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Don’t sabotage your data science efforts with garbage

December 4th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

The greatest data science team in the world can’t save you from bad source data. Learn five ways to make sure your data is not garbage.

The Kryptonite for any data scientist is low quality data. You could invent the cleverest algorithm the world has ever seen, but it would render useless when fed bad data. As they say, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

I’m currently working with a large oil and gas company to improve the safety of their refineries, by helping them adopt a more risk-based inspection strategy. The optimal application of risk would be purely quantitative — use historical inspection data to identify high-risk areas that require more attention. This approach is being challenged due to the confidence some people have with the existing, historical inspection data. It’s a valid challenge that’s commonly faced by data professionals. To defend your data science, you must have good data quality techniques.

1: Clean sources

It all starts with a clean source. Housecleaning is much easier when you’re starting with a relatively clean house — the same goes for data cleansing.

There are tough questions being asked at my oil and gas client about how the data is collected. For instance, you may see places where the thickness readings of a pipe are larger in 2015 than they were in 2012. I’m no physicist, but I’m pretty sure pipes can’t just grow in thickness over time. We haven’t done a thorough root cause analysis as to why we’re seeing such dubious data, though it’s worth investigating. I favor this approach 10 times over any sort of data cleansing mitigation.

2: Develop an answer key

Before you can claim high data quality, you must know what high data quality looks like. In some cases, this may not be possible. In my pipe measurement example, it’s impossible to know exactly how much thinner a pipe should be after three years — that’s why you inspect. However, in some cases you do know what high data quality looks like.

It’s best to have an answer key, especially if you’re applying statistical techniques to determine data quality; a simple one-sample t-test can tell you the quality of your data.

If you’re mining a company’s email server for employee sentiment, your algorithm should exclude any spam that made its way into the server. Spam in this context is pretty obvious, so the inverse (non-spam) should be as well, and this would be your answer key.

3: Remember integrity rules

Integrity rules are conditions in the data that must exist if your data is clean.

I worked with a large tech firm on the construction of a customer registry for their government sales. The customer registry served as customer master data for four or five data sources. To integrate each data source, we interviewed the product owners about the ACD (add, change, delete) nature of their data; then, we installed ACD audit logs on their tables to see what actually happens. In almost all cases, there were rows deleted from tables that should never be deleted, and rows added to tables that were supposed to be static.

Consider the logic rules in your data that should apply if there’s no data corruption, and build audit scripts to tell you when there’s a violation. For instance, if there’s a foreign key that points to a non-existent primary key, you have a problem.

4: Employ expert systems

If hands-off quantitative risk assessment doesn’t fly at my oil and gas client, we will interview experts to see if we can replicate the process they go through to clean the data before they analyze it. This is an expert system, which is a rule-based replication of how a human expert would determine good data quality. An expert system works well as long as: 1) you have actual experts (hint: check their results and ignore their title); 2) they can clearly explain what they do; and 3) what they do can be translated into clear-cut rules.

As with most things, the theory oversimplifies the pragmatics, so be careful. Your experts may have had unconscious competency for quite some time, and therefore find it difficult to explain what they do. Try explaining to a grade-schooler how you drive a car. It’s not that easy.

5: Include machine learning in your arsenal

As recursive as it sounds to use machine learning to cleanse the data you’ll use for machine learning, it actually works. There are two systems: one for cleansing and one for analyzing; you need to make sure to keep their solution spaces separate — two different problems. But there’s no reason why you can’t teach a computer to learn what clean data looks like, especially if you have the answer key.

It still makes me nervous to rely solely on a computer to cleanse input data using machine learning; you never really know how well the cleansing algorithm will work, even with today’s advances in machine learning. Amazon’s pretty great, but it still recommends movies I would never watch. Even still, it doesn’t hurt to include machine learning in your arsenal to combat poor data quality.


I’ve described five ways to make sure you don’t sabotage your data science efforts with garbage. Some of the tactics can be used right away, and some may take time to develop.

You should get serious about feeding only the highest quality data into your data science algorithms. Otherwise, you’ll quickly see the quality of your data science team erode.

By September 29, 2015

IoF ban on data-selling will hurt charities that use direct mail

December 3rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Fundraising


Adrian Williams tells Third Sector that the move ‘goes above and beyond’ the Data Protection Act and means there would be no grace period for charities to use data gathered more than six months before

Data-sharing: will charities suffer from new rules?
Data-sharing: will charities suffer from new rules?


The Institute of Fundraising’s ban on charities selling supporters’ data and on sharing data without consent from donors within the six months before they do so is likely have a significant effect on the ability of smaller charities to use direct mail effectively, the head of the direct marketing agency DM Focus has said.

Adrian Williams, managing director of the agency, which helps charities to buy and share donor lists, told Third Sector today that the IoF’s recent announcement that it would change the Code of Fundraising Practice so that charities could no longer sell data or share it without valid consent had taken him by surprise.

