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The Golden Rule of Fundraising

In change management, Fundraising, nonprofit organizations on March 22, 2014 at 1:32 pm

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When you don’t see the value in your donor prospects, they don’t see the value in you.

I’ve come to realize that nonprofits have what companies spend millions on– a pool of qualified prospects that represent customers who are interested in their product. Businesses, large and small, have entire teams of people devoted to the “sales” side of their business equation. They have entire departments focused completely on generating and then cultivating those new prospects. They do this because they know how valuable these leads are. They are worth their weight in gold, literally. In fact, many companies actually calculate the value of a lead, figuring how it translates into essential revenue.

And yet, few NPO’s I’ve come to work with have acquired a strategy related to this pool of prospects and how to move them to a “sale”. Do you know the financial value of a lead for your organization?

It doesn’t matter if your NPO is in healthcare, academics, social services or the arts. Every month you generate new major donor prospect leads that lay unnoticed. And these unnoticed leads, that are not being cultivated, are leading to revenue loss for your NPO.

Your lead generating system includes obvious things like events, but consider new clients and volunteers, people who signed up for your newsletters and RSS feeds, and people who inquire about your services and programs. But collecting these is a just a waste of time, if you don’t have a plan that you act upon.

There are four things ways you can capture prospects that are new to your organization. Let’s call them them our “First in the Door” prospects. These people have expressed an interest in you. It might not be as obvious as a lead saying “Hey, I like what you do, put me on your radar screen for a donation.”  It probably is more common that they have attended an event, as a guest or a participant, had been present at a workshop or lecture, read your blog or newsletter, or maybe requested information on your program for a friend. I can think of a recent personal example of this.  In January, my 80 year old father came to live with us and I contacted a not for profit senior housing and assistance group to learn more about their organization. While they sent it right away, no one from the group has since reached out or shared other information on their organization with me, even though we had chatted about the challenges of being a not for profit and their upcoming building campaign! I could be a terrific prospect for a donation, but I get the impression that they don’t value me as one. So, I’ll move focus my attention on another charity.

To help you with those First in the Door prospects, here are four really solid things you should be doing to get them the information they require to build rapport:

1) Email response with material. For every new person that is entered into your database- client, guest, or vendor- you should have an email mechanism thanking them for their involvement with your group (appropriately) and delivering to them literature on your organizations message. Remember stories sell, don’t push them away with statistics, but tell them a story that brings them closer. This material could be in the form of an ebook, a slide deck, or a video.

2) Blog. I can’t say this enough, blogging is a simple, inexpensive way to stay in front of your prospect pool and current donors. 250 words takes under ten minutes to prepare but represents days of retention with your supporters.  You already know they are interested, keep them engaged with a regular flow of blog posts about your work. Again, stories, stories, stories. Include a call to action or a response mechanism for further information. Send your First in the Door prospect this blog, link in a follow up email to the one above. Ask them to sign up for future posts.

3) Lectures and informational sessions.  I recently received a beautifully prepared pamphlet on upcoming arts and music lectures that interested my husband and me.  The series was to be held twice monthly and had some interesting speakers, including local historians speaking on New England music, an old folksinger of local fame, and a representative talking about a local non- profit art museum. This series did not come from an arts organization, but from a senior housing facility, a different one I had called upon.  Brilliant! I’m going to attend some of these programs, and I am excited about learning more about this innovative group that markets themselves so well.  My point is, they kept me engaged by attracting me to a program that they knew I, as their audience, would be interested. They could have easily invited me to a lecture on issues of caring for an aging parent, and I would have attended. But they diversified and offered me a value added opportunity as well.  I like them already. Your informational sessions can and should be about your services, but also about those things your audience likes. Do your research, know your prospects and clients.

