Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Big Changes in the Windy City

Fundraising no longer comes in cycles or campaigns so much. There’s no down time. If one campaign is over, then a new one is just about to begin. Which means you have limited time for things like continuing education.

I know all of you still find the time for professional advancement, and that’s indicative of your dedication to the profession. But your limited time means that your continuing education opportunities have to be top-notch. It has to cover the issues that are important to you and provide not only the latest, most innovative techniques, but also broad themes and inspiration you can take back for yourself, your staff and your donors.

The AFP International Conference is the largest gathering of fundraising professionals in the world, and has to represent the full spectrum of the profession while still being all about you and your particular needs. To that end, we’ve made a lot of changes this year to the conference—and all of them based on your feedback and comments.

We’ve created a more compact conference, with no more sessions on Wednesday and much more programming throughout the day on Sunday. Our general sessions are shorter and streamlined, focusing on broad themes and featuring multi-media presentations throughout, culminating with our big speakers such as President Clinton, Queen Latifah and Blake Mycoskie. Our educational sessions have been themed and refocused to emphasize the changes in the profession while still acknowledging time-tested and proven techniques.

We’ve also made it easier to connect with your colleagues at the conference and keep track of everything that is happening. Our new conference mobile website (which will debut in early March) allows attendees to access everything they need to optimize their AFP 2011 Conference experience, right on their smartphone! You can search the conference schedule and create a personalized daily schedule, look for specific speakers and exhibitors, read our conference daily digests and get the important links to additional conference information and materials.

In addition, there’s also afpnet.org/Chicago, our conference website, which will have all the updates regarding changes at the conference, as well as photos from the various events and a running feed from our conference Twitter hashtag, #afpmeet. Anytime you tweet while at the conference, or anything conference-related, be sure to include that hashtag in your message, and everyone following #afpmeet can keep in touch! We’ll also have Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube pages going on so you won’t miss anything that’s happening at the conference.

As our conference theme indicates this year, fundraising is all about perspectives. We want to provide you with as many different perspectives as possible, while still keeping your perspective at the forefront. We think the changes to the conference do just that, and we hope to see you in Chicago for what should be one of the most exciting and dynamic continuing education opportunities ever—the AFP International Conference on Fundraising!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Plans and Transitions

I hope you’re recovering from the year-end fundraising craziness that tends to envelope most charities. Studies continue to show that December is the busiest month for fundraising, and I hope your 2010 overall giving totals continue the slight upward trend we saw throughout the year.

Like many of you, AFP used January as an important time to plan for the coming year. Part of that planning is our leadership transitions this year. As you know, I’ll be stepping down as president and CEO after our International Conference on Fundraising in Chicago in March. Our search team has narrowed down the list quite extensively. When a final candidate is identified, we will make an official announcement.

We also have a new chair for AFP in 2011. Robbe Healey did an extraordinary job of leading our association for the past two years, especially during some very difficult economic times, and we are indebted to her. Thank you, Robbe, and I know you’ll do a great job as immediate past chair and leading up the Committee on Directorship.

We now welcome Andrea McManus, our first chair outside of the United States. Andrea is from Calgary and has served AFP in a variety of volunteer roles. She’ll be a great leader, and you’ll get to see and meet Andrea in Chicago.

Andrea was instrumental in developing our new Strategic Plan 2011-2013. Many of the goals and outcomes in the 2011 -2013 plan are comparable to ones found in our previous plan, though they have been modified to reflect changes in the association and the external environment over the past several years.

The biggest change is a new goal to address the need to recruit and develop young fundraising professionals, which has long been one of my passions. Planning sessions with chapter presidents revealed that one of the top issues facing fundraisers is the lack of succession plans and the limited pool of talented, trained individuals to replace current leaders in future years. The seven goals are:
• AFP will develop skilled, knowledgeable and ethical professionals worldwide.
• AFP will advance effective, ethical and accountable fundraising standards as an essential component of global philanthropy.
• AFP will aggressively promote and defend public policy that encourages philanthropy, supporting principles important to AFP and the fundraising profession.
• AFP will deliver optimal value to members.
• AFP will create a community of inclusion by seeking, embracing and engaging diverse individuals, groups and organizations with a broad representation of experiences, perspectives, thoughts and cultures within the fundraising profession.
• AFP will provide strong leadership in promoting and supporting the fundraising community worldwide.
• AFP will engage young professionals and youth exploring philanthropy and building their fundraising careers.
It’s a comprehensive and ambitious plan, but thanks to Robbe and Andrea’s work, we’re well-positioned to accomplish all of the goals. With the new year, Bob Carter, our new chair-elect, assumes the chairmanship of the Strategic Planning Oversight Committee and will be monitoring our progress.

We began our work on the plan in earnest last weekend as we held our New Board Member Orientation at the AFP International Headquarters. It’s a new event we’ve held over the past several years to introduce our new board members to our strategic plans and priorities and the staff who will be helping them carry out the plan.

