Strength Weight Lifting

Play to Your Strengths: Where Do You Add Most Value?

Strength Weight LiftingHere’s the deal: When you match people to environments or roles congruent with their skills, knowledge and strengths, they’ll do better.

Reading this statement, it appears patently obvious. But… how many businesses operate this way. Does yours?

This post was inspired by one of Seth Godin’s thought-provoking, minimalist posts. As always, he manages to convey something important and provocative in very few words. This time, he got me considering the way nonprofits structure job descriptions and conduct performance evaluations. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about this, as in my three decades of in-the-trenches practice I wrote a lot of the former and conducted a lot of the latter.

In the early years, I made the mistake of putting people into rather rigid boxes. This was not good for the people stuck inside, nor was it good for the organization as a whole.  Later, I learned to be more flexible and play to people’s strengths.

Before I get specific, here comes the Godin post that stimulated this little rant.

Building, breaking, fixing

We spend some of our time building things, from scratch. New ideas, new projects, new connections. Things that didn’t exist before we arrived.

We spend some of our time breaking things, using them up, discovering the edges.

And we spend some of our time fixing things. Customer support, maintenance, bug fixes… And most of all, answering email and grooming social media. The world needs fixing, it always does.

You’ve already guessed the questions:

— where do you personally add the most value?

— how much of your time are you spending doing that?

What follows is a bit of thinking out loud.  I hope it will inspire you as well. If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

The “Peter Principle” Problem

If you look at a nonprofit organizational chart, too often you’ll see job titles that no longer describe what the folks in them are doing.  Sadly, the “Peter Principle” is alive and well. Folks rise to the level of their incompetence, and the function they are supposed to be performing gets shoved to the back burner.

This can lead to hidden organizational inefficiencies. For example:

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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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So, Your Nonprofit Donor Wants to Give Cryptocurrency?

Donor with cell phone, crypto

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I discussed cryptocurrency philanthropy basics.

Let’s say you’re intrigued, and want to dip your toes in the water?

How to Accept Crypto?

There is more than one way. These are listed in order of easiest to greatest need for tech and finance savvy.

  1. Donor advised funds and giving wallets. These are now being set up to accept cryptocurrency. If nothing else, you can alert supporters that if they have a DAF they can funnel crypto to you that way. Also, every.org and givewell are crypto wallets that act similarly to a DAF by accepting gifts from donors, then granting your nonprofit cash without you ever having to take custody of the asset. You never have to worry about accounting and legal concerns of accepting crypto.

 

  1. Software as a Service (SaaS solution) donor management platform. Organizations such as The Giving Block, engiven, Crypto for Charity by Freewill and Charitable Solutions, LLC are already set up to accept cryptocurrency on behalf of your organization (the list keeps growing). These dedicate crypto NGOs will sell the asset and transfer the proceeds to you. You can put a widget/button on your website to facilitate this. Crypto goes directly into exchange and is immediately traded for dollars (there is a small fee; around 1%). This is safe, secure and simple as generally the asset will be immediately liquidated (within milliseconds), which is super important with highly volatile assets like crypto. This protects you from a donor asking what you did with their $100,000, and you having to tell them you only realized $50,000 because you delayed a day to sell it.

 

  1. External custody. Behind the scenes, all platforms use a cryptocurrency brokerage or exchange. Three reputable ones are Coinbase Commerce, Kraken and Gemini. They typically charge 35 – 50 basis points per transaction. No donation processing or receipting is available. Nonprofits with expertise in asset management, trading and technology may consider building their own donation widget using these services. Be aware it can take many months to establish an account. Plus, you also need an “Alternative Asset Management Policy” [fold in crypto to your Gift Acceptance Policy; run this by your professional advisors and finance committee] to shield leadership.

 

  1. Self-custody. This is not for everyone and requires a hardware USB device that can be plugged into the computer when someone wants to make a transaction. They’re cold storage, kept off the internet, and highly secure. The downside is it requires a very savvy staff person and high security around custody. Plus it’s tricky to liquidate when you hold it in your hardware wallet. Some donors giving these digital assets like to see nonprofits holding those gifts as crypto, as part of an effort to see crypto go mainstream. If you have the ability to be strategic with investments, for example by building a reserve, you might consider holding onto crypto in its native form. UNICEF, for example, can receive, hold, and disburse cryptocurrency with its UNICEF CryptoFund. Again, you’ll want an “Alternative Asset Management Policy” to guide when you’ll sell.

How to Promote?