“The way the IoF has gone about it is retrospective,” he said, referring to the IoF’s endorsement of the Information Commissioner’s direct marketing guidance on third-party consent. “I never thought that would happen. It never has before; they have stepped into a very dangerous position because this recommendation goes above and beyond the Data Protection Act.”

The ICO’s guidance says that if an organisation is making contact by phone, text or email for the first time, it should not rely on any indirect consent given more than six months ago.

Williams said this meant that there would be no grace period for charities in which they could use data they had gathered more than six months before.

“The selling and swapping of data has massive implications for the sector,” said Williams. “If this change goes through, it would have a massive impact on smaller charities that rely on purchasing charity data to get direct mail to work. Many charities are not too sure where to go.”

Williams, who also spoke to Third Sector before the IoF’s announcement earlier this month, had previously said that an IoF prohibition on the sharing of donor lists without express consent would have an insignificant impact on data-sharing compared with the EU data protection laws that are expected to come into force in the next 12 months.

But today he said: “I think that this has a much larger impact than the EU rules, which might change. Many charities purchase data, so this announcement will have big consequences for them.”

He said that reciprocal transactions – where charities swap lists using services such as the Reciprocate programme run by the list broker ResponseOne – would be “wiped off the agenda”.

Williams, who recognised direct mail distributed by his company in photographs of Olive Cooke surrounded by charity mailings in the Daily Mail, estimated that almost two-thirds of charities that fundraised by direct mail bought lists of potential donors, about 10 per cent exchanged their donor lists with other charities and about 3 per cent sold or rented these lists to third parties.

Speaking to Third Sector in early September, he said that the EU regulations – which at their most extreme could forbid organisations from contacting, profiling and tracking an individual’s cookies online without their consent – would have a significant detrimental effect on the number of lists available as well as on fundraising income, which could cause some charities to close down.

He said such rules could lead to unscrupulous practices if marketers felt the legislation was too restrictive. “Some rogue organisations could say: I’m going to mail from India and get some 12-year-old boy to write my copy,” he said.

Williams said that international development charities in particular would have good cause to post their direct mail from developing countries in order to circumvent EU or UK rules. “They wouldn’t need to worry about any legislation because they’re not writing from the UK,” he said. “Most charities would adhere to the rules but you might find some wouldn’t.

“We shouldn’t apologise for what we’re doing. We’re doing it because it works, because it makes money and because it allows us to offer the services that the government doesn’t put onto the market.”

He also questioned whether the public really found direct mail an irritation, saying they could just “chuck it on the fire” if they did not like it.

A spokesman for the IoF said that in order for fundraising to be successful and sustainable in the long-term all potential supporters needed to have confidence in how charities used their data.

“Moving towards sharing data where the individual has ‘opted in’ by giving informed consent will mean people feel more in control over the fundraising communications they receive,” he said.

He said the Code of Fundraising Practice set standards for fundraising that went beyond minimum legal requirements. “This is one area where we need to raise the bar to ensure that fundraising practice meets the expectations of the public,” he said. “We know that the Information Commissioner’s Office is to produce guidance on informed consent and the timescales of valid consent to help fundraisers understand how to manage data appropriately.”

By Susannah Birkwood
28 September 2015
Third Sector

How employee matching gifts can help your fundraising team succeed

November 23rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, Matching Gift

Many of you are gearing up for your year-end fundraising campaign. It’s never easy to raise money, but you may have overlooked a simple way to bring in more donations – Matching Gifts.

This guest post by Adam Weinger gives you some great tips to help you incorporate matching gifts into your fundraising.

Your nonprofit likely feels like it is doing all that it can to raise money to keep your organization’s engine running. While you may be bringing in a lot of money from your new and dedicated donors, did you know you could receive twice as many donations?

No, you don’t have to ask donors for money a second time. All you have to do is let your donors know about matching gift programs!

Matching gifts are donations that companies and businesses will make after an employee has made a contribution and submitted the relevant request forms. While companies have different deadlines and caps on these donations, your nonprofit can still take advantage of the opportunity to double the amount of contributions you receive.

The following three tips can help your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts go from good to great with an assist from matching gifts!

1. Incorporate matching gifts into your fundraising events.

Your organization probably holds amazing events that bring your donors together with each other and members of your team. But you can also use the opportunity at these events to let your donors know about matching gifts.

If your nonprofit hosts an annual gala or auction, have one of your presenters talk briefly about matching gifts during a speech. When your donors are aware that their donations can go twice as far with little effort on their part, they will be more likely to continue giving to your organization and have their employers match those donations.

2. Let donors know about matching gifts through multiple channels.

You already communicate with donors in different ways. Use those avenues to let donors know about matching gifts!

