June 6, 2014

Are you proud to be a fundraiser?

If you read The Agitator… or Ken Burnett’s blog… If you follow Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang…

Then you’ve been reading about fundraisers, their pride and souls, weaknesses and just plain failures.

So here’s my quick summary of some great resources on the topic:

  • The Great Fundraising Report, commissioned by ClaytonBurnett and research carried out by Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang.

If you want to be a great fundraiser, I suggest you read all of this. Then compare yourself. And, as necessary, make changes.


May 8, 2014

Check out this fundraising cookbook

Do you need help training your board members to tell stories…ask for gifts…identify prospects…say thanks to a donor?

Do your staff hate fundraising, avoid relationship building … (and run away from the development staff)?

This cookbook of easy-to-use fundraising exercises can help. Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson give us a new tool in their new book: Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise More Money. 

Tom Ahern just pulled out an exercise from the book and put it in some workshop he is developing upstairs in his office. I like the Instant Donor exercise. And how about the Pizza and Beer (rating your prospects) activity. I can see using some of these for an upcoming client retreat and a summer workshop, both in development right now.

February 2, 2014

Memories from SMU

Imagine me humming Barbara Streisand’s version of the song.

I’ve told you before how much I love teaching in the  Masters Program in Philanthropy and Development at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Okay. Sure, dorm living isn’t totally great. But honestly – even dorm living has its good moments!

The SMU experience is for those who want to work with a team, your very own cohort. If you want an intense exploration of philanthropy and the NGO sector – and, actually, life and your own philosophies.

Check out these videos that we watched and talked about in the first course, “Frameworks for Thinking and Working.” You can apply these to your management, your fundraising, your leadership…and your life, too.

Maybe you want all your agency’s staff to watch these together and talk. For sure, let’s have the fundraising staff watch and talk about.


January 31, 2014

From chaos to control

Does your organization live in chaos? How about your fundraising department?

Check out this useful book From Chaos to Control: Build a High Performance Team Using Knowledge Managementby Sharron Batsch.

As Sharron says, chaos need not be the norm. So what’s your CQ (Chaos Quotient)? For example:

  • Use the evaluation tool to determine your donor data management CQ.
  • Use another evaluation tool to determine your CQ in your knowledge-based system.

I like Sharron’s acronym for the problem: L.O.S.T. (Leadership – Order – Staffing – Training). Fix all four and your chaos quotient goes way down! And Sharron tells you how to fix it all.

This book describes a step-by-step process to building your Knowledge Plan (KPlan). Anecdotes describe problems. (Oh how awful these are!) The book describes solutions. And then the book describes the Knowledge Management System Toolkit.

And then there’s the 15 second rule. Sharon’s office and team evaluate the effectiveness of their Knowledge Management System by whether (or not) they can locate the specific resource file needed in a particular situation — within 15 seconds. Wow. Imagine that kind of efficiency!

I really like this book. Get your copy now. Use it! Make big, important, useful change. Now.

January 15, 2014


Think like a fundraiser, feel like a donor. Very nice blog at Hillborn. Canadian publisher and e-news and blogs and… The author of “think/feel” is Jose van Herpt at Good Works. And she is co-author of a great book on bequests, Iceberg Philanthropy.

For ever-reliable nagging (absolutely necessary!) about measures (key performance indicators/KPIs), read www.theagitator.net. I really like this one at this moment. Lifetime value (LTV) anyone? I sure home so.

For small development offices, read The Grow Report. Good tips. Good resources. Pam knows what you’re trying to do. And here’s a reference from Pam, “a beautiful, thought-provoking piece from Richard Perry of Veritus. Listen to me please.” And Pam asks us, are you listening to your donors? Really?

Read this interesting article by Mark Hierlihy, CauseMark, about selfies. I’m so bored with the focus on self. But when Mark talks about capturing special moments…and the possible use for NGOs…pretty cool!

I’ve said it before – and I say it again, “Social media (and technology) are not the answer to all life’s problems.” In fact, technology and social media are getting to be a problem. Have you seen the “get off the phone video“?

Here’s an interesting question: Do you see your donor services staff as a cost center or profit center? Check out the conversation at The Agitator, 01-13/14.

