Tag Archives: fundraising

My Foray Into Personal Fundraising

This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in December of 2011.

My work planning for, evaluating and deploying technology at nonprofits requires that I have a good understanding of fundraising concepts and practices, and I do.  It’s an area that I’m sufficiently knowledgeable about, but no expert. So my current personal fundraising campaign for Idealware is an amateur effort. It is, happily, a successful one. I did some things right, including, I think, making strategic use of my social networking connections and channels.

I might have done a few things differently, given what I’ve learned.  And much of the success has been instructive.

Setting Up The Campaign

As both a board member and an ardent supporter of Idealware, I give annually and encourage my friends to do the same.  But this year I wanted to step it up, so I suggested that we use Razoo, an online personal fundraising platform, to host campaigns.  It turned out that I was behind the times — fellow board member Steve Bachman had already started a Razoo campaign, and Idealware had registered as a Razoo charity.

I signed up for my Razoo account, and clicked the “Fundraise” link.  Setting up the campaign was pretty akin to setting up a profile on a social network — name, description, graphic upload, etc.  I went for not too fancy with the name and graphic (“The Idealware Research Fund” and the logo, respectively), and set about to write as plain and honest a description/appeal as I could, approaching it as what I would say if I asked you to donate to Idealware and you said “Why?”.

I set a modest goal of $750, and announced my intention to match half of that.  I was a little cagey about the matching requirements, saying that I would match up to $375 when I had already pledged that amount to Idealware.  My expectation, going in, was that I could probably raise $375 and my match would bring me to goal.  So I’m happy that, as of this writing, I’ve raised $750 and added my donation to that, well exceeding the goal.


My campaign targets were my social media contacts.  To that end, I downloaded an Excel spreadsheet of all 530 of my LinkedIn connections and pared it down to the 325 or so that met this criteria: they were either familiar with Idealware and supportive of the work or, maybe unfamiliar, but likely would support it.  I didn’t target my staff and co-workers, and I left out some family and non-professional connections that I didn’t imagine would be all that personally motivated by Idealware’s work.  But I left a bunch of them in, too.

I wanted the appeal to clearly come from me, so I didn’t send the appeal through LinkedIn.  I used my personal email. I wanted to avoid spam filters, so the email was plain text, and I sent it in batches of ten people at a time, cutting and pasting from the spreadsheet to Gmail’s “to” field, which was nice enough to automagically format them with commas between each email address.  The mailing process, from LinkedIn download to final click of the “Send” button, took about four hours.

I made it clear up front in my email that the recipients were LinkedIn contacts of mine.  I’m sensitive to spam, even for worthwhile causes, and I wanted everyone to know that this wasn’t a random email, nor was it a list that would be used again.  Next campaign, I’ll start from scratch again.

With the emails sent, I tweeted, Facebooked, and Google+ed the effort.


I got a healthy response to my email blast, raising $500 in a couple of days.  It was great to also get emails from friends who passed on donating to my campaign because they’d already donated directly, or through another campaign. As donations came in, I tweeted and posted thanks to the donors on my Facebook page. The tweets included a link back to the campaign, of course.  A week and a half in, I posted new tweets and statuses and that, too, got a good response.  At $80 to goal, I tweeted how close we were, and longtime Idealware contributor and advisor Michael Stein jumped in and brought us to $750, at which point I added my $375.


I think my key successes were in keeping it human, relatively low-key (no follow-up emails or persistent nagging, but between the public thank yous and a ten day social media reminder, a fairly consistent broadcast); and having the benefit of supporting a cause that’s pretty unimpeachable.

I’m pretty sure that sending more personalized emails and making phone calls would have yielded more funding.  Next time, I might trim the number of people I reach out to personally, but increase the personal nature of the appeal.

