What does the non-profit leader of tomorrow look like?

sleepless1Last week a dear non-profit friend of mine from California couldn’t sleep. She tossed and she turned. Ultimately, she got out of bed, turned on her computer and started talking into a microphone. When I woke up in the morning in my bed in Elgin, Illinois, there was an email sitting in my inbox with a voice file attachment. Her words have tumbled around in my head for a week, and I’ve decided to enlist your support in dissecting them.

The gist of her recording pertained to non-profit boards. Here is a synopsis of what she said:

  • There are too many non-profit boards that just don’t work.
  • Too many board members either don’t understand their roles/responsibilities or turn a blind eye to certain roles that make them feel uncomfortable (e.g fundraising and resource acquisition).
  • Are there occupations that are better suited for non-profit board leadership (e.g. finance people compared to artists)?
  • Should non-profit agencies incorporate personality testing into their board development process because certain personalities are better suited to serving on a non-profit board?

After a week of contemplative thought, I honestly don’t know how I feel about anything she said. I am looking forward to you weighing in with your thoughts using the comment box at the bottom of this blog.

Here is what I have concluded:

  • Boardroom diversity is important. We don’t need all of the same types of people sitting around a table in a simulated echo chamber. (I am not implying that was what she was saying, but I do worry that it could be an unintended consequence.)
  • Understanding roles/responsibilities and executing them are vital to non-profit health. The non-profit sector needs to get better at recruitment, management and evaluation or suffer the consequences.
  • The characteristics and traits of an effective non-profit executive director (aka CEO) are changing with the times, and hiring the right person might make all the difference in the world when it comes to board development, board governance and team cohesiveness from the front line to the boardroom.

sleepless2After listening to my friend’s recording, I started Googling around and searching for anything that anyone might have written about characteristics and traits of effective boards. I was especially intrigued by her question about incorporating personality testing into the board development process. After all, many workplaces are incorporating this type of assessment into their employee hiring process.

I didn’t really find much of anything that resonated, but there was some interesting stuff on Myers-Briggs personality testing that pertained to the non-profit sector. Here are some of the better links:

While I suspect you may find these links interesting, they still didn’t help me process what my sleepy California friend had ignited in my head. And then I came across an online post at Ivey Business Journal titled “Profiling the Non-Profit Leader of Tomorrow“.

This article focused on the executive director as the linchpin to what my friend had identified. They identified 15 “must-have” attributes that a non-profit leader must possess in order to be successful. Those attributes are as follows:


  • Strategic thinker
  • Relationship builder
  • Collaborative decision-maker
  • Entrepreneurial achiever
  • Effective communicator
  • Change leader
  • Inspiring motivator

Personality Traits

  • High integrity
  • Adaptable/Agile
  • Perseverant/Patient
  • Interpersonal sensitivity
  • Passionate about the mission


  • Financial acumen
  • Deep sector-specific knowledge
  • Understanding & valuing diversity

I suspect a number of these competencies and skill sets also can be applied to your board development process.

If I’ve piqued your curiosity — and I suspect that I have — then I encourage you to click-through to the Ivey Business Journal article and keep reading. Enjoy!

Take a good hard look in the mirror this morning. How many of these attributes do you possess? How do you know you possess them? Do you conduct 360 assessments asking for your employees’ feedback? If so, what do they say about you and these attributes? Does your board development process look for volunteers with these attributes? If so, what tools do you use to help identify these attributes?

In addition to sharing your thoughts about these questions in the comment box below, I welcome your thoughts about the question I asked earlier in this post about my friend’s online recording.

We can all learn from each other. Please take a minute out of your busy day to share with your fellow non-profit friends.

Here’s to your health!

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

Don’t put Dorothy on your board of directors

On Monday, I shared with you a few observations from The Wizard of Oz and Oz: The Great and Powerful as I think it pertains to non-profit work. At the end of Monday’s post I promised to take you further down the Yellow Brick Road by revisiting a series of Oz-inspired posts from two years ago. Today’s post is about board composition and board development. Enjoy . . . here’s to your health!  ~Erik

Don’t put Dorothy on your board of directors

Originally published on October 27, 2011

dorothySeptember 15, 2008 . . . do you remember where you were and what you were doing? It was the day the world changed. It was what some people have called an “economic 9-11″. Regardless of how you characterize the day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the stock market started its crash, it is hard to argue the following: 1) the economic paradigm we all used to live in shifted and 2) nothing will ever be the same again.

This week I have used characters from “The Wizard of Oz” to talk about current challenges facing the non-profit sector. Today, we will spend a moment talking about Dorothy.

