Dani Robbins

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Strategically Planning or Spinning your Wheels?

In Non Profit Boards on May 23, 2012 at 10:29 am


I had the pleasure of being a panelist at Cause Collaborative last week.  One of the things I said that seemed to resonate with people is that spinning wheels only look like forward motion. 
Does your organization have a strategic plan?  The absence of a plan allows for organizations to spin their wheels, disengage their volunteers, frustrate their Board and burnout their staff, all while not moving the organization or its mission forward. 
If there is one thing that I hate, it’s wasting the resources of a community.
Strategic planning is a process by which the board, staff, and select constituents decide the strategy for the future direction of an organization and allocate resources, including people, to ensure that target goals are reached.  Having a board-approved, staff-involved strategic plan that includes effective measurements and the allocation of resources aligns the organization, provides direction to all level of staff and Board, and defines the path for the future of the organization.  It also allows leadership, both board and staff, to reject divergent paths that will not lead to the organization’s intended destination.  
Where are you today? 
Where would you like to be in three years?
How are you going to get there? 
How will you know when you do?
Do you have the people at the table to accomplish your goals?  If not, what or who do you need to add (or remove)?
Let’s start talking – and let’s stop spinning!

I’m a Volunteer

In Non Profit Boards on May 9, 2012 at 7:16 pm
I’m co-presenting a workshop this summer called the 10 Dysfunctions of a Board.  As you might imagine, one of the top ten is what I have begun to think of as the “I’m a Volunteer” syndrome. 
Perhaps you’ve had some version of this conversation with a member of your board.  It sounds like this:  “Dani, I don’t have time for this; I’m a volunteer!”  And they are, but they are also a board member who agreed to do the work of the board.  Now, agree may be a fuzzy verb to use because it’s possible they didn’t agree at all.  It’s possible, all they were told is “we only need an hour a month of your time.”  If that’s the case (and it often is) shame on whoever told them that.  Boards represent the community as the stewards of an organization.  It is very difficult to steward anything well in one hour a month. 
You will get the Board you build.
Now, this blog is not intended to knock the millions of dedicated and committed volunteers across this city and the country that serve their local non profits with distinction.  I applaud and am grateful for you! Thank you for your service to our community!
This blog post is not intended to knock anyone.  I aspire to lay out a path of development, so that organizations can have the right people in leadership seats. 
How do you do that?  The best way I know to do that is to frontload it.  Frontload is my word of the year.  It means to be clear about things up front, so there is no confusion.
Frontloading Board prospect appointments look like this:   “Thank you for your interest in serving on the Board of Directors.  We are delighted to have this opportunity to meet with you.  Our Board meets on the 1st Tuesday of the month at 8:30 am.  Are you available at that time?  We anticipate Board service will take approximately 5 hours per month, (1.5 hours at the board meeting, 1.5 hours at a committee meeting, 2 hours working with the committee or the CEO to accomplish the work for the committee) but that could go up significantly should there be something of consequence to discuss or address.  Board members are expected to attend 75% of Board meetings, serve on at least one committee, attend agency events, act as an ambassador in the community, introduce us to your circle of influence, give a “significant to you” financial gift, and help us to secure an additional gifts from your circle of influence and, as appropriate, your company.  Is this something to which you can commit?”
If they say yes, Great!  Though we’re still not finished.  Their candidacy still needs to be vetted by the Board Development committee and if they are recommended, nominated and approved, they also need to be oriented.  I like to orient board members after their election yet before their first meeting.  That way, they can still opt out once they understand the full scope of the expectations and the role of the Board. 
After they have been orientated, Board members, and the Boards they serve, should be evaluated annually.  That can be as simple as taking the Board expectations and turning it into a 1-5 self rating form, or as complicated as tracking all gifts, training, participation and meeting attendance and having the Board Development or Executive Committee evaluate each member individually. 
The important thing is that you are intentional about your needs and clear about your expectations.  If you are, people will rise to the occasion, or defer because they can’t or choose not to.   Both will work toward our goal of building strong Boards that understand their role, and work collectively to serve the agency and the community.
As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.