25 of my 26 of my donations came from people who were already familiar with Idealware (one was from someone who works here!). I’m sure all 25 of them have been to one or more NTEN conferences. I had little luck convincing people new to the cause to donate.  Some of my fellow board members are focusing on family and other associates, and it’s a harder sell.  I think that’s somewhat understandable.  We all support causes that are important to us, and Idealware is going to appeal to either sympatico types like myself (I was on board with Idealware’s mission before Laura set up shop) and people who have directly benefitted.

For myself, I regularly support Idealware and orgs like them, my own employer (because the earth really does need a good lawyer!), and a collection of causes that have missions that really resonate with me, as well as reputations that hold up.  But it’s a fraction of the orgs that I would contribute to if I had more to afford. Who we pony up the checks for is a very personal matter.  I’m thrilled that a significant percentage of the people that I appealed to heeded the call, and it speaks to the great work that Idealware does. But I fault no one that I appealed to, as I’m certain that the ones who passed up my cause have worthwhile causes of their own.

All that said, if you want to help out Idealware, you can do so via the red button above, or via my campaign at Razoo, which runs through December 31st.

My Idealware Campaign

Regular readers know that I’m an active contributor, board member and supporter of Idealware, an org that works full-time practicing the mission of this website: to help nonprofits use technology effectively. Please join me in contributing to their work in 2012 by donating to my campaign, using the unsightly widget to your right. I’m matching donations up to the first $375 contributed. idealware does great work, no question. Your support is appreciated.

Donate to Idealware

Is It Only Spam If The Other Guy Does It?

This was originally posted on the No Nonprofit Spam blog on November 3rd, 2011. Hat tip to Deb Finn, who started that blog.

You work for a great org.  What you do is important and meaningful.  To you, it’s not just a job — it’s a mission.  And it deserves funding and support from the public.  I get that.  But if your next logical step in that progression is to assume that I want to be on your email list, you’ve stepped over a line.  It’s a line that does not markasspaminvalidate your mission, or your devotion to it.  But it doesn’t serve your mission, or your goal of garnering my support for it.  Because I reserve my support for organizations that merit my attention, not ones that abuse it.

We live in a world where most of us wrestle with two common priority-setting challenges:

  1. Most of us are not Bill or Melinda Gates; we can only afford to financially support a handful of the organizations that we would like to support.
  2. Our inboxes are already overflowing.

I spend as little time as possible assessing unsolicited emails before I delete them or mark them as spam. It takes longer if the email is from a nonprofit, because I never assume that an NPO is deliberately spamming me, although it does, sadly, prove true on occasion.  It’s time that would otherwise be spent doing a lot of things, many of them in service of the causes that I work for. Accordingly, the message that a nonprofit sends when they subscribe me to their list (without my approval) is: I am willing to set your priorities for you.

That’s not an appeal — it’s an edict.

It’s not an engagement — it’s invasive.

If their goal is to make it on my short list of organizations that I support, then the way to do that is by being the organization that pops up when I’m looking to add to my list. Those orgs have websites with solid descriptions of their work; metrics and testimonials to back it up; and good ratings with the organizations that assess non-profits.  My friends and family advocate for them. They garner support by being good at what they do, as opposed to being good at getting in my face, or inbox, as the case might be.

I know that it seems like it might be less effective.  And I know that we all want to be effective, because the missions we work for are critical.  But I support organizations that address their missions with good strategies and tactics.  Spam is not a strategy, and it’s an abhorrent tactic. And the fact that what a nonprofit is spamming is important doesn’t change the nature of it.

The Idealware Research Fund

Idealware LogoFans of this blog are likely fans of the other site I blog at, Idealware.  So you already know that Idealware offers a rich, valuable service to the nonprofit community with it’s reports, webinars, trainings and programs that help nonprofits make smart decisions about software.  One of the big challenges that Idealware faces is to maintain a high level of independence for their reporting.  If your goal is to be the Consumer Reports of nonprofit software, and you need funding in order to do that, you also need to be very careful about how you receive that funding, in order to make sure that no bias creeps through to your reporting. Laura Quinn, Idealware’s founder and primary force, has come up with a few clever models for eliminating such bias, but today she unleashed a more sustainable approach to funding that will greatly simplify the process.

