Dear board volunteers . . . Discover your case for support.

mardi gras mask3DonorDreams blog is honored to be hosting the May 2013 Nonprofit Blog Carnival. The theme this month is “Dear board volunteer . . .” and the idea is “If you could write an anonymous letter to a nonprofit board about something they do that drives you crazy, what would that letter look like and what suggested solutions would you include?” If you are a blogger and would like more information on how to participate and submit a post for consideration, please click here to learn more.

I wanted to expand the Nonprofit Blog Carnival concept in May. So, I reached out to real non-profit professionals and asked them to also write an anonymous letter to their board volunteers. These people are executive directors, fundraising professionals, board members, donors, community volunteers, consultants and front line staff. I promised everyone anonymity in exchange for their submissions.

We will celebrate May’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. Up to that fun-filled day, I will publish real anonymous letters every day from real non-profit professionals right here at DonorDreams blog.

I hope you enjoy this real look at real issues that our community deals with on a daily basis.

Today’s anonymous letter is a little different from Wednesday and Thursday’s submissions. This contributor decided to take on the persona of the iconic advice columnist Dear Abby.

Here is today’s letter:

Dear Abby,

It seems like every time I need a board member to do something really important, they have a conflict, are too busy, or are uncomfortable with the task. Please help!

Hoping for Change

Dear Hope,

On a summer evening two years ago, I received a call from one of our staff letting me know that a 17-year-old boy, named John had come to the Club after hours looking for help. John, who was in foster care and has cognitive disabilities, had an argument with his foster mother and she kicked him out of her car on a busy road. John was totally alone, but he found his way to the one place he knew was safe – the Boys & Girls Club.

The Club staff called John’s “in case of emergency” contacts to no avail. His foster mother refused to pick him up, his caseworker was busy. As I received these updates, I became acutely aware of the life my own two children were living. It was after dinner, I was reading them stories, our house had just been professionally cleaned. I began to cry as I thought about the stark contrast between my own children’s life and the life of this most vulnerable boy.

This could have been the day I decided my work was too depressing. Thankfully, this moment became a turning point for me. This is when I realized that what I do is more than just a job. Although, I wasn’t there to open the door for John that night, I knew that I had the power to open a door for others like him. Not only do I owe this to “those” kids, but to my own kids. I owe it to them to do everything in my power to make sure that they do not have to live in a world where a vulnerable child who is left on a busy street at night has no place to turn. This is what I think of when I have too much on my plate, or am uncomfortable with the task ahead of me.

I tell you this story not to sadden you, but rather to shake your board into finding their story.

What is their motivation for being involved? Too often, I hear from board members that they are too busy to attend meetings, have too much on their plates, or are uncomfortable with fundraising. These are frustrating comments to hear – especially as I think about John. In order to be successful as a board member, one must find the story that will motivate them to serve, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

The good news is John still finds his way to the Boys & Girls Club everyday. He is living in a group home with other young adults who have disabilities. He is now a Club volunteer and loves spending his time helping staff maintain the technology labs. The Club is a family for John, but the Club staff and kids also think of John as a part of their patchwork family.

I hope your board has the opportunity to one day find their story. It will change their lives and the lives of many others. When this story is found, the job of a board member becomes more than a series of meetings and tasks. It will be the catalyst for a better, more purposeful life for those you serve and those you love.

Mission-focused Mary

If you have some advice for the author of our anonymous letter, please be respectful and share it in the comment box at the bottom of this post.

If you want to submit an anonymous letter for consideration this month, please email it to me at the address in your signature block below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Can you read your donor’s mind?

why1Ever since the first day I was introduced to the concept of fundraising, I’ve seen lots of people around me struggle with one basic question: “Why do people make charitable contributions to non-profit organizations?” Maybe it is just me, but I think our profession is obsessed with finding an answer to this question.

Here are just a few examples of situations where I’ve seen a version of this question debated:

  • Board volunteers who are reluctant fundraising solicitors trying to rationalize why they won’t make an ask,
  • Fundraising volunteers who are grappling with an organization’s internal case for support document, and
  • Fundraising professionals and non-profit executive directors who are trying to craft a strategy or develop a resource development plan that results in increased revenue.

