Monday, December 14, 2009

Remembering Milton

Wednesday, December 9, was a very—very—sad day as Milton Murray passed away in Loma Linda, California.

Putting into words what Milton Murray has meant to the fundraising profession and to AFP is a difficult task under any circumstances, so let me just list a few things about Milton:

• He is the only fundraiser ever to have received all of these three honors: the AFP Outstanding Fundraising Professional Award (in 1991), the AHP Si Seymour Award (in 1980) and the Henry A. Rosso Award from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (in 1992).

• He spent 27 years leading the campaign to have the United States Postal Service issue a stamp in honor of philanthropy (which it finally did in 1998).

• His life and career are the subject of a 1992 book, The Makings of a Philanthropic Fund Raiser: the Instructive Example of Milton Murray, by Ronald Alan Knott.

Those kinds of accolades and accomplishments are the mark of a very special person with a very special spirit, and Milton Murray was one of a kind. A devout Seventh-Day Adventist, Milton served for more than two decades as the director of Philanthropic Services for Institutions (PSI) at the Seventh-day Adventist world headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was with PSI that he helped nurture philanthropic endeavors among more than 100 Adventist institutions internationally.

In fact, it was his work with hospitals, universities and secondary schools in the 1950s and 60s that helped found the profession of fundraising. His work in cultivating alumni and using tools such as feasibility studies were groundbreaking, concepts that few charities had any notion of back then. His efforts extended to Mexico, helping numerous institutions there, and he was pivotal in the growth of AFP into Mexico and all of Latin America.

And even those incredible achievements don’t truly tell you what sort of person Milton was. Milton knew everyone! And everyone wanted to know Milton. He just had that kind of personality and magnetism. He was sincere, unflappable and most of all, determined. He would never give up—as the United States Postal Service found out over the years. I can say confidently that the philanthropy stamp would NEVER have occurred without Milton Murray.

Most of all, he was a great friend. I will miss him greatly, and I know fundraisers the world over will miss him too. He was a mentor to so many of us, and his words of wisdom and grace will not be forgotten.

I’m currently in California now with Milton’s wife, Jeanne, who was such a bright part of Milton’s life and gave him so much contentment and joy. We are presently making plans for a memorial service that is slated to take place on the evening of January 2, 2010, at 6:00 p.m. in the University Church of Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, the church he attended for much of his life.

In lieu of flowers, a contribution to one of two special organizations Milton was fond of and contributed to would be a most appropriate gesture instead:

• Milton Murray Foundation for Philanthropy; PO Box 521; College Place, WA 99324

• La Sierra University; Office of University Advancement; 4500 Riverwalk Parkway; Riverside, CA 92515 (for the Center for Philanthropy)

Words like “giant” or “pioneer” or “traiIblazer” just simply don’t do justice to the legacy of Milton Murray. I will remember him fondly, and I know all of you will too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NPD in Guadalajara

There’s nothing more inspiring than attending a National Philanthropy Day® (NPD) event and hearing the incredible and moving stories of donors and volunteers. I hope you were able to attend your chapter’s NPD celebration and be reminded of the impact of our work.

I had the great honor of attending our Guadalajara chapter’s NPD event. It was a wonderful celebration of philanthropy, and 100 people heard presentations from numerous experts on fundraising. I gave a presentation titled “Weaving Ethics into Your Fundraising Program.” Many thanks to the chapter leadership for their kind hospitality. Luis Gonzalez is the chapter president, and he has a terrific and committed board.

The event was held at the Guadalajara campus of Tec de Monterrey, and we were graciously welcomed by Dr. Martin Velazquez. AFP has a partnership with Tec de Monterrey (Monterrey campus) to deliver an online fundraising course as part of their Social Leaders program. Tec has been a wonderful partner for AFP in Latin America.

Mexico is currently undergoing a national dialogue about its legal structure and tax incentives, a debate that more and more countries are having. At the same time, fundraising is growing tremendously in the country, and the search for fundraising expertise is becoming more intense. The Guadalajara chapter is young, but is already playing a key role in providing the knowledge and resources that charities in the community so desperately need.

I also had a very unique experience while in Guadalajara. I visited Trompo Magico (Magic Top), the Jalisco (State) Children's Museum. It’s a great museum, and I was able to experience an exhibit that started in Germany and is being used in children’s museums around the world called “In the Darkness.”

