Gala event reception

Common Sense Nonprofit Event Planning Advice

Gala event reception

Let’s begin with the Big Kahuna piece of advice: Ask yourself WHY you want to do this event.

Were you to bring your event proposal to a wise shaman or mentor, this is the question they would ask you first – well before asking what theme or format you have in mind or what color scheme you want to use!

And yet this is the one question I find nonprofits failing to ask.  Does anyone in leadership on your staff or board think either of these things?

  • Events are an inevitable part of the diversified fundraising mix.
  • Events are the primary way to generate awareness and funds.

Events are neither inevitable nor primary.

Events are merely a means to an end.

And since they are extremely resource-intensive, one thing is critical — and too many nonprofits skip right over this step. Please, don’t let that be you!

Think long and hard before embarking on a strategy that could potentially derail other more lucrative and cost-effective approaches.

Events have their place, to be sure; it’s up to you to put them in their place. You must take charge, lest your event(s) take charge of you!

What is Your End Goal?

You don’t buy a drill because you need a drill. More likely, you need to create a hole. And there’s something particular you want to fill that hole with, right? Maybe the drill will give you that perfect hole or, perhaps, there’s another more effective tool. It depends on the size and purpose of your desired hole. The same is true with nonprofit special events.

You don’t create an event for the sake of having one.

No matter what one or more board members or other leaders think would be swell. No, you hold an event for a specific purpose. For example, to:

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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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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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Three San Francisco Hearts: Blooming Heartree; Love of-Dahlieas; Seeds of Peace

Do You Know How to Use AI for Your Nonprofit?

Three San Francisco Hearts: Blooming Heartree; Love of-Dahlieas; Seeds of PeaceHave you been struggling with whether – and how – to incorporate generative artificial intelligence (AI; ChatGPT) into your work? Or perhaps you’ve been worrying your job will soon be obsolete?

You’re not alone.

Honestly, the whole AI thing scares the you-know-what out of me on most days.  But, let’s consider the encouraging present rather than worry so much about the possibility of a bleak future (as in destruction of humanity?!).

You can’t control everything.

You can control some things. So, I thought I’d take a quick minute to send you some tips I’ve curated from others to help stimulate your thinking and planning for ways ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer) and other AI-driven chatbots have potential to free up your time and revolutionize how you communicate with donors.

You can ignore all of this if you choose. But, it won’t make it go away. Nor will it stop your peers from figuring out how to get a leg up through use of these new tools.  Remember, at first some of us were slow to adopt use of computers, the internet and social media (who, me?).

So let’s lead from curiosity, not fear.

I begin with

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Labyrinthine Heart, 2023 benefit for S.F. General Foundation

6 Top Reasons To Use Handwriting

Do you write anymore?

I don’t mean do you type.

I’m talking about good old-fashioned handwriting.

You know, that very human practice most of the world seems to have abandoned post digital revolution?

It may seem practical and smart. After all, using a keyboard is definitely quicker.

But something critical gets lost in translation.

Emotional Connection

Not just to your audience, but to yourself.

Could keyboarding be causing you to disconnect? To lose your passion?

This is why writers including  J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Danielle Steele, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates have rejected word processors and computers in favor of writing by hand. At least for their first drafts.

CAVEAT: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking these “handwriting people” are all just “old,” “old school,” or “stuck in their ways.”  Rather, they intuitively discovered things about hand writing. All subsequently borne out by neuroscience. Once upon a time I intuited this as well. I couldn’t imagine giving up my yellow writing pad and pens of various colors.  How would I think expressively if forced to type everything? Gradually, I was persuaded (shamed?) to jump on the bandwagon of modernity and efficiency. And, lo and behold, it was incredibly efficient. So fast!  I got used to editing as I went along. Pretty soon I couldn’t envision ever going back. BUT…

But… after many years on the wrong track, I’m coming to understand the documented benefits of composing by hand.

Writing By Hand Offers Psychological Benefits

You can learn more about some of these benefits from specific studies here (improves memory and promotes deep encoding); here (bolsters learning), and here (advances idea generation), to name just a few.

Today I want to share six of these benefits I think you’ll find most relevant to your nonprofit work.

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Whiteboard planning session

Nonprofit Strategy: Three Things to Cleverly Finagle

Whiteboard planning sessionOkay, I recently let folks know I’d “finagled” a discount for them. After one reader told me the word “finagle” means “to obtain something by devious or dishonest means,” I sent an apologetic “Ruh Roh” email. I received a lot of forgiving feedback. Thank you! Many of you kindly supported my initial use of the word “finagle.”  Apparently, there is more than one definition.

Susan sent me this:

finagle (third-person singular simple present finaglespresent participle finaglingsimple past and past participle finagled)

    1. (transitive) To obtain, arrange, or achieve by indirect, complicated and/or intensive efforts.

finagle a day off work

    1. (transitive) To obtain, arrange, or achieve by deceitful methods, by trickery.

finagled his way out of a ticket by pretending to be on the way to a funeral, distraught

I think the word has come to mean “using super-human negotiating skill to obtain a superior result

Terry sent me this:

I thought you meant “obtain (something) by indirect or involved means.” I always felt it was sort of clever or creative negotiations to get something done when it seemed like it couldn’t be done. 

Sam sent me this:

I always thought it was someone who could manipulate circumstances to achieve some goal. No adverse implications. No criminal intent. Just clever in being able to make something work that really shouldn’t have worked.

And there were more. I thank you all.

You made me think.

And not just about negotiation (which is a subject unto itself), but about being clever. And thoughtful. And about what it takes to obtain superior results.

All good outcomes require a little positive finagling to get there.

Lots of things can be good and bad at the same time.

For example,

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