Where are all the new board members?

Let’s face facts . . . your non-profit board has gaps in it. How do you know that? You know it because you and your board members sat down with one of any number of different board composition gap assessment tools (available in the public domain) and you did the math. You looked at demographics, experiences, skill sets, interests, fundraising, and social networks, and everyone at that board development committee meeting was able to see gaps.

Guess what? This happens every time and it happens in every organization. There is no such thing as the perfect board.

Hopefully, your board development committee is doing a gap assessment every year before it goes out to recruit board members. While your gaps may not regularly change, the reality is that your circumstances and the external world around you is in a constant state of change, which affects how you look at your gaps and approach your prospecting and recruitment efforts.

For example, you might have built a very strong “governance board” with gaps around fundraising acumen. In most years, this might not have been an issue because you had very strong grant funding from key foundations. Unfortunately, let’s hypothetically say that Wall Street decides that a major market correction was necessary and the stock market takes a historic tumble. Where do many foundations secure the money they give away every year? Yep, they distribute their investment income. With your foundation income streams in a state of flux, your fundraising gaps on the board have become a major liability. Perhaps, this year’s board recruitment efforts should focus on identifying prospects who possess private sector fundraising acumen and experience and come from a diversity of different social networks.

It is at this point where I have personally sat in board development committee meetings and the conversation always seems to bog down. The brainstorming and prospecting dialog oftentimes lead to someone saying, “There isn’t anyone in our community who I know that fits that description.” Even better, I’ve heard people say, “That person doesn’t exist in our community.”

I suspect that these reactions are a result of:

  • The committee giving up after mentally examining all of the “usual suspects”.
  • The composition of the committee being such that there isn’t very much diversity from a social network perspective sitting around the table.
  • Being unsure of how to determine what skills and experiences people bring to the table.

Regardless, you need find ways to push past this obstacle and stimulate a dynamic brainstorming exercise around prospect identification.

I’ve seen some non-profit professionals bring lists of people to that meeting such as: Chamber of Commerce membership lists and Rotary Club (or Kiwanis, Lions, Jaycees, etc) rosters. In my opinion, this can definitely help people start thinking; however, I’m always left with this one question:

What about your donor database?

Many of us have these amazing database programs with thousands of names. These are people who must have liked us at least at some point in time. In fact, they liked us well enough to write a check. For some of those people, they love our mission so much that they support us regularly.

If you are an “excelling organization,” then you have more than just names and dollars in that donor database. You’ve been collecting data pertaining to birthdays (aka age), occupation (aka skill sets and acumen), interests and experiences, and service club participation (aka social networks). If you aren’t this good and haven’t been collecting and recording this type of information, my suggestion is that you figure out a way to start doing so immediately.

Your donor database is an amazing tool on so many different front, and it isn’t just something you use for fundraising. It can and should be the best board development tool that your board development volunteers turn to every year when they start prospecting and brainstorming.

So, the next time someone on your board development committee suggests that your community has “run out of” board prospects, I encourage you to say poppycock and pivot quickly to your donor database for an endless supply of names to consider.

Does your organization use its donor database as part of its board development prospecting process? If so, what have been your experiences? Which board composition gap assessment tool do you use? Where did you find it, and can you point others in that direction? What is the biggest gap that you’re seeing on non-profit boards in your community (e.g. too many Baby Boomers and not enough young prospects or not enough people with fundraising skills, etc)?

Please scroll down and take 60 seconds out of your busy day to share an answer to one of these questions. Why? Because we can all learn from each other and something you share today might actually make a HUGE impact in someone else’s agency. It is time to “pay it forward”. Please?

Here’s to your health!

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

Kissing While Driving for non-profit agencies

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 “Kissing While Driving“. In this post, he uses an Albert Einstein quote to investigate the perils of “multitasking” in the workplace by employees. He puts forward that employees who are running back and forth between various projects are likely only doing an “adequate” job at best for their employer because as Benjamin Franklin once said, “Haste makes waste”. More importantly John concludes:

  • this likely impacts employee engagement and loyalty,
  • can be dangerous for the company whose reputation is based on quality, and
  • is less than satisfying for employees who take pride in their work.