Make use of:

  • Social media: Keep posts short and to the point. Donors don’t want to see a novel on their news feeds. Include links to more information and incorporate graphics if you can.
  • Email newsletters: If you’re already using email newsletters to keep donors in the loop about projects and events, use the space to promote matching gifts. Just like on social media, incorporate links to more information as well as graphics.
  • Direct mail: Some donors prefer opening letters to opening their inbox. Keep these donors in mind when promoting matching gifts.
  • Your website: Donors who find their way to your website are obviously interested in learning more about your organization and may want to make a donation right then and there. Therefore, you should include information about matching gifts on your “Ways to Give” page and include matching gift options and information on donation screens.

While there are many other ways to interact with your donors, you can use your existing communication methods to promote matching gifts to them.

3. Keep in touch with donors.

After you’ve acquired a new donor and have received a matching gift from their employer, make sure that you say thanks and stay in touch.

Donors like to feel appreciated. Your nonprofit can show your gratitude by thanking individuals for their initial donation as well as their employer’s matched donation.

Sometimes, those matched contributions take weeks or even months to process before they make it into your nonprofit’s hands. When you thank donors for submitting their matching gift requests to their employers after you receive the matched donation, you not only show your gratitude, but you are also reminding donors that they can continue to have their future donations matched by their employers.

Many employers also have deadlines for submitting matching gift requests. Make sure your nonprofit is sending out prompt thank yous after a donation is made that encourage donors to have their donations doubled as soon as possible if they didn’t submit a request immediately after making the initial contribution.

Matching gifts can give your fundraising efforts a major boost. Whether you choose to promote matching gifts at an event, through your existing communication channels, or in your follow-up acknowledgements, your fundraising team can achieve matching gift success.

by Adam Weinger
November 4, 2015
Ann Green’s Nonprofit Blog


Fraud Alert: Criminals Test Stolen Credit-Card Numbers on Charity Websites

November 17th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Criminals are using poorly protected charity websites to test the validity of stolen credit-card numbers, cybersecurity experts said this week, costing some groups thousands of dollars. Simplified online donation pages make it easy for people to give — but also serve as prime testing ground for credit-card thieves.

“There’s a giant target painted on the industry’s back that is very advantageous for credit-card thieves,” said Kevin Conroy, chief product officer at GlobalGiving.

Although not a new problem, it is now “near universal,” said Matt Holford, chief technology officer at

Easy Target

Stolen credit-card numbers aren’t worth much on the underground market until verified, so thieves use online payment websites to test whether the numbers work. Some thieves pay criminal services groups to do the confirmation work using a bot, — a software application that rapidly enters the numbers into payment websites, said Don Jackson, director of threat intelligence at PhishLabs. If the payment goes through, the criminal-services group reports back to the thief that the credit-card number is valid and will work for making larger fraudulent purchases.

Fraudsters also use for-profit retailers to verify stolen numbers. But businesses are often well protected, requiring multiple steps to make purchases such as setting up an account and providing personal information linked to the credit card.

Many nonprofits forgo such requirements to reduce obstacles to making donations.

That simple design is ideal for a thief or a bot trying to test many numbers quickly.

“I think the reason charities and nonprofits are targeted is they want to set it up with as few bars to funding as possible,” Mr. Jackson said.

Nonprofits are also vulnerable because online donations are not tied to geography, Mr. Conroy said. If someone uses her credit card to buy coffee in her town of residence on the same day a thief uses her credit-card number to buy a television three states away, that may raise a red flag with the credit-card company. A small, fraudulent online donation is unlikely to trigger that detection system.

Costs Soar

The financial costs of these attacks on nonprofits can be significant. Credit-card companies categorize online donations as “card-not-present” transactions and place the burden for recouping fraudulent charges entirely on nonprofits.

That means nonprofits have to return fraudulent donations that people report to their credit-card companies. In May 2013, Irish charity the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation announced that it received and refunded about $170,000 in donations made via stolen credit cards. Most of the donations were less than $7.

For each fraudulent charge, charities also have to pay credit-card companies “charge-back” fees, which can be as high as $25. When thieves targeted about three years ago, it had to pay $10 to $20 in charge-back fees for each of more than 100 fraudulent donations, said Jeana Takahashi, the nonprofit’s integrity assurance manager and technical writer.

And once a nonprofit has surpassed a certain charge-back rate threshold — often 1 percent of all transactions in a month — credit card companies may put it on probation and charge it several thousand dollars a month in fines. If the nonprofit can’t lower its charge-back rate, credit-card companies may shut off its merchant account, rendering it unable to accept any donations made with that card brand. Vendors may also temporarily block nonprofits’ ability to process transactions if fraud attempts spike, said Clam Lorenz, PayPal’s general manager of social innovation for North America.

Harder to measure but still significant are the costs to a nonprofit’s reputation when people discover that donations were made without their consent.

“When you start to have fraud activities associated with you, it damages the name of your charity,” Mr. Jackson said.

