Who is minding the gap at your agency?

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

Today, we are talking about one of the most important things that your organizations must do if it wants to achieve its mission and vision of the future. We are talking about “minding the gap,” which is something John talked about in terms of strategic planning.

At the foundation of every good strategic plan (or any plan for that matter) is “gap analysis,” which John summarizes well when he says:

“Which is a pretty fancy way of saying that the team spends some time comparing the current situation with the future state.  Comparing actual performance with potential performance.  Comparing current capabilities to projected capabilities.”

When I read this, my mind wandered to the countless evaluation sessions and SWOT exercises in which I’ve participated and facilitated throughout the years. However, I then read this in John’s post . . .

“The team doing the gap analysis rarely delivers the plans necessary to actually bridge the gap and achieve the future state. Look; it’s not that the team is a bunch of do nothing know nothing stiffs.  Far from it; they are very often strong contributors, hand-picked for the job — logical, analytical; detail oriented, project planners and operational executioners.  Without them, the current state would be nowhere near as good as it is.”

Now this stopped me cold in my tracks on a Friday morning because it is a powerful and true statement. It also made my brain hurt because it raises all sorts of questions that are difficult to contemplate on only 1/2 cup of coffee such as:

  • Who do you involve in your gap analysis?
  • How do you assess who those right people are when building your prospect list?
  • How do you keep the gap assessment from feeling like a judgement on your current team?
  • Are there different groups who mind different gaps in your organization? For example, who is minding the program/operations gap? The board governance gap? The fundraising gap?
  • What role should donors play in minding the gap? How can we get over our fears around exposing donors to the data that comes out of minding the gap? (Ditto these questions for board members as it relates to staff and programming)

So, here is the take away for me this morning . . .

Spend lots of time getting the “WHO” right,
when it comes to gap assessment and planning.

If you get this wrong, then it will likely haunt you for years and years to come.

Do you have any strategic planning stories that you would like to share about how you determined who the right people were and put them in the right seat of your strategic planning bus? Please share your experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Answers to the two most popular social media questions asked by non-profits

At the end of yesterday’s post titled “Are non-profits yelling at their donors using social media?” I promised that I’d share a few revelations from a social media conference that Marissa and I attended last week hosted by SkillPath Seminars. Today, we’re talking about two of the most popular social media questions that I’ve been asked by non-profit organizations:

  1. Which social media platforms should your non-profit organization use to speak to donors and supporters?
  2. How can your agency do a better job at engaging its supporters using social media and gain more traction?

Let me first say that I highly recommend this SkillPath training conference to all non-profit professionals who are responsible for managing their agency’s social media communities. You can find more information at the other end of the link that provided above. (No, I was not paid to say this)

When looking through the conference materials on this subject, they list more than 20 different platforms that companies are using to market their efforts. However, it came as no surprise that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn were the top three “networking platforms;” YouTube was the most popular “promotional platform;” and various blogging platforms (e.g. WordPress, Blogger, and Tumblr) were the most popular “sharing platforms”.

Our trainers suggested that a company should give serious consideration to developing a presence on all three platforms and five sites. While that might sound easy enough, it becomes more complicated when you consider that you’ll be saying different things in each of these places. You need to figure out who your target audiences are and which social media platforms are best at communicating with them.

As I sat through many of the sessions, I found myself trying to translate the training curricula into non-profit speak. Assuming that my universal translator is working well, I concluded the following:

  • Facebook looks like a great stewardship tool where you can engage donors and show your “friends” how their contribution is being put to good use.
  • Twitter and its 140 character limitations could be an awesome cultivation tool where you catch the attention of prospects and drive them to a place where they learn more about your mission.
  • LinkedIn is more than a human resource tool. It is a place to build relationships with potential corporate supporters and identify special event sponsors.
  • YouTube can be a multi-purpose resource development tool and used in many different ways. However, it might be best used for raising brand awareness and developing a pool of interested prospects who you are positioning for cultivation activities.
  • Your blog is a friendly online place to engage in conversations with supporters and potential supporters. You can establish yourself as a “thought leader,” advocate and engaged listener.
  • All of these social media tools should be used to drive traffic to your website where there is more information, volunteer forms, donation pages, etc.

