cat in tree

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

Some years ago I happened on an article in the New York Times where the author, David Pogue, asked readers for their very best ‘life advice.’  There was so much great stuff in there!  If you happen to have a NYT subscription, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading the full article. For those who don’t (and really for everyone), I decided to share some of my favorite pieces of wisdom with you.  Particularly those that apply to your nonprofit work. And, especially, those that apply to your work/life balance.

Let’s begin!

1. 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.

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.

2. Having trouble getting started?

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Strategic Nonprofit Board Recruitment

Passion led us here photoWhen organizations aren’t raising as much money as they need, they’ll often tell me: “We need to recruit new board members.” This is very often true, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle as to why they’re not being more successful with fundraising.

So, if you’re about to embark on some board recruitment, I strongly encourage you to do a little soul searching first so you can embark on your quest strategically.

Not all organizations are the same. In my humble opinion, the best boards are fundraising boards. You may have a self-described “community board” you’d like to evolve to a fundraising board. Or you may be part of a bifurcated organization where there is more than one board with different purposes (e.g., governance; foundation; advocacy), so your part can perhaps afford to be less engaged with fundraising.

Most nonprofits need a board that is a fundraising engine.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you’re like most nonprofits. This may mean you believe you need to recruit ‘rich people.’ Or already experienced fundraisers. And since you don’t know any of the above, you make these common mistakes:

  1. You keep putting board recruitment and development on the back burner.
  2. You keep recruiting more folks exactly like the ones you already have.

Are you, inadvertently, holding yourself back?

You are if either of the two mistakes above sound like you.  Alas, this won’t help you resolve your fundraising conundrum.

So, let’s begin someplace else. Before beginning recruitment of the WHO for your board, begin by reminding yourself of the WHY.

Why Do You Need Board Members?

Certain skill sets may come to mind first. Such as “we need a lawyer.” But this is only a piece of what you’re looking for, and it’s not the most important piece. You could recruit the most famous lawyer in your community, but if they refuse to use those skills on your behalf – or if the area where you need help is not their area of expertise — this is meaningless.

Begin by answering this question:

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How to Craft a Nonprofit Board Orientation Strategy

Board orientationPlease don’t leave your new (or old for that matter) board members dangling!

Being a board member is not something we’re generally taught. In fact, it can be a complete mystery. Folks feel proud to have been recruited to join your board, and excited to begin their service, but… what happens next can mean the difference between a fulfilling experience and a disappointing one.

Do you have a board orientation strategy?

I don’t just mean in a dusty handbook somewhere on a shelf or in a file no one can find. I mean a vibrant orientation approach that kicks in the moment your board candidate says “yes” and, subsequently, as soon as they’re voted in by the full board.

Recruitment is just the tip of the iceberg of building an effective board.

It’s an important “tip,” don’t get me wrong. And all too often it’s handled poorly, leading to nothing but problems down the line. One of the most common complaints I hear from nonprofit staff is their board won’t help with fundraising. And the most common reason is the board members tell me: “I wasn’t told I’d have to help with fundraising,” or even worse “I was told I didn’t have to fundraise.

Don’t put yourself in the bait and switch mode.

From the get-go, explain to prospective board members what’s expected of them. All should be involved in some way in giving and getting. Once they sign on, solidify this agreement and their critical role as ambassadors, advocates and askers during the orientation process.

What to Include in a Board Member Orientation

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Wanted sign

Fundraiser Job Tips: How to Hire/Get Hired + Top Interview Questions

Wanted signIn my last article I talked about how to pitch yourself for a new job. My focus was on fundraising jobs, but it’s a paradigm you can use for any time you’re trying to make a persuasive case for yourself.

Today I’d like to get to the part where you’ve transitioned from “selling” to the interviewer, and have arrived at the part where they sell to you.  In other words, it’s your turn!

It’s important to prepare for this part of the interview. And, if you happen to be wearing the interviewer hat, you can use these tips to listen for important questions that will tell you a lot about your potential hire.