The Idealware Research Fund will provide basic, pooled funding for the great work that Idealware does, keeping it independent, unbiased, and resourced to provide the critical insight that smooths the stormy waters when we embark on big and small technology projects. The fund was kicked off today with a goal of raising $15,000 by December 31st.  Please let people know about Idealware’s work and this opportunity to support them, and consider supporting them yourself, if you can afford to.

Note that my self-interest is minimal here.  I’m an unpaid, volunteer blogger at Idealware and will remain such.  I have been paid (via Techsoup) for a couple of articles I’ve written.  But my support and pitch here is based solely on my belief that Idealware does great, effective work and needs our support.

The Silo Situation

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in May of 2009.

The technology trend that defines this decade is the movement towards open, pervasive computing. The Internet is at our jobs, in our homes, on our phones, TVs, gaming devices. We email and message everyone from our partners to our clients to our vendors to our kids. For technology managers, the real challenges are less in deploying the systems and software than they are in managing the overlap, be it the security issues all of this openness engenders, or the limitations of our legacy systems that don’t interact well enough. But the toughest integration is not one between software or hardware systems, but, instead, the intersection of strategic computing and organizational culture.

There are two types of silos that I want to discuss: organizational silos, and siloed organizations.

An organizational silo, to be clear, is a group within an organization that acts independently of the rest of the organization, making their own decisions with little or no input from those outside of the group. This is not necessarily a bad thing; there are (although I can’t think of any) cases where giving a group that level of autonomy might serve a useful purpose. But, when the silo acts in an environment where their decisions impact others, they can create long-lived problems and rifts in critical relationships.

We all know that external decisions can disrupt our planning, be it a funders decision to revoke a grant that we anticipated or a legislature dropping funding for a critical program. So it’s all the more frustrating to have the rug pulled out from under us by people who are supposed to be on the same team. If you have an initiative underway to deploy a new email system, and HR lays off the organizational trainer, you’ve been victimized by a silo-ed decision. On the flip side, a fundraiser might undertake a big campaign, unaware that it will collide with a web site redesign that disables the functionality that they need to broadcast their appeal.

Silos thrive in organizations where the leadership is not good at management. Without a strong CEO and leadership team, departmental managers don’t naturally concern themselves with the needs of their peers. The expediency and simplicity of just calling the shots themselves is too appealing, particularly in environments where resources are thin and making overtures to others can result in those resources being gladly taken and never returned. In nonprofits, leaders are often more valued for their relationships and fundraising skills than their business management skills, making our sector more susceptible to this type of problem.

The most damaging result of operating in this environment is that, if you can’t successfully manage the silos in your organization, then you won’t be anything but a silo in the world at large.

We’ve witnessed a number of industries, from entertainment and newspapers to telephones and automobiles, as they allowed their culture to dictate their obsolescence. Instead of adapting their models to the changing needs of their constituents, they’ve clung to older models that aren’t relevant in the digital age, or appropriate for a global economy on a planet threatened by climate change. Since my focus is technology, I pay particular attention to the impacts that technological advancement, and the accompanying change in extra-organizational culture (e.g., the country, our constituents, the world) have on the work my organization does. Just in the past few years, we’ve seen some significant cultural changes that should be impacting nonprofit assumptions about how we use technology:

  • Increased regulation on the handling of data. We’re wrestling with the HIPAA laws governing handling of medical data and PCI standards for financial data. If we have not prioritized firewalls, encryption, and the proper data handling procedures, we’re more and more likely to be out of step with new laws. Even the 990 form we fill out now asks if we have a document retention plan.
  • Our donors are now quite used to telephone auto attendants, email, and the web. How many are now questioning why we use the dollars they donate to us to staff reception, hand write thank you notes, and send out paper newsletters and annual reports?
  • Our funders are seeing more available data on the things that interest them everywhere, so they expect more data from us. The days of putting out the success stories without any numbers to quantify them are over.

