How to "surprise and delight" your non-profit donors

input requestedCraig Linton, blogger at Fundraising Detective, is hosting the July Nonprofit Blog Carnival. In his call for submissions earlier this month, he asked his fellow non-profit bloggers to “Share your posts on welcoming donors and reducing attrition.
It was this simple request that inspired me to write the following email yesterday and send it to 25 of my non-profit friends across the country.
Erik’s email request to share thoughts and experiences

To:  Erik’s NFP friends
From:  Erik Anderson
Date:  July 23, 2014
Re:  A small favor: 30 seconds of your time?
Dear non-profit friend:
I am writing a blog tomorrow (Thursday) morning and I need a quick favor from you. Would you please click reply to this mail and take 30 seconds to write between two and five sentences answering the following question:

What do you do to welcome donors to your cause and surprise and delight them?

I will incorporate your response into tomorrow morning’s DonorDreams blog post without attributing the response to you or your agency. This way you don’t need to worry about people calling you or supporters seeing your actions as anything less than nice and genuine.
I know you’re busy and appreciate you taking a 30 second break from work to help me out.
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

The responses kept coming in!
To be honest, I know how busy my non-profit friends and clients are. I have worked on the front line of a number of non-profit organizations, and I’ve experienced the hurricane that beats every agency’s beach on a daily basis.
So, when 14 people responded to my email request, I was pleasantly surprised at first and then I was humbled that they took time out of their chaotic day to share their thoughts or experiences.
Thank you to those who responded to my call to action. I appreciate you. I appreciate what you do. I loved your submissions.
Warning to readers: There was a lot of content submitted yesterday, and I am sharing it ALL with you. As a result, this post will be a little long today, but I promise that you will find pearls of wisdom embedded in your colleagues comments. In an effort to bring some structure to everyone’s experiences, I’ve divided people’s suggestions into categories. As you saw in my original email, I promised people anonymity unless they decided to share their identity in their response. Enjoy!
thank you letterAcknowledgement letters, emails, phone calls and gifts

  • “I will share what I have – but I cannot really help much here.  Things I have done in the past, but unfortunately have not been particularly consistent: 1) Asked the board to make phone calls thanking first time donors; 2) Sent thank you notes saying that we know that this is a first donation for them; and 3) For a large first time donor, we have taken a small, kid made gift.
  • For first time donors of any size, we send a handwritten “Thank You” note signed by our kids. For amounts from $1,000 to $5,000 donors also receive a call from one of our members, letting them know what their donation means to them personally.  Anything over $5,000 the donor receives both of the above as well as an original piece of artwork made by one of our kids and hand delivered to the donor.  All donors are recognized  at our annual event.  This has really made a difference in donor retention.  They love talking with the kids.”
  • “To show special appreciation in certain circumstances: 1) we send donors thank you letters that have been written or made by our youth; 2) send thank you letters with pictures of clients during an activity; 3) ask board members to make a personal thank you call; 4) send a birthday email; 5) send hand written thank you notes; 6) send a logo pin or other small gift; and 7) send a paper or email newsletter 3-4 times a year.  Sorry it isn’t in sentence form…I am going on vacation and have four deadlines to finish.”
  • “I always send a little note to thank them for their gift, and I use a handmade card because I love to scrapbook. While I often get comments on the beautiful cards, my favorite surprise is having the older Club members make turtles. This is an easy gift to do with just a microwave (pretzel, Rollo and a pecan). We put a few of the candies in a cellophane bag, tie with a ribbon, and attach a little poem of thanks telling them this was a handmade gift of thanks. The kids then deliver them if they can, or I do. This seems to thrill our donors.”

Treating donors like you would treat your BFF

  • In regards to surprising and delighting donors, I think I have found the best way is to treat them as people. In doing so, you welcome learning about them — their hopes and dreams and thoughts. You can learn so much about their families and what makes them personally tick. This can all be done with a phone call, a special note, or their favorite things (e.g. coffee or candy). In doing so we hope they feel what we all want to feel — special, noticed and appreciated.”
  • “We make their experience more personal.  We introduce them to our kids and let them get to know them. We help them understand that we are interested in them, and not just their financial support.”