The Purpose of Question Time

Definitely come prepared with what you want (and need) to know to make a wise, informed decision.  You’ll want to ask about this organization’s history, its programs, its culture (don’t overlook this one!), this position, and the person(s) for whom – and with whom — you’ll be working. Think about what success would look like for you, and probe to assure the pre-conditions to achieve that success are in place.

The interview is as much an opportunity for the candidate to get to know the hirer as it is a chance for them to get to know you. There’s little point in selling yourself for a job you ultimately don’t want and won’t enjoy. Where you’ll just be spinning your wheels. Where you won’t have a chance to grow professionally. Life is too short.

POINT OF PERSPECTIVE: I’ve interviewed a lot of candidates in my day. And, truth be told, if they don’t avail themselves of this opportunity to ask questions I really wonder about them. How can they be so lacking in curiosity? Did they not prepare for this conversation? How are they going to learn things on the job so they don’t just do things the right way, but do the right things? If it’s a front-facing fundraiser position, how are they going to be when faced with the opportunity to build a relationship with a donor?

When I’m in hiring mode, I don’t need a broadcaster as much as a relationship builder. I don’t need someone who boasts ad nauseum about themselves as much as need someone who probes for my interests, needs and challenges. So, if you’re the hirer, listen to see how many of these questions your candidates ask; be prepared to answer these questions.

Top 20 Interview Questions

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Time for Change sign

Borrow From Old MacDonald’s Farm to Interview for a Fundraising Job

Time for Change signDid you have a New Year’s resolution to look for a new development position? Or maybe to transition to work in the social benefit sector?

Have you put your job search off, wondering how your skills translate to what you’d really like to do?

We all have an inner critic telling us super unhelpful things like:

  • You’re not ready yet.
  • You need another course or degree.
  • You need more years of experience doing x, y, and/or z.
  • You need time to prepare.
  • You aren’t good at this (math/negotiating/technical/financial/digital/sales) stuff.
  • You aren’t as confident as other people.
  • You can’t take this leap; it’s too risky.

These are all variations on the theme of “you don’t have what it takes.”

Nonsense!

This is a totally irrational fear. Your inner critic is perhaps trying to protect and defend you, but actually this critic is holding you back by ruminating on the risks and worst-case scenarios. If you always play it “safe,” you’ll never grow.

Today, I’d like to tell you what it actually takes to be an effective fundraiser.

I hope you’ll see these innate qualities and strengths are things you have already. All you need to do is formulate them into a pitch format you can use when you interview for a job.

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Top Secret to Completing Projects: Balance ‘Done Enough’ with ‘Overdone’

Box of fancy macaronsI’m a huge Seth Godin fan, always in awe of the plethora of wisdom he manages to pack into one pithy post. I save them up, building a collection I can draw upon for inspiration as life, personal and professional, pushes in.

Recently I looked back at What’s in the box? The point of the post is to make us question our quest for perfection and all the needless worrying we put into imagining everything that can possibly go wrong.  Godin encourages us to worry less; just open the box and see what’s in it. Good to consider. Yet this presumes there’s a filled box to be opened.

When we’re in reactive or firefighter mode, we must open the box. The contents must be dealt with, generally with some urgency. So, definitely, perfectionism gets in the way. There’s simply no time for it! But, what about when we’re in proactive mode, building our own projects?

A Greater Challenge Than Opening the Box

Filling and delivering it! This means coming up with useful, delightful, meaningful content your recipient will consider a true gift.  Once you’ve got a nicely filled box — a good gift — it’s time to deliver so the donor’s “feel good” can begin. Alas, this is where the concept of “done enough” vs. “overdone” can rear its ugly head.

Imagine This: You plan to send some cookies to your college sophomore.  You make a batch of gorgeous macarons. Then you worry they’re too fancy. The next day, before putting them in a shipping box, you decide to add some chocolate chip since they’re ‘safe’. The next day you decide, as long as you’re bothering to ship these, you’ll add some brownies and oatmeal because then there’s some to share with roommates. The next day you realize it’s almost Valentine’s Day, so they’ll probably expect some heart-shaped sugar cookies.  Now you’re getting into the “project-ness” of this endeavor, and decide you’ll make a few more kinds so it’ll be a really spectacular presentation! Great fun, yes… but, what has happened to the macarons by the end of the week?

