When is a “charity” a charity?

At what point can you call yourself a charity, is it at the point you open your doors, or is it when you get registration approval?

Unless you’re a fully registered company, you’re can’t use “Ltd”,  shouldn’t the same apply to a charitable organization?

It would seem you can call yourself a charity, have reference to your ‘entity’ as being a charity without actually being one.

Is it fair, is it right, is it misleading? 

OK, before everyone jumps in and says “but you’re called Charity Matters”, yes I am, but where I’m different is I don’t, and never have said I am a charity, I work with charities and NGOs.

What is of concern is an organization calling themselves a charity when they’re not. Sure, they may have charitable intent, but the perception they are giving is that they are one.

Organizations who do this, whilst calling for financial support are in my opinion could be seen as misleading those who give financial support – unless it is clearly spelled out that any financial support given does not allow the donor to claim tax credits or rebates.

Further, is there potential for anyone to call themselves a charity and in doing so further cast clouds of doubt over the sector as a whole?

I’d appreciate comment on this, as if there’s a general feeling that the use of “charity” in either name or descriptor when an organization isn’t one causes concern, it would be good to start the ball rolling to prevent this and further protect and clean up the sector.

Your eyes can tell you so much, are you listening with them

Having donors visit you is one thing, but when you visit donors you can learn so much – but as Michael Rosen says you need to listen with you eyes, not just see – but take in, register what you see.

Read what Michael Rosen says – 

When visiting prospects and donors, it is essential to listen carefully. You will want to learn about their philanthropic aspirations and legacy hopes. Listening to your prospect or donor rather than simply pitching your organization is a big part of what donor-centered fundraising is about.

For thousands of years, wise people have understood the value of effective listening. For example, Epictetus, the ancient Greek philosopher, said:

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Last week, I wrote about the importance of getting out and visiting prospects and donors (“Want to Know the Secret to Raising More Money in 2013?“). Now, I want to suggest that while we should certainly listen with our ears during those visits, we should also “listen” with our eyes.

Read full article here

How can supporters maintain contact when …

It’s surprising how often that I either hear or have the experience myself – you send an email to a contact at an organization and get an automated reply “sorry that mailbox is no longer active” – or something similar.

You quickly check you have it right, your go back through emails double checking only to find you have the details right.

A phone call soon clears up the confusion, the person you’ve been trying to contact has left.

Imagine how supporters feel when they get an automated response saying the person they want to contact is no longer available, do you think they’ll spend time trying to track the right person down, will they even bother checking to see if the email address they’ve sent something to was right – chances are they won’t.

Why would any organization leave themselves open to being ‘shut off’ from supporters?

How would you feel if someone tried contacting your fundraising or sponsorship manager to discuss a possible donation, and all they got was an error message in response to their email; would they think – oh, lets try that again, or would they give up and look for another organization?

Can you afford for potential supporters to wander off – NO. 

Make it easy for people to stay in touch, when key staff leave, don’t deactivate their email address immediately, have it routed to go to someone else.

If you don’t know how to do this, check help in any email programme you’re using – it’ll save you time, money and opportunities – see it as an investment in the future.

And, make sure you have a succession plan for every key staff member, not just for the CEO, CFO – but every key staff member.

What to do when you miss the fundraising target

You spend days, weeks, months planning a fundraising campaign; you’ve set the target of how much you’re needing to raise, you know how you’re going to do it.

But, then it all turns to custard, the campaign doesn’t have the impact you’d hope for – you fall short of your target, what now.

You still need to be able to deliver whatever it was you’d set a fundraising target for – but how do you go about this without appearing as a failure.

There’s a few schools of thought on what to do; you could go back to those who gave and tell them that you’d missed the target so now won’t be going ahead with what the funds were for – offering them their money back*. Or, you could move the date by which the funds are needed.

Whatever you decide on doing, make the decision and stick to it.

Whenever you’re fundraising it’s important to have targets, you won’t get anywhere with anything without them. Targets have to be achievable, maybe you missed the total needed because you gave yourself too shorter time to raise the money; maybe the amount you set was to high.

Either way, be honest with your supporters – tell them that you missed the target, that you’re over the moon with the support that has come and that you’re not going to shelve your plans but will be going after the additional funding needed.

Asking again for funds from those who have already given can be difficult, it can be one of those things that can make you feel needier than you are; so do this with caution. Simply let people know where you’re at with the campaign, what you’re going to be doing – and ask if they could help you get more support.

Peer-to-peer asks can have a huge impact, Mrs Brown may like to talk to her friends, family about your campaign and how you didn’t reach the amount needed – this could result in more donations coming in.

Where big donors have committed, perhaps give them a call and talk to them about your campaign, others could be updated through letter and/or email.

Whatever you do, don’t hide the fact you’ve not reached your goal, don’t simply allocate the funds raised to something else – it’s not why people gave, they gave for the reason you asked.