This question reminds me of the plot in “Moby Dick“. The characters I just described above are Ishmael, and the answer to the question that I posed in the first paragraph is Moby Dick. Am I off base? Or is this one of those age-old questions that are elusive and difficult to really answer?

Last night I was back in my basement unpacking boxes and I came across more training materials from the Boy Scouts as well as Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Those two documents got me thinking about this topic.

why3The following are the “six reasons why donors give” according to my Boy Scout training material:

  1. They are asked.
  2. They believe in the ideas of the organization, and care.
  3. To achieve prestige and recognition.
  4. To seek power and influence.
  5. Because of peer pressure.
  6. For tax consideration.

When I looked at the Boys & Girls Club’s training handout, it was based on survey research found in Jerold Panas’ book “Mega Gifts“. In that book, he listed TWENTY ONE reasons donors give (e.g. major gifts individuals who give more than $1 million) to non-profit organizations and he listed them in the order these individuals ranked them. I won’t give you the entire ranked list (because you need to click the link above and buy his book), but here are the top six for comparative value to the Boy Scout’s list:

  1. Belief in mission of the institution. (1)
  2. Community responsibility and civic pride. (15)
  3. Regard for staff leadership. (17)
  4. Fiscal stability of the institution. (20)
  5. Respect for the institution locally. (4)
  6. Regard for volunteer leadership of institution. (9)

After each of the ranked reasons, I provided a number in parenthesis. The number in parenthesis is where fundraising professionals ranked the same reasons they believe donors give to their charities.

why2What conclusions can we draw from all of these lists? Here is what I think:

  • Generalizations are dangerous, and we need to stop stereotyping donors’ intentions.
  • I believe donors are like snowflakes. While there might be a few generalizations we can make, we need to invest time into getting to know our donors and understanding their individual motivations.
  • Reviewing all of the lists and rankings, we apparently don’t know as much as we think we know.

What strategies and tactics do you and your organization use to figure out donor intent on an individual level? Are there big reasons you believe donors give to your agency that aren’t on any of the aforementioned lists? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Start talking to donors about THE WHY and THE WHERE

visionOn May 9, 2012, I blogged about something I thought was the next best thing since sliced bread. It was a post titled “FREE fundraising movies every Monday morning? Sign me up!”  Not only did I write about this awesome service, but I took my own advice and signed up. I just love starting my week off with a short three-minute video nugget of fundraising goodness. So, when I opened yesterday’s Monday morning movie email and saw that the topic was “Articulating your vision to inspire others to give,” I knew it was going to be a great week.

One of the reasons I love these Monday morning fundraising videos is because they always make me stop and think. Yesterday’s video didn’t disappoint. It made me stop and think about my last few donor interactions. It even caused me to reflect back on the last time I was solicited by a charity. In this reflection exercise, here is what I found:

  • Sometimes my solicitation visits focus on big picture stuff like “mission.”  These discussions focus on the question of WHY. They are 50,000 foot discussions, and some donors like to hear this message over and over again.
  • Sometimes my solicitation visits focus on big picture stuff like “vision.” These discussions focus on the question of WHERE (and a case can be made for WHY). They are also 50,000 foot discussions.
  • Sometimes my solicitation visits focus on the little picture stuff like “programming.” These discussions focus on the question of HOW (and a case can be made for WHAT). They are not 50,000 foot discussions. These conversations are in the trenches.
  • Sometimes, when I am having a good day and the donor is generous with their time, my solicitation visits are a combination of the last three bullet points.

The interesting thing I discovered when looking back is that each of those solicitation calls looked really different because each donor imposed their own set of constraints on the visit. One donor only had 15 minutes to give me; whereas, another donor is a real detail freak.

I’ve been known to say things like, “The golden rule in fundraising is ‘Know Thy Donor‘” or “Donors are like snowflakes because they’re all different“.

