Welcome to a new philanthropic era: The Age of Women Power!

I used to jokingly say to various board members at my former agency that if our non-profit needed to get something done (e.g. organize a special event, put together a strategic plan, etc), then we should recruit a bunch of women to help us do it. I’d usually finish making my point by saying, if you want to talk an issue to death and get nothing done, then put a bunch of men in the room. (Note to readers: Whenever I said this it was always said “tongue in cheek” and I was kidding. Of course, I was only kidding slightly because I think there is some truth to it.)

I share this story today because my good friend, Boys & Girls Club of Oshkosh Development Coordinator Anne Lemke, sent me a fabulous email a few days ago about “What Women Want” which is whitepaper written by Katherine Swank from Target Analytics, a Blackbaud Company. After reading the paper, I just could resist sharing a few of the highlights with you today:

  • nearly half of the top wealth-holders in the United States are women,
  • women have increased their combined wealth by more than fifty percent  in the last 10-years, and
  • women have a net worth of over $6 trillion.

Katherine does a masterful job of profiling what an affluent woman looks like. I suggest you read the whitepaper and burn that picture into your head because it is surprising. In fact, you probably know a number of women who fit the profile. Having this profile picture burned into your non-profit brain is important because as Katherine says so perfectly:

“Affluent women may also be identified by their willingness to both donate and volunteer at higher levels than their male counterparts. Women, on average, donate twice as much to charity and make three times the number of donations as men.”

So, some of you might be reading this post and thinking to yourself: “OK, I just need to start asking women for money and I’ll be fine.” If this is what you’re hearing me say, then please stop yourself! The reality is that women are different from men, and you’ll need to change your resource development strategies and tactics if you are going to appeal to this very powerful donor segment. Again, Katherine puts it best when she said:

“While I can’t claim to know what all women want in every situation, over twenty-five years in philanthropy has taught me that what women want is simple: to be asked their opinion and for their answers to be listened to and acted upon. They seek equality in the workplace, an ever-equal sharing of the ‘load’ from their male partners and counterparts, and to make the world a better place, both close to home and halfway around the world. Elementally, women want their lives to make a difference in the lives of others. To accomplish this through philanthropy makes women feel empowered.”

Translated into language men might understand better: “You need to cultivate, solicit and steward women different from.” Oh heck, who am I kidding . . . let me translate this even more clearly for my non-profit male friends out there: “Go hire and recruit some women to help you with this incredible important and transformational shift that your non-profit agency needs to make.”

I suspect this trend will change more than just your agency’s approach to resource development. It will also likely affect your board development, marketing, and volunteer recruitment & management efforts. Right?

Oh yeah . . . go download Katherine’s whitepaper and read it. Click here to get your copy. It really is a great read!

So, what are your thoughts? Are you already seeing this philanthropic trend in your community? How are you responding to it? Have you addressed it in your strategic plan or resource development plan? If so, how?

Please take a quick moment and share your thoughts using the comment box below. After all, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

All non-profits are Penn State?

It has been a week since the Penn State child rape scandal broke, and I’ve been stewing in my emotions like most of you. There are so many aspects to this story, and it never dawned on me that any of these many storylines fit within the context of this non-profit blog until I read this quote from Moody’s in Forbes on Friday:

“Over the next several months, Moody’s will evaluate the potential scope of reputational and financial risk arising from these events. While the full impact  of these increased risks will only unfold over a period of years, we will also assess the degree of near and medium term risks to determine whether to downgrade the current Aa1 rating. We will monitor possible emerging risks emanating from potential lawsuits/settlements, weaker student demand, declines in philanthropic support, changes in state relationship and significant management or governance changes.”

OMG . . . this story is so big that it blinded me to the fact that Penn State is a non-profit organization belonging to the higher education portion of the sector. Once this realization hit me, I saw the story from a whole different perspective. Here are some of the thoughts that ran through my head:

  • I wonder what it must be like for a board volunteer to sit on that board right now with all that liability hang over the university’s head?
  • I wonder what the fundraising professionals must be doing to prepare for and mitigate the impact this scandal will likely have on its resource development program?
  • I wonder what university staff must be doing to minimize the impact this scandal will likely have on volunteer, booster and alumni program recruiting?
  • How does a scandal like this affect the university’s strategic plan, and what are they doing to adjust their plans and factor in this new head wind?
  • How much money will this scandal cost the university in lawsuits, increased insurance premiums, philanthropic losses and an adjusted bond rating?