Yes, this is a lot of work and at some point you’ll need to frame your agency’s strategy in a written social media plan. While it is easy to think that it might end up on the fundraising department’s plate, I think there is an opportunity for thoughtful organizations to transform their agency into a “social company” and share the workload and transform your workplace culture.

Enough on platforms.

What about building momentum? Gaining traction? Engaging more deeply?

The following are just a few of the suggestions offered by our SkillPath trainers:

  • Write content that is interesting to your reader. (If you don’t know what that is, then go ask them)
  • Host contests
  • Offer coupons
  • Make your content interactive
  • Include links to things that your audience will find interesting and useful

Perhaps, one of the best ideas I heard was that a picture is worth a thousand words. Write less and post more pictures of your mission, your programs, your volunteers, and your donors. This one simple idea that will probably result in increased traffic, more content sharing, and deeper engagement.

Is your agency using social media? How’s it going? Do you feel like it is working? Why or why not? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

What non-profits can learn from the Olympics: A lesson in social media

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of the Olympics. It is a chance for me to see sports that I don’t normally have an opportunity to watch. For instance, have you seen handball?!!? That stuff is crazy!

Sports watching aside, the London 2012 Games have been a little different from the Olympiads before them. They are the most “social” games that we’ve ever experienced. I thought today, since we are smack dab in the middle of The Games, we could take a look at how social media has made an impact and what non-profits can take away from it.


Last week, reporter Guy Adam’s Twitter account, was taken down. This was shocking to hear because Twitter has been social media’s liberation network. Twitter is supportive of free speech . . . just look at their public positions on WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring movement. When reporter Guy Adams tweeted criticism of NBC’s coverage of the Opening Ceremonies, Twitter responded by shutting down his account. After media coverage of this censorship, Adams’ account was reactivated.

What can non-profits take away from this?

Just because social media is, in most cases, a free service and covered under the First Amendment, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Twitter, Facebook, et al, are still corporations. They can still regulate your account without your knowledge. As a result, I recommend that all non-profit organizations have their own websites and not solely rely on social media. After all, social media is only one tool that you should use to drive people to your website and share their message with the world.


People will talk. There’s no doubt about that.

However, there are times when people are not only representations of themselves, but they are also representing an organization and something larger than just themselves. So, when USA Women’s Soccer Team member, Hope Solo, tweeted her disdain for the commentary that was being given during her games, her coaches and captains called her in for a meeting. She wasn’t suspended, but since the meeting, her tweets have had a different tone to them.

Similarly, athletes have been suspended from participating in the The Olympic Games due to racist tweets they published.

What is the lesson in all of this for non-profit organizations? The need for a social media policy is stronger than ever.

What is the lesson in all of this for non-profit professionals? Employees and volunteers need to understand what restrictions might exist when it comes to sharing things on their personal accounts as it pertains to your organization.

Finally, this all begs one simple question: “How does your organization know who is saying what about you online?”

I believe that someone at your organization should be assigned the responsibility of monitoring what (if anything) is being said about your organization on the internet. Please don’t misunderstand . . . I’m not suggesting that you break any privacy laws here, but if an employee has a public twitter account, it can be seen by anyone.

One way to set up something without being as much of a stalker is to set up a Google Alert to notify you when the name of your organization or a key word attached your mission is mentioned on the internet.

Share Your Successes

The Olympics are all about results. Who ran the race the fastest? Which country has the most gold medals? Athletes, teams, and news networks constantly updating their feeds with success stories.

People like good news. Non-profit organizations should share their successes, big or small, with their online communities.

Did you recently make a purchase that will improve the work that you do? Tell people about it. Were you recently awarded a grant that will make an impact on furthering your mission? Scream it from the mountaintops of cyberspace.