Dorothy is an iconic character who has been described as a “level-headed, plucky, resourceful, determined, all-American, populist”.  However, I’ve always seen her as a traditional “conservative”. Don’t believe me? Refresh your memory with this quick YouTube clip. Of course, I don’t mean this in any kind of political way, but more of the traditional meaning of “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation”.

You cannot afford to have Dorothy on your board of directors during these tough and turbulent economic times!

Mentally take a look around your board room and see if you can identify how many Dorothy-like volunteers occupy chairs. They are kind folks (dare I say friends) who look and sound like the following:

  • They are frightened by the economic “tornado” whirling throughout the world. They talk about economic news constantly.
  • They wish for yesteryear and reminisce about times when your non-profit was facing a different set of circumstances. They fixate on making things better . . . just like they “used to be”. They’re focused on making that formerly kick-butt special event awesome again. They’re insistent that you can hold onto all of your government grants if you just tried a little harder. After all, there is no place like home.
  • They are visibly closed to new and innovative ideas that have not been tried. They believe ePhilanthropy is a passing fad. They won’t entertain ideas around merger, acquisition, or strategic alliances that share back office functions. After all, that is not the Kansas they so fondly remember.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting a “witch hunt” to root out these folks and fire them. Dorothy serves an important role on your board. She is that cautious voice that keeps you from getting into trouble. She will stop you from pulling the plug on your annual campaign and direct mail appeals and “going all in” on ePhilanthropy efforts. Valuable? YES! However, what happens when you have too many Dorothy-like board members? Or what if you have those well-intentioned people serving in the wrong roles (e.g. board president, annual campaign chair, strategic planning committee, etc)?

My best two pieces of advice for non-profit staff and board volunteers this morning are:

  1. Be especially strategic and thoughtful about where you ask these people to serve in your organization. This means that you need to: a) identify who these folks are and b) have a clear understanding of which volunteer opportunities are acceptable for conservative personalities.
  2. Focus your board development efforts over the next year on recruiting people in your community who don’t resemble Dorothy to serve on your board. This is not the time to pine for Kansas! This means your board development committee needs to double down on the “prospect identification” and “prospect evaluation” elements of the board recruitment process. Gone are the days when everyone sits around a table and tosses out names of good, kind and resourceful people. BE STRATEGIC!

I suggest that the type of people your board development committee should look for exhibit some of the following characteristics:

  • They don’t appear to be “personally” economically impacted by the Great Recession
  • Their business or line of work seems to be doing fine
  • They are naturally positive and have a decent outlook on the future
  • They seem to be open to new ideas (as evidenced in their personal and professional lives)
  • They are “outside-of-the-box thinkers (as evidenced in their personal and professional lives)

Remember, if you want to keep the flying monkeys away from your non-profit agency, STAY AWAY FROM DOROTHY.

OK — if you aren’t buying into my cheesy “Wizard of Oz” analogy, then please go to the library and borrow the book “Who Moved My Cheese“. You’ll thank me later.

How has your agency adapted to the new realities? Have you changed your resource development model or are you still trying to do things the old way? Do you see your board development efforts changing or focusing on different types of prospects? Please use the comment box below and weigh-in. Please remember that we can all learn from each other. In fact, it is probably the most effective way many of us learn.

Here is to your health!

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

The Millennials are coming: Non-profits will either evolve or die!

adaptWelcome 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 “Survival Is Not Mandatory,” John talks about our always changing world and workplaces and how we need to evolve in order to remain viable and relevant. His conclusions are simple: 1) Evolve or die and 2) Survival is not mandatory.

Sometimes timing is everything. When I read this blog post, I was on the treadmill with my new iPad with Morning Joe on the television in the background. The television talking heads were droning on about marijuana legalization and they flashed the following graphic on the screen:

marijuana legalization

My first reaction was “Huh, it’s interesting that the opinion lines recently crisscrossed.” My second reaction was “Hmmmm, where have I seen another graphic like that?” And within moments, I remembered that the other similar graphic was this one about same-sex marriage:

gay marriage

These two thoughts were colliding in my mind as my feet trudged along on the treadmill, and then my eyes went back to my iPad and John’s blog post about change. My first thought was “What is driving all of this immediate change so quickly?” And my second thought was “I wonder what implications these trends may have for non-profit organizations, fundraising, resource development and philanthropy?”  Almost immediately, I remembered seeing the following chart in a Giving USA Spotlight newsletter:

generations age ranges

It was at this point I realized the meteor has hit our planet, the weather patterns are changing, and change is starting to happen rapidly. The change we’re experiencing in our society is exponential.