I am inclined to double down on these last two opinions after thinking about my last few solicitation visits. However, if you want to make a generalization about fundraising and donors, then this week’s Monday Fundraising Movie makes a great point. Many of us are getting so wrapped up in demonstrating ROI to our donors that our case for support drifts toward disproportionately talking about programming. This can limit our effectiveness because many donors give because they are inspired to do so, and many of the inspirational tools in our fundraising toolbox deal with our vision.

captain jackThe next time you find yourself sitting down with a donor, try sticking to this simple script:

  • Tell them about the need in your community. Share a few statistics with them, but personalize it with a story about one of your clients.
  • Tell them about the vision your agency has for the future and how it impacts the need you just shared with them.
  • Tell them about how you know your agency is on the right path toward achieving this vision. Share a few outcomes/impact statistics with them, but personalize it with a story about one of your clients.
  • Of course, end all of this by asking for the donation or pledge.

If you practice, I bet you can do this in 15 minutes. I also suspect that you will become one very effective fundraiser.

Has your agency’s case for support started leaning more towards programming and operations in recent years? What have your last few solicitations looked and sounded like? What do you like to hear when getting solicited by other charities? Please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Cause related marketing 101: Educate, educate, educate!

CRM1It is that time of the year when retailers are pulling out every stop in their little bag of tricks to get your attention and hopefully your holiday dollars. One of those shiny objects that some retailers use is called cause related marketing (CRM). Wikipedia does a nice job of explaining this phenomenon: “Cause marketing or cause-related marketing refers to a type of marketing involving the cooperative efforts of a ‘for-profit’ business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit.”

Joanne Fritz at recently wrote a blog post titled “Hasbro and Macy’s Invite Letters to Santa in Holiday Cause Marketing Campaigns“. She ended her post with this simple question: “Do you have a favorite holiday cause-marketing campaign? Let me know.”

As I sat here contemplating what my favorite CRM initiative has been throughout the years, I remembered that just last week my partner — John — returned from a business trip with a present for me from the Nashville airport. It was a new part of “Mens Lounge Pants” (or as I affectionately refer to them as: “Erik’s Comfortable Fat Pants”)

John purchased those pants for me because the tag said “Your purchase helps kids in need” and he knows that I love charities and for-profit business that help “those kids who need us most”. So, in his mind, this was a win-win because I needed a new pair of lounge pants and his retail purchase would also “help kids in need”.

When John went to check-out, he made an honest mistake and asked the cashier: “So, how does my purchase help kids in need? Which charities does your company support?”  Unfortunately, the cashier’s response was less than inspiring. She shrugged and pointed to a point of purchase coin box sitting on the counter top.

Needless to say, John’s enthusiasm for the brand evaporated and when he gave me the present my “blogger curiosity” went through the roof.

As I sat here contemplating Joanne Fritz’s question, I decided to do a little more research on my lounge pants.

After a good hour of clicking around, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  1. This cause related marketing campaign is a little unusual because it benefits the company’s own corporate foundation and not an independently owned and operated charity. I liken this to McDonald’s supporting Ronald McDonald House. 
  2.  I’m still not very sure what the foundation actually does . . . training? programming? advocacy? conferences?
  3. This campaign is very glossy and slick. It is one heck of a “shiny object” that appeals to consumers.

However, Joanne Fritz hits the nail on the head in her blog post when she says that great cause related marketing campaigns focus more on the “cause” than they do the “marketing” (which does not mean that the marketing isn’t top-notch).

The big take away lesson for me from “Life is Good” is that effective CRM campaigns  must focus on education:

  • Employees must be able to talk intelligently about the cause, and
  • Consumers must be able to understand what their retail dollars are supporting.

I’ll end today’s blog post the same way Joanne ended her’s by asking you: “Do you have a favorite holiday cause-marketing campaign? Let me know.” Please click over to Joanne’s site and share your thoughts or scroll down and do so in the comment box below. If you want to learn more about CRM, I suggest clicking over to

Here’s to your health!

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

Do your donors think the non-profit sky is falling?

chicken little2When I hear one donor say something once, I chalk it up to something interesting. When I hear two donors say the same thing, I usually think it is an interesting occurence. However, when three or more donors express the same sentiment, I sit up . . .  take notice . . . and treat it like a potential trend.