4) Social media. It’s not for fundraising. I can’t stress enough how ineffective Facebook and other social media strategies are in actually raising a dollar. However they are invaluable when it comes to performing in the way they were intended—building your tribe of supporters and deepening your relationships.  Instagram pictures of your team, your clients (with permission of course just as you would do for your newsletter), and your daily activities. Instagram is informal, no need to save it for big activities. Tweet out information on upcoming activities, current successes, and research that relates to your work. Create Pinterest boards relevant to your work. Talk daily with your prospect pool on Facebook. Create a discussion group on LinkedIn. Invite your First in the Door prospects to all of this.

Right about now you’re saying “Oy!!  I don’t have time for all of this!!”  You won’t have any time, at all, if you don’t do this, because these people whom you are currently ignoring will not be your donors in the coming months. And without donors,  you’ll have no programs to offer. Ignoring your pipeline of prospects is putting your organization on ice, ignoring your financial future, and telling those people who have already said they are interested in you, that you don’t value them. They will leave, you can count on it.

Take a look at your organization today, create a strategy for cultivating those First in the Door prospects and decide who will be responsible for carrying out this prospect generating process. Many companies (and nonprofits) envy you for the pool you are building, show them you value your prospects as much as they do.

Must-Haves, Wants and Needs

In consulting, Discussables, nonprofit organizations on March 7, 2014 at 11:31 am
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It’s so very easy in our personal lives to live by imperatives — those must-haves we need to exist, to enjoy our lives, to be successful, and to be fulfilled.  Some of my own imperatives for my personal life include: the need to have good food, well prepared meals, and someone to share them with; the need to have laughter and social situations that inspire laughter; the need to have a partnership with someone I love and admire; the need to communicate clearly and be understood; the need for shoes . . . ok, that’s more of an obsession than a need, but I NEED to have a wide variety of fashionable and sometimes comfortable footwear to feel inspired! You get the picture.
However, when we leave our homes, apartments, schools, and move into our professional life, our imperatives for the organizations we lead and work for can become somewhat murky. I’ve watched many capable nonprofits struggle when it comes to defining their imperatives. They wrestle with the needs of their group, their culture, their operations, their mission. They have a difficult time determining difference between an imperative, a strategy and a tactic. Defining your imperatives for your organization must start with a look into how you and others perceive your work, your mission, and your outcomes. It must review where you are successful  and where you have failed. And it must be objective, taking into account the inherit strengths and weaknesses of the organization.
Given a deep dive into these areas, you may discover that you need talented marketing people, employees or volunteers.  You might need to recruit board members who bring specific strengths to the organization or executive leadership experienced in a specific industry. Or maybe you just need more space to do your work, or an area to call your own. Imperatives can be complex or simple, but universally they are truths that, if denied, ensure certain failure for your effort. Take the time to determine your organization’s imperatives today, and allow them to drive your actions and outcomes to success

In Defense of your Board . . . Let Them Lead.

In Board, change management, consulting, nonprofit organizations on February 20, 2014 at 11:17 pm

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One of the most prevalent challenges for the nonprofits we work with is board development.  The conversation usually starts like this: 

ED: “I really need help with my board.”
HDG:  “What kind of help?”
ED: “They don’t actually do anything. They come to the meeting, I give them reports, they listen, then they give me ideas that I can never implement and they go home. And they don’t support us financially at all or not nearly enough.”
HDG:  “So what do you want them to do?”
ED: “Raise money:”

In defense of your board, you cannot expect them to perform at level that has not been clearly articulated.  The first steps toward rectifying this situation is a review of the organization’s board governing documents, processes, major giving program and cultivation events, and the board’s understanding of their role in the organization.

And, this is what we often find:

  • No role and responsibility documents outlining what each board member is expected to do, when, how, and with whom.
  • A role and responsibility document is in place, but it does not state how much the board member should give, nor what they should be doing or how they should help fundraising.
  • A role and responsibility document that is visionary, but not concrete i.e.”The board member will advocate for the organization in the community.” Huh?
  • A board agenda that has the Executive Director talking 90% of the time.
  • No, or very few, sub committees to do the heavy lifting of the board.
  • A board that is led by the Executive Director, who makes the agenda, sets the tone and runs the meeting.
  • A board chair who has no idea why he or she is there, and what to do once they have arrived.
  • An organization that has not developed a strategy for how their board will govern, and what outcomes and outputs they will expect and measure from the board.
  • A board that is not allowed to lead.

