Is it time to eliminate the charitable giving tax deduction?


tax deductionLet’s face it. Our government is broke. We The People have accumulated almost $20 trillion in debt. As government leaders wrestle with this issue, the non-profit sector continues to rally from time-to-time insisting every other sacred cow in the tax code should be scrutinized except for our own. Putting aside the fairness and hypocrisy questions, I’m left wondering: 1) why do we cling to this entitlement so strongly, 2) what is the real effect of this tax policy on our sector and 3) what would really happen if lost this tax status?

Why do we cling?

In my opinion, I think the non-profit sector is afraid of change. It might be as simple as this.

The reason I come to this conclusion is that I cannot find any compelling research-based evidence that clearly proves that giving taxpayers a deduction for their charitable giving has any significant effect on whether or not your organization receives support.

How I did come to this conclusion? There are many stories in the Wall Street Journal, Nonprofit Quarterly and Stanford Social Innovation Review that speak to this issue. While there are opinions on both sides of this debate, the following facts remain:

  • More than half of the deductions being taken for charitable giving comes from a very small percentage of taxpayers (some say this gives taxbreaks to people who don’t really need them)
  • Taxpayers who don’t itemize their taxes (a very large number of people) still donate to charities
  • Review of the history books demonstrate, despite tax code tweaks and changes, charitable giving has remained constant at around two percent of GDP
  • Eliminating this tax deduction amounts to $51 billion more dollars in tax revenue

These are simply facts. (Note: many people come to very different conclusions around these facts)

However, when I set aside the facts and look back over my 20-years of non-profit and fundraising work experience, I can only recall ONE PERSON who was strongly motivated to make a charitable contribution because of the tax code. And for those of you are wondering, “Was that donor and accountant?” the answer is “Of course, he was.

calculateI don’t want to muddle this point. So, let me be clear. I’ve spoke with many donors (both large and small) who mention the word “tax deduction.” It is usually in reference to needing documentation for their accountant. Only one donor actually pushed the pencil and said he needed to make a donation of a certain size to minimize the amount of tax he would pay to Uncle Sam.

Based on the facts and my experience, here are the opinions I hold:

  • Donors who take advantage of the tax deduction do so because it is available to them
  • Many donors don’t determine how much they plan on giving to you because of the deductions (of course, there are exceptions and most are probably related to estate planning and in some instances NAP credits in certain states)
  • Donors don’t decide if they will donate to you because of the tax deduction (I believe they donate to you because they support your mission and the people closest to your mission)
  • No one really knows if charitable giving will go down (or go up) if the tax deduction is eliminated (and anyone who claims to know probably thinks they know who will win the next election or what next year’s crop yields will be)

So, based on facts and opinions, I can only conclude our sector’s resistance to eliminating the charitable giving tax deduction is largely based on the fear of an unknowable future.

What is the real effect of this tax policy?

Again, this is hard to quantify and know for certain, but the following are a few guesses:

  • It helps push a large quantity of charitable giving from individuals into the fourth quarter of the calendar year (because fundraising messages focus on “giving before the December 31st deadline”)
  • It can muddle case for support messaging (e.g. instead of focusing exclusively on community needs and your organization’s solutions/programs language about taxes and non-mission focused based rationale creeps into the discussion)
  • It can hamstring non-profit organizations from engaging in robust lobbying and public policy efforts on behalf of your organization and clients (e.g. IRS rule about public charities only being allowed to engage in a limited amount of legislative lobbying or risk losing their non-profit tax status)

What if the deduction disappeared?

carnacI am not a fortune teller. I cannot predict the impact of such a policy change. However, I can confidently say a few obvious things:

  1. Eliminating the charitable giving tax deduction would be a “market disruptor” and result in change
  2. Recent disruptions in other sectors has produced winners and losers
  3. Market disruptions oftentimes results in innovation
  4. Non-profit organizations who are unskilled or simply bad at basic fundraising best practices such as developing a compelling case for support will most likely struggle until they adapt, innovate or go out of business
  5. Non-profit organizations who are donor-centered, relationship-builders, collaborative, innovative and good at fundraising basics (e.g. case for support, prospect identification, cultivation, solicitation, donor stewardship, etc) will likely survive and quite possibly thrive

I suspect many readers have strong opinions on this subject, and you’re invited to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. I’m also curious what, if any, market disruptions you might be able to think of (e.g. if you could hit the reset button for our sector) that would spur change, innovation and growth. Please feel free to weigh-in with those thoughts, too.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Using house party events to advance your non-profit interests


I try to keep an eye open for opportunities to learn new things every day. Last week, I learned something about house party events that was so simple, but potentially game changing if you take it to heart. What I learned was . . .