This exhibit takes the participant through a series of everyday experiences in complete dark, emulating how a visually-impaired person lives his or her everyday life. It was fascinating and forces participants to rely on other senses. Graciela de la Vega is the director of Trompo Magico and a member of AFP, and Ana Luisa Ramirez is the museum’s development director. They graciously hosted Julio Ochoa and me. If you have a chance to experience this special exhibition, I highly recommend it.

It’s these kinds of moments that remind me of the extraordinary things that philanthropy and fundraising accomplish every day. It reminds us why we all got into fundraising in the first place, and why every moment—from the challenges to the successes, the lows to the highs—is worth it.

I hope you enjoyed your local National Philanthropy Day celebration, and thank you for the inspiration and extraordinary contributions you make to your community every day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Greetings from Brazil!

I’m writing from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the 5th Hemispheric Congress on Fundraising just concluded. The Congress is one of the premier fundraising conferences in Latin America, and it was a wonderful experience. Judging from the initial feedback we’ve received, our attendees felt the same way. Faculdades Integradas Rio Branco did a great job of hosting the event, and I was so delighted we were able to partner with them.

There was an incredible feeling of passion and camaraderie at the Congress. Fundraising is growing by leaps and bounds in Latin America, but there’s a wide level of disparity in the experience and sophistication of different charities’ development offices. However, instead of that disparity keeping people apart, attendees came together, helping each other out, sharing experiences and brainstorming ideas and proposals. There is a freshness and a sense that everything is on the table—the sky’s the limit!—and it made for some great back and forth.

Three hundred people from 11 different Latin American counties were able to attend, and our speakers included some of the finest fundraising minds from Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Canada and the U.S., including Bernard Ross, Norma Galafassi, Vivian Smith, Laura Ruiz Peres, Bob Crandall, Daryl Upsall, and Marcelo Iniarra Iraegui, to name just a few. Robbe Healey, AFP’s chair, delivered a plenary session on how to build a development program from scratch that was very well received.

The closing plenary was given by Steve Hildebrand, deputy national campaign manager for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and it was the perfect ending to the Congress. Steve spoke to the importance of creating a case for support and a solid fundraising plan that is inclusive, empowering and inspiring. He talked about the importance of messaging and branding and the use of new technologies. He ended his remarks by stressing the importance of saying thank you. Very inspiring stuff, and it was appreciated by all the attendees.

I have to say thank you to Custudio Pereira, director general of Rio Branco, for his dynamic leadership. Without him the Congress would not have been such a success. We are also very grateful for the support of the Rotary Foundation of Sao Paulo, eTapestry and the U.S. Consulate. I also want to thank all of our speakers for their time and expertise that they shared so willingly with the participants.

I am always inspired by the Congress, and AFP learns as much from these experiences as we give. I am proud of AFP's involvement in this event and of our small contribution to advancing ethical and effective fundraising worldwide.

If you are interested in seeing the presentation or wish to download please visit the Congress website.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Philanthropy on Television: The Good and Bad

A good sign that something is popular is if television begins to cover it, develop shows about it, and most of all, lampoon it. This is exactly what is happening with philanthropy; first with the debut of two new shows about philanthropy and then a whole week of plotlines that feature giving and volunteerism.

The Philanthropist debuted over the summer in the U.S. and generally showed philanthropy in a positive light. While the show implied that the “normal” methods of philanthropy work too slowly and without enough impact, the protagonist tried to do good work and was heroic in his intent. You could have worse role models.

The Foundation, which debuted in Canada a few weeks ago, is different. It’s a dark comedy and spotlights the worst examples found in philanthropy: rare cases of fraud and wrongdoing. The protagonist uses his foundation nefariously in whatever manner necessary to get ahead.

Sure, it’s not a great portrait of charity. But just like the Philanthropist, it’s over the top. WAY over the top. Nothing in it bears any resemblance to a real organization, fundraiser or donor. Criticizing The Foundation for its portrayal of charity is like criticizing The Office for its portrayal of office behavior and relationships. They’re both meant to lampoon aspects of our society.

Philanthropy and fundraising are big time now, and that brings both negatives—like the Foundation—and positives, such as the recent iparticipate initiative from the Entertainment Industry Foundation. During the week of Oct. 19-25, more than 60 primetime television shows featured giving and volunteerism in their plotlines. That’s an exciting development given that philanthropy isn’t exactly a staple of mainstream television.

So we’re going to have to take the bad with the good, and honestly, the plotlines in the Foundation don’t even compare to some of the controversies we’ve seen in real life. The sector has a long list of ethical traditions and safeguards, beginning with AFP’s Code of Ethical Principles and Standards. We don’t need to be defensive about anything.

