Are you ready for the BIG RESET?

I was on a Zoom call a few weeks ago, and the facilitator said something that stuck with me. She said, “We’re in a pause right now as a community, and the big reset is coming.” I’ve been dwelling on this ever since she said it. And my mind keeps veering off and chewing on what the BIG RESET might look like.

To be clear, I don’t think the “big reset” is the same thing as the “New Normal,” which everyone seems to be talking and worrying about.

When I think of the “big reset,” I think of the weeks and months immediately after your state or local community lifts its coronavirus shelter-in-place order. Whereas, the “New Normal,” in my opinion, describes the changes in our collective behaviors that will have a structural impact on us individually and collectively (e.g. workplace, businesses, transportation systems, recreation, etc).

In the last few weeks, I had speculated on how nonprofits might be impacted in the New Normal. But I haven’t shared any thoughts on the big reset because it was all still too fuzzy for me. However, two recent random encounters during my morning walk provided me with an AH-HA moment.

Twice now I’ve crossed paths with a gentleman from India on my early morning walks. I had never met this man before. He is literally a stranger to me.

The first time we met, we were walking towards each other on the walking path. And as I always do with anyone I come across while out-and-about, I looked up, made eye contact, smiled and wished the stranger a “good morning.” What happened next took me by surprise.

This complete stranger returned my smile with one of his own. He came to a complete full-stop and just started talking at me as if we had known each other for quite some time. The following are just a few snippets from that conversation:

  • Hi, my name is ______________.
  • He was born in India and migrated to Canada as an adult.
  • When he decided to migrate from Canada to the United States, his friends told him that he needed to be OK with two things: 1) women work in America and 2) the weather is cold.
  • He used to drive a cab.

This literally went on and on for 10-minutes. Of course, I did my best to politely nod and grunt acknowledgements when it seemed appropriate to do so.

I chalked the entire experience up to a random chance encounter. But then it happened again approximately a week later.

Apparently, I was now his best friend. This time he simply stopped walking. There was no smile or pleasant social greetings. And he just started talking. It was almost as if the last conversation had never ended. For the next 15-minutes, we stood in drizzling rain and he expressed frustration and political opinions at me. He said things like . . .

  • He is a good citizen. He pays his taxes and doesn’t cheat. He can’t believe what the government is doing to the economy and to good people like him.
  • He’s been good. He is abiding by the shelter-in-place order. But he is a taxpayer. And he feels like a victim.
  • He has been reading about Asian-Americans being victimized because of the misguided belief that their community is to blame for COVID-19. He didn’t think that was right.
  • However, he thinks it is China’s fault and they need to be held accountable.
  • He is concerned about how nuclear powers like India, Pakistan, and Russia will be impacted by COVID-19 ,and what it means for all of our safety and security.
  • I don’t know how he got there, but he ended our conversation with lots of cheerleading for the state of Israel. And he emphatically concluded everything by stating that if George W. Bush were still President of the United States none of this would be happening.

As you can imagine, I was slack-jawed. And the only thing I found myself saying periodically throughout the conversation was, “Well, all we can do right now is practice patience and acceptance.” To which he never really responded and would just dive back into the conversation where he had left off.

Both times I walked away feeling like I had just tumbled down the rabbit hole and found myself in Wonderland.

So, I share these two experiences with you because I think the BIG RESET is going to feel like we’ve tumbled down a rabbit hole and landed in a strange and unfamiliar place.

Human beings are social creatures. And in my opinion, all of this social distancing will have people craving social interaction.

Trauma can take many different forms. And in my opinion, a community trauma is being perpetrated by this pandemic. While everyone reacts differently to trauma, I suspect some people might be heading into the BIG RESET with something similar to PTSD. I hope I am wrong.

But most importantly, I hope each of you take one thing away from this blog post, which is . . .

These people are your board members, volunteers, donors, staff and clients.

Are you ready? And if not, what are you doing to get ready?

Please use the comment box below to weigh-in with your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Erik Anderson

Why is the non-profit sector hamstrung?