Tighter Controls

There’s only one way to stop this kind of fraud, Mr. Conroy said: monitoring all online donations.

Nonprofits should look out for small donations (some bots randomly generate donations that are not whole numbers, such as $1.32), or a burst of donation activity during a short period of time. They should also look for donations made on a device whose IP address is different from the cardholder’s billing address or is linked to multiple transactions from different cardholders.

To thwart thieves, nonprofits also need to improve online donation forms, said Steven Mac­Laughlin, director of analytics at Blackbaud. He recommends setting a minimum online donation amount of $15. Charities should only accept donations in set increments, ask for credit-card expiration dates and security codes, and turn on address-verification services. PhishLabs recommends requiring donors to provide an email address to which nonprofits mail a donation-verification message and using URLs for the transaction page that change every time someone makes a donation.

Both Mr. Conroy and Mr. MacLaughlin advise against installing Captcha programs — quizzes that require users to interpret a string of misshapen numbers and letters to thwart bots. It’s quick and easy for criminals to get through such screens manually or pay low-skilled workers to do it. As a result, Captcha tests can frustrate more real donors than fraudulent ones.

“It’s a speed bump on the way to robbing you,” Mr. MacLaughlin said.

Getting Help

Payment-processing vendors also have a role to play, and some vendors are more susceptible to fraud than others, Mr. Jackson said. He mentioned one that has a “relatively sizable share of the charitable-organization market” as being weak because it accepts credit cards from all over world and doesn’t examine payment velocity. He declined to name it.

Mr. Conroy recommends that nonprofits research how prospective vendors prevent and handle fraudulent activity before signing a contract.

“It would be unwise to go solely for the lowest cost option,” he said.

Mr. Lorenz advises nonprofits to familiarize themselves with the charge-back reports their payment-processing vendors send. He also says nonprofits should talk to their vendors about available anti-fraud tools and good ways to deter thieves.

Nonprofits may need to buy more sophisticated services from payment processors or hire fraud-detection firms, such as Sift Science, which use the same machine-learning principles as email spam filters, and ThreatMetrix, which uses identification fingerprinting technology. Both of these companies charge per transaction: Sift Science charges 3 to 7 cents for each, although discounts are available for nonprofits, while Donors­ now budgets about $20,000 a year to pay ThreatMetrix, Ms. Takahashi said.

There is one downside to the system, Ms. Takahashi said: the rate of “false positives,” legitimate donations flagged as potentially fraudulent, has risen. DonorsChoose now flags about 3 percent of transactions for extra screening.

But it’s not a big problem, Ms. Takahashi said, and she thinks the extra protection justifies the false-positive risk and the cost.

“We don’t want to make it easy for the bad guys out there,” she said.

Charities that have the resources and tech talent may be able to develop internal anti-fraud protections. GlobalGiving created a system to monitor donations as they come in and to assess them later. The system is largely automated, although one employee runs frequent audits, and catches dozens to hundreds of attempted fraudulent donations every week. The nonprofit proactively reverses donations it suspects to be fraudulent to avoid paying charge-back fees later and now makes fewer than 10 charge-back fees each month.

Mr. Conroy declined to share how the system works, calling the fight against fraudsters an “arms race.”

“We have to keep some secrets so we can still combat them,” he said.

Joining Forces

CTOs for Good, a group of chief technology officers at nonprofits that include DonorsChoose, GlobalGiving, Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla, Charity: Water, VolunteerMatch, Crisis Text Line, and Global Poverty Project, will discuss this problem at its meeting in October and perhaps produce a paper to share with the public, Mr. Holford said.

“Developing a unified solution is tough because our stacks, payment flows, and payment processors are all different,” he said in an email. “But some member groups have come up with smart logic to apply and lessons learned.”

Experts agree that each nonprofit has a role to play in helping charities fight back against credit-card verification fraud.

“We should work together and share best practices, look at ways we can share code to do that, and share referrals to off-the-shelf systems that are available,” Mr. Conroy said. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link.”

By Rebecca Koenig
September 17, 2015
The Chronicle of Philanthropy

12 phrases that give your donor credit for helping

November 16th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

“Sharing Your Progress” season is coming up fast.  That’s when you talk about the highlights and victories of your year, and thank donors for helping you make it happen. We usually see these communications start in mid-November, peaking around Thanksgiving, and then leading into year-end appeals.

Regardless of the format that your communications take, you’ll need to figure out a way to give your donors thanks for their role in making that progress possible.

Here are 12 phrases we’ve seen other nonprofits use (hat tips with each example), and we encourage you to make them your own! Just replace what we have in italics with your own information.

Here you go . . .