Since the Presidential election was decided more than a month ago, I’ve more than three donors say alarming things about the state of philanthropy in this country. Here is some of what I am hearing:

  • “Congress and the President won’t agree on the fiscal cliff negotiations. We’re going off the fiscal cliff, and charitable contributions will go down.”
  • “Obama wants to get rid of people’s charitable tax deductions, and this will result in a reduction in donations.”
  • “The Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans will be allowed to expire, which means wealthy Americans will stop giving to charities.”
  • “Congress and the President will go off of the fiscal cliff. Everyone’s taxes will go up. Another recession will surely result, and charitable giving will dip as a result.”

I am not exaggerating. There are a number of donors and non-profit board members with whom I have spoken in the last month that think the sky is falling.

At first, I thought this talk was the result of Republican donors being unhappy about a Obama re-election. However, I’m beginning to re-think this original opinion. I honestly think people are getting scared.

There are multiple reasons for this hysteria and probably include a 24-hour media cycle, political rhetoric, etc. Regardless, the ‘WHY’ doesn’t matter . . . non-profit professionals need to focus on ‘WHAT’ they should be doing and saying.

chicken little1While fear is irrational, it definitely impacts human behavior. I believe most students learn this in Psychology 101. So, if people “think” the sky is falling, it is falling regardless of the facts.

You can passively sit by and let your donors and board members whip themselves into a frenzy, or you can be a responsible non-profit professional and do something about it.

I have always believed that an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. In this instance, I believe that good non-profit professionals will inject a calm and reassuring voice into any local discussion being had with board members or donors.

Of course, being calm and reassuring is easier said than done, and it requires a firm grasp of facts. Unfortunately, the facts shift and change and are subject to interpretation. However, I was very encouraged when I saw that BoardSource is hosting a webinar featuring Tim Delaney, CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits. He will speak to the issue of fiscal cliff, capping deductions, etc.


Once you get some of the facts about the issues, you should feel more comfortable participating in these type of conversations when they come up with donors and volunteers.

chicken little3Here are a few quick tips you may want to remember when jumping into these discussions:

  • Don’t express partisan opinions. Stick with the facts about what is being discussed. I encourage steering clear of expressing an opinion on what you think the impact will be. Put the crystal ball away!
  • Be reassuring and express confidence that these things always work themselves out in the end. History proves this to be true time-and-time-again.
  • Remind donors that tax considerations are rarely a motivating factor in most people’s charitable decisions. Donors give to good causes with good missions. Tax considerations (if they are even in the equation) are frequently a final factor and contribute to size of gift and rarely on whether or not to give.
  • No one can predict the future, and getting all worked up about something we can’t control is an exercise in futility. All we can control is our own actions .(e.g. who do we ask now, for how much as we asking, when are we asking, etc). Let’s remain focused so we don’t accidentally get swept up in something that doesn’t yet exist.

Are you hearing some of your donors and board members wring their hands over this policy debate in Washington D.C.? If so, what are you doing to make sure your year-end giving isn’t negatively impacts? Are you doing anything at all? Are you remaining silent?

If you end up attending the BoardSource webinar today, please circle back and share a few of the details in the comment box below. If you can’t attend, please weigh-in with your thoughts on the the questions I just posed or any of the ideas I just expressed.

Here’s to your health!

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

Use video to help volunteers polish their case for support

I am helping a friend run for city council in my town. He is a great guy, and he will make a great council member. He is personable, down to earth, genuine, and just an everyday kind of person. He is funny, and best of all he is a storyteller. While these might be good building blocks for a servant leader on the city council, I am coming to the conclusion that these traits might not be so great for a “candidate”.

For example, good candidates have their well-polished elevator speech down to science. They knock on your door, you answer it, and they very succinctly tell you in 30 to 60 seconds why they are running and why you should vote for them. However, a good storyteller knows how to stretch a story. They are the master of delivery and timing. They weave and spin and divert and then . . . BOOM. . . they hit you with the punchline or the point of their story.

Needless to say, I’ve been working with my friend on how to polish a powerful and compact elevator speech before he starts knocking on doors. Here is what that has looked like:

  • We wrote a case for support.
  • We reduced the case down to a written script.
  • We refined that script down to something even more simple.

However, none of this has really helped because at his heart, he is a storyteller. Each new tool we’ve developed becomes something new for him to add to the bigger story. LOL

So, last night I decided to try one last trick that I had up my sleeve.