So often we hear from organizations that are challenged by their board’s inability or unwillingness to lead and govern or get involved in moving their organization forward. Most of the time, though, we find that it is the organization that is at odds with what to do with its board. There is a fine line between a board that governs and one that meddles. But even their meddling is often just their way of trying to be relevant in a situation that leaves them feeling lost.

Getting a board development strategy in place, and getting your board working effectively requires only four components:

1. An articulated vision for why your board exists and what you want them to achieve (outputs) and impact (outcomes).

2. A relationship (shared partnership) between you and your board chair. Build this together.

3. A set of governing documents that not only covers legal requirements,  but also communicates your expectations.

4. Programs that give your board freedom to engage Now back away and let them lead.

That’s it. Building your board as a program, with strategy, actions, timeline, expected outcomes, immediately strengthens your board’s position and their leadership role in your organization. Taking the time and investing the resources in board development can, quite often, be the most important thing you do for your nonprofit’s mission.

Empower your board to lead. Free yourself. Improve your results.

It’s All About Principle and Method

In consulting, Discussables, nonprofit organizations, strategic planning on February 13, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Clients come to Harvest Development Group with a variety of challenges facing their nonprofit organizations, but the underlying reason they need our help boils down to two simple aspects of their operations —  Principle and Method.

Principle and Method are the key elements of our work. The principles and methods may differ from organization to organization, but both are required to reach successful outcomes. Let’s put this into simple terms and examine the principle and method for getting dressed in the morning.

A Principle is a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning. Principles are established through trial, error, and observation. There are some common principles in getting dressed: one has to believe and agree that being dressed is important. An article of clothing is required to be classified as being dressed. To be accessible, the garment needs a place to reside when it’s not on our body. The garment also needs to be the right size and shape to fit our body. Finally, we need to be trained to assemble and secure the garment, learning techniques like buttoning, zippering and tying.

A Method is a particular form of procedure for accomplishing or approaching something;  a simple or detailed organized plan, sufficient to achieve successful outcomes. Some methods are “proven” meaning they have a good track record of success. Others are groundbreaking and innovative. There are many methods one can apply to getting dressed, each one personalized to our desired outcome. I used to watch my children get dressed — one putting one leg at a time into his pants and the other putting both legs into the pants before pulling them up. Each served their own purpose and both reached the successful outcome of wearing their pants. Efficiency and personal preference seemed to drive their actions.

The same concept of Principles and Methods can be applied to the business operations of a nonprofit organization. There are established, researched, well defined principles in program development, board development, philanthropy, recruitment and staffing. There are individualized methods that have been proven to work, and others that are innovative, which are applied to each as well.

When nonprofits contact Harvest Development Group for help, we assess to gauge what is at the root of the problem. With this information in mind, we teach the organization to apply the principles that lend support to these problems, and develop and apply the methods necessary to deliver on the outcomes they desire. So, as you can see, it all boils down to two simple aspects of your operation — Principles and Methods.

It’s Not What You Tell Your Donors, It’s How You Say It

In change management, consulting, Fundraising, nonprofit organizations on February 5, 2014 at 10:52 pm

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I’ve seen my share of “donor death” due to the academic delivery of every specific detail relating to an organization’s mission.  It’s not pretty. First the eyes glaze over and the face slackens, the brow slightly furrows, then the fingers fret with each other as the donor begins to avert his eyes. This is quickly followed by phone checking, paper rustling, and long loving glances at wristwatches.  When this happens, there is no question that the end is near.

