Building consensus is part of everyday hard work at non-profits

idearatingsheetsIt seems like one common theme in my work with non-profit organizations is that “building consensus” is difficult. Getting everyone on the same page can be like herding cats. It was this reality that had me all tied in knots a few months ago as I was sitting down for the first time with my Philanthropy Day planning committee. We had lots of things to decide (e.g. event location, registration fees, training sessions, discussion panels, etc), and there was very little time to do so.

I decided to reach into my magic bag of consulting tricks and pulled out a tool that I’d never used before . . .

Idea Rating Sheets

The tool is simple:

  • One idea is written at the top of each sheet
  • The sheets are passed around the group
  • Individuals rate the idea
  • Individuals provide some feed back on the idea’s strengths and challenges
  • Each person “signs off” on the sheet confirming that they weighed in with their feedback

At the end of the day, it is easy to see which ideas have traction and which ones don’t. Those ideas that have support rise to the top, and the group can focus its discussions and not waste time talking about ideas that are non-starters.

In my experience, I can see Idea Rating Sheets being used very effectively in various facilitated planning processes. This tool might also be very effective for standing committees of your board that are trying to make direction setting decisions.

Want to learn more? Simply visit their webpage by clicking here or their library of resources by clicking here.

Kudos to Jason Diceman and his team for creating a simple yet awesome consensus building tool!

How does your organization build consensus? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Embrace storytelling as a catalyst for organizational change

storytellingLast month I sat down with an executive director and two board members to explore how I might be able to help their organization grow their organizational capacity. Over the course of an hour, we talked about all kinds of awesome things such as:

  • the capacity of their existing board volunteers to govern effectively and raise enough funding to operate
  • what average Joe & Jane on main street think their community’s biggest needs are and what the organization sees as the community’s greatest needs . . . and do those things align?
  • measuring the impact the organization is having with its programs.
  • what does “data-driven decision-making” look like and how does it impact board governance?

This laundry list of awesome topics actually could include another three or four topics. It really was shaping up to be a great meeting. I was starting to believe there might be a project or two this board might invite me to collaborate with them on undertaking.

So, when I injected a consensus building question into the conversation such as “So, where do you think I can help,” imagine how surprised I was when none of the things we had just discussed were presented as something they wanted my help with doing.

My jaw nearly hit the table when the board president looked me square in the eyes and said . . .

We can really use your help with developing our organization’s ‘stories’ and working with us on how to effectively tell those stories to the community. We recognize the value of data, but we think storytelling is of greater value.

I’d be lying if the voice inside my head was immediately skeptical. Luckily, I found the strength to keep mouth shut and simply agree to help them with what they asked of me.

In the days and weeks since that meeting, I am getting more and more excited about this project. I’m even starting to think the board president might be a genius. Here are just a few reasons for my ever increasing “glass-half-full” thoughts:

  • Let’s face it . . . data is worthless when shared with donors in a vacuum
  • Real-life stories bring data to life and provide context
  • Resource development activities such as cultivation, solicitation and stewardship are rooted in emotions which require stories coupled with a little bit of data
  • Using storytelling as a starting point could be an effective “organizational assessment lens for board members as they try to develop their own personal stories about the organization, its programs and its impact
  • The art of developing a board volunteer’s story can lead to increased engagement (e.g. visiting during operational hours, volunteers to work with clients, talking to those who have been impacted by the organization’s programs, etc)
  • This approach can spark an honest discussion between board and staff about what more needs to be done to generate more success stories (or conversely, why board volunteers are reluctant to share stories and ask for contributions from friends)

After marinading on this commitment for a few days, I got back to my home office and immediate visited the website of my “virtual friend” Chris Davenport at 501 Videos, surfed over to his virtual store and purchased a 10-pack of his back-pocket book “Nonprofit Storytelling for Board Members“. My plan is to return in a few weeks, distribute one of these booklets to each board volunteer, and start working with them on how to develop their own stories and share those stories with their friends.

