Dani Robbins

Do People Understand What Your Agency Does?

In Advocacy, Leadership, Organizational Development on July 25, 2016 at 7:40 am

I have a theory that the vast majority of Americans think there are three to five nonprofits:  One that works on children’s issues. One that works on whatever medical issue has affected their family. One for animals. One that provided the day care where their kids went to pre-school and maybe, maybe one that offers a thrift store, which I just realized may be what they think the agency does, not what funds what the agency does.

Yes, that is a huge, enormous difference.

I was driving with a friend earlier this week. This is the conversation we had:

Friend:  It’s so weird that there is a Party Center right next to a Goodwill.

Me:  Why?

Friend, who I know for a fact regularly donates to Goodwill:  The Party Center is for people who have money to entertain and Goodwill is for the poor.

Me:  Goodwill doesn’t serve the poor. Goodwill is a workforce development agency that employs people who have Developmental Disabilities. The thrift store is how they fund their work. (Please see Goodwill’s actual mission below.)

Friend:  Are you sure?  I don’t think that’s what people think they do.

He’s not even wrong. If he thinks that, lots of other people think that too. Goodwill is one of the largest and most recognizable names in our field. What does that mean for the millions of smaller, less recognizable agencies? It means we have work to do, and an opportunity!

Sometimes people don’t have any idea what we do. They don’t know! Even our partners sometimes find it hard to keep track of our work. I once had a conversation with a program officer of a foundation that funded us. It went like this:

Hey Dani, I ran into your counterpart last week from the Boy & Girls Clubs of – I don’t even remember where but it was someplace that I knew didn’t have a Club, but did have a Big Brothers Big Sisters. I mentioned your name but he didn’t know you.

Me:  I don’t think we have a Club there. Could it have been Big Brothers Big Sisters?

Program Officer: Oh yeah. Probably.

If a program officer who we’d been working with for years couldn’t easily remember the difference between a Big Brother Big Sisters and a Boy & Girls Clubs, no one else will either.

There was a study fifteen years ago or so (I looked but couldn’t find it so I’m going on memory here) that found that the vast majority of Americans could recognize the largest agencies among us but had no idea what they did. United Way – in almost every workplace – 20% recognition. Boys & Girls Clubs – thousands of Clubs across the country and on military basis around the world with our logo behind home plate at every Major League Baseball game, nope. Red Cross working local, nationally and internationally, not so much.  Goodwill, in almost every community, clearly not.

We have got to tell our stories better. How?

First and foremost, we each have to clarify how we communicate what our organizations do? Not the mission, though that too, but every day. What does your website say you do?  Is it obvious? I’m here to tell you that for people who are coming at it cold, it’s not always. Sometimes I have to go to three or more different pages on an organization’s website to figure out what they do – and I work in this field!  For someone who doesn’t, I’m not even sure how they’d figure it out.

Make it easy. Put your mission, a short summary of your work, and its impact on your home page. While you’re at it, make sure there’s a link to your leadership, including the Board, and a donation button. Then, put up some client’s stories. If you work in a field in which confidentiality issues are paramount, or a small town where it will be easy to identify someone, create a compilation story and put an asterisk to explain why it’s a compilation and not an actual story.

Train your people – Board and staff – to have a three sentence explanation of your work.  They should also know your mission.  I do trainings all over and when I do, I invariably ask about the missions represented in the room; many audience members cannot tell me their agency’s – the ones that sent them to hear me speak- mission.  If they don’t know your mission, they’re not moving your mission forward.  (It’s the same with organizational values, but that’s a different blog post.)

My Club’s mission was “to inspire and enable all young people to achieve their full potential as responsible, productive and caring citizens.” We did that by providing “after school and summer programming for school age, primarily at risk, youth.”  Now the youth development field calls it “out of school time”, which is both better and clearer and also shorter.

My local Goodwill’s mission “Transforming the lives of individuals with disabilities and other barriers through pathways to independence and the power of work.”

Mission, programs and work are not the same thing. Mission is why your organization exists. Programs are how you get to your mission. Work is the sum total of your programs and may also include advocacy and awareness. I’m separating them out here because agencies often do a lot of community awareness around their issue but don’t necessarily include that information in their program list, though they certainly could.

When I ran domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers we did a lot of formal and informational advocacy and awareness, and a lot of training of the police and medical workers, but didn’t count either as a program. That was a long time ago so I’m hopeful that is no longer the case.  It was a missed opportunity for us.  It was also one of the things that I believe greatly increased our impact, which is the demonstrated change of your clients and community because of your work.