When a donor goes into this death spiral, the organization must work harder to keep the donor engaged and interested. Hard work requires more resources and additional resources are expensive. It is far more effective for organizations to understand the dynamics of donor engagement before the meeting.  Spending a minimum of upfront time, determining how to tell your organization’s story in an effective and engaging manner rather than reporting your organization’s destination will pay dividends.

Nonprofits as an industry, we are in love with our science. We love the academics and inner workings of our profession. It’s our passion for the science of what we do that drives us to perform. But frankly, for our donors, it’s the pedestrian, everyday results they can relate to that fires their engines.  I am reminded of a 1970s advertisement produced by Crispin and Porter, that illustrates this point (see above). Telling someone you need to get to a destination is uninteresting and even boring when you compare it to sharing with someone your need to connect with humanity, your family, your loved ones. Same message, but a very different emotion attached to that message.

Check your language. Review your letters, materials, your website. Are you alienating and potentially killing off your donors with your technical speak? Are you telling them where you need to be, rather than sharing with them what or who you want to become. They don’t need the details or the destination. They need the information that will spark their emotions, encourage engagement, and keep them excited about your cause.

The Secret of Fundraising Revealed

In Discussables, Fundraising, nonprofit organizations on January 27, 2014 at 10:49 pm

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The one question I receive consistently in working with nonprofits is this “Sondra, what’s the secret to fundraising?” While my ego would like to answer with some profound, deep, complex revelation, it’s really much more simple than that. The secret to fundraising is in how we treat others. It’s about respect.

Turn your clock back to 1950, a time when respect, courtesy, grammar, and poise were paramount. Sensitivity, decorum, and grace were at one point held in high regard. It was a reflection of your character to be considerate, conscientious, forthright, and restrained.

Now take that picture, and apply it to your philanthropy.  How do you speak with you donors? With your board?  With your team? Do you hold true to your promises, your word? Ask yourself, are you showing true gratitude for the gifts your receive? How have you shown your gratitude? Have you called the company right after receiving the gift, do you ring them every month to tell them how your work is proceeding, are you happy to make time to visit them periodically, just because they went through the trouble and consideration of supporting you?  And it doesn’t need to be a company, how about a person? Think about the last gift you received. How did you respond? Did you open the envelope and send it to finance, to work out the details of posting and sending your form thank you letter? Our ancestors would have done more than that. They would have valued the generosity of that gift, put on their coat and hat (yes, they wore hats back then) and visited that donor. Even if the donor had no time for them, the action meant everything- the donor knew his gift was not only received but tremendously valued.

One of the barriers created by our technological age, is the deterioration of face time. The lethal combination of too much to do, too little time and the convenience of electronic interactions, has made us shallow and self absorbed. We focus on getting through the actions, ticking off the to do’s, but missing the point of the light of day. In our field, that light of day is spent 99% of the time in conversation with, appreciating, and showing our enormous respect for our donors.

Phone that donor. Respond to that email for your sponsor. Better yet, initiate that interaction before they have to – find a way to make them the center of your day, every day, and you will have discovered the secret of fundraising.