In a room full of 30 of his friends, family, and supporters, I asked him to deliver his case for support (aka his elevator speech). I handed everyone a worksheet with five questions. A few questions dealt with delivery and others addressed content. I asked that everyone fill it out and do so anonymously. I then pulled out my Samsung pocket video camera (similar to the old Flip video cameras), and I videotaped him.

You can probably guess where this is going.

His 30 to 60 second elevator speech turned into an eight minute story. It was funny, and people laughed, but it wasn’t an elevator speech that he will be able to use.

Next steps for me will be sitting down with him to review the critique feedback forms and view the videotape. After digesting this information, it will be back to the grindstone to continue the work of forging a powerful case for support.

The reason I am blogging about this experience on a blog focused on non-profit issues such as board development, fundraising, etc-etc-etc, is because it dawned on me that this same process can be used in variety of ways at your non-profit agency.

Why not use it to help fundraising volunteers polish their approach?

I like this idea because:

  • It is hard for people to step outside of their bodies to see and hear what they look like. Video is a tool that helps us do exactly this (albeit many people hate seeing or hearing themselves on video)
  • Achieving this vantage point can create a moment of clarity and focus people on fixing something specific in their delivery or pitch.
  • People often end up “off script” and speak from the heart even though it isn’t part of the written case for support document. Recording them and capturing some of those impromptu comments can help you refine your case and incorporate it into an elevator speech.

Yes, I know that no one likes to do activities like this, but sometimes good things aren’t necessarily the easy things in life. Right?

I also recently used my little Samsung pocket video camera to interview board volunteers prior to a board retreat. I asked questions like:

  • Why did you agree to serve on this board?
  • Why are you so passionate about this organization’s mission?
  • Why do you think other people should join you in serving on this board?
  • In the end, what do you want your legacy to be on this board?

You wouldn’t believe what comes out of people’s mouths. In fact, I think they are surprised at what comes out of their mouths.

When you ask someone to speak from the bottom of their heart, amazing things can happen. When you capture it on video and replay it back to them, it becomes a powerful tool for accomplishing a number of different objectives (e.g. engagement, reflection, etc).

Have you ever used video as a tool to help board members or fundraising volunteers? If so, what was your experience? If not, what barriers do you see that stop you from doing so? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health!

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

What non-profits can learn from a homeless man in Indianapolis

A few weeks ago I attended Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Midwest Leadership Conference in Indianapolis as an exhibitor. I love conferences because they are great opportunities to learn and meet new people.

However, this time I walked away a little surprised at myself because the biggest takeaway for me didn’t come from any of the sessions or people I met, it was an ah-ha moment generated by a homeless person panhandling on the streets of downtown Indianapolis.

Meet Fred (or at least that was what I was told his name was).  Fred is homeless and needs money. His revenue generating strategy is to sit on the street and ask people to give him money.  From what I’ve seen, this is a fairly typical strategy employed by many homeless panhandlers.

However, Fred knows something that many non-profit organizations don’t understand and something that Seth Godin blogged about this morning:

The easiest way to get people to do what you want them to do… is to start with people who want what you want.

Please take a close look at the two pictures of Fred that I’ve included in this morning’s blog post.

Fred’s revenue strategy goes beyond the typical homeless person’s approach that I’ve seen, which includes tugging at my heart with a story about being stranded, cold, down on their luck, or hungry.

Fred figures that you already know the typical homeless person’s case for support, and he communicates that without having to say a word. However, he is trying to do something that makes him stand out from every other homeless person in downtown Indianapolis.

As you can see from these two pictures, he is flashing a simple message about the Presidential election to people who pass him on the street. If he sizes you up as a Republican, he flashes his anti-Obama sign. If he thinks you’re a Democrat, then he reaches for his anti-Romney sign.