Demonstrating impact

  • We welcome them personally and in writing and place a huge emphasis on stewardship; reporting that their generous contribution is being used in the way they intended and assuring them through both statistical and anecdotal means that their contribution is making a significant impact. I know that all sounds pretty standard but it’s what we do.”

take a tourInviting donors to take a tour

  • The best way to welcome donors to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus is to invite them to tour the Club. Donors are always so surprised when kids from the Club approach them and introduce themselves in a professional way. It is a key behavior that our staff drill into kids and one that really sets our program apart. In addition to being a great skill for kids to learn, donors don’t usually expect to come into the neighborhoods we serve and see such impeccable manners and poise. This experience has engaged many of our donors but also prepared many Club kids to perform well in job and college interviews.”
  • “I believe it is important to listen to our donors and find out first what their passions are and then tailor  our approach to meet them.  When we meet with a potential donor, we like to start with a tour of the facility and provide information about our community needs and the services provided that address those needs.  Usually delight comes when we listen to what drives our donors, and find a way to partner their passions with our mission.”
  • “We try to welcome donors to our cause by getting them to come into the Club for a tour while the kids are here.  This way they get to see exactly what positive impact we make with the youth in our community as well as what positive impact their donations are making.  A little (and easy) surprise for our donors comes in the form of a hand drawn and written thank you card from our youth members that is placed in their “official” administrative thank you letter sent out after we receive their donation.  It is such an easy thing to have our kids do and not only teaches them about appreciation and what others do for them but also sends a heartwarming thank you to our new and repeat donors.  How could donors not be committed to our cause after seeing what we do in action and getting a personalized card from one of the kids as well?!

Pictures and stories

  • One of the first stewardship activities we do is to make them feel that they are a part of what we do here, a part of our Boys & Girls Club family. Sending updates about the individual progress and successes of our kids made possible by donors is a great way to do that. It is similar to receiving an invitation to a recital or a graduation announcement from loved ones. Those pictures and stories are shared so donors can celebrate significant life successes together with them. It makes them feel more a part of their lives. This same thing occurs when we bring in new donors by sharing specific success stories about our kids. Because in reality, those donors ARE a part of each child’s life at the Club.”
  • “We welcome new donors by sharing stories of impact – stories of real kids from our community who have real challenges and then how the Boys & Girls Club works hard to improve their lives.  We share these stories through targeted mailings, events we hold, through our Board of Directors’ relationships, through our Social Media efforts, etc.  Then we surprise our donors by thanking them as often as we can – first with a letter after their donation, then with a personal phone call, through a holiday card, and then through our annual “Thank-a-thon Night” in which our Board Members call every donor to simply share our gratitude and finally, for those donors who make a gift of $500 or more we invite them to a special “Donor Night” held at one of our Board Member’s homes in which we treat them to food, drinks, and fun – and the funny thing is, we tell them more stories of real kids and what we do to help these kids while we have their attention and in person.  It’s a constant and intentional pipeline of stories, impact, appreciation, recognition, donation, stories, impact, appreciation, etc.”

chocolate covered strawberriesSend chocolate covered strawberries
I should’ve included this response under the first category, but it was so unique that I had to break it out and highlight it. At first, I was skeptical and thought my friend was pulling my leg. So, here is how the email thread went:

  • Non-profit CEO: “I delight them with a dozen chocolate covered strawberries delivered to their house as a surprise.
  • My response email: “I am sensing sarcasm and won’t publish that. If you do indeed do this (and where is that money coming from), then let me know and I’ll include it in tomorrow’s post.  I’m looking forward to our lunch in a few weeks.”
  • CEO’s email response: “No, I am serious! My four biggest donors LOVED the unexpected chocolate strawberries. When they call to thank me, it gives me another chance to discuss the Club and their donation(s).  I generally give out 10 to 15 per year. Trust me . . . IT WORKS!!!

Well, that was embarrassing. I apologized to this friend for ever doubting his resource development genius.  🙂
Invite donors to participate, get them involved behind the scenes, and recognition

  • 1) We invite our donors to participate in behind the scenes engagement opportunities (conductor searches, rehearsals, sitting on stage with orchestra during a dress rehearsal, radio interviews, Fall Camp activities).  2) Send selected performance and Honors Groups CD’s to donors.  3) Provide invitations to hospitality events (concert receptions, lunches or dinners with staff, Board member, and artistic staff, meet & greets with guest artists and guest conductors) and complimentary tickets to ensemble performances.  4) Invitations for complimentary tickets to Chamber Music Institutes Concerts and Honor Groups performances. 5) Instituted a Servant Leadership award given each year to a volunteer or donor.”
  • Working with volunteer groups that come through our agency, I recognize that they are giving of their time. In our post-project “debrief,”  we thank them for their work and give them stats on their impact. We also share additional ways they can get involved. It could be other ways to volunteer or a special project. We provide them with our most recent appeal that offers stats and a call to action. We share other ways (beyond time) how they can impact the mission. Now this is planting a seed, while not discounting the two hours they just “sweat-it-out-for-good.”

This has been the longest blog post that I’ve ever published at DonorDreams. Again, thank you to everyone who weighed-in with what is working on the front line of their agencies when it comes to stewardship activities. Based on this response, there must be lots of surprised and delighted donors out there.
Did I forget to send you and email? Is there something that your agency is doing to steward donors and is having a positive impact on reducing your donor turnover rate? If so, please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Building loyalty is like the "circle of life" with no beginning or end

In case you haven’t heard, DonorDreams blog is hosting for the second year in a row the Nonprofit Blog Carnival in the month of May. This year’s theme revolves around building loyalty among various non-profit stakeholder groups such as donors, employees, volunteers, etc. If you are a blogger and looking for the “Call for Submissions,” then click here. The carnival will be posted right here at DonorDreams blog on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Stay tuned!

