Does your non-profit have an ‘Abs of Steel’ conference strategy?

abs1The month of October is brutal for me this year. On top of working with my existing client base, I am attending three different conferences in three different regions to help another client with implementation of a specific training track aimed at executive directors and school superintendents. As I attend these conferences, I see non-profit professionals hopping from session-to-session and find myself wondering, “What is their conference strategy?”

When I was an executive director, I loved attending conferences and trainings. It felt like I was nurturing the inner non-profit professional inside of me. However, after a few years on the job, I found an entire bookshelf in my office full of conference materials and notes. I wasn’t using them. I wasn’t referencing back to them. They were just gathering dust.

The analogy I use to describe this useless activity involves the popular “Abs of Steel” workout DVD, and it goes something like this:

For those of you who know me, you know that I do not possess abs of steel. In fact, I don’t possess anything of steel anywhere on my body. So, if I went to the mall and purchased an Abs of Steel workout DVD, some people might consider that a step in the right direction. This is akin to you deciding to attend a conference or training session.

However, if I came home with my new Abs of Steel workout DVD, popped a tub of buttery popcorn, and watched the DVD while sitting on the couch and eating that popcorn, I would be no closer to my goal of obtaining abs of steel. This is akin to you attending a conference, coming home with a bunch of notes and materials, and putting them on your shelf to collect dust.

The reality of the situation is that you need to do the exercises on the workout DVD in order to achieve the desired result. Of course, the same is true with what you learn at the conference. When you get home, you need to turn your new-found knowledge into action. The act of doing what you learned will build your organizational muscles and grow your organizational capacity.

So, what is your conference abs of steel strategy? Do you have one?

todolistAfter a few years of proverbially eating popcorn on the couch after attending conferences and trainings, I decided to do something different. My strategy was simple. Rather than taking notes on what the trainer was saying, I only wrote down action items that came to mind while listening to the speaker.

These were things I planned to transfer to my To Do List when I got home.

I decided that I didn’t need to write down what the trainer was saying because they were most likely handing out copies of their PowerPoint presentation along with a dump truck of materials. Besides, those notes were no good to me if they were just going to sit on my book shelf and collect dust. Right?

I’ll admit that this strategy didn’t always work perfectly. Oftentimes, I’d get home from a conference and my desk was piled high and my To Do List was long. Nevertheless, I found this strategy to be better than the previous one and so I kept it.

I personally liked the “action-focus” of what I was trying to accomplish.

As I facilitate my sessions and sit in my exhibitor booth during the month of October, I can’t help but wonder what are other people’s conference strategies. Are you popping popcorn or are you doing something else? Are you building your organizational muscles or are you just making yourself feel better because you now own the transformational resource?

Please scroll down to the comment box below and share your conference and training strategies. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Founding Fathers have the answer for today’s non-profit leadership deficit

It has been said more than once on this blog as well as in many other places on the internet that non-profit organizations are challenged from an executive leadership perspective. Compensation packages are poor. Boards make bad choices. Evaluation is the exception rather than the rule. Succession planning is more talk than anything else. Let’s face it . . . today’s non-profit executive leadership picture is less than rosy.

However, tomorrow’s executive leadership picture is likely going to get much worse according to The Bridgespan Group who recently carried out a study on executive leadership issues focused on non-profits with revenues greater than $250,000. Click here to read a copy of the executive summary.

The bottom line according to this study is:

  • The non-profit sector will need 80,000 new leaders in 2016;
  • Non-profit agencies lack the size and resources to develop its leaders from within;
  • The non-profit sector lacks robust management-education and executive-search capabilities.

By the way, Happy Fourth of July 2012. I decided writing about this subject today because it feels especially appropriate.

I’ve always looked at what the Founding Fathers did in Philadelphia in 1776 as an exercise in organizational development and leadership, and I’m convinced that non-profits can find lots of answers to their challenges just by studying history.

I can mentally picture George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin sitting around after a tough day at Independence Hall working through issues dealing with how to sustain the country in the long-term.

If I were to guess, the idea of having both a federal government and 13 independent sovereign states bound together into one governance system had a lot to do with checks and balances and not trusting big government. However, I also suspect there was some thought given to how separate governance models at the state level would create a training ground and leadership engine for the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government.

Even if this thought never crossed their minds, it still turns out to be genius!

As you go about celebrating Independence Day 2012, I encourage you to chew on the following questions:

  • Does your non-profit agency have a written succession plan? Is it real orjust something on paper?
  • What does your training and professional development program and budget look like?
  • What leadership opportunities are you providing staff members to help them gain the necessary experience to step-up and lead in the future?
  • Are there places (e.g. structures, committees, groups) inside your organization where people can “cut their teeth” and learn how to be a leader and develop skills?
  • If not, what does the constitutional convention look like for your agency to make those adjustments? Who is sitting around the table?
  • Much like the states interact with one another, are there other non-profits in your community who you can collaborate with around issues of succession and leadership?

Here’s to your health! And have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

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

Are fundraising volunteers born or are they made?

I have often wondered if there is an answer to the question posed in the title of this blog post. I think it is almost as classic as the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” However, unlike the chicken question, the fundraising volunteer question haunts fundraising and non-profit professionals every single day. However, I think I might have some good news after attending an annual campaign kickoff meeting a few weeks ago for one of my favorite non-profit organizations.

