The big stewardship mistake

Oftentimes, I’ve been told by non-profit organizations that they have limited resources and cannot implement a donor-centered communication program to steward their donors. After trying hard not to roll my eyes, I find myself forcing a smile and encouraging them to segment their range of gifts (ROG) chart and get as personal as possible (e.g. handwritten notes, periodic phone calls, and a face-to-face visit or two) with their largest donors. This seems to work and it moves them in the right direction, however …

It was not the BEST advice I could have given them!

Penelope Burk says it best on page 111 of her book “Donor Centered Fundraising“:

“Which donors need the most diligent investment from you? The answer is the ones whose loyalty is not yet secure, the ones whose current affiliation with your not-for-profit may still be tenuous. And who are they? They are your first time donors, those new contributors who demonstrate the highest rate of attrition between the first gift and the next ask.”

So, if I could go back in time or hit the “do over” button, I would tell those non-profit and resource development professionals to get really personal with the top 10% or so of their ROG chart. The after taking a cleansing breath, I would double down and tell them to put together a special stewardship program for first time donors. And by special, I mean more than just the typical gift acknowledgement letter and flurry of newsletters. Here are just a few crazy ideas I’ve had:

  • Create a special Donor Recognition Society for first time donors with a bunch of special “courtesies”.
  • Host a special town hall meeting (b/c I just hate “open houses”) for first time donors to hear first hand, witness and participate in mission-oriented messages and activities. This should help them see exactly what they have invested in.
  • Develop a donor communications series aimed only at first time donors with testimonials from larger, very influential donors talking about their excitement about various ROI success stories and their sense of fulfillment as a donor.
  • Institute a policy that all first time donors get a phone call from a board volunteer somewhere between three and six months after a donor’s first contribution. This phone call should include ROI-based information as well as the offer to answer any questions the donor may have. It would also be a nice touch to ask the donor if there is any feedback they might have for the non-profit and if there is anything they might want to get involved in.
  • Host a quarterly focus group session with first time donors and report the results and findings back to all first time donors.

And the ideas can go on and on … what do you do to help retain first time donors? How successful have you been at retaining first time donors? Please feel free to add onto the list of ideas that I just started by using the comment section of this blog. We can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

The 7 Ps and case statements

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of crafting your organization’s case for support document, and I want to continue down this path a little further today. Back when I worked with the Boy Scouts of America, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hear a co-worker or volunteer lament “The Seven P’s” — “Prior Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance”. If this revelation surprises you, then remember that “BE PREPARED” is the motto of the Boy Scouts .

After yesterday’s blog post, I realized that I might have made the case for revisiting and revising your case statement documents. However, I didn’t talk about how you can best prepare your volunteers to bring that case for support to life.

Here is an example of what some of our volunteers look like when they try to vocalize our case for support when sitting down with a prospect or donor … click here to see a less than perfect example of someone trying to make the case for their charity. Unfortunately, many of these volunteers commit the following mistakes:

  • They come across nervous or unsure of themselves
  • They don’t inspire confidence and passion
  • Their body language sends the wrong message
  • Some might even perceive that they don’t know what they’re talking about

This is not how we want our fundraising volunteers to come across; however, the reality is that we set them up for failure by not training and preparing them properly. Yes, many of us provide our volunteers with a copy of the case statement. Some of us might even go so far as to tell them what it is and why it is important. However, very few of us model the case statement’s appropriate usage or work with volunteers on practicing how to put it into their own words. Here are a few preparation tips you may want to consider:

  • Host a campaign kickoff meeting and use some time to review the organization’s case for support.
  • Ask volunteers to take a few minutes to read the case statement; then go around the room and ask everyone to share one impactful piece of messaging they took from the document.
  • Pair volunteers up with each other and ask them to take turns using the information in the case statement to “make the case for financial support” to their partner. Ask the person who is listening to also provide constructive feedback at the end of the exercise.
  • Use video technology to record each volunteer and meet with them separately with positive and constructive feedback.
  • Make sure that volunteers are personally solicited for their contribution prior to going out on their first solicitation, and make sure the person soliciting them is perfectly modeling usage of the case statement.
  • Make time to go on solicitation visits with volunteers. Take time after the visit to de-brief and discuss how the case for support might have been made more impactfully.

Volunteers will resist these efforts all in the name of “time”. However, you need to ask yourself if you can afford to send them out to talk to your prospects and donors less than at their best. If you invest a little time in “prior proper preparation,” they will become world-class fundraising volunteers who walk away from your campaign feeling good about the entire experience … click here to see a better example of someone trying to make the case for their charity.

