October 28, 2015

Bad government regulation…silent NGOs…cautious fundraisers…

I’m thinking this is a recipe for failure:

  • Several cups of: Government that doesn’t analyze; and, eliminates any input from fundraisers.
  • A couple cups of: Overly sweet NGOs with no tartness or saltiness at all.
  • Add a big dose of fear.
  • Add a pinch of arrogance.
  • Mix well to ensure no discernible flavor.

And there you have it… Nonsensical government regulation…sour and rotten. Accompanied by very few dissident voices because fear overcomes clear thinking and the will to fight.

Damn it. This is a too-commonly baked recipe in the nonprofit sector. 

Are you wondering what I’m taking about? A current British recipe resulting from the suicide of Olive Cooke. Her death is attributed to the crass fundraising strategies of ignoble nonprofits. Yes, that’s the hue and outcry from British media, and some vocal leaders of the nonprofit sector, mostly unchecked by thoughtful leaders.

What a silly, sorry accusation for an apparently lovely woman who gave time and money to charities that she cared about. How unfortunate that the nonprofit sector isn’t more respected and valued. Too sad that condemnation and threats cause so many to stay too silent.

So now there will be new regulations in the U.K. Bad new regulations that will hurt those in most need.

[A momentary aside: Despite the absurdity of “suicide due to fundraising,” it’s certainly valid to ask how NGOs and their fundraisers raise money. How we treat donors…How often we contact donors…What kind of choice we give donors…How we justify our voracious fundraising strategies with so little care for our donors…And on and on and on. Perhaps this is the wake-up call our sector needs?]

Don’t think that this can only happen in the U.K. Oh my, no! I’ve seen similar recipes in the U.S. for decades and decades. I listen to worried colleagues around the world.

Surely this entire situation – including response from the media and the sector and donors – is a useful conversation to have in your organization. What to do? Try the following:

  1. Assign your staff to read about Olive Cooke and the U.K. debacle. Then read Adrian Sargeant’s blog and The Agitator blog by guru Roger Craver. Now talk.
  2. Spend some time at an upcoming board meeting talking about the British situation. Then identify similar situations in your country. Talk about your NGO’s role in speaking out for or against public policy. Talk about how you might respond to donors who might be curious or even worried.
  3. Gather together some of your fundraising colleagues around your community – maybe your local fundraising association. Explore topics like: Position of the nonprofit sector, its value and respect for it… Speaking out as a sector, focusing on facts rather than hysteria and frenzy…

More recipes like this produce a weakened NGO sector. And a weakened NGO sector harms our communities, our societies, and – yes – the entire world.

So let’s get our act together. Please.


October 26, 2015

Read these. Pass them on. Talk about both with your colleagues.

Let’s kick some butt!

Ah, the millennials. And the Ice Bucket Challenge. And that new contemporary look. Old donors versus young donors… Let’s talk some more! (Oh please don’t. READ THIS!!  Make sure you read the imbedded article, too. 

How’s that equity thing going in your organization? Do you talk about equity in your NGO? I don’t mean lobbying for equity in the outside world. I mean equity…inside your organization. Because that’s where we can all start. READ THIS!

October 12, 2015

Setting your charitable contributions goal

From my archives… But I’m still flummoxed about how organizations do this…

How does your NGO set its charitable contributions goal? This is what organizations tell me:

First we add up all the expenses to carry out our mission. Then we figure out how much revenue we think is pretty reliable.” (That might be ticket sales if you’re an arts organization. Or maybe government contracts for services delivered. Or a for-sure grant from some foundation.)

“And then,” says the organization, “we figure out the gap and that’s our fundraising goal.”
Yup, the primary criteria for setting charitable contributions goal is how much the organization wants / needs to do its work.
Of course, most organizations also look at how much they’ve raised in the past. Let’s see: “Last year we raised 10% more than the previous year. So how about raising 15% more this year. Or, it’s a bad economy, so let’s just aim for raising 10% more again this year.”
Not good. Not the best way to determine your charitable contributions goal. In fact, I think the least important criteria for setting your charitable contributions goal is “how much you need.”
Instead, set your charitable contributions goal by examining both internal and external criteria. For example, internal criteria include:
  • donor-centered relationship building program
  • balanced mix of solicitation strategies and sources of gifts
  • board member participation to identify the predisposed, nurture relationships, and solicit gifts
  • number of qualified prospects in the pipeline
  • analysis of key donors to determine the likelihood of how much each one might increase his / her gift

And I have even more on my list!

Make sure you consider the external issues, for example, the economy.
And make sure that your board understands this is how an effective organization develops its budget and its charitable contributions goal.
April 27, 2015

Sarcasm and subtlety

“Sarcasm and subtlety are wasted on the easily confused.”

That statement resonated with me.

I was talking with a high school teacher, a debate coach.

I don’t remember what we were talking about. But the context was likely social justice. Things like racism and sexism and socioeconomic rights and … Well, you get the gist.

  • Subtlety….The quality of being subtle. That’s what the dictionary says. I get so annoyed with definitions that use a form of the word for defining. But the definition goes on to mention synonyms like: delicacy, understatedness, nuance…
  • Sarcasm….The use of irony to mock or convey contempt. Synonyms include cynicism, scoffing…
  • Confused…Unable to think clearly. Bewildered. Befuddled. Puzzled. Perplexed.

Of course, you’re wondering where I’m going with this. And I’m not really sure. I just really like the statement.

But, maybe I could apply this sometimes…. Like with a group (e.g., board or committee meeting, trying to make a point with a client, trying to agitate in a presentation…in an article…as a headline for a blog or something….???!!!)