Reading John’s post brought me back to my “frontline” days of non-profit work. I honestly think this blog post is even more applicable to non-profit agencies because of how they behave in “resource deprived” environments. When I was the executive director of my local Boys & Girls Club, I used to laugh when people asked me: “What is your job?”

I used to describe my work as a daily “sprint” through a series of very diverse and challenging situations.

  • 7:00 am — network with donors at Rotary Club
  • 8:30 am — meet with development director about an upcoming special event fundraiser
  • 9:30 am — prepare meeting materials for upcoming Finance Committee meeting
  • 10:00 am — meet with program staff about a recent hiccup that was brought to my attention by a parent or collaborative partner
  • 11:00 am — double-check the bank deposit against the donor database report and check log; go to bank and make the deposit
  • 11:30 am — Troubleshoot a tech problem that an employee was experiencing (and was preventing them from doing their job)
  • Noon — Go to lunch with a donor or board member
  • 1:30 pm — Hop on a conference call for the state alliance
  • 2:30 pm — Last minute prep for the board development committee meeting
  • 3:00 pm  — Attend the board development committee meeting
  • 5:00 pm — Walk through the clubhouse facility to see programs in action and catch staff doing “good things” as well as connect with the mission
  • 5:30 pm — Respond to email and catch up on stuff that washed into my office throughout the day (possibly screening some cover letters and resumes for a job vacancy)
  • 6:00 pm — Pull together some paperwork and process grant receivables
  • 7:00 pm — Prep for the next day, do a little planning, or take advantage of the silence in the office and write a few sections for a grant application or upcoming newsletter
  • 8:00 or 9:00 pm — Go home for some sleep so you can do it all over again tomorrow.

While every day wasn’t always like this, most days were this way. It is the cross that a non-profit executive director must bear when they operate in a resource deprived environment. It is exhausting, and it produces a situation where many mistakes are made. It is a minor miracle anything got done and that any progress was made. In the end, it was one of the top three reasons I chose to leave the frontline and go to work for the national organization.

Hmmmmm . . . yes, I’d say it was a lot like “kissing while driving”. I wasn’t very satisfied. I wasn’t as engaged in the things that were most important to the agency. I made mistakes and felt horrible about making them. I ultimately left for what I thought were greener pastures.

In hindsight, I wonder what I could’ve done differently:

  • invested in a volunteer program to expand human resources
  • engaged board members and donors in seeing and help solving these challenges (rather than celebrating the insanity)
  • adjusted the agency’s strategic plan to focus less on growth and more on deepening the impact

Of these three ideas, the one I think might bring the highest return on investment is the second bullet point that speaks to engaging board members and donors. As I look around at all of my non-profit friends, I see too many of them placating their boards by always saying “YES” rather than walking them through “cause-and-effect” scenarios pertaining to board room decisions (e.g. budget, staffing structure, new programming, etc). I also see many of them telling donors whatever they think they want to hear just to get another signed pledge card.

I have a hard time believing that if board members and donors saw what your day REALLY looked like that they wouldn’t want to jump in and help solve those challenges. Right? And with multiple people focused on solving these challenges, I suspect the odds go up dramatically that either the car gets stopped so the kissing can continue OR the kissing stops so that some work can get done.

In the end, it is your leadership that will solve this problem. Perhaps, it is a new Teachable Point of View that you adopt as the leader. Or maybe it is your embrace of tools like GRPI or RASI. Regardless, it most likely starts and ends with you. So, what are you going to do about it?

Are your days as crazy as the one I described above? What tools do you use to tame that beast? Have you ever engaged board members or donors in this discussion? If so, what were the results? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in with your thoughts. Remember to also check out other blog posts on organizational development by John Greco at his blog johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly.

Here’s to your health!

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

And the Oscar goes to . . .

On Sunday night, I found myself at an Oscar party with some of my favorite local non-profit mavens. There was great food, great wine, and great company. I’m thrilled to report that I won the “voting contest” and walked away from the party with some very nice parting gifts. However, more so than anything else, I came away from Sunday with an epiphany about Hollywood and philanthropy.

This epiphany started with the realization that most of the films nominated for Best Picture were set in the past and a celebration of “where we’ve been” rather than future focused and a look at “where we’re going”. I thought  . . . “Hmmmm, the film industry is like a mirror and reflects the mood and values of our society.”

