Year-End Strategy #4: How to Talk To Your Donors About the Economy

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The recession is on everybody's mind, right? Surely it's on yours.…

How to Segment Your Donors for Year-End Fundraising Success

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Hi! Here's Year-End Fundraising Strategy #3 for the third of October. Looks like I just may be able to make my goal of 31 days - 31 blog posts on year-end strategies. I've gone through my notes from all the 09 Year-End Strategy Telesummit interviews and have organized them into categories that I think you'll find very, very useful. Just as a preview, here are some of the topics I'll discuss in October to help you reach your year-end fundraising goals: (Of course you can find out ALL the strategies by downloading the Telesummit expert interviews when they are posted on October 9):
  • how to talk about the economy so it doesn't backfire;
  • how to prep your donors for the ask;
  • 15 parts of the right appeal letter;
  • a followup strategy that will double your results
  • how to use social media to support/enhance your year-end fundraising;
  • creative ways to ask and receive;
  • lots of roles for board members that will help you raise more money
  • last minute strategies for the end of December;
  • how to make sure your face-to-face asks are successful.
Today, however, we are still in planning mode. iStock_000001923167XSmallWe have about 10 weeks to zoom in on our year-end fundraising goal and there's no time to waste. Let's start with segmenting your appeal list. You'll want to plan different appeals to different sections of donors. The whole idea of segmenting is to help you personalize your appeal to your dear, wonderful donors. You divide your donor list into groups with similar characteristics. This allows you to create a more customized appeal that reflects the personality profile of that group of donors. Let's just think about all the ways you might want to segment your list.

Year End Strategy #1: Hold a Thankathon Before You Solicit Your Donors

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Today marks the first of a series of posts on end of the calendar year fundraising strategies. During the month of October, I will be posting a great strategy idea each day. 31 days - 31 strategies - all designed to help you achieve your end of the year fundraising goals. First, I'll be discussing what you should do BEFORE you send your end of year solicitations. Then we'll move on to messaging and solicitation strategies especially designed for the rather unusual environment that we find ourselves in for fall 2009. telephoneEnd of year strategy #1: Hold a thankathon before you solicit your donors. If you really want to prep your donors for their end of calendar year annual solicitations, then thank them for their past gifts, involvement, support, help first. Try holding a mass thank-you session. Bring in your board members, or your volunteers, staff or other donors. Get on the phone and call your donors to thank them for everything they have done to help the (children, students, elderly, poor, hungry, prisoners, sick etc). Don't thank them for helping your organization be successful. Instead thank them for the impact they are making in the world.

Focus on "Friendmaking" to Take the Fear out of Fundraising

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Could fundraising be as easy as picking flowers? Maybe! I frequently tell my clients and audiences something rather revolutionary: that I'd rather have a "friend" of my organization than a donor. At first everyone is startled. Then they sit back and consider what it would mean to have "friends" rather than donors. What will friends do for you? They will introduce new people to the cause and bring new friends on board. They will spread the word. They'll help you in any way they can. And when the going gets tough, where are they? They are right there with you at your side. And will your friends contribute money?

Prevent Donor Attrition and Keep Your Donors

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Simone Joyeaux, one of the great fundraising gurus of all time, this morning for the Telesummit on Fall 09 Fundraising Strategies. When I asked Simone to comment on the difficult giving environment for this fall, she said it was really a "wake-up call" to us. Fundraisers have been able to get away with poor fundraising practices in the past because of a booming economy and plenty of donors. But now, when donors are cutting back, our bad habits are coming home to roost. Simone mentioned several bad habits and poor practices that are driving away donors. In fact, she noted that two out of three first-time donors DON'T make another gift! And that we are in a "donor retention crisis" right now with so many of our current donors slipping away because of bad fundraising habits. Did you know that it costs up to 10 times more to secure a NEW DONOR than it does to retain a CURRENT donor? So where do you think we should be spending our time, energy and our focus? Donors think we are treating them like "ATM machines," says Simone. When we go to them for money, money, money, they resent it and reward us by dropping off.

How to Evaluate a Board Meeting

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It's a great idea to evaluate every meeting or committee meeting that you hold. But you want something painless and simple, that will actually encourage people to participate. One organization I belong to has breakfast speakers once a month, and members pay to come for breakfast and the speaker. This organization sends an email to all attendees immediately after the meeting, asking them to fill out an evaluation survey on SurveyMonkey. They get good, not great, response on the survey. Another board that I serve on solicit evaluations immediately after the meeting. In our board packets, there is a convenient evaluation form to fill out. Here's what's on the form: Share your thoughts about the board meeting: Meeting room? Stick to the agenda? Liked the agenda? Did we miss anything important" People were prepared? Reports clear and helpful? Cordial, team-like discussion? Appropriate use of our time? (meeting began and eneded on time?) Any other comments? Anything we could improve? In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge our organization faces this year? What were your big take-away's from the meeting?

A FIrst Class Strategic Planning Process

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As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I am the chair of a board governance committee charged with creating a strategic plan this year. (lucky me!). And I am determined to create a compelling, engaging, even exciting planning/visioning process that everyone will actually enjoy! Here's the process that I've sketched out this year: September: 1. Board Self Assessment Survey 2. Set strategic planning timetable and process October: 1. Form Task Force 2. Identify our organization's stakeholders 3. Determine if and how we want to get feedback and input from the stakeholders 4. Create a plan/process for receiving their feedback November board meeting: 1. Discussion of board self assessment survey data and determine any action items that need to be taken 2. Vision discussion with full board - what is our vision for our organization. How much money would it take to achieve our vision? (this is a "high impact - big picture" discussion that can draw additional people and resources to a big vision, as opposed to starting with "what can we accomplish within our resource constraints?") December January and Feb: Focus groups of key players/stakeholders discussing what is our vision and how much money would it take March: WHERE ARE WE? 1. Complete environmental scan at a board meeting. 2. Provide input from the stakeholder focus groups that were conducted in Jan and Feb. 3. Conduct SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. April - May - June: WHERE DO WE WANT TO GO? 1. Based on all info and data gathered to date, create several scenarios of LL's future. 2. Assess each scenario re its pros and cons 3. Determine the right path for LL's future and set goals. July - August - September HOW DO WE GET THERE? 1. Staff and committees create plans for accomplishing the goals. Plans will include objectives, tactics/strategies and who's responsible What do you think? Want to comment?

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 Truth Now, 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?