People will “like” the good news on Facebook and retweet the news on Twitter. This can gain you new followers and supporters.

We still have about a week left of Olympic coverage, and new stories regarding social media are bound to pop up. I encourage you to keep your eyes open and see what happens. After all, in its most basic form, The Olympics are simply one big special event that is runs by an organization. Non-profits run special events, too. What social media stories have caught your eye recently? I’d love to talk about them in the comment section below!

Non-Profit Time Management: The Trick About Delegation

This week’s “Mondays with Marissa” post was titled “Non-Profit Time Management: Scheduling Social Media Updates“. After reading Marissa’s weekly pearl of wisdom, it got me thinking. During tough economic times, donors are asking non-profits to do more with less, which is leading to longer task lists for both executive directors and fundraising professionals. All of this contributes to a lot of stress in the workplace. In honor of Marissa’s awesome blog post, I am dedicating this week’s posts to the idea of looking more carefully at time-saving tips with regards to managing your agency and implementing your resource development program.

Let’s continue this conversation by looking at the difficult art of delegation.

It would be so simple to just say “delegate early and often” if you want to improve productivity at your non-profit organization; however, the truth of the matter is:  it is more complicated than that.

The Heaping Plate effect

Let’s think this through for a moment. Donors are telling non-profits to do more with less. From what I’ve seen in the last four years, non-profit boards did not respond by rolling up their sleeves and investing more time in serious fundraising. Instead, many of the boards I know circled the wagons and tried to “cut-cut-cut” their way out of crisis.

In the final analysis, those non-profit organizations are stretched very thin now, and they’re trying to run their pre-2008 program with a skeleton staff.

So, an executive director or fundraising professional might not be able to delegate their way to increased productivity because everyone’s plate is heaped too full of work.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that delegation can’t be effective; however, it will need to be done with volunteers (e.g. board volunteers, program volunteers, fundraising volunteers).

All hands on deck!

Trust But Verify

When I was an executive director, I learned that delegation is not a magic cure-all that made everything on my task list disappear. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.  🙁

For example, I would delegate a task to staff or volunteers and expect that it would get done on or before the agreed upon deadline. It never failed . . . the task would never get done on time and I usually ended up taking it back (while muttering under my breath something like “if you want it done right, you got to do it yourself“).

I really was wrong. In reality, I just didn’t know how to effectively delegate, and it wasn’t until someone share with me those immortal Ronald Reagan words — “Trust But Verify” — that I start getting better at delegation.

I learned to use my Microsoft Outlook task list to manage BOTH my tasks and the things I delegated. For example, if I delegated a grant compliance report to a staff person, then I would add it to Outlook with a digital reminder to check-in and see how things were going a few weeks before the deadline. I’d do the same thing with volunteers who agreed to do things for the agency.

Since opening my non-profit consulting practice, I’ve started using Basecamp, which is an online project management service to keep track of who is doing what and by when.

Have you used other tools other than Microsoft Outlook to track and manage things you’ve delegated to staff and volunteers? If so, please scroll down and share your best practice in the comment section of this blog. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Strike three . . . You’re OUT! Because you swung for the non-profit fences.

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

Today, we’re focusing on a post that John titled “My Last At Bat“. In that post, he talks about his last Little League game as a child. As a baseball fan, I immediately fell in love with this blog post. As a fan of the non-profit sector and organizational development, my mind has been spinning for almost a week about how many different ways John’s post applies to non-profit agencies.

I don’t want to give anything away (you really need to go read his post for yourself), but the story is about how John approached his last Little League game with an understanding of what he was “good at doing” and tried to play within his capabilities. His friend took a very different approach and got very different results.

