Impatience is Virtue: Key to Sustain Nonprofit Relevancy and Fundraising Effectiveness

The late Jerold Panas*, fundraising guru and author of a bunch of books (two of which, Asking and The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, I frequently use with boards to inspire philanthropy), left us with a gem of a final article published on the Guidestar blog: Nurturing Your Potential as a Fundraiser.

It got me thinking.

All of the traits Panas lists (he calls them “verities” that distinguish consummate fundraisers from those who, I presume, just dial it in) are important. I encourage you to read the full list (or even the full book from which they’re excerpted: Born to Raise: What Makes a Great Fundraiser Great).

Today I want to focus on one trait that particularly struck me.

Impatience.

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cat in tree

Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Useful Life Advice for Nonprofit Fundraisers

I happened recently on an article in the New York Times where the author, David Pogue, asked readers for their very best ‘life advice.’ I enjoyed it so much, I want to share some of my favorite pieces of wisdom with you.  And, of course, I’ll suggest how this might apply to your nonprofit work and work/life balance.

Let’s begin!

Are you over-worrying about a cat stuck in a tree?

cat in treeNot every problem needs to be addressed immediately. Some will work themselves out.

You’ve never seen a cat skeleton in a tree, have you?” When Alexandra Aulisi’s cat couldn’t get down from a tree, her grandmother reassured her with those words, predicting (correctly) that the cat would come down on his own. “This advice made me realize that, sometimes, you need to shift your perception of a problem to see a solution,” Ms. Aulisi noted.

David Pogue, NYT

While it’s tempting to drop everything (e.g., whenever a new email appears in your inbox, especially if it’s someone asking for help), it’s important to assess if this situation actually requires a rapid response. If not, you have options.

ADVICE/OPTIONS:

1. Lil’ Bo Peep: “Leave it alone and it will come home.”

Ever been on vacation and noticed a flurry of emails, back and forth, forth and back, from members on your team?  Often by the time you’ve returned the ‘problem’ – as urgent as it may have seemed at the time based on all the email hyperbole – seems to have evaporated. I’m not suggesting you ignore legitimate, pressing problems; just use common sense and exercise judicious restraint, as appropriate.

2. Could someone else handle this?

I’ll never forget some excellent advice I received (actually from one of the donors I worked with during the years I was a young parent).  While I was stressing about potty training, she told me: “Have you ever seen anyone at college who still wears diapers?  If you don’t potty train your son now, never fear.  His college girlfriend will!”  It was silly, yet made a whole lot of sense. I didn’t need to oversee and micro-manage every little thing. Sometimes things happen on their own time frame. This was a reminder that patience can be a virtue.

Are you having trouble getting started?

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Clouds and sky

To Be or Not to Be: What Goes in This Year’s Nonprofit Work Plan?

I’m wagering you’re too busy.

That means you’ve little space for adding new projects to your work plan for the coming year.

Never fear. Help is here!

First, let’s clear out some space.  

I’ve participated in many a planning session, and seldom do I recall – if ever – really focusing first on what we could stop doing to make room for new endeavors.  If this sounds familiar, you’re likely also familiar with the unfortunate consequences.

There are some things that really should not be part of your work plan moving forward. Or, at the very least, they should be pared down. Quite. A. Bit.

Here’s how you know you need, as Marie Kondo might say, to tidy up.

  • Do you try to stuff too much into your work plan and end up doing nothing as well as you’d like?
  • Do you allow daily clutter to crowd your inbox so you’re often responding to the little issues rather than the big ones?
  • Do you keep working on things that no longer have the payoff they once had, causing you to miss out on newer and more cost-effective opportunities?
  • Do you allow inertia to divert your focus towards ‘make work’ transactional stuff that satisfies your need to feel ‘busy,’ while you know it’s not really transformational work?
  • Have you allowed your job to become overloaded with tasks you don’t enjoy, to the point where you feel a bit like a lobster in a pot?

What if you were to look at your work plan this year from the KonMari perspective?

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Overwhelmed office worker

How to Calm ‘Busy’ Nonprofit Overwhelm Syndrome

When I managed a nonprofit team I inevitably had staff who struggled to meet deadlines. So I’d ask them to keep track for a week of how they found themselves spending their time.  My boss, generously, even made funds available to send folks to time management courses.

It seldom worked.

Because most traditional time management advice involves cutting out unnecessary activities. Some of this is possible, but many nonprofit workers simply have too much to do in too little time. The “unnecessary” is sometimes hard to find.

Recently I happened on an article in the New York Times by Adam Grant, Productivity Isn’t About Time Management. It’s About Attention Management. In it, he talked about someone who couldn’t find any tasks to drop from his calendar:

This is going to sound like a joke, but it’s not,” he confessed. “My only idea is to drink less water so I don’t have to go to the bathroom so many times.

Oh, dear.

But Grant offered an interesting solution; a reframing of the conundrum.  He suggests that time management is actually part of the problem, not a solution.

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Jar of penny coins

ONE Amazingly Simple Smart Fundraising Strategy

 

Invest more.

That’s it.

It’s simple. And it works.

You see, penny-wise fundraising may seem smart.  You may pat yourself on the back for working “lean and mean.” But, in actuality, lean and mean is the antithesis of how a nonprofit becomes successful.

Penny-wise fundraising ends up being nothing more than mean.

  • Mean to the people to whom you pay pauper’s wages.
  • Mean to the staff you overwork.
  • Mean to the volunteers you burn out.
  • Mean to the clients you can’t afford to help.
  • Mean to the donors to whom you’re unable to offer satisfying philanthropic investment opportunities.
  • Mean to the community you can’t afford to serve.

Penny-wise fundraising takes you down exactly the wrong pathway.

You May Think You’re Being Smart, But You’re Not

Penny-wise fundraising reveals an underlying attitude fundraising is a “necessary evil.’  So… why not invest as little as possible in it?

Sadly, this approach to fundraising is doomed to failure.

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Museum painting of woman perhaps not living to her potential?

Are You Failing to Achieve Your Nonprofit Fundraising Potential?

Too often, fundraising is relegated to an administrative function rather than a mission-central function.  It’s viewed as a ‘necessary evil.’ As a result, either no one embraces it as central to their job description, or someone is hired and shunted off to a corner to do the ‘dirty work.’

Others don’t necessarily feel a need to cooperate or support the fundraising effort. It’s ancillary, not primary.

In fact, I’ll often hear executive directors or board members tell me, with some pride and a soupçon of defensiveness: “We can’t spend money on development staff right now; anything extra we have must go into the mission!”

As if fundraising doesn’t support the mission?  Seriously, that’s the entire purpose of what nonprofits call ‘development’ (aka fundraising and marketing). It derives its purpose from ends served. It’s never an end in itself.

What this so-called ‘mission first’ logic fails to acknowledge is that everyone associated with your nonprofit is guided by a ‘mission first’ philosophy and has a collective stake in your nonprofit’s survival.

And for most nonprofits, survival – or at least some level of mutually desired success – depends on philanthropy.

When fundraising is treated as an afterthought, relegated to the development committee, or delegated to the development director, it disenfranchises a huge segment of folks who care about sustaining the cause. This means you’ll leave money on the table and fail to realize your mission potential.

It takes a dedicated village to generate sustainable, meaningful philanthropy.

I’ve found four ways nonprofits don’t wholeheartedly commit to fundraising. They all have to do with typical priorities that aren’t standing them in good stead.

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Painting of a photographer

9 Secrets to Prepare for a Fundraising Job Interview

Think of a job interview as finding what you like doing best and getting someone to pay you for it!

Sounds pretty cool, no?

Here are some secrets to help you nab the job of your dreams.

  1. Pump yourself up
  2. Ask others to pump you up
  3. Strike a Super Hero pose
  4. Refresh your research and review the job description
  5. Prepare talking points
  6. Demonstrate how you’re a good cultural fit
  7. Avoid talking salary at first interview
  8. Prepare ahead to answer common questions
  9. Prepare ahead to ask important questions

Let’s review these one at a time…

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Time to Reframe How You Do Nonprofit Fundraising

Or else.

Reframing how you’ve done fundraising in the past is not optional.

It’s time for a change.

You must do it, because fundraising and nonprofit marketing have changed a LOT over the past ten years.  There is absolutely no denying this at this point. You need to adapt. Or suffer the consequences.

If you’re still doing the same exact things you did ten years ago, or even five years ago, it’s time to rethink. If you have leaders who doubt there’s a need for change, simply explain the reasons as I’ve outlined below:

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