After processing all of these questions, it dawned on me that ALL NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS ARE PENN STATE and this is a “clarion call” for all non-profit agencies to take action immediate!

Take action? Huh? What are you talking about Erik?

Regardless of how big or small your agency is, this scandal should strongly motivate you and your board to immediately take action on development of a crisis management plan. No one ever thinks that tragedy will strike. It is always something that happens to other non-profit organizations. And when it happens your world changes in a blink of an eye.

Penn State administration didn’t see this coming. One day they were on top of the non-profit world, and in a flash they are looking at a financial catastrophe (not to mention the human collateral damage done by the action and inaction of just a few men).

The non-profit organizations in Joplin, Missouri couldn’t have predicted a devastating tornado. One day their agency was there, and the next day they were gone.

The non-profit sector is naturally chaotic because most agencies are under-resourced. One person is typically asked to do multiple jobs. There never seems to be enough time to do those necessary capacity building things like preparing for future crisis. In a word, most non-profits are “reactive” and not “proactive,” which is typically our undoing when disaster strikes. So, take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my agency’s Director & Officer insurance up-to-date? When is the last time we looked at whether or not we have enough coverage?
  • Who is our organization’s spokesperson in the event of a crisis?
  • Do we have a “crisis team” that can be activated in the event of tragedy? Are there a diversity of people on that team (e.g. lawyer, psychologist, PR professional, board members, staff, etc)? Do they know they’re on that team? When is the last time this group went through an orientation looking at the “what if” types of questions?
  • When is the last time staff reviewed your agency’s disaster contingency plans? Do you even have those plans in writing?

I encourage you to read this great blog post by Joanne Fritz at about.com titled “Top 5 Tips for Effective Nonprofit Crisis Planning“. It is a good to place to start as you use this national news story to motivate your board of directors to take action around developing a plan and putting systems in place to deal with whatever lurks ahead for you on the path of life.

Look at it this way . . . developing a crisis management plan could be a great cultivation or stewardship opportunity for certain fundraising prospects or existing donors to your organization.

If you look at this project as “one more thing that you don’t have time to do,” then it will be a burden and likely something that sinks to the bottom of your task list. If you look at it as an opportunity, then I suspect good things will happen for you and your agency.

Does your agency have a written plan? What is in that plan? How often do you review that plan? Is your plan posted online? If so, would you share that hyperlink with other readers of this blog so they can see a sample?

Please take a moment to answer one or more of these questions using the comment box below. It will only take a minute or two out of your very busy schedule and it could make a difference for another agency. If you don’t have time to comment, then click the forward button on your email and send this post to another non-profit professional who you care about and tell them that it isn’t too late to prepare for the apocalypse. After all, we can all all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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

BOO: Halloween is a Non-Profit Holiday

I just love this time of the year. The temperature outside is lovely. Trees are turning colors and putting on a show. Charity is coming into focus for millions of Americans. Last year approximately 174 million Americans donated approximately $50 billion to charities during the holiday season. While most resource development people will tell you this all starts with Thanksgiving, I contend that Halloween is when the starters gun goes off in my head.

I was reminded this past Saturday afternoon when two kids came to my door holding a small orange box and asked if I’d consider donating some pocket change to UNICEF. Not only do I have fond memories of doing the same thing as a child, but I realized that it might have been the very first time I ever solicited anyone for anything on behalf of a child.

My passion for charity and professional career path might have started all because of a UNICEF box more than 35 years ago.

This realization got me thinking . . . perhaps the year-end charitable giving season starts with Halloween and not Thanksgiving. If I am “stretching” this point, then consider this thought: “Perhaps, Halloween offers non-profit organizations a great opportunity to position itself for the season of charity.

Halloween can be a stewardship opportunity. In fact, non-profit organizations can turn most holidays into stewardship opportunities for their donors as I wrote in my post titled “Stewardship opportunity on Labor Day” which is one of my better read posts of all time. Go figure!

