Relief workers remind donors to give responsibly in the wake of tragedy

"I think a lot of the stuff that came into the warehouse was more for the people that sent it than it was for the people in Newtown.  At least, that’s the way it felt in the end."

On December 14, 2012, our country witnessed the worst public school shooting in U.S. history--20 young students and 6 adults lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary, leaving the nation in horror and the town of Newtown, Connecticut in unimaginable grief.


Americans had never seen such violence carried out on children so small, and many reached out from all corners of the country looking to lend a helping hand in any way they could. 

In particular, donors focused on doing what little they could to comfort the children who lost family members, friends, and their sense of safety at school.  Aid workers received bicycles, toys, sleds, and 67,000 teddy bears.

While no one would ever call the outpouring of love and support for these children anything but heart-warming and absolutely appreciated, relief workers aiding Newtown in the wake of the tragedy admit that the huge influx of toys, blankets, and other comfort items was more overwhelming than anything else.  After survivors of the incident received several of these items, much of what remained had to be donated elsewhere.

This CBS News report discusses the tendency of donors to give with their hearts instead of their heads in the aftermath of a disaster.  Sometimes our most thoughtful attempts to contribute to those affected by natural disasters, mass violence, or tragedies do more to hurt relief efforts than help.

Despite the best intentions, bombarding a disaster area with unneeded items and ignoring those that are desperately needed (like money, something we tend to view as lacking emotion) can actually make dealing with a disaster much worse. 

As we begin to assess and appreciate the scope of Hurricane Harvey’s damage, it is vital that donors seek out truly beneficial ways to help.  Tammy Shapiro, one of the organizers of relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy, recommends seeking out relief supply “registries” from relief workers on the ground keeping a day-to-day record of items needed. 

But, these organizations always welcome cash donations.  Writing a check may not look or feel as meaningful as giving a teddy bear to a grieving child, but it can be transferred very quickly and funds will be used to purchase exactly what a community needs after a disaster.  In terms of speed and usefulness, money is ALWAYS effective.

If you’re considering making a gift to those affected by Harvey--whether it’s cash or items--be sure that you are donating responsibly and to reputable, trustworthy organizations.

What I learned about direct mail this morning...from Facebook



I haven’t reached the point that I only log into Facebook to see photos of my grandchildren--yet.  But I have to admit that I’m not quite sure what Instagram or Snap Chat are all about.  

So when I spent time this weekend with my friend Mark Murphy who embraces Social Media to promote his books, seminars, and studies at LeadershipIQ, I was surprised by how interesting Social Media can be.

First thing this morning, I came into work and spent a couple of hours taking an online tutorial about online advertising.  Fascinating.  

Do you want to know what it reminds me of?  Direct mail fundraising.  In fact, right now at the top of my computer screen, I have a page in Facebook Ads Manager open that is called “Account Overview.”  

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At a glance, it looks just like what the fundraising world calls a Bluebook (or for those who are a little bit more formal, a Response Analysis Report).  In fact, it’s almost identical.  If you changed the column headings, you wouldn’t know the difference.  Right down to the sample response rates which could be right from a direct mail fundraiser’s Bluebook.  

I was so intrigued that I stopped the tutorial and started browsing the Facebook Ads Manager page.

To be honest, I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Google and Facebook are direct marketers.  They just use a different medium.  And their advertisers have the same business objectives we do.  We want to net money for our cause.  They want to net money for their shareholders.  

None of us want to clutter people’s mailboxes with irrelevant ads.  It’s expensive, wasteful, and counterproductive.  And we both want a high response rate because that means the ad is successful--after all, that’s the purpose of the ads in the first place.  

Facebook measures their ad performance with a relevance score that takes into account performance, positive feedback, and negative feedback. Interesting.

In the direct mail fundraising world, performance would be donor response, positive feedback would be positive non-donor response, and negative feedback would be complaints.

Facebook expects its advertisers to deal with complaints.  But they also take into account the positive feedback as well.  

