Saturday, May 11, 2013

You Can't Efficiency Your Way to Greatness and Other Stuff I Learned This Week From Some Killer Fundraisers

I had the privilege of spending Thursday with my fundraising and marketing peeps at Engage 2013: A Case Study Conference in Philly.  (Thanks, Margaret!)

It is always inspiring and validating to be with other practitioners in the field who are facing similar obstacles to fundraising growth.  And I was thrilled to meet (if briefly) Roger Craver!

OK, enough of the crowing...

I was particularly impressed with the case study by the fantastic folks at Human Rights Campaign (HRC).  Regardless of your politics, HRC is undeniably a fundraising and marketing powerhouse.  According to their 2012 annual report.  They grew annual income by 57% in 10 years - from $29M in 2000 to $46M in 2012.  (See below.)  As ALL fundraisers know, this is no small feat.

Here's how:

1) They are fundraising for a movement not organization.  - While listening to the HRC fundraisers, it is clear that they are truly invested in equality for all people, i.e. they are deeply invested in a CAUSE and this is what drives their work.  They don't talk about raising money for programming or operations (typical npo speak); they talk about raising money to fund a MOVEMENT.  This is not a semantic dispute.  My take is that when you are truly passionate about moving a CAUSE vs. funding an ORGANIZATION, you work harder, engage in tough debate, and take more risks because you have real change at stake.  You also have a much more passion when engaging donors. 

2) They ignore fundraising ratios - There is LOTS of conversation these days and an awesome TED talk (Thanks, Dan Pallotta!) on the problem of using overhead ratios as the key (or only) metric for organizational success.  Like all nonprofits, HRC struggled with the question of how to grow their fundraising machine and impact while keeping administrative costs low.  Their answer: "Ignore the white noise of charity watchdogs."  Instead, focus on YOUR movement building goals and staff and spend to that.  In a BOLD move, their board approved a $1M spend of reserves to grow their fundraising capacity.  This enabled the organization to acquire lots of new advocates and donors and get ready for success.

3) They treat their employees and vendors well. - It's well known that turnover in fundraising is DISMAL.  According to Campbell and Company, the average tenure of a Chief Development Officer (CDO) is 18 months.  YIKES!  It's obvious that this is BAD for business.  First, you can't win a movement in 18 months.  Second, turnover in key relationship-building positions means that donors inevitably get lost in the mix.  HRC has focused on bucking this trend by doing STAY interviews.  They figure out what motivates employees and execute against that.  They also treat their vendors as employees (two of the vendors on the panel were former employees of the organization) by inviting them to regular summits to discuss movement strategy, goals and challenges and to brainstorm and course correct. 

Every nonprofits WANTS to grow its impact and influence and change the world but few are willing to do the heavy lifting and take out-of-the-box ACTION to make it happen.  Many of us go small and stay on the hamster wheel hoping that doing more of the same will create change.  News flash: It won't. 

My favorite quote of the day: "You can't efficiency your way to greatness."

As the HRC case study shows, you also can't create big change without thinking big and taking bold action.

Thanks to HRC for providing an excellent example of what IS possible if we lead better, follow our instincts and do something different!