Here are just a few thoughts I have for how your agency can use Halloween to frame your case for support during the holiday season:

  • Host a Halloween costume party for your top 100 donors. Don’t solicit them. Just invite them to come to a free event, have some fun, and hear a few short testimonials about how your agency is using their investment from earlier this year to do good things. End everything by saying you hope they will consider reinvesting with a contribution to your year-end holiday mail appeal that is sure to appear in their mailbox in a few weeks.
  • Organize a phone-a-thon where volunteers call donors to whom you plan on mailing your holiday mail appeal. Use a “trick-or-treat” script that talks about how your non-profit doesn’t believe in “tricks” which is why you are calling with a Halloween “treat,” and then read a small snippet of outcomes measurement data that you’ve recently been collected. Thank the donor for helping your agency achieve that specific accomplishment and then end by saying you hope they will consider re-investing when your year-end holiday mail appeal arrives in their mailbox in a few weeks.
  • Simply organize a Halloween theme inspired stewardship mailing (e.g. a ghoulish looking impact report). Don’t ask for any money. Just communicate some return on investment information and thank them for their previous charitable contribution. This can softly frame your case for support in donors minds just a few weeks before you send a solicitation mailing.

As I said in my Labor Day blog post . . .

Many non-profit organizations struggle with stewarding their donors and instead become solicitation machines (which ironically burns out donors and creates a cycle of turnover). When I’ve talked to my non-profit friends and asked WHY, the most common answer I’ve heard is that time is a limited resource.

So, take a look at your stewardship calendar and ask yourself how you can do a better job of aligning these activities with holidays.

Does your non-profit organization have any fun and effective stewardship activities and best practices wrapped around holidays? If so, please use the comment box to share because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health! And oh yeah . . . BOO . . . Happy Halloween!!!

Here is to your health!

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

Engaging donors directly? Brilliant!

Marketing works. I know this because periodically I catch myself associating real life things with television commercials.

For example, I was at city hall in Elgin, Illinois the other day trying to acquire my small business license. I thought doing something in person might be more efficient. Unfortunately, that was NOT true. I was turned away by a clerk who asked to me to do this online. When I turned around to talk out of the building, I saw this huge sign sitting on an easel. It advertised Mayor Dave Kaptain’s “Listening Sessions” and promoted public participation.

At that very moment, the old Guinness beer commercial came streaming into my head. Do you know which one I’m talking about? Click here to enjoy this flashback to the not-so-distant past.

So, why is this so “brilliant” and what does it have anything to do with non-profit organizations, which is at the heart of this blog?

For starters, I think it is brilliant because in this day and age of mass media, the answer always seems to be: send them a letter, advertise on television, put it on the website, “tweet” it, organize an email blast, and the list goes on and on. I haven’t heard anyone say in a very long time: “let’s go out there and engage people directly” on issues that are important to them.

As for the question about how this pertains to non-profit organizations, all I have to say is that non-profits should take a page out of Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain’s book. Here are just a few ideas for non-profits that I thought of as I walked out of city hall:

  • Organize a “town hall meeting” at your non-profit service site on any number of issues your agency helps address every day. Invite donors, volunteers, community leaders, and collaborative partners to attend and participate.
  • Organize a series of quarterly or monthly “brown bag lunch meetings” focused on one of the issues your agency deals with every day. Invite a guest speaker from the community to speak about some part of the issue (e.g. your state representative, city council member, chamber of commerce or hospital CEO, etc). Also invite donors to bring their brown bag lunches and participate in this lunch program.
  • Organize a small reception and honor someone in the community who works hard and does something related to your agency’s mission. For example, a domestic violence shelter could put together a small after-work reception to honor a local police officer for their commitment to working differently and compassionately with victims. Invite your donors and ask them to turn-out and help you honor this person.
  • Organize a petition drive around one of your issues and ask donors to help secure signatures.
  • Organize focus groups for each of your fundraisers and ask donors to provide feedback. Invite your donors to help you dream by asking them what they think it would take to “double” the funds raised from that specific fundraisers. After all, who else would know best other than the participating donor?

Non-profit organizations don’t always need to be out front, jumping around screaming “look at me . . . look at me!” Donors are capable of digesting subtle messages, and these types of activities will position you as a leader in your field. Mix in a few subtle “return on investment” messages, and donors will walk away feeling very good about their most recent investment in your organization.