I hope your own organizational planning is going well, and I look forward to seeing you at our conference in Chicago!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hemispheric Congress Virtually a Success!

I have just returned from Monterrey, Mexico, where I attended the sixth Hemispheric Congress–Latin America and the first virtual congress AFP has ever held. I admit that I had been somewhat skeptical of a virtual congress, but the tremendous success of the event proved me wrong!

Our partner in the event was Tecnológico de Monterrey, and sponsors included FUNDAMEX, Massociedad, Microsoft, FEMSA and Banorte. More than 300 people participated in the congress overall. We had more than 150 on-site attendees on the Monterrey campus and there were 20 other participating Tec campuses throughout Mexico, with each site having between one and 50 attendees. In addition, people throughout Latin America were able to participate online.

The day was full of excellent speakers, including:

• Marcelo Iñarra Iraegui, CEO, Marceloiniarra.com
• Rubén D. Sánchez, education lead, Microsoft Colombia
• José María Anton, secretary general, Virtual Educa
• Martha Smith de Rangel, executive president, FUNDEMEX
• Deborah San Román, director, Fundación ABC
• María Elena Noriega, president and founder, Office of Consultants in Strategic Planning, Organization of Financial Campaigns and Obtaining of Self-sufficient Resources, Noriega Malo and Associates, S.C.
• Alma Delia Ábrego, representative from the AFP Tijuana Chapter
• Rocío Álvarez Máynez, representative from the AFP Monterrey Chapter
• Elvira Van Daele, officer of operations, International Financial Corporation
• Alejandro Ferraez O., independent consultant and member of the AFP Mexico City Chapter

What was really fascinating was how the technology was set up so that virtual attendees could really feel like they were there. In some cases, speakers could see each virtual participant, and there was a lot of great conversation among attendees, both physical and virtual. I think the Congress is a great model for future virtual gatherings and something that AFP will be exploring more in the future.

For more information, go to the Hemispheric Congress website. And you can also find pictures here.

This was my last Hemispheric Congress as president and CEO of AFP, and I am so proud of the work the association has done to grow the fundraising profession in Latin America. Many thanks to all of my colleagues and friends in Latin America who have helped us along the way. It’s been so wonderful getting to know you all. Latin America has so much to offer the fundraising profession, and this year’s virtual Congress proves it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Things Are Looking Up...Mostly!

I’ve been working in the charitable sector for a long time, but even I’ve been stunned by the number of surveys that have been released recently about fundraising and giving—giving up, giving down, optimism up, major gifts down, number of total gifts up, average gift amount down. It’s a bit overwhelming, and at some point, too much information leads to overload.

That’s one of the reasons why AFP has partnered with five other leading philanthropic organizations to create the Nonprofit Research Collaborative. As I wrote in one of my November posts, by combining our research, we’ve created the most comprehensive and accurate survey of fundraising ever, with responses coming from every type and size of charity. That’s important, because you know the data is solid and representative of the whole community.

And even more critical, the data actually have some good news. We’re seeing an increase in the number of organizations raising more funds than last year. Of course, we have to be measured in our enthusiasm. These increases aren’t huge, and we’re still nowhere near the level of giving we saw in 2007 before the recession. And demand for services continues to grow far beyond the increases in giving.

But at least we do have some good news. And a lot of guarded optimism. And perhaps a sense that we’ve seen the worst of it.

More good news came with the release of a report by Convio that explored a previously unaddressed aspect of philanthropy so far this year: holiday giving. The report estimates that U.S. giving will total at least $48 billion between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, with online giving growing by 30 percent to more than $6 billion. The report has a lot of great information about giving by different groups of donors and is well worth a read.

I was in New York City at the end of November working with two leaders from Convio, meeting with members of the media to give my perspective on the current charitable environment and commenting on Convio’s research. I also had the great honor of being part of the NASDAQ Closing Bell Ceremony and was able to get this great picture from Times Square. Thank you, Vinay and Gene, for setting that up. What fun, and a unique way to increase the profile of AFP and the fundraising profession.

Let me know how your fundraising is going so far during this holiday season, if it mirrors these reports and what you expect to see by the end of the year. I wish you the best of luck in inspiring donors to great heights!

Photo Caption: From left: Vinay Baghat, founder of Convio; Paulette Maehara, president and CEO of AFP; and Gene Austen, President and CEO of Convio at the NASDAQ Closing Bell Ceremony.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Celebrating National Philanthropy Day®

Our lives and our world are defined by community.

We are, in many ways, the sum of the communities to which we belong. On the most basic level, this means that geography: countries, provinces, cities, towns, as well as our jobs, schools, profession—to name just a few—help to define who we are.

But our community includes much more, such as our friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances. And with the rise of the Internet, geography no longer limits our communities, as we can form online relationships with others who share our interests.

