Helping People Help

March 19, 2011

During a disaster, people respond to human suffering by wanting to help. They want to do something. If possible, they want to provide some form of tangible support.

This week I received an e-mail from a high school girl wanting my help in organizing a collection of bottled water that could be shipped to the people in Japan affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Many people also called or e-mailed our offices with similar requests.

Some organizations rally public support and garner media attention by organizing collections of water, canned goods or clothes. People who participate feel good about themselves and what they’ve done. They don’t realize that their efforts are not always the best way to help the people they want to help.

It may sound mercenary, but I usually tell people that the best way to help is through financial support. I’ll admit it felt a little cold when I read my own quote in this morning’s newspaper. Yesterday I was talking with a reporter about how much the American Red Cross has raised for the people in Japan, and he wrote:

Duane Hallock, director of marketing and communications for the group’s Kansas City chapter, said the Red Cross was focusing on financial support for the Japanese Red Cross.

To me, that felt cold because it eliminated the human element. In reality, the Red Cross is focused on helping the suffering people who will benefit from the financial support of generous and compassionate Americans.

I was pleased to continue reading, though, and see that my colleague at the Salvation Army explained that they also prefer support through financial donations because of the prohibitive cost of shipping goods as far as Japan.

In our 130 years of experience in providing disaster relief, we at the American Red Cross have learned a few things. We are not being greedy when when we say that financial support is often the best way to help. We have learned that when supplies need to be purchased, it’s usually best to buy them as close to the disaster operations as possible. Not only does that speed up the delivery, it also reduces the costs of shipping.

As a disaster unfolds, the needs of those affected can change quickly. It would be unfortunate, for example, to collect bottled water for people who needed medicine or other specific supplies. Financial support provides agility for the responding organization to better meet the immediate and changing needs.

In a disaster, the economy of the region will likely be hit hard. Sometimes purchasing needed supplies nearby can indirectly help to boost the economy of those affected by the disaster.

In my job with the American Red Cross, I see the outpouring of love and support from my neighbors and friends. I am truly touched by their compassion and generosity. As a good steward of donor dollars, though, I feel obligated to direct them to the channels where their desire to help can have the greatest benefit and where they can do the most good.

So let me close with a message I’ve shared many times during the past week:  You can help the people in Japan by going to You can also make a $10 contribution by texting REDCROSS to 90999.

On behalf of the people you will help, let me say, “Thank you!

I Hate Fundraising When…

December 7, 2010

Tis the holiday season! As winter approaches, nonprofit solicitations are swirling around me faster than snowflakes in a December blizzard.

Though I’m no Scrooge, I’ll admit that I hate fundraising when it is…

  1. Not relevant. The fact that you need money is not my problem. You won’t get a contribution from me by telling me how desperate you are. My advice: Make your case by explaining how my world will be a better place when I give to your cause.
  2. Based upon guilt or fear. If your cause is worthy of my support, don’t play mind games to manipulate my behavior. My advice: Make me feel smarter by investing in your organization.
  3. Not differentiating. Every nonprofit is aggressively raising money, especially this time of the year. Unless you can show me how your cause is the best investment in things I care about, you’re just making noise in an already noisy world. My advice: Focus on the unique niche that only you can fill.
  4. Coerced. If I’m forced to give, you may achieve a short-term result. Trust me, though:  I’ll forever resent being strong-armed and I will look for ways to distance myself from your organization at the earliest opportunity. My advice: Give me a choice and invite me to voluntarily join your team.
  5. Treated as an end objective. Fundraising is a means to an end. It’s purpose is to help an organization have adequate resources to fulfill its mission. A nonprofit does not exist to raise money, but rather it raises money so it can continue to exist. My advice: Talk more about your mission and less about how much money you need.
  6. More interested in my money than in me. If we don’t have a relationship, then I’m probably not going to give. Any farmer knows you cannot reap a harvest until you’ve planted the seed, nurtured the crop and waited patiently for nature to take its course. My advice: Give me ways to make philanthropy a natural expression of my relationship with your organization.

Day 22 – Marketing’s Unique Role

November 2, 2010

Differentiate marketing’s unique role from that of fundraising.

The better I define marketing’s niche within my organization, the more effective I am in producing results.

To help clarify my unique role as a marketer, I regularly ask myself, “What do I do that no one else can do as well?” On a departmental level, I also ask, “What contribution does marketing make that cannot be made as effectively anywhere else?”