If you are scratching your head and find yourself saying “HUH,” then I encourage you to look more carefully at the previous graphic. The oldest members of the Millennial generation are already in their 30s. Combine this with the fact that the Millennial generation is almost as large as the Baby Boomer generation (e.g. 79 million Boomers vs. 75 million Millennials) and then factor in the 51 million GenXers, and you have the recipe for rapid change.

Still not convinced? The consider the fact that every day for the next 19 years it is estimated that 10,000 Baby Boomers will retire EVERY DAY. In 2014, Millennials will make up 26% of the workplace and this number will soar to 36% by 2020.

Let’s face the grim realities here:

  • Every single day there are a number of Silent/Greatest generation and Baby Boomer generation individuals who are dying and retiring.
  • Every single day there are a number of Millennials who reach voting age and enter the workforce.

LOL . . . I am reminded of that famous quotation by Ross Perot speaking to that “giant sucking sound”. In this instance, I don’t think we’re talking about NAFTA. In this example, that giant sucking sound is the vacuum being filled by Millennials.

So, what is the end result? What does all of this mean for non-profit organizations? Fundraising? Philanthropy?

Well, I am not a fortune-teller, but the following thoughts have crossed my mind:

  • The workplace characteristics for non-profit organizations will change quickly.
  • The donor profile will change quickly.
  • The client profile will also change quickly.

I suspect most “best practices” won’t change (e.g. face-to-face solicitation is the most effective way to secure donations), but I can imagine that strategies and tactics need to adapt and evolve. For example . . .

  • We know that once a donor retires their charitable giving habits seem to change. With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day, I suspect resource development plans need to evolve because at this point in time Boomers make up the bulk of most agencies donor databases. (Did you know that 69% of Boomers donate to charity compared to 33% of Millennials? Source: Center on Philanthropy Panel Study)
  • We know that direct mail is effective with Baby Boomers much more so than it is with Millennials.
  • I suspect that fewer Millennials physically own checkbooks than their Baby Boomer counterparts.
     (I wonder how eBanking impacts traditional charitable giving systems?)
  • We know that Millennials volunteer at higher rates than any other generation.

John ends his post by simply stating “But survival is not mandatory.” This revelation is striking because it causes me to wonder: Which non-profits are going to adapt? Which agencies are going to die? How will those who survive evolve and adapt? When will that process start? When will resource development plans start to reflect these changes? Who will step up and lead on these issues?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, I can appreciate that, but paralysis is the enemy of evolution and adapting.

My best suggestion to those of you who don’t know what to do or how to proceed is commit yourself to learning more. Click here to read a great publication titled “Charitable Giving and the Millennial Generation” from the Giving USA Foundation at The Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University. There are a lot of great “AH-HA” moments in this publication. Hopefully, it will get you and your organization pointed in the right direction.

As many of you know, I am a GenXer. As I finish this blog post, I suddenly have a song running through my head and I can’t get it to stop. Upon a little reflection, I now realize that this song is my generation’s anthem and characterizes our lifelong struggle with Baby Boomers and Millennials. Click here if you want to get inside my head and enjoy what I am sure will become my generation’s rally cry.  😉

Please scroll down to the comment box and weigh-in with any thoughts you may have about the questions I posed a few paragraphs ago. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Too much PowerPoint in your non-profit boardroom?

sleepy board membersA few weeks ago I was sitting down with a client putting the final touches on their Board Retreat agenda, and I received what I thought was an odd request from the board president. He emphatically asked me to please spare him and the board from using PowerPoint presentations during the course of the retreat. He explained that in his line of work he sees far too many PowerPoint presentations, and his eyes glaze over whenever someone starts clicking through their slides and droning on about something obviously important.

Well, I thought it was an odd request, but the customer is always right. Right?

However, out of curiosity I went to Google to see if there are other people who feel the same way. Here is what I found:

Well, alrighty then!

I never realized how many people are tired of PowerPoint presentations (especially bad ones).  So, I was left wondering what I should do because I am apparently one of those consultants who over uses PowerPoint.

Luckily, the board president saved the day and told me about a presentation service he found online — Prezi.com. This online service as a software (SaaS) is a dynamic virtual whiteboard that brings a 3-D quality to your presentation. Click here for a better explanation. You can also watch this YouTube video to see a demonstration.


I’ve now used Prezi a few different times, and I can honestly say that I like it (and I’m not getting paid to say any of this).

Just yesterday I transformed one of my PowerPoint presentations on the “12 Steps to Making a Face-to-Face Solicitation” into a Prezi. After the training, I had a few different volunteer solicitors thank me for using a different format. You can check-out that presentation by clicking here or the graphic below.