I’m viewing this as an organic approach to organizational development. I am buckled up and prepared for wherever this exercise takes us. I’m already predicting that the possibilities are endless.

Are your board members out in the community actively telling their friends and your supporters (and prospective new donors) stories about your organization? If not not, why do you think that is? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

I feel compelled to provide a FREE PLUG for the 2015 Nonprofit Storytelling Conference being hosted in Seattle, Washington on November 12 & 13. Only the first 300 people who register will be allowed to attend. (Disclaimer: I am not a conference organizer. I have never attended. I don’t gain anything from this shameless plug. I just thought some of you might be interested in learning about this opportunity, especially if you’re intrigued by today’s blog post)

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

So, your non-profit cannot make its payroll obligation?

Let me start with an apology to DonorDreams readers for my recent absence. My workload has increased exponentially lately, and the last few mornings when I’ve sat down to write the floodgates opened unexpectedly. I will try harder, but if things don’t get better, then I will have to seek out more guest bloggers and re-publish popular posts from the past. Please accept my apologies and my promise to work this problem.  ~Erik

This morning’s post is top of mind because I’ve recently had the privilege of working with a non-profit organization that is encountering a cash flow situation. First, let me say that this is something many non-profit leaders have had to deal with. Second, I’ve recently come to realize that many people freeze when confronted with these situations and very little is written about how to survive such a crisis. So, I’m going to provide a few tips from my experiences of working with clients facing a cash flow and payroll crisis.

Ask board members to contribute

boarddev1The people closest to your mission are board and staff members. So, when the organization is short on cash and cannot meet its payroll obligations, it is only natural to ask board members to dig a little deeper.

While this will bring in some money and help bridge the gap (at least partially), the bigger reason you need to start with the board is that no other donor will jump into the gap if they don’t see the board doing their fair share. Additionally, you won’t likely be able to get board members to jump in and help you engage other donors if it doesn’t feel like they have skin in the game.

Ask key donors to contribute

donor solicitorDon’t pass the basket and ask smaller, low capacity donors. Identify your larger, more capable donors and schedule an in-person meeting to explain what has occurred and ask for their support.

Be careful!

Don’t make your “case for support” sound like your organization is the S.S. Titantic. You might get a contribution from someone by telling them you’ll go out of business without their support, but making the ask that way makes getting future gifts significantly more difficult.


Because no one likes to through good money after bad money. Remember . . . only the captain goes down with the ship.

So, when talking to those key donors, make sure to explain what happened and why you’re in this situation. Clearly explain to them what the plan is for getting out of the hole. Make sure to keep your message mission-focused because donors are emotionally attached to your clients and programs. They are not inspired by your overhead and business challenges.

Contact your accounts receivable list

acct receivableAccounts receivable can be any number of the following individuals/entities:

  • individual donors with pledges that are due at a later date
  • foundations or government agencies who have given you a grant and your reimbursement paperwork is still pending
  • individuals or companies you invoiced for a service you provided and are still waiting for payment

Call these people and explain your situation. Ask them if they could work with you on paying their pledge early, speeding up the reimbursement paperwork, or paying their outstanding invoice sooner-rather-than-later.

Always keep in mind that you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar. Being polite is a necessity because your crisis isn’t their problem. More importantly, you are in the relationship building business, and your words today can impact your relationships tomorrow.

Pay your bills carefully

phone billIf your organization finds itself in this mess, then the bank is probably not extending you additional credit. While managing your cash flow on the backs of your vendors is a bad thing to do, sometimes life presents you with a bunch of bad options.

Make sure to prioritize what little cash you have in the bank towards making payroll. The phone company can wait a few weeks. However, be transparent and ethical about this strategy. Pick-up the phone and call the vendors who will be impacted by this decision. Explain your situation and ask them for patience and assistance. You might be surprised at their response.