Have you missed a fundraising target during a set campaign period, what did you do, what was the impact on donors, did you eventually meet it?

*Offering donors their money back may sound crazy, but from experience very few if any will want it back, they’re committed to your cause, they want to see you succeed – some donors will if they’re able offer you a few more dollars.

Ethical Donations

Should children’s charities align with alcohol suppliers, merchants, producer – does alcohol and children’s charities mix, or is it like oil and water at a moral level?

There are laws about sales of liquour, only people of a specified age can buy it, and it can only be sold by people of a specified age, tobacco too can only be purchased (in many places) by people of a certain age – advertising for these products is restricted to.

So I ask – is it ethical given the reason for restriction on the promotion and sale of alcohol for ‘public good’ – is it right for a charity or any other organizations established to support children to have as major “obvious” supporters who tout alcohol.

Sure we can argue the need for financial support, but – should ethics, morales, personal beliefs of office holders – the board, come in to play?

Is it as a wrong alignment – it’s not like promoting girl guide biscuits.

Sure, it can be argued that charity promotions, websites, direct mail campaigns and the like aren’t targeted at youth – but, the fact is that youth see them.

And, what about organizations who work with youth, and younger, who have a conditions caused by alcohol, ok, these organization probably don’t accept support from alcohol organizations; but it’s likely that other organizations who work with these same ‘people’ do accept the support.

And who can blame them; you, it’s all about getting support from the most “ethical” source, but it does have to be asked  – how do other supporters see this, how does the wider community your aiming to gain support from see it?

Is it time to take stock, can organizations afford to walk away from the “booze dollar”, or is there a way that this could be acceptable with restrictions on both sides?

Would you decline money or other support based on where it comes from?
Would you turn money away?


It’s time to tune in – and listen

Its often been said we need to listen more, that we have two ears and one mouth and should use them in equal proportion.

Seth Godin has even recently written How to listen, and ends it well when he says “Good listeners get what they deserve–better speakers.”

We all need to listen more, we need to hear and understand what’s being said; without this we’re on a road to nowhere.

This reminds me of when we analyse a fundraising or awareness campaign and we see that it hasn’t gone as well as we’d hoped; why we ask, we ask ourselves and perhaps a focus group and close friends. But this only perhaps gives us what we “want” to hear, a sanitized version.

It’s all good and all hearing what we want to hear, but it’s probably only ego – ours, we don’t want what we’ve worked weeks, months or maybe years getting off the ground and those closest to us don’t want to hear our feelings; tough, sometimes feelings have to be hurt.

When was the last time you listen, no not heard but listened to what others outside our normal “feedback zone” had to say about the campaign? Probably very seldom if at all. Some would say NEVER.

It’s time to change that. 

There’s so many opportunities to hear what is being said, it could be in a casual conversation that someone says something, maybe not overtly, but something is said – with some subtle probing you could find out more that will be useful for future reference. Maybe you’re in a cafe and hear something; again file it away for future reference, but firstly is what’s been said in a similar vain to what you may have heard before?

You should also be using such tool as Google Alerts to monitor what’s being said about you – but, not only YOU, but your sector as well; it’s important to have a broad picture.

When I was talking about charity collectors and there being more than one option for people to support causes, and mentioned this on Twitter I got a few responses from people who felt they only had one option to support, and others who knew that it doesn’t only take money to support a cause.

One person summed it up well in her experience with colleagues, they make it clear that money is an option, but it’s by no means the only option to supporting an organization, a cause.

If one person is saying this – how many others are?

If the people organizations are having to explain to others that there are alternative ways of supporting, are organizations forgetting to and only focused on the “cash ask”?

Are organizations forgetting that people may want to volunteer a few hours to muck in, to roll up their sleeves and help. Maybe there’s some who would like to speak about the work you do where they work, play or socialize – have you asked them, do they know you’d welcome this kind of support as much as you would hard folding notes?

Charities are already likely missing out when it comes to street collections when people walk by because they don’t have cash on them, don’t let other chances to gain other support – open your ears, and listen – don’t just hear what’s being said, but tune in and listen. You could well get support you may never have gained before.

Ask yourself these questions – would you support you?

It’s always interesting to hear people talk about community organizations and how they don’t appeal to them, it could be the cause or it could be the impression the organization gives the public; does your organization have sex appeal, the wow factor or is it simply sitting their chugging along.

Grab yourself a cuppa, pen and paper and answer these questions about your organization, based on what the public sees of you – your website, the message you give about the work you do:

  • Would you give to your organization?
  • Would you volunteer for your organization?
  • Would you want to work for your organization?
  • Is what we stand for clear, is it easy for people to see what we do?
  • Are we seen as trustful?
  • Are we committed to what we do?
  • Have we made a difference?
  • What can we do better to gain more support/awareness?
What did you come up with, are there things about your public face you will/must change, and how will you go about it, what time frame will you set yourself for any changes?