Too often in nonprofit organizations, marketing and communications are relegated to be subordinate to fundraising. In my opinion, such an organizational alignment weakens marketing’s effectiveness and ultimately hampers the organization’s success in fulfilling its mission.

Granted, marketing must support fundraising, but the two are not one in the same. Marketing is a unique profession separate from that of raising money. Kivi Leroux Miller, in her excellent book The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, says:

Although you can have successful long-term (nonprofit) marketing campaigns that don’t involve fundraising, you cannot have successful long-term fundraising campaigns without marketing. Marketing and communications are how you talk to your donors in between those times when you ask for money.

My efforts as a professional marketer can result in donors being more engaged, volunteers giving of themselves in more meaningful ways and customers making better purchasing decisions.

As I think about the unlimited potential of a differentiated marketing program, I find renewed energy. I am professionally rejuvenated.

Read the rest of this entry »

What Do You Do (In Seven Words)?

February 3, 2010

A friend of mine, Mark Whitaker, is an experienced market research professional. His official title is Strategic Research Consultant at The Kansas City Star.

That’s an impressive title, but what does it mean? What does he really do? What impact does he actually make?

In seven words on LinkedIn, Mark summarizes his job as “helping you find the information you need.”

I really like that “job description” for three reasons:

  1. It’s simple. I can understand it without having to translate industry jargon.
  2. It’s differentiating. It really describes what he does, not what his company or co-workers do.
  3. It’s outwardly focused. He describes what he does for others. He focuses on the benefits he provides, not the process involved. Read the rest of this entry »

What to Do When United Way Moves Your Cheese

January 6, 2010

I just finished re-reading the classic little book Who Moved My Cheese? It gave me a better understanding of what is happening in the nonprofit community—not just here in Kansas City, but across the nation.

For many years, the national United Way system has been struggling to redefine itself. Its leaders have created new methods for allocating money, and somehow they believe that “moving the cheese around” will make their cause more attractive to donors who have, over the years, found United Way to be waning in relevance.

That logic escapes me. In my opinion, United Way will become less relevant as it leaves gaping holes in human services programs. I guess you could call it their “Swiss cheese model” for meeting human needs. I assume United Way realizes that its decision to cut much-needed funding will actually force established, well-respected organizations such as the American Red Cross to compete more directly with them for contributions from within the same donor pool.

Personal Disclosure

To be transparent, I must disclose two important facts about myself before I continue sharing my opinions.

First, I am responsible for marketing at the American Red Cross of Greater Kansas City, the single largest recipient of United Way allocations in this region. Though I am employed by the Red Cross, this blog post has been written on my personal time and entirely reflects only my own opinions, not those of my employer.

Second, before coming to the Red Cross I served as the vice president of marketing for the United Way of Greater Kansas City. Because I have always had great respect for the organization and its mission, I am both a Diamond Donor (meaning I’ve given for 25+ years) and I’m also a member of the Leadership Giving Circle. However, in the weeks ahead I intend to reevaluate whether United Way is the wise investment I once thought it was.

By the way, I have many friends who work at United Way. They are exceptionally professional individuals and nothing I say here is a personal indictment of them or anyone else. Read the rest of this entry »

The Influential People in Our Lives

December 21, 2009

This month I was saddened to learn of the death of a very influential man in my life. My career mentor, Milton Murray, died at age 87.

During the first 10 years of my career, Mr. Murray was the most influential person in my professional development. Somehow the label “mentor” understates the profound influence of this larger-than-life man.

I first met Mr. Murray at the airport in Nashville, Tennessee while I was still a college student. He later helped me land my first job at a hospital in Kansas City where he was serving as a fundraising consultant. During the next four years I spent countless hours with him. I was a dry sponge soaking up the endless flow of wisdom from this wise, old sage. (At the time, anyone over 30 seemed old.)

As my career progressed, he introduced me to another of his clients—a hospital in Portland, Oregon. I moved my family there and for the next four years I had the privilege of continuing my education under the guidance of this great man. He taught me so much about fundraising, communications, nonprofit management, office politics and life in general. Read the rest of this entry »

Please, Not Another Fundraising Campaign!

December 3, 2009

Two years ago I served on the Finance Committee of my church. Like many nonprofits facing an unbalanced budget, we debated the merits of yet another fundraising campaign. I was among a minority who felt that another campaign was not the “silver bullet.” I shared my thoughts in an e-mail sent to my fellow committee members.

Believing that some of those ideas may be relevant beyond the parochial boundaries of my church, I share them with the hope that nonprofit professionals will be more strategic and less reactive when raising money. Here’s what I wrote back in July 2007:

Dear friends. First, I acknowledge that the budget needs an infusion of cash. Without question, we need more money and we need to do something quickly and dramatically.  But…

Without the backdrop of a strategic vision, a fundraising campaign may ultimately do greater long-term damage to our finances. If we ask people for financial engagement when too few feel engaged at other levels, they may become calloused to our financial needs. How many hundreds of times have they heard us cry, “The sky is falling!” because expenses exceed revenue?

I begin, though, with the following assumptions:

  1. People everywhere are experiencing donor fatigue. They are saturated with fundraising appeals, not only at church but in their everyday lives. The needs are endless and the appeals keep coming.
  2. In the absence of a compelling, strategic vision, people become disengaged and uninspired. Members truly want to be inspired, engaged and strategically led. The congregation is comprised of good people who want to be involved and who are capable of generously giving more.
  3. Once members feel inspired, engaged and strategically led, they will come alive and be much more involved.

Within the Finance Committee we have discussed various reasons why people should give. I’ve clustered all those messages into the following three categories: Read the rest of this entry »

When Fundraising Becomes Begging

December 1, 2009

This time of year we hear from lots of people asking for money. That includes my charity-of-choice—the American Red Cross—which recently launched its holiday giving campaign.

Everywhere I turn someone’s hitting me up for another contribution. Isn’t it enough that I’m a leadership giver to United Way? Or that I also tithe at my church? Or that I buy trash bags, cookies and popcorn to support worthy causes?

As I drive around town, I’ll often see a homeless person panhandling at a busy intersection. His “case for support” will likely be handwritten on a crude cardboard sign.

Last week as I walked into my favorite bookstore, I was accosted on the sidewalk by the same man who’s been there years. Quite literally, that’s his “job”—begging for money. That brief encounter prompted me to think about the similarities and differences between a panhandler and a nonprofit fundraiser. Here’s what I came up with:

How are they similar?

  1. They both want my money.
  2. They both think they are quite deserving of a contribution.
  3. They both act as if it’s my patriotic duty or moral obligation to support them.
  4. They both will say thank you once I’ve given.
  5. Neither will likely follow up to let me know the positive impact my gift had.

How are they different?

  1. One is dressed nicer than the other.
  2. One has showered and shaved today.
  3. One is more likely than the other to have my e-mail address.
  4. One might publish my name in 6-point type in an annual report.
  5. One is more likely to ask me to give again, reminding me how much I gave last time and even requesting an increase.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why Do We Need a Marketing Department?

November 10, 2009

As a marketing professional, I often ask myself why my organization needs marketing. Why does my marketing department exist? What impact do we really have?

Sometimes I think it would be fun to remake the classic movie A Wonderful Life so we could see what the world would look like had we never come into existence. What would the company look like if marketing never appeared on the organization chart? What would be lost if my marketing group “went out of business?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Why the Red Cross Launched a Facebook Page

August 27, 2009

In my opinion, too many nonprofit organizations have Facebook fan pages.

They were probably created because 1) everyone else was doing it 2) the technology was available or 3) someone with influence told them they needed to be on Facebook. The problem is they don’t know why they have a Facebook page.

At the American Red Cross of Greater Kansas City, we decided not to launch a Facebook page until we could tie it to our strategy. As marketing director, I did not want to naively launch a traditional 1.0 tactic using a new 2.0 tool. Though I’m a huge proponent of the social media revolution, I wanted to understand how a Facebook page would fit into the smorgasbord of all the communication tools available.

We had just redesigned our Web site ( and I wanted our Facebook page to be complementary rather than redundant. Our Web site would continue to serve as a useful reference in the 1.0 world of broadcasting or pushing information, whereas our social media activities would hopefully spawn interaction, provoke conversation and ultimately engage members of our 2.0 community.

The strategy came into focus as I re-read Seth Godin’s book Tribes. The Red Cross Facebook page could become the place where our “tribe” would gather to share information and rally around a common cause. Read the rest of this entry »

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