Prezi sample

Let me end this post with a dose of skepticism.

I personally don’t believe that people are tired of PowerPoint presentations and I don’t think Prezi is the solution to all of our problems.

In fact, I suspect that what non-profit volunteers are actually trying to tell us is:

Enough of the presentations! Can we have a discussion?

Perhaps, we’re talking too much at our board volunteers, and we need to figure out how to incorporate more discussions into our board meetings and board retreats.

Have you been struggling with this question recently? If so, please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box about the following questions:

  • Who should facilitate these engaging discussions in the boardroom, especially when no one on the board is a highly skilled facilitator?
  • Are there trainings available that a board president can easily access to improve his/her facilitation skills?
  • What role should staff play in framing and staging these conversations before, during and after the board meeting?
  • When information is vital to framing an important discussion, what is the best way to present it to board members without lulling them to sleep?

Please don’t misread me. I’m not suggesting that you throw all of your PowerPoint slides away. I’m not suggesting that Prezi is manna from heaven. I’m not telling you to only have robust discussions in the boardroom or board retreat. However, I am suggesting there is a delicate balance and we need to figure out if we want our non-profit boards to get better at governance.

We can all learn from each other. Please weigh-in with your thoughts using the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

The importance of intuition in non-profit work

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

In a post titled “I Have Leemers,” John talks about the power of intuition and the resistance he encounters from leaders in his workplace when it comes to making decisions based on these gut feelings.

Let me start by making a confession. My Myers-Briggs personality type is ESTP, which means I am:

  • Extroverted
  • Sensing
  • Thinking
  • Perceiving

This is what personality type experts will tell you about intuition and people like me:

“ESTP’s least developed area is their intuitive side. They are impatient with theory, and see little use for it in their quest to “get things done”. An ESTP will occasionally have strong intuitions which are often way off-base, but sometimes very lucid and positive. The ESTP does not trust their instincts, and is suspicious of other people’s intuition as well.”

As a non-profit and fundraising professional, I can honestly tell you that I’ve always felt like I’m at a disadvantage because of my intuition deficit. It is for this reason I work extra hard at trying to develop the intuition side of my personality.

Impossible you say? I don’t think so.  I’ve heard personality type experts compare work like this to right-handed people learning to write with their left hand. It isn’t impossible. It is hard to do and will never feel “normal,” but it is doable.

So, you might be wondering ‘WHY’ would I ever attempt to do something like this? Well, I personally think intuition is a very important attribute for successful non-profit people. Let me give you two examples.


As part of any good annual campaign, you schedule face-to-face meetings with donors. In those meetings you make the case for support and ask them to pledge/give a specific dollar amount. It sounds something like this:

“So, Sally . . . I am hoping that you would give some thoughtful consideration to making a contribution of $1,000 this year to support some of the programs we just talked about as well as everything else this agency does to make a difference in our community.”

That $1,000 ask amount is determined at a committee meeting as part of prospect identification-evaluation-qualification exercises during the campaign planning phase.

As an ESTP, I love prospect identification-evaluation-qualification because it feels like we’re making a decision based on facts and data. We’re looking at the donor database and a prospect’s giving history. We’re looking at a prospect’s life circumstances (e.g. divorce, kids in college, retirement, etc). This decision is based on things that this Sensor can wrap his arms around.

However, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of a solicitation call and my intuition is screaming at me.  As John said in his post, I heard those Leemers saying things like:

  • Abort! Abort! This donor isn’t ready to be asked.
  • Uh-Oh! We’re asking for too much.
  • Eeeek! This person is in love with the agency, and we’re asking for too little.

In every instance, I’ve always stuck to the plan and continued forward with the solicitation and asked for the amount determined by the committee. I can also tell you that every single time, I’ve walked away from the meeting thinking, “Damn, I should’ve gone with my gut feeling.”

I will become a better fundraising professional if I do a better job at developing my intuition.

Board Development

Did you read my blog post yesterday titled “The Chicago Cubs Convention through non-profit eyes: Part Three“???  If that wasn’t an ESTP’s point of view on board development, then I don’t know what is.  LOL

The main theme of yesterday’s post was how important it is to develop data-based metrics to evaluate board volunteer prospects.

As with the fundraising example that I just talked about, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked a board prospect through a recruitment process and those Leemers were screaming at me:

  • This person won’t be a good fit for this board.
  • This person needs other experiences first (e.g. fundraising) before joining the board.
  • This person is saying ‘YES’ but I can’t put my finger on why they should be saying ‘NO’

Again, if I had a dollar for every circumstance I stuck with the plan, closed the deal, and those Leemers were right, then I’d be a very rich man.