This is a good exercise to do from time to time – do it again in a few months to see if you come up with different answers to what you came up with today.

Do you know why people lose interest in your organization?

When an employee leaves a company generally an exit interview is conducted to find out why, what the employee thought of the organisation – should nonprofits be doing some ‘sample exit interviews’ when people lose interest in them and stop supporting them – would it be of benefit?

Would it be beneficial to see why people stop supporting your cause?

We all know it’s the active members of an organization that are its lifeblood. Without them, the organization could easily wither and die.

As soon as supporter or membership numbers start to decline and organization should be taking action to see what is causing the decline and take steps to reverse it. The reality though is that many organizations don’t know why people are losing interest, what’s driving them to abandon their support. Without know this the “fix” won’t be easy or perhaps even possible.

To reverse any decline organizations need to know why – with an understanding as to why people are leaving it would be possible to take steps to retain supporters and to look at ways to attract new ones with longevity.

Perhaps one of the main reasons people are not continuing to support is that they’re not being told how important their support is, that without their support they organization is unable to do its work. When was the last time your spoke to your supporters about how important they are? If you haven’t for some time, change that and start talking to them – remember it’s not all about you, it is about your supporters, so next time you pen a newsletter talk about “the supporter” more than you do about yourself.

Organizations also need to understand who their supporters are, where they come from and what attracts them to your organization; again if you don’t know this – take steps to learn what it is about you, your work that attracts supporters, this will help in attracting new supporters and retaining those you have.

Supporters want to know what other ways they can be “part” of an organization, some will be happy to send a regular financial contributions, others might want to meet with other members of the organization – do you offer opportunities for people to get together and learn first hand about the work you’re doing, and for supporters to meet other supporters?

Another thing that could be causing a decline in your supporter base could be that you’re not conveying where you’re at with your goals, if you’re working to help homeless people off the streets – are you letting your supporters how many people now have accommodation as a result of the work you’ve been doing? Also, let those you’re supporting tell their stories; hearing first hand the difference your organization is making could be all it takes to retain people who were considering moving their support to someone else.

We all know it costs more to gain new supporters than it does to retain those you already have – do you have the resources to continuously replenish your supporter base, probably not; so why are you not askign your supporters why they’re leaving? Why are you not inviting supporters to see you in action? 

If you don’t know what makes your supporters tick, what drives them to leave – it’s time to make a change, the next time someone withdraws support why not give them a call – no not a letter, a phone call to thank them for their support, to say how sorry you are to see them go and to remind them of how valuable the work you do is and that their support has enabled you to achieve xyz.

If you would be interested in a donor retention interview for your organization please get in touch, I’d happily talk you through how to tailor one for your organization. 

Remember – let your supporters know that they are important, that you wouldn’t exist without them.


Won’t support local causes

“We won’t support New Zealand charities, our support can do more good overseas”

“We don’t know why we should support New Zealand charities, none have given us any real reason to support them”

These are two comments I’ve heard recently, and I’m now wondering how widespread these views are.

There’s the old saying that charity begins at home, but unless people feel there is a real need to support local causes they won’t, instead they’ll support those that they see and hear about more often, the one’s they perceive as doing greater good, and in all honesty if someone choses to support a cause outside of their country it is their right, we can’t and shouldn’t judge them for it.

We can’t judge people for their choice, we need instead to look at how local causes can better get their message across that they need help from the local community. 

Local causes, those who work in the country often don’t have the ability to run large scale campaigns to raise awareness or aren’t on the radar of media like the big international ones are – the larger ones have the means to keep their message out there, to tell their stories, to show what impact a few dollars could have helping others.

There are many local causes who are doing great things in the country, but unless they have the means to get their stories heard – they will be under the radar. 

No, this is not a beat up of local causes, quite the reverse.

We live in a global community, the world is one – whether you’re in New Zealand, Australia, USA, Asia, the UK – we are all part of the one community – the global community.

The choice to support a cause is a very personal one – and there’s no way I or anyone can tell people who they should or shouldn’t support.

Often people have said – why should I support XYZ, it’s the Governments responsibility – sure, in some respects this is right.
However, there’s a downside to that. If any Government were to channel funds to causes like some would suggest, where would they draw the line, how would it be funded, what would suffer as a result – the Government, any Government doesn’t have an endless supply of money. Ok, maybe they do – our taxes, but taxes only go so far, would you want a higher tax rate so as to enable your Government to support everyone? 

By giving to causes you’re helping – you don’t have to be contributing huge amounts, a little can go a long way; and every contribution does help.

Organizations need to find a way to communicate at a local level, sure there’s a resource issue, but by tapping into current supporters to help build a supporter base is one step that could be taken; who better to help get others on board than those already on board.

So, when are you going to start using your current supporters, your board to help grow your supporter base; to show those in your local area that their support is needed – that without them you can’t do what you’re doing?

See also