Topic: Nonprofit Organizations

Donor Relationships

By Melanie Cecarelli

When I’m in a social setting and people learn I’m with a nonprofit consulting firm, it’s like being a CPA being asked a tax question or a physician being asked, “Does this look infected to you?” I usually get questions or comments about how nonprofits are missing an important feature when it comes to their donors, and that is the relationship.
A colleague shared their recent experience with me. They contacted a nonprofit three times within a three month period regarding a restricted gift they wanted to make to the organization. Now one would think the organization would jump at a non-solicited gift coming across their desk. There was no ask, no cultivation or stewardship involved. It was theirs for the taking. Then why would they let the offer stand idle? Is it because the nonprofit didn’t understand the need and the importance of a good donor relationship?
As nonprofit leaders, you know it takes time and energy to cultivate and build a relationship with a donor, especially one that you hope will grow into a major gift. Little stumbles like this have a lasting impression. Remember the saying it takes years to build a good reputation and only takes a minute to ruin it? Think about that when you ignore your donor or just see them as a means to an end to help you get achieve your philanthropy goals.

So, how do you think this story ends? Was the donor persistent in trying to make their gift? Did the organization finally contact them? And what did the organization do after the gift was received? Sounds a bit like a cliffhanger for a TV serial. At the end of the day, it’s up to nonprofits to embrace donors for their value and your worth…but that’s a topic for another day.

Ask yourself these questions.
How do you view your donors? Are you treating them as a one collective group? What are you doing to cultivate your repeat donors from a transactional into the translational relationship, especially when comes knocking at your door? Do you know the art and science behind the cultivation process?
It’s much more than frequent communications and the request for a gift. It’s about connecting the donor to your organization, and not to what you think is important to you but what is important to them and being sure it aligns with your overall goals. A donor suggested a “buy a brick” concept for a walkway at an art gallery and the program director ran with it. The few donations they received were outweighed by the actual cost of the materials and labor to install, and didn’t align with the gallery’s overall development initiative. Yes they had donors, but at what cost? And were these opportunities that could have been cultivated for something else?

How do you know what’s important to your donor? By listening and connecting with them, and not just once but multiple times. It’s not about coming out of the gate and asking for their gift, but understanding what motivates them to give to your organization. Are they interested in the outcomes or more interested in how the program operates? Do they want their dollars going to a program or are they more interested in capital improvements or longevity through an endowment or planned gift? It’s all about helping the donor grow alongside your organization. Cultivation.
And most of all, be responsive to your donors. Don’t keep them waiting especially when they come to you with a gift. Opportunity may knock more than once, but it’s not going to keep on knocking until you are ready to answer.

Give Back Tuesday

By Melanie Cecarelli

With the holiday season upon us, how many emails, text alerts, and Facebook ads did you receive for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales? And now there’s “Give Back Tuesday”, a way for nonprofits to maximize year end giving with donors.

On “Give Back Tuesday”, I’m struck by the number of appeals that are flooding my inbox and social media pages. I think I received as many requests on “Give Back Tuesday” as I did for all the store and online sales. Many are from friends or colleagues who perhaps sit on a particular nonprofit board or maybe have given to the organization in the past.

Does it work? Some of the organizations are brave enough to post their progress toward a goal, and there’s little to no movement for donations. One organization tried “Give Back Tuesday” when it was first introduced as a concept. Out of the hundreds of emails and posting sent to their donor and membership base, only one gift was received. Why? Because organizations are reaching out to their donors who in turn are reaching out to individuals who have little or no knowledge of them. And a short 140 byte message isn’t going to move someone to give ‘sight unseen’ to your cause.

So ask yourself, “Is the squeeze worth the juice?” Are you putting time and resources toward an appeal that isn’t yielding results?
Like most things, one organization may have tremendous success with crowdsourcing and everyone jumps into the game. As a friend once said to me, “You need to know how deep the pool is before you jump in with cement shoes”. And that goes for “Give Back Tuesday”. How big is your social media footprint? Are these individuals who are connected to your work and mission or are you just jumping into the pool without knowing your audience? And what is your strategy for keeping the one or two new donors connected to your mission.