The Old Stuff Gets Stale 

While it’s true sometimes things are not ready for prime time, the reverse is also true. 

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Three San Francisco Hearts: Butterfly Heart. SF Love. I LUV SF.

Surprisingly Simple Strategy to Magically Transform How You Work

Three San Francisco Hearts: Butterfly Heart. SF Love. I LUV SF.The single most important lesson I ever learned.

Begin with the why.

Always.

If you don’t, you’re likely to work very hard and not achieve much of value.

Why?

Because you didn’t begin your endeavor by asking yourself:

“What’s the value in this work upon which I’m about to embark?” 

“Why am I doing this?”

This may be the most powerful strategy in your entire toolbox.

So simple. So basic. So fundamental.

Yet it’s a step we tend to overlook.

Why?

The often-overlooked steps.

Humans are funny creatures.

Monkey see, monkey do.

Monkey be told what to do, monkey do.

We’re driven instinctually, by biology, to survive.

Don’t eat the berries no one else is eating. We take what appears to be the safest course.

It generally works in the short term. There must be a reason.

Sometimes, however, there is no reason.

There’s just habit.

Or the reason isn’t a good one.

Answering the why question requires two elements: knowing what and who something is for. Let’s begin with the what.

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Three San Francisco Hearts: Butterflight. Waves of Love. Lady in the Dragon.

7 Top Insights Nonprofits Can Borrow from Management Guru Peter Drucker

Three San Francisco Hearts: Butterflight. Waves of Love. Lady in the Dragon.If you’ve never read management and marketing guru Peter Drucker, you must. I fell in love with him early on in my nonprofit career, and still regularly draw upon his wisdom. It hasn’t aged; he was ahead of his time, and remains a worthy sage for ours.

1. Goals

Perhaps the most important thing I learned from Drucker was you must begin with the “why” question. What is your purpose?

“It is defined by the want the customer satisfies when she buys a product or service.”

You want to think about your purpose both broadly and narrowly. But not so broadly as to only be talking about your category. The fact you’re a human services agency, school, arts organization or environmental charity does not answer the question: “What would happen if you ceased to exist?

Most founders do not wake up one day with the epiphany “I want to start a nonprofit.” They have more explicit goals related to solving specific problems. “I want to provide homeless people with access to showers.” “I want to offer equine therapy to kids with disabilities.” “I want to find a cure for this degenerative disease my kid has.” And so on.

If a customer has no soap to buy, they can’t get clean. If a homeless person has no shower or toilet available, they can’t get clean. Whether the business is for- or non-profit, the sought-after impact is cleanliness – and all the ways being clean makes people feel, think and behave. Goals that answer the “why” question are focused on impact. People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Know your existential why — the meaningful impact you want to make — in order to build a plan to reach that goal.

TAKE-AWAY #1:

A goal worth meeting is one other people share. Find out:

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Person holding AI post-it note

Should Your Nonprofit Jump on the Artificial Intelligence Bandwagon?

Person holding AI post-it noteI confess I know virtually zip about artificial intelligence.

But I’ve been learning. Fast.

Because it’s hard these days to travel anywhere in the world, including the social benefit sector, without hearing enticing things about it.

  • How it can do all sorts of things faster and better than humans.
  • How it can create cost savings.
  • How it enables greater personalization.
  • How it leverages effective use of data for marketing and fundraising purposes.
  • How it tracks engagement and predicts future behaviors.
  • How it creates efficiencies for program purposes.

At first blush this sounds good. But… the devil is in the details, right?

Which is why people are equally thrilled or unnerved at the prospect.

I wondered if using it could create unintended consequences. New tools used as blunt instruments could cause unintentional harm. So, I thought I’d do a little research to know whether I should advise fundraisers to jump on the AI bandwagon.

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