Learn how to increase your non-profit outcomes with the incredible Stephen King.
Hi and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes podcast, I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and as an innovator and non-profit technology, our team at Driven is here to help you unlock your true fundraising potential. Our software does everything from donor, volunteer, member and even event management. So if you're looking for true all-in-one system to help you get the most out of your organization. Be sure to check us out at trust driven dotcom.
Everyone is looking to raise more, do more and reach more people. But how do you actually increase your impact? That is the question Stephen King answered while working as the executive director for Amnesty International USA, where he raised over 20 million dollars in one year. Now he founded Growth for US, an organization helping nonprofits and businesses reach their true potential through their financials. So thank you so much, Stephen, for coming onto the show.
Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
So you helped Amnesty International raise over 20 million dollars, which is incredible. And before that, you worked as the CFO assisting the organization and growing 300 percent. So those are incredible accomplishments. Can you tell us a little bit more about the mindset you had while working there?
Well, first off, I just happened to come along at the right time. The organization had a great leader. Jack Healy was the executive director. He had this vision of, you know, is right when Live Aid and Farm Aid and all the aid concerts were just starting. And he hooked up with Bono from U2, who's obviously Irish. And Jack is Irish and I'm Irish. They went along and did a conspiracy, a Hoek tour in 1986.
Then two years later, in 1988, they did a Human Rights Now tour worldwide tour. And that's why amnesty grew from six million to 18 million thanks to Sting. Peter Gabriel, U2. Bruce Springsteen used to endure Tracy Chapman. I mean, a lot of really great friends. So I was a volunteer at the time. I was a coordinator of the high school students in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut. And I was also a manager of accounting system design at Ernst and Young.
And I got this call asking if I could help out. This new client of Ernst and Young, a nonprofit that had had rapid growth, needed an accounting system. And I was a specialist at designing accounting systems. And lucky for me, Amnesty Ernst and Young didn't want the account. They don't do nonprofits. It's not what Ernst and Young did in the New York office basically said, we're going to pass. And this is a good thing.
I had just given notice that I was going to leave. I gave two months' notice. I was starting my own CPA firm and I was already heavily involved on the human rights side with the students and the human rights activist. And now I got a chance to meet the senior leadership of the finance side. A short story long to answer. Your question is my mindset was gratitude. And, you know, I was twenty-nine years old and Jack and Kurt and Jessica asked me to be the deputy executive director for finance and administration.
And I just happened to have the right skills for that job, which is kind of put an infrastructure in place for rapidly growing organizations. So I think the mindset was gratitude.
Definitely. It sounds like it was almost perfect timing like it was I don't say luck, but like the universe put everything in place.
Yeah. Yeah, I was blessed.
Do you think that having that mindset of gratitude, giving back, you know, being very thankful and selfless, you think that attributed a lot to the success that you had? Or do you think it was a lot of hard work?
I think of success every day, I think I think it's the secret, right? I mean, you know, the brain doesn't know the difference between the reality and the reality you paint for it.
So, you know, I come from parents from Ireland, who were extremely grateful for everything, for the food on the plate and for our health and for our family. And so you have that attitude of gratitude. I think it just starts creating positive energy and that creates positive results. So, you know, I look at that every day. I don't have to do this podcast, I get to do this podcast.
I just said that in the hallway. It's like, what are you doing? It is like I get to do a podcast. So, you know, I don't know if that answers your question, but that's kind of where I started with this.
That's fantastic. Yeah. Having a positive attitude makes the world of a difference for sure. Yeah. So we talked a little bit before this interview about the work that you do at Growth Forest and all the amazing accounting possibilities that you help both businesses and nonprofits alike. Can you talk about monthly donors? You mentioned how you helped one client increase their revenue by focusing on monthly giving. So what value do monthly donors bring to the table? And why are reoccurring donations tend to be more effective than one large gift?
Well, you know, I think first, you know, it goes back to a recognition that nonprofits are harder to run than for profits. And I've done both and they're way harder to run than nonprofits. I mean, you have seasonal cash flow is the number one issue, right? You got that. You have a gala at the end of the year, you might have a golf outing in the spring. And then by the time you get to July and August, we see it in our clients all the time.
It's tough and so that's seasonal cash flow. The best way to solve that, in my mind, is to implement what it's called a sustainable program, a monthly giving program. And, you know, one of the things that that I'm really passionate about. So I got to be the CFO for four years, and then at age 33, I went to Jack and said, all right, I'm ready to be executive director of a non-profit organization.