So let’s appreciate the attention philanthropy is getting and enjoy (if you can) what shows like the Foundation are meant to be: spoofs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Taxing the Charitable Deduction—A Bad Idea

There’s no bigger issue right now than healthcare, and charities have been right in the middle of it. In particular, AFP has been following a proposal to reduce the value of the charitable deduction (basically, delinking it from the tax rate) to raise additional revenue.

AFP has been outspoken in its opposition to this idea. In fact, this week we’re asking you to contact Congress and urge them to protect the charitable deduction. I hope you will participate in this campaign—it’s really important!

I know some of you have questions about AFP’s position, and there’s been some criticism from a few media pundits about why the sector is generally opposed to this idea. So I wanted to let you know how we came to this position and why AFP is taking this action.

In my mind, there are three main reasons. First is the issue of the deduction and its impact on giving. It’s true that people give for all sorts of reasons, and tax deductions usually are not a key factor. However, research shows that deductions do play a role in the SIZE of gifts, especially as the gift range gets larger. That cause alone is enough to make us concerned.

But even more alarming is that while the current change is seemingly small, delinking the deduction from the tax rate sets a very bad precedent. Congress is ALWAYS looking for additional revenue. Once it has a foot in the door, there are numerous examples of Congress going back to the same well for more money in the future. Delinking the deduction would make it a political football, and the deduction would no longer have any basis or foundation as to what it should be, just the whim of Congress.

Third, taxing charities, or in this case the charitable deduction—which would impact charities—simply doesn’t make sense to help pay for healthcare. A lot of charities are already involved in healthcare delivery. Many others exist to increase the quality of life and overall health of people and communities. This sort of tax on charitable deductions is a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul, and is especially harmful in the current economic environment.

Our opposition has nothing to do with AFP’s take on healthcare reform or President Obama. Our issues revolve around fundraising. We have to be solely focused on fundraising, or else we’re not fulfilling our mission or serving members in the best way possible. We remain nonpartisan and approach every issue based on how it will affect our profession.

You may not agree with our position, and that happens on many issues we have to address. But we have heard a strong message from a significant number of our members who have urged AFP to oppose this proposal—more so than with any other public policy issue in recent memory. Our U.S. Government Relations Committee, made up of member volunteers that drive our policy positions, has discussed and debated this issue for many months. After much deliberation, the committee decided this was the best position for the association. And I believe it’s the best course of action for the profession.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fundraising Giant Bill Hanrahan Passes Away

William B. (Bill) Hanrahan, one of the fundraising profession’s true pioneers and statesmen, passed away late Monday, Aug. 17.

There’s so much I could say about Bill. He was such a force in the profession and was committed to the ideals of philanthropy and ethical fundraising. I know those kinds of words get used a lot, but in Bill’s case, it’s the truth. When you have a relatively young profession like fundraising, there are people who have literally created the profession and helped develop the key touchstones of our work. Bill was one of those people.

He served in the profession for more than 40 years. He actually joined Community Counselling Service (now known as CCS) as an office clerk and worked up the ladder of the firm to become one of the principal owners in the 1970s. He helped CCS become one of the biggest and most experienced firms in the profession. His work guided some of the largest and most well-known charities in the world.

Despite all that work though, Bill always had time to mentor people, and I think that’s probably the lasting image I will have of him. If you’ve looked at CCS staff over the years, Bill was never afraid to hire good, smart young people, mentor them and let them spread their wings. It was no surprise to me that Bill and CCS jumped at the chance to sponsor AFP’s Outstanding Fundraising Professional award because he always wanted to highlight the great work of others.

I first met Bill when he served as fundraising counsel to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) over 15 years ago. We became friends from that time on, and my respect and admiration for Bill, and his commitment to the profession, has only grown. I had the great opportunity to work closely with him during his 8 years on the board of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy Board.

During this time, I witnessed Bill’s enormous passion and commitment to AFP and the fundraising profession. He took on many challenges during his year as chairman of the foundation, and through his influence and statesmanship many changes were made that have served AFP well over the years.

Bill was to receive the AFP Founders’ Medallion in October at our Leadership Academy, and I will be eternally sad that I will never be able to present it to him in person. No one was more deserving.

If you’d like to remember Bill, the family is asking you consider a donation to the Little Sisters of the Poor, an organization that will receive donations in his honor. Please mark "In memory of William B. Hanrahan" and mail to: Little Sisters of the Poor, 110-30 221st Street, Queens Village, NY 11420; or Little Sisters of the Poor, 2999 Schurz Avenue, Bronx, NY 10465. You can also make a contribution in his memory to the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy.