Are we making changes in response to these continually evolving expectations? Or are we still struggling with our internal expectations, while the world keeps on turning outside of our walls? We, as a sector, need to learn what these industrial giants refused to, before we, too, are having massive layoffs and closing our doors due to an inability to adapt our strategies to a rapidly evolving cultural climate. And getting there means paying more attention to how we manage our people and operations; showing the leadership to head into this millennia by mastering our internal culture and rolling with the external changes. Look inward, look outward, lead and adapt.

Salesforce Show and Tell

Day 2 of the Salesforce Non-Profit Roadmap session was focused on refining plans and sharing information. We had sessions and reports from Salesforce Product managers and developers, and we discussed and demoed some of the creative things that our community has developed. The Salesforce guests showed off Apex, the new scripting language that will be available for live use sometime next year; and we had a fascinating (but non-discloseable!) peek at where the reporting is going.

A lot of the talk focused on ways that we can — or will be able — to get around Salesforce’s core assumption that we deal with companies and contacts when, in fact, donation management is about individuals and households. And a big topic was integration, with a lot of questions centered on what can or should be done in Salesforce and what should be programmed on top of it. Two technologies that popped up a lot were Facebook and Ruby on Rails. I learned about (and immediately grabbed) a Salesforce library that has been developed for rails, and Alan Benamer sang the praises of Facebook both as a compelling social network and a fundraising tool, via their new “Causes” feature. Facebook has been in the news for opening up a powerful API, which makes them pretty much the “Salesforce of Social Networks”.

In the afternoon, we got to th fun stuff – showing off what we’ve done. Six of the participant’s showed off projects big and small.

Ben Munat showed us ChipIn, a fundraising widget that currently is available as a wep page plug in, but will soon be integrated with Salesforce, Facebook, and other application platforms.

  • Sonny Cloward showed us a very clean and elegant Salesforce template for fund development created using Salesforce’s Person object. The Person object, which can be used in lieu of Accounts and Contacts, was introduced late last year to a somewhat underwhelming response, the problem being that it’s an either/or choice. If you use Person objects, you can’t use Accounts and Contacts, and, in most cases, you have both companies and individuals among your constituents. All the same, Sonny’s template transformed Salesforce into a clean and simple CRM that would be far easier to teach and support, and maybe quite suitable for small organizations.
  • Rem Hoffman demoed the very sophisticated case management system that his company, Exponent Partners, has put together. This was a real ooh and aaher, as he demoed how a Mental Health agency, swamped in paper, could use it to track cases and print all of the paperwork with about a quarter of the effort that had been required. I’m very intrigued by Rem’s work, as I believe that case management options in the workforce development industry are all pretty painful. As far as I know, Social Solutions is the only company talking about opening up their application; most are the worst examples of grabbing a company’s data and locking them out of it.
  • Ryan Ozimak of PicNet demoed his Joomla/Salesforce integration, which is also very cool and clean, and promising. At present is is likely the fastest and easiest way to develop a web site with Salesforce Contact integration, and the next steps will open up other objects for clean integration. Ryan (who is sitting next to me as I type) has just let me know that this is around the corner.
  • As usual, Steve Anderson of One/Northwest had an amazing demo, showing how he has developed Apex code that completely masks the Account/Contact model so that a user can easily add and remove individuals from households. This was very slick, as his automation made tasks that take multiple screen views and actions today and almost magically integrated them. For example, if you have the household of John Doe and the house hold of Jane Doe, and you want to combine them, then you add Jane Doe to John Doe’s household and – poof! – the household is automatically renamed to “John and Jane Doe” and Jane Doe’s household is deleted. This completely removes the limitation that use of Person accounts involves – you can still have accounts and contacts. The problem being that Apex is only available in the sandbox for now.
  • Finally, Evan Callahan of NPower Seattle demoed a simple translator lookup app that he created for a client. What was cool about this was both that he put together a very intuitive and functional tool for finding a translator with the proper skills and availability, and he did it with some very simple code and a web form. In both Steve and Evan’s cases, they took innovative and undocumented approaches that produced powerful results. Must be something in that moist Seattle air.