Looking back over the last 15 years, I’ve seen this dynamic play out in many different ways. Here are a few examples:

  • A non-profit board needs to fill an executive director vacancy. Rather than looking at competencies, skill sets and past experiences, the search committee gets WOWed by a charming big personality. Or they hire the internal candidate who has been a great front line program staffer, but doesn’t have any past experience with fundraising, board development, or financial management.
  • An executive director needs to hire a development director to provide thoughtful leadership and direction to the agency’s comprehensive resource development program. Rather than identifying what competencies, skill sets and past experiences are necessary for this person to excel and succeed, they interview a hodgepodge of fundraising people including direct mail professionals, grant writers, special event coordinators, and marketing people. Again, they end up hiring a special event person and ask them to do something that they don’t have a track record of doing.
  • The board development committee needs to recruit a new class of board volunteers. Rather than complete a gap analysis to determine what skill sets and experiences incoming board volunteers need in order to help move the agency forward, the committee puts together a list of “friends” who they know will likely say YES if asked. In the end, the wrong people are sitting around the table. They are all well-intentioned, but the boardroom feels dysfunctional and engagement is lacking.

Why do so many of us in the non-profit sector ask people to do things that are outside of their immediate capabilities?

I know that you can hit a single, but I need you to hit a home run today!

The silly thing is that stringing together a few singles puts a few runs on the scoreboard in the same way that hitting a home run will do. Translated into “non-profit speak” . . . asking people (employees and volunteers) to do what they do well will advance your cause as much or more than asking them to do something that they haven’t done before.

Here are just a few suggestions to get our conversation going:

  • Don’t ask a volunteer who hasn’t done any fundraising to join your board.
  • Don’t hire an executive director who hasn’t been an executive director before.
  • Don’t ask a volunteer solicitor to ask a donor for a significant contribution unless they’ve also given significantly.
  • Don’t hire a special event person to write grants unless they’ve been successful at doing it somewhere else.

I am sure that some of you are bristling at these suggestions and have good examples of when you might want to do one of these things. Please know that these suggestions are not meant to be “absolutes”. However, if you plan on asking someone to do something that they don’t have much experience doing, then you must adjust your expectations. You need to expect failure at first. You need to view it as a “project” and invest in training and professional development, accordingly.

Do you ask your employees and volunteers to “play within their abilities”? Or are you someone who is always encouraging them to hit home runs for your agency? How do you guarantee that you’re hiring and recruiting the right people for the right jobs? What would you add to the list I started a few paragraphs ago around Do’s and Don’ts? How have you managed your employees’ and volunteers’ disappointment when they fail to hit the home run that you asked them to hit?

If you haven’t done so yet, please go read John Greco’s post “My Last At Bat“. When you’re done, circle back to this post and share your comments, thoughts and answers to some of the questions I’ve posed using the comment box below.  Let’s learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit donors: “Should I stay or should I go?”

A few years ago I discovered two fundraising bloggers from “across the pond” who collaborate on a daily blog called “The Agitator“. I fell in love and told all of my friends to subscribe if they knew what was good for them. A few weeks ago, The Agitator published a post titled “Flat Earth Fundraising: Ignoring The Leaky Bucket” that was so outstanding that I fell in love all over again.

While Roger hits a lot of hot buttons for me in this post about donor retention, one point struck me particularly hard when he said:

“This means half of your retention battle has nothing to do with your mission features and organizational benefits. A large part of the reason a donor will stay or go is not mission or message or premium offer, it is how she/he is treated when encountering donor services. The opportunity here is not avoiding bad experiences (that is obvious), the real opportunity is recognizing that service can actually improve the relationship and is a critical touchpoint, one that can help to further monetize the relationship with cross-sell and upsell.”

There are big non-profit organizations out there that are well-oiled machines. These types of organizations have fundraising departments and use complicated direct response strategies that would make many for-profit organizations proud. They employ fundraising professionals responsible for managing a caseload of donors and use Moves Management strategies. I suspect “donor services” look very different at a large non-profit agency than it does at a small organization. I’m not saying that it should (maybe it should and maybe it shouldn’t) . . . I’m just saying that it does.