I was always honored to count Bill as a friend and colleague, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. He offered me advice and counsel when I needed it, and sometimes even a shoulder to lean on. He was not just as a great fundraiser, but also a great mentor and person. We’ll miss you, Bill!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oh, Canada!

What do the Olympics, kissing a halibut and new fundraising regulations have in common? Why, the AFP Canadian Leadership Retreat, of course!

I just got back from the retreat in Victoria, British Columbia, where some 50 chapter leaders from across the country came together to plot AFP’s course in Canada over the next 12 months. I was joined by our chair, Robbe Healey, our chair-elect, Andrea McManus (who will be our first Canadian chair ever) and several of our staff.

Canada hasn’t been affected by the recession in general as much as the United States, although certain areas have been hit hard. Overall, there was a stronger sense of optimism than what I’ve experienced at U.S. AFP chapters recently, but that may just be the typical Canadian spirit as well!

I love these sorts of smaller, intensive planning events where you can really get to know your colleagues and have some in-depth and detailed discussions on issues. Hats off to Mark Climie-Elliott, the chair of the Canada Council, for leading and facilitating the discussion. (Incidentally Mark and Tania Little, the secretary of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy-Canada, are obsessive about Facebook, so I’m sure you can find minute-by-minute details of the entire retreat on their pages !)

The theme of the event was “What if, what else and what’s possible,” and these ideas tied into all of our discussions. We had some great conversations about government relations, especially the Canada Revenue Agency’s fundraising costs guidelines. We’re planning on developing a major education initiative so that members are prepared and understand what these new regulations do—and don’t do! We also focused on media relations and how chapters can increase their work and awareness in this area, and there is a new goal coalescing around the need for create more collegiate chapters in Canada.

It wasn’t all work! Tying into the spirit of the Winter Olympics coming to Vancouver in 2010, Mark led an opening dinner session where each chapter brought up three accomplishments or best practices (gold, silver and bronze) it had achieved over the past year, in addition to silly and fun gifts for everyone. Ottawa took the cake with its little plastic bags filled with” hot air from Parliament.” In addition, an impromptu fundraising session during another dinner—with members offering money so yours truly, other staff and our chair Robbe Healey would kiss a halibut!—generated nearly $1,000 dollars for the foundation.

All in all, a great and energizing event, and many thanks to all of the chapter leaders that participated from across Canada. We’ve got a busy 12 months ahead of us!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

In Memorial: Leslie Brown

Very sad news, as I found out earlier this week that Leslie Brown, CFRE, an AFP member for more than 30 years, passed away on July 28. She served for six years on the board of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy and chaired both its Committee on Directorship and the Chapter Fundraising Committee.

Leslie was a founding member of the AFP Fort Lauderdale/Broward Chapter and received the chapter’s Outstanding Fundraising Executive award in 1996. She helped spearhead the chapter’s Fundamentals of Fundraising Course, and to honor her extraordinary service, the chapter has voted to rename that program the Leslie Brown, CFRE, Fundamentals of Fundraising Course.

Leslie was a tremendous fundraiser and a huge supporter of AFP both locally and on the international level. On behalf of the boards of AFP and the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy, I send my condolences to her family and her friends and colleagues at the Fort Lauderdale/Broward Chapter.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Share Your Insights and Advice!

Today I want to highlight a new project which AFP has recently started that is already showing some great results. We’re calling it the AFP Information Exchange, whereby members and organizations can submit short, practical, how-to pieces, toolkits, samples and policies to share with other fundraisers and charities.

One of the most important benefits of belonging to a professional association is being able to draw on the collective knowledge, experience and wisdom of fellow practitioners. Many of our members now have twenty, thirty or more years of experience in the field and are proven expert s in their particular specialties. Some of them have literally "written the book" on how to raise funds.

A terrific way to access your colleagues’ insights is through our open discussion forums, but that kind of structure is best for shorter questions and advice. The Information Exchange allows for more details and greater depth of knowledge to be shared, but in a format that isn’t too long (documents are 2,000 words or less).

The project is a tremendous way to hear the unique voice of each member and learn what’s working (and what isn’t) in a fundraiser’s own words. The spontaneity, perspective and specialization of each paper are what set these types of documents apart from a short email or a long book or manual.

