The Trouble with Strategic Planning

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Have you ever seen the energy sink out of a group of people when the words "strategic planning" are mentioned? I've actually seen people shudder!The problem is that board members have had bad experiences with this thing called "strategic planning." They have sat through laborious planning discussions that went nowhere and wasted their time. (The last thing you ever want to do is ask a board member for a full day of their time and then have them feel like it was wasted.) Even if the experience seems helpful at the time, NOTHING ever happens or changes afterward.Why is it that many nonprofit planning retreats end up focusing on the wrong things? The wrong trends. The wrong information. The wrong discussions.This is why people dread "strategic planning" it's a lot of time and talk with little or no results.I once served on a board that held a strategic planning retreat one Saturday from 8am till 5pm. Our icebreaker was to share the name of our favorite pet in a mingle exercise. (dumb). Then we labored over the mission and spent needless time wordsmithing the mission, vision and values.I just couldn't stand it - I just had to leave in mid-afternoon because I ran out of patience. At the end of the process, nothing really was accomplished, and the key critical "elephants in the room" never even got discussed.I am the lucky chair of a board governance committee who is charged with creating a strategic planning process for our organization. You can bet that I'm going to create a powerful, compelling experience that our board members will enjoy. I'll chronicle my experiences with our process over the next year as we progress.Have you had a strategic planning process that really worked for your organization? Why don't you share your experience?

How to Coach Your Board Volunteers

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How important is it that you coach carefully any of your volunteers? And you need to choose them carefully too!I am commenting today on a LinkedIn discussion. The person who started the conversation told of a private school where two different board volunteers spoke about fundraising to the other parents. The first volunteer who spoke complained about "slack parent giving" last year, particularly compared to faculty/staff giving. And he was dressed in a monotone of gray.Wow, just the sort of delivery designed to get parents charging ahead to support the annual fund! Make folks feel bad and you're lost before you start.The second volunteer was a more "flamboyant" presence. He went on about how generous parent booster giving had been last year - to sports and extra-curricular activities. He was engaging and warm.The first volunteer was deadly (he had a track record of defeat), and the other one was enthusiastic (he had experienced success.) Clearly the person who had a negative and defeatist tone would never inspire other volunteers.This also shows that you can't expect every single board volunteer to be a great fundraiser. I think it's delusional to expect all board members to be able to be effective advocates for the cause or successful fundraisers. We need to select, train and "pump up" our volunteers carefully!I like to script my folks - or at least give them talking points - so they make an appropriate and engaging presentation. Negativity or arm-twisting never work!Never trust a volunteer to get up in front of a crowd and deliver the right message. Remember, they aren't in the business, they are just beginners (usually). So take control, brief them and give them the talking points.If you're really on top of things, actually schedule a formal rehearsal with them. Put them in front of a fictitious group of people and let them practice.

Find a "key revenue problem solver" for your board

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Alice Korngold, contributing writer for Fast Company Magazine is blogging about building nonprofit boards, one of my favorite topics. I loved her post titled More Bad News for Nonprofit $$: More About Building Better Boards to FIx This, alice-korngold_1She takes a much-needed business person's approach to nonprofit boards. Here's my favorite: she says that the best people she has worked with, or recruited to a board were "key revenue problem-solvers."Nonprofits need to evaluate their business model frequently for missed revenue opportunities and sources of increased earned income. A board member with the right skill set can be invaluable in these cases.She cites as an example a new board member who was the global pricing strategist for a major consulting firm. The new board member "pulled a nonprofit out of the red by helping them revise their pricing strategy, thereby shifting the organization into financial health."

Is Fundraising a Lonely Business?

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It's a lonely time out there with lots of my fundraising colleagues. Especially with this being just about the toughest fundraising environment any of us have ever seen.Being a staff fundraiser has always been a lonely business.(And consulting can be pretty lonely too!)This is the time we need to rally our colleagues, our board members our CEO and have give them all a dose of old-fashioned optimism.iStock_000005667780XSmallHere you are, bravely working for your cause with passion in your heart, trying to create new friends and donors for your wonderful cause.And you have to deal with recalcitrant board members who just can't find the courage to do what you do everyday. And you may have a CEO who also is unsure about fundraising and who won't "do right" as we say in the south.You may have unsupportive colleagues who are jealous that you get to go to all the events and travel around to see donors. If you're part of a large development operation with lots of other fundraisers, they may be competitive and view you as a potential threat.Mix all this in with a major recession, donor reluctance, and a sinking stock market, and it sure is hard to keep morale up sometimes!

Board Chairs: Fire-Up Your Board with a Call to Action!

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It's wonderful to see a board chair assume rightful leadership and challenge her board members to action. Here's a brilliant example of excellent leadership from a nonprofit board chair.Call to Action!I'm on the board of our local AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) chapter here in North Carolina's Research Triangle. (If you don't know about AFP, you need to join!Our wonderful board chair, Eli Jordfald, took on a personal priority this year - to reinvent our annual "National Philanthropy Day" celebration in November. If this "reinvention" was going to happen, Eli needed every single one of us board members to commit to a part in making this successful. With only a part-time staff person, we rely on our board volunteers to make it happen. So if we didn't pull through, then we wouldn't even have an event. Eli send out an email last week with the subject line: "Call to Action." Take a look at this professional and very specific note to her board members. She was not necessarily "asking for help." Instead it was "rallying the troops." How long has it been since you issued a Call to Action to your board, your staff or your volunteers? These words alone get immediate attention.

Top Tip to Maintain your Nonprofit Board's Momentum and Motivation

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A question I am frequently asked is, "Once I get my board fired-up, then how on earth do I keep my board members motivated and enthusiastic? Whenever the board members gather together, we get excited and energized about our work. But my board members frequently get distracted with other priorities. What to do?"The first thing you must do is take responsibility for keeping your board energized. If you are the nonprofit CEO, do everything you can to keep them going. AND if you are the chair of the board, also, do everything YOU can to fan the flames of your board members' energy.The most important thing is to take responsibility and don't expect that someone else will assume this role. Do you know the saying, "If it's to be, it's up to me?" Well, here's the perfect place to implement that idea.If your board is gonna stay excited, motivated and energized, it won't happen without YOU taking the lead.You can't expect your busy board members to keep focused and energized on their own. If you leave it up to them, you just may be disappointed. This is "Volunteer Management 101" - and the number one job of managing volunteers is motivating them.Here is a real life best practice example from a board I am currently serving on. This is from the CEO of Lillian's List, a political action group on whose board I serve. Our CEO, Carol Teal, is just about the best nonprofit CEO I've ever had the pleasure of working with.

We're in the Dream Business

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Do you ever consider what we fundraising folks are really up to when we appeal to our donors? Is it hype? Is it promises that we will keep? Is it mission, vision and values? Is it changing the world?Last month at the Bridge Fundraising Conference in DC, I kept hearing a theme echoing through many of the presentations I attended.MLK“We are in the dream business.”It really means that we are selling a happy dream of the future. Of a better world. A better community. People being helped. Smiles. Comfort. Happiness.But in our appeals for help, we forget this all too often. Instead we focus on problems, what's wrong, what we will do to fix things.But the most successful approach - whether you are doing fundraising, sales, bringing together groups of people for a common purpose, teamwork - whenever leadership and inspriation are required - is to picture your dream for the future.Think Martin Luther King, one of the greatest inspirational leaders - and orators - of recent times. His "I have a dream speech" is a spectacular example of inspired dreaming.The dream is so powerful that it's like a great river sweeping everyone up in its path, surging inevitably downstream to a much happier future.When we paint a picture of our dream for happy students, healthy children, cared-for elderly, majestic symphonies, clean sparkling water - whatever we are raising money for - we also capture the power of that mighty river of energy sweeping everyone together.When I work with boards, we talk about dreaming. I tell them they should always be standing high on the hill sharing their vision of a happier world with everyone they know. When they are standing on that hill, solid in their dream, focused on the future, they are more powerful than they can imagine.When you, your board members and your volunteers take a firm stand on the mountain, that's when you have the energy and the power to change the world.That's when nothing can stop you.

The Number One Way to Get Your Board Members to Follow Through

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iStock_000006450448XSmallSo many nonprofit board members are enthusiastic and well-meaning but too often they back out of their commitments. Bet you have run into this problem!And I have been on the other side too, as a board member. In the heat of an exciting discussion, I suddenly found myself making personal commitments. Then later, in my office, I thought better of those ideas and was not so very enthusiastic about them.In nonprofit organizations, it's hard working with volunteers, who actually don't HAVE to do anything anyway. You simply can't MAKE volunteers work. That's why I always say that we are in the motivation business.You have to be able to motivate and charge up your board members and volunteers if you want them to be productive. It's a rare nonprofit volunteer who can keep herself fully pumped up with excitement and enthusaism all the time!Here's my secret weapon in motivating my volunteer committees. And it's an old standby of teamwork and leadership theory: PEER PRESSURE.Here's the most important thing to know about board members: they never, repeat, never want to look bad in front of their peers.

After You've Asked for the Gift, What Next?

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So you've popped the question to your donor. You've said "We were hoping that you would consider a gift of $XXX to make something wonderful happen."

The Moment of TruthNow, what's next? Did you know that the next person who speaks loses?You've got to allow your donor plenty of time to think it over. The donor is mulling, mulling, not saying anything. And there you sit! Nervous - and as jumpy - as a frog in a frying pan. I know, the urge to start babbling is strong, mighty strong! But KEEP YOUR COOL!The donor may take as long as a full minute to think this over. He or she is considering lots of issues: can I make this gift?' do I really want to make this contribution?; if I donate money to this cause, will they spend it wisely?; what is my cash flow?; can I sell some stock?; can I ask other family members to go in with me?; what's the timing of all this; do I really believe in this project?

Add a "story platform" to your web site

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I was talking today with my friend and client Cynda Heward of the Saint Mary's Hospital Foundation in Montreal. She was telling me about the Foundation's new web site that is being developed.She used an interesting term that we should all embrace: a "story platform." This means that you tell a story right at the beginning of your web site. Remember that "narrative" or "story-telling" is by far the most effective way of communicating an idea or concept.Just about the most important thing you can do on your home page is to launch a heartfelt story about someone who was helped by your organization. And we all know that one story is more effective than three, right?

Boards gone wild!

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I am teaching today in Greensboro, NC at the AFP CFRE Review Course and the AFP First Course in Fundraising. As usual, they have me talking about managing and motivating volunteers and board members.In my last class, we had such a laugh over "Boards Gone Wild." What do I mean?A Board Gone Wild is a well-meaning group of volunteers who gallop off in the wrong direction. It's the wrong direction because the plan or project they are espousing is not well-planned, not well-thought out, has unintended negative consequences, and cannot be pulled off with the current staff and human resources on hand.

High-income women more likely to increase their giving during challenging economic times because they perceive a greater need.

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Hot off the presses this afternoon is a most interesting new report from the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund Gender Differences in Charitable Giving 2009. The study surveyed high-wealth men and women who had given at least $1k last year to charity. It found significant differences:Women are more likely than men to respond to the recession by giving more generously. When asked if they would typically give more in challenging times "because the need is greater," 35% of the women responded "yes" and only 25% of men agreed.

Just how important is your web site?

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Did you know that 65% of donors sometimes check out your web site before they make a contribution?AND: 40% of your donors ALWAYS check it out before they give.These stats are from my good friend Kivi Leroux Miller, aka, Nonprofitmarketingguide.com. If you are not following Kivi, you are missing an incredible resource. She is my "go to" source for all things e-marketing and e-fundraising. Check her out today!

Try a "zero-based committee structure"

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Wow, what a great idea! A zero-based committee structure - just like zero-based budgeting. This idea means that every year (or two at the minimum), the nonprofit's board disbands its committees. It goes back to the drawing board and re-evaluates what it needs.All the current committees are eliminated.And the board decides, based on its current needs and plans, what committees it will need for the next year or two. The board then starts over with a clean slate of committees.

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