After reading Roger’s thoughts about “donor services” and the role it plays in donor retention, I started thinking about what this means for small non-profit organizations that focus more on in-person, face-to-face fundraising and less on targeted and direct mail.

What does it mean?

It means that the volunteer solicitors your agency recruits to work pledge cards becomes one very important touchpoint for the donor.

Duh . . . right?

As I think back upon my days on the frontline of a small non-profit agency working with volunteer solicitors on annual campaign implementation, I am embarrassed to admit that the thought farthest from my mind was “how enjoyable and fulfilling will that solicitation meeting be” for the donor. In fact, I was more focused on tactical issues such as:

  • do I have enough volunteers?
  • where can I host a good kickoff meeting?
  • how can I inject accountability and urgency into the campaign so that we can finish “on time” and run along to the next fundraising event?

Sure, I provided volunteer solicitors with “training” at the kickoff meeting, but it sometimes felt like an after-thought. As I look back over some of the campaigns I’ve run in the last decade and think about some of the volunteers I recruited, I now wonder how well some of those solicitation meetings went.

Ugh! I would describe some of my favorite volunteers as “major closers”. They are task oriented and would “hunt down” their assigned donors like a dog hunts down their favorite bone. While that approach might have been good for me, I am now worry about how the bone . . .errrr . . . donor felt.

I would also describe some of my other fundraising volunteers as “highly reluctant” and only agreed to participate because I was charming and persuaded them to do so. In spite of all the training, I can imagine that their solicitation calls felt uncomfortable for everyone involved.

I suspect that prospects/donors have the classic song “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by The Clash running through their heads every time they are sitting down with a volunteer solicitor. This encounter needs to be good. In fact, it needs to be great!

The following are just a few thoughts running through my head this morning on how to get a little closer to achieving this objective:

  • put lots of time and thought into recruiting “the right” volunteer solicitors who are comfortable and excited about asking other people to consider making a pledge to your annual campaign;
  • be thoughtful and engage your volunteers during the prospect assignment phase of your campaign and focus on matching people based on good solid relationships;
  • go beyond the typical training focused on how to make the ask and use the case statement by including tips on how to improve the quality of the meeting itself; and
  • ask the volunteer solicitor to engage their prospects/donors in a conversation around what their preferences are for post-solicitation communication by the agency.

What is your agency doing to improve the quality of interaction between solicitor-donor and agency-donor? How are you evaluating and assessing the effectiveness of those encounters? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health! (If you want to be “agitated,” go check-out Tom & Roger’s blog posts over at The Agitator. You won’t be disappointed!)

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

What can’t your donor database do?

I left the non-profit frontline back in 2006 for an internal consulting position with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. So, it has been a long time since a donor database has “run my life”. A few weeks ago, I participated in a webinar focused on the Results Plus database product produced by Metafile in Rochester, Minnesota. It was during that webinar that I was reminded about how powerful donor database software packages have become.

For the “average non-profit” out there, a donor database is the software package they capture the following data:

  • Donor name
  • Donor address
  • Donor phone number
  • Contributions (amount and to what campaign)

It is less common for non-profit organizations to capture other information such as: solicitor names, spousal information, occupation & employer, social networks, wealth indicators, interests, etc (and this list can go on and on and on because there are more than a hundred data fields in most database packages that can be filled with information).

What I’ve found to be common for many non-profit organizations is they purchase a donor database system, invest in training, and lose institutional knowledge as employee turnover naturally occurs. As new fundraising professionals are hired, the desire to throw the old database out the window is magnified because they weren’t involved in database set-up and the systems built around the database weren’t designed by them. Most commonly, new fundraising professionals come to the table with biases toward database systems with which they might be more familiar.

Naturally, the drums start to beat and the mantra becomes “Buy a New System” rather than: 1) invest in training, 2) clean and deepen the data, and 3) fix the systems built around the database.

While I participated in that “refresher webinar” hosted by Mark Gerber at Results Plus, I was awestruck with what some donor database can do nowadays.