Many organizations see “Give Back Tuesday” as a way to close the gap for their overall development fund. While it may work for some, more attention needs to be given to creating a culture of philanthropy that engages donors and prospects throughout the year. Loyal donors are going to respond to your annual appeal and the cultivation you work on throughout the year. You don’t want to wait to year end to close gaps. The time to plan for next year is now.

So, how did Give Back Tuesday work for you?

Servers and Rewarders

Not everyone is a giver. Connecticut Public Radio recently completed a two year project on ‘Giving’, and while many (most) of the people they interviewed applied to participate because they were givers, I’m sure the ones who did not respond to be interviewed were not givers. Not everyone is a giver.

One thing is for certain though – if you have donors then you have givers. These givers are people who have a desire to impact another’s life; offer themselves and their possessions to others. There are non-givers in the world, people who care nothing about other’s needs, but people in this latter category usually fall under the heading Narcissists and Sociopaths. For the most part, the majority of people are givers; it’s an innate part of our DNA. From infancy we have empathy for others that causes us to act to help.

But givers are not at all alike. In fact it is my opinion that there are two distinct types of givers.

SERVERS AND REWARDERS:

Husband and I are celebrating thirty years of marriage this year. This is remarkable because 1) Most marriages don’t last that long and 2) it’s a miracle that despite our vast differences, we are still together 30 years later. Ketchup on eggs/no ketchup on eggs; music as an alarm clock/silence is golden; Volunteer for everything/volunteer for nothing; in all ways he and I are as different as the proverbial night and day.

And when it comes to giving we remain distinctly at odds: fundamentally, I am a Server and he is a Rewarder.

As a server I tend to see others’ needs as they appear to me and then act to assist in some way. I seek to put others first, looking for ways to be a blessing upon someone who has done virtually nothing to ask or ‘earn’ it in anyway. If a person is struggling with full hands and is trying to enter the subway car, I’ll reach out to help. If I see someone being uncomfortable with silence or with a comment I jump in to comfort them (usually inserting foot into mouth along the way, but hey…). In most situations where I am moved to empathy by a person’s situation, I am also moved to act.

That’s not to say at all that my husband is not empathetic, kind, or not a giver. He is very much so, and often is brought to the brink of tears by others’ stories of struggle or injustice. It’s just that his pragmatic nature causes him to be more of a rewarder than a server.

For him, giving is triggered by people’s actions towards him or towards themselves. In this way giving is a reward, a reward for action. Recently we had a young visitor stay with us. My husband was his cordial self. But not very giving. The young man had a 16-foot truck full of stuff. Only after he asked my husband to help did hubby jump into full blown action, clearing places in the garage and hauling boxes. I on the other hand was already making virtual plans for assistance when I heard the news of the truck arriving.

During a recent visit to NYC, we passed by one after another of types of people needing assistance; some homeless, some were able bodied individual’s just experiencing life’s nuanced challenges. By days end, I was an exhausted drained mess, having depleted my reserves and brain power in trying to ensure I helped each and every person in some small way possible. Hubby was surprised that the number of people I counted needing help even existed. He did hold the door for a gentleman who asked nicely. And he was grateful to do so. Raising our kids, Hubby was so very generous when a child overcame a struggle or performed an action that made hubby feel proud, inspired, or just dog gone emotional about his kid. But he allowed the struggle to occur, whereas I had blisters from gripping the broom I used to sweep the path of struggle for each one of my three children.

Rewarders often appreciate the self-reliance necessary to be built in order for gratitude to kick in, in order for the reward of giving to have a lasting impact. Often rewarders want the individual in need to acknowledge their need for a deeper meaning, a learning that occurs in building character and in forming a bond between helper and the one being helped. Additionally, some rewarders don’t always see the obvious and might not be inclined to fore think the needs that others might have, but that does not make them any less of a giver. Rewarders give based on need AND actions, whereas servers give based on needs alone. Servers are driven innately by their own desire to serve and feel good about serving. Rewarders are driven by the need that exists and the call to action from the one needing help.