Don’t charge any money. Resist the urge to solicit your donors during these mission-moments. This is about engagement . . . not about cash flow. If you find yourself saying “you don’t have the time or resources” to do these kinds of things, then I suspect you aren’t interested in looking at your donor loyalty numbers either (and with Halloween around the corner this could be a very scary activity to undertake).

Non-profit organizations need to get back to investing in personal stewardship and engaging donors in real mission-focused activities in between solicitation opportunities. I urge you to go beyond the donor database generated acknowledgement letter, email or Tweet. There are countless examples of how to do this if you just keep your eyes open. We can all learn something from politicians, for-profit corporations and our fellow non-profit friends.

This entire post aligns well with my teachable point of view that non-profits need to stop treating donors like ATMs!!! Of course, if you don’t commit to being a life-long learner on the subject of donor engagement, then you might start looking like Ms. Swan from this old Mad TV comedy sketch  (albeit less fortunate than she turned out to be in the end of the sketch).

How is your organization stewarding its donors? How are you going beyond traditional stewardship and engaging them? Have you done any benchmarking to see how your efforts impact your donor loyalty numbers? If so, what was the result? We can all learn from each other. So, please use the comment box below and share your secrets. Because failing to do so would not be BRILLIANT!

Here is to your health!

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

Taking a peek behind the corporate veil

Last week I had the honor and privilege of organizing and facilitating a general session at a Boys & Girls Club conference in Milwaukee. The title of the session was “Corporate Leaders & Philanthropy”.  For approximately an hour, conference attendees got an opportunity to take a peek behind the corporate curtain.

Serving on that panel was:

  • Craig Omtvedt, Senior VP & Chief Operating Officer of Fortune Brands
  • Paul Jones, Chairman & CEO of A.O. Smith
  • Matthew Levatich, President & Chief Operating Officer of Harley-Davidson Motor Company

I am extremely appreciative to these gentlemen for taking time out of their very busy schedules for serving on our panel and answering questions about cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. I cannot tell you how many non-profit leaders ask me questions about what they should do to become more effective at engaging corporations. So, last week’s session was a tremendous gift to the non-profit leaders in the Boys & Girls Club movement.

After taking the panel through four set questions, I invited the audience to submit their questions on paper. While I was able to get through another eight questions generated from the field, there were a ton of other written questions that I just couldn’t get around to asking due to time constraints. So, I thought I’d take the opportunity with today’s blog post to list some of those unasked questions and invite subscribers (aka YOU) and anyone else who views this blog via social media networks (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc) to weigh-in with their thoughts using the comment box located at the bottom of your screen.

Here are some of the remaining questions that I wish I had time to ask and hope you want to comment on:

  • What gestures have [non-profit] organizations made beyond outcome measurements that have [intrigued] your company to invest in them?
  • What can [our organization] do to distinguish itself from all the other charities out there in regards to requesting or receiving your support?
  • Given the current economic trends, how do you determine if you are able to sustain the same level of philanthropic support? What impacts that decision? What should non-profits know?
  • When reviewing requests [for funding] and you come to the organization’s financial statements, what do you look for? What turns you off? If [the financials] reflect that an organization is running or budgeted a deficit, is there anything the agency can do to engage that company in a strategy for pulling out of a deficit situation? Or is it a lost cause?
  • What are some of the key factors that you consider when deciding to continue funding to a particular organization?
  • What do you want non-profit organizations to stop doing in their approach that is ineffective or irritating to you as a funder?

I still have a pile of additional questions, but I’m running out of room. My thanks to those who took time to submit a question.

Regardless of whether you are a donor or a non-profit leader, please take a moment to process these questions and weigh-in with your thoughts. We can all learn from each other. You will find the comment box below if you scroll down.

I will leave you with some YouTube links I found when researching and preparing to facilitate this session. I included one or two of these links in my blog post on Wednesday titled “Corporate Philanthropy: He loves me — He loves me NOT“. But there are new videos that I’m also including. Enjoy and please take a moment to post a comment on this subject.

If you are a non-profit leader who still has a lot of questions about what happens behind the corporate veil, then why not pick-up the phone, set an appointment with a corporate leader in your community, and go ask those questions?  Engaging donors doesn’t start with a solicitation . . . it begins with asking questions and listening to their answers.