Yesterday’s post “Does your non-proft organization make a difference? Americans don’t think so!” introduced one of the main points in Dan Pallotta’s book Uncharitable, which is that non-profit organizations are under-resourced thus have a difficult time driving results and change. Pallotta argues that the reasons for too few resources are cultural, attitudinal and legal. Today, I’ll share with you what this author believes is at the heart of the non-profit sector’s dilemma.

Executive Compensation

If you are a capitalist, then you understand that people are motivated by their self-interests (unless they are Mother Theresa). Money considerations are at the heart of many of these decisions, which hamstrings the non-profit sector because it operates on a completely different wage standard.

For-profit corporations are allowed to pay handsome sums of money for performance, but non-profit employees are expected to work for sacrificial wages. When a non-profit organization is seen by its donors and supporters as paying its executive director too much money, there is almost always a backlash because of this cultural belief that people should not benefit from their “good works”.

This is, of course, hypocrisy and Pallotta does a nice job of calling it out by pointing at the Campbell Soup Company. This food company profits from the sale of its product to soup kitchens and homeless shelters, but those same non-profit organizations cannot pay a competitive wage to its employes. Yes, hypocrisy!

The end result is simple, the for-profit sector cleans the non-profit sector’s clock when it comes to attracting the best and brightest talent and labor. These people go on to amazing jobs in banking, investments, sales, and business. They don’t put their talents to work trying to solve homelessness, cancer or the academic achievement gap.

Marketing & Advertising

For-profit companies invest heavily in advertising. Why? Because it works! It creates demand for products where there was once no demand. In fact, most for-profit corporations will continue to buy advertising until the incremental benefit is zero.

Non-profit organizations rarely buy advertising to build their brand and create demand for donors to invest in their case for support. Typically, when you see non-profit advertising, it is a public service announcement which means it was donated by the cable company or newspaper. It also usually means that you’re up way too late at night because many of those freebie ads are buried during times of low viewership.

Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. I assume that organizations like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) pay for some of their amazing advertising. However, most organizations don’t and won’t because donors see it as a waste of their dollars. They generally won’t support it because they want to see their contributions go directly into mission-related activities rather than capital acquisition.

Severe risk aversion

For-profit companies can and do take risks. Sometimes, they take amazingly crazy risks and come close to taking down the entire global economy. Non-profits on the other hand rarely, if ever, take risks.

Economists tell us that “risk” is a necessary ingredient to generating profits and capital, which means it will always be difficult for non-profits to generate the necessary money to fund their mission.

For example, many non-profit organizations would shy away from starting a new special event fundraiser if they were told that the ROI in the first few years will be under 50 percent. Many for-profit corporations would jump at such an opportunity, but charity watchdog groups and donors frown upon this practice and call it wasteful.

Now versus later

Non-profit organizations spend much of their money in the same year they receive it. It is very much a “hand-to-mouth” approach. Why? Donors don’t want to see their contribution squirreled away for a rainy day or used to leverage future capital. Donors want to see their donations put to immediate use by feeding someone who is hungry now or helping a child with their homework today.

Sure, there are agencies who build endowments and have healthy reserve funds, but this is the exception and not the rule.

Return on investment

When you give your money to the bank or buy stock from a company, you expect a monetary return in the form of interest or hopefully a capital gain. However, no such return exists when you give money to a non-profit organization. In addition to laws forbidding key stakeholders from profiting, the idea of making money on a charity is frowned upon by out society.

For-profit companies have the stock market where they can access capital. Non-profits have no such mechanism.

According to Dan Pallotta, these cultural and structural obstacles are what plague the non-profit sector and contribute to its ineffectiveness. I was only able to scratch the surface of his arguments in this limited space, which is why I encourage you to buy his book. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of Dan’s arguments, I do appreciate that he challenges my belief system and causes me to think a little deeper on these issues.

Tomorrow, I will review a few of the ideas that Dan puts out there as solutions.

So, what do you think about the foundational arguments that I outlined today from Dan’s book? Agree? Disagree? Are you angered? Whatever you are thinking or feeling, please scroll down and share with the rest of us by using the comment box below.

