Dani Robbins

Archive for the ‘Resource Development’ Category

Get Rid of Your Give or Get Policy

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on December 9, 2014 at 8:04 am

In case you’re not familiar with them, Give or Get policies require individual board members to donate or solicit a minimum amount of money each year. It’s intended to be a one size fits all way to deal with board giving: Board members can write a check themselves, ask others for it or some combination therein. The idea is that you can engage board members who hate fund raising because they can write a check to cover the minimum gift and you can engage people who may not have disposable income because they can solicit others to cover their gift. It’s a win win, right? Wrong!

Give or Get policies get in the way of good governance. They get in the way of 100% board giving. They get in the way of your ability to steward your board members as donors, or thank them for their gift or ask for a larger gift. They get in the way of building a culture of philanthropy. They’re bad policies.

Any policy that is in conflict with your goal is a bad policy.

Give or Get policies allows for members to just “get” and not give at all, which precludes the possibility of reaching 100% board giving.

Most communities have an expectation of 100% Board giving. That means there is an expectation that every single member of the board of directors has personally financially supported their agency. It matters.

Foundation officers ask if there if 100% board giving at meetings to discuss grant submissions. Major donors ask at solicitation meetings. Sometimes there are forms agencies must complete that ask. The answer has to be yes.

If it’s no, you are inviting the question of why someone else would support an agency that its own leaders don’t support. That is a question you really don’t want to have to answer, because there is no good answer.

That’s not the only reason not to do it. Give or Get policies take what is intended to be a minimum gift and make it “the gift” thus minimizing the amount that could be raised and the potential investment of board members. Having such a policy leaves money on the table. It’s possible that every member of your board has the same capacity, but it’s unlikely.

Minimum gifts invariably become maximum gifts by anyone other than the Chair, and sometimes them too. Such policies also works as a disincentive for potential board members who can’t give at the minimum level and limit the gift amount for seated board members that can.

Finally, such policies eliminate the agency’s ability to steward their board members. Board members should each be asked by the appropriate person (defined as the person most likely to get a yes, which is often another board members but may be the executive or a volunteer) for a specific gift that is reflective of their capacity and level of engagement.

Board members should be treated like the donors they are. They should be thanked. They should be appreciated. They should be cultivated, solicited and stewarded. They are not one size fits all and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Some policies don’t stop there. I saw a board member contract the other day that included among its requirements that each board member is expected to “present a check to the agency without having to be asked.” I’m guessing that whoever wrote that policy doesn’t like to ask or be asked for money. I’m guessing that they’re also not satisfied with the amount they receive in contributed income.

Our board members should be our advocates, our ambassadors, our cheerleaders, our leaders, and – yes – our donors. Allow yours to fulfill all their roles and create a plan to ask each one individually for a significant (to them) gift that reflects their capacity and level of engagement. You, your community and your coffers will be glad you did!

What’s your experience with give or get policies? 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.

Is this Chair Taken? Musical Chairs in the Development Department

In Leadership, Resource Development on December 4, 2014 at 10:30 am

There are more development positions open right now than I ever remember being open before. The field has always had a musical chairs component to it, yet it seems to be getting worse. Of course, when one thing shifts, other things shift, but it’s much more than that. Let’s talk about why that might be the case.

All too often, development staff are brought into to save an agency that is failing. By then, it’s too late. You can’t create a robust development department on a sinking ship. Development is based on relationships and relationship building takes time; time is a luxury that sinking ships rarely have.

The other reason it doesn’t work is that development directors, even the best ones, are not saviors. They cannot save an agency by themselves. If there is no culture of philanthropy and if there isn’t even really a culture of fund raising your development director is bailing water out of your sinking ship with a teaspoon. (Please click here to learn more about building a culture of philanthropy.)

As mentioned in The Role of the Nonprofit CEO “Resource development functions most effectively in a culture of servant leadership and philanthropy among the board and leadership team, as well as an agency-wide commitment.  A community cannot and will not invest in an agency without the investment of the board and staff.  Development staff cannot raise money without the support of the CEO. CEOs cannot raise money without the support of the board. Resource development is a group effort, with everyone giving, and everyone moving toward the goal of a sustainable organization.”

Part of why there may be so many positions open is because we may finally be paying the price of not giving recommendations. It is very hard to be on either side of a call for a reference with an agency that has a policy of not giving them. Like every other field, there are more than a few development directors who are not particularly good, and some that are really bad. I have seen development staff that are all glitz no substance; they talk a good game but can’t follow through, close the deal or raise the money. I have seen some that steal lists, or steal money, take advantage of unwilling or unsuspecting donors and some who flat out lie. If we can’t give references for fear of being sued, then we are allowing in another agency what is unacceptable in our own.

There are also quite a few Execs who hire for one thing when they need another. Grant writing, event planning and individual giving are different skills sets, as are marketing, advertising and sales. Grant writing requires knowledge of the program and the grantor’s expectations coupled with excellent writing skills and the ability to follow directions. Event planning is all about the goal and the details. Individual giving is about engagement, impact and relationships. All are dependent on reputation. Most people are good at one, sometimes two. Not very many people are good at all three. For the execs out there: which one did you need? Is that the one you hired?