Here are a few things that I think non-profit organizations can learn from Fred:

  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Your case for support can be effectively supplemented using a visual or picture.
  • Know your audience. Your case for support doesn’t change, but how you talk about it and present it can vary based upon your audience. Segmenting and targeting your audiences is critical to your fundraising success.
  • Grab their attention. Prospects and donors are bombarded every day (in fact every minute of every day) with information from other non-profits and for-profits. You need to figure out how to cut through that noise if you want consideration. (Note: I wouldn’t advise that you use Fred’s tactic, but whatever you decide to do, it should be equally effective)
  • Personalize your message. Fred’s approach of sizing people up by guessing their political affiliation base upon your appearance sends a powerful message of:   “Oh, he is talking to me“.   I’ve always believed that “general appeals, get generally ignored”.
  • A smile and good humor go far. OMG . . . everyone is so serious and uptight nowadays. Using humor (e.g. jokes) can be dangerous when talking about serious issues; however, smiling, good humor (e.g. mood, temper, state of feeling, etc), and having fun when cultivating, soliciting or stewarding prospects and donors will likely set you apart from others.

Again, Seth Godin summed it up best in his post this morning better and quicker than I can: “The easiest way to get people to do what you want them to do… is to start with people who want what you want.

Not only did I want Fred to get some food in his belly and get off of the street, but I wanted to laugh along and join in the joke that: 1) my small contribution can sway his vote in November and 2) this down on his luck gentleman was mocking Obama and Romney for their pandering to voters and donors. LOL   (Maybe I’m over-thinking this, but I think I’m close)

How have you targeted your prospects and donors? How have you adjusted your messaging to different audiences without changing your case for support? What appropriate visuals have you used to convey and supplement your case for support? How do you prepare and support your volunteers to have fun, smile and break through the noise with their network of friends with your case?

Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts and experiences. Not only can we all learn from each other, but we can learn from some unexpected and surprising people.  Please take a minute or two out of your busy day and share with your fellow non-profit professionals and volunteers.

Here’s to your health!

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

Is your fundraising program failing? Good!

I opened an email from a dear, old friend this morning. His name is Jim Chambers. We’ve known each other for 20-years and worked together at two different non-profit organizations. The email was titled “Something for you.” The message was equally simple and said, “Hope you are well.  I thought you may like this video.

Needless to say, I couldn’t resist clicking on the YouTube link at 7:00 am this morning.

At the other end of that link, I saw this title:

Innovation Keynote Speaker Jeremy Gutsche –
30 Minute Speech

I then realized that the YouTube video was 28:49 minutes in length. OMG!!!!!! It is 7:00 am in the morning. Are you kidding, Jim?

However, I knew in my heart that Jim knows me better than most people, and there must be a reason he sent me this video. So, I grabbed a cup of coffee and clicked on the link.

I’m glad I trusted Jim this morning because 28:49 minutes later I have more non-profit thoughts running through my head than I’ve had in a long time.  So, I thought I’d take the next few minutes to dump those thoughts out into a bullet point list for your enjoyment and see if it sparks and discussion. Enjoy . . .

  • In times of tremendous economic crisis, chaos and upheaval, history has shown us that opportunity is abundant if you just open your eyes and look for it. What is your non-profit organization doing to take advantage of the chaos? Are you re-inventing your resource development plan? Are you approaching and engaging donors differently? Are you broadening your message or changing your services?
  • Companies that succeed and get stronger during crisis do a lot of experimenting. With this comes a lot of failure, which is what inspired today’s blog headline. What are you doing different? What are you failing at? Does your organization embrace failure and celebrate it with regards to your fundraising efforts?
  • We’re all focused on emotionally connecting with the customer, and fundraising professionals pursue this same connection with donors. However, there is something much more powerful — a “cultural connection“.  Does your fundraising program make this distinction and even try to make this connection? I suspect that the fundraising thought-leader who figures this one out will de-throne Penelope Burk and her “Donor-Centered Fundraising” philosophies as the hottest new thing.
  • Does your fundraising case for support connect with donors or is something just connects with you and your volunteers? The speaker says that messages that connect with people travel faster than your competitors messaging. Are people buzzing about your agency? Is your fundraising message being talked about around the water cooler? Are people echoing your mission and fundraising messaging on social media?
  • When your mission and vision as well as your fundraising activities are just “average,” then that is all it will ever be. What are you doing that is fun, exceptional, and buzz-worthy. How are you communicating that? How do you get your clients, volunteers, and donors excited about anything?
  • Can you define in “7 words or less” what you do? Are you “obsessed” with your story? Is it simple? Is it direct? Is it supercharged?