House party events aren’t just a fundraising strategy.

house partyAs a young non-profit professional, who was just learning his craft, I was first introduced to the idea of a “house party” event format as a fundraising technique. The idea was simple. Ask someone to host a small party in their home. Work with them to identify a guest list of potential donors from their list of friends and colleagues. Make a group ask during the get together and collect pledge cards. My former employer used to call these “leadership circle” events.

Personally, I didn’t like the house party strategy for fundraising. Early experiences demonstrated to me that donors were very effective at hiding in group settings. For example, someone who had the willingness to support your organization and the capacity to do so with a substantial gift, usually ended up making a smaller contribution when asked as part of a group in contrast with a one-on-one in-person meeting.

Fast forward to much later in my career, when I was working as an internal consultant for a large national non-profit organization. I was re-introduced to house parties. Instead of using it as a solicitation vehicle, local affiliates where encouraged to use the strategy for new prospect identification and cultivation. At first, this tool was branded “House Party of Hope,” and later it was re-branded “A Party with a Purpose.

Again, house parties were still being used as a resource development activity. So, I never saw this strategy in any other light. That is until just last week when we hosted a house party in our basement.

The purpose of our house party was to introduce the newly hired CEO for a statewide organization to our circle of friends. The stated purposes of this get together were:

  1. Introduce the new CEO to his organization’s constituency
  2. Introduce the organization’s constituency to the new CEO
  3. Use a facilitated question/answer format with the group to collect stories to help the organization craft a shared vision, set goals, and develop a new strategic plan

engage2Last week’s experience helped me see house parties in a whole new light. No longer was this strategy simply a tool in a non-profit person’s resource development toolbox. The more I thought about it, the opportunities seemed to be endless. Here are just a few of my thoughts:

  • Host a house party to validate a final planning document with any number of stakeholder and constituency groups
  • Host a house party to engage potential collaborative partners in a discussion about what is possible
  • Host a house party to engage staff, build team dynamics, address workplace challenges, start a new program, etc
  • Host a house party to collect stories from clients/constituents to gauge your organization’s impact, develop a marketing campaign, identify additional needs, etc
  • Host a house party to educate the community and initiate a call to action focused on your organization’s public advocacy agenda (Note: I believe I once read the American Medical Association did this in the 1950s or 1960s to defeat national healthcare legislation moving its way through Congress)
  • Host a house party to identify new potential board volunteers as a precursor to the board development committee building prospect lists

I literally believe the sky is the limit with regard to how a house party strategy can be used to advance any non-profit organization’s agency.

If you are interested in learning more about house parties, click-through the following links for a treasure trove of resources and reading materials:

Has your organization ever used a house party strategy? What were your objectives? Were your objectives met? Please use the comment box 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
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Executive coaching is for non-profit leaders


fishbowlA few years ago, I wrote a post titled “Why are non-profits adverse to executive coaching?” after a conference where I couldn’t give away executive coaching services. With a few more years under my belt, things haven’t gotten any easier. In fact, I still find it challenging to sell executive coaching services to non-profit leaders. However, I’ve changed my mind since writing that last blog post about the reasons why this is the case.

After a heart-to-heart with a few non-profit friends, I’ve come to believe executive coaching is seen by some (and perhaps many) as a service for professionals who are failing. One person even compared it to counseling.

When put into this context, people who see coaching as a remedy for failure also see asking their board or their supervisor to pay for coaching as an admission of weakness or being unable to do their job.

The ironic thing here is that some of the for-profit sector’s greatest leaders have worked with executive coaches. It wasn’t because they were failing, but it was because they needed to maximize their performance.

Executive coaching is not like coaching in athletics. They don’t call the plays in from the sidelines. In fact, they don’t even tell you what to do. A good executive coach will ask powerful questions, facilitate discussions, help you with goal setting and be an accountability agent in your professional life.

Executive coaches are not therapists, but hiring one can have the impact of bringing greater work-life balance and fulfillment to your professional life.

The reality is that executive coaches are hired for any number of reasons. Here are just a few:

  • Help with succession planning
  • Developing young leaders
  • Improving performance / Maximizing performance
  • Serving as a thought-partner during important projects (e.g. strategic planning)
  • On-boarding new CEOs and key leaders (both staff and volunteer)
  • Surviving and thriving during executive search and transition

I could go on and on with this list, but the bottom line is that there are any number of projects and situation where non-profit organizations can benefit from executive coaching services.

Has your organization every hired an executive coach for staff or board volunteer? If not, then what is stopping you? Please 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
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

What should you do when a board member quits fundraising?


This certainly seems to be the topic of the month for non-profit people running in my circles. I’m not sure why this is the flavor of the month, but I’ve been asked this question so many times recently I took is as a sign from the universe (or the fundraising gods) that I should blog about it.

Why do board members quit on you?

quit1Oh, well let me count the reasons . . .

