As a nonprofit organization, you are here to meet a mission to your stakeholders. Maybe long ago, or not so long ago, you were founded to assist a particular group or meet a critical need. And, months go by, years go by, and you are still in existence. But, is the need still there? Are you still relevant towards meeting that need?
Sometimes, we just don’t want to answer this question. Because in answering it, you may find, that yes, indeed, you have met your mission or, in fact, are no longer relevant, or facing a crisis, or maybe even just plain exhausted and lack energy as an organization.
Is it time to dissolve perhaps? Maybe merge with a similar group? Shutting down is not the only option, but it is one.
Let’s face it, was it ever our intent to be here forever?
In admitting that you have met your mission, you have done exactly what you have set out to do. And, more and more nonprofits are choosing this route, admirably I may add.
Ultimately, though, this is a larger Board discussion.
Because the Board of Directors is directly responsible for the organization’s future: whether to grow, change, downsize, merge, evolve, or close. This is governance at its most important and highest level.
Here are some important questions to explore as a Board before you do:
Are we meeting our stated mission?
Are we helping our intended audience?
Are we still relevant to our community?
What is the situation that is precipitating this discussion? Are we tired, lack energy? Financial constraints? No longer needed?
What would be the implications if we did no longer exist?
Do we want to continue? Can the organization be saved?
Have we simply run out of steam and need to close down?
Is it time to let us fail instead of always trying to “right” the ship?
Do we have adequate human resources to keep things going and are they the right people?
After seriously reflecting on these questions, a nonprofit Board can choose to take several routes.
You can choose to change your mission statement to reflect who you are and what need you are truly meeting.
You can choose to restructure your operations, programs, and activities to lead to a better functioning organization.
You can find a similar nonprofit organization in mission and merge.
If under undue financial stress, you may consider filing for bankruptcy
Or, if you are just tired or having met your mission, you can cease to operate and dissolve.
Ultimately, the Board must recognize that a crisis situation exists, focus efforts on addressing this issue, and come to a consensus-based conclusion on which path is most appropriate to your mission, to the community you serve, and to yourselves as individual Board members.
Technical skill or personality, which is most important when hiring a new director of development?
That is a great question.
And, while ideally, both would be great, that is not always a guarantee.
So what do you look for in this case?
While just about anyone can have the skill set of a fundraiser, not everyone can have the temperament to be a superior director of development. It takes personality to make a professional difference. And, let’s be honest, not everyone has personality.
What kind of personality?
Well, development professionals must have a temperament suited to serving people’s needs. They must be attentive, persistent, and flexible. They need to have a thick skin and be willing to give others credit. A huge piece of the job is making others look good while taking the back seat to their ego. When they do their job well, no one knows it. They make an indirect not a direct contribution to accomplishments and very rarely if ever take the credit.
The best development professionals are servant leaders, putting the needs of the organization and those that they serve ahead of their very own. They are the voice of the donor within the organization and as a profession as a whole.
Since they are that voice for the donor, I then ask, what is it that donors expect in that person?
A recent article published on Guidestar stated that donors want someone who is passionate and enthusiastic about the mission, has high standards of integrity, authenticity, self-confidence, and most importantly someone who loves their work and shows it by their willingness to pay the price to get the job done with joy.
So don’t hire based just upon skill sets or certifications alone. You might not be satisfied with what you get. Delve deeper to determine if this person has the right attitude, temperament, and belief that will take your organization to the next level and meet the needs of your donors.
Shall I dare say, good development directors are not as easy to find? But bad ones are!
There are quite a number of groups seeking to test the feasibility of a possible capital campaign.
And, so naturally being a consulting firm catering to small fundraising shops, I tend to get asked to talk about these, and I am currently in the midst of one now.
What I find is that groups think that feasibility studies only test for one thing and that one thing is a financial goal.