They have a point system--positive feedback adds a point, negative feedback takes one away, and account relevance adds a whole bunch of points (I know “a whole bunch" is vague, but I’ve only been studying Facebook for a couple of hours and they’re not volunteering the secrets of their algorithms).

Facebook advertisers often find that that the same ads that perform well get a lot of feedback--both positive and negative.  And so they account for it.

Over my career, I’ve worked with hundreds of nonprofit or organizations.  Large and small.  Sophisticated and uncomplicated.

I’ve seen clients end successful campaigns because of a single complaint.  And I’ve seen them ignore a multitude of complaints and plow on with a campaign that should probably be put to rest.  

Because all too often, they only look at one data point so they can make a decision based on their feelings.   Maybe we need to develop a system for scoring relevance, positive, and negative feedback.

Scientists discover giving just may be the key to happiness

 It might seem romantic to say true happiness lies in what we are able to give to others--not in what we are able to gain for ourselves. 

But logically, generosity doesn’t make sense: if we want to better things for ourselves as much as possible, why do many of us give so much of what we have to others--especially when we don’t appear to benefit from the transaction?

A team of researchers in Zurich may have found the answer.

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Can I trust you?

Trust gains you new donors and retains your past donors.  Trust is what makes a donor comfortable making a sacrifice to support your cause.  Trust is what makes a donor keep giving to your cause even if he won’t personally see the direct results of what you’ve done with his donation.

In the mind of a donor, your ability to inspire trust is incredibly important.  It may even be the most important part of your relationship.

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Your stories can transform nonprofits -- a TEDx Talk with Andrea Proulx Buinicki

Andrea Proulx Buinicki is the founder of Giving Focus, a philanthropy consulting firm specializing in helping smaller nonprofits ditch the professional fundraisers and take command of their own fundraising.  Buinicki started Giving Focus in 2011 after 15 years of working in nonprofit fundraising and marketing, and was recognized in 2012 by The Northwest Indiana Times as one of Northwest Indiana’s top “20 Under 40” for her exceptional career in philanthropy

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Dan Pallota: The way we think about charity is dead wrong.

"Philanthropy is the market for love."

Dan Pallota, founder and President of the Charity Defense Council and author of Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential, has spent his career going to bat for the nonprofit sector.

In his 2013 TED Talk -- one of the 100 most viewed TED Talks of all time -- Pallota attacks the all-too-common idea that for nonprofits, success and trustworthiness can only be measured by the money an organization doesn't spend.

This belief, lovingly called "the Overhead Myth" by those of us involved with nonprofit fundraising, has long been a ball and chain around the ankle of every small charity.  It's the belief that an organization must go to extraordinary lengths to reduce organizational costs and spending so that the highest percentage possible of every dime donated ends up in the pockets of benefactors.  

The problem?  Charities are already limiting overhead expenses as much as they can -- in some cases, to the detriment of fundraising efforts and operational efficiency -- and many potential donors still say it's not enough.

And that's when these donors take their money elsewhere.

But without employees, without a facility to operate out of, without transportation, and without funding to produce educational materials and promote projects, there is no charity.  And when nonprofits are compelled to cut funding from these areas, the services and outreach provided by these charities suffer.

The old adage goes, "you gotta spend money to make money," and most people would probably agree -- when it comes to business.  But when it comes to nonprofits?  Many people still take a frugality = morality stance.  And it's hurting charities -- and more importantly, the people they serve.

This TED Talk has been viewed more than 8 MILLION times.  And with good reason!  Take a look.

Grammar? We don't need no stinking grammar!

Here’s a direct mail pro-tip: once you’ve finished writing the Greatest Fundraising Letter Ever, read it aloud to yourself.

Does it sound choppy?  Are your sentences short?  Are you starting sentences with conjunctions, repeating yourself, breaking sentences between pages, and leaving all those annoying commas out of the mix?


I hate to break it to you, but if that’s the case, you might want to toss that first draft in the circular file and start again.

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