November 17, 2013

Useful tips for customer and donor relations

Check out Charles Green‘s The Trust Matters Blog. Read this wonderful book, The Trusted Advisor, co-authored by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford.

I really liked a few of the “Blog Picks o’ the Week” in The Trust Matters Blog. For example:

And I really liked Think Like a Buddhist, Sell Like a Rock Star. Read about these statements:

I hope lots of this sounds familiar. This is your nonprofit’s work…. Selling tickets to your performance. Selling enrollment to your school. Engaging your customers. And who are your customers? Your clients and your volunteers and your donors and…

Maybe you want to subscribe to Charles Green’s blog. For sure, you want to pay lots of attention to trust. Adrian Sargeant tells us that is one of the key drivers of donor loyalty.

Filed under: Resources / Research

November 11, 2013

Annual meetings…and members, too

I’ve always been curious about the concept of “the annual meeting.”

The primary purpose of an annual meeting is to elect board members. If the board elects its own members (e.g., there are no other “members”), then the annual meeting is just a regular board meeting. The board elects its members and its officers. There is the usual financial report and the usual due diligence that happens at any board meeting.

If you have members other than board members, then maybe the members elect the board members and the board elects officers. So you might have a separate annual meeting. I HATE THAT! I dislike members electing board members. I dislike members having any role in governance.

When I say “dislike,” I mean my professional opinion based on my work in nonprofits: my expertise in governance and fundraising. For me, “member” is another term for “donor.” Some organizations and professionals think that “member” sounds more like ownership than “donor.” I think that’s a rather sad testament to our treatment of and view of donors. But whatever…

Members are donors are members. So whether I buy a membership or give a gift, I am an investor and members and donors should get the same “benefits.” And for some organizations, that “benefit” is voting for board members.

But honestly, if you want to have members and call them members and they are your donors… You do NOT have to allow them to elect board members. Your members/donors don’t know who would be a good board member. Your members/donors don’t know about what you need in governance.

Further more, it’s fairly typical that not very many members/donors attend the annual meeting. Really, how interesting can an annual meeting be — unless you design a really good thing with really interesting speakers.

Those members/donors don’t need a vote. There is no useful purpose. Donor-centrism and relationship building are what build donor/member loyalty…not electing board members. (Even the power of electing a president doesn’t motivate U.S. citizens to go vote. The U.S. has one of the lowest voting rates of any democratic nation in the world.)

So change your bylaws. Members don’t elect board members. (Oops. Maybe your bylaws can’t be amended without members voting. Gosh. What a mess. Fix it. You can.)

If you want to have an annual gathering of your members/donors/friends, that’s cool. Talk about your mission, have an interesting speaker, invite a donor and client to speak. Show images of great stuff that members/donors/friends produced. Whatever. Call it an an annual meeting to report to your investors (members/donors/friends). Mingle and schmooze and nurture relationships. Talk about impact – of members/donors/friends.

In June 2013, I attended the 179th Annual Meeting of Children’s Friend. I was there because the agency was honoring a dear friend of mine. I arrived a bit late so the meeting had already started. But here is what I saw and heard.

First, there were 200+ people in the room sitting at round tables. I asked one of the staff, “How in heaven’s name do you get this many people?” The response: “These are all our employees, all our board members, our policy council, and dear friends.” (I forgot to ask if they invite their donors. But I’m hoping they do!)

Children’s Friend brings together all its employees four times per year. They close the agency and bring together employees for trainings and talking and the annual meeting. I don’t know how many employees Children’s Friend has, but at least 100, I suspect.

The President and CEO made wonderful remarks about the health of the agency, public policy and advocacy work, the impact of the agency’s work. A wonderful slide show presented 2012-2013 highlights. Photos of donors and the kids and families served and agency events and staff doing lots of things and and … The audience laughed and applauded and called out.

Then there were the awards.

  • Employee service awards for 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years of employment. Everyone came up on stage. Everyone had his/her face on the big screen with a mini bio.
  • Special tribute to a wonderful volunteer who had recently died. His wife and daughter were there.
  • And the annual award for service to the agency. That’s the award my friend received.