Credit Cards processing. Many donor databases have built functionality into their products where you can swipe and store a donor’s encrypted credit card information. This can make events (esp. auctions) really easy. It also makes recurring contributions (e.g. monthly giving program) to your annual campaign really easy. I’ve seen some database companies (e.g. events.org) build credit card processing right into the services they provide their clients. Other databases like Results Plus allow you to hook-up to external merchant account companies like Moneris and credit card processing happens with just one keystroke.

Event Management.For a long time now, fundraising professionals have been able to do a lot associated with event planning from inside their donor database, but the functionality and features continue to multiply. The following is just a short list of what is possible: seating assignments, auction management, creating/sending invitations via snail-mail or email, budgeting, creating/managing project management task lists, tracking entrée selection, managing gift acknowledgement letters with appropriate IRS disclaimer information for the value of services received (e.g. quid pro quo gifts), and the list goes on and on and on and on.

Volunteer management. A recent study released by Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and VolunteerMatch reports two big things: 1) 67% of survey respondents said they “generally make their financial donations to the same organizations where they volunteer” and 2) Volunteers tend to donate an average of 10-times more money to charity then people who don’t volunteer. This is why it is so very important for your non-profit organization to use your donor database to track and manage your volunteers. You can track and do all sorts of things such as: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Interests? Time volunteered . . . value of that time . . .  background check information . . . generate cultivation/stewardship letters . . . and the list goes on and on and on!

Prospect research. Third-party data mining companies have done a remarkable job integrating their services in such a way that you can run their applications from inside your donor database and even pull that data directly into your system. These services are costly, but it is amazing what you can find out about a prospect or donor from public records. Wow! And it can all easily be done from inside your donor database. If you have some cash to spend, talk to your database provider about whether or not information from WealthEngine or Blackbaud’s Target Analytics can be easily brought into your database system.

These were just a few functions and features that had me on the edge of my seat throughout that webinar. My best advice to all non-profit organizations with donor database systems is to:

  1. Call your database provider and ask a sales professional to provide you with their “nickel tour”. Even though you already own the system, you will likely learn a lot about what you already own. The sales pro will play along because they might just sell an upgrade or add-on module.
  2. Invest and continue re-investing in training. The donor database world is constantly evolving and you really need to stay on top of what your system can do.
  3. Pay attention to the systems you build around your database (e.g. staffing, contact reports, event registration forms, pledge cards, etc). These system have a lot more to do with the data you’re capturing than the software you’re using.

I wonder when the donor database companies will build enough functionality into their systems so all I need to do is press a button on my computer and the database will brush my teeth for me?  😉

Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share one of your favorite features or functions associated with your donor database.

Here’s to your health!

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

Want to improve your annual campaign pledge drive? Look at “structure” first!

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

Today we’re focusing on a post that John titled “Fighting the Physics“. In this post, he shares a story about how a paper airplane cannot perform any better in spite of providing the owner more training, encouragement and financial incentive. It isn’t until the actual paper airplane is “structurally re-designed” that performance is improved. He uses this analogy to illustrate how some of us are unrealistic in our expectations when it comes to employee performance and productivity.

When I read John’s post, it made me think of all the non-profit organizations I’ve worked with in the last five years. In many of those engagements, it was my job to either help them:

  1. plan-implement-evaluate a new annual campaign pledge drive, or
  2. improve an existing campaign.

I cannot tell you how many of those engagements sounded EXACTLY like John’s blog post about the paper airplane. Looking back I suspect that I was “Fighting the Physics” more often than not. Too much training and not enough work around structure.  <<Sigh>> Hindsight is always 20/20.