I assert that there are many different types of things that a feasibility study tests for as a result. Financial goals being just one. In fact, more importantly, feasibility studies look at both internal and external perceptions and find areas of opportunities and challenges for an upcoming campaign. Things such as “what about that large endowment the organization has?” or “it doesn’t have strong fundraising leadership?” or “you need to ensure that so and so is on board and committed to launching a full-scale effort.”
Through a feasibility study, a group also finds out about potential campaign leadership, which by the way, can make or break a proposed capital campaign, other competing campaigns currently or just recently completed within the same community, and potential prospective donors to a capital campaign. Also, a capital campaign feasibility study will unearth the general economic outlook both nationally and locally and how will that impact the success of a capital campaign.
So, as you can see, a feasibility study done correctly will provide lots of data that can then be used to refine the case for support, determine if it is time for the organization to mount a significant campaign, and what is the recommend campaign plan based upon findings as part of the study. Oh, yes, and what fundraising goal will be feasible.
If you or your group is considering an upcoming capital campaign, I urge you NOT to skimp on the process of conducting a feasibility study. You will learn more than just – can this campaign make a go of it. You will find out exactly how much and how it can or cannot!
For the past year, I have watched development jobs come and go on the job boards.
I lamented that folks like myself with over 20 years of experience, certifications, and education were getting passed up for the lower paid, less experienced, “greener” young ones. And, there might be some thread of truth to that. I can’t be all wet behind the ears.
But, the funny thing is lately, after a year of scanning job postings, I started to notice something very, very interesting. The same postings were coming up. A place down in Newport, a place in Dorchester, the same job, needing the same person.
It is so costly to keep having staff turnover. Expensive in many ways. Not just because of having to fill a vacancy, but costly to the organization as its donor base is disturbed. Development is all about relationships, and if high staff turnover continues, those relationships are never truly built.
Another thing that I have noticed is that some organizations are being a bit more proactive. Seeking out referrals for qualified candidates and then actively recruiting instead of waiting for candidates to apply and come to them.
The smarter move, I might add.
I guess I pen this manifesto for all those development professionals who have spent years in the field honing best practices and in some cases even developing them. It is time that organizations stop looking for the cheapest, youngest, idealistic help. It doesn’t serve the organization to cut the budget by hiring inexperienced newbies for its top position, particularly when it comes to fund development. Can you afford to take a chance on someone who is “green” behind the ears to figure it out as they go along?
I think naught! If you think differently, leave me a comment below.
What? That seems like something so mundane. Well, it may be, but it is so critical to fundraising.
Throughout my professional career, I have been victim to bad databases, and I have been asked to work with bad databases.
One thing is for sure, without an initial thought out structure, problems are inevitable. I often come into organizations that have no rhyme or reason as to what they call their Campaigns, Funds, and Approaches. You know, one year it is called Spring Appeal 2016, and the next it is labeled the Mother’s Day Appeal.
Consistency is key. I see so much inconsistency that why bother having a database, to begin with at all. The way names are entered i.e. Mr. and Mrs. Smith or Bob and Laura or even Robin and Smitty or Robin & Smitty.
It drives me mad.
Having a database procedural manual developed with consistent data entry standards specified is critical. How do you pass this institutional information along when staff transition or do you? Do you let them sink or swim?
Hey, garbage in is only garbage out.
The most important thing is the question of who has access to this database? Who does the main gift entry? Moreover, I pray that your answer is a development staff person. Please, do not say that it is a member of the finance department, or even worse, a volunteer or an intern.
Provide those using the database with training in the software itself and budget for it every year. Moreover, don’t think that a cost saving is ignoring software updates and the resulting costs.
I cannot stress enough how important the database is to your fundraising efforts. It will allow you to be donor-centered in your work regarding recognizing donors and their giving the exact way that they want to be recognized. It lets you accurately report on giving and make comparisons that will affect the future of your fundraising efforts, and it will allow you to become more strategic in your endeavors through segmentation and greater personalization.In all of my career if I had to answer the question of “What impacts the success of fundraising THE most, besides the Board, of course,” I would have to answer, the database.