In the interest of building momentum, we’ve dedicated the entire month of blog posts to this topic. We’re specifically focusing on what a variety of non-profit organizations are doing (or are looking at doing) to build loyalty.

Rinse. Lather.Repeat.
Boys & Girls Club of El Paso

BGC El PasoArt Jaime is the Chief Professional Officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of El Paso, and he sees the challenges of building loyalty to his non-profit organization as an interconnected ecosystem of staff, kids, board members and donors. He points out that loyalty-based management is a simple concept, but it is something that is very difficult to achieve.

Here is a simplified version of how Art sees his interconnected world:

  • Hire and retain quality youth development professionals who are likable
  • Kids attend the Club because of their relationships with staff
  • Increased frequency of participation deepens the impact of programming which drives outcomes data
  • Good outcomes and impact data inspires board volunteers and provides confidence in talking to donors about the Club’s case for support
  • Good outcomes data creates great relationships with foundations and government agencies and contributes to a vibrant grant writing program
  • Long-term board volunteer relationships (who are consistently sharing awesome success stories from the frontline) with individual donors makes for happy, recurring investors in the Club’s mission

art jaimeIt all ties together,” explains Jaime. “The big challenge is creating a culture that appreciates and strives to create loyalty.”
So, how is Art trying to build an organizational culture of loyalty? He isn’t trying to over think it, and he is starting with things he can easily do. The following are just a few examples:

  • engaging stakeholders in a variety of planning activities
  • modeling loyalty in every day activities
  • recognizing staff
  • thanking and stewarding donors
  • trying to spend more one-on-one time with board volunteers
  • seeking advice and feedback from a variety of stakeholders

Frederick Reichheld is the author of “The Loyalty Effect” and one of thought-leaders on the importance of loyalty-based management. It is amazing how Art’s observations on the interconnectedness of it all is spot on with Reichheld’s words found on page 22:

If we think of businesses as atoms, with customers, employees, and investors as their subatomic particles, then we will study the way those basic components interact to create higher levels of stability and value creation.

Congratulations, Art. I think you are on the right path!


If you want to learn more about what other non-profit organizations are doing to build loyalty among various stakeholder groups (e.g. donors, employees, volunteers, etc), then tune in here to DonorDreams blog every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of May. We will also publish the Nonprofit Blog Carnival on May 28, 2014 with a number of links to other non-profit bloggers who are talking about loyalty related themes.

Here’s to your health!

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

Employee motivation strategies provide keen insights into motivating donors

managing for dummiesI was at it again. Just this morning I was digging through old boxes in my basement when I came across a copy of the book Managing for Dummies. After a few quick nostalgic turns of the page, I came across a section titled “Top ten ways to motivate employees” on page 107. My mind immediately wandered to the resource development implications of this list. So, I thought you and I could explore this question together this wonderful Wednesday morning.
Here is that list of things to motivate employees from our friends who write “the dummy books“:

  1. Personally thank employees for doing a good job — one-on-one, in writing, or both. Do it timely, often, and sincerely.
  2. Be willing to take the time to meet with and listen to employees — as much as they need or want.
  3. Provide employees specific and frequent feedback about their performance. Support them in improving performance.
  4. Recognize, reward, and promote high performers; deal with low and marginal performer so that they improve or leave.
  5. Provide information on how the company makes and loses money, upcoming products, and services and strategies for competing. Explain the employee’s role in the overall plan.
  6. Involve employees in decisions, especially as those decisions affect them. Involvement equals commitment.
  7. Give employees a chance to grow and learn new skills; encourage them to be their best. Show them how you can help them meet their goals while achieving the organization’s goals. Create a partnership with each employee.
  8. Provide employees with a sense of ownership in their work and their work environment. This ownership can be symbolic (for example, business cards for all employees, whether they need them to do their jobs or not).
  9. Strive to create a work environment that is open, trusting, and fun. Encourage new ideas, suggestions, and initiative. Learn from, rather than punish for, mistakes.
  10. Celebrate successes — of the company, of the department, and of individuals in it. Take time for team- and morale-building meetings and activities. Be creative and fresh.