Development is one of the few positions in the nonprofit field where metrics are really easy to measure. Is there more money? Is there enough money to cover the cost of the staff member plus? Or is there not?

Now, it’s possible that the way you are counting the “more money” may not necessarily be fair. Does your development team do all the back office and foundational work? Who makes the ask? To whose goal does that gift get credited?

Accountability is what separates the wheat from the chaff. What are the metrics for your development team members? What are you measuring and is that the right thing?

I always counted any new contributed income that could even remotely be attributed to the development department toward their goals. Even if I made the ask, they were the ones that made that ask possible. The development team did the leg work. They gave me list of who to call and notes on what to say. They wrote the letters. They entered the data. They reminded me what the donor cared about, the name of their partners and kids and at what level they had previously gifted. I remembered a lot on my own, but team confirmed (or corrected) what I thought I knew. They did the heavy lifting.

My board, volunteers, the development director or I ate the lunches, built the relationships and closed the deals. The development team made us look good, and I credited them for all new money that came into our coffers. The director assigned metrics based on the roles her team members were fulfilling. She held them accountable, I held her accountable and the board held me accountable. Of course, we each held each other and our selves accountable as well.

Some organizations only count the money that specific fund raisers raise, and I’m sure that makes sense for their agency. For mine, whether I made the ask, my DD made the ask or a board member made the ask – other than an ‘atta boy, a high five and a happy dance for the “asker” – the development department got the credit toward their goal and their goal got rolled up under my goals. We weren’t working at cross purposes. We were aligned and are goals were as well. Are yours?

There is also one more wrinkle: This year, for the first time in many years, there is money available for capital projects. That hasn’t happened since 2008, when many foundations stopped funding capital projects in an effort to shore up agency operations during a time of rampant fear, when money that had previously been available began disappearing across the board and across funding streams. New money and new possibilities creates new needs for organizations and new opportunities for fund raisers. That’s good. That’s progress. Or it could be…

The tenure of development directors is short. From what I’ve seen, it’s usually a two year run. I’ve read some studies that suggest it’s even shorter. Two years is long enough to learn the agency and know its donors and begin to get some traction. That’s about it. It’s not enough time to raise significant money. It’s not enough time to get the job done. It’s certainly not enough time to thrive.

There’s a lot of movement in the development field and while there are some positives, at the end of the day it ends up being a detriment to us all. We, as nonprofit leaders, need to make sure we are hiring the right people in the right roles to help us move our agency forward. We also need to create the right culture and enough opportunities for growth and professional development for them to stay. Turnover has a cost, financial and otherwise. It’s also a distraction, and we have work to do.

Why do you think there are so many jobs open? What can we do about it? 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.

The Trifecta Triangle: Ethics, Values and Integrity in Nonprofits

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on March 19, 2014 at 10:34 am

I just read a great post called How Did they Get my Name? about agencies selling donor information. It got me thinking about ethics in our field and also the differences between words we often use interchangeably. Those words are ethics, integrity and values.

Values, when used in the field, primarily refer to organizational values. I usually explain them as the ideas that are valued by the staff and board of an organization. That could be communication, collaboration or individual accomplishments (not usually both), honesty, high ethical standards, or a whole host of other things. Organizational values are not necessarily things you’d include when listing your personal values, though of course they might be. This is not to say that your personal values do not need to be aligned with your organization’s values, because they do. It is intended to mean that we all might not list the same things that our organizational values include.

Integrity in our field – and everywhere else – means doing what you say you’re going to do.

Ethics is a moral code of conduct or principles by which you make decisions, which should also be made in concert with your values.

Anytime you’re talking about ethics, you’re also to talking about values and integrity. They are the 3 sides of a nonprofit’s top three triangle of consideration – the trifecta triangle. There are a few buckets where the triangle consistently comes into play in the nonprofit arena. The first is donor interaction.

You have to appropriately steward your donors and part of appropriately stewarding is doing what you say you’re going to do with their gift (integrity) and also their information (ethics). The above post is about nonprofits selling donor information. It is allowable by AFP’s Ethical Principles.  The author’s position and mine too, is that it is unethical and that if agencies are going to do it, donors should be given a way to either opt out or, preferably, opt in. I’d take it a bit further.

I challenge AFP to reconsider their position. Nonprofits should not be selling donor information. To me, the idea flies in the face of our standards. It also seems to be contrary to our goals. If we want to retain a donor, selling their information so another agency can attract them as a donor is counterproductive. I’ve said it before: any process that goes against our goal is a bad process.

While we’re on the topic of ethics in fund raising, let me take this opportunity to encourage you to avoid any practitioner who offers you a fund raising model based on commission. AFP’s code prohibits commission based fund raising. Good for them. Commission based fund raising is unconscionable. You should never hire someone on a commission basis to raise contributed income for your organization – that includes grants, special events, major gifts and every other type of resource development. Consultants should offer you a price based on the project at hand or at an hourly rate. Fundraising should not be done on commission.