Today we dive into how the Salesforce community can better operate as a cohesive support infrastructure and wrap up at noon. If you are a Salesforce license donee, keep your eyes open for a survey that will let you in on this critical input. And look for a bigger event next year — this was a great exercise for all parties.

Are there barriers to effective non-profit management?

Last week, I jumped pretty deep into a debate on the perennial “Should non-profits run more like for-profit businesses?” question. The debate is still going on at Deborah Elizabeth Finn‘s excellent Information Systems Forum. A number of comments supported the idea that non-profits are very different from for-profit businesses and should remain so:

  • There were numerous referrals to horror stories where a new exec or a board member had imposed a more business-like structure on a non-profit to disastrous results.
  • Others suggested that non-profits, being mission-based, as opposed to profit-based, are fundamentally different from for-profits. And some went further by limiting the concept of efficiency to simply streamlining expenses and increasing revenues, as opposed, to, say, more efficiently communicating with constituents or managing client data..
  • Some seemed to equate for-profit business practices with unethical or customer-abusive practices.

On this last point, let’s quickly acknowledge that many business have unethical practices, and those are not the ones that we should emulate or adopt, of course.

On the first two, let’s establish a few givens here:

  1. Non-profits are businesses, with distinct features of their business model and great diversity among the non-profit models, just like for-profits.
  2. The question is less “should non-profits act like for-profits?” than it is “Should non-profits use more for-profit models for efficiency?”
  3. Many non-profits are completely sustained by donations, grants and other forms of charity or voluntary funding. Adopting business practices does not mean that you neglect or damage your ability to nurture your primary sources of revenue/funding. Um, quite the opposite!

I totally believe the horror stories. I’ve managed technology for over twenty years – I’m well aware of how poorly thought-out changes in business practice can be disastrous. My question to each of those relaters of horror stories is, was the problem that they were “acting more like a business”, or was it that they weren’t strategically improving their business practices, using, as appropriate, models from the for-profit community? Botching up a business by imposing organizational change in a dictatorial fashion is quite easy, and, again, is not at all unique to the non-profit sector. It’s all well and good for the new CEO to say “we’re going to start running like a business”, but it’s also crystal clear that, even in the nptech community, there is great confusion as to what “running like a business” means.

So, some big factors play into why non-profit leadership is often inefficient and ineffective. The two big ones:

  1. The key factor in selecting a non-profit CEO is their ability to fund-raise. Resource building is valued far more highly than people or organizational management skills. And leadership flows from the top. So if the leaders best talent is to schmooze donors, and not to manage people, then you run high risk of wasting a lot of the money that those donors provide.
  2. Non-profits are still rated and rewarded based on their ability to serve clients without making business investments. Guidestar and the like all have formulas that rate non-profits on their service to infrastructure ratios, with tiny numbers of people and expenses being trumped as a success factor. And these ratings are annualized, meaning that labeling one year as “an investment year” could be disastrous for your fund raising in the following year. This is a huge fallacy – you can’t be effective if you are not allowed to make strategic investments, and, depending on what you are doing, you might be able to far more significantly change the world with ten staff and 70% of your budget going to mission than five staff and 85% going to mission. That determination needs to be made by people who understand the particular business, not Charitynavigator.org.

I just don’t think that bad management is a by-product of being mission-focused or having strong ethics. It’s an outcome of not valuing business planning, good management practices, and the concept of budgeting to long-term outcomes, as opposed to just doing things the way we’ve always done them, by the seat of our pants. Bad management is a crisis for our industry, and it does not serve our missions or the world to continue to condone it.