Breaking Down the Barriers to Online Giving

Once you’ve spent the time and effort putting together a savvy strategy for soliciting online donations, how can you be sure you are providing soon-to-be-online-donors with a stress-free, barrier-free donation experience? Here are a few things to consider before you “go live” with your solicitation.

Barrier #1–Email can be perceived as “bulk” or lacking a personal touch

Solution: You already have a database with plenty of information about your donors–use it to your benefit when sending e-mail solicitations. Be sure to personalize both the e-mail message and the online experience by using database variables. Speak to them by name and–as appropriate to the message being sent–include giving status, personal interest, YTD giving / amount, acknowledge past utilization of their gifts, etc.

Barrier #2– Online whiplash & form fatigue

Solution: Avoid the “whiplash” that can occur when your giving page doesn’t match what the donor saw on the appeal. Don’t give them any reason to question if they are in the correct place to make their gift. Custom giving pages should be designed based on the appeal, be specific to “the ask,” and re-communicate the appeal within the online form. To cut down on form fatigue, pre-populate the donor information you already have in your database along with the specific ask amount.

Barrier #3–Third-party giving / collection software

Solution: Avoid using any software that requires your donor to register in order to give a gift (Pay-Pal is one example). You might believe that you are getting a good deal for the organization, but if the process cannot be well-integrated with your appeal, you could lose potential gifts along the way. Also consider whose name shows up on the receipt, if it’s not the name of your organization it may cause confusion and lead the donor to dispute the charge or cancel the credit card because they fear the number has been stolen.

Barrier #4–Thank appropriately based on donation amount

Solution: It may not be the barrier to THIS gift but it could be a barrier to the next one. Are you thanking your donors in the same way for a $5 gift as you are for a $5000 gift? If so, you could be perceived as insincere on both ends of the spectrum. Be sure to use appropriate language and a level of follow-up that clearly communicates your appreciation for their gift.

Barrier #5–Processing donations through shopping cart software

Solution: For best results, use custom forms and online giving software. Shopping cart software is for online stores. It is designed with language about shopping and purchasing, not donating, giving or supporting an organization. It may seem like a minor thing, but you could be creating confusion and an unnecessary barrier to receiving the gift.

The Best Time To Starty Your Own Business

I started reading business opportunity magazines approximately 40 years ago. And for the last 40 years, the January issues have proclaimed:

NOW IS THE BEST TIME TO START YOUR OWN BUSINESS!

The reasons supporting this bold blast have varied over these 40 years as you can well imagine. This year the reasons float around the fact we are fat, i.e., great economy, low unemployment and an income level allowing for disposable dollars.

Let’s say that is true. Does that mean this is the best time to start your own business? Well, given this is such a monumentous decision the real answer is: It depends on your state of mind at this point in time.

But what have you got to lose, right? You don’t have to quit your job. You don’t have to take a second mortgage to finance the venture and you don’t have to sell your soul.
Why not go for it?

Couple this risk free environment with the Internet and there is almost no reason why you shouldn’t take the plunge.
As you may already know, the Internet has so much free information on starting a business that it would seem like the antithesis to not start your own business.

The Internet’s information pool hands you the tools to start your own business offline, online or both. The Small Business Administration’s site alone (http://www.sba.gov)
could launch any number of different types of businesses.

Put almost any type of entry into a search engine, and you will find some site dealing with the search request. In fact, if you had no other tool, search engines could dish up enough information to meet the research requirements for a Ph.D. on starting your own business.

Fortunately you don’t have to rely on search engines alone.
The major book sellers are still selling books by the volumes (pardon the pun) everyday. Seems information is the number one best seller today as 40 years ago.

Your local library has both books and computers. Chances are excellent these computers are also hooked up to the Net.
Magazines and newspapers are also on the shelves for patrons.

Don’t forget the mall. It has bookstores and the bookstores have books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, etc.

Information saturation is the fuel propelling start ups.
Given the economic safety net, or at least the perceived safety, people are stepping out to start up. Even if they fail, they accelerated commerce for the time they were in business. It is a win-win scenario.

You can accuse me of becoming brainwashed over 40 years of reading now is the best time to start your own business, but, think about it, when is the best time? It will always be now since yesterday is tomorrow’s today.

Your attitude determines your altitude. If you believe now is the best time to start your own business, then go for it.
Take the first step and don’t look back.

I Bonds: Higher Interest, Safe as CDs and Money Market Funds

By this stage of your life, you have all heard the sage advice to save money for an emergency fund. Most financial articles and planners advocate keeping between six to twelve months of after-tax income in a money market or similar cash equivalent account.

Emergency money provides a safety cushion to absorb the unexpected surprises of life. Preservation and liquidity of these funds are of paramount importance. You must be able to access your money immediately when needed. But liquidity and preservation requires purchasing low risk investments…extremely low risk. This translates to accepting low returns…extremely low returns.

In today’s economy, keeping cash in money market funds will yield a paltry 1.5%. Checking and savings accounts barely return half that, or 0.75%. Clearly returns on cash savings are limited. A sudden return of inflation to our economy and your emergency stash could actually lose value.

What’s a prudent investor to do? Think-outside-the-box as platitudes go…or metaphorically, climb the ladder to success. “Bond ladders” describe the purchase of multiple bonds with staggered maturities. This purchase strategy minimizes interest rate risk and smoothes cash flow.

But laddering can be used for more than just controlling interest rate risk. Savvy investors use bond ladders to substantially increase the liquidity of higher yielding investments. I-Bonds are a perfect vehicle for such a strategy. I-Bonds are a relatively new savings bond issued and backed by the U.S. Treasury. Your money is 100% safe and currently earns 3.39% (twice the rate of six month CDs)!

But here’s the catch: I-Bonds can not be sold for one full year after purchase. Investing your entire emergency fund would tie up your money for an entire year. Not exactly the liquidity you need. This is where laddering can help.

Invest just 10% of your money in I-Bonds. This still leaves 90% of your money immediately available from a savings or money market account. One year from now, invest another 10% in I-Bonds. This leaves just 80% in your savings account. But wait. Your first I-Bond is now one year old and can be cashed at any time. You still have immediate access to 90% of your cash in any time of need. Once each year, invest just 10% of your money in I-Bonds without ever losing immediate liquidity of your emergency funds. All while earning a substantially larger rate of return, protected against inflation,
There are never any transaction or processing fees from Treasury Direct and you can easily and securely transfer funds from your bank account for the purchase of any bond. I-Bonds can be sold anytime after 12 months. You receive the original purchase price plus interest earnings. I-Bonds sold within the first five years will forfeit three months interest.