I believe intuition is an important board development tool that needs to be in every non-profit leader’s toolbox.

As it relates to me, developing my intuition muscles (even a little bit more) and combining that with my “Sensing” abilities, will help me become a stronger leader, professional, consultant and coach. So, it isn’t about doing less sensing and more intuiting, it is about “balance” for me.

Please scroll down and use the comment box to share an example of when you listened to (or didn’t listen to) your Leemers in a non-profit context. Are you in the same boat as me and need to further develop your intuition? How are you going about doing that? We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

I want a fundraising parrot for Christmas. What are you asking for?

A few weeks ago, a dear old friend of mine from Central Illinois came up to Chicago to visit. His name is Bill McGrath. He is a defense attorney whose heart bleeds more than most for the plight of people. We met downtown for Sunday brunch and talked about the good old days and caught up on where our lives are today. Not only is he still defending people who can hardly afford counsel, but he has fallen in love with his local non-profit homeless shelter and soup kitchen. It was in that conversation about his new-found non-profit passion that he helped me figure out what I am telling all of my friends and family what I want for Christmas.

In our brunch conversation Bill was picking my brain about fundraising issues. It was at this point that he shared with me his reluctance around asking other people for money. He recalled a funny story that he recently read in an online article at the Smithsonian’s website. The story is titled “Found: A Time Capsule at the National Zoo” and there is a section of that story that talks about Zoo Director William Man including a few quirky and interesting approaches to fundraising.

Here is an excerpt from that article that sticks in Bill’s brain as a funny fundraising story:

“Back when the Elephant House was built, Mann was famous for his grand collecting expeditions and offbeat fund-raising antics—he routinely brought animals to budget meetings with the Smithsonian regents and once trained a myna bird to keep asking, “How about the appropriation?” Along with his wife, Lucy, who wrote popular books and articles about their journeys, “Doc” Mann built the Zoo into one of international renown, expanding its collections and advancing standards of care for captive animals nationwide.”

Did you catch that? The zoo director trained a myna bird to assist him with asking other people for money. Wow! Now that is a visual, and I have been laughing about this story for weeks. (I encourage you to go back to the link in the previous paragraph and click-through to read the entire article.)

So, I’ve decided that if William Mann could train a myna bird to participate in fundraising solicitations, then there is nothing wrong with me asking for a “fundraising parrot” for Christmas. I could start legitimately calling myself a “fundraising pirate. LOL

OK OK OK . . . I’ve had my fun this morning, and hopefully I’ve helped some of you take a moment and smile. However, I do think this blog post raises a few very serious questions that you may want to consider heading into next year:

  1. What can you do (short of training myna birds and parrots) to provide better support to your fundraising volunteers heading into 2013?
  2. What “props” do your fundraising volunteers need and want to help them make more effective face-to-face solicitations of their social network?
  3. What mental picture do your volunteers have in their heads of the resource development – fundraising – philanthropic process? If it isn’t a very good picture, how can you help change that in 2013?

I also think this blog post raises some less serious questions such as “What kind of ‘fundraising present’ do you want this holiday season?” If not a fundraising parrot, maybe it could be a donor-centered fundraising dog or a pick-pocketing monkey?!?  LOL

Please take 60 seconds out of your very busy day and indulge in a little bit of fun. Scroll down and use the comment box to weigh-in on some of the silly questions. Or if you’re in a serious mood, then use the comment box to answer some of the serious questions that I pose above.

Here’s to your health!

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

A Philanthropy Day present for you

As I explained in Tuesday’s post titled “Happy Philanthropy Day 2012,” I was in Rochester, MN helping the Southern Minnesota Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals celebrate National Philanthropy Day. There were awards for philanthropists and fundraisers. Training sessions were offered to both staff and board. It was uplifting, celebratory, engaging, and education.

People typically turn holidays into opportunities for gift giving, and I don’t believe Philanthropy Day should be any different. Obviously, the Southern Minnesota Chapter was very thoughtful in their gift giving when they decided to give the gifts of recognition and professional development to their members and the Rochester community’s philanthropic community.

When I thought about what I should give the readers of this blog for Philanthropy Day, it was an idea that came to me very quickly.

At the end of one of the training sessions I had facilitated, I asked that very talented group of fundraising professionals to engage in a brainstorming session around what a set of donor centered fundraising policies might look like for a typical non-profit organization. I did this because in my travels I just haven’t seen many agencies tackling this project. So, my gift to you this Philanthropy Day is that I will share the results from that exercise. (A special thanks to the Southern Minnesota Chapter for collaborating with me on this gift.)