It starts at your website but it can’t stop there. Your people should be able to explain your work, your programs and their impact.  If they can’t easily explain the impact, or won’t be able to answer follow up questions from whomever they’re talking with, make sure they have a staff member’s name to give out who can.

We often only get one shot to explain what we do. Take your shot. Tell your story. Move forward your mission.

How have you ensured people understand your organization’s work? What have you done? Any advice to share? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button. A rising tide raises all boats.

Questions without Answers

In Advocacy on June 21, 2016 at 8:05 am

I’ve been thinking and reading and trying to figure out how we, as a country, could have elected a presidential candidate from a major party who so consistently and regularly goes against the values and laws of our country, and instead foments hate. I’ve been trying to juxtapose that with the mass murders in Orlando and too many other places to name, the daily rape cases in the news (and not in the news), the shootings of unarmed Black men, the large and small comments that perpetuate the seeds of injustice and the everyday challenges of anyone who ever gets categorized as “other”.  I’ve elected to join the legion of writers who are using their voice to counteract this hatred in an effort to stem the tide. Once it’s in, I cannot have done nothing.  Can you?

We must each fight against hatred in all its forms. We must resist the urge to separate people into us and them. We must each use our voice to counter extremism and injustice at every opportunity, every time.

We cannot walk away and say “he didn’t mean it”, “she doesn’t really think that” or “that will never happen.”  We have to assume that he did mean it, she does think that and it will happen. We have to act. If not, we have missed our opportunity to prevent the unthinkable.

We must challenge the smugness – of others and in ourselves – that comes with hatred of another whom we do not know and about whom we have no direct information other than categorical. We must each ask ourselves and each other to dig deep and figure out why. Why does my being a woman, Jewish, Gay, Black, Liberal, Conservative or Muslim bother someone else. Why does that give them permission to think about me differently? What does it say about them and what does it say about me? What power does that offer to me? What can I do to counteract that hate before it becomes action?

One of the best lessons from the struggle for marriage equality was the lesson that the best way to change minds is one by one and family by family. It’s scary, and also necessary. Other isn’t some random person you don’t know.  Other is your cousin, your son, or your neighbor.  Once other is known, it’s a lot less scary.

Prejudice is what you think and discrimination is what you do; there is an opportunity in between for change. How can we encourage the change and counteract the hate?

There are white Christians who commit murder, rape, mass shootings, and acts of terrorism but other white people or random Christians are not blamed. Neither fact is even mentioned. Yet when a member of a minority faith or race does something horrible, it is a pox on all of our houses.

Everyone who is or has ever been a member of a minority group, any minority group, knows that once they start lining people up by their beliefs, gender, race, orientation, faith or any other grouping, they will eventually get to the group to which we belong. The hierarchy of oppression is real and there is certainly discrimination among our ranks that reflect the discrimination among the larger societal ranks, but don’t be fooled, when there are lines, we will all be in them.

If by some chance you’re not, you will be on the other side. Both will have soul searing ramifications and there will be no sidelines. That is why we each have to use our voice, now, to be heard. If you have never had to think in these terms, you are extremely fortunate because it’s terrifying. Consider it now and keep considering it as you move forward in your life. Use it to counteract the hate.

To my brothers and sisters, daughters and sons in Orlando, in Newtown, in Charleston, across the country and the world whom we so obviously cannot protect; to everyone everywhere who is struggling to be accepted on their own terms, for who they are, and safe in their own bodies, wherever they are, I stand with you.

I welcome your insight, your answers and your comments, with the understanding that hate will not be perpetuated here.

The Case for Major Donor Cultivation Plans

In Leadership, Organizational Development, Resource Development on June 15, 2016 at 1:35 pm

The Giving USA 2015 numbers are out! $373.3 billion was given to charities in 2015, up 4% from last year. 80 percent of that money was given by individuals or individuals who recently died by way of their bequests. That percentage hasn’t changed as long as I’ve been paying attention to this statistic. “Individual gifts and bequests, on average, equal slightly more than 80% of the charitable donations given in this country each year. Just less than 20% is given by corporations and foundations.

Do organizations take advantage of that knowledge? Some do better than others.” Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising

If you do not currently have a robust individual giving program, I hope you will consider these statistics and introduce one. A robust giving program includes an intentional plan to develop donors at all levels of giving. Perhaps you are currently doing an annual appeal letter. If so, consider adding in person asks of your top donors and calls to your mid level donors. Perhaps you accept donations but aren’t sure how to solicit them. Perhaps you do not currently have 100% Board giving. Perhaps you have some large donors but aren’t sure how to engage them. If any of these apply to your organization, opportunity is knocking!