  1. They feel lost when it comes to asking for charitable contributions (aka lack of training)
  2. They feel uneasy about asking friends for money (aka they are asking inappropriately due to a lack of training which results in any number of FEARS and the feeling that they’re begging)
  3. They feel unsupported by staff (aka staff aren’t going out with them to help and model best practices)
  4. They sense there is a lack of organization behind their efforts (aka meetings are poorly attended or poorly organized, acknowledgement letters are sent late or sporadically, etc)
  5. Prospective donors are assigned to volunteers by staff without input from volunteers (aka they aren’t asking people with whom they are comfortable soliciting)
  6. They are busy people and there aren’t accountability tools being used by staff to keep everyone focused (e.g. report meetings, dashboards, scorecards, campaign reports, peer-to-peer phone calls)
  7. Fundraising efforts lack urgency (aka deadlines always seem to be extended, goals seem to shift/change, etc)
  8. They weren’t recruited appropriately and didn’t know what they were saying ‘YES’ to when joining the board (aka your board recruitment process lacks “expectation tools” like volunteer job descriptions, commitment pledges, etc)

I could go on and on and on with this list, but that wouldn’t be productive. Suffice it to say, if any of the aforementioned reasons describe your organization, you need to address it. Quickly! Otherwise, no matter how many new board members you recruit to replace the ones who quit on you, the problem will continue to recur.

All of this begs the question, “What can and should be done about board volunteers who quit on their fundraising responsibilities?

Step One: Have a heart-to-heart discussion

heart to heartI have no idea why this is so scary for so many non-profit staff and board volunteers. It doesn’t have to be a confrontation. Here are a few talking points:

  • Describe what you are observing (e.g. a reluctance to fundraise)
  • Assure them that it happens in the case of many board volunteers
  • Ask them what the trouble seems to be
  • Listen – Listen – Listen (empathize where appropriate)
  • Ask them how you can help
  • If there is nothing you can do to help, then ask them how they’d like to move forward

Unfortunately, I’ve seen it too many times. Board members disengage and no one asks them if everything is OK and if they are in need of assistance.

It is troublesome when non-profit families start acting this way, which is why Step One is always to sit down and listen.

Step Two: Engage in cultivation & stewardship

quit2If the reasons given by your board volunteer aren’t things beyond anyone’s control (e.g. family member illness, work-related challenges, etc) and they simply don’t feel comfortable with solicitation, then ask them to get heavily involved in cultivation (e.g. engaging new prospective supporters) and stewardship (e.g. showing existing donors gratitude and return on investment) activities. (Note: don’t simply let them focus on other non-fundraising activities like programming or marketing)

The following is a partial list of things you can ask of reluctant fundraising volunteers:

  • Host a house party with people who don’t currently support your organization (e.g. party where staff briefly talk about the organization and the host follows up with participants to see if they are interested in learning more)
  • Invite people who don’t currently give to your organization to tour your facilities and see the mission in action
  • Invite people who aren’t donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee and simply chat about the organization (e.g. it is important for the board volunteer to share reasons why they are involved and passionate about the organization)
  • Hand write letters to donors to express gratitude for their support
  • Make phone calls to donors in the middle of the organization’s range of gifts chart to express gratitude, engage in a discussion about their reasons for support, and share a piece of organizational good news
  • Invite larger major gifts donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee, share a copy of the most recent annual report, share any recent pieces of good news or programmatic results, and talk passionately about the future

I’m not suggesting you ask a reluctant fundraising volunteer to do one of two of these things. I am suggesting you immerse them in these activities. You might try asking them to complete five handwritten letters, five phone calls AND five in-person contacts every month for the next year.

Why?

In my experience, there is something curative when board members have substantive encounters with others that focus on community need, mission, vision, and impact.

I’ve seen a heavy dose of this approach help many volunteers get over their cold feet or malaise when it comes to fundraising.

Step Three: Finding a New Seat on the Bus

seat on busSometimes we can’t fix the problem. Board members are people, too. Their parents get sick. Their marriages falter. They end up with a new boss who demands more from them.

When these things happen, the first order of business is empathy. This is what you’d do for a family member going through the same thing. Right? And board members are your non-profit family.

But whatever you do, you cannot make exceptions for individual board volunteers with regards to their fiduciary responsibilities. It is an all or nothing proposition.

I’ve seen it too often where one board member is given a pass (usually for good reason). It’s a slippery slope. Others board members start identifying reasons in their life why they can’t participate in fundraising. Worse yet, a schism materializes in the boardroom between “those who fundraise” and “those who don’t.”  When this happens, resentment and ugliness aren’t far behind.

So, what does finding a new seat on the bus look like? It could be any number of things including (but not limited to):

  • Taking a short sabbatical from the board
  • Resigning from the board and moving into a new role (e.g. joining a committee, becoming a program volunteer, helping with small projects, remaining on as a donor, etc)
  • Acting as an advisor (e.g. monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly coffee meetings with the CEO or development director)
  • Becoming a community ambassador (e.g. speaking periodically at service clubs, etc)

We don’t banish or fire board members (unless of course it is a toxic/destructive situation). People who support our mission are valued and important. We keep them involved, but we do so in roles that are mutually beneficial and fulfilling.