Finally, and before I move on, development directors can maintain the relationships they cultivate and it is perfectly acceptable for them to continue a relationship created at one agency when they move on to a new agency. It is very hard to un-know someone and no one would expect you to.  However, it is not acceptable – or ethical – to take lists of donors with you when you leave, nor is it acceptable for you to use that list to prospect new donors for your new agency.

Our trifecta triangle also comes into play in other ways related to income, and not just contributed income. Ethics are critical to how you manage and spend your agency’s resources, which should be in accordance with GAAP standards. There should be a finance policy that you follow. It should include how and what gets bid out and how decisions are made once it does. Finally, there should be a salary compensation plan to ensure you are paying a fair wage relative to your expectations, the position, your community and your field.

There are additional considerations related to staff remuneration, specifically ones that are or should be in line with your organizational values. Staff should get paid the same amount for the same job, based experience and education, regardless of their race or gender.

Nonprofits serve to change the world and, often, to move forward a social justice agenda. We need to start with ourselves, which means that we need to ensure gender and racial parity in all of our compensation planning.

I recommend you have a diversity policy and that you go out of your way to ensure diversity of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, orientation, age and experience, all of which will contribute to diversity of thought on your staff and also your board. Different experiences around the table contribute to better generative discussions and better decision making.

Ethics, values and integrity should be first and foremost in social service agencies when considering client interaction. Many of our agencies are seeing people at their worst; when they are scared or hungry or in need of something that far exceeds their reach. How we enter into and manage that relationship is critical.

How are you training your people to deal with clients outside and inside the building?  How does your staff handle it when they run into clients in the community? What about in the waiting room?  Do you train your team to look people in the eye while walking through the room or to avert their gaze?  Do you lock up client files?  Who has access?  When and under what circumstances do you release information?  How do your agency’s values ensure your clients are dealt with in an ethical manner, and with integrity?

The triangle isn’t just operational. It’s also impactful at the board level. Organizations should have a conflict of interest policy and form that each board member signs annually. They should also have a whistle blower or ethics policy. Board members will occasionally come up with things that are wacky (read dangerous) or off mission. Our job as staff (and fellow board members) is to reel them in and make sure that we uphold the ethics of our organization. Unethical or illegal actions have to be addressed, regardless of the position of the actor.

When you put yourself out there as the change agent in a community, you have to be above reproach. The trifecta of ethics, values and integrity can ensure that your agency is deserving of the resources of your community and up to facing its challenges.

When do you think values, integrity and ethics come together to impact our sector?  What is your opinion of agencies selling donor information?  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.

5 Things Non Profits can Strengthen in 2014

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Organizational Development, Resource Development on January 3, 2014 at 11:45 am

A new year is upon us. As I’m sure you are aware by now, I like to reflect back on things that have occurred and create a plan to avoid their reoccurrence.  As such, I’ve been thinking about things our field can do to be stronger.

1. Build Better Boards

You’ve seen me write it before and it’s still true, everything flows from the board. Weak boards hire weak leaders who manage weak agencies. Sometimes it goes the other way, weak boards hire strong leaders who do whatever they want because the board is asleep at the wheel. Neither contributes to effectively governed agencies.

Strong boards hire strong leaders who build strong agencies.

For more information on building strong boards, please see previous posts on board development.

2. Create Succession Plans

Agencies that have great leaders need to plan for that leader’s transition as much as agencies with weak leaders.  In fact, and among other things, one of the signs of a great leader is the strength of the agency once they’re gone.

Whether your exec gets fired, wins the lottery and moves to Jamaica, or retires after decades of excellent service, your board will need a plan to hire a new leader.

The Anne E. Casey Foundation’s Building Leaderful Organizations  and the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Nonprofit Executive Succession Planning Toolkit, offer a comprehensive look at planning. Each may be much broader than you need, but both can help you figure out what you need.

3. Build Capacity

Most agencies and most leaders, even and especially the ones that are great, can continue to build their capacity. Whether you have experienced tremendous growth, have a new leader, have downsized and now want to rebuild or if you just want to increase your strength, capacity building is the way to go.

Some larger national organizations have proprietary capacity building tools. If you are a part of a national organization, ask if such a thing has been created. If it has, use it. If it hasn’t, suggest it.

For those of you who are standing alone, The Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Organizational Capacity Assessment tool is the best and most comprehensive I have seen. “It is a self-assessment instrument that helps nonprofits identify capacity strengths and challenges and establish capacity building goals.  It is primarily a diagnostic and learning tool” that was designed to help agencies serving low income communities.  Even if your agency has nothing to do with that community, this tool can help your agency be stronger.

4. Consider Mergers

There are lots and lots of organizations out there, some doing very similar work with very similar values.  If your agency is struggling, is strong or you have a leadership transition, it might be a good time for your board to consider merging with another organization. The decision may be no, but it is an option worth putting on the table.

Again, some larger national organizations have merger tools. If you are a part of a national organization, ask if such a thing has been created.  If it has, use it. If it hasn’t, suggest it.