1.  You did it! Today we reached our $1.7 million goal for water projects in Rwanda. We couldn’t have done it without you. (charity: water)

2.  We can do so much more because of you. Every gift matters, especially yours, as we work every day to ensure a brighter future for our community. Thank you. Together, we’re able to do so much more. (YMCA of Greater Charlotte)

3.  We’re inspired each day by this amazing community of wildlife supporters. Enjoy this look back at major accomplishments this past year – we couldn’t do it without you. (National Wildlife Federation)

4.  Thank you for your unwavering commitment to helping animals in crisis  — we couldn’t have done it without you! (ASPCA)

5.  Wow! You made 2014 an incredible year for human rights. As a little thank you, here are 24 of your biggest moments . . . (Amnesty International)

6.  Thank you to everyone who made an investment in the future of the Appalachian Trail. (Appalachian Trail Conservancy)

7.  4,760: the number of meals we served over Easter weekend. Thank you to every donor, volunteer, and prayer warrior who played a part in making this happen. (Nashville Rescue Mission)

8.  You’ve taken a stand for millions of suffering animals. To them, and to us, you are a hero. (Humane Society of the United States)

9.  We hope you know that YOU are our hero! The effort you put into reaching children is amazing! (Kids Hope USA)

10.  Thanks to you and other steadfast wildlife lovers, we have some important victories to celebrate from the past year. (Defenders of Wildlife)

11.  Our work would not be possible without your help.  Because of you. . . (fill in accomplishment). Thanks to you . . . (fill in accomplishment). With your support . . .(fill in accomplishment).  (The Nature Conservancy)

12.  We are here FOR YOU  and BECAUSE of YOU. THANK YOU for making our work possible. (Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation)

By Kivi Leroux Miller
Sep 14, 2015
NonProfit Marketing Guide

Unleash your grantwriting success: Five sure-fire tips to bring in the cash

November 13th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Grantmakers tell us that many applications they receive are discarded as they fail to answer central questions or address priorities. Consequently, grantmakers choose from a small selection of well-planned and well-prepared applications.

There are a number of reasons why grant seekers are failing to produce precise and polished funding proposals.

  • Short turn around times: Grantmakers use to give at least eight weeks from the date of announcing a grant call, until the deadline date. Now it is not unusual to see a call with only three weeks to the due date.
  • Team approach required: Applications often require the contributions of more than one staff of an organization, requiring staff to engage in several collaborative meetings on top of their regular deliverables.
  • Expertise sits with a number of departments or positions: Sometimes the responsibility of drafting the proposal sits with program-delivery managers, sometimes fundraising staff and often the Executive Director or CEO.  While the flexibility of the responsibility allows organizations to capitalize on individual strengths and talents, it also fails to focus and build the effort of grant seeking and writing.
  • Overburdened and overworked staff: This is all too familiar.  Who has the time to write proposals and reports on top of regular responsibilities?

While we can’t change what is beyond our control, we can change what is within it.  We can improve our organization’s capacity to seek and secure grant money.  The first step is to think of grant seeking and grant writing as a strategic effort.

In Canada, grant writing is not a well-known profession or skill set. Most of the time, people respond with a “What is that?” after I tell them I am a grant writer. Unlike the United States where grant writing is an established industry, it seems to be an afterthought here.

That can change.  Maybe we can change it together. Helping individual organizations raise money to deliver better or more programs is fulfilling but does little to affect the whole sector.  After 15 years of writing grants, I’ve learned that there are five top tips for writing stellar proposals.

TIP 1.     Tri-alignment: Your project or program for which you are seeking funding needs to align with your agency’s mandate, the needs of your constituents (not the needs of your organization) and the grantmaker’s priorities.  Gone are the days when you can make any program fit any priority.

TIP 2.    Clear and Consistent Program Design: Your objectives address the need or problem; your outcomes follow from your objectives; your outcomes are measurable; and your activities are relevant, realistic and cost-effective.

TIP 3.    Clear and Consistent Writing Style: You have one chance to persuade the grantmaker with words. Make all the words count. Less is more. Write for a generalist. Respond to an anticipated thought of the reader. Minimize absolute terminology. Include a connection to a current event. Incorporate grantmaker language. Do not repeat answers even if the questions seem redundant.

TIP 4.    Partnerships: Secure partnerships that strengthen your project, your agency and sector. Partnerships should not be a last minute thought; rather, they are a necessity to bring the project to fruition.

TIP 5.     Budgets: Make them real, cost effective for the grantmaker, worthwhile for your agency, and reflective of the narrative.  More and more grantmakers are not publishing the financial range of the grant.  They want to see a real budget, not one crafted around the expected grant amount.

By Anne Morais
Sep 15, 2015
Hilborn Charity Info

Small-Dollar Donors Having Big Impact on Presidential Campaign Fundraising

November 10th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson are benefiting from supporters who give in tiny amounts.

Daniel Moughon, an insurance salesman from Fort Worth, Texas, said he knew long shot Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina was special after listening to one of her early Iowa speeches. He’s donated to her 10 times since then.