How has your organization dealt with and addressed board members who quit fundraising (or maybe never really got started)? 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
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

What RULES do you live by when it comes to fundraising?


rules1Have you ever stopped whatever you doing, took a deep breath, and observed the world around you? (And I mean really take a deep look.) I did this just the other day, and what I saw kind of surprised me. Everywhere I looked I saw R-U-L-E-S. There were formal rules such as stop signs, registration forms and sales taxes. There were also informal rules such as people walking on the right side of the sidewalk.

As I pondered this revelation, it dawned on me how complex and layered this practice has become for humans. Consider the following:

  • There are rules that govern our international interactions (e.g. diplomacy, war crimes, etc)
  • In the United States, there are federal rules, state rules, and a myriad of local rules (e.g. municipal, county, township, etc)
  • Every profession operates within a set of rules (e.g. ethics, accreditation, operational norms, etc)
  • Individually speaking, there are informal rules many of us follow in public spaces (e.g. opening doors for others, smiling and shaking hands when introduced, not purposely passing gas, etc)
  • Also, individually speaking, many of us create a set of rules for ourselves when we’re not in public (e.g. wake-up at 7 am THEN start the coffee THEN let out the dog THEN feed the pets; brush teeth before leaving the house; make the bed)
  • I haven’t even mentioned . . . a) the rules of physics, b) the rules of biology, c) the rules of chemistry (all of which govern our ability to exist)
  • And don’t even get me started about the rules of God and our world’s major religious institutions

kindergartenMy mind was completely blown! (yes, I was completely sober)

It almost became overwhelming to think about how many rules existed in my little life. Many of which I don’t even think as I go about living my day-to-day life.

Of course, every once in a while, we are reminded about this phenomenon by authors such as Robert Fulghum, who authored “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.”

Sometimes, we even enjoy a rebellious rock-n-roll song bemoaning all of the rules that exist in our world. One of my personal favorites is the Five Man Electric Band’s 1971 song “Signs.” I just love how the lyrics start off with “And the sign said, long hair freaky people need not apply.

All of this deep thinking got me wondering about RULES that govern resource development and fundraising practices.

While there is obviously the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) Code of Ethical Standards, my curiosity goes deeper. I am wondering what policies and practices (e.g. rules) you’ve put in place in your local organizations. And more importantly, I’m wondering why you feel these rules are important.

I looked at some of the resource development practices I put in place at my last organization. The following are just a few examples:

  • Gift acknowledgement letters must be in the mail within 24 hours of receiving a pledge/gift
  • All pledges/contributions must be entered into the donor database even if it meant double entry from other sources (e.g. duck race software, financial management software, etc)
  • All board volunteers were asked to hand write at least five thank you notes at the end of every board meeting to donors who made a pledge/gift in the last 30 days
  • Annual reports were produced and distributed in time for the annual dinner fundraising event held at the end of January
  • Every gift acknowledgement letter included IRS language in the footer of the letter indicating whether or not any goods/services were received by the donor in lieu of their contribution and the value of those goods/services

In addition to looking at my own experiences, I went back to an old training curriculum titled “Stewardship” to see if I could identify more “rules.” This was what I found on a PowerPoint slide titled “Stewardship Activities & Functions:”

  • State Registration — Before you begin to solicit, be sure you are in compliance with all state laws (State registration is usually done through the Secretary of State)
  • AcknowledgementOfficial thank you letters or receipts that include information required by IRS
  • RecognitionGiving clubs, named gift opportunities, special events, individual activities
  • CommunicationThe information stream that reinforces appreciation of gift and tells about its impact
  • AdministrationBack office activities in resource development and finance ensure gifts are accounted for and invested properly
  • ImplementationThe work of executive director and program staff to see that gift is used according to stated purposes

Obviously, stewardship goes well-beyond simply thanking donors for their contribution.

As I bring this post to conclusion, I am first struck by how many formal and informal resource development and fundraising rules exist in the average non-profit. However, I’m also left wondering if all of these varied rules can be rolled up into more global truisms similar to the ones found in Fulghum’s book about the values we all learned in kindergarten.

Maybe one of those simple, comprehensive rules can be summed up as: “Treat your donors like your BFF.” (e.g. do unto others as you would have them do unto you).

What rules do you operate your resource development shop under? And why have you instituted those rules? Please use the comment box 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
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Report meetings are the key to better fundraising campaigns


head in sandIf I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it over and over again. An organization puts the right people around the table and engages everyone in developing the right written plan for their fundraising campaign or event. They recruit the right people in the right way to work pledge cards or solicit event participants or secure sponsorships. They even go about assigning prospects/donors to volunteer solicitors very effectively. And then it happens . . . solicitation materials are distributed and everything comes to a screeching halt.