Your DONORS are Servers and Rewarders as well. Which is why it is so very important to have a continual stream of consciousness flowing by them of not only your constituents’ needs, but ALSO your constituents and organizations’ actions and your call to help. I recently facilitated a strategic planning session where the ED implied that more publicity would raise more funds. Her rationale was that when people see what we are doing and the people we serve, they will say, “Hey that’s a good cause, I’ll send them money”. She wasn’t wrong. But she wasn’t totally right either. She only had half the equation; she was speaking to the Server givers in her donor pool, who would see the article and intuit the need and be moved to action, their own defined action, based on what they read that caused them to emote.

The other half is that a rewarder would read the news article, close the paper and walk away. They would certainly appreciate the work that was being performed, but would not be moved to action because there was no call to action; there was no request for help nor any evidence of the organization doing something that a rewarder could well, reward with their assistance. To complete the cycle and speak to both groups of givers – servers and rewarders – the organization would also have to show action, maybe a piece on the results of their activity or a testimonial from a constituent served on what they did because of this group, as well as a request spelled out –“We Need Your help Now. Please send us $25 today to take this work to the next level”.

Servers and Rewarders are both equally giving, they are just compelled to act based on different criteria.Recognizing this, preparing for it, and employing different techniques in communication and solicitation will help you meet both of their needs.

Patience and Trust

BEST FRIENDS ANIMAL SOCIETY

Twenty-two of the dogs most in need of care after being rescued from Michael Vick’s horrifying dogfighting ring were sent to Best Friends Animal Society for rehabilitation. Each of those dogs was special, but from the start there was a standout: Lance. The best dog trainers in the world worked with the 22 dogs, and over time, each passed the court-ordered Canine Good Citizen test and was placed in a loving home. Except for Lance. Even though a wonderful family was interested in adopting him, he was not allowed to leave until he passed his test, and he had so much anxiety that every time he took the test, he would freeze….

Best Friends Animal Society 

The Golden Rule of Fundraising

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When you don’t see the value in your donor prospects, they don’t see the value in you.

I’ve come to realize that nonprofits have what companies spend millions on– a pool of qualified prospects that represent customers who are interested in their product. Businesses, large and small, have entire teams of people devoted to the “sales” side of their business equation. They have entire departments focused completely on generating and then cultivating those new prospects. They do this because they know how valuable these leads are. They are worth their weight in gold, literally. In fact, many companies actually calculate the value of a lead, figuring how it translates into essential revenue.

And yet, few NPO’s I’ve come to work with have acquired a strategy related to this pool of prospects and how to move them to a “sale”. Do you know the financial value of a lead for your organization?

It doesn’t matter if your NPO is in healthcare, academics, social services or the arts. Every month you generate new major donor prospect leads that lay unnoticed. And these unnoticed leads, that are not being cultivated, are leading to revenue loss for your NPO.

Your lead generating system includes obvious things like events, but consider new clients and volunteers, people who signed up for your newsletters and RSS feeds, and people who inquire about your services and programs. But collecting these is a just a waste of time, if you don’t have a plan that you act upon.

There are four things ways you can capture prospects that are new to your organization. Let’s call them them our “First in the Door” prospects. These people have expressed an interest in you. It might not be as obvious as a lead saying “Hey, I like what you do, put me on your radar screen for a donation.”  It probably is more common that they have attended an event, as a guest or a participant, had been present at a workshop or lecture, read your blog or newsletter, or maybe requested information on your program for a friend. I can think of a recent personal example of this.  In January, my 80 year old father came to live with us and I contacted a not for profit senior housing and assistance group to learn more about their organization. While they sent it right away, no one from the group has since reached out or shared other information on their organization with me, even though we had chatted about the challenges of being a not for profit and their upcoming building campaign! I could be a terrific prospect for a donation, but I get the impression that they don’t value me as one. So, I’ll move focus my attention on another charity.