Moreover, folks EXCEL is not a database; it is a spreadsheet tool used by those in the finance department. Please don’t say that you cannot afford a database. Some great databases are available for a very fair and affordable price.
Pay close attention to your database – this is the brain behind your efforts.
Development Consulting Solutions is announcing NEW interim and project-based service offerings:
Who is “DCS”? There are limited Certified Fund-Raising Executives (CFRE) providing outsourced fund development services and serving as interim fund development staffing. What most organizations need is someone who can do the work for them!
“DCS” recognizes this need and has provided this service to a variety of small to mid-sized nonprofits throughout the New England region. Some of these nonprofits have included Malta House of Norwalk, CT, Friends of Buttonwood Park of New Bedford, MA, and United Methodist Elder Care of East Providence, RI.
“DCS’s mission” “DCS” does not engage with everyone! We have a rigorous eligibility requirement and screening process and only work with four select clients at a time.
What are our requirements? We only work with small to mid-sized organizations that are ready, receptive, and willing to take their development program to the next level through outsourced assistance. These organizations have an engaged Board of Directors, an open-minded and willing staff, and leadership ready to support the organization.
We only work with organizations that are willing to invest in their development function, value established service costs, heed professional advice, and strategy, and act respectfully in the client and consultant relationship.
By selecting those clients most ready to embark on taking their organization to the next level, “DCS” provides you with the tools and staffing to raise more money in support of mission!
To provide outsourced development expertise to organizations that do not want to hire someone in-house.
To assist busy executive directors with taking a few things off their plates.
To reassure donors during a transition or vacancy in your development office that your fundraising efforts will continue
If time is needed to do a search for a permanent development director, and you do not want to be rushed to make a selection
When you are seeking a new executive director and you want to be sure that this leader has an opportunity to select the permanent development director
Because as interim development director, I can have more candid conversations with the executive director, board, and other leaders about why there are problems with keeping development staff or staff is underperforming
When your organization has never had a development director and needs an experienced professional with a proven track record to start up the development office and pave the way for a more junior development officer to be successful.
Here is what “DCS” can do for you:
Assess current fundraising activities and make recommendations to improve strategy
Improve your fundraising efforts
Model what a good development officer does
Enhance systems and processes within the development office
Troubleshoot development problems
Coach the Executive Director and Board in fundraising to boost confidence and skill
Help with the hire of a permanent development director
“DCS” helps with:
Direct Mail Appeals
Development print publications – your newsletter, annual report, brochures, etc.
I have worked in the nonprofit world far longer than I can remember. My job began in the sector back in 1992 or so, when I became a grant writing intern for a local non-profit organization as part of my undergraduate work.
Little did I realize that some twenty plus years later, I would still be working in the sector. First as a professional at local non-profit organizations and now as an industry consultant. This week, I had cause to pause. I received a telephone call last Friday evening that a former client of mine had passed away due to cancer. I cried. And, I cried. And, I even cried some more.
Then, after a long season of constant deadline oriented projects, finally feeling a bit of downtime between clients, I became sick with the flu and was laid up in bed for several days, still weak as I write this article. While sick in bed, I received another telephone call, someone else in my personal life had passed on, again due to cancer.
One thing I do know is that our work is long and hard. And, we are often fighting for the lives of others in our sector. But, does that mean that we don’t take care of ourselves? Do we even stop a moment to breathe, to reflect, to take in the season that we are in, to spend time with our loved ones?
I am guilty of this. I admit it. I work tirelessly so that my clients can be the best that they can be.
If you can do one thing right now, stop, get up, walk around – thank your employees, take in the sights and sounds of the season, perhaps take the afternoon off, hug a loved one, give someone close to you a call just to say “hi!” There is more beyond our work than our nonprofit. Yes, I said it. And, if you don’t rest and recharge, there will be little else for you to give to others.
This week, I pause and remember my former client, Fr. Stan Kolasa of the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham, MA, I take the time to honor his life and his legacy.
And, I take the time just to be – in the season and the moment. And, I urge each of you to do the very same.