Why does this happen?

In my experience, the following principles must be in place for volunteer solicitors to thrive:

  • The campaign must feel well-organized
  • The case for support must be mission-focused and consistently messaged
  • Volunteers must be trained and feel supported by staff
  • There needs to be a written plan, and those asked to implement it needed to have some part in developing it
  • A sense of urgency (positive tenacity not crisis or consequence focused) needs to be genuinely felt by everyone
  • Everyone needs to feel accountable to doing what they said they would do

Having two or three of these principles in place isn’t good enough. If you lack one of these “engagement principles,” your fundraising efforts are likely to experience a hiccup of some sort.

One strategy that helps with two or three of the aforementioned bullet points is integration of routine “report meetings” throughout the duration of your campaign timeline.

What is a report meeting?

NegociateUpScale_crop380wA report meeting is simply a face-to-face meeting of volunteer solicitors, who come together to report their progress to each other.

How these meetings are facilitated is important. An ineffective report meeting is when volunteers give a simple report comprised of a few broad statements. Here is an example of such an ineffective report:

I’ve called a few of my prospects, and left voicemail messages, but no one has called me back yet. I should be able to get all of my initial calls done by some time next week or the the week after.

Effective report meetings are:

  • Facilitated by one person (which can be a staff person or the volunteer chair of the campaign)
  • Volunteers are asked to give their report one at a time
  • Volunteers go through their list of prospects/donors one at a time and provide a short progress report on each prospect
  • The entire team is invited to provide suggestions, offers of assistance and encouragement at the end of each volunteer solicitor’s report

Here is an example of an effective report:

Last week, I called Sally and set-up a lunch meeting with her for this Friday. Yesterday, I met Joe and his wife at their lovely home and asked them to consider increasing their pledge from last year. They need some time to think it over, and I have a follow-up meeting schedule with them two weeks from Wednesday. As for John, I’ve called him three times both at home and the office, and he isn’t responding. If anyone sees John this week, please give him a friendly nudge and encourage him to give me a call.

Keep these meetings focused and organized

focusIf you’ve recruited the right volunteers with the right skill sets and experiences to work on your fundraising campaign, then these people are likely very busy.

There is no better way to disengage a busy person than by wasting their time. So, these report meetings need to be well-run and efficient.

One person designated as the facilitator can keep the meetings on track, gently move the group along if they end up off-track, and give the entire experience an organized feeling.

Create a sense of F-U-N

Yes, busy people typically dislike nonsense in their meetings, but there are ways to still have fun without it feeling like a waste of time.

One way I’ve seen fun injected into report meetings is by using a campaign theme to organize the report meeting.

For example, I once saw an annual campaign adopt a horse race theme. They met at the racetrack. Each volunteer solicitor was assigned a paper horse on a paper racetrack hung on the wall. There were point values assigned to various activities (e.g. securing a meeting, making an ask, securing the pledge card, etc), which translated into how far your horse moved along the track.

Of course, there were fun prizes and recognition involved in this friendly competition.

I’ve seen these strategies range from highly organized — like the one I just shared — to very simple (e.g. rewarding the number of completed pledge cards turned in at the meeting).

Whatever you decide to do, a little bit of fun can go a long way in making these meetings palatable for busy people.

Integrate mission into the meeting

missionWe need to keep in mind that no one likes fundraising just for the sake of getting their friends to give them money. The reason volunteers sign-up to do what many people consider difficult and intimidating is because they are truly bought into your mission.

So, use these report meetings to remind them of why they agreed to do this in the first place.

This can simply be done by dedicating two or three minutes at the beginning of each meeting to a mission moment. It shouldn’t be too long and can be as simple as a:

  • testimonial
  • short story
  • video

Recognition is important

If your report meetings start to feel like beatings, then people will stop coming. In order to avoid this phenomenon, one of my clients started having a little fun with their recognition items. The following pictures are just two examples of inexpensive and creative recognition items you can use.

report meeting1     report meeting2

If the pictures are too small, hopefully you can see that the recognition items are as simple as a bag of Goldfish Crackers and a package of Reese’s Pieces with cute puns attached that recognize the volunteer’s accomplishment. What fun!!!

What if people cannot attend?

I’ve seen a few organizations successfully pull off report meetings via conference call, but not very often. Why? probably because it is too difficult to instill fun, mission-focus and urgency into a phone call. If you want my opinion, I prefer in-person meetings.

If someone absolutely needs to miss a meeting for a good reason, you should ask them to send a written report to be read at the meeting. But these absences need to be rare. Otherwise, everyone else ends up backing out of future meetings.