For those of you who are standing alone, I encourage you to reach out to your local community foundation or local nonprofit resource center for assistance.  Here are a few links for your consideration:

Bridgespan’s Nonprofit M&A: More Than a Tool for Tough Times

Wilder Research’s What do we know about nonprofit mergers?

And from the Nonprofit Finance Fund, a report with the same title What do we know about nonprofit mergers?

The larger our field grows, the more we will compete for limited resources.  Can we be stronger together?

5. Get Better at Communicating with Donors

I am consistently surprised by the way some non profits communicate with their donors, or don’t, as the case may be. Here are some questions for you to assess your donor communication practices:

  • Do donors receive a formal thank you note, on letterhead, that includes the amount of their gift within 48 hours of your receipt of their gift, regardless of the gift amount?
  • Does it include the appropriate IRS language?
  • Does someone call to say thank you to your largest donors?
  • Does your Exec or a member of your board call those donors periodically to update them on the agency’s activities?
  • Do you have a gift acceptance policy?
  • Do you have a development plan?

If the answers is no to any of these questions, that is a great place to ramp up your practices.

For more information on resource development, please see previous development posts and Donor Dreams, for which I also blog.

The non profits in my community and communities across the country and the world are moving the needle on the issues they exist to impact.  With on-going assessment, the implementation of best practices and constantly striving to be better and do better we can continue to make our world better.

How do you think we can best strengthen our field?  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.

Boards without Staff

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on November 10, 2013 at 10:23 am

We (being me) talk a lot on this blog about the difference between staff roles and Board roles. Let’s talk today about Boards without staff. Obviously, Boards without staff have to manage all the roles, but how?

The Board President acts as the Executive Director; the Treasurer or Chair of the Finance Committee acts as the bookkeeping staff and so on. Boards without staff tend to be smaller organizations yet …it’s a lot of work!

As mentioned in the Role of the Board, “The Board is responsible for governance, which includes setting the Mission, Vision and Strategic Plan; Hiring, Supporting and Evaluating the CEO; acting as the Fiduciary Responsible Agent, setting Policy and Raising Money.  Everything (Yes, I really mean everything) else is done in concert with the CEO or by the CEO.” When you have no CEO, everything else is also done by the board.

You may be wondering, what, exactly, is everything else?  Everything else is all the components of the CEO’s role and other staff roles too. For more information about that role for a paid leader, please see the Role of the Non profit CEO.  A board with no staff takes on some subset of those roles based on their needs, and their capacity. For our purposes, we’re going to review the big buckets.

Marketing and Public Relations

In the absence of a CEO, the Board Chair is the face of the organization. “That means that everything you do, whether at work, at the store or elsewhere – both good and bad – will reflect on the organization.” This counts for other board members too.

The Board is responsible for coming up with a plan to communicate the work of the agency to the community. Donors are much less likely to support you if they don’t understand you, your programming and your impact on the community.

In the absence of staff, this role is usually managed by the Chair of the Marketing Committee.

Resource Development

“The CEO is the chief fund raiser, the chief cheerleader, and the leader in building a culture of philanthropy.”  In all cases, but especially in the case of organizations without paid staff, resource development is a group effort, with everyone giving, and everyone moving toward the goal of a sustainable organization.

The Resource Development Committee is responsible for coming up with a plan to raise funds to support the agency. This plan should include a variety of options including but not limited to special events; grants and individual giving, including board giving, should also be included. For more information on resource development strategies, please click here.

In the absence of staff, this role is usually managed by the Chair of the Resource Development Committee, which also may be called fund raising.

Program Implementation, Management and Evaluation

The Board, in addition to setting the mission and vision, in the absence of staff, is also tasked with implementing, managing and evaluating any programming being offered. If it is a direct service agency, that means they are providing the service. If it is a grant making organization, that means they are reviewing and recommending to their peers a set of funding recommendations. It also means they are assessing the impact of the programming and communicating that impact to their donors. For more information on program evaluation, click here.

Whatever the agency and whatever the service, in the absence of staff, the board performs all duties, unless they are also managing a corps of volunteers.  This role is usually managed by the Chair of the Program Committee, which may also manage the volunteer program.

Volunteer Management

“Managing a volunteer program takes time. Volunteers should be interviewed and screened, including appropriate criminal background checks and reference checks specific to the role they will be performing. Once selected, they must be trained. Volunteers need to be matched to work that supports their interest and the organization’s needs, then scheduled and assigned work, which must then be supervised.” If you are managing a volunteer corps, please click here to read more of the article Volunteer Management.

Policy, Plans and System Development

Regardless of the agency and the staffing that may or may not be in place, all agencies need some type of infrastructure. This may include a background check policy, financial policy or program policies. It may include resource development, board development or marketing plans. At a minimum it will include a Code of Regulations, the appropriate filing of taxes and other necessary permits and forms.

This role is usually managed by the Executive Committee.