Here is to your health!

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

Corporate philanthropy: He loves me — He loves me NOT

Last week I facilitated a panel discussion about corporate philanthropy at a Boys & Girls Club regional conference in Milwaukee. Serving on that panel was a CEO, COO and CFO from two companies in the Fortune 500 and another company from the Fortune 1000. I personally had a great time interviewing those gentlemen, but later that evening I caught some of the news coverage about the Occupy Wall Street protests. Needless to say, it was a confusing day for me that represented quite a dichotomy.

When I feel this way, I typically like to retreat back to listing off simple facts and try to find some truth and clarity. Here are a few of those facts running through my head this morning:

  • Of the $300 billion given to charities every year, approximately 5-percent comes from corporations and more than 75% comes from individuals
  • There are CEOs who are committed to corporate responsibility and making our world a better place to live as seen in this YouTube video from the 2011 Board of Boards CEO conference.
  • There are individuals who are afraid of corporations and banks as you can see in this YouTube video of a 20-year-old Wall Street protester.
  • While corporations are legal structures without emotions, there are countless numbers of people behind the corporate veil who are living, breathing and compassionate.

From a charitable giving and non-profit perspective, I am always amazed at how aggressive we go after corporate sponsorship and donations even though the statistics don’t seem to justify that strategy. After giving this some thought, I’ve concluded the following two things:

  1. Non-profit volunteer solicitors must feel more uncomfortable talking to individuals about making a donation than even I thought possible.
  2. Non-profit volunteers exhibit this sense of “entitlement” when talking to corporations about charitable giving. (e.g. corporations “owe” this charitable money to our non-profit organizations because we shop at their stores every day and give them our hard-earned money).

If my two conclusions are “on the mark,” then non-profit leaders have a problem on their hands, and I assure you that things are not going to end well. Regardless of how much we cross our fingers and wish, these two things will NOT change: 1) corporations will not suddenly find more money to give away (go back and listen to the CEO conference video very carefully) and 2) individuals will always be the at the heart of a successful charitable giving program.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. Don’t stop engaging corporate America . . . continue writing grants, asking for contributions and sponsorships, and building partnerships. However, you need to keep perspective and your eyes on the prize. Listen carefully to this corporate philanthropy manager and I suspect you will come to the realization that your corporate philanthropy strategy can drive the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING to your resource development plans — increased individual giving and support.

Non-profit leaders need to pick themselves up off the ground, put the daisy down and stop singing songs related to: “She loves me, she loves me not“. We need to start LEADING and understand that corporate leaders need to make tough decisions around their limited charitable giving budgets. CEOs want to see return on investment, but even more so, they want their non-profit partners to help them engage their employees and advance their brand.

Additionally, non-profit leaders need to double down on training and working with their fundraising volunteers. We need to help these people get over their fear associated with soliciting individuals. We also need to help them let go of their entitlement attitudes around corporate philanthropy. These two things won’t happen without your leadership, and this paradigm shift must occur if your non-profit organization is going to get healthy during these tough economic times.

So, please feel free to go down to the Wall Street protests in your community, pick-up a sign and march to your heart’s content. It is quintessentially American to do so if you feel that way about the state of our economy and corporate America. However, you ALSO need to figure out how to build bridges to your corporate partners that will enable you to walk their employees (and your future donors) across that bridge and towards your organization’s mission.

Here is to your health!

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

The Sounds of Annual Campaign Planning: Part 2

For those of you following along, you know that I am dedicating all of this week’s blog posts to the 2012 annual campaign planning process, and I’m putting it all to music just for the fun of it. Today’s post focuses on prospect identification & evaluation and campaign goal setting.

Cue the music . . . click here for your first musical selection then start reading.  🙂

For many of you, this is budget season and you’re sitting around your computers plugging numbers into spreadsheets. Finance committee and board volunteers are poking and prodding, which results in revisions and more meetings. “Lather-Rinse-Repeat“.

As you go through this mind-numbing process, I know many of you are projecting your annual campaign revenue all alone in your locked office. Even more likely, you’re probably pulling numbers out of the air, plugging them into spreadsheet cells that previously held smaller numbers, and are muttering things under your breath like:

  • “Well, we just don’t have a choice. The annual campaign simply needs to bring that in.”
  • “We raised $X last year … surely our volunteers and staff can increase that by 10%.”
  • “Once we make the case to our annual campaign donors, they will see things for what they actually are and everyone will increase their gift a little bit.”