Don’t rest once the crisis passes

assessmentThis crisis came to your door for a reason, and you owe it to your clients, donors, volunteers and community to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The following is an incomplete checklist of things you should consider:

  • Revisit the budget and make necessary changes
  • Create a cash flow project tool and keep it updated
  • Invest in evaluating board composition, structure and governance practices and fill those gaps ASAP
  • Evaluate executive leadership and make changes if necessary
  • Conduct a resource development audit and use it as a springboard to create a written resource development plan

Has your organization ever experienced a cash flow crisis that resulted in a payroll panic? I know this can feel embarrassing, but please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other, and our clients and communities can benefit from that collective wisdom.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


Best practices for building non-profit partnerships and collaborations

Last week I decided to attend a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Binghamton located in Binghamton, NY. The Club was celebrating construction of their Education Center (underwritten by donors like the Decker Foundation) and the future home of the Pejo Theater (a performing arts space underwritten by donors like board volunteer Dr. Samuel Pejo). So, I thought I’d share a few pictures as well as a number of best practices as it relates to creating collaborative partnerships.


In the picture above, you see clients, staff, board volunteers and donors officially cutting the ribbon for the new programming space.


In the picture above, you see executive director Marybeth Smith amplifying the stewardship messages from the event to the community via news media.


In the picture above, you see UnitedHealthcare distributing insurance information to the community outside of the Boys & Girls Club. Stated another way, you see the organization sharing its big day and the stage with another company for the benefit of families and neighbors.


In the picture above, you see neighbors lining up for food from a local food bank affiliated with Feeding America. As with the previous picture, the Boys & Girls Club is sharing its big day with other non-profit organizations for the benefit of families and neighbors.

As I walked into the clubhouse and throughout the entire ribbon cutting ceremony, everywhere I turned I saw collaboration and partnership in motion. Having once worked on the front line of a Boys & Girls Club, I walked away from my time with this Club marveling at all the hard work they obviously put into building partnerships.

Collaboration is something that donors LOVE to see because:

  • they see it as proof that community support is being leveraged
  • it feels like “economies of scale” are being achieved
  • it is perhaps proof that services aren’t being duplicated and costs (at least efforts) are being shared

Of course, collaboration and partnership sounds easy, but in reality it never is. So, I thought I’d share a few best practices and links to resources to those of you wanting to replicate the successes you see in the pictures I’ve posted. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Sit down with potential partners, talk through the issues and put the plan in writing
  • Formalize and codify your collaboration in a written “memorandum of understanding” that spells out who has agreed to do what
  • Maintain routine communication with each other after the planning phase
  • Involve as many stakeholders in the dialog before, during and after the collaboration/partnership (e.g. volunteers, board members, staff, clients, donors, etc)
  • Build into your partnership routine evaluation/assessment opportunities and commit to a continuous cycle of learning and self-improvement
  • Celebrate your successes — TOGETHER

Interested in reading much more about how to design and implement productive collaborative partnerships? Here are a few resources I found online and think are awesome:

Does your non-profit organization do a good job with identifying, framing, implementing and evaluating partnerships and collaborations with others (e.g. non-profits, for-profits, individuals, etc)? If so, what do they look like? What has worked for you and made these efforts successful in your opinion?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

“Hangin’ with Henry and talking about Keeping the Ask Simple

As most of you know, the first Thursday of every month has been dedicated to featuring a short video from Henry Freeman, who is an accomplished non-profit and fundraising professional. We affectionately call this monthly series “Hangin’ With Henry”  because of the conversational format around which he has framed his online videos. This month we’re talking about Keeping the Ask Simple (aka applying the K.I.S.S. principle to asking donors for a contribution).

For those of you who subscribe to DonorDreams blog and get notices by email, you will want to click this link to view this month’s featured YouTube video. If you got here via your web browser, then you can click on the video graphic below.