To help you with those First in the Door prospects, here are four really solid things you should be doing to get them the information they require to build rapport:

1) Email response with material. For every new person that is entered into your database- client, guest, or vendor- you should have an email mechanism thanking them for their involvement with your group (appropriately) and delivering to them literature on your organizations message. Remember stories sell, don’t push them away with statistics, but tell them a story that brings them closer. This material could be in the form of an ebook, a slide deck, or a video.

2) Blog. I can’t say this enough, blogging is a simple, inexpensive way to stay in front of your prospect pool and current donors. 250 words takes under ten minutes to prepare but represents days of retention with your supporters.  You already know they are interested, keep them engaged with a regular flow of blog posts about your work. Again, stories, stories, stories. Include a call to action or a response mechanism for further information. Send your First in the Door prospect this blog, link in a follow up email to the one above. Ask them to sign up for future posts.

3) Lectures and informational sessions.  I recently received a beautifully prepared pamphlet on upcoming arts and music lectures that interested my husband and me.  The series was to be held twice monthly and had some interesting speakers, including local historians speaking on New England music, an old folksinger of local fame, and a representative talking about a local non- profit art museum. This series did not come from an arts organization, but from a senior housing facility, a different one I had called upon.  Brilliant! I’m going to attend some of these programs, and I am excited about learning more about this innovative group that markets themselves so well.  My point is, they kept me engaged by attracting me to a program that they knew I, as their audience, would be interested. They could have easily invited me to a lecture on issues of caring for an aging parent, and I would have attended. But they diversified and offered me a value added opportunity as well.  I like them already. Your informational sessions can and should be about your services, but also about those things your audience likes. Do your research, know your prospects and clients.

4) Social media. It’s not for fundraising. I can’t stress enough how ineffective Facebook and other social media strategies are in actually raising a dollar. However they are invaluable when it comes to performing in the way they were intended—building your tribe of supporters and deepening your relationships.  Instagram pictures of your team, your clients (with permission of course just as you would do for your newsletter), and your daily activities. Instagram is informal, no need to save it for big activities. Tweet out information on upcoming activities, current successes, and research that relates to your work. Create Pinterest boards relevant to your work. Talk daily with your prospect pool on Facebook. Create a discussion group on LinkedIn. Invite your First in the Door prospects to all of this.

Right about now you’re saying “Oy!!  I don’t have time for all of this!!”  You won’t have any time, at all, if you don’t do this, because these people whom you are currently ignoring will not be your donors in the coming months. And without donors,  you’ll have no programs to offer. Ignoring your pipeline of prospects is putting your organization on ice, ignoring your financial future, and telling those people who have already said they are interested in you, that you don’t value them. They will leave, you can count on it.

Take a look at your organization today, create a strategy for cultivating those First in the Door prospects and decide who will be responsible for carrying out this prospect generating process. Many companies (and nonprofits) envy you for the pool you are building, show them you value your prospects as much as they do.

Must-Haves, Wants and Needs

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It’s so very easy in our personal lives to live by imperatives — those must-haves we need to exist, to enjoy our lives, to be successful, and to be fulfilled.  Some of my own imperatives for my personal life include: the need to have good food, well prepared meals, and someone to share them with; the need to have laughter and social situations that inspire laughter; the need to have a partnership with someone I love and admire; the need to communicate clearly and be understood; the need for shoes . . . ok, that’s more of an obsession than a need, but I NEED to have a wide variety of fashionable and sometimes comfortable footwear to feel inspired! You get the picture.
However, when we leave our homes, apartments, schools, and move into our professional life, our imperatives for the organizations we lead and work for can become somewhat murky. I’ve watched many capable nonprofits struggle when it comes to defining their imperatives. They wrestle with the needs of their group, their culture, their operations, their mission. They have a difficult time determining difference between an imperative, a strategy and a tactic. Defining your imperatives for your organization must start with a look into how you and others perceive your work, your mission, and your outcomes. It must review where you are successful  and where you have failed. And it must be objective, taking into account the inherit strengths and weaknesses of the organization.
Given a deep dive into these areas, you may discover that you need talented marketing people, employees or volunteers.  You might need to recruit board members who bring specific strengths to the organization or executive leadership experienced in a specific industry. Or maybe you just need more space to do your work, or an area to call your own. Imperatives can be complex or simple, but universally they are truths that, if denied, ensure certain failure for your effort. Take the time to determine your organization’s imperatives today, and allow them to drive your actions and outcomes to success

In Defense of your Board . . . Let Them Lead.