Sustainability by Descending Order of Love

In Resource Development on May 1, 2012 at 11:39 am

The new normal has forced a lot of nonprofit leaders to rethink the way they do business.  Crises, as unpleasant as they are to experience, allow for growth.  I love Rahm Emanuel’s quote “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

The old normal, otherwise known as normal, to which we all ascribed went something like this:  Have a diverse funding base. That way, if ever you lost a government grant, major donor, or foundation award, you could continue to provide services. 
Then, as we all remember, the economic crisis of 2008/2009 came, with the compromise of every funding source we had and the end of life as we knew it.
It forced all of us to reassess. 
So….what’s a good Executive Director and talented Board to do?  Change.  
Think about every process and every assumption, put it on the table, look at it, talk about it and figure out if it still works for your organization. If it does, keep it.  If it doesn’t, create a plan to evolve that process into one that better serves the organization and its need for revenue sustainability.
How do you work towards revenue sustainability?  Some organizations do it with a consultant, some with a board member, some with a staff member or a donor. 
Where do I start?  I start with explaining the history of giving in the US and the fact that 80% of all financial gifts, grants and awards, including corporate and foundation giving, come from individuals.  I then move on to explain that 80% of most non profits’ income does not come from individuals. 
 What, then, do we have?  Enormous Opportunity!
I then introduce the idea of descending order of love.  Individual giving starts with the people who love you the most.
Let’s get those people together and brain storm: Where are we today?   Where do we want to go?  How can we get there? 
Big gifts require big dreams and the capacity to engage people to help reach those dreams. 
Get together and figure out your dreams, turn them into goals and then create a plan to meet those goals.  Then, put together a list of current donors and a robust list of potential donors, also called prospects.   Take a look at your current gift acceptance policies.  (Revise or adopt as necessary.) Once we have a goal, a plan, lists, and the requisite policies to increase the revenue for your organization, I move to descending order of love. 
Your board, staff and major donors will be the foundation of any fund raising plan.  Those who love you the most will support you the most.  If sustainability were a board game, there would be a Start Here button.
Each board and staff member should make a significant gift.  I can hear you thinking” “Dani, significant is a fluid term.”  Yes it is and that is intentional; my goal is always 100% Board and staff giving.  It is critical that those closest to an organization financially support that organization.  If they don’t, how can they ask someone else to?
Each board member should be asked in person for a specific gift, not the same gift as every other board member, but a specific to that board member gift which should be determined based what the staff and committee know about their capacity and level of engagement.  If someone has enormous capacity but is not that engaged, a significant gift may be less than someone who has less capacity but is more engaged.  
Who should do the asking?  The person most likely to get a yes.  Usually that’s another board member, but sometimes, it’s the Executive Director, or a volunteer. 
Staff should also be asked to financially support the organization.  Care should be taken to who should make that ask as well.  I recommend a volunteer, because with fund raising and everything else, we want to avoid even the perception of impropriety.
Once we have 100% giving of staff and board, we move to our major donors and our prospect list and again, make specific in person asks.  Prospects should be appropriately cultivated before they are asked for financial support.  The definition of appropriate will change based on the individual and the need.
I consider major donors to be the top 10% of givers to your organization.  It may be $250, it may be $25,000.  It may be more and it may be less.  If we continued to play our sustainability board game, there would be a This Way arrow here.
After major donor solicitation are completed, if you have the time and the volunteers, consider asking your larger mid level donors and prospects in person.  Then move into your actual mid level donors and prospects.  Those with the potential to become major donors should also be asked in person as should anyone who is committed to your organization.  While we follow the path of descending order of love in planning, we love all of our donors equally.  If someone would like to see you in person, even if it will be a small gift, go.  It is fun to thank someone in person and is worth keeping a committed donor engaged. When that is not practical, the next best thing is a phone bank or phone calls. 
Our Board game and our plan for income sustainability ends with an appeal letter to those who have not yet been asked or have been asked but have not given and also haven’t said no.
I invite you follow the descending order of love path to sustainability.  Please let me know how it goes.  As always, I welcome your feedback.
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