After listening to Henry for almost seven minutes this morning (and I wasn’t even done with my first cup of coffee), I was left thinking the following:

  • Face-to-face solicitation is the most effective form of solicitation (even though Henry was talking mostly about mail and email solicitations)
  • There is a serious risk of burying the donor in lots of collateral material and talking the donor’s ear off, especially if the person doing the asking is apprehensive about doing so
  • Fundraising professionals should probably only give volunteer solicitors nothing more than an internal case for support document (aka their talking points), an external case for support document (aka the campaign brochure) and the pledge form

This video also reminded me of an awesome training my former employer developed that turned every solicitation into a series steps. As I reflect upon those steps in the warm glow of this morning’s video, I now appreciate how they were trying to make in-person solicitation a simple exercise for volunteers.

checklistFor those who are curious, here are those 12 steps to a simple and effective face-to-face solicitation:

  1. Don’t call your prospect until you’ve inked your pledge form
  2. Don’t think about the money . . . think about the client who will benefit from this potential contribution (and keep doing so throughout the entire process)
  3. Make sure you have a connection or relationship with the prospects you’ve chosen to solicit because cold calls are scary and not very effective
  4. Pick-up the phone and ask your prospect for time in their calendar (guard against accidentally asking for the contribution while you’re on the phone)
  5. Prepare for the meeting (e.g. review the case for support doc, FAQs, etc)
  6. When sitting down with the prospective donor, talk about what is in the case for support document (e.g. org mission, community need/s that the org is trying to address, what the org is doing to address those needs and the effectiveness of those programs, etc)
  7. Share your personal commitment to the campaign and the organization (e.g. your gifts of time, talent and treasure and why you are doing so)
  8. Ask the prospect to join you by considering a contribution of a specific dollar amount (e.g. “we’re hoping you will give some thoughtful consideration to making a contribution of $XXX to support the programs we just talked about as well as everything else this organization does for its clients)
  9. Be quiet and let the donor give your request some consideration (and the first person to speak should be the donor)
  10. Answer the donors questions
  11. Set-up a time to follow-up with the donor if they aren’t ready to immediately ink the pledge form (e.g. never leave the pledge form behind and always walk out of the meeting with a definite date and time to touch base again)
  12. Express your thanks and gratitude for their time (because their time was a gift unto itself)

I love this list because as Henry expressed in his morning’s video, volunteers need tools to help them keep the solicitation meeting simple and following this 12 step process could very easily help keep the in-person meeting focused and short.

matt damonThis morning’s video also reminded me of another YouTube video a friend sent me a few days ago. It is a montage of video clips featuring actor Matt Damon in the HBO television series “Entourage“. The YouTube video illustrates the emotions, fears, and mistakes associated with asking your friends and colleagues for a charitable contribution.

The person who posted the Entourage video clips blocked my ability to embed the video into my blog. So, you need to click here to watch that video directly on YouTube. But don’t forget to circle back to this post and finish up our discussion.  ;-)

So, what are you thinking this morning after watching two great YouTube videos and reading this post? How do you help your fundraising volunteers “keep it simple“? How do you keep it simple when soliciting donors? How many mistakes were you able to spot in the Matt Damon video clip? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

How does your non-profit leverage donations to secure more funding?

Sorry for not posting anything on Tuesday morning. The internet connection from my hotel room was non-existent, which is why you’re receiving this late breaking edition. Enjoy!  ~Erik

IMG_20150802_102350339_HDR[1]A few days ago, I was in an airport trying to catch a connecting flight when I saw a poster advertisement for an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides medical services to children and families in third world countries. I took a picture of the portion of the advertisement that immediately caught my attention.

Every $1 you give will send $105 worth of lifesaving medicine and supplies.

One of the eight best practices I teach clients as it relates to fundraising is that challenge gifts are very effective and will help you reach your goal. The following are just a few reasons challenge gifts are effective:

  • it reassures donors that there are other big donors behind the campaign and lends credibility to what you’re trying to accomplish
  • it is inspirational and creates a bandwagon effect for donors
  • it gives donors the feeling their gift is bigger and more impactful
  • most importantly . . . it creates a “sense of urgency” for your fundraising staff and volunteers

There are many different ways to leverage one gift (or a pool of gifts) and secure other contributions. The following are just a few effective examples I’ve seen throughout the years:

  • Traditional challenge gifts to annual or capital campaigns where a donors says “I’ll match every dollar up to a certain level of contributions” 
  • Using a grant to leverage private sector philanthropy by telling donors that your organization secured a grant for a certain amount, but the program/project costs more which is why additional donors are needed before the grant can be ethically accessed
  • Securing in-kind contributions of supplies/materials and asking donors to underwrite the staffing and overhead costs needed to use the in-kind donation (as shown in the picture above)
  • Asking leadership giving donors to join a donor recognition society whereby their pool of donations will be used as matching dollars for other donors (e.g. national public radio does this very well)
  • Using one donor’s contribution (of any size) and asking another donor to match it (e.g. the Obama campaign did this very well with their online fundraising strategy)

In my experience, non-profit organizations reserve this strategy for BIG projects (e.g. capital campaigns, endowment campaigns, etc); however, there is no good reason why you couldn’t use this strategy to leverage additional dollars for your annual campaign, major gifts initiative (as long as it is project focused), special event, etc.

Please use the space below to share an experience where you successfully used a challenge gift or leverage strategy to raise more money for your organization. How did you identify the opportunity? How did you present it as an opportunity to the donor? What was the result?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Ode to Rachael Jones: Here’s to not putting donors in boxes!

rachael jonesOne of the clients I’ve been working with for a while is located in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where I met Rachael Jones. Rachael is a transgender woman who used to own “Rachael’s Cafe”. Unfortunately, after eight years of serving coffee, food and a side of acceptance, Rachael closed her doors last month. During my last visit, the executive director handed me a copy of the June 29th edition of The Herald-Times newspaper with a front page story headline that read “Downtown gathering place closes after 8 years of fostering acceptance“. He shared the newspaper story with me because he knew I had wanted to be there for Rachael’s last day, but I just couldn’t make it work with my travel schedule.

So, what does any of this have to do with non-profits or fundraising? Well, tucked away inside of Kurt Christian’s front page article, there was an amazing story Rachael told that I think is applicable to every fundraising professional’s life. And I want to share it for two reasons:

  1. To pay tribute to an amazing human — Rachael Jones (someone I greatly admire and wish I had half her courage)
  2. To help new fundraising professionals understand something very important about their donors

In the article, Rachael tells the newspaper reporter about a life lesson she learned from one of the construction workers who had been working on the renovation of the cafe prior to it opening in 2007. After coming out to the crew as being a transgender woman, one of the guys asked Rachael if she would consider judging a chili cook-off event in a small rural town south of Bloomington, Indiana.

Rachael was hesitant to accept the invitation because:

  • small town America isn’t ready for a transgender woman
  • people would judge her
  • it might not be safe

Or so she thought.

Thanks to the insistence of the construction worker who had invited her, Rachael showed up and judged the chili cook-off. In hindsight, here is what she said about this life changing event:

“I went, and I was so sure I was going to be judged. But these people were wonderful. It was a beautiful experience, and I had a lot of fun, and I learned a great lesson. I had put them in a box that didn’t exist; they didn’t belong in that box.”

I just love how Rachael framed her experience. I’ve been thinking about these words for weeks during countless hours of windshield time driving from client to client. The more I think about these words, the more I wondered “how many people have I put in boxes during my life?

It was during one of these contemplative moments that another more interesting question bubbled to the forefront:

“How many donors have I put in a box that didn’t exist and they didn’t belong in?”

I fear that I’ve done it a lot, and I’ve justified it all in the name of “segmenting donors lists“.

Segmenting donors is a common practice in most fundraising shops, and it is a best practice. Not only does it keep you from asking people to attend events who hate going to those type of fundraisers, but it also keeps you from sending mail to people who prefer email communications. When done right, you are categorizing donors based on their feedback and their wishes.