Major gifts are defined as the top 10% of gifts to an organization and often include gifts from several if not all Board members. It doesn’t matter if your top 10% give $50 or $50,000. If you are a 501 (c) 3 and would like to increase the charitable gifts you receive, a major donor cultivation plan for each of your major donors and every Board member could help. Please click over to read more about how to move a prospect to a donor and how to steward that donor.

Please also note that it is very hard to raise money in any community without the financial support of 100% of the Board. If you do not currently have 100% Board giving, that is the place to start. It is critical to your success. Board members should be cultivated and stewarded like the donors they are, or should be.

Major gifts (from major donors) are one part of a robust resource development planning process.  Resource Development, as a term, is a bit broader than fund raising as it encompasses fund raising, plus friend raising, plus in-kind gifts and the need for each of us to have ambassadors in the community helping us move forward our missions.

Your resource development plan may include events, grants (government, corporate and foundation – remember the latter two are only 20% of national giving), planned as well individual giving in all its forms, including annual campaigns in the form of letters, calls and in person asks of Major Donors, Board and Staff.

I recommend a plan for each Major Donor. I like plans. They allow us to do the work, rather than think about the work. So, write a plan for each of your major donors that maps out your giving request for the year. You don’t want to go to them five times to ask for different stuff, or if you do, you want them to know you’re coming. This is most easily accomplished by asking for what you want on whatever schedule is most comfortable for them, which is likely to be (but may not be) an ask meeting once annually and periodic stewardship check in meetings or calls throughout the year. Donorcentric is the goal. It may not be what is most comfortable for you. (If it was, we’d all get all our money in January and then focus on other things all year, but alas……)

Putting together a major donor cultivation plan will, of course, require you to know your donors, their family, history of giving to your agency and possibly other agencies if you can find it; what they’re passionate about; and your aspirations for their giving, which should be based on their level of engagement and capacity as well as who the right person is to send to ask. In other words, just because someone can give you $50,000, if they have a history of giving you $100, it’s unlikely they’re going to give you $50,000 – unless you greatly increase their level of engagement. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen because of course it does. It’s the difference between a wish and a plan. Both are useful but the latter is more actionable. Bring people into your community, engage them in your work, involve them on a committee, invite them to volunteer in a program: build your relationships! Build a plan for each of them too. Consider this template:


Name:  Dani Robbins

Spouse/partners and children’s name and salient details:  Dani elected not to share this publicly.

Occupation and passions: Consultant with the goal of making nonprofits stronger; passionate about women and kids, the disadvantaged, diversity, inclusion and parity, and all underdogs, everywhere.

Giving History: increasing mid-level donations of $100-200 annually for the past three years; occasional attendance at events; also supports the Boys & Girls Clubs, Local Matters, City Year, Dress for Success, and other social service/social justice agencies.

Recent Touch Points: coffee March 2016, call November 2015, lunch July 2015.

Remainder of 2016 plan to check in: weekly e-blasts, lunch in summer, fall coffee, Thanksgiving card, invitation to Holiday (no ask) VIP party

Communication and ask preferences: Dani prefers to be asked for her gifts once a year and likes quarterly check ins and to receive our mailings.  She also follows us on Twitter, can be counted upon to share our news with her network and is connected to several of our staff and Board on LinkedIn.

2016-2017 Engagement Plan: We are planning to ask Dani to teach one of our team members how to write a grant. We also occasionally call her for advice and may ask if she’d like to serve on a committee.

2017 Gift Request: We plan to ask Dani for $250 as follows:  $125 as a year-end gift for general operating, $125 to support summer programming.

Who is the right person to ask Dani (regardless of ego, you always send the person who will get a yes):  Dani is very close to our CEO and Board Members Q, N and R. Any two are likely to be well received.

Future engagement opportunities: We may ascertain Dani’s interest in Board service, once our current Board governance person rolls off. She is also a prospect for our capital campaign and possibly for a planned gift.  As she continues as a donor we hope to grow her gift as she grows her practice, possibly to a legacy society level.


This template is one option among many. I made this up. Use mine. Make up your own. There is no right template. There is only right for you.

Whether you’re a seasoned fund raiser or a new Executive Director, creating plans for your donors is a great way to put all the information in one spot, put the plan in the hands of your development staff or volunteers and get to it!

What’s your experience with major donor cultivation plans? Do you have a template you like and can share?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience.  Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email.  A rising tide raises all boats.

%d bloggers like this: