Woman breathing, sunset

Want a true philanthropic culture? Make it the air you breathe.

Woman breathing, sunsetYour organization won’t survive and thrive with only great fundraising technicians. Youand the entire social benefit sectorneed organizational-development-grounded philanthropic facilitators. In fact, you need a team – maybe an entire village – filled with them!

This is what it looks like in a culture of philanthropy. And it involves more feelings than tangibles. What does it feel like where you work?

Your organization’s culture can make or break your fundraising – and just about everything else. If you don’t foster a culture in which people want to work, great professionals won’t apply for, or stick with, jobs. You have to be intentional in creating a culture that attracts, retains and grows professionals. The kind who will inevitably build sustaining relationships with supporters.

Here are some things you can do to build a true philanthropic culture.

Say what the culture is, get buy-in; demonstrate it.

To foster an authentic values-based organizational culture, you must first identify and write down the main beliefs that make up the culture. This can be simple – as little as a sentence or single paragraph – but this written manifestation of the culture you want to foster is critical to helping people understand the culture.

Here are some questions to ask yourself or, better yet, to do as a group exercise with a team of staff and/or board.

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Clouds and sky

How to Kon Mari Your Nonprofit Work Plan

This year it’s been easy to hoard.

You had all the strategies that worked for you in the past, PLUS you had to add a bunch of new ones when faced with the realities of the pandemic economy.

Then you had to add things to be relevant to supporters who were thinking about a million news stories. You needed to be relevant, and consider your stance on BLM, BIPOC, DEI and a range of political and social justice issues.

The extraordinary times could not be ignored, so strategy got piled upon strategy, got piled upon…

And your nonprofit work plan got super crowded.

Time to clear out some space!

You’re likely wondering if you have to do everything virtually as well as in person. You’re wondering if your messaging needs to change to be more inclusive? You’re wanting to connect with folks in ways they’ve come to expect, and to offer meaningful engagment opportunities, but… where is everything going to fit?!?!

Never fear. Help is here!

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

If you’ve been living under a rock, Marie Kondo’s KonMari is the art of “tidying up to transform your life.” It’s a popular book that’s become a Netflix sensation, and it may not be your cup of tea, but…

What if, through some simplification and organization, you could transform your life (at least at work) as well as your nonprofit’s life — so all involved felt greater inspiration and even serenity?

You. Can. Do. It.

Alas, 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?
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Sign: Amplify Your Voice

Digital Fundraising Revolution: Annual Benchmarks Study; Trending Behaviors

Sign: Amplify Your VoiceYou’ve no doubt become familiar by now with the term “digital revolution.” It’s something that’s been dawning on us, slowly but surely, over the past few decades, and particularly in the past ten years with the advent of social media. How far has your nonprofit come? Far enough?

It’s hard to believe, but a mere ten years ago so few nonprofits had jumped on the digital bandwagon I began blogging about it. I even wrote monthly for a national social media blog, becoming their guest nonprofit expert. It makes me chuckle now, because use of technology is by no means my sweet spot.  But I was just so troubled by the elephant in the room too few nonprofits were naming.

Today, most nonprofits have a digital strategy. Some are even going so far as to discontinue direct mail entirely. I don’t recommend this; still, it’s testimony to how far we’ve come in a short period.

NOTE: I find abandoning direct mail a bit extreme and precipitous. A classic “leaving money on the table” rookie mistake. Merely substituting an online for an offline channel ignores today’s reality. What’s that? It’s a multichannel world. Sure, it’s more work than in the past. Where you used to just have to communicate in one space, now you must show up in many. Yet there’s good news: layering your strategies can result in richer engagement than before, because you’re meeting folks where they are and reaching people you’d never have before reached. And donors cross channels! The lion’s share of philanthropy still comes from direct mail, but things are evolving. Online giving may be precipitated by offline fundraising strategies. Even if you engage in direct mail, you need to consider the convenience of your prospects and donors. What makes giving easy, convenient and likely for them? Simply sticking to online fundraising may narrow your chances for success. Did you know average email lifespan is 17 seconds vs. direct mail’s average of 17 days?  Also, did you know 31% of offline-only first-time donors are retained for over a year, versus 25% of online-only first-time donors? So you’re going to want to hedge your bets and not just fundraise in one place.

Okay, back to the revolution.

Nothing accelerated the transformation to digital like the past year.

Is your digital adoption of a transformational nature? Has it fundamentally altered how you do business? We’re at a transformation tipping point, and transformation doesn’t move backwards.

Going digital is now an in-your-face proposition that can’t be ignored.

I’m about to share some data with you to demonstrate how online engagement and revenue grew in 2020. But first I want to share some broad perspective strategic thinking on the subject.

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Truth: newspaper headline

Fundamental Fundraising Truths: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Truth: newspaper headlineThe Lilly Family School of Philanthropy projects total giving will grow by an estimated 4.1% in 2021. So you can’t use the pandemic as an excuse for raising less money in the year ahead.

Nor should you ever adopt a sky-is-falling stance of “we can’t compete in this environment, so let’s lower expectations and cut back.”

Did your organization cut back on development expenses last year?  Did you lay off fundraising and marketing staff? Did you send fewer appeals?

If you did, chances are you didn’t tell, and sell, your case for support.

At least not as effectively as possible.

That’s a sure-fire recipe for raising less money than you could or should.