The papers are available free of charge for members only on the AFP website, and writers get visibility for their submission as we’ll be highlighting the exchange throughout the year. We’ve already received some very good pieces so far, such as this very interesting guide on using social media by ThePort™ Network (we have made this one public as an example, so you don't have to sign in first to see it). I’m looking forward to expanding this area of the website in the near future with a variety of papers on all aspects of fundraising and philanthropy.

We’d love to hear the kinds of advice and tips that only you can provide given your experience and work background. Learn more about the initiative here and the guidelines for submitting a document.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Calling All Fundraising Leaders

Leadership is a big issue with the nonprofit sector, what with a significant gap in nonprofit leaders expected in the future. Add in the current economy, and it’s critical to have effective and efficient leaders who understand your organization and can make the tough decisions.

That’s the type of leaders that AFP and the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy are looking for right now to serve on the 2010 board of directors. Any member or chapter of AFP can nominate a qualified candidate to serve on the board for a seat as a district director or as an at-large director.

The evaluation criteria used by the committee to select officers and directors includes:
  • Demonstrated leadership ability
  • Service to AFP, philanthropy and the community locally and/or nationally
  • Particular leadership needs of the Association at the time candidates are being considered
  • Certification (Not applicable for candidates outside Canada and US)
  • Education/training
  • Geography
  • Diversity (all inclusive)
  • Type of professional practice
  • Support of the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy
  • District Representative and Chapter size
  • Membership is current and in good standing (has signed the Code of Ethical Principles and Standards)
Nominations for both boards are DUE JULY 31, and information about serving on the board of AFP and the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy are available on the website.

We want our board to be representative of the finest leaders in the profession, and we need your input to make that happen! Nominate someone you know to be a board member! Now, more than ever, we need the collective knowledge and expertise of the best of the profession.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Donor Communications Overload?

The refrain that "we’re getting too much stuff from charities" is one that we hear from the public a lot these days, at least in media stories. But how true is it really?

A new survey was released at the Institute of Fundraising (IoF) National Convention in London a few days ago which shows that most charitable supporters here in the U.K. are happy with the amount of communications they're receiving from charities.

From 150 in-depth interviews conducted by TW CAT (a direct response firm in the U.K.), just 17 percent said that charities communicated too much, while 72 percent said the level of communications was "just right" and 11 percent said communications were "too rare."

Other interesting tidbits:
  • On average, it took eight communications to a donor to receive at least two gifts
  • 61 percent of interviewees said they were LESS likely to give to a new charity now because of the economy
  • There is a big drop in donor retention—from 86 percent to 59 percent—between the second and third year of a supporter’s relationship with a charity
Two thoughts. One, I think there's a big difference between what he hear from our supporters and the general public. The "too much stuff from charities" refrain is, I believe, something that's an automatic response from the general public without too much nuance. We all get frustrated at the amount of stuff in our mailbox from time to time. But drill down and ask each person about specific charities they support, and I imagine your responses will be similar to the survey’s data.

I think these responses also speak to the number of people now less likely to give to new causes. This says to me that while we can't completely bunker down, focusing on and communicating well with current and previous donors is the way to go. I know many organizations are taking this approach right now.

Two, don't believe for a second that just because the survey was conducted in the U.K. that it doesn't have applications in North America. While many believe that the global recession hasn't struck the U.K. as dramatically as other parts of the world (though it may well soon), I'm struck by the similarity between the conversations at the IoF convention and the ones that occurred at AFP's International Conference on Fundraising in March. It's very interesting and refreshing to hear how different countries are addressing today's challenges.

What's your sense of donor communications these days? Are you sending more or less communications? More targeted and segmented approaches?

LAST NOTE: Did you know that you can be a member of IoF by simply opting-in on the AFP website at no cost? If you are raising money in Europe, I would urge you to join IoF. As a sister organization to AFP, IoF is a great resource and offers legal, governmental and fundraising information. IoF members can also opt-in for AFP membership at no cost.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Don’t Get Caught Being Negative

I recently attended a Fellows meeting of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), a great organization of which I was honored to serve as chair a few years ago. Associations are experiencing many of the same challenges that charities are, and most of the conversations centered on the impact of the economy.

We had a great facilitator (Patti Digh) who focused on the importance of staying positive and cautioned how easy it is for individuals and organizations to fall into the trap of being negative even when they don’t realize it. For example, she asked how many of us use the "Yes, but" approach (very negative) as opposed to the "Yes, and" approach (much more positive and encouraging additional communications).

We also did an interesting exercise where we made both a list of challenges and a list of how to make those challenges worse. Then we reviewed the lists to see if we were actually performing any of the activities on the second list, and more often than not, we found that we were doing a few of them.

