Love letters

What’s Going On? What Can We Do?

Love lettersI had a fundraising post all ready to launch today, but I just couldn’t do it.

The world seems wildly out of whack right now.  I can’t pretend it’s business as usual.

I try to stay away from “politics,” because I know that’s not why you read my blog. However, we live in a political world. And so do our nonprofits, our staff, our volunteers, our donors and our clients. Simply put, politics is about making agreements between people so that they can live together in groups.

Nonprofits cannot seal themselves off in little bubbles, pretending what’s happening in the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

That’s why, during the pandemic, I encouraged you to talk about how events touch those who rely on you. It’s why, all the time, I encourage you to relate your work to what’s in the news and top of mind to donors. Be it hurricanes, fires, famine, drought, social unrest, war, civil liberties, mass shootings, homophobia, racism, sexism, bigotry, or anything else horrifying to body, mind, heart and soul.

If it’s something you’re thinking about, you can bet it’s something your constituents are thinking about.

If you don’t address it, you risk coming across as unimportant, blind, shallow or out of touch. Being relevant, and meaningful, means getting inside your supporters’ heads and knowing what’s important to them. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? In what way do the emotions they’re currently experiencing interact with your mission? How can they help you, and you help them?

I don’t know how you’ve been feeling, but many folks I’ve been talking to have mentioned anger, outrage and fear. Even those who are happy about one or two things are deeply concerned about other developments. And this holds true for both sides. Listen to Fox News, then listen to MSNBC.  You’ll hear equal doses of horror. The pendulum has been swinging wildly, back and forth, and the world seems madly out of whack.

What can the social benefit sector do to bring things back into balance?

I keep coming back to the Golden Rule. What if none of us ever did anything to anyone else we didn’t want them to do unto us? What if we only treated others as we would want to be treated? It seems so simple. So logical. So in everyone’s best interest.

What is it about the human animal that leads the same people who don’t want government to impose mask or vaccine mandates on them wanting to impose no abortion mandates on others? Or, from the other perspective, those who don’t want government telling them they can’t smoke pot wanting to tell others they can’t carry guns? All of this “I can impose, but you can’t” is nonsense from the perspective of “do unto others.” Yet, we persist.

The only way to make sense of these things is through an understanding of balance. We must strive toward philanthropy (translated as “love of humanity”).

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Colored pencils

What to Say When Your Donor Asks: How Much do you Spend on Overhead?

Colored pencils

I’ve been asked this question many times.

One of the ways I’ve answered is with my own questions:

  • If you could invest 20 cents to get a dollar, would you?
  • If you could invest 50 cents to get a dollar, would you?
  • If the dollar you got was old, wrinkly and ripped, would that matter to you?
  • If the dollar you got was mint, would it be worth it to you to pay a bit more?

Maybe the return on your invesment doesn’t matter to you. But maybe it does.  In the case of the wrinkly vs. mint dollar bill, it would matter a lot if you’re a collector.  Change that to 50 cents to buy a bag of fresh, nutritious produce that will last a full week vs. 20 cents to buy a bag of old, rotten vegetables, and you begin to understand.

All things are not created equal.

That’s true, in spades, for what folks consider ‘appropriate’ overhead.

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LIght bulb

Are You Accountable? Or do You Suffer from Akrasia?

I’ve long advocated for incorporating accountability into nonprofit job descriptions if you hope to get, and measure, results. Without accountability, tasks have a serious likelihood of slipping to the back burner; then off the stove entirely.

Procrastination is just a human trait. 

We tell ourselves we’ll clean out the garage this weekend.  But no one makes us do it.  So the weekend comes and goes without anything happening.

We make a new year’s resolution to exercise more. We even join a gym. We attend a couple of times, but no one is tracking our progress on the elliptical machine. We fall back into our previous habits and, before we know it, we’ve stopped going.

We plan to get out of the office and visit a donor at least three times a week, but no one really pays attention to our schedule – after all, we’re grown-up professionals! – and it’s easy to get distracted by emails, meetings, and a host of other tasks.