Reflect on your life, and take good care. The fight always goes on, but it only goes forward when you are stronger.
Best practices. We hear that phrase often. This week, I even read a question asking if “best practices were misleading?”
Are we throwing that phrase around to legitimize our field? Our do we have best practices and what are they?
Well, I contend that the only true best practice is one that is grounded in research. Those are harder to find that than the other so-called “best practices.”
While studying for my Masters Degree in Philanthropy and Fund Development, I learned that philanthropic research has many gaps. However, there are people now making a study of philanthropy and conducting research. Folks like Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang. More research is needed in our field to support our work.
I can tell you that when research is grounded in actual studies, it works. Eye motion studies, philanthropic psychology, etc., etc.
Recently, I have been working on many appeal letters. And, each time I craft one for the client, I get pushback. Why do you indent paragraphs? Why do you repeat yourself often? Why is there bold and underline? Do we need to include a P.S.? And, can’t the letter just fit on one page? Must we send more than one appeal?
Pushback that is unfounded. And, I push back with research. When the client allows me to use those best practices, the results speak for themselves.
When those results speak for themselves, it is magic. Campaigns get funded, new projects begin, and donors have the opportunity to make a greater impact.
We forget that the fact (and it is a fact) that we are not beggars. Donors want to give. And, to give, they must be asked. Asked in a way that moves them to feel connected to their core beliefs through your organization’s mission.
Know the difference between unfounded best practices and best practices backed by scientific research. Read blogs, stay current with trends, and keep furthering your informal and formal education. When you do, and you practice it, your results will show all the difference.
Fund development does have a researched body of knowledge. Don’t allow anyone to convince you that it does not.
What, wait, we hired that Capital Campaign Consultant to run the campaign, and now you are telling me that I have to do something. No, this can’t be possible.
Yep! It would be unrealistic to think that a capital campaign is left up to the staff to manage. How could they? The staff doesn’t have access to donors and to peer networks? A campaign is not a one, or two, or even three person job. It is even more unrealistic to think that now the capital campaign consultant is in town, no one
needs to do anything period.
So, I know you’re shaking in fear that you might have to ask for money. Well, yes, you may. But, that is not your only role in a capital campaign.
When running a capital campaign, I meet with each of my campaign’s Board of Directors and review the Campaign Plan, goal, schedule, gift chart, and Case for Support. I insist that they vote to approve these primary campaign documents.
And, I also share with them a Board commitment form that I have each and every one of them sign and date.
Board members have many responsibilities to a campaign. Below is my top ten list of capital campaign responsibilities and what I expect them to commit to:
Not taking on any major new volunteer roles for other organizations and consider how to pare down current obligations and be accessible to the campaign.
Review their philanthropic planning for the next year and perhaps beyond, as well as their calendars for those years.
Consider what role they could and would like to play in the campaign. Every board member will be responsible for some part of the campaign and will be engaged in identifying and enlisting campaign committee members.
Review their list of contacts – friends, neighbors, business associates – and carefully consider which of them may be interested in learning more about the organization.
Review and approve the capital campaign plan as recommended by the capital campaign planning committee.
Make a “stretch” gift to the campaign. Board members will all support the Annual Fund campaign each year in addition to supporting the capital campaign. All board members will participate financially in the campaign – to the best of their ability. The board will be the first to give. It is essential that other donors see 100% percent participation of the board. It shows them that the board has the utmost faith, confidence, and enthusiasm for the organization.
Ensure that contribution are used well and according to donor intent.
Read all materials given to them by the organization and the campaign. Members of the community – donors, clients, friends, neighbors, etc. – will turn to the members of the board for guidance and information.