I think both of these ideas and exercises can easily be applied to fundraising, and it makes me wonder that if we all took a step back from our daily responsibilities, would we be able to identify a few things our organizations are doing that are actually hurting, not helping, us in the long term.

How are you staying positive in this difficult environment? Feel free to post any ideas or processes you are implementing to help your organization and staff focus on the positive!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The President's Back and Forth on Nonprofits

I was pleased to see President Obama hold a special event at the White House to spotlight nonprofits engaged in innovative and effective programs. Earlier this year, the president created a White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, which is now working with a $50 million Innovation Fund that will, in the president’s words, "discover and evaluate the very best programs in our communities."

I was intrigued by his talk of "rigorously evaluating their outcomes" and "invest[ing] in those with the best results." We've heard this kind of general talk before so I'm hoping the end result is something substantive that can truly guide nonprofits and inspire people to get involved.

But what I'm really hoping for from the president is some consistency in his positions. Despite the event, the White House continues to press forward on its proposal to reduce the charitable tax deduction for taxpayers earning $200,000 or more annually.

AFP's eWire this week covers both the White House proposal and an alternate proposal being considered, but the bottom line is this: both will hurt fundraising during the most difficult giving environment the sector has experienced in decades. Demand for charitable services has increased exponentially as giving has gone down. It simply doesn't make sense to enact what amounts to a tax on charitable giving, even if it would apply until 2011.

AFP has issued a call to action, and I encourage everyone to contact their members of Congress and urge them to vote against these proposals. While we're excited about many of the president's ideas on philanthropy, these proposals are detrimental, and he needs to know where charities and fundraisers stand!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Action! Adventure! Philanthropy!

The Philanthropist—a new show about, in NBC's words, a "billionaire playboy-turned-vigilante philanthropist," debuted last night.

I didn't get to see it all of it, but in talking with AFP staff who did, we agreed that the show featured more Indiana Jones than Bill Gates. The lead character was shot at, bitten by a snake and arrested by both the local police and drug enforcement agents, all for trying to get a vaccine to a remote Nigerian village.

It was fun to watch at least. I enjoyed the lead actor, who puts enough gusto into being a playboy while having just enough acting chops to make his philanthropic motivations believable.

Nevertheless, it was so over the top that, on one hand, I can't believe many people would believe this was any sort of realistic depiction of philanthropists and how philanthropy works.

On the other hand, it would be great if the show at least referenced or spotlighted the actual strategic work and planning that goes into most philanthropy. But that probably wouldn't make for good television now, would it?

What do you think? Did you see the show? Much ado about nothing, or something to be concerned about?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the Road

I enjoyed some great meetings with AFP chapters in Tampa and Orlando last week. The primary topic of discussion was, of course, the economy and how organizations are faring.

It was a mixed bag: some members reported that their organizations are undergoing difficult budget reductions, while others, surprisingly, don't seem to be affected. And in the job market, there are definitely people seeking positions but for most of them, I didn't get the sense that they had been laid off from their jobs. Most were looking for change. Several attendees indicated that they owed their careers to AFP, which was really nice to hear. Both chapters have done some great work in Florida, and I salute the chapter leadership there.

I gave an ethics presentation in Orlando, which I always enjoy. I typically see some eye-rolling when I first start talking about ethics, but once you get into ethical dilemmas and topics such as donor intent, attendees become very intense and engaged.

As always, the most popular issue was percentage-based compensation. The AFP Ethics Committee gets more questions about compensation than all other issues combined. Our guidelines to the code contain some great examples of what is considered ethical and unethical in certain situations (compensation covers Standards 21-25), and remember that the Ethics Committee is always available to answer questions (Ethics FAQ) confidentially.

One idea I like to leave with members is that ethics is part of each of our organizations' story. In fundraising, we refer to telling our story. We want to let donors know who we are, what we've done and how we're going to help the community. But we often leave out a key component—the story that begins when money is given and ends when the money is spent on a program. What happens in that time between—how we steward the funds our donors give us—is a story of ethics. Adherence to ethics is a part of our organization's story that needs to be told, and the public is looking to us to tell it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Must-Reads!

I found what I think are a couple of must-reads given the current giving environment.

First, following up on my last post about community, I found this real gem. It's a blog post from last year, but the advice is still right-on about investing in yourself. I suppose I could quibble with his use of terms and argue that it’s more important to invest in yourself than your "job" (as opposed to "career"), but the general sentiment is perfect. I've looked through some other posts on The Simple Dollar, and they look very interesting and quite apropos, so hats off to Trent, the author.