Financial Accounting

In the absence of staff, the financials are usually managed by the Treasurer.  However, allowing one person to manage and control the money in a non profit is never a good plan. As such, it is imperative that all agencies, and especially small agencies, build in a system of checks and balances to ensure the proper stewarding of the community’s resources.

Board Development

Board development “is the intentional process by which the board is perpetuated, evaluated, and educated; it has two parts:

Board Building: A diverse board of directors (thought, skill, race, faith, ability, orientation, age, and gender) that is passionate about the mission of the organization is created through a board building process. That process includes an assessment of the current board and needed skill sets, identification of prospective members, and recruitment and nomination of new board members.

Board Education: Board members will fully understand and can effectively fulfill their commitments to the board of directors when a comprehensive orientation, continuing education, and annual evaluation process is in place.

This role is usually stewarded by the Board Development committee, which may also be called Governance, Nominating, or Administrative.”

Serving on a board without staff is a different experience than serving on a board with staff. What’s your experience serving on such a board?  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.

Unappealing Annual Appeal Letters

In Resource Development on November 3, 2013 at 8:27 am

The annual year end appeal time is upon us! Development staff are sharpening their pencils (keyboards?) so they can craft a letter that will engage donors and encourage gifts to support the programs their agencies provide. This seems like a good time to list out the unappealing and unsupportable things I have seen mentioned in letters over the years.

Last year, I got a letter that said the task in front of us was “insurmountable” and asked for a donation. There is no point in me (or you) sending money to an organization that is facing an insurmountable task. If the task is really insurmountable, how will my donation impact it?  If my donation will not impact it– and obviously it will not since that is the definition of insurmountable- why would I give?

I want to impact issues I care about with my donation. I want surmountable tasks that the agencies I support have a plan to address. Tell me that plan and I am far more likely to write a check. Tell me that you are not up to the challenge and I am far less likely.

I have received requests from agencies asking for money to fill a budget gap. Please do not write in your annual appeal that you have a budget gap and need my donation to fill the gap. I don’t want to fill the gap. There are donors that you can go to in your hour of need to help you meet your budget or stay out of the red but most of them will not be asks you make in writing.

Donating to a sinking ship feels like throwing good money after bad. Only your most dedicated donors will consider doing that. Saying your ship is sinking encourages people to question your leadership. Why have you not met your budget? Are there issues of fiscal impropriety? There may not be, but why open the door and invite those questions? Some agencies have shortfalls for good reasons. In those cases, illustrate the reasons and build your case for support – in person. Donors that you need to save your sinking ship should always be asked in person.

Annual appeal letters are intended to request support from potentially new donors and smaller yet consistent investors who you know and love but who may not have the capacity or the level of engagement required to meet your individual ask threshold, which will vary by agency.

People give to people. Often, they give based on who asked them. Annual appeal letters are a great opportunity to ask a respected community leader to chair the committee and sign the letter and also to have board members, as possible, write notes in the margin.

Donors will support your agency for a variety of reasons but the ones most paramount are gifts given to make the world a better place and to impact the issues the donor cares about. Please frame your letter accordingly; make it about the world and the issues not your agency and its needs.

In closing, I will share that the most recent unappealing annual appeal letter I have received was from a university I did not attend. The letter, based on wholly inaccurate information, ended with snide remark. It said “Don’t you want to help someone the way someone helped you?” Now you might have noticed that I did not attend that university so it’s also safe for you to assume that I did not get a scholarship to not attend that university.  So I wondered “help me do what, exactly?

I use the story to illustrate two points. The first point is this: don’t guilt. Guilt is a terrible way to raise money. It may get you a onetime minimal donation but will not build engagement and will certainly not build multiple gifts at increasing levels over the years. If the initial engagement method is flawed, you are building a foundation in the sand.

The second point is this: get your facts straight. It’s unlikely that every person they sent that letter to actually received a scholarship from that university. Unless you’re going to crosscheck every letter you send against every scholarship you’ve given, it’s better to come up with a broad message that will encourage people to support your organization, without assuming that they got something in return.

The moral of the story is this: know your donors. If the university had, they would know I didn’t go to their school on scholarship … or at all.

What is your best advice for annual appeal letters?  What’s the letter you still remember shaking your head when you received? 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.


Events, Grants and Individual Giving

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on October 23, 2013 at 9:08 am

I was having breakfast this week with a friend and fellow consultant and we were discussing resource development efforts, including events and grants.  As I’m sure you are well aware by now, I’m not a huge fan of organizations hosting multiple events.  Events are expensive, labor intensive and don’t usually generate a lot of income.

I can hear you out there saying “No Dani, they’re fun!”  And they are, at least some of them are.

One signature event a year is a wonderful way to engage new donors, connect with current donors and showcase your programs while raising significant money. Even signature events that don’t raise significant money may still be a good use of your resources.  However, more than one signature event a year is too much.

More than one event (two, if you must) may be a sign that your leadership, board or executive, is reluctant to raise money in other ways.

Leadership that doesn’t want to embark on an annual appeal or a major donor campaign will often advocate more grants be written or additional events be introduced.  Not only will more events not raise more money, more events will cannibalize your signature event and may yield less income for more work.  Any process that doesn’t get you to your goal is a bad process.

