fundraising education

Key Takeaways from the Washington Nonprofit Conference

It was my first time as a presenter at the DMA’s Washington Nonprofit Conference, and all in all, it was a great conference.

Energy was high, and the mood was positive (markedly different than just a couple of years ago).

I had the honor of sitting on the “Last Word” panel that highlights key themes from the conference. Here are a few that stuck with me:

1. Stop talking about integration and figure out a way to do it. Organizations like the Holocaust Museum and National Law Officers' Memorial offered simple and effective ways to get the job done, encouraging conference goers to start small, start early and put intra-departmental teams together.
2. Storytelling still reigns supreme, but boring, overcomplicated stories won't work. Ever. Simplicity of message is key. In fact, Freedom from Hunger was able to boost ROI in certain segments simply by as much as 72% by doing away with the use of program names and instead focusing on the activities of the program.
3. The jury is still out on the long-term effects of using premiums. The American Red Cross held firm in their belief that premiums are just too expensive, while Boys Town offered a compelling turnaround case study on the use of bundled premiums for maximum results. Fascinating debate.
4. Message matters in some places much more than others. Copywriter Tom Gaffny told the audience that 90% of the success of copy comes from 10% of the words. My favorite quote of the conference—"don't bother to battle about paragraphs 4-10; they're not worth the fight."
5. Challenge how you analyze. Kevin Moran of Integral encouraged the group to look at data from the donor perspective not just by channel. Figure out channel drivers, donor composition and then make your predictions.

Future Fundraisers Show Amazing Promise

This semester, I'm teaching Technology and Marketing Trends in Fundraising at Rockhurst University through the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

I have eight of the brightest students I've ever encountered. Most have had multiple internships, and already at their tender young ages, have volunteer experience that puts me to shame.

As much as they're learning from me, I'm learning from them. For example ...

1. They love face-to-face interaction. In their papers and in person, they tell me that nothing replaces a real interaction, and they don't want it to.
2. Technology doesn't rule them. I gave them a big speech the first night about not having their faces buried in phones or laptops. Turns out they didn't need the speech -- they aren't obsessed with their phones (unlike their instructor).
3. They're savvy givers. These students won't be waiting until they hit baby-boomer age to give ... they give what they can now and hold those nonprofits to the highest ethical standards. They participate in runs, adopt children in developed countries, help local youth.
4. They've got heart. That same beautiful spirit of giving found in today's fundraisers is alive and well in this new generation.

Much is said, and written, about the apathy of millennials, their weak work ethic and flagrant sense of entitlement. It's true in many cases -- I've seen it.

But that label doesn't work on these students ... they got this.