Here’s to you health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Does your non-proft organization make a difference? Americans don’t think so!

While driving around doing some errands yesterday, I was listening to sports talk radio WSCR 670 AM in Chicago. One of the radio hosts was talking about how teachers make a difference in people’s lives. He knew this to be true because his mother is a teacher and every year countless high school and college kids return home, visit their favorite teachers, and tell them so.

The radio host went on to share that he used to have doubts about the impact his work has other people’s lives; however, his opinion recently changed after one of the station’s listeners emailed him. The listener was diagnosed with cancer and needed to complete a rigorous chemotherapy regiment to find his way back to health. While that treatment path is a tough road to hoe, the listener scheduled his treatments during the this radio host’s show and credits him with getting him though some very tough times.

It dawned on me that many of us strive to make a difference in someone’s life or the world around us. In fact, I think it is at the core of the human condition and the non-profit sector, which got me thinking . . .

Does your non-profit organization make a difference?

I am currently reading Dan Pallotta’s book — “Uncharitable” — and it has been challenging my non-profit belief systems. In a nutshell, he argues that the non-profit sector is extremely under-resourced and constrained by laws and cultural beliefs that don’t apply to for-profit corporations. As a result, non-profits are seen as ineffective and are in many instances actually ineffective.

Does that sound overly harsh and upsetting? In the opening pages of his book, he eggs his critics on and encourages all of us to take a look around the non-profit sector and our community and ask questions such as:

  • Why do things seem to stay pretty much the same?
  • Why have our cancer charities not found a cure for cancer?
  • Why have our homeless shelters not solved the problem of homelessness?
  • Why do children still go hunger on the streets of America?

While Pallotta ends up blaming the system (not the people in the system) and points to the lack of resources, apparently many Americans aren’t as charitable and Pallotta points that out by sharing the following information from various opinion surveys:

“A study released in 2008 by Ellison Research showed that ‘most Americans believe non-profit organizations and charities are not financially efficient enough in their work.’ A 2004 Brookings Institution study found that ‘nearly one out of three respondents expressed little or no confidence in charitable groups, and only 11% said they believe that charities do a very good job of spending their money wisely.’ Seventy percent of people surveyed in a 2008 NYU study said that charities ‘waste a great deal’ or a ‘fair amount’ of money.”

As the radio show host said yesterday, all of us wake up every morning and strive to make a difference or at least make our lives matter. Pallotta posed some tough questions, but they aren’t out-of-bounds. The surveys cited by Pallotta paint a stark picture of what many Americans think of the non-profit sector, which includes your non-profit agency. In this context, it should come as no surprise that the average annual donor turnover rate in America hovers around 50%.

So, how do you know that you and your organization is making a difference? How are you sharing that with your donors and your community? Are you seeing any difference in your donor loyalty rates? Please use the comment section to tell us what you’re measuring to prove everyone wrong. Or are you having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning because you aren’t finding that sense of satisfaction and fulfullment from your non-profit job?

Over the next few days, I will share a few more observations from Dan Pallotta’s book “Uncharitable;” however, I encourage everyone to buy a copy of the book. It will make you mad, but I think it is healthy to have your beliefs challenged every now and again.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Which blogging platform is right for your non-profit organization?

We all know that having a website is an important part of any social media strategy, but along with that comes having a blog. Many times these are the same thing, and the blog serves as the main content on the site. Other times, a blog is a supplemental part of a site. Either way, finding the platform that is best for you and your organization is key to blogging success.

Some questions to ask yourself before setting up your blog:

  • Who will be blogging? Will this be a solo or group project?  Different platforms allow multiple authors, which is important to keep in mind. Also, I recommend making one person in charge of editing and layout, which means that person needs to be more knowledgeable on how to make changes.
  • What type of content will you share on the blog? Will it primarily be text, photos, videos, or a combination of all three? You might find after looking at different options that one is more suited to your content.
  • Will the blog serve as your main site or will it supplement your current site? Either way, you need to choose an option that works with you current website, brand and logo.