“The Executive Director is the Chief Development Officer” of any non profit that seeks contributed income. (Erik Anderson Donor Dreams blog) Whether they want to or not; whether they’re good at it or not; whether they have a development director whose job it is or not, the Exec is still responsible for fund raising and one of the responsibilities of a governing board is to raise money. Neither is a role that can be abdicated.

Events are often 5-15% of an agency’s budget and generally net 50% of what they cost, sometimes less. Most attendees would be appalled to know that, but it’s true. It’s too high! I recommend events net 75% of what they cost. There are other, better, avenues to raise money.

Grants, which are often 30-50% of an agency’s budget, more if they receive United Way funding, are one way.  Yet, they too come with a cost. Most agencies get somewhere between 50-80% of the grants they submit. That means that the time spent on writing the 20-50% of the grants that don’t get funded is time lost.  For the grants that are secured, there are reports to be written, dollars to be tracked, objectives to reach and programming to introduce. All of which is as it should be, and none of which is without cost.

As I mentioned in the Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising post, according to “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process” (1999) individual giving offers the highest rate of return for the lowest cost (5-10%) to the organization.  It is also the largest pot of money given in this country and usually only reflective of the percentage of special event income in most agencies’ budgets.  In other words, 80% of the philanthropic dollars in this country are given by individuals yet 10-15% of most agencies budgets are received from individuals. Like the post says, “opportunity is knocking. Get the door!”

Your board, staff and major donors will be the foundation of any individual giving program and the program should be introduced in just that order: Board giving should come first with the Board setting and then meeting a giving goal. Staff should then be asked and then major donors. Individual giving is about one on one relationships that are cultivated – and later, stewarded – and require intentional asks for specific dollar amounts.

Once those asks are made, as mentioned in the Sustainability by Descending Order of Love post, “if you have the time and the volunteers, consider asking your larger mid level donors and prospects in person. 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.”

There are a lot of ways to raise money and some will generate more money in less time than others.  Nonprofit leaders are busy.  Get the best bang for your buck and get on the individual giving path.  It will be scary, and also worth it!

What have you done to increase individual giving?  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.

Major Gifts from Major Donors is Major Fun

In Resource Development on October 1, 2013 at 9:44 am

Philanthropists make the world a better place. They take their own money – money that they could spend on traveling, or eating, or shoe shopping or anything they want – and they invest it to solve the community’s and the world’s problems. How cool is that?!?!

It’s our job to match up their passion with our programs; to demonstrate the need, and later the impact and to well represent both our organization and our profession!

I once got a call from a guy who grew up near the neighborhood in which my organization was located. He wanted to donate $5,000 for a small capital venture – basketball court, outdoor activity – something he could name in honor of his parents. My agency was in a housing development owned by the housing authority. We didn’t have the land to build something – but we needed a new tech center. I shared our needs and submitted a proposal. He and I played phone tag for a while and at some point he called me in the evening while I was driving my 2 year old daughter home from day care. While he and I talked, she screamed. I thought I lost the gift! Not only did I not lose the gift, he funded the entire $13,000 project and gave me a compliment that I still treasure to this day. He said he’d been talking to a variety of nonprofit leaders (news to me!) and I was the most professional (even with a screaming 2 year old!) with the best presentation and follow through. Woo Hoo!

Sometimes the calls will come to you. Those will be very good days. Sometimes you will have to work to meet major donors. You will have to figure out who they are and what you need to do to get in front of them; who you know that knows them and what piece of your organization will be interesting and inspiring to them. Then, once you meet them, the real fun begins! You will need to cultivate and engage them in your future plans.


Ask each member of the Board of Directors to identify new people to introduce to the organization. When they do, communicate with every introduction, friend, prospect & donor regarding the impact of your organization. Obviously, a goal of any fund raising program is to build strong relationships with donors that will, over time, lead to increased engagement and increased giving. Trustees and the senior staff should each have cultivation goals based on their spheres of influence. Focus on friend raising as well as fund raising.

Fund raising is an art not a science. At some point, depending on the donor’s level of engagement and your experience, it will be time to request a specific (to their circumstances) donation. The asker should be assigned based on the likelihood of getting a yes. It may be a board officer; it may be a different board member; it may be the executive director; or a member of the development committee. Regardless of ego, you send the person who is most likely to get a yes.

Train askers to thank potential donor for their interest and past support, as appropriate, explain and present the written case for support, and request consideration for a suggested specific donation. Then, train them to be quiet until the potential donor has spoken. At which point, askers should answer questions, and either say “thank you” for the donor’s pledge/gift or their consideration while requesting an appointment to follow up.

Some consultants will tell you to never leave without a pledge form signed but that always felt much too aggressive to me. I prefer the gentler approach to donor engagement.

Once the donor has made a gift, it is imperative that you continue to engage them, which is called stewardship. Stewardship happens after a gift has been made and is an activity in which the donor is not being asked for a contribution, but is being informed/ updated of organizational activities of interest to her.