So, if your annual campaign is not producing the way you hoped it would, the moral of John’s story is to first look at “structure” before you jump to the conclusion that more training, encouragement or incentives are needed. The following is a short checklist of structural questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • How are you recruiting your volunteers? What tools are you using? Are they effectively setting expectations and providing clarity for volunteers?
  • How are you maintaining a sense of “mission-focus” throughout your campaign and helping volunteers focus on the real reason they are asking their friends for money? What tools and strategies are you using? Are they effective?
  • How are you instilling a sense of accountability and urgency throughout your campaign and helping volunteers keep the tasks they committed to from slipping off of their daily “To Do Lists”? What tools and strategies are you using? Are they effective?
  • What does “staff support” look like for the campaign? Is staff just organizing meetings and making phone calls to check-in on volunteers? Or are they “rolling up their sleeves” and going on solicitation calls with volunteers? Are staff “directing” or are they “coaching”?

John is so right on target! Before you jump to the conclusion that you need to recruit different volunteers or offer more/different training, look at how you have structured your campaign and look at the following systems:

  • Volunteer recruitment
  • Prospect identification
  • Prospect cultivation
  • Prospect assignment
  • Kickoff meeting and training
  • Reporting tools, systems and meetings
  • Solicitation tools and techniques
  • Donor acknowledgement and stewardship systems

In the end, you may conclude that your systems and campaign structure are fine and that you really do have a “people problem”. However, jumping to this conclusion first, before looking at some of the aforementioned issues, might result in you feeling like Bill Murray in this scene from Groundhog Day.

If you haven’t already done so, you really need to click over and read John’s blog post about “Fighting the Physics“. It is really good and it may just make you look at your annual campaign differently.

Have you ever looked carefully at your annual campaign systems, decided to make a change, and found that the structural fix worked? If so, please scroll down and share that example in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

How to “make” an effective fundraising volunteer?

Yesterday’s blog post titled “Are fundraising volunteers born or are they made?” stirred the pot for many of you and begged the question: “How do you go about making an effective fundraising volunteer?” So, I thought answering that question would make for a great follow-up post this morning.

When I consider this question, two really goofy and childish analogies immediately come to mind. The first thought that popped into my head is that of Dr. Frankenstein stitching up his newest fundraising volunteer and pulling the switch while proclaiming “It’s alive!” Ummmm . . . maybe this would be the wrong tone for this subject.  LOL

Instead, I decided to pay tribute to my Generation X roots and take a page from an iconic 1970s television show: “The Six Million Dollar Man“. After all, don’t we all wish our fundraising volunteers were worth six million dollars or were capable of raising that sum of money for our agency? LOL

So, let me paint the scene. You and your resource development committee developed a prospect list of volunteers and recruited those individuals to help with your annual campaign. As these individuals stride purposefully through the front door of your agency for their first meeting, you hear those iconic words from the Six Million Dollar Man introduction: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic . . . fundraising volunteer.”  Or something like that.   😉

So, now what? What does that approach and support look like?

Formal training is obviously needed, but it must go beyond a simple PowerPoint slide show that illustrates the 12 steps to making an effective face-to-face solicitation. You may want to incorporate some video into this training opportunity. There are many good resources available on the market, and one of those DVD resources is Marc Pitman’s “Ask Without Fear“.

However, don’t stop with a PowerPoint slide show and a few video snippets.

I think people learn by doing, which means getting people to practice what they see. Yes, this means motivating people to do something they dislike, which is role-playing things like: 1) making the ask, 2) answering questions and objections, and 3) using the words they’re provided in the case for support document. To make this easier, don’t ask volunteers to do it in front of the large group . . . break them into pairs or groups of three and facilitate small group role-playing.

Support material
You can help improve the effectiveness of your fundraising volunteers by ensuring they have what they need to do a good job:

  • solicitation materials
  • pledge cards
  • donor profile sheet including contact info, giving history, and a specific ask amount for this particular campaign
  • letter to leave behind with the solicitation materials that reminds the donor of what they were just asked to donate (Note: this letter might act as a crutch and help the volunteer NOT leave the pledge card behind.)

The more organized and prepared a fundraising volunteers feels, the more confident they will be when it comes time to making the appointment and solicitation.