The best way to ensure good attendance is to set expectations up front during your initial recruitment visit. Clearly explain what you are asking of the volunteer and include report meeting attendance as of those expectation. It is best if you can actually share those meeting dates with the volunteer prospect during the recruitment meeting. (This should also be included in the written job description that you will leave behind after your initial meeting.)

For those potential volunteers who tell you upfront that they are happy to help, but cannot make your meetings, I strongly suggest you thank them for their consideration and not take them up on their offer. Obviously, don’t scorn them . . . but explain how important report meeting attendance is for success and then suggest a different opportunity for them to be involved in the campaign or your organization.

What does your organization do from a campaign strategy perspective to help create accountability, urgency and engagement from your fundraising volunteers? If you’ve used report meetings as a strategy, then what best practices have you used? Please 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
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

What should your non-profit learn from Great Britain’s Brexit vote?


brexitLast week, British voters stunned the world in a number of different ways. First, they voted in a non-binding referendum to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which triggers a process to disentangle Great Britain from the European Union (EU). Second,  global financial markets have reacted poorly to this news because it injected a large amount of uncertainty into all things financial (apparently there is now a projection by some economists that there is a 30% to 50% chance the United States will now enter into another recession because of this vote). Finally, and most importantly, many people were stunned by reporting in the days following the referendum that there appears to be a growing number of voters who felt misinformed and regretted their vote.

As I listened to last week’s news coverage, I couldn’t help but worry about what this all means for the American non-profit sector.

Of course, the risk of another recession obviously spells trouble for non-profit organizations who are still digging out from the 2008 economic crash. However, this isn’t really what concerns me the most.

The fact that voters felt misinformed and ignorant about what they were voting on is a chilling realization and one that should concern every non-profit professional.

If you stop and think about this phenomenon for a few minutes, it isn’t really surprising.

  • People are busy
  • Many people report feeling as if our world is getting faster and faster
  • Information pours into our lives at breakneck speed (e.g. network television, radio, Google, Facebook, Twitter, cable television, data reports in the workplace, email-email-email, etc)
  • There appears to be a blurring of the lines between opinions and facts in the media
  • There is a media outlet (and internet link) validating every point of view . . . so if you believe it, then you can reinforce it thus hardening your opinion and becoming less likely to hear opposing viewpoints

information overloadCommunications experts refer to this experience as “information overload.”

You may be asking yourself, “So what?

Well, there are consequences . . .

  • Anxiety
  • Decreased productivity
  • Tuning out and unplugging

I’m sure some of you have heard the old marketing adage that it takes at least seven times of someone hearing/seeing an advertisement before it actually breaks through the noise and registers with them. This is a concept called effective frequency.

OK, so now you might be asking yourself, “What does any of this have to do with my non-profit organization?

Let me attempt to answer this question with a few questions for you to consider:

  • What are the consequences of your donors not hearing your post-solicitation stewardship messaging?
  • What problems could result if your board members aren’t reading the reports and materials you send them prior to making decisions in the boardroom?
  • What could happen if staff aren’t processing and reacting appropriately to outcomes data, properly reading/implementing program curricula, or understanding the deliverables written into grant agreements?

If your answers were:

  • increased donor turnover
  • fewer dollars raised
  • bad decision-making
  • poor programming
  • decreased productivity and performance

. . . then you are likely on the same page with me.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is absolutely happening in your organization, but I am asking you to weigh the possibilities.

There are more theories and studies showing us the internet is rewiring our brains and changing: a) how we read and b) how we process information. (If you want to read more, click herehere . . . and here)

information-overloadSo, if you are still with me, you might be wondering what can be done to improve the likelihood that donors, board volunteers and staff are hearing (and understanding) what your organization needs them to know. While I am not a communications expert, here are a few thoughts:

  • Use more pictures and graphics
  • Tell more stories to convey your messages and contextualize your outcomes data
  • Segment your donors and do a better job at targeting your messaging
  • Use multiple communications channels (e.g. in-person, phone, mail, email, outdoor advertising, Facebook, Twitter, etc)  and stop over reliance on email and mail
  • Integrate infographics, dashboards and scorecards into your boardroom materials
  • Redesign your meetings (board and staff meetings) to be more interactive / participatory

How does your organization communicate with its stakeholders? How do you know if your key messages are being properly received and understood? Please use the comment box 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
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Are values at the center of your your fundraising program?


values1Anyone watching television or engaged in community conversations in recent months knows that our communities are entering into another period of time punctuated by values. Some people are talking about life, liberty and happiness. Others of us are focused on equality versus freedom (which are two values that are somewhat mutually exclusive). Perhaps, this elevated values debate is because our country is heading into a divisive Presidential election year. Or maybe it is because big policy debates are underway about LGBTQ and gun rights issues. Regardless, all of this talk has me thinking about the role of values and your non-profit organization’s resource development program.

Whenever I facilitate a strategic planning process for a client, regardless of which planning model I use, the process typically starts off with assessment of the current state and quickly rolls into facilitated discussions about mission, vision and organizational values. I always find it interesting that board volunteers find it easy to talk about mission and vision, but they generally seem to struggle with the values piece.

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise any of us. After all, values discussions can be emotional. Consider the following famous expressions about values:

  • Give me liberty or give me death!” ~Patrick Henry
  • Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.” ~Albert Einstein
  • Only men would think of cutting themselves to determine who the packleader is. Idiots.” ~Christopher Paolini

So, a values discussion can be emotional. Got it! And then a planning facilitator like me comes along and tells your organization it is important to come up with a list of “shared values.” I guess when I look at it from this perspective, it totally makes sense that people want to punt on this exercise.

Regardless of how difficult this might be, it is still important.

Why? Well, I think Roy Disney probably put it best when he said:

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

values2All of this gets me thinking about the countless discussions I’ve been a part of throughout the years with non-profit staff, boards and fundraising volunteers where difficult fundraising decisions were being made. The following are just a few examples:

  • Should a gift from Big Tobacco be accepted when the organization runs anti-smoking and healthy life skills programming with its youth clients?
  • Should a named gifts contract be signed with a donor who wants to put a Bible quote on the outside of the building when the organization is secular and committed to serving everyone in the community?
  • Should a pledge be booked to one campaign versus another fundraising activity when a donor is clear about the benefits they desire and fuzzy about their intent; all of which is juxtaposed against staff wishing to achieve the goals laid out in their individual performance plans?

UGH!

Of course, the easy answer is always . . . “What do your organizational policies say about this issue?

However, weren’t those policies shaped and developed in a crucible of shared organizational values? I hope so.

Moreover, how many times have you dusted off those policy binders only to find they don’t speak clearly or directly to your issue? When this happens, then you’re right back where you started . . . stuck and left with your organization’s shared values.

There seem to be a number of different schools of thought on the question of fundraising values.

  1. Some people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values (hopefully found in your strategic planning document)
  2. Other people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values, but it should also have a set of supplemental values focused specifically on the unique activities stemming from resource development activities
  3. Still others believe that fundraising staff come with a set of values that bind them together as a profession

The Association of Fundraising Professionals subscribe to the third school of thought and have this to say about values:

An ethical fundraiser aspires to: Observe and adhere to the AFP Code and all relevant laws and regulations;  Build personal confidence and public support by being trustworthy in all circumstances; Practice honesty in relationships; Be accountable for professional, organizational and public behavior; Be transparent and forthcoming in all dealings; and, Be courageous in serving the public trust.”

To be honest, I’ve never  operated under any one of these schools of thought. I guess my career has been guided and shaped by a hybrid (aka mishmash) of these ideas.

values3I’ve always taken the AFP ethics/values statement to heart, embraced my organization’s set of shared values, and superimposed my own set of individual values. As an Eagle Scout, my individual values have always been rooted in the 12-points of the Scout Law (e.g. trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent).

However, after some thoughtful consideration, I’m left worried that this approach could result in conflict. After all, what happens when an organizational value is in conflict with an individual value?

My best advice to those of you who care about values and the impact these potential conflicts might have on your organization is as follows:

  • Invest time in developing your organization’s list of shared values
  • Incorporate these values into your various systems (e.g. recognition, compensation, recruitment, etc)
  • Integrate these shared values into your supplemental planning documents (e.g. resource development plan, baord development plan, marketing plan, individual performance plans, etc)
  • Start every policy development exercise with a discussion about values
  • Find a way to talk about your organization’s shared values in every board meeting (e.g. generative discussions, CEO report, committee reports, etc)
  • Most importantly, build an organizational culture where it is safe for people to talk about their values in the context of shared organizational values (keeping in mind that your board is in a constant state of flux with volunteers coming and going)

To those of you who don’t care about this topic, I encourage you to turn on your television and watch some of the news coverage focused on what’s happening in Congress in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. If you don’t want your non-profit board room to look like that, then I suggest you start caring about the power of values.

Has your organization had to deal with a difficult decision recently? Did values play a role in fueling the conflict or solving the problem? If so, please use the comment box 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
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Nonprofit community in spotlight after mass shooting in Orlando


I really hate writing about national tragedies. I sometime worry that all of this media attention (e.g. television, radio, blogosphere) simply rewards sick people who seek this exact type of attention (e.g. their 15-minutes of fame). In spite of this belief, I’ve had a few epiphanies this week as I mourn the events of Orlando with my LGBTQ friends and all of my fellow Americans, and I really want to share. So, please forgive my hypocrisy for the next few minutes.

Realization #1: Lots of blame to go around

blameAs I’ve attempted to process this most recent horrific shooting, I couldn’t help but watch the news. In doing so, I’ve heard so many different people and groups stand-up to condemn what they believe is the root cause of this catastrophe. Interestingly, there are many different groups who cannot seem to agree on what the driving force was behind the Orlando massacre.