I think this list is very close to being able to double as a recipe for donor engagement, but there are obviously a few tweaks here and there that need to occur. So, the first thing I did was strike-through the word employee and replace is with the word donor. Then I went through each tip and  modified things that were obviously only relevant to the workplace experience.
donor engagementHere is how that new top ten list turned out for donors:

  1. Personally thank donors for their support — one-on-one, in writing, or both. Do it timely, often, and sincerely.
  2. Be willing to take the time to meet with and listen to donors — as much as they need or want.
  3. Provide donors specific and frequent feedback about how your agency is putting their contribution to work.  Engage them is discussion along the way on how they would like to see possible future donations used to support the both their agency’s mission and vision along with their personal philanthropic wishes and dreams.
  4. Recognize major gifts donors in a manner in which they are comfortable; create and implement strategies to move smaller donors up the “resource development pyramid of donors“.
  5. Provide information on how your non-profit organization raises money, existing products/services as well as upcoming products/services. Explain the different roles in the overall plan (e.g. strategic plan, resource development plan, program plan, etc) that various donors might consider.
  6. Involve donors in decisions, especially as those decisions affect them. Involvement equals commitment. (This could be via surveys, focus groups, committee involvement, etc)
  7. Give donors a chance to grow and learn; encourage them to be their philanthropic best. Show them how you can help them meet their charitable giving goals while achieving the organization’s goals. Create a partnership with each donor.
  8. Provide donors with a sense of ownership in your agency.
  9. Strive to create a fundraising experience that is open, trusting, and fun. Encourage new ideas, suggestions, and initiative and include these things in your annual resource development plan. Learn from your donors.
  10. Celebrate successes of your agency and of individual donors.

So, there you have it. When I take a step back and look at these two lists, I see lots of similarities. Do you see the same things? What would you add to these lists? Is there anything you would eliminate?
Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Four non-profit trends pertaining to volunteerism

volunteerismYesterday, I attended my first Fox West Philanthropic Network meeting in a number of months. I forgot how much I love those networking and professional development meetings. The program topic was “Volunteer Recruitment & Management” and featured staff and volunteers from a number of Fox Valley agencies, who spoke eloquently about their experiences.
To open the panel discussion, Bob Hotz from American City Bureau shared the following four recent trends that he sees  in volunteerism:

  1. There is a trend toward wanting to help with a specific program or project.  This contrasts with just general support of both time and money.  This seems tied to wanting to experience that my contribution of resources (time or money) will have the impact I am looking for.
  2. There is a trend toward time-defined or episodic volunteering.  (e.g. a day of service or a 5K run, does not tie up months of time or commit me to something long-term)
  3. There is a trend toward contributing expertise.  (e.g. More than just time, people want to feel that their skill sets are being put to good use.)
  4. There is a trend toward incorporating a learning component into the volunteer experience.  (e.g. It is not only what a volunteer contributes, but also what they learn and get out of it.)

Bob used this framework as a springboard for the panel to jump into topics such as:

  • volunteer recruitment
  • orientation and training
  • volunteer evaluation
  • retention
  • generation differences including needs and approaches to working with these different age groups

For those of you looking for additional resources on these topics, here are a few links you may want to investigate:

For those of you who want to have a discussion about these issues, please scroll down and use the comment box to pose questions or share your thoughts and experiences on these topics.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

The overhead myth is still alive and well

overhead1It wasn’t even a year ago when the CEOs of BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Guidestar and Charity Navigator all signed a letter encouraging donors to stop looking at the concept of “overhead” to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of non-profit organizations. This letter was the culmination of many efforts and lots of voices including Dan Pallotta, who is the author of “Uncharitable”. Bloggers and non-profit professional everywhere heralded this as a campaign that will put an end to what is commonly referred to a “The Overhead Myth“.
Over the years, I have written a number of blogs on this subject including:

At the end of my June 27, 2013 post, I wrote the following:

“I personally don’t think anything is going to change as a result of this “overhead myth” campaign push.  I think donors are set in their ways. I believe Dan Pallotta was right about the Puritan influence on our culture. I don’t think “culture” and “values” and “habits” are easy to change. AND I think talk is cheap.”

As you can imagine, I was roundly criticized for being a “negative, glass-half-empty” kind of person. That’s OK . . . I have thick skin.
Besides, I knew I was right which always goes a long way when it comes to swallowing criticism.  😉
overhead2As they say, the proof is in the pudding which is what inspired today’s blog post. The pudding, of course, is an article that washed into my email inbox from LinkedIn on November 30, 2013. The author was John Wasik and the article was titled “Digging Into Non-Profit Finances: Four Things To Check“.

In his post, Wasik talked about illegitimate non-profit organizations and the lack of real oversight for our sector. He shared four tips with readers/donors on what they should look for before making a charitable contribution.
Yep . . . you guessed it. He points to the classic definition of “overhead“. Here is what he said:

“What percentage of the non-profit’s income went towards it mission? This is also a key red flag. This percentage is also known as ‘the overhead ratio,’ which tells you how much was spend on non-program expenses such as fundraising and administration. A fairly well-run non-profit will spend at least 80% on its mission.”