HOWEVER . . . is it possible to take the practice of donor segmentation too far? Could we be creating boxes that shouldn’t exist? I’m inclined to think so. Here are a few confessions I’ll make when it comes to constructing boxes for donors that I probably shouldn’t have:

  • I’ve looked at a list of donors and said something like: “They wouldn’t be interested in supporting THAT program
  • Prior to a stewardship visit, I’ve decided what to share with the donor based on what I thought they were interested in hearing
  • I’ve excluded donors from receiving certain solicitations because I was fearful they might make a contribution, which could undercut another solicitation for a different project

In this era of so-called “Donor-Centered Fundraising,” shouldn’t we take a page out of Rachael Jones’ book by engaging our donors in more exploratory conversations and do a little less segmenting and box building?

I’m interested in what you have to say about this question. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health! (And congrats to Rachael on eight great years and for being an inspiration to us all)

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Tips to Improve Your Direct Mail Strategy

I’ve recently signed a contract that has me working with organizations in upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire for the next few months. With this new super new exciting challenge, I plan on increasing my use of guest blog posts as a way to make my life work. Hopefully, this will also bring new and exciting points of view to the DonorDreams blog community. I want to thank Gretchen Barry and our friends at NonProfitEasy for today’s contribution. I’ve included Gretchen’s bio at the end of today’s post. Enjoy!  ~Erik

4 Ways to Improve Your Direct Mail Strategy

By Gretchen Barry

mailboxesThe ease of technology now reaches almost all aspects of life, even fundraising.  With the help of social media and email and texting, nonprofits are now able to raise money with the click of a button.  This shift has been hugely beneficial.

Easy access equals quick donations.

HOWEVER, the growth in online fundraising techniques does not mean that older methods should fall by the wayside.  In particular, direct mail should remain a fundraising method of choice.

There’s a common misconception that direct mail is only for reaching nonprofits’ ages 65+ demographic.  There is some validity in this statement.  Yes, a powerful contingent of donors prefers direct mail because those in that age range use the online functionalities nonprofits provide with less frequency.

Remember though, younger donors appreciate direct mail just as much.

For young donors, like millennials, snail mail is actually a novelty.  The internet has made everything so easy that it takes very little effort to email a friend or send an e-card.

A hand-written note or a personalized, mailed package takes effort and, as a result, shows dedication and care.  A direct mail campaign will surprise and connect with the elusive and generous millennial population.

Showing care in your communications is a great way to improve your fundraising effectiveness.  Direct mail can make a huge difference in your donor acquisition efforts.  People want to feel appreciated for the time and money they’ve invested in your cause.

The four tips below will help ensure your team is implementing the best direct mail strategy around.


This point might seem obvious, but let me explain.  Each nonprofit is centered on a mission to serve a needed and worthwhile cause.

It should be easy to convince people that your cause is worth caring about.  What’s harder, and what should come into play when deciding whether to use direct mail or not, is knowing if any given fundraising campaign will be one people will feel compelled to donate towards.

Campaigns run the gamut.  Some are for new equipment.  Others are for events.  The scope is broad, but usually you’re asking for funds for a set venture rather than a generic fund.

So you can feel confident about your decision to put the extra effort and money into direct mail fundraisings, ask:

Once you’ve thought through those questions, you’ll be better equipped to decide if direct mail is the right fit.

Direct mail is not limited to fundraising.  Its uses range from sending out educational content to requesting RSVPs for an event. Don’t forget that when weighing if direct mail is the right fit.

Just really think through what you’re asking for.  A donor wants to help the cause.  She might be more inclined to donate an auction item to your annual gala’s live auction than a check for new office chairs.  Both asks are valid, but you have to determine what is important to your constituents.


An ineffective mailing list will result in an ineffective campaign.

There are three biggies when it comes to organizing a mailing list:

  1. Reliable Donors
  2. Updated Information
  3. High-Quality Prospects

You want to spend your time and money contacting those who read and respond to direct mail.  It’s a good idea to have a donor segment of your prospects and donors who prefer direct mail.

If a donor has a history of never contributing as a result of a hand-mailed campaign, why would you spend the postage on shipping materials to him?

Also think about the time wasted mailing an item to a donor’s former address, or, worse, referring to an outdated detail.