What was the ambiance in this room? Happiness. Pride. Respect. Joy. Fun. People were cheering and laughing. People were happy. Smiling faces. Mingling and hanging around.

I don’t remember if there was voting for board members by all those people attending. To me, this gathering was a celebration, a marvelous cultivation event.

Think about it. What is your intent? How you can best achieve that? Why have members involved in governance? Why confuse governance with cultivation? Think about it. Maybe a change is in order for your organization.

September 23, 2013

Continuing the saga of those rich – whom I said were irrelevant…

I write a semi-monthly web column for the Nonprofit Quarterly, one of my favorite publications. In fact, I strongly urge all nonprofit executives out there – CEOs, fundraisers, etc. – to subscribe to NPQ. Subscribe as an organization and then pass it around. The quarterly print edition is a keeper. For example, an issue might focus on governance, with multiple articles from experts. Another issue might focus on the nonprofit sector and democracy. And the daily web issue is also great. Subscribe now! This is the Harvard Business Review of the nonprofit sector. Read it!

But I digress.

One of my NPQ web columns is about the rich … and their irrelevancy, so to speak. I’ve written about that twice already in my own blog right here. Tom Ahern wrote about the rich and fundraising, too.

In response to my NPQ column, here’s a brilliant statement from Seattle’s Susan Howlett

“The top of the pyramid isn’t people with money. It’s people with deep connection to the mission. We’ve all seen instances where people without a lot of dispensable income really stretched to make a significant gift to something that matters to them — to an organization where they feel engaged in the work, connected to the leaders, on fire about the impact. My husband and I have done that, when we were leaders on boards, and we’re not rich. If we think about the top of the pyramid (or triangle) being the people with fire in their belly about our work, it takes the focus off rich people. I’d rather have a donor base full of people without a lot of resources who care deeply, than with rich people who don’t.”

The thing is, giving a major gift according to your organization’s definition of a major gift does not embrace all those who are hugely committed to your organization. Those who leave bequests are hugely committed. You might not know about that gift till the donor dies. And even then, you might not consider the gift size “sufficient” to qualify as a “major gift” for your organization. But for that donor – loving you so much that she wants to give after she is dead – I suspect that is pretty major.

The donor defines what a major gift is for her or his life. The donor chooses how to demonstrate huge commitment and love for the impact your organization can have.

Let’s build a donor pyramid that doesn’t include money. Instead, let’s build a donor pyramid that focuses on donor loyalty and Adrian Sargeant’s research. How about a “love” pyramid?

Thank you, Susan.

July 15, 2013

Is manipulation bad?

Did you read Tom Ahern’s, archived on his website? “Proposed: A new set of messages for nonprofits.” He talks about emotional triggers and other tricks of the trade – and how we need to use them.

Well, I’m the “senior expert” explaining “fundraising 101” that he references in his e-news. I’m the one who apparently smiled warmly. (He should know; he was in the room watching me.) After Tom’s usual great presentation, I told people not to take the negative approach and think that these “tricks of the trade” are manipulative. Instead, we’re talking about basic principles and best practice.

I said, “Don’t worry. This isn’t manipulation. You’re plugging into people’s own values and emotions.” As you saw in his e-news, Tom thought, “What’s wrong with manipulation? I think manipulation is great.”

So what, exactly, is manipulation or manipulate? My old Webster’s Dictionary says: “Manage or utilize skillfully.” Well, that’s good.

But then, of course, what we all seem to think of mostly is, “control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means to one’s own advantage.” I don’t like unfair or insidious. Actually, insidious is a somewhat odious word, isn’t it?

Then there’s that final phrase, “to one’s own advantage.” That’s really, the problem, I suspect. I trap you into doing something you don’t want to do. I make you act in ways contrary to your own interests.

But that isn’t good fundraising. Good fundraising honors and respects people’s values and interests. Good fundraisers don’t keep chasing people who aren’t interested. Good fundraisers don’t even think in terms of “hitting up” people for gifts. Good fundraisers don’t misrepresent or lie.

Good fundraisers and the most effective fundraising are ethical and respectful, donor-centered and caring. And good fundraisers and effective fundraising apply the body of knowledge and research, and use the best tools.

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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