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On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Jeff Brooks, creative director at TrueSense Marketing and blogger at Future Fundraising Now, joins us to discuss the six characteristics of a well-run nonprofit.

Full Transcript:

Steven: Hey, there. Welcome to this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks so much for tuning in. My name is Steven and as always I’ll be the host. I’m really excited. This week I’ve got Jeff Brooks here joining us from Seattle which is actually experiencing better weather than most of the country he just told me. Hey there, Jeff. How’s it going?

Jeff: Good. Good to talk to you.

Steven: Yeah, you too, Jeff. I love your blog. I don’t know how else to say it. I think it’s the best blog in the fundraising world. You blog once a day over at Future Fundraising Now. It seems like the day isn’t complete until I read your blog and I see them share it all the time. In addition to that, you’re also the creative director over at TrueSense. Maybe you could talk a little bit about the work you do over there and a little bit about your blog, too.

Jeff: Yeah. Well, TrueSense Marketing, we’re one of the top fundraising agencies in the country. We work with medium to large nonprofits around the country. We’re headquartered in Pittsburgh but we have a couple other offices around the country. We do a lot of direct mail, online fundraising and a surprising amount of radio which we’re making work well. It’s a great place to work, its great place to work with. So if you’re looking for help, drop us a line.

Steven: And you’ve got your blog. You’re also the author of at least one book. I got this book right here, “The Money-Raising Nonprofit Brand.” Excellent book, I recommend everyone read that. And there was a chapter in this book that I thought we could kind of focus on where you outline the six characteristics of a well-run nonprofit, the six things that you think nonprofit should do and have to be successful. Can you talk about that list of six characteristics, maybe what they are and what kind of led you to create that list in that order?

Jeff: Sure. And really to look at the top line of what the book is about, is that it’s about the nonprofit brand. So it’s not about tactics. It’s kind of about how you think. And this is sort of the last third of the book is kind of looking inside your heart and what kind of organization are you and how do you think. And in this particular one, it’s focused in on how do you think about donors. And of course that’s the foundation of fundraising, being attached to donors and understanding them and being kind of obsessive about them.

So there are these six things that you brought up and I’ll just go through them and make a little comment about each and then we can maybe circle back to it. But first, a well-run nonprofit is people are all aligned around fundraising goals, meaning fundraising is on everybody’s book. It’s not just something that’s isolated off in the development department, but everybody realizes this is our life blood. We all have to care, we all have duties toward fundraising.

Second, a well-run nonprofit is not run by committees. Committees are the death of quality fundraising, death of quality anything. Any of you who work with committees know. But they’re very rampant in nonprofit organizations. It’s a big problem. What a committee does is it pools the incompetence of everybody. You have people who are focused in on something other success in fundraising and you have to listen to their advice because they’re on the committee. So what you really want to do if you want to run things properly is you get the experts, using their expertise, and you don’t put non-experts using their non-expertise.

Steven: Right.

Jeff: I’ve seen so much fundraising killed by committees because some number of the people on the committee don’t really understand fundraising and yet they are the authority who have the say. Third, there’s no marketing department in a well-run fundraising organization.

Steven: Wow. Now, that one was the one that was a surprise to me. You really got to pull that one out because I’m interested in hearing.

Jeff: Yeah. And maybe I should just make it really clear that I’m not saying that there’s no marketing in an organization. I think the problem with there being a marketing department is it splits marketing into a separate silo with its own unrelated goals. That’s to me where it goes wrong. It ought to be tightly tied to fundraising. And there should be no marketing efforts that don’t have something to do with donors and fundraising. I’m not saying that everything is directly tied to fundraising, but there’s got to be a connection.

And, again, I’ve seen over and over and over marketing departments creating marketing initiatives that are irrelevant to fundraising. So you’re just spending a lot of money, not bringing in revenue. You’re saying something to a market that has no impact on your bottom line. So if you bring them together, the marketing will be smarter and I think the marketing people will help the fundraisers be smarter, too. I think it is two different disciplines, but they just have to be joined at the hip in the way they work and the way they think.

Steven: That makes sense.

Jeff: But, by all means, marketing is absolutely a part of what we have to do. The fourth thing about a well-run organization is they have a plan for every donor. And by that I mean we don’t just have a huge bucket of thousands of donors that we hope will all give more or less one time. We have to realize that you have major donors, you have small donors, you have planned giving people, you have volunteers and advocates. I mean you have all different types of people there and you can’t just treat them all the same.

Steven: Right.

Jeff: One example is when somebody signs up for a planned giving gift of some kind. So now you know that you’re in her will, a lot of organizations don’t really know what to do with that and they think, well, the story’s over now until she dies. Well, it’s not. That’s not at all what’s going on. It’s actually a very close relationship. You need to think through that that way.

So just having clarity that donors are all different and you want to know what’s the highest and best place for each donor. And it might be maybe they rise up the ladder into some kind of major donor group. Maybe they become recurring monthly givers. Maybe they stay forever in giving one or two $25 gifts a year. There are all different kinds of donors that you need to have a way of treating them properly, spending appropriately on them and that sort of thing.

Steven: Yep.

Jeff: Okay, five, a well-run organization has its data act together. Data is so, so important. And when it’s not working properly, you’re just blind and stupid. You’re out of touch with reality, you don’t know what’s going on, you’re not able to be relevant to people. So I’m kind of fortunate. My clients tend to have their act together in this way. But I would probably say that most nonprofits in the country don’t. They don’t have a good product or they’re not using it properly.

So they’re just confused all the time and they can’t say, well, here’s a group of donors that need to be treated this way and we can see them because of the data. It’s clean and clear and it’s there. If you don’t have that, you’re going to be annoying people. You’ll be doing both things; you’ll be talking to people you shouldn’t talk to and be not talking to people you should talk to.

Steven: Absolutely.

Jeff: I know that’s a particular concern to you guys.

Steven: Yeah.

Jeff: And that’s not on there because I’m talking to you. And finally, number six, a well-run organization is donor connected. And what I mean by that is everybody knows donors. I think there’s a kind of a thing where the only people who actually have touch with donors would be major donor people whose job is to develop relationships with their major donors and that leads to a few hundred or a few thousand people. And the rest of us, the rest of the people in the organization, don’t actually talk to donors on a regular basis, will lose touch with what do they care about? What are they really like? And when we don’t have that information in our head from experience, our only yardstick we have for what to do and what to say is ourselves.

And that’s what you’ll see in fundraising a lot is people fundraising from themselves. And they say, well, I better make a message that I think would be persuasive. When you do that I can guarantee you you’re wrong because you’re not them. However, if you have a bunch of donor friends, people you regularly talk to, and you can imagine how something plays out in front of them, you get way smarter about what works with them, what excites them, what confuses them, all those things. And you’re going to make a lot fewer mistakes and you’re going to come up with better ideas just knowing who they really are.

Steven: And, Jeff, you work with a lot of nonprofits. Where do you think the biggest deficiency is? Do you think people are maybe not great at all of these things or they’re really good at a couple of things but they’re really bad at others? And just from personal experience, the committee thing I run into a lot. Where do you think the biggest pain point is among this list with the people that you just interact with?

Jeff: The organizations I work with, it’s probably number six, people not being donor connected. And that’s something that can happen with a larger organization where you’ve got a lot to do. It’s hard to get in that extra little thing of having donors you talk to on a regular basis. I think in a smaller organization that’s less of a problem just because in a smaller organization more people do more things and then they tend to have more troubles with data and planning and things like that.

Steven: Isn’t that interesting how a big organization can be bad at different things than a small one is good at and vice versa?

Jeff: Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of about money. A larger organization can basically afford to get its data act together and hire the right people and pay for the right products and things. And that’s just a bigger challenge for a smaller organization.

Steven: Yeah. So if you were a fundraiser who was to look at this list and maybe notice that they’re not so great at one or more of these things, what advice would you give to that organization to kind of turn the ship around and start doing a couple of these things better, knowing that they do have a true deficiency there?

Jeff: Maybe there’s a kind of reality check here. I’m telling you you shouldn’t be run by committees and you may agree with me, but the ability to change that, varies. Just knowing that doesn’t mean you can then go to your boss and say, “Let’s think completely different about. . .” That’s not necessarily possible. So I’d say that’s a long term thing you want to change over time, but don’t expect to change it tomorrow because you saw this podcast and decided to. Honestly, I’d be surprised if you could change that, that quickly.

You could or you can’t just get rid of your marketing department because you want to. But you can get aligned around fundraising goals. You really can just do that starting out. You can say what’s our goal, what is everybody’s goal, what does each person need to do. That’s not a crazy goal. That’s a completely doable thing.

Same with creating a plan for every donor, you could start doing that now. You don’t need a bunch of people to agree with you. You can just do that. Data’s a little more, if it’s a challenge, it’s a challenge. Getting a donor connected, maybe that’s something you could do yourself if you’re one of these people who are involved in fundraising but you don’t have donor connections. Go get some. Go find a way to do that.

So I think it varies. I mean, real life happens, and some things are changeable and some things are hard to change.

Steven: They got to start somewhere. And the reason I want to talk to you is this list is so excellent and I really recommend everyone get this book. It talks a lot about more of the branding side which doesn’t mean just a logo and your colors. It’s really your overall philosophy. And we’ll link to this book and we’ll also link to Jeff’s blog here in the post which everyone should read every day. I think most people do anyway, but if you don’t, definitely check that out. And Jeff, just in case I miss anything, where can folks find you online? Where can they learn more about TrueSense Marketing and all the great stuff you do?

Jeff: Yeah. Okay, TrueSense Marketing is at TrueSense.com. There’s a lot of good stuff there at that website. You can also get there via my blog, www.FutureFundraisingNow.com. I’m on Twitter, I’m at @JeffBrooks and I link to various stuff there.

Steven: Cool. Awesome, we’ll link to that. Jeff, this was great. Thanks for taking a few minutes out of your day to chat with us. This is a lot of fun.

Jeff: Thank you. It’s good talking to you.

Steven: All right, stay dry over there in Seattle and thank you all for also watching. We will be back next week, so catch the next episode and we’ll talk to you then. Bye now.

Jeff: Bye.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.