At this point, I started wondering about what Hollywood has captured in past years on the big screen about non-profits, charitable giving, donors, and philanthropy. So, I of course Googled it and surprisingly found very little on the subject until I used the following search words: “movies about giving back”. Ah ha . . . eureka! As you can imagine, there are a number of movies that are either themed or have threads of “giving back” as part of their plot.

In April 2011, FilmBuff blog shared what they thought were the top five films about “giving back”:

  1. Pay It Forward
  2. It’s a Wonderful Life
  3. Milk
  4. Young Mr. Lincoln
  5. Exit Through The Gift Shop

My very next thought took me back to the final scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, when George Bailey is in his living room surrounded by all of his friends and neighbors and they are supporting him and “giving back”. It made me think that movies aren’t just mirrors, but so are the people who surrounded us . . . and . . . for non-profit organizations those people are our donors.

This thought smacked me upside the head and the following questions rushed forwarded:

  • What do your donors look like? Are they men or women? Are they white-collar or blue-collar? Are they old or young?
  •  What are those donors telling you? Are they saying that you solicit them too often or not enough? Are they asking lots of questions about what you do with their dollars?
  • How often do your donors stick around? Have they been giving to your agency for a long time or do many of them just give to you once?
  • What would your community look like if your non-profit organization had never been born?

The reality of the situation for many philanthropy driven non-profit organizations is that donors represent the real life motion picture films unfolding all around us. So, without the benefit of filming those interactions, how does your agency capture those pictures? Is your donor database like a video camera? Do you use tools like interviews, focus groups and surveys much like film directors use scripts, storyboards, and dress rehearsals?

If you are “recording” all of these things, then what are you doing with the information? Are you folding it into your resource development planning process? Are you using it to adjust your strategies and tactics? Are you using it to engage others around your mission? Are you monitoring and tracking your results? If so, what have been your results?

Lots of questions today! Do you have some of the answers? If so, please scroll down and share them by using the comment box.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to ask . . . What is your favorite movie of all times that deals with non-profits, charitable giving, donors, philanthropy or giving back?

Here’s to your health!

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

Is mission-focus difficult? Try being green!

Those of you who know me know that I look for philanthropy and inspirational non-profit and fundraising messages and lessons under every little rock on the path of life. I recently re-read one of my favorite books — “It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider” — written by Jim Henson, The Muppets, and Friends. While many of the short stories and quotes in this book can probably be applied to many of life’s little lessons, I will use excerpts this week and apply them to non-profit work, fundraising and philanthropy. I encourage you to get a copy of this inspirational little book and keep it close by at all times because I guarantee it will be a source of inspiration for years to come.

Let’s start the week off by looking at the idea of “mission-focus” through the eyes of the puppet master himself, Jim Henson:

“I cannot say why I am good at what I do, but I can say that I work very hard at it. Nor am I aware of any conscious career decisions. I’ve always found that one thing leads to another, and that I’ve moved from project to project in a natural progression.

Perhaps one thing that has helped me in achieving my goals is that I sincerely believe in what I do, and get great pleasure from it. I feel very fortunate because I can do what I love to do.”

I decided to start this week’s series of posts with this Jim Henson quote because it reminded me of a very good friend and non-profit executive director with whom I recently shared a cup of coffee. During that meeting, she waxed poetic about her decades of experience running her non-profit agency. She never looked at what she does as a job or career. She barely sleeps and spends most of her waking hours thinking about her agency. She doesn’t view any of it as work . . . it is just something she does out of a sense of love and passion.

There are nine keys to inspiring and engaging your board and volunteers in fundraising success (or really anything else associated with your agency). One of those nine keys is “mission-focus”. This essentially means that board members and volunteers will be more successful at whatever they’re being asked to do if they can see how it effects and advances the mission of the organization.

In other words, when volunteers are just focused on “raising money,” then it can become an arduous and fearful type of activity. However, when board members see the annual campaign or special event fundraiser as something that will help countless people get [insert your mission here e.g. gain access to healthcare], then they will find passion and energy for fundraising.

If you take Jim Henson’s inspirational words to heart, then they beg the question about hiring practices for non-profit professionals and recruitment practices for board members and volunteers.