Why are communities so important? Because we need each other, not only to survive, but to thrive. No woman or man is an island—we all depend on one another. Only by working together can we prosper and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Philanthropy is that idea in action—a community in action—working together to better the whole. Through giving, volunteering and participating, communities are accomplishing amazing things every day – feeding the hungry, healing the sick, educating children, providing training for workers, among countless other tasks and responsibilities.

And that’s what we celebrate on National Philanthropy Day®. Each of us. And our community. Working together. Though charities and other efforts. Through that work, we are changing the world in a very real and positive way by directly affecting the lives of everyone around us.

This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Philanthropy Day. For 25 years, we’ve been celebrating the extraordinary impact that philanthropy makes around the world. For 25 years, we’ve recognized and honored those individuals and organizations that make a difference every day.

To learn more about National Philanthropy Day® and obtain information about giving and volunteering, go to the official website or mobile website.

Whether you’re a fundraiser, donor, volunteer, nonprofit manager or in any way involved in philanthropy, thank you for your dedication and selflessness. Together, in communities large and small, we are—slowly but surely—changing the world and improving the quality of life for all people.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Importance of Benchmarking

When I’m out visiting chapters, one of the most popular questions I get is, “how is my organization’s fundraising doing compared to the rest of [insert region, state, province, country, world?]”

It’s a natural and logical inquiry. We all want to see how we’re doing compared to others and determine if we need to be doing better, and if so, in what areas. But to be able to tell you how your organization is faring, fundraisers and nonprofits need as accurate and as precise data as possible—as soon as possible.

That’s where the new 2010 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey comes in. It’s a joint project by AFP, the National Center for Charitable Statistics, Guidestar, the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, The Foundation Center and Blackbaud. Now those are some pretty heavy hitters in the nonprofit world, and almost all of us have done separate surveys in the past about the state of the sector, state of fundraising and how giving and volunteering are faring each year.
But in the interest of compiling the most complete, detailed and accurate date ever, we’ve decided to partner together and essentially create a united, comprehensive report. And even better, instead of one big survey at the end of the year, the project involves three surveys conducted throughout the year, which means that you’ll be receiving data more frequently. Each survey will be asking different questions and focusing on different aspects of fundraising, philanthropy and nonprofit operations.

But even as good as the new survey is—and I think it it’s a big step forward for the whole sector—it’s not going to be helpful without YOUR participation. The best, easiest and most thoughtful questions are not much good if no one answers them.

So, please, I hope you’ll take part in the first survey and others surveys that will be conducted in 2011. The current survey should take about five minutes to complete and covers changes in giving you’ve seen over the past year or two. While you will be asked to identify your organization, your specific figures will be kept anonymous, and all data will be reported in the aggregate.

Accurate benchmarking is the starting point for nearly any plan—strategic, fundraising or otherwise—especially as it’s unclear just how much the economy and fundraising are improving in 2010. You’ve got to have good data to figure out where you are in the scheme of things and what you need to improve. The new Nonprofit Fundraising Survey will help, and I urge you to participate!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Keeping Perspective on Fundraising Costs

The issue of fundraising costs is always a tough one for the profession. It’s a very emotional issue, as we’re talking about dollars that donors have given away freely of their own will with the expectation that they’re supporting a charitable cause.

It’s also a very nuanced issue. As the old saying goes, it takes money to make money, and that adage is proven time and time again in charitable fundraising. Given all of the various factors that affect fundraising, it’s impossible to devise one universal, set-in-stone fundraising cost limit that would apply to all organizations.

Fortunately, governments are starting to realize this. For example, the Canada Revenue Agency, in its fundraising cost guidelines that were developed last year, specifically acknowledges that fundraising costs can vary dramatically annually and that organizations with higher costs aren’t necessarily unworthy organizations.

Unfortunately, some media outlets still don’t do the research or simply don’t have the interest to understand the nuances of fundraising costs. A good example is a recent article by the CBC on fundraising contracts by for-profit solicitors, or as the article terms them, third-party fundraisers.

There’s SO much to not like about this article—inaccurate comparisons between costs and funds raised, complete misunderstanding of the difference between fundraisers and solicitors, lack of discussion about telemarketing fundraising costs, and key information about the scope of telemarketing by solicitors buried in the middle of the article. AFP responded to the CBC with this letter, and has also developed some talking points that fundraisers can use for their own responses or when speaking with donors and members of the public.

High fundraising costs are definitely an issue, and I have no problem with the CBC investigating them. In fact, I think it would be interesting to find out how many of these high-cost contracts involved percentage-based compensation, which AFP finds unethical. But it would also be nice to have some discussion of the role of telemarketing and the costs associated with it.

AFP is committed to educating the media, governments and the public about all aspects of fundraising, and especially fundraising costs. Our pro-active work has helped result in positive regulations like the CRA fundraising cost guidelines that acknowledge variations in costs. But we must also continue to respond aggressively to articles like the CBC’s that paint an inaccurate and misleading picture of the fundraising environment.