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Flexible worker

How to Keep Nonprofit Employees Longer with Flexibility

Flexible workerIn my last article I talked about providing employees with praise, recognition and meaningful feedback in order to retain staff and build the type of job satisfaction and longevity that creates a sustainable nonprofit.

For nonprofit fundraisers, the “Great Resignation” was happening long before the pandemic. In fact, per Penelope Burk at Cygnus Applied Research, the average amount of time a fundraiser stays at his or her job is just 16 months.

“Oh, well” you say?  “No big deal” you say?

Need I remind you fundraising is a relationship-building business? Relationships happen people-to-people, not people-to-institution.

All that work I’m constantly exhorting you to do to personally nurture, reward and develop bonds with your constituents as you support them on their donor journey matters.

You can’t afford the typical nonprofit staff turnover, and you need to do whatever it takes to make working for you a positive experience.

Lose a Fundraiser; Risk Losing a Donor Relationship

Fundraiser turnover results in the ongoing work of reporting back, asking for feedback and offering praise getting abridged or abandoned altogether. Trust me, this is a genuine real world concern. I work with countless nonprofits, and staff turnover leads to downgraded and lapsed gifts. You may think this won’t happen to you, but it will. When a donor doesn’t get the meaning they need, they drift away to other causes offering them a better return on their engagement. Don’t blame the donors; it’s just human nature to want to feel connected to other human beings.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking you can’t afford to keep your fundraiser by providing a better salary and other benefits, such as additional vacation time. Penelope Burk surveyed 1,700 fundraisers and 8,000 nonprofit chief executives, and found it would cost just $46,650 to keep a good fundraiser happy.

The direct and indirect costs of finding a replacement are $127,650. Hmmn… being pennywise and pound-foolish is not what I would call working smart.

Employee retention costs a fraction of employee recruitment, training and on-the-job learning. So seriously consider what you can do to work a lot smarter by treating your employees like the true treasure they are. As noted in my last article, a decent salary matters. I’m all for offering living wages! But many more things than money are motivators.

It’s time for a closer look at how flexibility in the workplace will help you shine.

Retain More Nonprofit Employees by Being Flexible

A recent guest essay in the New York Times,

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Awesome/Less Awesome Sandwich Board

Key Strategies to Praise, Recognize and Give Meaningful Work Feedback

Awesome/Less Awesome Sandwich BoardI confess this is something I struggled with in my 30 years as a manager.

I had a boss who excelled at pinpointing weaknesses, and I learned a lot from her. [Plus, my mother was pretty good at this too – but we don’t have all day here.]

Ironically, this same boss told me ad infinitum (whenever I wanted to give someone a raise), that money didn’t really motivate people. All sorts of other things mattered more, including work environment.

At the time, I didn’t really believe this. I was constantly advocating for well-deserved raises because I thought it was the best gift I had to offer. And, by golly, it seemed like the right and fair thing to do! She told me resources were limited, and the satisfaction from a raise is fleeting, compared with things like greater authority, autonomy, praise and recognition.

You know what? She was right about what is most meaningful to employees in a workplace.

Because as much as the people who worked for me enjoyed a good raise, they complained a lot more about lack of advancement opportunity, responsibility without authority, a top-down infrastructure, lack of job fit, unrealistically high expectations, shortage of support and an overall stressful work environment.

If money is really bad, of course, it will get in the way.  However, it’s worth noting money is only fourth among the top five reasons people cite for leaving a job. In fact, the preponderance of research into the value of money as a motivator notes it is a motivator up to a certain point; once folks reach that level, more money has a negligible impact on their satisfaction.

[Background: I was fortunate during my career not to work at places where folks were expected to buy into the “starvation cycle” mentality and live below minimum wage. Where I worked, people generally were fairly and well-compensated. Sure, they’d likely tell you they wanted more money.  But this was not the reason they left.]

“In a nutshell: money does not buy engagement.”

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author, Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (and How to Fix It)

Employee engagement is a product of overall work environment (culture) and specific management support (feedback, praise and recognition).

Begin with an Engaging Work Environment

A huge part of what employees will describe as “work environment” has to do with meaningful engagement, or lack thereof. And there are two ways to promote this engagement:

  1. Develop a broad, organizational culture of philanthropy [See here, here, here and here.]
  2. Develop a feedback system incorporating authentic praise, recognition and focus on strengths, not weaknesses.

I talk a lot about the former. Today I’d like to hone in on the latter.

Because… for engagement to stick, the two types must go hand-in-hand.

In fact, research reveals

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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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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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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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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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