How does your organization prepare fundraising volunteers to make the case for financial support from donors? Please share your best practices in the comment box below.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

Donors and organizational politics

A good friend of mine (and a reader of this blog) sent me an email yesterday suggesting that I start reading another blog called “The Third Sector Report“. Being a firm believer that good writers are good readers, I clicked the link and tried that blog on for size. This week’s post by Jeffrey Wilcox CFRE talks about politics inside of non-profit organizations.

Wilcox’s words hit me sideways and personally. They took me back in time to board meetings where two or three groups of board members were discussing different building options prior to beginning work on a capital campaign. Some volunteers wanted us to acquire land and build in one place. Others wanted to expand on our current site. Still others (including one of our biggest and most influential donors) wanted us to acquire an existing building and renovate.

When you get a bunch of people together who are mission-focused and passionate, politics can’t help but enter the equation. Sometimes it is paid staff at odds with board volunteers, and it really gets interesting when donors get involved.

Wilcox suggests that politics is unavoidable and urges non-profit leaders to develop a political management toolkit. There are lots of awesome tools one of which is a written succession plan. <Yikes!> However, I don’t want to steal his thunder. I urge you read his blog post for suggestions of the other tools to include in your toolkit.

In the end, I am convinced this “political management toolkit” is a great opportunity for non-profit leaders to get donors involved. CEOs and development professionals are wasting an engagement opportunity if they sit down and pound out a communication policy by themselves. I don’t see any problem with involving key donors and board volunteers in development of the executive director’s annual performance management plan.

Some donors just don’t have time to join the board of directors, a standing committee or a special event committee. So, why not ask them if they want to help out with a small project that has a distinct start and end? If you can make the case for why these tools in your political management toolkit are important, you will likely find a few donors who are willing to help. In the end, that donor is likely to be more engaged and as we all know … “money follows involvement”.

The bonus, of course, is that you’ve simultaneously built more organizational capacity in addition to deepening key donors’ engagement. Additionally, if the project involves something that a donor is passionate about, then you are modeling what a good “donor-centered” resource development professional looks like.

Have you ever included key donors who are not board volunteers in short-term projects? What was your experience and the results? Please weigh-in and let us know.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653

Boards should meet NOT email

I opened my e-newsletter from Jean Block yesterday, scrolled through it, and nearly jumped out of my chair when I read her link to an article in The Non-Profit Quarterly about boards that are voting on issues in between meetings using email . In a nutshell, the article spells out all the reasons why taking email votes is neither legal nor a very practice. I strongly encourage you to click the previous link and read the article for yourself (after you are done reading this blog, of course … LOL).

My former supervisor at Boys & Girls Clubs of America used to periodically rant to me about email. If I heard it once I heard it one hundred times … “email is an information technology and not a communication tool”.  Regardless of whether or not you agree with him, I think we can all agree that email has its limitations. I thought the MAXIMUMadvantage website did a good job of naming the times that email is not appropriate.

Board members that use email voting are not exercising their fiduciary responsibilities. How in the world can we “discuss” important issues unless we’re engaged in a “real-time” discussion?

I know that there are people reading this blog who are saying to themselves that board members are “too busy”. To those folks, I suggest that anyone who doesn’t have time to attend board meetings probably shouldn’t be a board volunteer.

Please don’t misunderstand … there are appropriate roles for everyone in your organization. You just need to take the time to be donor-centered and relationship-oriented by getting to know the person and finding the right opportunity for them to support your mission.

Not every big donor or important person needs to be on the board of directors. It is possible to “engage” donors and community decision-makers without asking them to join the board.

  • Ask them to be a program volunteer or fundraising volunteer.
  • Ask them to help with strategic planning or participate in a focus group or a special project.
  • Just listen and then ask them to do something they are passionate about.

My bottom line is that square pegs shouldn’t be asked to fit into round holes.

Others of you might be saying that non-profit organizations have a tendency to “over meet” their volunteers. If that is the case, then I simply suggest that we need to figure out how not to do that. Instead, we should focus our efforts on having powerful and effective meetings. It “must be” possible because there is a website with the name LOL. At the very least, in all seriousness look into instituting a consent agenda.  Additionally, here is a YouTube video with a few meeting tips.

Other than a consent agenda, what other strategies are you using to streamline board meetings while maximizing impactful and strategic discussions that serve to engage and empower board volunteers? Please share your thoughts and practices in the comment section before another email proxy vote is sent out for consideration.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653