Before sharing the good news, I think it is important to start by looking at the question, “What traits and skill sets does a good fundraising volunteer possess?” While I probably could’ve developed this list from my 15 years experience of working with fundraising volunteers, I decided to be lazy this morning and found a great online article by Nikki Willoughby at titled “The Job Description of a Fundraising Volunteer“. The following are a few traits and skill sets that Nikki pointed out:

  • Good communicator
  • Persuasive
  • Mission-focused
  • Keen understanding of the agency they are fundraising for
  • Computer skills and general understanding of how to use the telephone (I am not kidding . . . I encourage you to click the link and read the article for yourself)
  • Being an extrovert helps
  • Salesmanship skills
  • Goals-oriented and driven

I believe Nikki generally hit the nail on the head. The only thing I would add to her laundry list is that an effective volunteer fundraiser must value the ideas of “philanthropy” and “charity”. Most importantly, they need to be a current donor to the non-profit organization to which they are asking others to make a charitable gift.

Unfortunately, this list doesn’t help us answer the question “Are fundraising volunteers born or made?” because some of the skills and traits cannot be taught such as being an “extrovert”.  (Note: I happen to know a number of “introverts” as defined by the Myers Briggs personality test who I consider good fundraising professionals. So, I’m not sure if being an extrovert belongs on Nikki’s list. However, since I am an extrovert, I’m going to pass on arguing the point)   😉

As promised in the introduction, I have some good news for those of you who think you can train anyone to be a good fundraising volunteer.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to serve as an annual campaign fundraising volunteer for one of the non-profit organizations in my community. At the kickoff meeting, I bumped into someone I first met 12 years ago. In an effort to “protect the innocent,” I will refer to her as “Jane”.

When I first met Jane in 2000, she was perhaps one of the most reluctant fundraising volunteers that I’ve ever met in my life. I must admit that she doesn’t even come close to fitting that description today.

As I approached the building where the kickoff meeting was being held, we accidentally bumped into each other, hugged and exchanged warm greetings. And then it happened  . . . before I even knew what hit me, she launched into a fundraising pitch. The case for support wasn’t for the organization who was hosting the kickoff meeting. It was for a local church who was trying to raise enough money to buy a LCD projector for their sanctuary. (Note: this wasn’t even for the church she belongs to!!!)

Yep, you guessed it . . . in short order she had me signing a pledge card.

Fast forward through the meeting and training, and Jane proudly shared a story with me about a solicitation she made last year with a very reluctant donor. Without breaking confidences, let me just say: “she came, she saw, and she conquered”. She ended her story by sharing what she thought was the secret to her success:

Don’t take NO for an answer
Refuse to leave their office until you get the signed pledge card

I can only imagine how many of my fundraising friends who are reading this blog post right now are wincing. Please know that I’m not sharing this story as a “best practice”. Instead, I am point to it as PROOF . . . I am more convinced after seeing Jane’s transformation that fundraising volunteers are “made” and not “born”.

Twelve years ago, Jane had a tough time even thinking about asking others for a pledge to the annual campaign. Today, she is a grizzled fundraising veteran who won’t take NO for an answer.

I am one of Jane’s biggest fans! However, I need to remember to never invite her into my home office.  LOL  😉

So, what do you think? Are fundraising volunteers born or made? Do you have any personal stories that you’d like to share that proves your point? Please scroll down and use the comment box.

Here’s to your health!

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

Annual Campaign Boot Camp?

As many of you know, I opened my non-profit consulting practice a few weeks ago after Labor Day. It was a “soft open,” which means I am actively pursuing and accepting work, but I’m still frantically developing business infrastructure like my website, menu of services, etc. In fact, I am running out the door in just a few minutes to meet with my marketing friends at Marketplace Media Group.

Part of the “opening the doors” process has been identifying services and trying to price them according to what the marketplace of non-profit organizations allegedly demands. One of the services I plan to offer is something I’m naming “Annual Campaign Boot Camp“.

I got this idea from my personal trainer, Kathy Bruno, who runs a weekly “Fit Camp Challenge” at The Centre, which is my gym in Elgin, IL. In this program, Kathy is a coach and consultant focused on teaching participants best practices around exercise and diet. She is the accountability queen, and I think she enjoys beating the living life out of me every Wednesday.

So, it was a few weeks ago as I slugged around the track I started thinking: “Hey, I wonder if non-profit leaders and resource development professions would participant in a similar program focused around annual campaign planning and implementation? And if so, what would it look like?”

Every since that epiphany, I’ve had this scene from Stripes playing over and over in my head as I trudge around the track. Click this link if you want to enjoy a trip down memory lane with Bill Murray.

However, my challenge is that I need to add some flesh to the bones of this concept, and I would like some help from YOU (which means I am asking all of you shy subscribers to this blog to please take a moment to write a comment or drop me a note via email or social media . . . PLEASE . . . I really do need your help)

Here are some of the random (and incomplete) ideas and questions rolling around my head:

  • Bi-weekly coaching sessions by phone with participants (resource development staff only or campaign chairperson included?)
  • Just coaching or are there some online “trainings” also offered?
  • Is there a benchmarking component to the program for post-campaign comparative purposes?
  • Is there a “group component” to this program? For example, should there be opportunities for all organizations that sign-up to periodically assemble in the same online chatroom (or Tweet-up) to discuss challenges and learn from each other (and collectively share solutions with each other)? If so, how often?

I normally use my blog bully pulpit to talk about your challenges and provide subscribers with my expertise and advice. Today, I’m turning the tables and asking for your expertise and advice. PLEASE take one minute out of your day and help me with some of these questions.

Any comments and feedback would be very much appreciated! What else do you think should be included in this Boot Camp product? What issues do you have with your organization’s annual campaign that you think could be helped with a service like this? What price do you think organizations your size might be willing to pay for this service?

I normally end my blog posts by saying “We can learn from each other” . . . however, today I’m going to emphasize that “I can learn from you.” I look forward to your input and appreciate your time. Thank you!!!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847