So here are some examples that I worked on to utilize the tool of “sarcasm and subtlety are wasted on the easily confused.” Of course, the challenge of this is, as Dr. Albert Mehrabian tells us, communications is only 30% of what you say. The other 70% is voice, tone, face, gestures, huge tacky rings, etc.

  • “I’m so tired of whiny people.  (I’m being really sarcastic!) People should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and earn their way in life.” (Sarcasm again. I’m so pissed at this sentiment. Just read the book The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed by Brian Miller and Mike Lapham.) Actually, a fair amount of people believe that those other people should just “pull themselves up.” Easier said than done, I say. 
  • “I’m not so sure there’s a glass ceiling anymore. Black people and women are CEOs of big companies now.” (Indeed, there are CEOs of big companies who are black and female. But not very many. And, according to research, women continue to bump into the glass ceiling. And women are still paid less than men for the same work. And and and …) I’m thinking this statement is pretty subtle. And I sure am being sarcastic.
  • “I often wonder about men who choose to stay home and care for children. I wonder if they just couldn’t get a good job. I suspect that the wife earns more money than the husband made.” (What?! Maybe the guy is married to a guy. And one husband wanted to stay home with the kids. And the other husband wanted to work outside the home. Or both wanted to stay home but they needed an income so they drew straws or talked and voted or or … Or maybe the guy is the nanny…Or maybe there’s no marriage involved…Or…)

I use quite a bit of sarcasm myself…in life and in work. Mostly, I don’t think I’m too subtle. But maybe sometimes I am. I think I’m rather subtle (maybe not the right word) when I keep using “life partner” instead of “husband.” I watch the faces. And people do tell me that they wondered if I was married, living with a man but unmarried, or a lesbian… And that’s exactly what I want them to wonder!!! For all kinds of reason, which, if you read any of my blogs or articles or books or hear me present… You know that I do this on purpose to make a statement about social justice.

Okay. Off to work. But first, thanks Aaron. You made me think. And I really do like that statement, “Sarcasm and subtlety are wasted on the easily confused.”

June 26, 2014

Favorite quotations: relationships

I’ve told you before: I collect quotations … and have since I was a teenager. Notebooks full. And from various sources …. romance novels, spy and police action, science fiction fantasy, serious literature, business books, etc.

I use quotes to inspire myself. To include in articles and start chapters in books. I use quotes in my workshop handouts.

So here are some favorite quotations about relationships and relationship building. Maybe you’ll find a use for them – even if it’s “just” inspiration!

“Relationship fundraising is an approach to the marketing of a cause which centres not around raising money but on developing to its full potential the unique and special relationship that exists between a charity and its supporter. Whatever strategies and techniques are employed to boost funds, the overriding consideration in relationship fundraising is to care for and develop that special bond…” [Relationship Fundraising: A Donor-Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money, 1992]

Sir Denys Lasdun, English architect said, “The architect’s job is to give a client not what he wants but what he never dreamed that he wanted; and when he gets it, he recognizes it as something he wanted all the time.” Just substitute “fundraising” for “architect.”

“You’ll have more fun and success when you stop trying to get what you want and start helping other people get what they want.” [Dale Carnegie, 1930s American self-help guru, How to Win Friends and Influence People]

“Everything is a tale. What we believe, what we know. What we remember, even what we dream. Everything is a story, a narrative, a sequence of events with characters communicating emotional content. We only accept as true what can be narrated.” [Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game]”

February 18, 2014


I figure we all know the power of words. Certainly fundraisers do! (Or should…)

But are we always mindful of the words we use?

Do we think before we speak, worrying that someone might overhear and misinterpret – or be offended?Do we ever consider that our behavior might start reflecting our vocabulary?

Phrases like “low-hanging fruit” or “hit up that donor” or?

Tony Elischer, U.K. colleague, wrote an interesting article called “The New Lexicon of Fundraising, 2014 and Beyond…”

It’s well worth a read. Makes you think. (And Think Consulting Solutions is the name of Tony’s firm.)

By the way, this is a good paper to share with your development colleagues and your boss and board. Engage people in conversation. That’s how learning happens. And learning produces change.

June 8, 2013

Sustainability…a big deal

I recently read a nice little book called Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey. (When I say “little,” I mean short and good. It’s a compliment!)

The book is authored by Dennis G. McMillian of Alaska’s Foraker Group. The Foraker Group is a nonprofit support organization that helps create strong nonprofits in Alaska. The Foraker Group does things like training, consulting, research, and so forth.

Foraker reminds us that sustainability is not just financial! In fact, the book notes that funding “may not be the most important element.”

Focus on Sustainability presents four interconnected factors that are “integral to a sustainable organization.” Focus. Right people. Partnerships. Unrestricted funds.

I like these four factors. Quoting from the book:

A sustainable organization can be identified through four lenses:

  1. Focus: A sustainable organization maintains a laser focus on its founding principles and exercises discipline based on those principles in all its strategic decisions. At the same time, a sustainable organization must look ahead and adapt for the future.
  2. Right people: A sustainable organization has the right people in the right roles. Specifically, it counts on the right board and staff, who work together effectively as partners.
  3. Partnerships: A sustainable organization increases its impact through partnerships with other organizations.
  4. Unrestricted funds: A sustainable organization maintains sufficient unrestricted funds to take advantage of opportunities and handle emergencies.

This book is actually short enough that you could expect all your staff to read it. You could even get some of your board members to read it.

Read the book. Just visit Amazon.

P.S. Foraker is a big mountain in Alaska…really big…the fourth highest peak in the United States…named after Ohio Senator Joseph B. Foraker, in 1899.

Filed under: Resources / Research

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