Sunday, August 22, 2010

A penny for your thoughts?

I made the first traffic light as the delivery truck pulled out of the way a few seconds before the yellow light. Then a second, a third light, and soon the thought of "lucky day" popped to mind. As I merged onto the interstate there was little traffic. It was odd for early morning. The sky seemed just a bit bluer, the clouds more crisply white. This felt like a lucky day.

I was driving to a meeting with Chad Vail the new Executive Director of Junior Achievement. I was on time. The meeting went well. We quickly worked our way through the introductions, the description of how young people benefit from Junior Achievement, and finally, dove deep into the heart of the matter: How do we energize the Board and step up the fundraising? A plan began to fall into place. Chad ended the conversation with a thank you and "now I remember why I fell in love with Junior Achievement in the first place...thanks for boosting me up...thanks for getting me excited again."

Wow, lucky day. My GPS system found a short-cut back to the interstate. I made another traffic light. I had an odd thought. I wondered what if everyone, everywhere, at that precise moment was having a "lucky day?" It is all about attitude, I thought. It felt like a lucky day because I noticed all the good things...the fluffy clouds, the traffic, the traffic lights. Not only that, my luck was contagious. Chad Vail now was having a good day too.

As I merged onto the interstate I saw two cars pulled over on the shoulder. "Looks like it just accident." the play-by-play commentator in my head said. As I passed by I saw out of the corner of my eye a man walking back from the car behind with his head in his hands. It was the perfect movie shot of a man in despair.

It is not all about attitude. Why do we let these little aphorisms drive our lives? "Attitude is everything" blames you for having a bad day...and lets you somehow take too much credit for the good days. It also blinds you to what those around you are going through.

I missed the next two traffic lights and felt good about it.

Lucky day, I thought, I just lived the perfect example of why getting out of your own head is so hard.

Perhaps I can turn that thought into an aphorism. Suggestions?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What happens when you confuse members with donors.

He looked up from his papers and said that typically nonprofits generate about a third of their revenues from membership dues. "We need to start a membership program," he said. I asked, "What are the benefits of membership?" "Well, for one, you get to support our organization."  I sighed and thought "Well, at least this will be a good blog post."

If you are a member of a gym then you get to use the exercise equipment. You certainly do not think of yourself as helping the gym owner's kid go to college although you are doing that too. If you make a gift to a charity you feed the homeless, educate kids, help improve the neighborhood, etc., and you probably think that if you were to meet the Executive Director that they would at least recognize your name and perhaps give you a hearty hello. In short, you expect better service...just like if you are paying dues to a gym.

Do you see the problem?

So what is the difference between annual dues and an annual gift? Why do you feel self-satisfied about one and sorta guilty about the other. If paying annual dues makes you proud of yourself (hey, I am pulling my own weight around here) and annual gifts make you feel burdened (man, they really put the squeeze on me) then you are a member. If giving an annual gift makes you proud and paying annual dues make you feel obligated then you are a philanthropist.

Membership programs require member benefits. Annual giving programs require a touch of altruism. What are you expecting from your donors? Are you asking them for the right kind of gift?

If you are uncertain what you are asking for then I am almost certain that your member benefits are much too generous.  When organizations are not clear they tend to apologize for asking by laying the membership benefits on too thick.