After days of listening to others and trying to make sense of it all, here are all of the things I’ve been told by others to blame:

  • Lack of gun control
  • Mental illness
  • Terrorists
  • Republicans
  • Democrats
  • Voters
  • Homophobia (externalized and perhaps even internalized homophobia)

After almost a week of watching news reports and television shows, I’ve come to two conclusions:

  1. I need to stop watching TV because anyone with an opinion seems to be getting a chance to voice it
  2. There are likely many different reasons why this gunman did what he did

Realization #2: Homophobia in all forms is harmful

homophobiaTwo weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled “Time to address homophobia in the non-profit sector?” I focused on my experiences over the last two decades as a member of the LGBTQ community trying to work in the non-profit sector. Most importantly, I tried to talk about my internalized homophobia and reactions to institutional homophobia and just homophobia in general.

My internalized homophobia has caused me to:

  • quit jobs
  • lie to friends, colleagues and clients
  • impose upon those who I love (e.g. my husband)
  • engage in self-destructive behavior (e.g. overeating, etc)

To bottom line this realization, HATE is one of the most powerful and motivating emotions known to humankind. I suspect that where there is HATE (regardless of whether it is homophobia, racism, sexism, misogyny, etc) there will always be a high likelihood of violence.

Realization #3: Non-profits bear responsibility for this mess and will also be the solution

nraI’m sure many of you probably think I’ve lost my mind. After all, what rationale could I possibly come up with that would allow me to blame non-profit organizations for this mess and charge them with fixing it?

Please join me in reviewing the list of non-profit organizations that I heard/read mentioned in news coverage this last week:

I’m willing to bet if I tried a little harder that I could double this list. All of these groups are non-profit organizations. Some of these organizations have been blamed for the problem, and others are rushing in to help address it.

nonprofit2However, I want to take this point one step further with the following random non-profit thoughts as they pertain to solving our country’s mass shooting crisis:

  • I’m interested to see how the NRA reacts to the legislative push to outlaw people on the terror watch list from being able to legally purchase guns
  • I’m interested to see how after-school programs will embrace diversity programming to help kids appreciate our differences rather than hate and bully
  • I’m interested to see how churches rally and Muslim mosques rally their congregations in the name of love (and likewise which ones will embrace hate)
  • I’m interested to see how mental health non-profits addressing the issue of gun rights and the rights of their clients in addition to looking at homophobia differently
  • I’m interested to watch the Democratic Party and the Republican Party try to spin the Orlando shooting into political gain in November
  • I’m interested to see if organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations can stop anti-Muslim legislation and help foster a healthy interfaith dialog
  • When will organizations like the Boy Scouts of America finally stop teaching kids that gay people can’t be trusted to be leaders because their values are different (thus helping create another generation of gay scouts who struggle with internalized homophobia and straight scouts who look down upon LGBTQ individuals)

So, what do you think now? Lots of “non-profit stuff” going on when it comes to the Orlando shooting, right? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts, experiences and concerns. Nothing is off limits. All I ask is that you keep it civil.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

Long term vs strategy vs tactical planning for your organization


planning flow chartI love Seth Godin and his ability to make you think with what must be some of the world’s shortest blog posts ever. Did you see his recent post titled A ten-year plan is absurd? I swear to you this 28 word post has been rattling around in my head for the last five days. If you haven’t read it, it is really worth the click. Seriously!

Here are some of the thoughts I cannot seem to shake:

  • Back in the days when we had more time and the luxury of being thoughtful, it wasn’t uncommon for an organization to develop a long-range plan. This document was akin to a vision statement, but it had more depth and long range goals.
  • Strategic plans were three to five years in duration and stemmed from the long-term plan. This document “chunked down” the long term plan into shorter term vision, goals and strategies.
  • Every year a tactical plan (aka operational plan) were developed and stemmed from the strategic plan and turned each strategy into a detailed action plan for that particular year (e.g. specific tactics with information on who would do what and by when). These tactical plans would commonly provide direction to development of individual annual performance plans as well as committee work plans for each standing committee of the board.

As our world seems to have accelerated and time has evaporated, it is very common for organizations to pick-up the phone, call a planning consultant/facilitator/coach like me and ask if I’d be willing to help them scrunch all of these plans into one convenient document called “The Strategic Plan.”

Seth’s blog post has me wondering if I’m doing a disservice to my clients by agreeing to help cut these corners?

Does your organization know where it wants to be 10-years from now? 20-years? If not, then what have you done during your “visioning process” for strategic planning that instills confidence that your organization isn’t simply floating from one board’s big idea to the next generation of board members’ genius thought?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847
http://www.facebook.com/eanderson847
http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847

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