Support in-person
I cannot tell you how many fundraising professionals I’ve seen conduct a great training and provide great materials, and then think their job is done. Professional staff are not like orchestra conductors. I personally believe that they are “roll-up-the-sleeves” kind of people who get into the trenches with their fundraising volunteers and participate in solicitation meetings. It is especially critical to go along on solicitation calls with your newest fundraising volunteers. This is an opportunity to model best practices, provide support and encouragement, and coach.

However, there is a huge challenge that exists with this suggestion. Most volunteer will do everything they can to discourage you from going with them. Why? I suspect that it is because they are afraid. Afraid of what? I think they’re afraid of “doing it wrong” and being told to do it differently.

You can easily overcome this, but it will take perseverance on your part. Don’t take NO for an answer. Additionally, you can reduce their fear by easing into this approach. Perhaps, the first solicitation or two is set-up whereby they are simply sharing their passion for your mission and the information from the case statement with you “making the ask” and “closing the deal”. Then in subsequent solicitation meetings, you transition them more into asking for the contribution, answering questions, and overcoming objections.

Campaign structure
If all you do is provide training, support materials and role-modeling, you will still most likely fail in your quest to “make” an effective (six million dollar man) fundraising volunteer. There are structural things you need to develop and implement that create a sense of urgency, accountability, expectation, mission-focus, etc.

A few such structural tools-resources-approaches include: report meetings, weekly progress reports, written job descriptions, and things that remind volunteers why they’re out asking others for charitable contributions. I won’t go into detail because this topic in and of itself could be a blog post.

The biggest and most important thing you need to do is RETAIN your fundraising volunteers and keep them coming back year-after-year. There is nothing worse than investing time and resources into creating the Six Million Dollar Man, and then start over from scratch next year with a completely new set of volunteers. You need to build FUN and recognition into your fundraising activities.

Every year that a volunteer keeps coming back and making more asks, the more effective they will become. After all, we’ve all heard the expression: “Practice makes perfect”.  Right?

What does your non-profit organization excel at doing to “make” effective fundraising volunteers? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share your favorite training video or best practice. Or share something that you do that you believe makes all the difference in the world. As I always say, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

To change or not to change your annual campaign! That is the question.

Every Friday is “Organization Development (O.D.) Fridays” here at DonorDreams blog. Last week my post was titled “Would you please solve the REAL problem? Structure Drives Behavior!” It was based on John Greco’s post on how structure drives behavior, and I applied it to non-profit organization’s annual campaigns and their use of donor database contact reports.

In last Friday’s post, I offered a few suggestions on how your agency might change its annual campaign “structure” to encourage fundraising volunteers to change their behavior when it comes to completing contact reports.  (Please circle back to last Friday’s post to read a few of those suggestions)

Well, later that evening John Greco circled back to my blog post and offered the following suggestion using the comment box:

“What if we used the natural motivations of a volunteer to apply some pressure to comply … How about:  for a volunteer to get the next donor name and contact information, they must return the contact form … To make this work even better, some visibility to what’s in the queue would maybe create the urgency to complete the contact form to get to the next donor?”

As I try to do with all comments to this blog, I responded quickly; however John’s suggestion has haunted me for the last week. While it seems perfectly logical, I am unable to stop going back and forth in my head as to whether or not this would work. My head says “YES” and my gut says “maybe“.

So, I’m done over-thinking this topic, and I’ve decided to try something different today with the DonorDreams blog. I’m not going to pontificate about this subject and give you the pros and cons. Instead, I am simply sharing John’s suggestion and asking you to think it through and weigh-in with your thoughts. I always say that “we can all learn from each other,” but let’s actually try to put this mantra into practice today.

Would you attempt this approach with your annual campaign this year? Why? Why not?

There are no right or wrong answers! There are only those of us who are willing or unwilling to share their thoughts.

OK . . . it is your turn. Please scroll down and invest the next 60 seconds of your life in responding via the comment box. Come on . . . please?

Here’s to your health! (See you tomorrow for a new “Organizational Development Friday” post)

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