Second, I strongly encourage you to read this article by Susan Raymond, Ph.D., about the latest Giving USA numbers. Susan is the executive vice president of Changing Our World Inc. (note for transparency sake: Changing Our World sponsors AFP's Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy awards) Her analysis about what’s ahead for giving, especially the relationship between personal giving and employment levels, gives us all a lot to think about. Her advice at the end is especially cogent.

I hope you enjoy these, and let me know what you think. I'm off to Florida next week to speak at our Suncoast (Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg) and Central (Orange, Seminole and other counties) chapters, then Central Ohio (Columbus) the following week. The topics are ethics, trends and how to succeed in an uncertain world. I'll let you know how it goes. Until then, good luck with your cultivation and stewardship.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Community

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the value of professional associations and how to communicate that value to members and non-members alike.

Having read that, you're probably thinking two things. One, I need to get a hobby. And two, oh great, a marketing piece for AFP.

Let me just say that you're right. On both counts. Sort of. Bear with me a moment.

I probably do need a hobby apart from fundraising. And for obvious reasons, yes, I'm always interested in increasing the value proposition of AFP to the fundraising community.

But apart from that, I've been struck by the reaction of some fundraisers to the economic challenges that charities are facing. There seems to be this "batten down the hatches" philosophy that says if we can just focus on our jobs even more intensely and go back through every minute detail over and over again, we will get through this.

The problem with this strategy is that we tend to isolate ourselves. Success doesn't happen in a vacuum. Inspiration doesn't come from doing the same routine time and time again. Long-term success comes from learning new skills, keeping updated on trends and talking with colleagues about what's working (and what's not).

In short, success and inspiration come from—yep, here's the marketing aspect of my post—your professional community! But still, I can’t shake the feeling that this ISN'T just marketing. The bottom line truth is, challenging times are when you need to improve the most—precisely so you can overcome these challenges. Challenging times are when you need your professional association the most.

As president and CEO of AFP, I hope you'll make our association your community. But regardless, understand that now is not the time to isolate yourself in your job. We all will find individual success, but it will only ever be achieved through others, working with other staff, volunteers, supporters—and in many cases, a professional community that provides training, interaction and perspective when you need it the most.

What do you think? Where do you find your inspiration? Do you think AFP is providing you what you need to succeed? Let me know!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Way of Life

I’ve always considered fundraising to be not just a profession, but a way of life. Some cynics may scoff at that or consider it a snide way to elevate fundraising at the expense of other professions, but I think there’s a lot of truth to it. After all, with most jobs, when you leave work, the last thing you want to think about is anything associated with your work.

But not so with fundraising. I know that many members are very much involved with philanthropy in their personal lives—donating, volunteering, getting involved and giving back to their communities and organizations they believe in. We clock in long hours at our professional organizations and then turn right around and wear a different hat—volunteer, donor or adviser—with other charitable organizations, often offering our fundraising expertise and experience.

That’s one of the unique aspects of our profession, and one of the most uplifting. I get a lot of great emails from around the world about the tremendous volunteer and charity work that AFP members perform outside of their professional lives. But I received one recently from Sharon LeeMaster, CFRE, in our San Diego Chapter, that I feel compelled to share with you.

Christina (Christy) Wilson, a member of the chapter, sent an email to about 20 of her colleagues saying that her husband, Jeff, had not been able to find a kidney donor and asked if they knew of any individual who might be a candidate.

Three days later, Karny Stefan, CFRE, a member of the San Diego Chapter board and executive director of Waldon Family Services, called Christy. She didn’t have a candidate. Instead, she said she wanted to be considered. It turned out Karny was a match, and the surgery was performed successfully.

Christy and Jeff later wrote in an email: "From Jeff’s perspective, he finds himself understanding the enormity of the gift that Karny has given him—a chance for renewed life and health. We can honestly say that life is a gift—whether you come to understand this because you have just received an organ from a donor, experienced the miracle of childbirth, or just enjoyed a walk on the beach with a loved one or friend. Take time to remember this, savor a moment in time just for the sake of doing so and take time to live, love and laugh!"

What a wonderful story. I'm so pleased for Christy and Jeff, and Karny, you epitomize what it means to be a professional fundraiser.

I'm not about to suggest that fundraisers are more philanthropic than any other professionals. The great thing about philanthropy is that it knows no borders or boundaries. But it is uplifting to be part of a profession where you can hear about these types of extraordinary stories all the time, and even on occasion, be a part of them.

