Tagged: efficiency

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.

The Benefits of Collaboration

co-working space

One could argue that the start up funding required by new and smaller nonprofits, looking to elevate their organization to the next level (which is very different than struggling nonprofits looking to get profitable), is similar to the start up funding required for tech and other entrepreneurial corporate ventures.

The similarity continues when we look at the risk factors in funding start ups and nonprofit organizations: a tech start up is a risk for investors, who subsequently require tremendous insight and evidence of feasibility. Similarly, the nonprofit startup risk is addressed by funders who ask them to produce feasibility as well. Most nonprofits understand and experience this, making feasibility studies the bread and butter of many firms like Harvest Development Group.

Start up tech firms require industry expertise. Nonprofits starting up and those taking their sustainability to the next level also require expertise, not only in the program area of their specialty, but in business management experience as well. Both require a well designed, justified, and articulated detailed business plan. Investors on both sides of the aisle want to be certain that the organization has a well thought out plan, has explored the possible pitfalls, and have every aspect of their journey defined. They would prefer that each is lead by passion. In fact, it is this passion that will ultimately define their success. Leaders of tech start ups and of nonprofits need have a “never-say-die” spirit, a determination to make their plan work against all odds.

With so many similarities, one would think that nonprofits and business start-ups could benefit from collaborating, sharing insights, learning lessons and gaining experience from these shared efforts. To this end, Harvest Development Group has partnered with like-minded business owners to open the shoreline’s first ever co-working space. This co-working space will bring both nonprofit and for-profit startups and growing organizations together.

Shared space= shared experiences= stronger outcomes= more success! Want to learn more, send us an email at sldharvest@gmail.com or call us at 888-586-1103.

Use these mid winter months to GROW, not slow, your organizations philanthropy

Most nonprofits experience a significant lull in donations and donor activity in the months of January and February. The post year end doldrums.

Donors are slow to give, having distributed their 2010 charitable contributions during the ebullience of the holiday season.

Consumers are recovering from gift purchases.

The weather makes for hermits, with snow, ice and early nightfall urging more indoor, stay at home activities.

And snow birds have fled for warmer climates, leaving their local neighbors and friends to fend until spring.

This is the perfect time to grow your philanthropy program!

No other time in the calendar year do you have the potential to capture your audience’s undivided attention.

With all of the inactivity your donor and prospective donor is engaged in, you can offer a variety of options to help keep them entertained and informed, from the comfort of their warm living rooms.

  • Give them good reading for a cold winters night. January and February are the perfect time to send out newsy information on your group, your past success, your future plans.  Make sure your communication is meaty and news worthy, capturing the weather dulled eye of your constituency.
  • And to make sure those e-newsletters get to the right place, this is a perfect time to clean up your database.  With the reduced number of donations being processed and less visits to be made, your staff should spend time tidying up. Use an email verification software provider or staff can correspond and validate emails themselves. Capture address and phone while you are at it.
  • While you’re assessing, audit your grant programs, ensuring that you are on track with grantors expectations.  Send love notes to all your grantors, with New Year greetings and a true note of appreciation for what their funding has provided to your clients/mission.
  • Spruce up your website, e-newsletters and social marketing plans for the coming year.  Increase the frequency with which you are sending e-notices on your organizations marketing efforts, driving traffic to your newly spiffed up site.
  • Your staff has unique insight and talent, let others know! Identify media outlets and negotiate opportunities for your staff to contribute articles or podcasts on activities of interest, connected to your mission. A schools newsletter might appreciate a guest blogger or author writing about the importance of home support in education. A local grocer might find an article from an expert in the field of nutrition, valuable in their marketing to their customers.  Nows the time to get those pieces written and published. And don’t dismiss national journals. They need good writing too.
  • Lay the ground work for your spring appeal. Collectively send out notice to your annual donors, giving them insight and a sneak peak at your case for the spring and summer months.
  • Train your board. Your board meets regularly and has clearly defined agendas. Make the January or February agenda one that focuses on philanthropy.  A little bit of elbow grease and knowledge sharing by the board, will prepare them for an active and engaged year.
  • If you are planning a feasibility study, plan to launch it now. Most study participants can be reached by phone or online, so travel is less necessary.  Staff has more time to devote to feasibility study efforts. And the sobering months of January and February will flavor the feedback from your constituents, providing a more realistic and conservative view of your organizations ability to raise those funds through a campaign.

On Hiring a Consultant

You’re experiencing problems in your organization. Maybe you’re losing donors. Maybe your board is not working together, not working at all, or maybe you’ve lost board members. Perhaps you are experiencing high turnover of staff. Or maybe you don’t think you are getting as much out of your staff as you think you should.

Or maybe you’re just not making enough in philanthropic revenue as might be possible.

What ever your reason, you’ve begun to think about bringing in a consultant to help fix it all.

So what’s next?

BEFORE THE HIRE

Before making a phone call and sending out an SOS, get your thoughts in order. Get on paper answers to some of the following questions:

  • What are your problems ? (what are you seeing and why do you think they exist?). Categorize if more than one or two exist.
  • What do you expect to accomplish by bringing in a consultant?
  • What are you specifically interested in having the consultant do?
  • What outcomes would you need to see, that states “Job well done”?
  • Do you have enough staff resources to support this endeavor?
  • How long do you have to accomplish this?
  • How much financial resources are you willing to spend on this?
  • What financial resources can you commit to spending on this?

Having a thought out plan to share with the consultant will help in delineating if they can help you, and if they can, what areas might be the focus and what resources can be allocated.

THAT FIRST MEETING

You’ve made the call, maybe a few calls, to consultants that came recommended. Having recommendations from colleagues, other organizations, membership groups you might be a part of, board members, volunteers, donors, etc is a pretty important part of the process. It’s not a good idea to open the Yellow Pages to C for consultant. There are plenty of people out there who have used a consultant that they will either rave or ravish. Reach out and get those names.

So now you have a few meetings lined up to review your problems with some consultants. The purpose of this first meeting is twofold: Do they have the capacity to help with the problems AND are they a good fit with you, your board, your staff, and your organization. Finding the right fit is actually 99% of what will make or break your experience. No need to fret over whether you go large or small, with regard to the size of the consulting firm, right now. Get a good mix of both to sit with you and review the issues. It’s your time to decide if the person they send is a match. In rare cases, during a really good economy, large consulting firms may not be interested in your issues if they do not feel the value of the contract is worth their time. In today’s economy – 2010- we are seeing much less of this.

It’s a good idea to send your cheat sheet, as developed above, out to each consultant ahead of time. If you’re not comfortable sending financials regarding what your budget is, simply put a range in, or indicate you have a financial pro forma developed that will be shared at a later discussion.

REVIEW OF PROBLEMS

It’s important that the consultant has a good understanding of what you are experiencing and why you think it came to be- it will help them feel confident that you have a good grasp of your business and that you are prepared to be an active part of the consulting process. It also helps them to begin to determine what services and programs might be helpful to your organization, who they might need to bring in, how long it might take.

Be prepared to share info on the details of other areas of your organization. You might not think them relevant in the moment but a well balanced organization is all connected- like a skeleton- so if one part of the organization is experiencing difficulty, it may be directly related to another part not working well, but totally overlooked. For instance, if you are a nonprofit medical facility, and your growth of annual donors is down or stagnant, the consultant may want to hear about your patient base: how many, where from, what socio-economic area, how you are connected in any way.

Set aside about an hour and a half for this first meeting. Really be willing to offer insight and ask questions. Aside from some general questions such as experience, past clients, success stories, size and scope of firm, other firm professionals, be ready to ask some more specific questions as well, such as:

  • What would you indicate is your firms (or your) area of expertise. (Two or three areas are the norm. If they rattle off a laundry list, beware).
  • Will you teach us to do this work ourselves? Will you provide templates for us to carry on with out you?
  • Do your recommendations frequently require the client to purchase a program, service or product from you or from someone you recommend?
  • How many clients do you normally work with at one time? Will you return phone calls or emails the same day? Do you require administrative support from us?
  • What kind of documentation will you give us when the project is completed? Who will own that documentation? Will you sign a confidentiality agreement?

This first meeting is all about the fit and the details on your needs and their ability to meet those needs. It is NOT the time to talk money. Asking a consultant “what would you charge to do this” is like asking your doctor “what is the diagnosis” before he has even done an exam.        The consultant needs time to process the notes he or she has taken (he should be taking notes) and to review some possible scenarios with his team or by himself.

What you should ask for is a written proposal for consulting services. This will usually follow up the first meeting by about 5 business days (a hungry, confident firm will get it to you in two days). The proposal should outline: Background (yours and theirs), scope of work, and approach to the work, timeline and terms. Feel free to offer a template to the consultant if you want to have all of the firms you spoke with bring you similar data you can compare. A template is offered free for download at our website www.harvestdevelopmentgrp.com

FOLLOW UP

Before the meeting ends, ask the consultant if there is anything else they might need from you to get the proposal in by X (give them a date). Also leave them with a contact person, if other than you, to answer any further questions they might have. Ask for the same in return.

When reviewing the proposal, make sure they have captured all of the information on the issues you revealed to them. They should give you insight into some possible causes that may have been unknown or overlooked. The proposal should also provide detailed information on what specifically they will be doing, what they will be providing by jobs end and what tangible benefits should be received by your organization as a result of their consulting services. It should also indicate what resources you will need to provide, what they will bring to the table and what they will want to access during their contract to manage the work you need completed. Finally it should give the costs, broken out by sub contract if more than one area needs to be addressed, the timeframe for completion with milestones, and the terms for payment.

Recently, we have seen nonprofit consulting firms take up a practice long used in marketing and advertising agencies: the packaged product. These consulting firms have a one size fits all process that they will want to use in working with your organization. The packaged product usually has a catchy name, “The Advantage Solution” or “Copernicus Planned Giving Strategies”, and is trademarked for their firm. Avoid these like the plague. These packaged products are meant to raise the profile and the brand of the consulting firm, but do little to address the core needs of the organization they are supporting. Like the McDonalds or Burger King of nutrition, you might enjoy the process, but in the end your organization will not be nourished.

HIRING

The process is complete, and you have found your consultant. Congratulations!! Be sure to run their contract by your legal advisor before signing. Make sure you are knowledgeable about their payment expectations. List out a series of reports and touch points that you will want to see during the process. Introduce them to your board and staff. And off you go!!

Data Rich $$$

In philanthropy management, data is the key to godliness.  And accurate, complete and usable data is the food of Gods.

When I began in fundraising…many years ago…our data on donors was kept on index cards. Yes, little white cards, or color coded, depending on your offices level of sophistication. We kept demographic data: name, address, career related information on these cards. We kept the donors financial information on these cards.  We kept information on the donors interests on these cards and their latest donations.  And we kept a documentation of our interaction with the donor on these cards.

Maintaining these cards was easy. One file box. A few scribes. No one could use the card at the same time. No one could ‘erase’ the data without leaving evidence of it. If you referred to the card, unless it was not written on the card to begin with, you knew exactly who was speaking with whom. The worst that could happen was the box was lost, or the card.

Pulling data from these cards in any batch effort was impossible, or nearly so. It would require days of man hours to collect a report of who was interested in pediatric surgery, or who made a gift in the last year.

Then enter the computerized database. What a joyous feeling it was to actually have a system to collect data to and query reports from!

We jumped into using the database with both feet and soon learned that our headaches had only just begun. I don’t know of one philanthropy professional who is without a war wound, horror story or hairball of a database system, because of a rush forward into technology without restraint and with ignorance to the outcomes.

What I’ve learned on the battle field is summarized here in four key mandates. Continue reading “Data Rich $$$” »

The revolution in ‘fundraising’ EVENTS – how not to raise money

Nonprofit fundraising has become known to the common masses for its ‘fundraising’ events and its sale activities. Talk to any layperson about being in ‘fundraising’ and they respond “Oh, you must be good at planning events!” or “I was never good at selling cookies”.

Events are commonly misunderstood. Possibly the misunderstanding comes from the saturation affect: the daily arrival of invites, ads and press releases on what black tie gala, or hayride and cookout is being hosted for which group, how much they raised or plan to raise, and who attended. The misunderstanding is that events are hosted to raise funds.

Too often the reality is, the money raised is minimal compared to the expense, the attendees learn little about the organization as beneficiary, and the event is seen as a burden on the supporter- an obligation that must be born to show support and that most donors would just as happily support the nonprofit in other ways, ways more lucrative and efficient to the nonprofits mission.

Disagree? See, as evidence, the recent results of the cancellation of such ‘fundraising’ events due to economic stress. One nonprofit board member, Nancy Jarecki, speaking in an article in the Nonprofit Times, observes “It’s kind of strange, when people are almost not required or obligated to get that event invitation in the mail, that expectation that they feel like they’ve got to do it, they still write the check,” Jarecki said. “They tended to still give, but on their own. They didn’t have the pressure of buying a $1,000 ticket”

In the same article, Carol Kurzig executive Director of the Avon Foundation notes “In general, in our experience, individual donations are holding very well and have increased significantly this year”

And in a study conducted in 2007, the nonprofit watchdog group, Charity Navigator concluded “…special events are inefficient in comparison to overall fundraising activities” and “Many health charities would benefit from shifting their fundraising focus away from special events.” Most disturbingly, the report went on to discover “A large percent of charities are reporting their special events data incorrectly, with no recourse from state or federal regulators.” But that’s a topic for another post, I digress.

So, the question then becomes- Why? Why are nonprofit leaders across the nation continuing to perpetrate this crime on the donating public? Why do they continue to reel head long onto the path of wasted money and large headaches in pursuit of raising funds, if the results are poor return on investment, bad donor feelings and a weak economic model in a stressful economy?

1. Perception

Unlike our corporate sisters, nonprofits have been indoctrinated into believing that they must perform to the expectation of the masses, allowing the public to lead the development and performance of the NPO, rather than driving performance and perception from their core product line. Public opinion sways management more than outcomes when it comes to fundraising. Maybe it’s because many fundraisers come from the service delivery field, where public need and opinion rightly DOES drive program. Maybe it’s because our Board of Directors often do not have sufficient experience in philanthropy to be governing such decisions. Maybe we just don’t know how to stop.

2. It’s easy

Okay, hosting events is not really easy. They’re a heck of a lot of work- volunteer coordination, set up, break down, mailings, registration tracking, and more mailings. And all of those decisions. Hours and hours of time and resources, for months on end, to produce a three hour event. But what makes them easy and attractive is the group nature of the solicitation. No one is on the end of the limb. No one is in the spotlight asking for the gift. The ‘ask’ is not from a philanthropic place, it’s from a sales place. And a sale is an academic activity, it’s understandable, it’s American. I give you this, you give me that. It seems fair. But compared to cultivating and building a relationship with a real person – mano a mano – to ask them for money, well bring on the flower choices and dinner menus. Let’s have a party.

3. It draws daily attention

Show me the society page that has picture upon picture of Mrs. Jenna Moneybags and the Executive Director of the We Need Your Help nonprofit organization with the head line “Years of Cultivation and Stewardship Pays Off: Large ask gifts WNYH organization with $100,000 for their children’s ward.” Valuable philanthropy just doesn’t get that kind of everyday publicity or pictures and smiles. It doesn’t market.

4. It feels good

Volunteers want to help. Planning events gives them something to do.

All of which, while being valid and understandable, still doesn’t answer the question why do we continue.

I propose we place a moratorium on all new ‘fundraising’ events, all expansion of  ‘fundraising’ events, or even, the continuation of dying ‘fundraising’ events. The economy seems to be helping us do just that.

I next propose we educate our boards in a way that helps them become more effective in governing philanthropic decision. Let’s start with the wasteful nature of events as fundraisers.

In tandem, we need to provide academic educational opportunities and tracks of learning and growth for fundraising professionals. More academics on developing relationships, cultivating constituents, stewarding donors and less of the ‘how to host an event’ training is needed. And it needs to be qualified in a tiered way that allows the development of professionals along lines of experience, from entry level to experienced professional.

Finally, let’s develop a mental picture of what events can actually do for us: engage volunteers, bring awareness, and satisfy public perception. But they don’t raise money and so therefore are not ‘Fund Raisers’. If we build our events using these three core beliefs, I reason that waste will be reduced, donor market share will increase and philanthropic profits will rise.

Philanthropy as business

Too often we are drawn to think about philanthropy and charities in terms of a softer, kinder model, less business focused. Because the product is not widgets, financial gains or consumables, but human caring, it is tempting to believe the business of philanthropy is just as soft and touchy/feelie.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not being snarky about the work of charities. My heart is where they operate. I can think of no greater calling than to be working to help mankind. Truly. And I also believe that working to help mankind is not solely relegated to charities. Many businesses in the course of their work can, and have, effectively positioned their business model to acheive gains in their financial standing AND help mankind.
And so I believe charities can balance that concept as well. By this I mean, charities can help mankind and acheive significant financial gains. To do so, we need to think like a business. Just as business needs to think like charity to acheive their mutual ends.
A melding of concepts, could this be an evolution for two very seperate frames of thought in the MBA world?