Here are three evergreen, fundamental fundraising truths:

1. It Costs Money to Make Money

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Transactional Nonprofit Work vs. Transformational Donor-Led Progress

Transactional Nonprofit Work vs. Transformational Philanthropic Progress

Greg Warner of Market Smart writes a lot about the difference between “work” and “progress.” I appreciate the distinction, both professionally and personally. I think you can use this notion, so I’m going to suggest a way to extend this idea to your nonprofit fundraising.

Warner notes in Why You Should Never Get a Job and Go to Work: “work” is tedious and negative; “progress” is inspiring and positive.

This is about being intentional about where you’re going.

It’s somewhat about perception and desitnation, but I’d argue it’s largely about the journey.

Your journey. Your donor’s journey.

And how everyone feels about the endeavor.

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Masked author

Secrets to Nonprofit Leadership – Pandemic Phase 3

Masked authorHas this really been going on this long?

Way back in March and April of 2020 I wrote a bunch of articles about crisis fundraising, donor communications in the time of corona and how to adapt your management and planning. Feel free to join me for a walk down memory lane here, herehere, herehere, here, here, here, and here.

Honestly, I’ve been continuing ever since then with as many helpful tips and concrete examples I could dream up and offer.

Today, I’d like to revisit something absolutely fundamental.

It’s not a tip or a tactic. It’s a modus operandi.

Eight months ago Joan Garry wrote True Leadership in the Time of Corona, an awesome piece I commend to you in full. At the time, we were  grappling with the first wave. Now, as we head into a long winter, the lessons from this article are worth revisiting.

As tempting as it may be to pretend everything will soon be ‘normal,’ that’s unlikely. And good leaders don’t bury their heads in the sand. They plan ahead for crisis contingencies.

Leaders ask the key questions:

  1. What if this happens?
  2. If it does, then what?
  3. And then?
  4. And then?
  5. And then?
  6. … until there are no more “and thens?” to ask.

I call this the Cassandra role.

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Wish hanging from a tree

Warning Sign: A Post-Trump Digital Divide Between Nonprofits?

Believe it or not, this guest post appeared originally on my blog 3 1/2 years ago. I happened on it today, and thought it was still appropriate so wanted to share. One of my Clairification School students, Matt Patchell, had begun an important discussion in our online Subscriber Forum about what he termed the current “digital divide.”

He was referring to the chasm between nonprofits who are facing the digital revolution head-on, adapting their strategies to embrace its’ opportunities, vs. those sticking their heads in the sand and hoping it will go away.

Folks, digital engagement is not going away. Rather, it’s exploding.

As of late last year, one study found 43% of U.S. adults get political news online, rather than via television, radio or print media. A report from the Pew Research Center found one in five Americans get their news from Facebook. For the first time in the Center’s surveys, more than half (55%) of Americans age 50 or older report getting news on social media sites. That is 10 percentage points higher than the 45% who said so in the previous year. And that report is now three years old!

If you continue to ignore the channels your supporters frequent, and the ways they prefer to receive their information, the only thing that will be going bye-bye are your supporters.

What digital means for nonprofits.

It’s a sea change in how your marketing and fundraising team(s) operate and cooperate. Adopting is a far cry from adapting.

What does this have to do with Trump?

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Sign expressing values

Bottom Line: Philanthropy Culture Improves Fundraising

“Philanthropic culture is a key driver of fundraising performance.”

Adrian Sargent, Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy

Is a culture of philanthropy just something that’s ‘nice’ to have? Does it simply make people feel good? Or might it actually affect your bottom line – making it ‘necessary?’

I know I’ve worked with organizations who looked at the notion of developing a philanthropy culture a bit like doing staff morale building or sensitivity training. It certainly sounds good, and who can argue with reports from pioneering organizations like the Walter and Evelyn Haas Jr. Fund (see Underdeveloped, Beyond Fundraising: What Does it Mean to Build a Culture of Philanthropy, and Fundraising Bright Spots) and Sea Change Strategies (see Inside-Out Fundraising) that embracing a culture of philanthropy (COP) will bring all sorts of benefits, including recruitment and retention of talent, stronger development plans and infrastructure, a better understanding of the board role in fundraising and a shared understanding of the importance of fundraising across functional siloes.

“As a sector, we need to elevate the importance of fund development as a leadership issue, invest in a stronger talent pool, and strengthen the ability of nonprofits to develop the systems that enable fundraising success.”

Jeanne Bell, CEO of CompassPoint, co-author of Underdeveloped

“Generally, a culture of philanthropy is one in which everyone—board, staff and CEO—has a part to play in raising resources for the organization. It’s about relationships, not just money. It’s as much about keeping donors as acquiring new ones and seeing them as having more than just money to bring to the table. And it’s a culture in which fund development is a valued and mission aligned component of everything the organization does.”

Cynthia Gibson, author, Beyond Fundraising

“Without tackling internal issues head-on, we believe the prospects for major fundraising progress are limited. In most organizations, fundraising is limited more by organizational culture and structure than by lack of strategic or tactical know-how.”

Alia McKee and Mark Rovner, Founders, Sea Change Strategies

Despite the impressive research that’s been done showing the value of a philanthropic culture, too many nonprofits have simply assumed they had one by virtue of merely existing within the social benefit sector. Or even if they understood achieving a true COP took work, they just never moved this from the back burner to the front.

“Many charities are so wrapped up in the process of doing – delivering, raising income, adapting to the panoply of changing circumstances that can radically alter day to day activity – that establishing a truly philanthropic culture might not be high on the list of priorities.”

Adrian Sargent, Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy

It’s Time for a Change

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