After all, wouldn’t it be a heck of a lot easier to maintain an intense mission-focus on everything from fundraising to finance to revising the agency’s policy manual if those sitting around the table believed as Jim Henson did: “…I sincerely believe in what I do, and get great pleasure from it”?

How does your agency find people like this when conducting an employment search? What practices do you put in place to attract those who don’t see the job they are applying for as a “job”? What questions do you ask during the interview to get at this sense of mission-focus? Likewise, how do you identify potential board members and volunteers like this? What questions to do ask volunteers to determine if they’re interested in serving based on a burning passion for your mission? For those board members who slip through the cracks and join your ranks for other reasons (perhaps business or professional reasons), how do you instill a sense of mission-focus?

Lots of questions! Please scroll down and use the comment box to provide some answers. Remember, we can collectively answer all of these questions and learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Leader and philanthropist: Bill Clinton

This week at DonorDreams we are talking about what it looks like to be a fundraising “LEADER”. Today, we will continue our work by examining Bill Clinton’s teachable point of view around philanthropy, which he details in his 240 page book titled “Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World“. Tomorrow, we will cap the week off by looking at a variety of organizations that provide t”hought leadership” in the area of charitable giving.

Earlier this week I wrote blog posts titled “Are you and your non-profit agency a fundraising leader?” and “What is your teachable point of view around fundraising?“. If I had to capture these posts in a few words, it would be . . . leaders are teachers and they always have a teachable point of view (TPOV). After reading Bill Clinton’s book on “Giving,” regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, it would be impossible to argue that Clinton doesn’t has a TPOV on philanthropy and that he uses his book as a vehicle to teach us how to be more charitable.

Clinton shares a wealth of “Ideas” (remember this is one of the three elements of a TPOV) through his book including: much still needs to be done in our communities; everyone can giving; charitable giving doesn’t have to just be money but can also include time or things or skills; and we have an obligation to each other (which kind sounds like Hillary’s “it takes a village” mantra).

Identifying Clinton’s “Values” (remember this is the second of the three elements of a TPOV) and principles  throughout his book isn’t difficult. A few of those values were: duty, service over self, compassion, life, and self-sufficiency.

Finally, his “emotional energy and edge” (remember this is the final piece of the three TPOV elements) is loud and clear in every chapter of the book. I think this quote from Clinton captures it best:

“I wrote this book to encourage you to give whatever you can, because everyone can give something. And there’s so much to be done, down the street and around the world. It’s never too late or too early to start.”

This call to action echoes Dr. Martin Luther King’s inspirational words: “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.”  Clinton’s book reads like a manual for the average person in America on how a private citizen doesn’t have to have an extraordinary Presidential life story in order to make a difference.

Bill Clinton as a philanthropic leader and teacher? ABSOLUTELY!!!! And he is someone we can all learn a lot from.

Perhaps, my favorite part of this book is where Clinton reminds us of why donors give of themselves.

“Why do some people give so much while others give the bare minimum or not at all? I’ve thought about this a lot, and it seems to me we all give for a combination of reasons, rooted in what we think about the world in which we live and what we think about ourselves. We give because we think it will help people today or give our children a better future; because we feel morally obligated to do so out of religious or ethical convictions; because someone we know and respect asked us; or because we find it more rewarding and more enjoyable than spending more money on material possessions or more time on recreation or work.

When people don’t give, I think the reasons are simply the reverse. They don’t believe what they could do would make a difference, either because their resources are limited or they’re convinced efforts to change other people’s lives and conditions are futile. They don’t feel morally obligated to give. No one has ever asked them to do so. And they believe they’ll enjoy life more if they keep their money and time for themselves and their families.”

Sorry for including such a long quote from Clinton, but I find these words to be truly inspiring. I also believe that EVERY non-profit organization can use this passage to evaluate their comprehensive resource development program by asking:

  • What are you doing to demonstrate to donors and the community at-large that your agency’s programs “make a difference”?
  • What are you doing to show both large and small donors that regardless of how small the contribution might be that it is important, valued, appreciated, and transformational?
  • How does your agency and your staff, board members, volunteers and donors model the morality-values-principles associated with philanthropy? And how do you do this in a way that inspires others to jump on the bandwagon?
  • How are you asking others to join you? Is it all about the impersonal email, newsletter, social media post, telephone call or snail-mail letter? Or are you and your volunteers getting out into the community and “pressing the flesh”?
  • Studies demonstrate that people who make philanthropic contributions (e.g. time, talent or treasure) are “happier” people. Do you and your volunteers look happy or are you making charitable giving and service look dreary and hard?