After thinking though a few of these questions, now the actual research can start on which blog platform is best for you.


WordPress is a very popular free blogging platform that powers many of the sites you visit today – this one included. WordPress’ claim to fame is that they make it super easy to get a blog up and running and offer many plug-ins to make the site customizable.

There are two versions of WordPress — and One might work better for you based on the needs of the blog. allows you to create a free blog on WordPress’ servers. You get most of the features behind the WordPress platform without having to install it on your own server. While you never have to worry about updating software, your blog might have a domain ending in “”. It is also a social network that people use to follow and read all of the blogs to which they subscribe. is the full featured free WordPress suite hosted on your own server. It is widely popular due to its ease of use and because it is free. It is easy to use for novice web designers, and it becomes more powerful as the user develops a familiarity with plug-ins or basic html.

There are a plethora of resources out there to build your site using WordPress. A simple google search will lead you in the right direction.


If you want a super easy to build professional looking blog, look no further than Squarespace. Squarespace is not free, but in my opinion it is worth the money. Depending on the plan you choose, you will be given web space, a domain, and an easy to use interface that allows you to customize your site through the simple act of “dragging and dropping”. This provider makes it easy to build a site that doesn’t look like created by a cookie cutter template approach. They also offer the ability to edit code if needed.

Other Options

There are a few other options out there. Tumblr is a social network built around blogging. The audience at Tumblr is on the younger side, but if that’s what you are looking for, it just might be the right place for your organization to share content.

Blogger is Google’s free blogging service and has been around for a long time. It is well-known as a starting place for new bloggers.

Finally, you can always code your own site. However, if you are going to do that, I always think it is best to consult with a professional.

I hope this post got you thinking about which blogging platform is right for your organization. If you currently have a blog, I’d love to hear the pros and cons of the system you are using. Also, if you have any questions on blogging services, I’d be more than happy to answer them using the comment section below!

Can you put your finger on what exactly ‘non-profit leadership’ is?

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Last Friday, we talked about John’s blog post titled “I Disagree. Now What?” and related it to the idea that sometimes non-profit organizations need to decline a contribution from a donor because it has too many strings attached or doesn’t align with your agency’s strategic direction. We spent a lot of time in last Friday’s post talking about when you might have to say ‘NO’ and how to minimize how often that happens.

Since last Friday, John posted an interesting follow-up piece titled “Obeying: Murky Middle Ground,” which is the basis of today’s post about non-profit leadership.

In John’s post, his readers find murky middle ground to the idea of “obeying” because an employee can mildly comply with the organization’s direction without actively supporting it. I’ve seen it way too often, and I bet that you have, too. Here are two examples I’ve witnessed in recent years:

  • An executive director asks their fundraising professional to help with writing the agency’s resource development plan. The development director was overwhelmed and saw it as just “one more thing” that the executive director was unloading onto their already heaping chart of work. So, they dragged their feet and submitted the bare minimum, knowing it would result in more work for the executive director in the end.
  • A fundraising volunteer agreed (albeit grudgingly) to work a few pledge cards for the agency’s annual campaign. They missed every report meeting and dodged every phone call. One week before the deadline, they disregarded every best practice and all of the training they had received and picked up the phone to solicit their prospects.

John is so right when he says, “For leaders, with respect to ‘obeying’ the bar is raised significantly.  It is not enough to comply.  Compliance is not the same thing as commitment.  Leaders must . . . actively support.  They must be committed to the course of action.”

I’ve recently heard a group of non-profit friends talking about the distinction between LEADING and MANAGING when it comes to non-profit board volunteers, fundraising volunteers, executive directors and fundraising professionals.

Of course, I find it very interesting that no one seems able to agree on what constitutes “LEADERSHIP“. For example . . .

Wikipedia defines leadership as: “A process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task“. They go on to describe other theories and definitions around the concept of leadership.

The Team Technology website defines leadership in relation to management in the following way: “Leadership is setting a new direction or vision for a group that they follow (ie: a leader is the spearhead for that new direction). Management controls or directs people/resources in a group according to principles or values that have already been established.”