This should happen 3-4 times after a significant gift is received before another gift is solicited. Donors should not only hear from you when you want money.

I encourage you, at a minimum, to follow the four touch approach after you have received a major gift. Let’s pretend the gift was received in January.

1. Thank the donor for the gift.

The day your organization receives the gift, the CEO or Board member should call to say thank you. Two days later, the donor should have a formal thank you note in their hand that includes the proper IRS language. Within the week, they should receive a personal hand written thank you note from whoever solicited the gift. Whatever else your giving opportunities afford for a gift at that level should happen.

2. Tell them what you did with their gift.

In April, call and tell them about the program that their gift supported, in whole or in part. Share the expected impact of that program.

3. Tell them the impact of their gift.

In August, call and share the actual impact of the program their gift supported.

4. Then- and only then – you can ask for another, slightly larger, gift.

In December, call and ask for a meeting to share the successes of the year and discuss their participation in the current annual campaign.

Throughout the year, donors should also receive newsletters, marketing and email blasts as well as invitations to program events and special events. If you see their name in the paper, send a note. If you see an article in which they might be interested, send a copy. Include them; check in with them; and keep your major donors updated.

Major Donors make the world a better place! Don’t be afraid to meet them, meet with them, engage them and, if there’s match between your mission and their passion, solicit a gift. The worst thing they could say is no and even if they do, they’ll respect you for asking. I once had a philanthropist laugh – out loud for a not insignificant period of time – when a Board member and I asked for $100,000. She gave a major gift but the time between when she laughed and offered her pledge seemed to go on forever.

Do you have a similar story? What’s been your experience with major donors? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. If you have other ideas or suggestions for blog topics, please share. A rising tide raises all boats.

Playing Nicely in the Proposal Sandbox

In Leadership, Resource Development on August 24, 2013 at 8:03 am

The topic of this month’s nonprofit blog carnival is playing nicely with others, which I thought would be a great opportunity to talk about the intersection between grant writers and program staff.  As you’re probably aware, the two departments don’t generally play well in the sandbox, or really … even talk. When they do talk, they don’t talk enough or about the right things.  One department writes the grants, the other implements the grants.  Yet, and again, they don’t generally talk, which as you might imagine doesn’t generate the best process or the best grants.

Allow me a minute for a direct request:

Grant writers, please do not write (and later submit) grant proposals promising something the program staff can’t deliver. Talk to them! See what they need.  See if what they need matches the grant request on your desk. Maybe you can create magic! If you can, great!  If you can’t, please do not submit something the program staff cannot implement.  I know it’s frustrating that when you ask them what they need, they don’t get back to you.  Please keep trying …and maybe try a different way.  If you must submit something before you have spoken with them, try to align your proposal with current programs and the mission of your organization. Speak to the financial staff too and make sure they can spend down what you are proposing.

Program staff, please do not ignore the grant writer’s request for program needs. As you might have gathered, or learned the hard way, in the absence of you communicating your needs, the grant writers will assume what you need.  And when they do, if what they’ve assumed gets funded, and your CEO accepts the contract and signs the grant award (and they will) you’ll have to implement whatever it is they promised –  whether it makes sense or not; whether you want it or not; whether it’s a good use of your time or resources or whatever.  I know you’re busy implementing programming and moving the mission forward, but still…please save us all the trouble and just tell them what you realistically need to better serve your clients.

To both program staff and grant staff, please talk more; play nicer; collaborate and coordinate and work together to move your organization forward.

What I’m really advocating for – in addition to improved team work – is a grant coordination plan: the senior staff of the Finance, Operations and Development Departments could meet monthly to determine the priority of funding needs.  Prior to the development staff applying for any funding, the program staff can keep an updated list of programming needs and the finance staff can confirm the financial need and ability to spend the money the program staff is seeking.  When they do, the development staff can write the grants to secure funds.

Once funding is secured – and we all know that funding is far more likely to be secured when there is a good plan – the senior staff can review and assign reporting requirements and deadlines.

Voila!  We have just eliminated the need to scramble after realizing there is a proposal – or report – due for a grant the program staff didn’t even know about, let alone weigh in on.  We have just eliminated the need for the development staff to guess at what the program staff needs and what the financial staff can spend. We have created a smoother way to manage grants and for everyone to play nicer. It’s like I tell my kids: “You are far more likely to get what you need when you communicate what you need.”  Otherwise, you’ll be frustrated and we’ll (all) be guessing.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, go ask any program staff you know about how many times they have had to write a report for a grant they didn’t know was awarded for a program they weren’t exactly implementing.  Or talk to a grant writer about a time they missed a deadline because the program staff wouldn’t answer their questions. Or worse, go outside the organization you know best and talk to a foundation program officer about missed opportunities, monies not spent and organizations not renewed for funding.

We can all play better in the sandbox. Most of us, myself included, have a tendency to avoid what we don’t want to deal with, yet that is precisely when we have to go the other way.  Anytime you feel like you want to cut off contact is exactly the time to initiate contact – to reach out and talk more.  Get together monthly and review your current proposals, the opportunities you are expecting, the reports that are coming due and the needs you have.  Create some boundaries, ensure your needs are aligned with your mission and get to it!