I encourage you to read Bill Clinton’s book because it reads like a love letter to the non-profit community and an instructional manual for donors as well as non-profit organizations!

Have you read the book? What were your impressions or lessons learned? If not a high-profile leader like Bill Clinton, who have you looked to as a philanthropic leader? What life lesson did you learn from that person?

Here’s to your health!

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

Strategic special events?

Back in October, I outted myself as a fundraising professional who isn’t very fond of special events when the purpose of the event is to raise money. I don’t know how many times I’ve shared the link to Charity Navigator’s 2007 Special Events Study with subscribers to this blog. I’m sure it has been too many times, but I’ve haven’t seen anything else that more convincingly makes the case that special events cost more money than they raise.

However, my position on special events does change when the objectives associated planning and hosting an event are more inclusive than: “let’s make some money.”

So, some of you might be asking: “What other objectives could there be?” Well, try some of these on for size:

  • Engaging new volunteers from a different social circle in your community.
  • Introducing yourself to a new set of prospective donors from a different social circle in your community, and cultivating new prospective donors for your individual giving annual campaign.
  • Stewarding existing donors by providing them an enchanted evening awash in mission-focus.
  • Marketing and getting your agency’s brand into the media marketplace.

I think it is great if your agency wants to run a few (e.g. one, two or three) special events as part of its annual resource development plan. However, I encourage you to ask the following questions before doing so:

  • How does this event support other aspects of your fundraising plan?
  • Who is the target audience for each of your special events? Does this event really do a good job of engaging that segment of the donor marketplace?
  • Are you just sending invitations out to those who attended last year? Are you just blasting invitations out to your entire donor database? Or are you thoughtfully engaging your event committee in identifying new prospective attendees who fit within the target audience parameters you’ve set?
  • How are you injecting “mission-focus” into each of your events so new prospective donors are getting cultivated and current donors are getting stewarded?

There is something very powerful about throwing a party focused around your agency’s mission. If it is done haphazardly and all in the name of “raising some money,” then you most likely didn’t raise the money you thought you did (read the Charity Navigator report and look at both direct and indirect costs) and you also missed an opportunity.

However, if you are strategic in your approach to special events, then I suspect you are seeing improvements in your overall fundraising program and starting to attract new donors.

Is your non-profit organization “strategic” in its approach to special events? If so, how? Please use the comment box below to answer these questions. The one or two minutes it takes for you to comment might make a huge difference in another fundraising professional’s life.

Here’s to your health!

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

Does your non-profit have a soul?

A few weeks ago I facilitated a values exercise for an organization that is in the process of trying to build a powerful and functional new team. After the exercise (which was contentious but very productive), some of the feedback I received from participants as well as others is that a values discussion is just one big waste of time.

I made a conscious decision to hear thes folks and not respond immediately. I wanted to marinade on it for a few weeks. Well, I’m done soaking and I am ready to confidently say “Organizational values are NOT a joke!”

Don’t believe me? You don’t have to . . . just listen to Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner who stated the following in their book “The Leadership Challenge“:

“Shared values make an enormous difference to organizational and personal vitality. Research confirms that firms with strong corporate culture based on a foundation of shared values outperform other firms by a huge margin. Their revenue grew 4-times fast; their rate of job creation was 7-times higher; their stock price grew 12-times faster; and their profit performance was 750-percent higher.”

Before your non-profit organization can craft of vision of who it wants to be, it must address the values questions. The reasons for this are well laid out in Stephen Fairley and Bill Zipp’s book “The Business Coaching Toolkit“. Here are three reasons they believe this to be true:

  1. Values give your people a cause to life for instead of just a job to do.
  2. Values give your associates principles to apply instead of just policies to enforce.
  3. Values produce leaders with relational authority and not just positional authority.