Noel Tichy looks at leadership through a teaching lens and describes leadership as, “Developing managers into leaders at all levels is the key to sustained success of any organization. The winning organizations will possess a ‘virtuous teaching cycle’ where everyone teaches and everyone learns in order to provide the ideas, energy and the edge needed to make the right decisions.”

Is it possible that the idea of non-profit leadership is highly complicated and downright confusing at times? Of course! Is it also possible that all of these competing definitions may not be competing at all . . . they might all describe this complicated idea? Yup!!!

Let’s deconstruct all of these definitions:

  • Is an effective non-profit leader someone who brings other people together and rallies them to do something for the greater good of the organization and society? YES, and this makes them a collaborator and supporter, too.
  • Is a leader someone who has a vision? Of course! Not only can they secure buy-in from others, but they actively engage folks while simultaneously rolling up their sleeves to work on that vision.
  • Are leaders teachers? You betcha! Good leaders develop other leaders and do so through mentoring and on-the-job leadership programs focused on projects and experiential learning.

I bet that we can go on and on today talking about how leaders have a higher calling and must do more than just “obey” . . . they must buy-in, actively support, teach, provide vision, and collaborate.

What did we miss? What else do you see leaders doing at your non-profit organization. Please use the comment box below to share your point of view on what describes “leadership”.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

The Philanthropy Phlog is here: Part 3


Last week I was on vacation in Michigan, and I decided to test a theory that I’ve had for a long time. I believe that philanthropy is something that occurs all around us every day, and we’re usually way too busy to notice it.  Sometimes, it is hard to put it in words, which makes it difficult to blog about. So, I decide that I would try to take pictures of “every day” philanthropy while I was on vacation and share it with you this week.

Today’s picture is obviously of a renovated old theater. If you look closely, you can see that they use the digital marquee to thank their major donors and sponsors. How many times have you walked right by a donor recognition wall or signage, and it blended right in to the background? I’m sure that it has been way too many times for me.

As I’ve been promising all week long, we have a big announcement today at DonorDreams blog. Drumroll, please?

Starting next week, we are launching DonorDreams2, which will be a “phlog”. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it is a photo blog (aka phlog).  🙂

DonorDreams2 will focus on capturing every day philanthropy in a photographic manner. Click here to preview the new phlog site (I’ve already posted a picture other there. Please go check out the difference in formating between DonorDreams blog and DonorDreams2 phlog.) Oh yeah . . . when you’re over there, please use the subscription widget to subscribe over there, too.

Since it would be boring just seeing pictures of philanthropy from Elgin, IL and wherever else I travel, we’re opening up the DonorDreams phlog to you. Please submit pictures of philanthropy in action from your hometown or your non-profit organization. Email me your pictures (my address can be found at the bottom of my blog and the phlog every day). Include your name, city/state, and a brief description of what we’re looking at.

Come on, folks . . . this can be fun! Dust off your camera phone and keep your eyes open for philanthropy. It might just broaden the way you see the world around you and open your mind to all sorts of new non-profit ideas.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

The Philanthropy Phlog is coming: Part 2


Last week I was on vacation in Michigan, and I decided to test a theory that I’ve had for a long time. I believe that philanthropy is something that occurs all around us every day, and we’re usually way too busy to notice it.  Sometimes, it is hard to put it in words, which makes it difficult to blog about. So, I decide that I would try to take pictures of “every day” philanthropy while I was on vacation and share it with you this week.

Today’s picture is obviously of a blood drive poster. While bumming around the downtown square, we stepped into a coffee shop for a quick pick-me-up beverage. How many times have you busily zipped into such an establishment and didn’t take the time to read the event posters? So, many of those events are sponsored by non-profit organization.

