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Communities are already organizing themselves: the power of “horizontal philanthropy”

This month’s issue of Grassroots Fundraising Journal has a great article about  “horizontal philanthropy,” the ways that members of a community support each other in many ways.

The Center for Participatory Change did a study of this phenomena, and one of the things I found striking is that participants would mention their neighbors, their church, and grassroots groups as proving support, but they rarely mentioned nonprofits in general.

There are two lessons here for community organizers:

  1. Recognize that the communities you work with are already organizing themselves. There may not be an office or letterhead, but there are relationships and structures that support the community.
  2. Your job as an organizer is to work with and support these existing structures, NOT to replace them.

Can a post-it make your fund appeal work better?

Can post-its increase your fundraising letter response?

Can post-its increase your fundraising letter response?

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive gave me an idea for improving fund appeal response rates.

Here’s the setup: researchers sent 3 versions of a survey to potential respondents. The surveys either had:

  1. a hand-written post-it asking the person to complete the survey;
  2. a hand-written message on the cover sheet; or
  3. the survey and cover sheet with no hand-written note.

The surveys with the sticky notes had the highest response rates by far.

The unpersonalized letters had the lowest response rate, just 34%. A hand-written note increased the response up to 43%. And the letters with the sticky-note had the highest response at 69%.

Many nonprofits invite board members and volunteers to write personal messages on year-end appeals. The research indicates that this kind of personalization can increase response rates.

But it also indicates you can take the response up to the next level by adding a post-it note. Somehow that added touch makes it feel more real and more human.

I plan to give it a try this year. If you try it, let me know how it works for you.

Marnie Webb on the art of the follow through

In tennis, the initial contact with the ball isnt enough for a good serve, you need to follow through. Same thing in organizing, its not the initial contact, you need to follow through.

In tennis, the initial contact with the ball isn't enough for a good serve, you need to follow through. Same thing in organizing, it's not the initial contact, you need to follow through.

I am a big proponent of following up with people. I believe it is the little bit of extra effort that often separates success from failure.

That’s why I was delighted to read Marnie Webb’s post on the Case Foundation’s blog on the art of the follow through.

Why follow up? As Marnie writes, “we also want to make sure that the people who do sign up have ways to increase their engagement. And that’s about the art of the follow through.”

She offers five easy ways to follow through:

  1. Write them a note. For no reason at all.
  2. Show up at their party.
  3. Give your supporters something special.
  4. Give them something else to do.
  5. Ask for feedback and change because of it.

These are just the highlights. Read Marnie’s post for some great tips and comments on them.

It’s about what works, not what should work

Jeff Brooks from the Donor Power Blog recently covered how “Emotional messaging works; rational messaging hurts” in fundraising (from a post on the Neuromarketing blog titled Emotional Ads Work Best).

Here’s the thing. People think rational should work. The healthcare debate should be decided on a rational weighing of the plans. A fundraising appeal should be based on a rational evaluation of which nonprofit best achieves the donors’ ends.

But it doesn’t work that way.

Emotional arguments move people–even highly-educated, ivory-tower, college professors and hard-nosed, data-driven corporate leaders.

Use emotion in your community organizing. Use what works.

Chuck’s Birthday Challenge

We’re still on for my Birthday Challenge, where my friends, neighbors, and co-workers get to pay to see me make a fool of myself in public all to support the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice.

So after getting some feedback about how I should embarrass myself for the birthday challenge.

Now, here’s the list:

  • $250 and my noggin could look like this

    $250 and my noggin could look like this

    If we raise $250, I’ll shave my head. “Bic it” as they say. I’ll end up looking something like Seth Godin.  OR I’ll provide all donors with a jar of preserves, a loaf of homemade bread, or a bottle of homebrew (out of towners will have to kick in for shipping).

  • If we raise $500, I’ll recite The Lorax on a soap box on Main Street wearing a Cat in the Hat hat. It would be a nice Earth Day event (yes video will be taken.
  • If we raise $750, I’ll make my own version of the Lazy Sunday music video. Choose this one at your own risk, I’m not that musically talented.
  • Yes, for $1000 raise for ICPJ I would dress up like this...in public.

    Yes, for $1000 raised for ICPJ I would dress up like this...in public.

    If we raise $1,000, I’ll Run the Dexter Ann Arbor run in fairy wings with a tiara and a wand. It might look something like this, only for real, not for incompetently photoshopped;

  • and the grand prize, if we raise $2,500 I will wear a similar pink fairy costume all day, including to a board meeting, walking around campus, and downtown for dinner out.