The truth of the matter is that this morning’s blog post isn’t really a victory lap or an “I told you so…” article. The reality is that I am annoyed at my fellow non-profit professionals.
Did we really think that an open letter to the world was going to suddenly change everything?
I certainly hope not!
As I said back in June, “I don’t think “culture” and “values” and “habits” are easy to change. AND I think talk is cheap.”
All of this leads me to wonder . . . what have you been doing on the front line to educate your donors and bring an end to “the overhead myth“?
Ohhhhhhhhh . . . you don’t know what to do about it? Well, here are a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Post the open letter from BBB, Guidestar and Charity Navigator to your website.
  • If your agency runs a blog aimed at a donor audience, then blog about it.
  • During your year-end stewardship meetings with your top donors, figure out a way to talk about it.
  • Organize a focus group of board members around reading Dan Pallotta’s book “Uncharitable” and talking about it.
  • Stop highlighting and reinforcing “the overhead myth” in your annual report documents with pie charts showing how much you spend on programming vs. administration vs. fundraising. STOP!

OK . . . I got the ball rolling for you. Please scroll the down and use the comment box below to share additional ideas with your fellow non-profit professionals.
Not only can we learn from each other, but we can also inspire each other to solve bigger problems together. Please take 30 seconds out of your busy day to share one idea. Please?
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Handwritten letters … Simple yet powerful

thank you noteI am a member of Gen-X, and I behave like a typical person of that generation especially when it comes to my mailbox. I hate going to the mailbox. I hate opening mail because 99.9% of it is junk. Anything important comes to me via email, and all of my bills and charitable giving is set-up using automatic bill pay. So, imagine my surprise the other day when I was opening a three-week stack of mail, and I came across a handwritten envelope from one of my favorite local charities.
Inside of the hand addressed envelope was a simple thank you card with a handwritten message that said (and yes I am changing some of the wording to protect the innocent):

Thank you for your support of XYZ Agency in recent years. With your help, we continue to expand our reach and now serve more than 350 kids on a typical school day.
Jane Doe
Board Member

Two simple sentences, but they pack a powerful punch. This simple handwritten note was not in response to a recent contribution. It was out of the blue and unexpected. The reason this simple acknowledgement is so powerful is because:

  • it acknowledged my lifetime giving
  • it sent a clear message this agency appreciates my consistent and loyal support (because this was about my overall giving and not a specific gift)
  • they tied my giving to their success
  • they shared a data point that implies they are doing good things

Handwritten notes from non-profit organizations are rare.
According to Penelope Burk, who is the President at Cynus Applied Research and author of Donor Centered Fundraising, non-profit organizations use handwritten notes when they want to “maintain close ties with a donor“. On page 47 of her book, Penelope shares with her readers that her research indicates non-profits use handwritten than you letters when:

  • the donor is well-known to the writer (70% of respondents)
  • the gift is of exceptional value (68%)
  • the donor is also a leadership volunteer (42%)
  • the donor has been giving for a long time (39%)
  • the donor is prominent in the community (30%)

It is a funny thing because I recently started thinking that I should re-evaluate my charitable giving to this organization. The reason is because:

  1. I like to see and hear about what my charitable giving is doing.
  2. I like to see and hear about the outcomes and impact my charitable giving is helping accomplish.

The truth of the matter is that these needs haven’t been met recently (by this I mean in the last 12 to 18 months), but I have to admit a simple handwritten note has put all of that on hold.
Simply put, a note like this communicates a special relationship. When I look at my charitable giving portfolio, this letter reminds me that this agency is one of my top three “charities of choice“. A decision to change my giving pattern, especially when it comes to them, isn’t a decision that can be or should be made rashly or overnight.
Wow! Who knew that a handwritten note — two simple sentences — could be so impactful and do so much good?
How does your non-profit organization use handwritten notes? Is it a strategy that is part of a bigger stewardship plan? Do you have any success stories that you’d like to share that involve the power of a handwritten note? By the way, Penelope Burk has a whale of a success story that she shares on page 47 of her book. If you don’t have a copy of this book yet, you really need to go to and purchase one.
Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Meet Ernie Gamino: The best fundraising pro who isn't a fundraising pro

ernie gaminoIt happens every year. My partner and I get a phone call from Cindy, who is Ernie Gamino’s assistant, and she asks us to please schedule a year-end sit down meeting. Ernie is our Edward Jones financial advisor, and getting time in both of our calendars is a challenge. However, we found some time this past Saturday. I’m glad we did because I discovered that Ernie is a really good fundraising professional, who has never been trained as one or worked at a non-profit organization. We can all learn a lot from Ernie and his colleagues.
Let me set the stage for you. It was Saturday morning. I was cranky after spending too much money on a Friday night. I really just wanted to hang around the house. The last thing I wanted to be doing was talking to my investment advisor about retirement, which seems like a far away fantasy world to this 43-year-old.
The meeting
ernie2I started the meeting off by growling at poor Ernie. I wanted to know why this annual meeting is necessary? Can’t he just go about doing his job and call me when he needs to get permission to do something with my investment portfolio.
Since the customer is always right, Ernie responded perfectly and with a smile. He simply said that he can do anything I ask of him, but he didn’t stop there. He continued quickly to share the following:

  • He has it set in his calendar to call me every two months.
  • His bi-monthly calls prompt him to review my portfolio and look critically at whether or not anything really needs to be done.
  • His annual year-end sit down meeting is a best practice. It allows him to educate me on where the market has been and where it is going. It also allows him to tell me what I should be doing differently.