Moughon is not giving millions, though. He’s not even giving thousands.

In fact, he has added just $273 to the former Hewlett-Packard CEO’s campaign coffers through small donations ranging from $7 up to $100.

Why Fiorina? “Well, one, you can’t trust elected Republicans, they’ve let us down time after time,” Moughon said. “Carly Fiorina has a clear message. She’s a true outsider and a true proven leader.”

It’s not a lot of money, but he and others like him account for 45 percent of the $1.7 million Fiorina’s campaign has raised so far, according to the Federal Election Commission. And Fiorina is not the only presidential long shot who is doing well with small-dollar donors this campaign season.

By end of the last filing period, June 30, Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont had raised $13.6 million, over 80 percent of which came from donations of $200 or less. Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s campaign had raised $10.6 million, three quarters of which came from similarly small donations, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Sallie Barreca, a grandmother from St. Louis, has given to Carson 33 times, for a total of $1,532. She said she likes the retired neurosurgeon’s up-by-the-bootstraps story, his patriotism and his ability to stay cool under pressure.

“I’ve corresponded with a good friend of mine and we both feel this way,” Barreca said. “We will continue to support him until we think he doesn’t have a chance. … We’re all in the game here.”

Theoretically, existing donor networks should give an edge to candidates who have held public office, experts say. But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have raised just roughly $600,000 each, according to the FEC.

While dollars flowed into Fiorina’s and Carson’s campaigns amid low polling earlier this summer and continue to do so, an array of GOP strategists and political scientists say the two outsider candidates don’t stand much of a shot at actually being the Republican presidential nominee.

An uphill battle

“Let’s put it this way– the last time someone who’s never held public office won the presidency, let alone the nomination, was [Dwight] Eisenhower,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican commentator and adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

O’Connell said that while Fiorina and Carson tap into a group of conservatives who are fed up with Washington, some political experience is necessary.

“Republicans are more about ideology than a lot of other things, but they also like to see someone have a track record,” O’Connell said.

Julian Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University, said Carson’s and Fiorina’s lack of elective office experience and lower tier status among the GOP establishment makes them long-shots.

“They don’t really have any of the fundamental signs that you are a serious candidate,” he said. “Both are really, for the first time, introducing themselves.”

The track record of candidates running for president without previous experience isn’t good, said Jason Johnson, an analyst and political science professor at Hiram College. Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, formerGodfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark didn’t go far when they ran for the country’s highest office, he said.

“How many of them actually ended up being successful?” Johnson said. “Not many if the goal was to actually participate in government.”

So why are small-dollar donors giving to these long-shots?

“It doesn’t mean you’re foolish, it doesn’t mean you’re naïve,” said Johnson. “It makes you feel good to support this person. And that’s never going to be something that can be entirely explained or rationalized or justified.”

True believers

Johnson said small donors are similar to sports fans. Even though the Cleveland Browns football team may have a losing record, fans still pay to watch them play. Donating to a candidate that represents your ideals is similar, he said.

Keith Bradley, a realtor from Chatham, Maryland, who has donated to Fiorina nine times at $25 each, said her speech on foreign policy at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was “spine-tingling.”

“It’s not that I want to support the underdog. I support her because of her policies and because of her strengths,” said Bradley. “And so, yes, I understand the low polling numbers. But I still support her.”

Support for Carson runs deep, too. Barreca, the grandmother from St. Louis, acknowledges Carson is a long way from being elected. His “mellow” personality appeals to her.

“That’s what I like about him,” she said. “Now in a field of loud talkers, I don’t know that he’ll be heard that well.”

Mary Cole, a retired librarian, said she gives Carson a monthly donation and attends weekly prayers for the success of his candidacy. She said the retired neurosurgeon’s message aligns with her beliefs, and has given him $840 so far.

Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, said that unlike large-dollar donors who often give in exchange for access to the candidate, small donors who connect with a candidate’s message usually don’t expect anything in return.

“They have no reason to think there’ll be any quo for the quid. If they’re lucky, they’ll get a bumper sticker,” Malbin said.

A personal draw

Political scientists say non-political connections between candidates and donors also matter. David Magleby, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University, said in local elections, a realtor might vote for a fellow realtor because there could be some collective benefit.

“You do this fundraising based upon networks, relationships and shared identities,” Magleby said.

For Cole, the retired librarian, Carson’s story is relatable. Like the doctor who grew up poor in Detroit, Cole’s parents didn’t have much money. The elementary school she attended in Baltimore didn’t have a library, so Carson’s scholarship program and efforts to establish reading rooms in schools across the country mean a lot.

“I really think that Carson has strength because of his life experiences,” Cole said.

Susie Hoeller, a Florida attorney who worked in the 1990satTexas Instruments, said she admires Fiorina, the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company, for breaking the tech industry’s glass ceiling. Hoeller followed Fiorina’s corporate career and even purchased one of her books before she became a candidate.