Let’s say Mrs. Smith, formerly Ms. Jones, has moved in with her new husband.  If your list doesn’t have this information, your campaign likely won’t reach her.  If you do end up getting the correct address, what happens when she’s addressed by her maiden name?

Side-step this problem by making sure your donor database information is current and accurate.

The mishap might not upset her, but using her new, married name would certainly impress her.  It would demonstrate care — one of the biggest benefits of direct mail.


If direct mail’s benefit is a demonstration of effort and email’s benefit is ease, how do you bridge that gap?  Just because donors enjoy the care you put into sending a package, it doesn’t mean that they won’t miss the simplicity of donating online.

How do we solve this problem?  Send your mailings with an SASE.  If your donor has decided to send funds don’t lose them on a technicality.  Take the guess work out of replying.

With a SASE a donor simply applies postage and sticks the envelope in the mail.  You could even talk to your post office about getting a permit to make the postage on your SASEs pre-paid.


Your direct mail methods should become more effective over time if you actively work on improvement.  What’s the best way to improve your approach?  You look at what you’re doing, determine areas of weakness, and focus on lessening those weaknesses.

Take advantage of your experiences by tracking campaign results.  That data will provide invaluable insight into potential direct mail mistakes.

Here’s what you should be analyzing:

  • Number of responses
  • Response type — How many RSVPs? How many no thank yous?
  • Donation amounts (if applicable)
  • Number of returns to sender
  • Comparison of funds raised versus costs to send

After a campaign, you will have the raw data.  That raw information will be the foundation of the metrics listed above.  Let that data make a difference.

With the way recent technology has revolutionized the nonprofit marketplace, it is difficult to resist the urge to go completely digital.  Don’t forget about direct mail though.  If you do, you’ll be missing out on an incredibly valuable opportunity.

GretchenGretchen Barry, Director of Marketing — Gretchen has been a leader in corporate communications and marketing for 20+ years. Gretchen has published numerous articles related to charitable giving and is a passionate advocate for public schools.  Gretchen has donated her time to numerous causes including Relay for Life, Girls on the Run, Rebuilding Together, and just recently became involved with the local land trust.  Gretchen graduated from the University of Nevada with a degree in English literature.

Build relationships with donors before asking them to sponsor your event

sponsorshipsMy neighbor owns and operates a home business, and last week he received a letter from a local non-profit organization asking him to sponsor a no-show” event. Upon digesting the solicitation, he promptly scanned the letter and emailed it to me with a few choice words. To say he was upset would be an understatement. So, I thought this might have the elements of a good blog post about how to avoid donor reactions like the one my neighbor experienced.

I’ve decided not to share the letter because I’m not a fan of public shaming, but after reading the letter I am comfortable sharing the type of information they sent him. Included in the letter was:

  • date of the no-show event
  • brief explanation of how it works (e.g. send in your contribution and bid online for auction items)
  • list of sponsor benefits
  • sponsor menu (enclosed with letter)

In order to avoid making assumptions about the source of my neighbor’s emotions, I emailed him and asked him to articulate exactly what made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. This is what he said:

If you want a donation, ask. I feel that this is a deception. I just don’t get this warm and fuzzy feeling from the letter.”

My first reaction was . . . “Wow, that was a strong reaction!” However, after thinking about it for a few minutes, it dawned on me that:

  • my neighbor didn’t have a relationship with this organization
  • he didn’t have an emotional connection to their mission
  • he didn’t have much (if any) information about their programs
  • the case for support was implied
  • the idea behind a no-show event felt like a slick fundraising trick

I totally get it, and if time machines were a reality, I’d advise this organization to use it and change their approach in the following ways:

  • invest a little time in cultivating the people they plan on asking to sponsor the no-show event (e.g. sit down with prospects, provide info in advance about mission/programming, or at a minimum send a pre-solicitaiton mailing explaining the need and prepping them for the impending request)
  • get to know your prospect’s marketing needs and develop a proposal that speaks to those needs
  • commit to measuring the impact of the exposure that you’re committing to the sponsor (e.g. number of Facebook impressions, etc)

While I don’t know for sure, I’m guessing this organization sent their sponsor letters to a cold mailing list they purchased from a mail house or a chamber of commerce. Cold calls are a brutal way to raise money because fundraising is all about relationships, which is why I’d only solicit people with whom you have a pre-existing donor relationship.