As you have probably guessed, this week’s series of philanthropy pictures will lead up to an announcement tomorrow. Yes, it probably has something to do with something called a “phlog”. Stay tuned and please take a brief moment to enjoy what I consider the “every day pictures of philanthropy” this week.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

The Philanthropy Phlog is coming: Part 1


Last week I was on vacation in Michigan, and I decided to test a theory that I’ve had for a long time. I believe that philanthropy is something that occurs all around us every day, and we’re usually way too busy to notice it.

Sometimes, it is hard to put it in words, which makes it difficult to blog about. So, I decide that I would try to take pictures of “every day” philanthropy while I was on vacation and share it with you this week.

Today’s picture is obviously of a flower bed. While many municipalities ask their public works department to plant and maintain flower beds, some communities partner with non-profit organizations to get the job done.

How many times have you busily zipped by such a public garden and didn’t take the time to appreciate the non-profit work put into its creation? I know that I have done so way too many times.

I wonder how much money it took to plant and maintain those flower beds? Hmmm . . . how many volunteers were recruited?  How much enjoyment do residents reap from those efforts? Is there an impact on tourism and economic development?

As you have probably guessed, this week’s series of philanthropy pictures will lead up to an announcement on Thursday. Yes, it probably has something to do with something called a “phlog”. Stay tuned and please take a brief moment to enjoy what I consider the “every day pictures of philanthropy” this week.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Two Things You Can Do to Make Your Photos Look Awesome

They say that a photo is worth a thousand words. When it comes to adding photos to your blog posts or posting photos to social networks, why not make your photos look the best they possibly can?

I know what you might be thinking – Marissa, I am not a professional photographer, nor do we have the budget to hire one. Well, today I’m here to show you a few things you can do to make sure you are putting your best photo foot forward.

Take Photos of Everything
I cannot stress this enough. If there is an event going on, photos need to be taken. Thanks to digital photography there is no limit as to how photos you can take so snap away. When it comes to photos, the more options you have the better. Even if you don’t use these photos to showcase this specific event, you might be able to use a photo take at that time for something else.

Don’t forget to make sure you have the permission to take photos of people you are photographing.

Also, if you don’t have someone on staff that is available to take photos, put out a call for volunteers. There might be a local up-and-coming photographer who could lend her talents to help out your organization.


A picture cropped without and with the rule of...
A picture cropped without and with the rule of thirds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After you’ve sorted through all of the photos and picked the ones you want to use chances are there is some editing that will need to happen. One of the easiest ways to take a less than awesome photo and make it a dynamic addition to your post, is to crop it. This is a feature you will find in most photo editing programs.

When cropping it is important to keep in mind the goal of your photo. What do you want the audience to focus on? Sometimes you might have a great shot of a lot of people at an event but 70% of that photo might be taken up by the ceiling in the room. By cropping out some of the ceiling the viewer’s focus is shifted to the people instead of the size of the room.

Also, you can crop images to follow one of photography’s golden rules: The Rule of Thirds. The basics are this, if the object of your photo is lined up along an imaginary tic-tac-toe grid, your photo will be visually interesting. Even if the original photo didn’t follow the Rule of Thirds, by cropping something out, you can change that.

Color Correction
There’s a lot that a person can do to change the color tone of a photo, but I won’t go in to all of the details here. I just want to focus on a quick color correction trick that can make your photos look the best they can. Many photo programs have an auto correct feature that automatically changes the saturation, contrast, brightness and exposure of your photos. This feature can become your best friend because most of the time it is one click that can save your photo. I will say that sometimes it doesn’t make your photo look its best, but in those cases you can go in and adjust each of those elements individually or just use the photo without any color correction.

Correcting the color of your photos can really make an impact. Many times it makes the photo look more realistic.

Photo Editing Programs
To crop and correct color you do not need to spend thousands of dollars on photo editing software. Most times your computer already comes with the software to do it. iPhoto on Macs is a dynamic program that organizes your photos as well and has an editing suite to help you make your photos look their best. Depending on the version of Windows you are using, Microsoft has basic photo editing tools also built in to their operating system to help you along.

If you are looking for a fully featured photo editor like Photoshop, but without the price tag, there is GIMP. GIMP is a free program with most of the features of a high powered editing program. Also, if you upload your photos to Google+, they have a pretty great editor built into the photo section of their site that is free to use as well.