“In my era, the Baby Boomers, someone like Carly was much more unusual than women today,” said Hoeller, who has donated $225 to Fiorina’s official campaign and more to her PAC. “She was a real trailblazer.”

Goals for giving

Unlike large donors, who often expect some level of access to the candidates, people who give smaller amounts seem to understand that they won’t get likely influence campaign strategy, campaign finance expert Malbin points out. But they seem to believe that every donation, no matter how small, can make a big difference.

“Portions of the public often believe that long-shot candidates actually have a shot, provided they have enough funding, which is where their donation comes in,” said Dino Christenson, an assistant professor of political science at Boston University.

Daniel Gorman, a Fiorina donor from Winter Park, Florida, who has given $750 to her campaign, said he supports the former CEO in part because he thinks she could stand up to Clinton, the female force on the Democratic side of the 2016 race. While Gorman believes Fiorina could win the nomination, he said she needs to get her name out.

“I mean, she wasn’t known to too many people,” Gorman said. “And hopefully the donation can help her do that.”

Sept. 10, 2015
By and
U.S. News and World Report

Are Your Emails Reaching the Inbox?

November 9th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Email, Fundraising

Every year, ReturnPath publishes the Deliverability Benchmark Report, which is the analysis of inbox placement rates. The 2015 report has just come out and deliverability trends are a tad worrisome.

This year’s report opens with the following statement:

“Marketers have spent years honing their email expertise, refining their strategies and improving their campaigns. For most marketers today, email is a given—the workhorse and often the foundation of their digital marketing program. And yet, our research shows that reaching the inbox is more difficult than ever. Worldwide inbox placement rates are dropping, with one in five commercial emails now failing to reach the inbox.”

This is especially important to understand considering email volume is up another 7 percent this year from 2014 (16 percent since 2013). In other words, there are more and more emails and fewer of them are reaching the inbox.

Want some more tough news? The largest drop in deliverability—the highest drop anywhere in the world—is in the U.S. In 2014, reaching the inbox in the U.S. was measured at 87 percent, and in 2015, we have dropped to 76 percent. Not reaching the inbox means it is reported as spam or “disappears,” which means the mailbox provider most likely blocked it.

With that said, the report also provided some stats by industry. Unfortunately, we cannot see the breakout of nonprofits in the U.S., but when all nonprofits are viewed globally, the change from 2014 to 2015 is only 1 point—from 90 percent to 89 percent. Either way, what is clear is that deliverability in the U.S. is more challenged than anywhere else in the world and that is going to affect everyone—even nonprofits.

There are several practices that a nonprofit (or anyone, really) can use to help offset what is happening in most American inboxes. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you keeping your list clean? Do you do regular maintenance on the list? Are you removing bad email addresses? Are you scrubbing your list after the bounces happen with a campaign? As emails are brought into your database, are you screening them for proper email structure (@, .XXX, etc.)? Make sure you are doing everything you can do to keep your list clean.
  2. Are you structuring your annual email campaigns with your best email consumers in mind? In other words, are you taking the time to plan your communication schedule for people who regularly open and respond versus those who rarely open and respond? If you are still marketing to one segment (meaning everyone who has an email), this will continue to upset constituents and hurt your deliverability. Start looking at your email constituents by traditional performance metrics—how often are they opening emails, which emails are they opening, etc.
  3. How relevant are your emails? I know everyone thinks that word is overused, so I don’t care if you call it something else—just make sure your information is in line with what your email constituents want from you. There are multiple ways to do this: look at their behaviors and where (i.e., topics, subjects) they are clicking on in previous emails; review how your email constituents originally signed up to receive your emails; track what emails they are opening (or not), etc. And don’t forget that you can always ask them. This is a great way to ask for overall feedback from your constituents.

Have you tracked deliverability of your emails year-over-year—or even across differently themed campaigns? If not, that’s the first step.

NonProfit PRO Magazine


5 Direct Mail Messaging Tips

November 6th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Fundraising

Direct mail marketing has many areas of focus, so sometimes not enough time is spent on messaging. Too many times marketers are quick to try something while not thinking it all the way through. Just as the designer took time to lay out the art, you need to take time to lay out the message. Thoroughly vetting WHAT you say and HOW you say it, is essential. In order to have your direct mail messaging be effective there are some things you should consider.

Here are five tips for better direct mail messages:

  1. Not Too Wordy: The easiest way to get your mail piece thrown in the trash is to put too many words on it. Think of ways to convey your message using less words. Bullets, color text, bolding and italics can all help to highlight the most important words. The KISS (keep it simple stupid) method is best.
  2. Repeat the Message: The more times a recipient sees the same message the better it is remembered. They are then more likely to respond. Another benefit of repeating the message is that the more often they hear or see it, the more they trust the message.
  3. Focused Theme: In direct mail it is very important to coordinate your message, your artwork, your design and your audience together to form your theme. When any of these is out of alignment it detracts from your message, confuses the recipient and your direct mail ends up in the trash.
  4. Rhyme: People enjoy rhyme. It’s easy to remember and fun to read. When your message rhymes it resonates more with recipients. Have some fun with your messaging. The best part about rhyme is that you can subliminally coax people with your message.
  5. Brand: Your brand is how people identify you. If your message conflicts with your brand people will not believe it. They will not trust your message and may even get angry about it. Take the time to craft your message to your brand.