If you are new to the game of writing sponsorship proposals, I really like how outlined what a good proposal looks like in their blog post “10 Essential Steps to Create a Winning Sponsorship Proposal“.

  1. Sponsorship opportunity
  2. Marketing objectives
  3. Measures of success
  4. Value to the sponsor
  5. Unique marketing initiatives
  6. Terms & conditions
  7. Call to action

To learn more about each of these ideas, I encourage you to click-through and read their blog post. It is definitely worth the click and your time!

The bottom line? Engage your prospects/donors and build strong relationships and everything else will fall in place.

How does your organization approach special event sponsorships? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and opinions. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Nominating committee versus board development committee?

recruitmentI belong to a professional association and recently agreed to join their nominating committee to help the board of directors fill a few expiring board terms. This volunteer experience has made “board recruitment” top of mind for me over the last few weeks. I also can’t stop thinking about the various organizational structures and strategies/approaches to board recruitment. When this happens to me, I know there must be a blog post brewing.

Nominating committee approach

This method of undertaking board recruitment was what I was first exposed to as a young non-profit professional working for the Boy Scouts of America back in the 1990s.

A nominating committee is:

  • typically an ad hoc committee
  • pulled together a few months before existing board terms expire
  • composed of both board members and various other stakeholders
  • responsible for identifying board prospects
  • responsible for pulling together a slate of volunteers for a larger body of membership to consider

There are variations on this approach.

I’ve been involved in nominating committees responsible for:

  • identifying and evaluating prospects
  • ranking prospects
  • building a slate of prospects
  • presenting a slate of prospects to the membership (where the slate is exactly equal to the number of vacancies that need to be filled)
  • asking the at-large membership to approve the slate or send the nominating committee back to the drawing board to re-develop a different slate

I’ve also been involved in nominating committees responsible for:

  • sifting through nominations from the field
  • interviewing applicants (based on board gap assessment and what the board needs with regards to skill sets and experiences)
  • constructing a ballot of vetted prospects without regard for how many vacancies need to be filled
  • asking the at-large membership to vote for a smaller subset of what appears on their ballot

Board Development / Board Governance Committee

The alternative to an ad hoc Nominating Committee is a Board Development (or board governance) standing committee. In the last 15 years of my non-profit career, I’ve become more familiar with this approach to board recruitment.

A board development committee is:

  • standing committee that meets throughout the calendar year
  • composed of both board members and various other stakeholders
  • responsible for gap assessment
  • responsible for identifying and evaluating board prospects
  • responsible for recruiting board prospects
  • responsible for onboarding and orientation of new board volunteers
  • responsible for developing and implementing a board training calendar (e.g. external conferences as well as boardroom trainings)
  • responsible for annual review/evaluation of individual board volunteers
  • sometimes a resource to the board president on governance issues (e.g. assistance with committee structure, meeting design, annual board retreat, etc)

My two cents

I personally like the board development/board governance standing committee option over the old fashion Nominating Committee approach for the following reasons:

  • It feels more comprehensive in its approach to building/sustaining an organization
  • It feels more strategic with regards to aligning skills/experiences of volunteers with organizational talent gaps
  • It feels focused and more permanent (rather than “it’s that time of the year again” mentality)

In a perfect world, I believe your organization is best served when you can align your board development practices with approaches that are intentional, mindful and strategic.

While I recognize that membership-based organizations might struggle with this approach, I still think a board development committee can work in those environments and accommodate practices such as a “call for nominations” from the at-large membership.  In these situations, if there needs to be voting from the membership, then I obviously favor the practice of putting a slate of prospects in front of the membership for a thumbs up or thumbs down vote.

Your thoughts? What does your organization do to be intentional, mindful and strategic with its board recruitment, development and governance? Please scroll down and provide your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. After all, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


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