Before I begin, I should mention that there was a robust discussion about whether or not this list should be “policies” or something else (e.g. practices, procedures, parts of a plan). Regardless, we did build consensus around the idea that this list should begin with a “P”.   😉

The following is a draft list of ideas and is intended to get you and your resource development committee discussing possibilities:

  • [gifts of X amount] get a phone call from a board volunteer within [Y number of days] of sending out the initial acknowledgement letter.
  • [gifts of X amount] get a phone call from a volunteer and client within [Y number of weeks or months] of sending out the initial acknowledgement letter. This call should include verbiage that conveys a sense of what the donor’s contribution has helped produce.
  • A written policy on when to “discontinue contact” with a donor.
  • A written policy that speaks to the idea of how to handle donor data (e.g. sale of lists, distribution of reports, etc)
  • [asks of X amount] must always be done face-to-face with someone who has a relationship with the donor participating in the solicitation.
  • A written policy pertaining the collection, capture, and use of donor centered data (supported with training)
  • A procedure written about the board mentoring policy specific to how board members model participation in a donor centered fundraising program
  • A written policy about pledge payment options designed in a donor centered way (e.g. how about asking the donor to what is most convenient for them rather than just depending on them to check boxes on a form)
  • A written policy dealing with donor confidentiality of information (and perhaps engage donors in helping write that policy or give input via a focus group)
  • A written procedure for sending a personalized gift acknowledgement letter within [X number of days] that includes the following information: 1) confirmation that the gift was received, 2) expressed appreciation and excitement for the gift, and 3) a reaffirmation of what the gift will be used for.
  • A written policy or procedure clearly stating that there must be [X number of cultivation/stewardship touches] in between solicitations. (Note: the group who offered this recommendation suggested seven might be the right number)
  • A written policy or procedure on issuing a press release for all gifts larger than [X size gift]
  • A written policy or procedure on sending letters from beneficiaries/clients to donors to demonstrate thanks and illustrate impact/ROI.
  • A written policy or procedure on when a board member signature should appear on a gift acknowledgement letter
  • A written policy or procedure on when handwritten notes should be used in addition to the donor database generated letter
  • A written policy or procedure addressing the issue of when and with whom to use “events” to cultivate/steward donors (Note: please note they were not referencing fundraising events but rather friend-raising events)

Again,  a special thank you to the Southern Minnesota Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for helping me produce a thoughtful blog post that doubles as a great Philanthropy Day gift.

What do you plan on doing on Philanthropy Day? It could be as simple as calling a special donor (regardless of whether or not they are a donor to your agency) and thanking them for what they do. Or you could scroll down and use the comment box below to add one more suggestion to the list that was started above.

Here’s to your health!

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

The role of your non-profit board?

Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on Amazon.com. 

Every time I speak on issues related to nonprofits, and I mean every single time, regardless of the topic, someone, usually a Board member or an Executive Director, asks “What is the role of the Board?” It has happened so often, and so consistently, that I don’t even wait for the question anymore, I just include the information. Then, of course, the question that follows or should follow is “What is the role of the Executive Director?”

The Board is responsible for governance, which includes:

  • mission, vision and strategic planning;
  • hiring, supporting and evaluating the executive director;
  • acting as the fiduciary responsible agent;
  • setting policy; and,
  • raising money.

Everything (Yes, I really mean everything) else is done in concert with the executive director or by the executive director.

What does that really mean?

It means the Board sets the direction, often with input from the executive director, and the executive director makes it happen, often with support from the Board.

It means the Board hires, supports, evaluates and (when necessary) fires the executive director. Likewise, the executive director hires, supports, evaluates and (when necessary) fires the staff. For Board members, that means that you work through the executive director if you have a problem or need something from the staff. For the executive director (even though they don’t need permission) having input from the Board before firing a staff member (especially one that is well known) will help build organizational cohesiveness and extend career longevity.

Fiduciary responsibility means that the Board (and not just the Treasurer but the whole Board) is responsible for safeguarding the community’s resources and ensuring accountability and transparency. The Board also must understand and formally approve finances, audits, and the 990. Fiduciary responsibility doesn’t end with finances; it also includes programs. Boards are entrusted to understand how and why an organization’s programs fill a need in the community, the numbers of people who participate in those programs and their impact, as well as how those programs connect to mission.

Setting policy is also the role of the Board. Policies are usually recommended, written and, later, implemented by the executive director, but they are voted upon and passed by the Board. Typical policies include personnel, code of ethics/conflict of interests, whistle blower, confidentiality, crisis management and/or communication. Your agency should, and does, also have by-laws (also called codes of regulations) which should be followed, periodically reviewed and if revised, voted upon by the Board.