Photos can make a big impact on your web content. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to make your photos look like they were shot by a pro. Just by cropping and correcting the color the photos on your site can look like a million bucks.

Do you have any photo editing tips you’d like to share? What photo program works best for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Saying ‘NO’ to donors and minimizing how often it is done

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, we’re focusing on a post that John titled: “I Disagree. Now What?“. In that post, he describes “the sound of righteous indignation hitting managerial prerogative,” and the lessons learned about when it is right to disobey and when it is not.

John’s post could send me off in a number of different HR directions this morning, but I am in a resource development mood and want to talk about donors — those investors in your mission.

When I read  “I Disagree. Now What?” it got me thinking about all of those times I’ve seen donors throw their dollars around. They want you to develop and launch a new program. They only want their contribution to support certain programs or certain activities.

Thinking back upon those situations reminds me a lot of the boss character in John’s post. This got me wondering: “Is there ever a situation when a non-profit organization can say ‘NO’ to a donor and use their contribution in a manner that is inconsistent with the donor’s wishes?”

To be honest, I can’t think of any situations where you can take someone’s money and disregard their expressed intent. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say ‘NO’ . . . you just need to do it by declining to accept the contribution.

While it is hard to say ‘NO’ to money, especially in today’s philanthropic environment, non-profit organizations need to know when it must happen. If you’re having a hard time thinking of when this might be appropriate, the following are a few examples of when I might do so:

  • When Bernie Madoff calls and wants to write me a big check.
  • When a company whose brand is inconsistent with your non-profit image wants to contribute (e.g. Hooters, local bar, strip clubs, the tobacco industry, etc)
  • When a donor’s wishes are not compatible with your mission.
  • When a donor’s wishes are not compatible with your strategic direction.

In my experience, the first two examples are easily identifiable and actionable for most non-profit organizations. It is the last two examples that are very challenging.

For example, it might make sense for you to accept money to develop a new intergenerational program that brings kids and senior citizens together, but it might not be a strategic priority for your organization. As a matter of fact, it might distract from other more important and pressing strategic initiatives.

Declining a donor’s contribution is really hard and should be done rarely, which is why having the right mindset, approach and tools in your fundraising toolbox is important. John does a really nice job addressing this issue in his post:

  • When John says, “Pick your battles” . . . I read this as: “Don’t over-solicit. Be very thoughtful about when and what you ask your donors to support.”
  • When John says, “Some things I can’t control, but I can influence” . . . I read this as: “Cultivate new prospects and steward existing donors significantly more than you solicit them, and only solicit when it feel right.”
  • When John says, “Craft my argument, with data and facts” . . . I read this as: “Develop an amazing case for support and train fundraising volunteers to use it as the foundation of their solicitation.”
  • When John says, “Make my case in a compelling fashion” . . . I read this as: “Convince donors to support your mission and the agency’s strategic direction. Demonstrate how doing so aligns with their philanthropic wishes and dreams.”
  • When John says, “Take my hits; the pain is temporary” . . . I read this as: “Once in a blue moon, you will have to politely turn down a donation. It will not be the end of the world.”
  • When John says, “Seek to understand even while I strive to be understood” . . . I read this as: “The listening-to-speaking ratio involved in donor interactions needs to significantly favor listening. Doing so will improve the odds of understanding, which in and of itself should minimize the number of times you have to say ‘NO’ to a donor because you are able to align the solicitation with their known interests.”

Non-profit organizations should strive to never be in the position of having to say ‘NO’ to a donor, but they need to be prepared to do so.

Have you ever been in a position of having to say ‘NO’ to a donor? If so, how did you go about doing it without damaging the relationship? What mindsets, approaches and tools are in your fundraising toolbox to ensure that you are rarely in this position? Please use the comment box below to share your answers.

If you are responsible for HR at your organization or are currently at odds with your boss, I encourage you to click over to John’s post titled “I Disagree. Now What?” and read it from that perspective, too.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847