Sigh! He made his point. He is right. I am wrong. So, I shut up and let him continue with the meeting. Here is what we talked about over the course of approximately 60 minutes:

  • ernie3We talked about his Northern Illinois University (NIU) football team and the state of the BCS football system.
  • We re-visited the reasons my partner and I chose Edward Jones over the countless other financial management firms out there. We like the old fashion Edward Jones approach to business development and asset management. It was nice to talk for a few minutes about that decision. It was re-affirming and rewarding.
  • We talked about our personal information. We reviewed email addresses, phone numbers, accounts, etc. While I  thought this was mundane, it turns out that we did have some information change in the last 12 months. It was a good thing he asked so our records could be updated.
  • We talked about a recent seminar Ernie facilitated for his clients about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). While we didn’t attend, it was a subtle reminder that he offers those free services and we should be participating. Hmmm? Maybe some day. Besides, what a nice value added service.
  • We looked at our investments as well as the market. It was a good thing we did because my partner’s portfolio was unbalanced because of how the market has evolved recently.
  • Ernie showed us projections of how our assets might grow or shrink based upon decisions we are making today. He made a few suggestions about increasing our savings, reducing our expenses, and doing some estate planning. He even got us talking about whether it was smarter for me to close my consulting practice and go back to work for a non-profit agency who could match my retirement account contributions. I dunno . . . but these were good things to be thinking and talking about.

The truth of the matter is that I like to see how my money is invested. I like to feel involved in the decision-making process even though at the end of the day I always tell Ernie to do whatever he thinks makes the most sense. He is after all the expert.
Regardless, it is nice to feel informed and involved.
At the end of our meeting, Ernie walked us next door in the strip mall and introduced him to a fellow merchant, who just so happens to be a client. He made a connection.
Lessons learned
As I walked away from this encounter with Ernie Gamino, I realized how wise this young man is and how much fundraising professionals could learn from him.
Here are just a few of the takeaways:

  • Communicate regularly with your donors. They want to feel involved.
  • When a donor pushes back, listen to them. Offer to adjust your communications plan with them, but educate them about why you’re doing what you’re doing. You may be surprised at how they respond.
  • Personal information changes regularly. You need to review it and change it or your donor database will become garbage. Routine phone calls and sit down meetings are the perfect opportunity to do this kind of work.
  • Talk about things (e.g. football, tattoos, etc) with donors. While it might not have anything to do with your mission, you’re deepening a relationship, which is the most valuable thing you can ever do when it comes to donor communications.
  • Share information with the donor about what their contribution is helping support and the results coming from those programs. People like to feel involved. When this happens, then you get a deeper sense of engagement and donors don’t walk away from your mission.
  • Share other opportunities with donors about how they can do more. You never know where that conversation goes, and it can be done in a donor-centered way that doesn’t feel like you’re pushing.

Ernie doesn’t sit down and call all of his clients. He said that some people are really passive with their investments. So, he just periodically checks in on them to see if their circumstances have changed and to update their records. In other words, you should segment your donor database and decide who needs to hear from you and how often.
Does your agency have a formal donor communications plan and strategy. If so, what is it? What does it look like? If not, then why not and what are you planning to do about it? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

More on the government shutdown and the non-profit sector

shutdown5In yesterday’s post titled “Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown,” we talked about whether or not fundraising strategies are one of the leading factors contributing to our current situation. Today, I want to stay with this topic and look at how the shutdown is impacting non-profits and what you should do in the long-term to mitigate some of these issues.

Those you serve

Last night, I was watching the news and an executive director of a veterans agency was being interviewed about how the government shutdown was impacting veterans. Throughout the interview, he eloquently talked about the impact on:

  • military support staff
  • vendors
  • contractors
  • VA Hospitals (except for emergency room services)
  • students waiting for G.I. Bill payments for school costs
  • disbursement of death benefits to families

While I found all of this interesting, the thing most interesting to me was how his agency was being impacted. Obviously, informational hotlines are not being staffed in government offices. So, this organization is trying to fill that void and trying to answer their questions or get them the information they require.

All of this got me thinking. How many other non-profit organizations have clients who rely on the government for something? And by “things” I mean benefits, services, etc.

I suspect there are many non-profits whose phone lines and case workers are now working overtime to fill the void normally filled by government agencies.

Funding concerns

shutdown4From what I’ve heard and read, many non-profit organizations are concerned about how the government shutdown will impact their funding. Consider the following:

  • organizations fund their operations with federal contracts
  • states receive federal pass-through money which eventually can put state funding to non-profits in question
  • vendors, who do lots of business with the government, might not be able to continue providing your agency with the services you require
  • donors who work for the government or receive benefits from the government might not be in a position to pay their pledges or continue their support in the short-term

The longer a shutdown drags on, the more pressure will be placed on many non-profit organization’s revenue models.

Human capital

Just the other day, I was speaking with an agency who runs many of their programs with work-study students from the local college. The question they were pondering was obviously, “What impact might the government shutdown have on their situation?

There are government programs like work-study and Americorps that fuel countless agencies’ human resources needs.

Unanticipated consequences

Our system of government is large and complicated. There are countless numbers of programs that non-profit organizations rely upon, and there are millions of individuals who are impacted. Some of these challenges are immediately obvious, but many others will only make themselves visible down the road.

When businesses — regardless of whether they are for-profit or non-profit — operate in an environment of uncertainty, crazy things start to happen. Uncertainty and the human experience mix together about as well as oil and water.

While finance professionals brace for instability in financial markets, so too should non-profit organizations prepare for the obvious impacts and attempt to anticipate unexpected challenges.

What should you do?

While you might feel helpless at a time like this, there are some things you should consider:

  • Pull together an ad hoc committee to assess your agency’s vulnerabilities
  • Revisit your strategic plan and invest some time in contingency planning
  • Engage fundraising volunteers in a discussion about how to shift your agency’s dependence on government funding to other more stable sources like private sector fundraising efforts and specifically individual giving

Has your agency been impacted by the government shutdown? If so, how? What are you doing about all of this right now? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Does your non-profit put its employees first?

peoplefirst1Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “People-Service-Profit,” John talks about the impact that Federal Express’ corporate philosophy of People-Service-Profit has on it employees . . .  which in turn has an effect on customer service and loyalty . . . which ultimately is reflected on the bottom line in profit

When reading John’s blog post this week, I immediately had two thoughts, which I will address below in two different sections.

Non-profit culture

People who work for non-profit organizations are different. In my experience, they aren’t motivated by the same things as their for-profit counterparts.  Here are just a few examples of what I’ve seen people on the frontline of the non-profit sector do:

  • They often agree to work for less money than they otherwise might earn working in the for-profit sector.
  • I’ve seen non-profit employees work longer hours than they’re asked (or authorized to do). I’ve even seen hourly employees fudge their timesheet in order to avoid overtime (e.g. they get in trouble for working unauthorized time . . . overtime isn’t part of most agency’s budgets).
  • I’ve seen program assistants purchasing supplies for their programs using their personal money because there isn’t enough agency funding to do so.

peoplefirst2The point I’m trying to make is that most non-profit organizations have built a culture that revolves around THE CLIENT. This focal point is so intense that ideas threatening to shift that focus are often seen as heresy.

While many people see a client-focused philosophy as altruistic, there can be a cost to this kind of corporate philosophy.

  • Low employee morale
  • Burnout
  • Cynicism
  • Poor staff cohesion

Another significant negative effect of this philosophy is “The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle”. I talked about this phenomenon in a previous “DonorDreams: O.D. Fridays” post on July 26, 2013 titled “Is your non-profit only living for today? Then you need Picasso!

In the Picasso post, I describe how senior leadership and board volunteers are blinded by the agency philosophy of CLIENT FIRST, which results in zero funding important organizational capacity building expenditures. The end result is a non-profit that has no capacity and starves itself out of business.

Heck, in yesterday’s post about budgeting, I confessed that when I was an executive director, my finance committee once convinced me to eliminate donor newsletters from the budget in order to balance it. Ugh . . . while this was done in the name of putting the CLIENT FIRST, the result was putting the donor second (which is the person who needs to see ROI on their investment if they are going to renew their support).  How did THAT make any sense?

So, let’s jump back to John’s post about company philosophy and FedEx.

If you are an executive director or someone who supervises staff, you should click-through and read the 10 bullet points located in the middle of John’s post. After reading those FedEx examples of how managers should treat their employees, I encourage you to complete the exercise described in the paragraph after the list.

It likely will be an eye-opening experience for you.

The Loyalty Effect

peoplefirst3I suspect many non-profit people who are reading today’s post are probably still not convinced that a CLIENT FIRST philosophy can be damaging.

More than a year ago, I wrote a week long blog series focused on “The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value,“ which is a book written by Frederich Reichheld. I mostly focused on translating some of his business themes into resource development messages.

However, one of Reichheld’s bigger points is how employee loyalty drives customer loyalty, which turns into profit on the bottom line.

If you are still one of those skeptics when it comes to this post, look at it from this perspective . . .

Many of your clients have “special relationships” with your staff. In fact, if you surveyed your clients, I suspect they would say they come to your agency primarily because of that relationship and secondarily because of your services. I know for a fact this was true for the kids using the programs at my former agency.

So, investing in your employees results in their retention and loyalty. This in turn keeps your customers coming back, which in turn drives impact and program results. When you communicate this impact (e.g. ROI) to donors, it improves your donor loyalty rates and you raise more money.

Please don’t misinterpret me here.

I am NOT suggesting you shouldn’t strive to make your clients happy and provide them with the best possible programming. However, I am saying  the non-profit sector needs to take a page out of FedEx’s book and figure out how to invest in its people. It will make a huge difference in so many different ways!

Putting your employees first IS putting your customers first because your employees will put the customer first especially if your organizational values drive them to do so.

If you have some time this morning, I also encourage you to jump in the “way back machine” and check out that six part blog series about donor loyalty as it relates to some of Reichheld’s loyalty principles:

Want to change? Where to start?

If this post has you thinking about creating a different company culture, you may want to check out a post by titled “How to Create a Company Philosophy“. It is definitely worth the click!  😉

Did you click-through and read John’s 10 bullet points? If so, how well did your agency do? What are you doing to invest in your employees? Is your organization avoiding the starvation cycle? If so, how are you making the case for investments in capacity building? Have you ever correlated your employee turnover to client turnover to donor turnover? If so, what have you found? Please scroll down and share your thought and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

How will you celebrate your non-profit’s next anniversary?

anniversary1Every year, it seems like one of the charities I support is celebrating some kind of anniversary or milestone. Most of the time, it relates to the age of the organization, and it is typically a milestone like 25, 50, 75 or 100 years of existence. Sometimes it is a different kind of anniversary, where they’re celebrating a board member’s years of service or the age of something physical like a building. Regardless of the opportunity to celebrate, a fundraising solicitation is never far behind; however, anniversary celebrations can be so much more than just putting your hand out.

I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) with both a BAUP (1992) and MUP (1994).

I know most of you are thinking “HUH?

BAUP is a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Planning, and a MUP is a Master’s degree in Urban Planning.

I spent six amazing years learning about the ins and outs of planning from some of the most amazing professors. In hindsight, I was laying a foundation of knowledge and practices that would serve me well as a non-profit consultant almost 20 years later. I have literally lost count of how many plans I’ve facilitated and written since graduating (e.g. strategic plans, tactical plans, succession plans, resource development plans, board development plans, marketing plans, business plans, etc).

anniversary2A few weeks ago, I started getting email and snail-mail announcing the 100th anniversary of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (DURP) at the University of Illinois.

Wow! 100 years . . . how could that be possible?

After some head scratching, I vaguely recalled the University of Illinois was only the second school in the country to offer urban planning curriculum back in the early days when planning was just getting off the ground as a profession.

Normally, I am not influenced by most non-profit organizations’ anniversary efforts to get money out of me as a donor. However, I am amazed at how many times I’ve found myself thinking about writing a small check to my Alma Mater in honor of the department and the people who gave me so much.

After the second or third time of almost making a contribution, I started wondering what DURP and UIUC are doing differently from so many of the other non-profit organizations in my life. So, I went back to the communications materials and mail solicitations and looked for clues. Here is what I found:

  • Their fundraising effort isn’t front and center. They don’t beat you over the head with their hand out. It is subtle.
  • Their focus is on sharing nostalgia and memories, and they want this to be a two-way experience.
  • They’re using this as a donor engagement activity by asking alumni to help them in a variety of ways.

anniversary3For example . . .

  • I’ve been asked if I have any interest in becoming a mentor to a student.
  • They’re conducting a remembrance activity and asking alumni to submit stories about their time on campus with the department.
  • They’re looking for old pictures for their archive.
  • Of course, there are two days worth of celebrations and activities on campus in early November where you can walk down memory lane and reconnect with faculty and friends.
  • Oh yeah, just as a side note, they’re announcing the start of a new scholarship fund for planning students.  😉

Over the years, I’ve read tons of fundraising articles, papers and books. In addition to considering myself a “planner” by education and trade, I also proudly consider myself a “non-profit and fundraising professional“. While my recall isn’t working well this morning, I have some vague recollection of someone once saying that “good fundraising” is 95 percent about listening and engaging versus 5 percent solicitation.

Will I write a small check? Will I attend the anniversary festivities? Will I take the time to submit a remembrance story?

I dunno. Maybe.

What I do know is that your non-profit organization can learn a lot from my Alma Mater with regards to using an anniversary celebration to deepen the level of engagement with your donors and raise a few bucks along the way.

The following links are additional resources I dug up for your review on this subject:

Is your agency planning a big anniversary celebration? If so, please share your plans. Have you ever been a part of another institution’s milestone celebration? What did you like? What didn’t you like? How did they weave resource development opportunities into the mix? Please share your thoughts using the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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