The last piece of Board responsibility is fundraising. The executive director cannot raise money alone. The Development Director cannot raise money alone. The Board cannot raise money alone. Fundraising works best in a culture of philanthropy when both the staff and the Board are working together. The Board’s role is to set the fundraising goal, embark on the campaign, open doors, introduce staff, “make the ask” when appropriate, pick up the tab for lunch when possible, and thank the donor. The staff is responsible for training the Board, coordinating the assignments, preparing the askers with relevant donor information, drafting and supplying whatever written information will be left with the donor, including a letter asking for a specific dollar amount, attending the meetings as necessary and documenting the meeting in the database as well as writing the formal thank you note, and then creating a plan to steward the donor.

There is also a strategic and generative piece to Board service (or at least there should be). We have already reviewed strategic planning in previous posts, and I encourage you to now expand that to include strategic thinking. Is it not enough to have a strategic plan that made your Board members crazy and now sits on a shelf. Strategy is not a one day thing. Strategy requires direction setting, questioning and the committing of resources to ensure the destination is reached. It also requires the rejection of things that are outside the scope of our plan, or the revision of our plan. It necessitates having a culture that allows for and encourages questioning, and sometimes dissent. Board meetings should include robust discussions.

Finally, and least often, there is what Richard Chait describes as generative mode. Generative is a much deeper conversation about the underlying issues and how to impact them.  Chait presents generative discussions as ones that “select and frame the problem.” He says “committees need to think not about decisions or reports as their work product, but to think of understanding, insight and illumination as their work products.”

Honestly, if Boards are just going to approve the things put in front of them, anyone can do that. We don’t need our community’s best and brightest to serve on our Boards for that. We do need our community’s best and brightest to lead, to govern and to be strategic about the needs of our communities and generative about the issues we face.

As always, I welcome your insight and experience.

BOOM . . . You have fundraising stereotypes to overcome!

A few months ago, when I was at the movie theater with friends, I saw the trailer promo for Kevin James’ new film “Here Comes the Boom“. While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I can honestly say that the promo reached out of the silver screen, grabbed me by my fundraising collar and shook me hard. The first time I saw it, my immediate first thought was “OMG . . . I bet this is exactly what most volunteers conjure up in their mind when I ask them to help me fundraise for a good cause.

Click here to see that short promotion:


If you didn’t pick it up from the video clip, here is how the film is described by its PR people:

“When cutbacks threaten to cancel the music program and lay off its teacher (Henry Winkler,) Scott begins to raise money by moonlighting as a mixed martial arts fighter. Everyone thinks Scott (Kevin James) is crazy — most of all the school nurse, Bella (Salma Hayek) — but in his quest, Scott gains something he never expected as he becomes a sensation that rallies the entire school.”

If I could re-write this description, it would sound something like this: “When cutbacks threaten to cancel the music program, supporters think of all kinds of crazy fundraising ideas first (ranging from cage fighting to bake sales) rather than the most obvious solution — flat-out asking their friends and fellow music program supporters to write a check.

Isn’t this the simple truth, too? It always surprises me that people will grasp at every other straw first during times of cutbacks almost as if they are saying: “I’ll do anything, but please don’t ask me to ask other people for a contribution to support something I know they want to support.”

Additionally, this movie trailer has me convinced that when many of us ask friends to join the annual campaign team to work a few pledge cards, their brain immediately pictures a cage match with them and a prospective donor gripped in a grudge match.

With annual campaign season right around the corner, I suspect many of us are starting to assemble our prospect lists of potential campaign volunteers. Kevin James’ movie provides me with a gentle reminder that volunteers have all sorts of stereotypes in their heads about fundraising, and it is my job to over come those obstacles.

The following are a few simple suggestions and best practices that can help you change the picture in your prospective campaign volunteer’s head on your next recruitment visit:

Setting expectations

Clarity is very important when recruiting volunteers for your annual campaign. Keep in mind that people don’t process as much through their ears as they do through their eyes. With this in mind, bring a written volunteer job description with you to the recruitment meeting. Explain verbally what you need them to do, and then leave the written volunteer description with them.

Providing something in writing does a few things:

  1. It gives them more information to process and reinforces everything that you told them verbally .
  2. It sends a strong signal that you are NOT “soft selling” them on what you need. (aka there is nothing up my sleeve and you can trust me not to pull the old fashion bait-n-switch)

Finally, when you get back to your office after the recruitment call, send a letter thanking them for their time and consideration. Use some of the space in that letter to reinforce what you asked them to do along with some of the important dates/times you asked them to mark off in their calendar. Repetition is the key to getting people to hear you.