The Accidental Fundraiser

In nonprofit organizations, Random, Training on January 22, 2014 at 11:16 pm
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“Your body determines your mind, your mind determines your behavior, your behavior determines your outcomes”. Amy Chuddy, TED Talk presenter.
I didn’t aspire to be in this role. In fact, I never knew this existed–this world of goodness, and compassion, and humanitarian promise. I wanted to be a teacher when I was seven. Or a mom. But somewhere over the course of 25 years, between graduating teachers college and being mom to three young kids, I took on some volunteer roles, which translated to part time employment with a large nonprofit, which migrated to director level and finally executive level leadership of a multi-million dollar foundation. And then to this, sharing what I learned through experience and education with other nonprofits.
In some ways I am an accidental fundraiser. And I have come realize that quite possibly you may be as well. The path to nonprofit work is rarely straight, and it’s not lined with specific degrees, tests, or passing of boards. It’s crowded with teachers, lawyers, and social service professionals. With doctors, nurses, and with administrative support personnel. It doesn’t have one face, it has a million faces.
How do we all know what to do? Aside from the academics of seminars and trainings, I’d say we fake it until we become it.
My first board meeting still haunts me. I was the side show, not even the main course, but my palms were so sweaty I was afraid to hold the paper for fear of leaving stains. I paced for a full hour, feeling nauseous and shaky. I was certain I was a fake, that I wasn’t supposed to be there, that I would be found out, and that I would die of embarrassment when I was. I was exactly the person Amy Chuddy speaks of in her terrific TED Talk, “Your body language shapes who you are“.
This twenty minute talk is a grounding starting point for everyone of us who as ever felt like we accidentally ended up in a role we didn’t deserve, couldn’t manage, or didn’t aspire to.  She provides terrific recommendation on how our body language speaks to us and how we can arrange our bodies to increase confidence, power, and authority.  Fake it till you become it. Because you are here, you do deserve it, and you can do it.
 Highly recommended, this talk will change your life.

The Benefits of Collaboration

In Innovation, nonprofit organizations on January 20, 2014 at 5:29 pm

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One could argue that the start up funding required by new and smaller nonprofits, looking to elevate their organization to the next level (which is very different than struggling nonprofits looking to get profitable), is similar to the start up funding required for tech and other entrepreneurial corporate ventures.

The similarity continues when we look at the risk factors in funding start ups and nonprofit organizations: a tech start up is a risk for investors, who subsequently require tremendous insight and evidence of feasibility. Similarly, the nonprofit startup risk is addressed by funders who ask them to produce feasibility as well. Most nonprofits understand and experience this, making feasibility studies the bread and butter of many firms like Harvest Development Group.

Start up tech firms require industry expertise. Nonprofits starting up and those taking their sustainability to the next level also require expertise, not only in the program area of their specialty, but in business management experience as well. Both require a well designed, justified, and articulated detailed business plan. Investors on both sides of the aisle want to be certain that the organization has a well thought out plan, has explored the possible pitfalls, and have every aspect of their journey defined. They would prefer that each is lead by passion. In fact, it is this passion that will ultimately define their success. Leaders of tech start ups and of nonprofits need have a “never-say-die” spirit, a determination to make their plan work against all odds.

With so many similarities, one would think that nonprofits and business start-ups could benefit from collaborating, sharing insights, learning lessons and gaining experience from these shared efforts. To this end, Harvest Development Group has partnered with like-minded business owners to open the shoreline’s first ever co-working space. This co-working space will bring both nonprofit and for-profit startups and growing organizations together.

Shared space= shared experiences= stronger outcomes= more success! Want to learn more, send us an email at sldharvest@gmail.com or call us at 888-586-1103.

Lead or Follow?

In Board, nonprofit organizations on January 13, 2014 at 2:50 pm

lead or followDoes this sound familiar? You are leading your board in a discussion about strategy for fundraising, outlining what is known about your organization’s current philanthropy program. As you ask them to take some time to review the strategic imperatives recommended from the findings, one member raises his hand and says “I think we should just do two mailings a year, no more, and then focus on doing more events. And I think we need more publicity, no one knows about us, that’s the big problem.”

 Somewhere along the line your board was lead to believe that their role is to problem solve. And by problem solve, I mean to direct the organization’s fundraising. And by directing fundraising, I mean doing your job. But, if this sounds all too familiar, how do you refocus your board on the important role they play in governance and oversight?

Getting boards focused, all looking in the same direction, and looking towards the bigger picture is not for the faint of heart. If you don’t have the intestinal fortitude, I suggest bringing in a professional. If you are up for the challenge, however, you need to begin with a self-assessment. A self-assessment must be completed and reviewed by the board, and it is only through this effort that they will find the necessary solutions hidden in the information they uncover as they move through the process. Finding an assessment tool is easier than you think. There are a lot of boxed self-assessment tools out there, and Harvest Development Group offers one on our website.