I could go on with a zillion examples. You probably can too. Why?  Because human beings are wired this way. We get distracted. We procrastinate. We give in to habits that may not serve us well. And we’ve been doing it for centuries.  It even has a Greek name: Akrasia.

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Fork in the Road

4 Strategies to Connect Nonprofit Donors to Cherished Values

Your donor’s philanthropic journey begins with you. Your job is to steer them down the pathway to passionate philanthropy, making them feel joy and fulfillment every step of the way. When the gift is finally made, they should experience a true sense of victory in a job well done.

The cherished philanthropic outcome generally will only happen if you do your job well.

One of my favorite fundraising experts, who specializes in major and legacy giving, is Dr. Russell James. He knows everything there is to know about what the industry calls “planned giving,” but he knows so much more than most. Because Dr. James, while a skilled technician, is also a thoughtful and strategic fundraiser. And he knows the best practitioners guide towards a goal. I recently listened to a webinar where Dr. James spoke extensively about the universal hero’s journey and how this comes into play in fundraising. It dovetails so nicely with my fundraising philosophy I thought I’d write about it!

You see, once you know where you’re going with any particular donor (be sure to pick a goal!), your job is to advance their journey towards that goal with every step you both take. You’re like a “Donor Engagement Sherpa,” who supports your donor up their trek towards the mountain’s peak. Sometimes there will be more than one way to get there. Be open to your donor’s needs, not just yours. Lead with vulnerability, but lead.

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Philanthropy is a Team Sport

Team huddleNo one can do it alone, sitting in their own little corner.

Not the E.D. Not the development director. Not the development committee of the board. Not the fundraising consultant.

One-person shows don’t work in fundraising.

This isn’t tennis, figure skating or golf. You’re not one person trying to be the best you can be, with all the glory accruing to you. You’re part of a team, all pulling together in the same direction, with the glory accruing not just to your team but also to your fans and your community.

Siloes don’t work in fundraising.

You aren’t saving up grain for the winter. Besides, simply hoarding won’t help enough. Development operations must figure out how to grow and harvest as much grain as possible so you can feed more and more people in need. Hoarding in siloes is a scarcity, not an abundance, mindset. A status quo, not a growth mindset.

If you have vision and big goals you need a team to see you through.

How Do You Build Your Development Team?

Begin with recruitment of stakeholders.

Look around you. Who do you see? You see internal and external stakeholders. People who care about your organization winning.

Generally, you’ll see:

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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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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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Chalkboard Menu

What to Put on Your Nonprofit Fundraising Plan Menu

A good fundraising strategic plan, like a menu, should be broken into component parts so it’s easy to wrap your brain around.

With a menu, it might be appetizers, meat entrees, seafood entrees, vegetarian entrees, sides and desserts.

With a fundraising plan, it tends to break down into strategies.

It might be annual giving, major gifts, legacy gifts, foundation grants, business sponsors, events and so forth.

Before you can get to determining your priority strategies, however, you need to do a mini fundraising audit.

When I begin working with a new nonprofit client, I always ask the same three questions.

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Master chef creation

Master Chef vs. Line Cook: How Do You Prepare Your Nonprofit Fundraising Plan?

I learned something over three decades ago that I’ve never forgotten.

When I learned this, it made me very happy.

You see, I was transitioning from an unhappy, short-lived career in law and wasn’t really sure about my next chapter.  Nonprofit work intrigued me, but… was it really a discipline or just something folks “winged?”  How would I know I could be successful?

There weren’t a lot of role models around at the time, and I really didn’t know any other fundraisers.  And there certainly were no articles to “google” online!

So, I enrolled in a week-long course offered by The Fundraising School, then led by founder Hank Rosso (who I call the “Daddy of Fundraising), which is now part of the Lily School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

And my eyes were opened to the very nature of fundraising. And the essential pre-conditions for fundraising success.

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