While you’re planning, I encourage you to adopt a process that creates a grant file for every grant submission including a copy of the RFP and initial proposal, the grant agreement, if awarded – or the denial letter if not- and any and all related correspondence, including the website and log in information, a copy of the reports submitted and budgets modified. Anyone who has worked in nonprofits long enough has had to (re)create a grant file to ensure an organization was in compliance, but if we all talked (and planned) more it would happen less.  I promise the people who are standing in your shoes in the future – and each of your funders – will greatly appreciate it!

What do you think?  As always, I welcome your feedback, experience and insight.

Culture of Philanthropy or Fund Raising?

In Leadership, Non Profit Boards, Resource Development on June 1, 2013 at 3:37 pm

There is $300 billion dollars, on average, given to charities each year in this country.  The vast majority of that money is given by individuals. Not corporations. Not foundations. Individuals. 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.

I serve on a committee that just this week was discussing the difference between having a culture of philanthropy and a culture of fund raising.  The two are pretty different, even as most people use the words synonymously.

Fund raising is about raising money. Philanthropy, or what I usually refer to as resource development, is about ensuring resources. They’ll both raise money and require time but the latter will raise more money in less time.

Cultures of fund raising raise money through membership fees, grants or sponsorships, direct mail, and multiple small events that generally raise less than $30,000 (often less than $5,000), all of which is usually viewed as “begging for money.”  You often hear board members and volunteers say “I give my time” or “I’ll serve on the committee but I don’t want to ask my friends for money.” That philosophy is pervasive: staff don’t generally support the agency financially and a portion of the board doesn’t either. There is not usually a fund raising plan or an expectation of board giving; donors are not usually asked for specific dollar amounts and everyone is a little ashamed of having to raise money at all, even as they fiercely believe in their organization and the work it does in the community.

According to “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process” (1999) special events, on average, cost 50% of the amount they raise.  That is way too much!  I recommend my clients do not run any event that cost more than 25% of what it nets, and that organizations include staff time in the count.  As you might imagine, multiple small events cost much more than 25% to run and they take an enormous amount of time. That time could be better spent.

Grant writing generally costs 20% of what is awarded. You should never pay a grant writer a percentage of the amount requested; it is unethical and against the fund raising principles as advocated by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, but that’s not why it costs 20%. Organizations only get a percentage of the grants they write. That means they spend a lot of time writing grants they are never awarded. We all do. I recommend you do not write foundation or corporate grants without checking the published funding priorities and – if there is a match – speaking to a program officer about your project and getting the go-ahead to submit.  You’re never going to get all the grants you write, but you can at least avoid totally wasting your time.

There are, for any organization, a finite number of grants that can be written.  There are an infinitive number of individuals to be cultivated.

Individual giving offers the highest rate on return for the lowest cost (5-10%) to the organization. Individual giving is about one on one relationships that are cultivated – and later stewarded – and require intentional asks for specific dollar amounts.

Cultures of philanthropy raise money through individual giving, one (maybe two) signature event that raises upwards of 10% of the organization budget, and also write grants, and may have membership fees as well. You often hear board members and volunteers talk about returns on investment, impact and sustaining their organization. There is usually a resource development plan, a board process that includes the expectation that board members will significantly (to their circumstances) financially support the organization and also assist in raising additional resources.  They operate on the premise that their organization fills a critical need in the community and are proud to introduce their circle of influence to the organizations’ mission.

As mentioned in The Role of the Nonprofit CEO “Resource development functions most effectively in a culture of servant leadership and philanthropy among the board and leadership team, as well as an agency-wide commitment.  A community cannot and will not invest in an agency without the investment of the board and staff.  Development staff cannot raise money without the support of the CEO. CEOs cannot raise money without the support of the board. Resource development is a group effort, with everyone giving, and everyone moving toward the goal of a sustainable organization.”

Cultures of Philanthropy have a Director of Development who coordinate the asks, manage the information and the event, write the grants and work with the board and senior staff to ensure the resource development plan is implemented, the money is raised and the organization is sustained.

Cultures of fund raising have a Director of Development who is expected to do it all alone in an environment where fund raising is a dirty word. It’s why they end up with so many special events and grants and so few individual donors.  Those are the pieces they can impact and they try to do just that.

It’s up to the Board and leadership to change the equation, expand the reach and change the culture. How?

Start with the board and create expectations – to which everyone commits – to financially give and also to ask, as appropriate. Move to the staff. Do the same.  Take a look at your events and see what they really cost your organization to run, including staff time, and decide if it’s worth it. Take a look at your infrastructure and see if it can take you forward.  Are there things you need to add or delete? Can you current staff accomplish your goals or do you need to make some changes?

Get your best fund raisers and your most engaged board members and volunteers in a room and start putting the pieces down to create a resource development plan.

80% of all giving in this country is from individuals. Unless your income reflects that percentage, you have opportunity knocking. Get the door!

As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

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