I am willing to bet that I could go back to that 28:49 minute video, watch it again, and wring another six bullet points out of it, but there has to be at least one thing I shared with you or questions that I posed that has you scratching your head this morning. If that is the case, then please scroll down to the comment box and share your question, answer, or interesting thought.

If you have a little bit of time today, I really urge you to watch Jeremy Gutsche’s video about innovation. It is really awesome and thought-provoking. Here it is:


Here’s to your health!

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

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

Fundraising questions to ask donors and anticipate from them

Last week we started a series of blog posts focused on the art of asking questions, and this theme has carried over into this week. So far, we’ve looked at questions that executive directors should be asking themselves and their boards. We’ve also looked at questions board members should be ask of themselves and their fellow board volunteers. Yesterday, we looked at various questions you need to ask prospective board members before asking them to join your board. Today, we’re ending this series of posts by looking at 1) powerful questions that donors should be asking the non-profit agencies they support and 2) questions non-profits should be asking their supporters.

Questions that donors have of you

Over the last 15 years, I have been part of countless solicitation teams and answered more questions than I care to recall at this time of the morning. While those questions tend to be all over the place thanks in part to “unique circumstances,” there are commonly asked questions that many donors seem to ask after they’ve been asked to consider making a charitable contribution.

  • What will my contribution help accomplish?
  • Specifically, how will my contribution make a difference in your clients’ lives?
  • How financial stable is your organization?
  • There are so many worthy causes that keep asking for support. Why should I support you?
  • How much of my contribution directly supports programming and how much will underwrite administrative and fundraising expenses?
  • Tell me more about your fee structure and why are you charging your clients what you’re charging them? How do you know that is the right amount? Why not more?

The list of FAQs is much larger, but these are just questions that I recall answering over and over again. If you want a more comprehensive list of questions, you may want to read Harvey McKinnon’s book “The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks: And the Answers All Donors Crave“.

Why is it important to know what burning questions to expect? I think there are two HUGE reasons:

  1. If you do a better job “anticipating” these questions and build those answers into your case for support and solicitation presentation, I predict that your annual campaign numbers will start climbing.
  2. There is a long list of fears that get in the way of people volunteering to help your agency with fundraising. One of the top reasons is their fear of not being able to answer questions. Addressing FAQs as part of your annual campaign training program will improve volunteer confidence, reduce the amount of avoidance behavior during the campaign, and result in better solicitations (and hopeful result in better fundraising numbers).

Questions that you should have of donors

As I said earlier, I’ve been on many fundraising solicitation teams, and I’ve seen many things throughout the years. Too often, I’ve seen volunteers rush through the solicitation, get a commitment, and quickly downshift into chit-chat of a personal nature. It is almost as if the volunteer solicitor is non-verbally saying “Phew! Thank goodness that is over.”

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with chit-chat after the solicitation is completed. In fact, there is all sorts of important personal information that could and should be harvested from that conversation, captured on a contact report form, and entered into the donor database. However, most volunteer solicitors don’t receive training on what those conversations should look like.

While it would be easy to use that post-solicitation time to talk about family and personal things, it think the following questions might be more useful in developing a deeper philanthropic relationship with your donors:

  • If you only had one year to live, what would be most important to you to accomplish?
  • What are the issues, injustices, principles or causes in this world that get you riled up?
  • If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
  • What accomplishment or legacy would have ultimate significance to you?
  • In philanthropic terms, if you had unlimited resources, what would you set out to do?

While it is important to know the names of a donor’s spouse and children as well as where they went to school or go to church, I think it is far more important to understand a donor’s passions, dreams, and desires. Knowing and understanding these things puts you in a position of helping them achieve big things. I believe this is one of the biggest differences between transactional fundraising and donor-centered fundraising™.

I believe these types of questions can transform how a donor views you and your organization    . . . FROM fundraising vulture TO philanthropic dream-maker.

Please take a minute this morning to share a commonly asked question that you hear donors asking your volunteer solicitors in the comment box below. Or share with this online community one or two questions that you like to ask donors that helps you better understand their philanthropic hopes and dreams. We can all learn from each other and it is just 60 seconds out of your day. Please?

Here’s to your health!

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