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One of the most prevalent challenges for the nonprofits we work with is board development.  The conversation usually starts like this: 

ED: “I really need help with my board.”
HDG:  “What kind of help?”
ED: “They don’t actually do anything. They come to the meeting, I give them reports, they listen, then they give me ideas that I can never implement and they go home. And they don’t support us financially at all or not nearly enough.”
HDG:  “So what do you want them to do?”
ED: “Raise money:”

In defense of your board, you cannot expect them to perform at level that has not been clearly articulated.  The first steps toward rectifying this situation is a review of the organization’s board governing documents, processes, major giving program and cultivation events, and the board’s understanding of their role in the organization.

And, this is what we often find:

  • No role and responsibility documents outlining what each board member is expected to do, when, how, and with whom.
  • A role and responsibility document is in place, but it does not state how much the board member should give, nor what they should be doing or how they should help fundraising.
  • A role and responsibility document that is visionary, but not concrete i.e.”The board member will advocate for the organization in the community.” Huh?
  • A board agenda that has the Executive Director talking 90% of the time.
  • No, or very few, sub committees to do the heavy lifting of the board.
  • A board that is led by the Executive Director, who makes the agenda, sets the tone and runs the meeting.
  • A board chair who has no idea why he or she is there, and what to do once they have arrived.
  • An organization that has not developed a strategy for how their board will govern, and what outcomes and outputs they will expect and measure from the board.
  • A board that is not allowed to lead.

So often we hear from organizations that are challenged by their board’s inability or unwillingness to lead and govern or get involved in moving their organization forward. Most of the time, though, we find that it is the organization that is at odds with what to do with its board. There is a fine line between a board that governs and one that meddles. But even their meddling is often just their way of trying to be relevant in a situation that leaves them feeling lost.

Getting a board development strategy in place, and getting your board working effectively requires only four components:

1. An articulated vision for why your board exists and what you want them to achieve (outputs) and impact (outcomes).

2. A relationship (shared partnership) between you and your board chair. Build this together.

3. A set of governing documents that not only covers legal requirements,  but also communicates your expectations.

4. Programs that give your board freedom to engage Now back away and let them lead.

That’s it. Building your board as a program, with strategy, actions, timeline, expected outcomes, immediately strengthens your board’s position and their leadership role in your organization. Taking the time and investing the resources in board development can, quite often, be the most important thing you do for your nonprofit’s mission.

Empower your board to lead. Free yourself. Improve your results.

It’s All About Principle and Method

Clients come to Harvest Development Group with a variety of challenges facing their nonprofit organizations, but the underlying reason they need our help boils down to two simple aspects of their operations —  Principle and Method.

Principle and Method are the key elements of our work. The principles and methods may differ from organization to organization, but both are required to reach successful outcomes. Let’s put this into simple terms and examine the principle and method for getting dressed in the morning.

A Principle is a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning. Principles are established through trial, error, and observation. There are some common principles in getting dressed: one has to believe and agree that being dressed is important. An article of clothing is required to be classified as being dressed. To be accessible, the garment needs a place to reside when it’s not on our body. The garment also needs to be the right size and shape to fit our body. Finally, we need to be trained to assemble and secure the garment, learning techniques like buttoning, zippering and tying.

A Method is a particular form of procedure for accomplishing or approaching something;  a simple or detailed organized plan, sufficient to achieve successful outcomes. Some methods are “proven” meaning they have a good track record of success. Others are groundbreaking and innovative. There are many methods one can apply to getting dressed, each one personalized to our desired outcome. I used to watch my children get dressed — one putting one leg at a time into his pants and the other putting both legs into the pants before pulling them up. Each served their own purpose and both reached the successful outcome of wearing their pants. Efficiency and personal preference seemed to drive their actions.