Still don’t believe me?  OK . . . think about a time that you weren’t living your life in alignment with your personal values. For example, you might value something like “balance” because your family is very important to you, but the demands on your time at work forces you to make decisions that don’t allow for “balance” in your life. How does living out of alignment with your values make you feel? I suspect there is tension and pressure.

Now take this example and extrapolate it to the people you work with, the donors who contribute to you, and the board volunteers who serve selflessly with you.

As part of your organization’s next strategic planning initiative, I encourage you to start with mission-focus and before you transition to talk about “organizational vision” facilitate a collaborative discussion with all stakeholder groups around organizational values.

I promise you won’t be disappointed. You will find that your organizational values act as a catalyst for all kinds of things and refocuses your hiring decisions, recruitment decisions and can even affect how you solicit and steward donors.

Does your organization have values? Are they real or just something plastic? How do you see your agency using its values? When they developed those values did they include donors in that discussion? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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

Working for boards is tough stuff

We all have friends who work for bosses who are absolute nightmares. As a matter of fact, I was on a business trip a few months ago driving in my rental car  listening to a call-in  radio program all about horrible boss stories. While I sympathize with friends in those situations, I can honestly say they have no idea what real workplace pain is like until they’ve had to work for a cantankerous non-profit board of directors.

I believe in my heart of hearts that working for a board has got to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do in my life. Here are just a few reasons I’ve come to this conclusion:

  • If a board has 15 members, then the non-profit CEO is working for 15 different people.
  • 15 different board volunteers have 15 different personalities.
  • 15 different board volunteers can have 15 different ways of wanting to do something.
  • Have you ever tried to appease 15 different egos? OMG

Don’t get me wrong . . . working directly for a board has also yielded some of the best experiences in my life. However, I’ve seen too many of my non-profit friends reduced to a puddle of tears recently as a result of “politics” in the board room and “personal agendas” run amok.

So what is the solution? Where is the silver bullet? What can a non-profit professional do to make working with a board of directors less difficult?

Let me start by saying: not everyone is cut out for this kind of work. So, get your feet wet early in your career possibly by helping your agency’s CEO with a board project. Take this time to assess whether or not you like it not. If it doesn’t feel right, then chalk it up to a learning experience and decline future opportunities to interview for non-profit executive leadership jobs.

If you currently sit in the big chair and are looking for tips on how to work with boards more effectively, then here are just a few quick thoughts:

  1. Get in front of your board volunteers regularly. If you are just seeing your board members at monthly board meetings, then you’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice. Set a goal of being in front of every board member at least once in between board meetings (and I go back on forth on whether or not committee meetings count). During these meetings, do more listening than you do talking. Gandhi told us to be the change we want to see in the world. So, if you want the board to listen to you, then you better listen to them.
  2. Respect boundaries. Too many of us want to befriend our board members, and I think this blurs boundaries. These people are your boss. Being social is one thing, but partying all night with them might cross a line. Establishing boundaries is tough stuff, but they always need to see you as a classy professional. These people can become part of your “extended non-profit family,” but never forget how dysfunctional families can get. Are you sure you want to bring “dysfunction” into your employment situation? Carefully thinking through boundaries makes a lot of sense to me and it will probably look different for each of you.
  3. Use planning tools to build consensus. There is nothing more challenging than having to work with 15 people who have 15 different ideas about how to do something. So, a good non-profit leader needs to possess “consensus building” and “facilitating” skill sets. If these are things they are good at doing, then their leadership toolbox needs to include planning strategies and tactics. Guiding a divided board through a strategic planning, resource development planning or marketing plan process can produce consensus and direction. Ahhhhh . . . happy days!
  4. Get serious about every part of your board development process. Approach board building like you would a chemistry experiment.

What do you believe is the most difficult thing about working for a board of directors? What strategies do you use to help make this a little easier?

Please share your thoughts using the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847| http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Engaging donors directly? Brilliant!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is to your health!

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

Beware of Fundraising Zombies!

I’ve finally had my fill of special events ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

In my hometown of Elgin, Illinois, the city will host a “zombie-themed” Halloween event for adults on October 29, 2011. It is being promoted as “Nightmare on Chicago Street“. While this sounds fun and I am sure it is a great idea to entice people to visit our starving downtown merchants, I was shocked and disappointed when I heard that city staff, council members and our newly elected mayor were promoting this as one of their strategies to help area non-profit organizations during tough economic times.