Have you ever wondered why people agree to work pledge cards and then drag their feet on actually doing it? If so, go back and re-read this section because I am willing to bet that it is possible those volunteers didn’t have a clear understanding of what was being asked of them.


After securing a ‘YES’ from your prospective fundraising volunteer, you need to do everything possible to get them focused on your agency’s mission. Take them on a tour of your facilities. Introduce them to clients. Get them to understand your  ‘case for support’  inside out.

One of the biggest reasons people are afraid of asking others to join them in making a charitable contribution to your organization is because they can’t get it out of their head that they are not asking for themselves.

If you can help a volunteer understand in their heart that they are asking on behalf of your clients, then you’ve just cleared a major hurdle.

This is easier said than done and it won’t be accomplished by simply handing then your case statement.

Involve volunteers in cultivation

Too often, fundraising volunteers are fearful of making the ask because they think they’re asking friends to do something they don’t want to do. They haven’t been on all of the cultivation calls that you’ve been on, and they haven’t seen their friends and colleagues open their hearts to your mission like you have seen.

Simply involving your campaign volunteers in the cultivation or stewardship process before asking them to “get out there and ask for a contribution” will show them that they have permission to make the ask.

It will also go a long way in helping you change the stereotypical picture of what that fundraising call is likely going to look like.

What else have you done to help your fundraising volunteers change their mental picture? Please use the comment box below to share suggestions and best practices. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Change 101: Sell-Sell-Sell and then Strategy-Strategy-Strategy

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

In a recent post, John talked about the importance of “selling problems,” and he wasn’t referencing issues that sales teams experience. He literally meant taking your organization’s problems / challenges and selling them as things that must be solved.

A few weeks ago, I attended Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Midwest Regional Conference as an exhibitor and trainer. One of the sessions I presented was “Transformation: Driving Lasting Change at Your Club“. In that training, I shared with participants a six stage process for leading change that I learned at a change leadership training offered by Linkage Inc.

Here are the six stages to that change model:

  1. Make the case for change
  2. Enlist stakeholders to develop vision & strategy
  3. Communicate the vision and strategy
  4. Remove barriers
  5. Set milestones & acknowledge progress
  6. Reinforce the change

If you click over and read John’s post and then click back here to the six stage change model, you will see the first three stages all deal with “selling the problem”.

Of course, this all seems to easy when presented in blogs and six stage models. What could go wrong, right?

Well, there is always that little thing called strategy development that if done incorrectly can lead your organization down a path towards bigger problems.

Let’s look at a real world example that many non-profit organizations deal with at one time or another. This is the issue of fundraising efficiency and productivity.  Here is how I’ve seen this change initiative unfold too many times:

  • The agency needs to do better with its fundraising program.
  • The executive director sells the problem to the board. Facts, figures and charts all demonstrate the need.
  • The executive director and board members sell the problem to donors, who generous agree to help with their pocketbooks.
  • All of stakeholders agree that the strategy needs to be increased organizational capacity in the area of fundraising. The solution? Hire a fundraising professional! (or more fundraising professionals as the case may be)
  • The new fundraising professional joins the team, and the problem doesn’t get better (in fact it sometimes gets a little worse).

Huh? What happened?

In many instances, I’ve seen the executive director take a victory lap and then wash their hands of their fundraising responsibilities. The board does a similar celebration and then disengages from the resource development program. Board members think: “Phew! Thank goodness we hired that person to do all of our fundraising. Now I can focus on other things.”

Oooops! Maybe the problem was deeper and more complex.

When leading change, the first order of business for the non-profit executive director is “selling the problem”. As John points out in his example, if you can make this a self-discovery process for key stakeholders, it will be that much more powerful.

Immediately, after you secure engagement, strategy and vision development becomes critical because selling the right problem with the wrong solutions will get you nowhere fast.

I don’t mean to imply that the aforementioned strategy of hiring a fundraising professional is a wrong solution. However, understanding cause-and-effect is important and anticipating potential scenarios will help you avoid some heartache. Additionally, understanding the entire problem and being comprehensive in your strategy development is key.

Has your agency ever solved a problem without engaging key stakeholders in what the problem was in the first place? What was the result? Have you ever solved a problem and found yourself surprised that the solution didn’t solve the problem? What did you do? How did you correct course and change your change initiative? If you are a fundraising professional who has gone through what I just described, please share how you re-engaged your boss and the board and got things on track. Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and examples.

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