He said, OK, you need to learn how to raise money because that's the job of ED. And so I thought, OK, well, that's never going to happen. So two weeks later, the director of development quit and he said, why don't you take over and I'm like I'm an accountant, I'm a CPA because I've heard you speak. You can raise some money, will teach you how. And so I got thrust into the job of director development, right when we hit about 18, 18 and a half million in revenue.
And I loved it. I really loved it. I loved really helping to build the case statement and learning. How do you who is you know, what are the connections that donors have with the organizations and how do you build more of them? And how do you connect with the ones you've got? Or. What I really found difficult was I remember going to see a donor. Anne was her name in New York City, which was nice I didn't have to travel and I got my new suit and I'm visiting with her.
And I said, you know, I'm here to talk to you about renewing your gift for five hundred thousand dollars, for our work, for human rights in China, which I know is what she really wanted to to to to donate to. And she said, well, how did the half a million dollars that I gave you last year change the human rights abuses in China?
And I didn't have a great answer for her, I remember I said, well, imagine if Amnesty International didn't exist, what would it be? Who would be shining a light on torture? And that was the best I could come up with, and ever since then, I've been really focused on how do you show the donors the tangible result of this gift? Because the Society of Fundraising executive says if you can show the donor the tangible results of the gift, what's the ROI from their contribution?
What are the outcomes that happen as a result of their donation? You're going to get higher average gifts are going to get more frequent gifts. You're going to raise more money. And when you combine that with an approach to convert month annual givers into monthly givers, if you show those monthly givers what they get for their dollar, then you're going to have donors who are happy to give you fifty dollars a month or five hundred dollars a month. And you know what?
What I like to suggest to clients is to take your annual donors. It doesn't matter if it's five hundred dollars a year or five thousand dollars a year divided by two by 10 and ask them to give you that amount every month. And since there are 12 months in a year, you'll increase your giving by 20 percent. So if you take a thousand-dollar donor and you say, can you give us instead of a thousand dollars at the end of the year, can you give us one hundred dollars a month and then show them what will a hundred dollars a month get? What will they be able to do? You know, we work with the Village Learning and Achievement Center. That's an organization that helps adults with learning disabilities to build an inclusive life. And it takes thirty-six dollars a day to deliver all the programs for one villager. And so we're able to say to somebody, if you give us one hundred and eight dollars a month, you're paying for three villagers.
And so when you see them on the bus, because we have vans running all over Kingwood, Texas, you'll know that you're paying for three people to have their seat on the bus to drive them to their vocational training or their job at Starbucks or at the supermarket as a bag or just, you know, in the sandwich store and help them live an inclusive life. And when you show the donors the tangible results of the gift and you can make it easy for them to do that, you know, you don't even have to take credit cards to pay the credit card for.
You can just acetates their bank account. People are happy to do it if you make it easy for them.
So it's really taking like that no value and turning it into, as you said, something tangible, this isn't five dollars, this is three meals or this is one nice day at a hospital. So making it seem like they are actually giving a gift instead of just money.
Yeah. And they're getting a return. They can tangibly feel what the difference is. It's why, you know, we see it on late-night TV shows, right. For five dollars a day you can save, you know, save a child, save the children or, you know, adopt a pet or whatever it is. That's what really makes a difference.
What do donors want to know before they commit to that reoccurring gift? You talked a lot about demonstrating that tangible donation, but what if you're approaching somebody who maybe is hesitant about recurring giving or maybe it's their first time considering donating such a large investment into an organization?
Well, it's really not that much more than they're already doing, right. We're just looking at what they're giving and ask them to convert it, we're basically trying to make it easier for them. We're trying to just let us know, debit the bank account once a month or charge a credit card if that's the only way to do it. But I think the biggest thing here is you have to in the sustainer a program, you have to send them something on a regular basis that shows them what you did with their money, you know, with the village.
You know, you want to show them pictures of people at work if they're supporting the vocational training program or the or in the day habilitation, you know, show them what's happening with their funds, connect with them. And, you know, I also like me personally, I like to know that I'm not going to get a whole bunch of fundraising appeals. Because and you're going to waste my money on stamps and labour to send it in the paper and all that writing, you're going to abuse the money for the program because we don't have to send you a solicitation.