Have a story to tell about a colleague’s unique gift or volunteer effort? I won’t be able to highlight every one of them, but I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

2009 and the Economy

It’s almost a cliché to say now that we are living in "challenging" times and that the economy is affecting everyone. Except that clichés are based in truth, and the truth is, the economy IS affecting everyone, including the fundraising profession and the nonprofit sector.

Not only is the demand for services rising as individuals and families struggle with the economic downturn, but charities find themselves with depleted resources as government and individual contributions are, for most organizations, declining.

In AFP's most recent State of Fundraising Survey, just 46 percent of respondents raised more money in 2008 than they did in 2007, the lowest figure ever in the history of the survey. At the same time, 40 percent raised less, which is the highest figure we've ever seen in that category. Anecdotally, I've heard from some members that this is the toughest fundraising environment they've ever experienced.

AFP has been affected as well. Over the last six months, we have cut approximately $1.7 million from our original 2009 budget of $12 million. We've managed to do that in a way that has had a relatively small impact on our ability to deliver core programs: by freezing vacant positions and salary increases for vice president level staff and above; suspending staff retirement contributions; subleasing additional office space and reducing meeting and travel expenses, as well as other expenses in all areas of operations.

The most difficult reduction was the elimination of six staff positions. I want to stress that all of these decisions, including the staff positions, were made with extensive and frequent evaluation and discussion. We took a hard look at all staff and chose areas where we could most easily cross-train staff or transfer responsibilities to similar positions.

This is probably a familiar scenario you have seen played out at your own organization or one of your colleagues'. All of us are doing more with less, and despite this, charities are still seeing success. As I look back again at our State of Fundraising numbers, it’s remarkable considering this environment that 54 percent of organizations still managed to raise the same or more funds in 2008 than in 2007. As we review media stories from across North America, I'm still amazed at the number of mentions of charity campaigns meeting (or exceeding their goals). True, there aren't as many as in past years, but success IS possible. (Access some of the free resources AFP has put together.)

One of the reasons that charities are successful in this environment is that the economy is forcing them to focus their fundraising on what they do best. In a similar manner, AFP has protected its budgets and programs related to ethics, education and training. These areas encompass our core missions, and we are committed to providing the same level of high-quality programming as we have in past years. In fact, if anything, we're delivering more services and many of them for free.

Is the economy turning the corner? We are seeing signs of improvement and hopefully these signs will become stronger and more apparent in the coming months but we are likely to see a continuing challenge to our fundraising efforts.

So here's the point I'd like to leave with you. Despite everything that has happened, remember that you are still in control of your own destiny. The decisions made by you and your charity have more influence on your future success than anything the economy might do. You have a significant amount of control over your fundraising fortunes. Good strategic and tactical decisions, made through due diligence and consultation with colleagues, volunteers and supporters, will most often result in positive numbers over the long term.

So stay positive. Yes, the economy is affecting everyone. Yes, you have to do more with less. But wealth is still being created, and people's generosity continues unabated. Focus on your core strengths, and you can get the job done.

Let me know your thoughts: what do you predict awaits us in the near future in terms of the economy and giving? And if you want, tell me how your organization is doing! I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hello and Welcome!

Hi, everyone, and welcome to my blog. I haven’t blogged before, but have enjoyed reading others and thought that it would be good to have this communications outlet to our members and others interested in AFP and the fundraising profession.

So what do I hope to accomplish with all this? Well, one of the things I love—LOVE—about my job is being able to talk with members around the world. Of course I can’t speak with every one of you directly, so a blog like this is another way we can share with each other.

Also, there are so many things AFP does to advance fundraising that it is probably hard to keep track of them all. After all, you’re busy with your professional career, and the typical practitioner is besieged with more and more responsibility (and pressure). There’s a lot going on, and you may not always hear about AFP activities or what’s happening in the profession. So what I hope to do is provide you a little insight into some of the things AFP does that don’t always get the limelight: programs of which you might not be aware, projects that are being developed and ways we’re helping the profession.

I think it goes without saying that I hope you’re a member or are considering joining, and that you’ll remain a member for years. I might on occasion point to a program we’re offering if it makes sense in the context of what I’m discussing, but I really want this blog to be an open communication between you and me.

Some of my posts may cover serious issues affecting the whole profession; others might be a little more light-hearted or personal. Regardless, I hope you stop back often and feel free to share your own point of view.

Oh, and if you do respond and want to leave your name, please give your chapter name (if a member) or just general geography. I always like to know where people are.

My best to you on your fundraising… and happy reading!