“Inside IPM” is a new series featuring the talented players who comprise the IPM Advancement team! Here you’ll learn all about the people who work behind the scenes at IPM to help nonprofits raise more money to make the world a better place. Today, we’re talking to…
Jack Padovano, Owner & Lead Consultant
Hi Jack, let’s just start with your background. Where are you from originally?
I was born in Lincoln Park, Illinois but moved to New Rochelle just outside of New York City when I was 6 or 7. So I probably think of New York as my hometown.
Any experiences from childhood that put you on the path to where you are today?
My dad owned the first Dunkin’ Donuts franchise in the US. So besides free donuts, I got my spirit of entrepreneurism from my dad.
When Russ first proposed the idea of the partnership that became IPM, what excited you most?
Besides being a sound business idea, I saw IPM and fundraising was a way for me to move marriage equality forward for LGBT people in the US. When we started IPM, gay marriage was only a wish, a distant hope that gay people dreamed about. Phil and I had to hire expensive lawyers to adopt our son and protect his rights if something happened to either of us. And we’re the lucky ones. Lots of people don’t have those resources.
Did this reflect your choice of clients?
Right out of the gate, IPM worked with GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Then Human Rights Campaign (HRC), One Iowa, Freedom to Marry, and several other nonprofits that fought to make marriage equality a reality. I’m really proud that IPM got to play a small part in that movement.
How do you see IPM standing out from other nonprofit fundraising agencies?
I’m a very data-driven guy. From my perspective, our numbers truly set IPM apart. For example, in the past 9 years, we’ve been able to increase direct mail prospecting response by an average of 34.8% within the first 12 months of clients coming on board. That bucks industry trends that show direct mail prospecting response rates are down. Let me give you one more example: In programs that use our donor modeling, our clients have seen average increases of 7.3% in direct mail response and 27.3% in average gift.
What would you say is responsible for those results?
Our people created those numbers. Some agencies promise the sun, moon and stars … and then when it comes down to delivering, they hand you off to a 20-something newbie without much experience in nonprofit fundraising. We’ve never taken that approach. When you hire IPM, you get Jack and Russ. You get Diana and Sam and Rich and Joe and Andrew, who are all subject matter experts in what they do. And they stick around. Our average employee tenure is over a decade at this point. I don’t have turnover, so our people keep gaining more and more experience over the years.
Speaking of experience, can you share a valuable lesson that you’ve learned from experience?
I learned the importance of preventing mission creep. Mission creep is when an organization strays beyond their original mission. That happened to IPM when we strayed from our subject matter expertise and expanded to running our own call center. We were having a hard time finding good quality calling agents so we decided to do it ourselves — to change the model and really invest in building a team. Our clients loved it, and the results were good, but not good enough. Fortunately we figured it out fast and got out before it could irreparably harm IPM.
The good to come out of it was that we took what we learned and used it to develop quality partnerships with call centers who can deliver at the level we expect. More than that, we now understand the dangers of mission creep personally. So when we advise our clients to stay in their lane, we truly know what we’re talking about!
Has your perspective on fundraising changed since you started IPM?
I think in the beginning we used to focus more on teaching nonprofits best practices. While that’s still very important, these days our approach is more like coaching. We get a sense of where each organization is on their journey and we help them make the key changes that will have the biggest impact on their fundraising rather than expecting them to completely revamp their whole approach at once.
Let’s talk a little about your previous work experience. I understand you had a chance to be in charge of branding the first PCS phone for Sprint but you turned it down, is that true?
I’d been working in corporate marketing and branding for 12 years when I interviewed for the job with Sprint. Right about that same time, my friend Tom asked me to help him with his struggling business. So I had a decision to make: Take this exciting job with Sprint or help my friend. I chose to help my friend. I’m so happy I did because it’s how I fell in love with entrepreneurism. It was also a way for me to come all the way out of the closet about who I am. In my corporate jobs, the people I worked closely with all knew I was gay but it wasn’t something the company really wanted to make public. As an entrepreneur, I could be who I am and work with clients I choose. It’s funny, there are these decisions in your life where your whole trajectory turns, and this choice was one of them.
You exercise every day. What parallels do you see between exercising and fundraising?
Fundraising, just like strengthening your body, requires consistent effort and a strong commitment. Everyone knows you can’t play catch-up and do all your exercising for the year in December. Yet some nonprofits take that approach with fundraising. Financial stability at a nonprofit doesn’t happen overnight. You need a strategy, you need people who can execute that strategy, and you need leadership to be invested in following through.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you see nonprofits facing today?
Staff turnover at nonprofits is too high. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has some recent stats that are eye-opening: 51% of fundraisers said they would leave their current nonprofit within the next two years; 30% said they plan to leave fundraising altogether. 55% reported often feeling unappreciated. And 21% agreed that the negative things about their job outweighed the positive.
Fixing this has to start at the top. There’s a reason “focused leadership” is the very first attribute I cover in my course, 6 Attributes of Highly Effective Nonprofit Organizations. Do you want to have a bigger impact, raise more money, expand your footprint, and realize your mission? It all starts with a leader who can dream big, bring together a strong team, and inspire people to fight for a vision of the world that doesn’t yet exist. Nonprofits, more than almost any other kind of business out there, have a clear way to create meaning for their employees — a cause. But too many don’t talk about it internally. They don’t use it to unite their staff and give them more meaning and fulfillment in their work. Just like donors, nonprofit staff need to be reminded why their contribution matters and how important they are to the mission.
What are some changes or opportunities that you see coming for nonprofits in the next decade?
I think there’s a real opportunity to use advances in technology to help make fundraising more personal. In fundraising, nothing is better than the face to face conversation — no letter, no email, no phone call. But nonprofits don’t have the resources to have face to face conversations with every donor. With advances in data analysis technology, you can identify donors who have deeper pockets and a desire to give more, so you can develop stronger, more personal connections with those donors who can make the biggest impact on your cause.