We're just going to send you an acknowledgement, right. I'm an amnesty partner of conscience. Right. And it's nice to give them a name. You know, it's a circle of influence, whatever it is you want to call them. And you get reminders that I'm doing something good to help my community, to help, you know, act locally or think globally or whatever it is that's important to you. And I can see tangibly what happened with my contribution, you know, especially when you write it in the first person.
I wish it could have been with me at the top of the stairs. As you know, the new class came in and the students were so excited to get blah, blah, blah, just, you know, telling the story in a first-person allows people to feel that connection to the mission. The tangible result of the gift is somebody is getting served because you're providing a scholarship or you're underwriting a program. And so instead of sending them, you know, solicitation, mailings every other month or two or three times a year, which is normally what you would do as a good fundraising program, you send them an acknowledgement program and the cultivation, you know, you're acknowledging their gift and you're called cultivating the relationship by just showing them how they are making a difference in the world.
You touched on it a little bit with your experience of amnesty, but what are the things that every nonprofit should aim for when they are building their monthly donation program? What makes a good donation program?
Well, I think it's the same that makes a good nonprofit, right. You know, you start with what are the outcomes? And we've got a webinar that we just finished on this last week. I'm really excited about seeing the launch in the next couple of weeks, you know, five steps to get the whole organization thinking strategically about how do you get more outcomes per dollar. And the first thing you got to do is you got to figure out which are the outcomes that help best further the mission.
You do an analysis of which and we've got a little stack ranking chart that we've created where you identify which ones help you create better outcomes for the people you serve, increase the quality of the service. This or which ones increase the number of people you can serve. You can serve more people or which ones help you bring in money. You're getting paid fees for your services or these are things that your donors are willing to fund and then rank them one through three.
This is the best. This is number one. Put a one in there. They're the best at creating more quality of services or the best and increasing the quantity or bringing in revenue. Number two is this. They do a good job, but they're kind of average or number three is, you know, out of all the things we do, this is not the best. It's not average. It's the least quality, quantity or income. And then multiply them.
Then what I would suggest is you really have to understand the economics of every program. You have to be able to look and see what does it cost you to deliver those services? We do a whole you know, it's really cool is we're able to take things that used to be only available to Fortune 1000 companies. Right. When I was at Ernst and Young in the 80s, I'm dating myself. You know, this activity-based costing was a big concept and it was really only available if you had millions or billions of dollars.
Now, anybody with quick books and an iPhone can track time. And then when you run the payroll, automatically allocate the payroll to the programs that people have worked on based on what they filled out in their time sheets. And that lets you see the cost of each program, of each service, of each department of the work that you do. And when you compare that cost with the revenue, now you can see what's the economics of each program.
And when you compare the outcomes that best further the mission in step one and the economics in step two. Now you can start to figure out, all right, which programs should we stop, which programs should we start and which programs should we continue? Because right now, post covid, the world has really changed. And so it's a great opportunity to come here and figure out what worked and what didn't. And we're seeing a lot of really smart organizations focusing on taking advantage of the things that worked.
You know, telemedicine is here to stay. How do you look at new ways of doing everything and be innovative and then use data to help you figure out that stop, start to continue, and then you can go to your donors and say, OK, here is the plan, will you fund it? And if you can, you know, you can see the numbers, the numbers in terms of outcomes, how effective each program is. And then in terms of dollars, it's very hard to be to resist it when you're when you support an organization when they can show you that those numbers, the data.
Yeah, because the data doesn't lie.
Data doesn't lie.
We talked a lot about large-level donors and I know that you have a lot of experience with those. But does approaching a mid-level donor and asking them to divvy up their donation monthly, does that work as well? Do you think that could be a donor?
Any size donor. It could be fifteen dollars a month. It doesn't matter what the size is. It's you know, this is the beautiful part with the donor software that our clients use and all the integration with quick books you can just put it on a recurring debit and it just goes right against the bank account. I mean, we've got some clients that make a lot of money. The average gift, I mean, even with amnesty, our average donor was less was, if I remember correctly, like eighteen dollars a month.
You know, that's grassroots. We are a grassroots organization. So it's not just the major donors. It was it's all donors that want to see the tangible results of the gift. And, you know, and what's really interesting is if you look at giving USA, the statistics are staggering. I'm always amazed when I talk to a new executive director who says, you know, we get our grants to come from foundations or government grants. And so, you know, we really focus on there because that's where all the money is.