Think about the last direct mail piece you received and really looked at. What about that messaging was intriguing for you? Usually you can pin point a few key words that stuck out to you. Using that information, how can you tailor your message to do the same thing? What words will grab attention and stand out to them?

All the words you place on the mail piece need to work together toward your goal. Is your goal for them to visit your website? Come to your store? Call you? Or something else? When you have a clearly defined goal it makes it easier to craft your message. Not every mailing will have the same goal, so make sure that when you carry messaging over from other campaigns that you carefully edit it to fit your new goal.

Remember that recycling the message from previous campaigns is good for recognition, so you want to do it. Just make sure that when you do, you are integrating it into the new campaign well. Some wording will need to change and you may need to highlight different key words. Crafting your messaging can be really fun, so take some time and get inspired to be creative.

By Summer Gould
Target Marketing Magazine

Kansas City Couple Turn Their Wedding Into Fundraiser

November 5th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Ella Eckerson and Brent Rogers are hoping to have strangers at their wedding this weekend.

The bride, 30, and groom, 32, are forgoing the traditional wedding template and instead will host a rock charity concert in front of hundreds of family, friends and, they hope, plenty of people they’ve never met. They plan to exchange vows between sets, and in lieu of gifts, are asking guests to donate to Literacy Kansas City.

“Instead of friends or our families giving us a spatula, how about we give something to the community?” Eckerson said. “We need a strong community to raise a family.”

Their “Love, Charity and Rock & Roll” event will start at 5 p.m. Saturday at Crossroads KC at Grinders and feature the bands Trapt, Shaman’s Harvest and Chance the Arm.

Rogers and Eckerson describe themselves as a couple who like to drink beer and go hiking. They met in fall 2011 in a math course at Penn Valley Community College and have been together ever since.

They don’t like to take things too seriously — when they take photos together they typically stick their finger in each other’s nose.

During a little picnic in their yard, Rogers proposed in a kilt to Eckerson.

“We enjoy being together,” Ella said. “God, that sounds so lame.”

As you’d expect, they weren’t interested in a conventional wedding. They wanted to focus on what they say people actually remember from such events: the food, the booze and, most importantly, the entertainment.

The idea for the concert formed while they were struggling to think of items for their gift registry. They were already living together in a house in Kansas City and had everything they needed.

They also thought it would be funny to ask a celebrity to marry them and started brainstorming names: Mayor Sly James, morning radio show host Johnny Dare and actor Bill Murray (Eckerson even wrote him a letter). They figured a celebrity would be more inclined to do it for charity — and then the lightbulb turned on.

“We have everything we could ask for. Instead of having a traditional wedding, which everyone has been to plenty of times, we decided to make it essentially a giant reception and make it as fun as possible while giving back,” Rogers said.

More and more couples are asking for charitable donations instead of gifts. I Do Foundation reported that 242,000 couples have used its website to create charity registries since 2002, according to Couples have donated $8.3 million to charities through the site — $703 per registry on average.

But turning the whole event into a fundraiser and inviting the community is more unusual.

Eckerson and Rogers have connections with Literacy Kansas City. Rogers’ cousin, Kim Rogers, has been the group’s operations manager since 2013 and will be one of Eckerson’s bridesmaids. Eckerson has also been raising money for the group for about five years through her Dusty Penny Fund. Back when she was cleaning houses, she asked her clients to donate the loose change she found to Literacy Kansas City. (She now has her degree in mechanical engineering and is working at a consulting firm; he just got his master’s in physics from UMKC.)

Now more people will learn about the group and the problems it addresses, Kim Rogers said. About 225,000 adults in the Kansas City area read at the lowest literacy level, according to the organization.

“This concert will reach a lot of different groups we typically don’t reach out to,” she said. “Most of our volunteers are retired; this will reach a younger crowd.”

The wedding might not follow the typical format, but Brent Rogers said the planning is still “hellish.” The couple have booked the bands, selected the venue and coordinated donations themselves.

They hope Kansas Citians, even those without much money to donate, will crash their “wedding weekend bender.”

“Adult literacy is not really cute puppy dog faces or starving children, but I think it’s incredibly important,” Eckerson said. “Because when you educate the adults in children’s lives you automatically grow the community in a way that has a ripple effect.”

And they still really hope Bill Murray shows up.

August 31, 2015
Kansas City Star
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