Keep in mind that it is important that the assessment process is driven from within. Board leadership should be suggesting and encouraging the process, not you or the organization. Assuming you have a good working relationship, with authentic dialogue and shared vision with your chairperson (if not, that’s another blog post), then having a candid conversation about the challenges you experience working with the board, accompanied by justification, both qualitative and quantitative, is the starting point. Suggest that the organization will benefit from a board self-review, just as the rest of the organization is reviewed annually. If everything else in a nonprofit is to be measured, it is unwise to exclude the board. With the chairperson leading the effort (or a board development committee, if you are that sophisticated), the medicine may go done a tiny bit easier. Expect some resistance and some sensitivity, because no one likes to be judged, least of which people who have come to not expect it. Once your board is committed to the self-assessment, ask your chairperson to recruit an Assessment Committee who will:

• Review the self-assessment tool and make recommendations on changes. You should provide them with findings showing why certain assessment sections are necessary

• Communicate to the full board the reason for the assessment, the process and the expected outcomes

• Implement and calculate the assessment

• Report on the findings and lead the discussion of the board on the actions to affect change.

Tai chi, is the ancient practice of war by submission. Letting go, allowing leadership in others, encouraging action through quiet movement, can change the board’s role in the organization, improve their performance and enhance the value they bring to your mission. In the end, they will be proud to be a part of your effort.

12 Useful, Well-Designed, Worth-Downloading iPhone Apps Created by Nonprofits

In consulting, Marketing, Mobile, Social Media on August 17, 2012 at 10:50 am

12 Useful, Well-Designed, Worth-Downloading iPhone Apps Created by Nonprofits.

I love what she does.

However with this post, I have a problem.

Not with the post itself, per se, but the idea that iPhone Apps for nonprofits are a valuable use of resources.

I own an iPod, and an iPad.   I can tell you, desktop is prime territory and my GB’s like gold.    I only download apps that I know I will use frequently and will rely on for regular (read daily) access.    And yes, maybe a few fun ones too, that I go to in my downtime periodically.

I don’t think I am that much different from other iTech users.

And so, the thought of downloading an app from a nonprofit doesn’t fit with how I dole out my space and memory.    I just wouldn’t find the function of clicking the app for updates that appealing.  Even the ones listed in Heather’s blog above, while they have the sex appeal, are not pragmatically useful- how many times will I need to know what the bird in front of me sounds like?   Or have an overwhelming urge to find out where in this very moment are animals being abused?   Cool to access once, twice, maybe three times, but not GB worthy.    I could simply bookmark these sites  in Safari and get the same result, maybe more, since apps tend to have a more limited function than a full site.

I guess I could see if I were a board member or staff member of a not for profit organization, I might consider an app a cool tool and something desirable in a way.    But really, for the NPO, why spend thousands on developing an app for a handful to access.    Even a couple hundred, if you are a national or international NPO, doesn’t seem like a good use of resources.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  My recommendation: Spend your money making your website mobile optimized.

I’ve been following the nonprofit sector and their discovery of technology for quite a while.    I’ve also lived the experience for over 20 years, from networked databases, to a ‘flashy’ (no pun intended) new website, to internet access for staff- all the various areas of fumbling, bumbling and discovery along the way.   In full disclosure, I am also a partner in a tech start up – Donorfull– for the nonprofit sector.   I believe Nonprofit Apps are one of those “sounded.like.a.good.idea,.cause.everyone.is.doing.it,aren’t.we.hip,but.it.really.is.limited” kind of moments.    Unless someone can come up with an exciting and convincing argument for me as to what possible benefit, goal or stimulating outcome could come of it, I’ll continue to direct and discourage my clients from wandering into this forest.

We’ll all be less ‘appy’ but ‘appy-er’ for it.