutely said, "Philanthropists are those who live below their means for the good of others." This applies to any philanthropist, regardless of their capacity to give. Whether the person is donating $10 or $10 million, they have made decisions to give up something to support your mission.

Do you think those philanthropists are interested in living below their means just to contribute to your coffers? If you "stop serving kids," why do you even exist?

This is a guess, but I think if you map out the difficult times for Lowell Observatory over a 123 year span, you'll discover that the times when the institution was most threatened was when money took precedence over mission. And the times when it has thrived was when its mission was a singular focus.

W. Lowell Putnam IV, the Observatory's current trustee, also said this: "Whatever we do, we cannot violate people's trust and the integrity of the institution." Lowell Observatory is clearly united in the belief that existing as a nonprofit organization is a privilege. It is their responsibility to be accountable to the donors--the investors--who give.

So do you want your organization to focus on ethics, accountability and your mission, or is money more important to you?

Disclosure: Jim Anderson was interviewed for the article by Timothy Sandoval with the Chronicle of Philanthropy. I was not. I thank Lowell Observatory and Langley Innovations for letting me participate in their meetings; these are my opinions and not theirs.


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