Be an advocate for the organization, to the best of their ability, in the local and the wider community. Help expand the organization’s influence and exposure throughout the community by:
o Securing the sponsorship of a community group to support the campaign.
o Recruiting a speaker, host, or sponsor for a special event.
o Arranging tours of the organization for interested individuals, corporations, foundations or others.
o Hosting an event at their home, place of business or community organization.
o Endorsing a solicitation made by the campaign leaders, either by phone or by letter.
o Setting aside at least 20-30 minutes weekly to plan how to help the organization’s campaign.
o Thanking donors and staying in touch keeping them informed of the project plans.
o Evaluating the success of the campaign to determine strengths, areas of improvement and effectiveness of board policies and decisions.
So, I have a niche somewhat of assisting smaller nonprofits with their capital campaigns.
This niche can be challenging because many of these groups have not had an ongoing, comprehensive fund development program in the past. However, working on these smaller campaigns can also be very satisfying because I can help them use this campaign to begin to develop these efforts. I take those campaigns that a lot of other consultants won’t touch! Many while not having a sustainable donor base to build from, often needs a campaign without doing the preliminary feasibility study. They need the money, and the campaign must go on.
In the process, there is one thing that I have come to realize. The capital campaign steering committee is an absolute must. And, for these smaller groups, it becomes the backbone of their campaign. In forming this committee correctly, the group has the potential to propel the campaign forward. Without this group, it may flounder.
And, this group can’t include just anyone. It needs to include folks that can open doors to others have known networks, and believe in the cause. They hold some of these smaller campaigns in the palm of their hand.
Without having a known, loyal donor base, this committee can introduce the campaign to a wider net of contacts who may be interested in learning more about the case. They can leverage their networks to build relationships with, the can act as ambassadors for this campaign, and they can help, to ultimately build this organization’s future.
Not only that, this group can serve as a “feeder” system to the larger organization’s Board of Directors introducing them to a pool of prospective Board members who have deepened their engagement within the group.
Far too many smaller groups gloss over the importance of the who on this committee. And, by glossing over the who, they are, in essence, glossing over what it takes to be successful in raising money for a capital campaign. Let’s face it, without a loyal donor base, who else and how else are they going to get access to building one.
I purport that a committee group of connected individuals means success. And, don’t settle for anyone who says less because they are just fooling you into believing that you can pull this stuff out of thin air.
So, here it is. I am laying this question and answer right out on the line. Especially now that we are coming to the year-end giving season.
I am asked time and time again, “Didn’t we just mail to them, won’t we be bothering them?”
No, no, and no. You can never ask enough.
Yes, Virginia, you can ask multiple times
Let’s face it. The decision isn’t ours to make. It isn’t. It is the donor’s decision to make. Only they are going to tell you, how much is too much. In most cases, if you are only asking once or twice a year, aren’t you telling them that you don’t need the donations to make a go of it? Donors aren’t naive. They know that you are a non-profit, and they know that you need donations to run your organization. Why do we believe that we must lightly tread when it comes to asking?
Donors are busy people. Just because they didn’t respond to your initial mailing, doesn’t mean that they don’t want to give to support you. In major gift work, if we don’t get the gift right away during our meeting – and in most cases, we don’t – we explore with the donor the reason for hesitation. Was it the program we were asking for a contribution? Was it the ask amount itself? Was it the timing of the ask? Why do we think that this is any different for the number of times we should mail to a donor? Perhaps the reason that they didn’t respond to your initial mailing is that it wasn’t an ask for the right project or the right amount, or it wasn’t the right timing. Maybe they had a big bill just come in that they needed to tend to or perhaps they were on vacation when the letter arrived in your mailbox. But, we won’t know this if we only mail to them once and then assume the donor will never give again.
And, I often hear clients question whether or not they should include a reply envelope in their newsletter because they just sent out an “ask.” Of course, you put an envelope in your newsletter. This envelope is a “soft” ask. Donors may feel so inspired to give after reading about your good works in your newsletter that they may want to give to support your work. How else will you capture this? And, a “soft” ask is exactly that, “soft.” We are not commanding, directing, or cajoling a donor into giving. If they choose to give using this method, then it is their choice.
Case in point, I asked a client to send out a second direct mail ask to follow up on all those who did not give to the first. And, lo and behold, the response has been tremendous. So enormous, in fact, that the client wrote back and said, “The results have been pretty unbelievable for us, believe me!
I once had a phrase that I would use quite often, “You must A S K to G E T!” And, that is true.
As we move forward into the upcoming holiday giving season, think about your strategy. You will be competing with every other nonprofit group who is sending out their calendar year-end direct mail piece at the same time. The competition will be stiff. How are you going to stand out? How are you going to assure that your donors will read your letter among all of the other letters? And, what is your strategy for follow-up? Will you ask more than once? What forms will that “ask” take? How will you leverage the December 31 tax deadline as an incentive to give?
I know one thing is for sure, this calendar year-end, if you only ask once, you are doing your donors an injustice. They want to give, and they want to give to you. But, your ask must be heard and, that it is the right ask, for the right project, at the right time.
Now, craft a plan that includes multiple year-end asks!
Lately, I have been doing a lot of driving. And, as a result, a lot of thinking. I have clients all throughout the Northeast. And, sometimes, yes, the driving does get “old.” But, then I sit back and reflect.
You see, there are many different types of fundraising consultants. And, lately, I have been hearing a great deal about “remote,” “outsourced” development professionals as opposed to the strategic “tell me what to do” consultants that produce a plan and then move onto to the next client. I do consider myself one of these, in fact, all of these.
But, perhaps I am old-fashioned. Or maybe I just have been working in the field too long. I remember, long ago, when there were resident consultants who upped and moved to different parts of the country to live and work at a nonprofit and become immersed in their community.
And, while I don’t up and move, I do spend lots of time on the move. I think – no, wait, I believe it is critical to the success of my client’s efforts. Yes, many of the things that I do while sitting in their organization can be done quite easily from home. But, it is not the same.
Two weeks ago on my blog, I noted how “culture of place” is such an important part of our work. How can you get to know and understand that “culture of place” if you are working remotely? Or for that measure, how can you understand the mission and culture of the nonprofit that you are working for if you never sit at a desk and be a part of all that happens on a day to day basis. What does this have to do with fundraising? A lot!
It makes a big difference to the quality of work. When I am onsite, I am a strong reminder to the client that we need to focus and get work done. So, a lot of work gets done. When I am not directly onsite, and I work remotely, it seems like work moves at a snail’s pace. Emails are not answered with urgency, and meetings are postponed. I get it. I fall to the bottom of the list. Very different than having a living, breathing person taking up precious space/rent or whatever you call it in your office as a good reminder.
And, the kinds of things that I do go far beyond just providing advice. I do the work. I craft appeal letters; write newsletter content, solicit donors, write Case for Supports, write grants, work on board development, manage capital campaigns, conduct feasibility studies and audits, on and on and on.
So, when you are thinking about consultants – yes, personality is important – yes, credentials and experience are important, but, don’t overlook the consultant’s personal philosophy of service provision. Will they go the distance, sometimes hundreds of miles at a time, to live in hotels, to get your work done and to understand the context, both internally and externally, in which your work happens?
We don’t expect our staff development professionals to be in the office behind their desks, so why would you expect the same of a fund development consultant? They need to be building relationships with organizations to create impact – just as fundraising professionals must be with donors. It is just another extension of this donor-centered relationship – creating results and positive outcomes for a mission.
While the old models of “in-residence, uproot you and your family” are not so available today, I believe that my unique model of in-residence consulting of a set number of days per week/month onsite is an excellent compromise. And, hey while I toot my own horn, my model makes a huge difference to my clients and sets me apart from the rest of the bunch.
See you on I95 or maybe I89 or maybe Rt 66. But, you can be sure of one thing, you won’t see me sitting at my desk at home.
P.S. – Yes, these are photos from my travel. When I say I get immersed in a community that I am working in, I do. On a recent stay in a client’s town, I did go to the “Cow Barn” for milk for breakfast. And, that stretch of road is I91 heading into a client’s town in Vermont from another client located in the Stamford area of CT.