Here is the back story in a quick nutshell.  The City of Elgin is facing tough times (as are most municipalities) and is projecting a $4.5 million budget deficit next year unless belt-tightening occurs. There are some who want to cut city spending to support non-profit organizations that align with key community strategic priorities. Please understand that the story is much more complicated than this quick synopsis, but let’s start here.

With non-profit organizations starting to light their torches and grab their pitchforks, someone at city hall came up with the genius idea to sell this event to non-profits as a way to make some money. Again . . . here it is in a quick nutshell . . . non-profits have been given 100 tickets on consignment, they sell tickets for $5.00 each, and they get to keep the profits (aka $500.00). In exchange for the city’s incredible generosity, participating non-profit organizations are supposed to rally their volunteers to help out on the day of the event.

Hmmmmmm? Where do I start?

  • Wow, really? An opportunity to net $500? Thanks! Let’s get real . . . weeks of ticket sales and a bushel basket of volunteer hours all for a $500.00 return on investment is paltry. In fact, a good non-profit agency can sit down with an individual donor and walk away with a $500.00 pledge to their annual campaign with a simple one-hour investment of time.
  • The ONLY reasons that intelligent non-profits organize a few well-run annual special events is to: 1) raise awareness of their brand and 2) create a venue for new prospective donors to join the party and get to know the charity in a fun atmosphere. This city event accomplishes neither of these goals for any of the participating organizations.
  • Most importantly, when will ANYONE out there read the “2007 Special Events Study” commissioned by Charity Navigator? Special event are a terrible way to raise money. The study found that the typical non-profit organization ends up spending $1.33 to raise $1.00 (looking at direct and indirect costs) with a special event vehicle.

My advice for Elgin area non-profit organizations — act like Nancy Reagan and “Just Say No!” Stop selling your tickets. Turn your tickets back into the city. Don’t recruit your volunteers to work this event. It isn’t worth it, and more to the point . . . you are being poor stewards of your organization’s resources if you go down this road.  Frankly, I can’t think of a bigger non-profit sin.


My advice to the City of Elgin (or any city doing this kind of thing with their non-profit sector) — do this event and do it in style. The downtown merchants are in desperate need of your help. You need to drive traffic downtown. However, you need to stop exploiting your influence with non-profit organizations. It just isn’t cool! You know non-profits will jump through any hoops you put out there for them because they mistakenly believe that currying your favor might lead to city grants or government funding. Start partnering with non-profits by reaching out to those who align with the city’s strategic interests. This collaboration could include any number of things: helping identify grant opportunities at the state and federal level, partnering on grant writing,  and providing access to key city resources including your employees (e.g. volunteer opportunities, etc).

My advice to donors — Go to the Nightmare on Chicago Street or whatever your local municipality is organizing. We need to re-ignite our collective sense of community during these tough economic times. With regard to Elgin’s event, DO NOT purchase tickets from your favorite non-profit organization. You are doing them a great disservice, sending the wrong message, and enabling bad fundraising practices. Instead, pay the extra $2.00 at the door and send a personal check to the charity you would’ve bought your tickets from (because a direct donation to a non-profit’s annual campaign is the least expensive way for an organization to raise funds). As a matter of fact, I encourage donors to go a step further . . . send a message to those non-profits who are selling tickets by boycotting all of their events for the next year. Whenever you get an event invitation in the mail, just send them the money you would’ve spent. If no one shows up to their events, non-profits will stop organizing them and you will have more time to spend at home with your family.

OK . . . there are lots of people having fun with the Nightmare on Chicago Street (and countless other special events being organized in other communities) as evidenced by this YouTube video on Elgin zombies and this YouTube video of pumpkins and ghosts on Chicago Street. Have a ton of fun, but join me in sending a strong message to non-profit organizations about being more attentive to concepts like “return on investment” and being “good stewards” of their agency’s resources.

Where is your organization regarding the question of special event fundraising? How do you perceive the government funding trends? What are you doing to insulate your agency against city council and city staff belt-tightening initiatives? Please weigh-in using the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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