The same concept of Principles and Methods can be applied to the business operations of a nonprofit organization. There are established, researched, well defined principles in program development, board development, philanthropy, recruitment and staffing. There are individualized methods that have been proven to work, and others that are innovative, which are applied to each as well.

When nonprofits contact Harvest Development Group for help, we assess to gauge what is at the root of the problem. With this information in mind, we teach the organization to apply the principles that lend support to these problems, and develop and apply the methods necessary to deliver on the outcomes they desire. So, as you can see, it all boils down to two simple aspects of your operation — Principles and Methods.

It’s Not What You Tell Your Donors, It’s How You Say It

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I’ve seen my share of “donor death” due to the academic delivery of every specific detail relating to an organization’s mission.  It’s not pretty. First the eyes glaze over and the face slackens, the brow slightly furrows, then the fingers fret with each other as the donor begins to avert his eyes. This is quickly followed by phone checking, paper rustling, and long loving glances at wristwatches.  When this happens, there is no question that the end is near.

When a donor goes into this death spiral, the organization must work harder to keep the donor engaged and interested. Hard work requires more resources and additional resources are expensive. It is far more effective for organizations to understand the dynamics of donor engagement before the meeting.  Spending a minimum of upfront time, determining how to tell your organization’s story in an effective and engaging manner rather than reporting your organization’s destination will pay dividends.

Nonprofits as an industry, we are in love with our science. We love the academics and inner workings of our profession. It’s our passion for the science of what we do that drives us to perform. But frankly, for our donors, it’s the pedestrian, everyday results they can relate to that fires their engines.  I am reminded of a 1970s advertisement produced by Crispin and Porter, that illustrates this point (see above). Telling someone you need to get to a destination is uninteresting and even boring when you compare it to sharing with someone your need to connect with humanity, your family, your loved ones. Same message, but a very different emotion attached to that message.

Check your language. Review your letters, materials, your website. Are you alienating and potentially killing off your donors with your technical speak? Are you telling them where you need to be, rather than sharing with them what or who you want to become. They don’t need the details or the destination. They need the information that will spark their emotions, encourage engagement, and keep them excited about your cause.

The Secret of Fundraising Revealed

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The one question I receive consistently in working with nonprofits is this “Sondra, what’s the secret to fundraising?” While my ego would like to answer with some profound, deep, complex revelation, it’s really much more simple than that. The secret to fundraising is in how we treat others. It’s about respect.

Turn your clock back to 1950, a time when respect, courtesy, grammar, and poise were paramount. Sensitivity, decorum, and grace were at one point held in high regard. It was a reflection of your character to be considerate, conscientious, forthright, and restrained.

Now take that picture, and apply it to your philanthropy.  How do you speak with you donors? With your board?  With your team? Do you hold true to your promises, your word? Ask yourself, are you showing true gratitude for the gifts your receive? How have you shown your gratitude? Have you called the company right after receiving the gift, do you ring them every month to tell them how your work is proceeding, are you happy to make time to visit them periodically, just because they went through the trouble and consideration of supporting you?  And it doesn’t need to be a company, how about a person? Think about the last gift you received. How did you respond? Did you open the envelope and send it to finance, to work out the details of posting and sending your form thank you letter? Our ancestors would have done more than that. They would have valued the generosity of that gift, put on their coat and hat (yes, they wore hats back then) and visited that donor. Even if the donor had no time for them, the action meant everything- the donor knew his gift was not only received but tremendously valued.

One of the barriers created by our technological age, is the deterioration of face time. The lethal combination of too much to do, too little time and the convenience of electronic interactions, has made us shallow and self absorbed. We focus on getting through the actions, ticking off the to do’s, but missing the point of the light of day. In our field, that light of day is spent 99% of the time in conversation with, appreciating, and showing our enormous respect for our donors.

Phone that donor. Respond to that email for your sponsor. Better yet, initiate that interaction before they have to – find a way to make them the center of your day, every day, and you will have discovered the secret of fundraising.