And the statistics are actually the exact opposite. Foundations are a very critical source, but the money's in the personal solicitation. Almost 80 percent of all giving comes from individuals. And so, you know, the organizations that build a donor base, that have individuals that sustain them. That is really committed to them are in much better shape than the ones that have large foundations that write big six-figure checks, and most of those checks don't happen until the fourth quarter.
It's very difficult to do a budget, to do a forecast if you're counting on 60, 70 percent of your money to come in in October and November, and you won't even get any indication about whether or not you're going to get the money until October or November. And so what I suggest is, you know, the message to the donors, to the members, to the individuals who you are who are personally committed to you is this allows you to be able to count on that cash flow, to make payroll, if you got seasonality in your fundraising and every non-profit does, this eliminates that seasonality.
If you know that you're going to be able to bring in five thousand dollars a month, you know that you can count on paying for a person's salary every single month, and that allows you to really invest for the long term and build programs that are sustainable.
Yes, yeah. I think covid really made that point come to the surface for a lot of people, especially at the beginning when I was talking to organization leaders, they were saying, you know, now our focus is on sustainability. We realize that not integrating to new software wasn't sustainable. We are falling behind, realized that some of the programs that weren't, you know, delivering on ROI, although they were fun, they're not sustainable. So I think that your approach is really, really important, especially now.
Yeah. I mean, you know, I mentioned how nonprofits are so much more difficult to run in for profits. It's not just the seasonality to the cash flow, but nonprofits have a board of directors. Very few of our for-profit clients have boards unless they're outside investors and they're watchdogs looking over your shoulders. You also have difficulty paying for expensive finance and accounting people, right? You got usually a trusted, self-taught bookkeeper who's got one single point of failure for the whole accounting function.
And that's really challenging because. You know, one there is a high risk of fraud, too. You got to get through that audit and the board should get board reports that are strategic in nature. And one of the things that I find fascinating here is how many nonprofits deliver their board a budget versus an actual report with the income statement. Right. And they'll give them a three-page report that's got a detailed PNL, a statement of financial activities.
And what happens then at the board meeting. And I've seen it a thousand times, the board goes down to the difference column, the various columns, and they say, OK, wait, we are five thousand dollars over budget on technology spending. Last month, it was only supposed to be three. We spent eight. What happened? There is there are problems that we need to know about. Is there issues with the server or and now all of a sudden, instead of the board focusing on strategic issues like which programs or services should get resources or which programs have the biggest impact on the mission, or how do we raise more money?
Your board members don't. They want to be valuable, right? So they're sitting in a meeting. They're going to respond to whatever you put in front of them. And unless if you're putting in front of the strategic reports, then they're going to be a strategic board. But if you're putting in front of them tactical reports, which is what, you know, most nonprofits do, because you print out a budget versus actually report for the board and that's what they focus on.
You miss an opportunity to help your organization get the most. They can out of their board.
So it's funny you say that because Mark Buzan literally said something so similar and he works with boards and nonprofit leaderships. And it's so true they react with what you give them.
Yeah, yeah. And it's easy for them to deliver trends and show them high-level stuff. But, you know, really the board's job is to raise money. Right, or to hire the executive director and provide policy and strategic direction. And this whole program, you know, studying the outcomes that help further the mission and then studying economics allows the board to get the data at the high-level strategic value.
So, you know, it's good for the executive directors to be able to not have the board micromanaging them.
OK, well, thank you, Stephen, for joining me today. Can you let our audience know how they can get in contact with you?
My emails is the best way. It's Stephen@GrowthForce.com. That's S-T-E-P-H-E-N at growth force. That's G-R-O-W-T-H F-O-R-C-E Dotcom. I'm on Twitter at SKingGForce and LinkedIn at Stephen King CPA, or you can come to our website if anybody is listening who's struggling with financial management or just not getting actionable insights for the board to make smarter decisions, go to our website GrowthForce.com Slash NFP Non for profit. We've got resources there. You can fill out a form and start a conversation to get some advice on how to help grow the organization.
And you'll also get on our mailing list that will not only tell you about this upcoming webinar, but we share a lot of valuable resources that we've got created for our clients just to help the non-profit community. So GrowthForce.com/NFP.
You again, Stephen, for coming onto the show. I appreciate you sharing your time and knowledge with us. For those listening, I linked. Growth Force's website in the description box. There you can learn more about TV work and how he can help you grow your business. To stay updated on the podcast, make sure to like, subscribe and give us a visit. I trust driven dotcom where you can access all of our free resources, including episodes, blog posts and find our social media.
As always, thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.