Donations are accepted from now until March 31 either through Network for Good or through the Facebook Causes application. Every $50 get you 1 vote ($5-$50 is 1 vote, $51-$100 is 2, etc). If you’re not into online giving, you can mail donations to ICPJ, 730 Tappan, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Make checks out to “ICPJ” and put “Chuck’s Challenge” in the subject line.

I want to point out that we can overshoot a goal and still go back to an earlier “prize.” So if you really want to hear the Lorax, but we raise $1,000, people can still vote to hear me recite. And remember, if that’s what you want, the more you donate the more you get to vote.

Finally, if any great ideas come up for other “prizes,” we can add them to the list. Voting will begin after the challenge finishes up.

How much is my dignity worth? I’m auctioning it to help raise money for peace

pinkrunner

I'm willing to make a fool of myself for a good cause. What type of public humiation should I do? How much is it worth to you?

So I was inspired by the Beth’s Blog stories about people publicly humiliating themselves for good causes. So I figured, “hey, my birthday is coming up, maybe I should make a fool of myself and raise some cash for the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice.”

So here’s the plan: I’m taking suggestions for what I should offer as a prize for reaching our fundraising goal.

Here are my initial thoughts:

  • Every donor gets either a bottle of homebrew birthday beer, a loaf of bread, or a can of preserves (okay, it’s not embarrassing, but it is tasty);
  • Make my own version of the Lazy Sunday music video;
  • Shave my head;
  • Recite The Lorax on a soap box on Main Street for Earth Day while wearing a Cat in the Hat hat;
  • Run the Dexter Ann Arbor run in fairy wings with a tiara and a wand;

So these are my ideas, but somehow I figure you have other ideas for what I could do. Offer them up in the comments, and on Tuesday, March 17 I’ll come up with the humiliation list.

Now for the fine print:

  • I reserve the right to disqualify actions (sorry, no public nudity);
  • Not every act of public humiliation is worth the same amount of money. For example, I’d shave my head for $250, but the tiara would take at least $1,000;
  • Donations accepted until March 31, 2009;
  • Everyone who donates gets to vote on what I do.  ($5 to $49 donors get 1 vote; $50 to $99 donors get 2 votes, $100 to $249 get get 4 votes; each $250 donation gets you 8 votes) Every $50 get you 1 vote ($5-$50 is 1 vote, $51-$100 is 2, etc);
  • I can donate and vote too, so I might choose to put something really out there as one of the options and then start a bidding war over whether or not I actually have to go through with it.

You don’t have to wait until we pick the humiations, you can start donating now. If you’re not into online giving, you can mail donations to ICPJ, 730 Tappan, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Make checks out to “ICPJ” and put “Chuck’s Challenge” in the subject line.

Transformation happens one step at a time

As we discuss the importance of focusing on transformation, we need to remember that it happens one step at a time.

I was reminded of this listening to the Fundraising is Beautiful podcast. Jeff Brook and Steven Screen remind listeners to do one thing at a time.

They point out that many fundraising efforts fail when they try to accomplish too much at once. They try to educate, inspire grassroots lobbying, show impact, fundraise, raise awareness and more all in one communication. Jeff and Steven point out that when you try to do all that at once, you usually fail at everything.

Instead, they recommend doing one thing at a time. If it’s a fundraising letter, focus the letter on raising funds. Then you can follow up with showing impact or educating in the newsletter.

A key part of their argument is that you have a relationship with your members, so over time you can work on your laundry list of goals, but it has to happen one action at a time.

So while I’m championing the importance of transformation, likewise transformation happens one step at a time.

You can’t transform someone from a passive bystander to an uber-activist in one step; and you’ll probably scare them away if you try.

So plan each action with an eye toward transformation and recognize you’ll get there one step at a time.

Ideas of membership are changing. How can we get with the program

I blogged earlier about how ICPJ needs to look closely at the challenges and trade offs involved in recruiting the next generation of activists.

Allison Fine adds a bit more to question in her book Momentum: Ignititing Social Change in the Connected Age.

It is likely that Net-Gen donors will be episodic in their giving. . . . Net-Genners are unlikely to fill out membership applications–they do not think of themselves as members in the traditional sense.

This observation squares with my experience, though I do see a continued sense of membership is smaller, face-to-face groups even if it wanes in connection to larger, impersonal institutions.

What does this mean for ICPJ?

  1. We can’t expect business as usual to provide us with a new stream of members.
  2. We need to constantly work to stay relevant for our supporters.
  3. We need to make it easy for people to share our work when they are pumped up about our work.
  4. We need to invite people to make ongoing pledges of support as a way to help build an ongoing relationship.