If this picture describes you, then stop what you’re doing. Put down the Häagen-Dazs ice cream. And push away from the spreadsheet. Click here for your next musical selection because we need to take a good hard look in the mirror.

As I posted yesterday, I really encourage you to sit down with volunteers to do your 2012 annual campaign planning. Before tossing numbers around and rationalizing a new goal, I urge you to dig into your donor database and start with real numbers.

I’ve always liked involving volunteers first and starting with donor identification & evaluation exercises, then using that data/analysis to back into a campaign goal. For some reason it just feels more real to me. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Look at who gave last year. Determine who is likely to make another contribution. Set a ‘suggested ask amount’ based on past giving history and what the people around the table are saying about that donor’s capacity and willingness to contribute in 2012.  (Always remember — people’s lives change)
  • Look for new prospective donors. Ask volunteers to review donor lists from your special events (or any other fundraiser for that matter). Also ask them to review donor honor rolls from other non-profits and service club membership rosters. Many of these are ‘cold leads,’ but with the right person making the solicitation they might just turn into a supporter. Be very conservative when assigning suggested ask amounts to these prospects.
  • Look at your agency’s ‘prospect cultivation list’ for the last year. Add any names from that list if you think they’re ready to take that next step from ‘prospect’ to ‘donor’. Again, be very conservative when assigning suggested ask amounts to these prospects.
  • After you and your volunteers have agreed upon a complete list of prospects and assigned each of them an ask amount, sum the column and divide by two (or divide by three if you want to be very conservative). Congratulations . . . you now have your first draft annual campaign goal that can be inserted into the agency’s 2012 budget spreadsheet.

The truth is that this is probably just a starting point. Many fundraising professionals and executive directors like to start tweaking the numbers from here.

  • Some people pull out the donors with giving history and only applying the “divide by two” or “divide by three” rule to new campaign prospects.
  • Some people use a Range of Gifts chart to do this analysis, and instead of dividing anything, they add two or three prospects for every gift required.
  • Some people have these discussions with volunteers around a table, and others use a paper or digital process to take personalities out of it and inject an air of confidentiality.

There is no science to this process, but the hard truth is that you need to develop a process that instills a sense of confidence in the numbers for your volunteers. I believe starting with prospect identification and evaluation exercises that lead into a discussion around goal setting keeps things realistic. Of course, there will be talk about “what needs to be raised,” but the work you do on the front-end will help balance the urge to use ‘plug numbers’ in your agency’s budget spreadsheet on the back-end.

If you start down this path now, then you might just find yourself humming this song from R. Kelly when sitting in front of your spreadsheet plugging in revenue numbers for your annual campaign.

How does your agency set its annual campaign goals? What ‘science’ do you bring to the table with your volunteers? Too many of us pull numbers of the air. So, please step up and share how you do things because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Board volunteers bark back: Part 1 of 3

Yesterday’s blog post titled “Hey board members: Sit – Lay Down – Roll Over” looked at board members who agree to “sit” on non-profit boards but don’t seem to understand they’ve been asked to “serve” on those boards. So, I developed an online survey and randomly emailed 32 board volunteers. In that survey I asked questions about their non-profit’s board development practices and their opinion on how to recruit more engaged board volunteers. I want to thank the 17 individuals who took a little time out of their day to respond to the questionnaire. I will share the results of my unscientific questionnaire with you today, tomorrow and Thursday.

My first question to board volunteers was: “Does the non-profit board on which you serve operate with a board-approved, written Board Development Plan?” Here were their responses: 14 said YES, 2 said NO, and 1 said I don’t know.

I don’t know about you, but my heart is uplifted to see so many “yes” responses because non-profit agencies will NEVER recruit engaged board members to “serve” on their boards without a written strategy in place. In my opinion, organizations need to have a written board development plan that spells out how to identify, prioritize, recruit, orient, recognize, and evaluate potential prospects and actual board volunteers. I am reminded of this old proverb, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

My second question to board volunteers was: “Does the non-profit board on which you serve evaluate board volunteers every year?” Here were their responses: 9 said YES and 8 said NO.

These responses tell me that many board development plans probably only focus on recruiting and very little else. Board development plans that don’t have an annual volunteer evaluation component are missing an opportunity in my opinion. I suspect the biggest reason many plans don’t call for annual evaluations is because people hate to be judged. I suggest metrics such as: board meeting attendance, committee meeting attendance, fundraising participation (cultivation, solicitation and stewardship), and volunteerism.  The annual board volunteer evaluation doesn’t have to be judgmental . . . it can be designed as a way to: 1) look back and celebrate their contributions and 2) ask them how it is going and what needs to change in the upcoming year for their volunteerism to be meaningful and rewarding. I’ve personally found that volunteers who are disengaged typically use their annual evaluation meeting to quit or make the necessary adjustments to engage at a higher level.

My third question to board volunteers was: “If you answered YES to the previous question, please check all forms of evaluation that your organization uses to evaluate board members.” Here were their responses:

  • 8 respondents said: Every board volunteer completes a self-evaluation once per year”
  • 8 respondents said: “The Board Development Committee completes an evaluation on each board member once per year”
  • 4 respondents said: “Every board member is asked to complete an evaluation focused on the entire board’s effectiveness”

Multiple board evaluation tools are effective. Self-evaluation allows volunteers to take a good hard look in the mirror at themselves, and peer evaluation provides an external point of view. When done in conjunction with each other, the evaluation process can be powerful. When only one form of evaluation is used, it is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the peanut butter.

Tomorrow I will share a number of respondents’ answers to this question: “How would you answer the question posed in the Facebook message from my non-profit friend? As a reminder, her question was “What can we do to help shift that mentality – to help professionals and individuals with the means to give that it is a SERVICE to the greater good, not just a spot to occupy around a conference room table?” Stay tuned because I assure you the answers are interesting!

If your organization uses an annual board volunteer evaluation process, what are your evaluation metrics? How do you conduct your year-end meetings? Who is involved? Do you think it is effective and why do you think that? Please use the comment box and weigh-in because we can all learn from each there.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

What are you saying?

Last night I was watching Comedy Central before bedtime and caught an interview between Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.  It was obvious that Norquist made an appearance on The Colbert Report because he wants to “cultivate” new Millennial generation voters and educate them about his anti-tax message.

Unfortunately for poor Grover, his time was not well spent because when all was said and done the only thing he essentially accomplished was to 1) explain his anti-tax pledge and 2) demonstrate how much he hates taxes. He never got around to telling the young Millennial audience WHY an anti-tax position is important to their generation. I was left wondering what is the case for support?

This got me thinking about many recent conversations I’ve had with non-profit friends. We’ve focused too much on the “how to” communicate with prospects & donors as well as the “how often” to do it. Unfortunately, I think we’re missing the boat (like Grover did last night) by not talking about WHAT should we say to our prospects and donors.

In today’s day and age of non-profit competitiveness, it is not good enough to:

  • send out a gift acknowledgement letter that just says “thank you”
  • mail a quarterly newsletter to donors
  • e-blast informational emails
  • call donors with appreciation
  • host a recognition event
  • get the newspaper to print your press releases
  • set-up and use Facebook pages and Twitter accounts

This laundry list is important, but even more important is what your messaging will be once your secure and use these communication vehicles. Here are a few suggestions to help you fine tune your messaging:

  • Go back and re-read everything you’ve used in the last 3-months.
  • Assess the messaging with a critical eye. Ask yourself if there is a fine tuned message focused on what you do, why you do it, and where are you doing it, and why is it urgent and critical for the community. (If all you hear is “blah-blah-blah,” then you have some work to do.)
  • Pull together a focus group of donors and ask them what messages they hear and what do they want to hear.
  • Dust off your organization’s “case for support” document. Re-read, assess, test, and re-write based on what you hear from others.

Tom Ahern put it best in his most recent e-newsletter when he said: “Our job as donor communicators, I am now convinced by experience and research, is to bring JOY to the donor’s door.”

Has your donor communications brought joy to your donors? Have you asked them? Or are you just grabbing the megaphone and yelling as loudly as you can “we need more money”? Please go to the comment section of this blog and weigh-in on your organization’s communications best practices and how you know they are effective. Let’s learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC