Culture trumps strategy? Maybe it is more of an alignment issue

culture1It is a basic truism for some organizational development professionals that “Culture trumps strategy“. In the last few months, this expression has been front and center in my mind. I guess the reason it bothers me is because of its implications, which is none of what I bring to the table as a non-profit and fundraising consultant matters unless the organization’s culture is ready to receive it and act upon it.

If the organization’s culture isn’t open to the change they wish to make, then the first order of business needs to be how to evolve culture in such a way that helps people embrace the impending strategies that will emanate from the desired initiative or plan.

So, does culture really trump strategy or that just a bunch of hooey? When I struggle with things, I usually Google it. So It did. And this is what I found:

Confusing? I know. But I really liked what Mike Myatt said on May 29, 2012 in his article appearing in Forbes titled “Culture vs. Strategy – What’s More Important?”

“Put simply, a corporation’s strategy that ignores, or only pays lip service to culture, will be the beneficiary of the toxic environment they deserve.”

I also liked what what I read in the Switch & Shift article when it comes to synergy between many organizational forces:

“Culture, strategy, leadership, branding, innovation, customer orientation and employee centricity must co-exist.”

I think I like this last quotation because it provides me with an idea of how organizational culture can be changed. In other words, you need to work intentionally with all of these organizational threads to weave your organization’s tapestry we call “organizational culture“. I think this idea is best fleshed out in Steve Denning’s Forbes article titled “How Do You Change An Organizational Culture“.

culture2I’ll stop Googling now. Because I think I get it now.

If your non-profit organization wants to raise money by implementing private sector philanthropy strategies, then you better have a “Culture of Philanthropy” in place first. If you don’t, then there will be a ton of resistance from every corner of your organization.

Sorry for such an egg-headed post today. I’m obviously struggling with something in my professional life and it spilled out into the blog this morning.

Do you have a good handle on your non-profit organization’s:

  • culture
  • leadership
  • strategies
  • employees
  • donors
  • clients
  • brand

If so, how do you know that you do? And more importantly, how are you aligning all of these things as your organization’s leader?

Here’s to your health!

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

A book every fundraising professional MUST read!

henry freeman bookI do a lot of reading as a non-profit consultant and blogger. I subscribe to other people’s blogs (e.g. Marc Pitman, Jeff Brooks, Seth Godin, etc). I subscribe to e-newsletters (e.g. Tom Ahern, Pamela Grow, etc). I allow companies like Blackbaud, DonorPath, Network for Good and Convio to send me awesome whitepapers, eBooks, etc.

I love to read. I believe you cannot thrive (let alone survive) in our industry unless you’re a lifelong learner and committed to continuous improvement and evolution. There are lots of ways to achieve this goal. I prefer to read.

So, when my friend — Henry Freeman — told me that he just published a book and wanted to sit down and talk about it, I couldn’t resist an invitation like THAT.

I won’t go into the details, but I walked away from that meeting with a suspicion that my life was about to change (or at the very least, my life was about to become clearer). After consuming Henry’s book in two short airplane rides, I am now totally convinced my life has been touched and I am different.

Here is a short excerpt from Henry’s book — Unlacing the Heart — from page 2:

“One of the most visible hats I wear is that of a fundraising consultant. As is true of most professions, a rather generic title like “fundraiser” tells you very little about who I am and what I actually do. When someone learns that I am a fundraiser, the conversation usually drifts off into a discussion of his or her work and occupation. Yet I do no see myself as a person who simply helps organizations raise money. I am a person blessed with the desire and capacity to hear people’s stories and help them build their dreams.”

I felt the same way after reading Penelope Burk’s book, Donor Centered Fundraising. However, Henry’s book added to that experience.

When I read Penelope’s book, which was full of data-facts-figures, I understood more deeply why I loved resource development and fundraising. The idea of “donor-centered fundraising” resonated with me because I never saw myself as a “solicitor of funds“. I loved the relationship building aspect of resource development and felt a sense of fulfillment when talking to people about their philanthropic passions and working with them on finding ways to make their vision a reality.

When I read Henry’s book, my epiphany was that “philanthropy” is spiritual in nature. Relationship building requires finding a sacred and vulnerable space for both the the fundraising professional and the donor. AND this isn’t a fundraising tactic. It is a human trait that good professionals who love their jobs just so happen to possess (or ultimately find inside themselves).

Here is a short excerpt from Henry’s book — Unlacing the Heart — from page 98:

“For fundraisers and members of most professions, the “hat we wear” clearly states that our presence in the room with another human being is primarily grounded in what we do to pay the bills. Indeed, few people will trust you (nor should they) if at any point you try to disown the professional role that brings you to their door and into their lives. There are, however, many opportunities to move relationships to a deeper level while still working within the boundaries framed by the professional roles we play.”

If you are someone who loves the spirituality aspects of philanthropy, then you’re going to love this book!

If you are someone who loves the relationship building aspects of resource development, then you’re going to love this book!

If you are someone who loves the storytelling nature of fundraising, then you’re going to love this book!

Philanthropy is so much more than asking people for money in an effort to sustain our non-profit institutions. Henry demonstrates that so clearly through a series of stories about:

  • his journey to El Salvador
  • his mentor relationships with Henri Nouwen and Herb Cahoon
  • his professional relationship with Margaret
  • his personal relationship with Alfredo

As I read this book, I found myself moved to tears, which is how I know Henry was unlacing my heart and helping me tap into what I love most about philanthropy and my job. I am confident that he will do the same for you.

This book is a “MUST READ” for anyone who works in our field and aspires to find meaning and fulfillment in this work.

Here’s to your health!

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

New donor database survey findings about email marketing integration

Good morning, DonorDreams readers! As many of you know, my work schedule has become challenging in recent months, and I’ve asked a number of “virtual online friends” to help me out with guest blog posts. Today’s post is a Q&A session with Software Advice’s Janna Finch. The topic is focused on electronic donor communications (e.g. solicitations, stewardship activities, etc) and integration of all these things with your other software systems (e.g. donor database, CRM, financial management, etc). I hope you enjoy this morning’s post.  Here’s to your health!  ~Erik

Q and AThere are many ways to ask individuals for donations and support, and not every nonprofit asks in the same way. However, a new report from the fundraising technology advisers at Software Advice indicates that more and more nonprofits are asking for donations through email marketing, and want those marketing tools to integrate with their fundraising database and accounting systems. Nonprofit market researcher and author of the report Janna Finch shares her insights on why nonprofits are seeing software with more functionality, addresses common questions about navigating software selection, and discusses implications for the fundraising space in 2015.

What was the most striking finding from your survey of nonprofits?
This year, 133 percent more buyers specifically requested built-in email marketing and outreach tools, and I was surprised to see such a large increase. It makes sense that nonprofits are requesting outreach functionality, of course, but this was a significant jump. Retaining existing donors by engaging them and building good relationships with them is a tried-and-true strategy for keeping consistent contributions. It’s good to see that small nonprofits are being proactive about trying to put new systems in place and considering new technology.


In replacing software, the top response was more functionality. What kind of functionality are buyers seeking and why?
Email marketing was by far the most-requested type of functionality at 42 percent, followed by automatic acknowledgements at 35 percent, reporting capabilities at 23 percent, and campaign management features and direct-mail support, both at 22 percent. In my interpretation, this indicates a desire to automate certain processes to be more organized and save time, generating more capacity to focus on furthering the mission of the organization.

Do you have any ideas or theories on what drove the increase in demand for email marketing? 

I think that nonprofits understand the value of storytelling and personalized messaging for donors, and are looking for ways to do that more efficiently. It’s incredibly difficult to manage messaging for more than a few dozen donors without some kind of system, and software can make it easier. There are a good number of affordable fundraising systems with email marketing capabilities available today, so it’s hard to imagine why fundraisers wouldn’t want to consider using email-marketing tools.

What are some ways people can determine which fundraising software is best for their nonprofit?

There are three important considerations for nonprofits purchasing fundraising or donor management software—budget, staff/volunteer skill level and the activities you expect it to support. First, set your budget. If you’re not familiar with how fundraising software is priced, then read about total cost of ownership (TCO) so you know what licenses and fees vendors typically charge. Next, assess the technical literacy of everyone who will need to use the system. For example, if a nonprofit has lots of short-term volunteers who use the system, then ease of use should be priority. I also recommend creating a comprehensive list of every activity you want the software to support, few solutions truly “do it all,” and it can be helpful to prioritize the list into “need-to-have” and “like-to-have” categories.

What are the implications of the trends you identified for the fundraising tech space?

We see a trend of fundraising, donor management and CRM systems naturally morphing into a single system that supports all types of interactions with constituents and fundraising activities. There is overlap in what these systems do and how people use them, so it makes sense that this is happening. Hopefully these more comprehensive systems can make it easier for small nonprofits to amplify their message, better organize and protect their data, and promote long lasting relationships with donors and supporters.

You can read the full report here: Fundraising and Donor Management Software BuyerView | 2015

Wealth screening versus Yoda and The Force

yodaI came across a cool infographic from DonorSearch thanks to Bloomerang’s Monthly Nonprofit Wrap-up digest of blogs and fundraising resources. After digesting the data in the infographic, I couldn’t help but conjure up an image of Yoda talking to a fundraising professional and saying “Use your donor database you shall.” Hahaha! OK, maybe this thought was a result of Force Friday and all the marketing hype around the soon-to-be-released newest Star Wars movie. Regardless, please keep reading . . .

While there was lots of data embedded in the infographic (and you want to click-through to see that graphic), here are two no-brainers:

  • The donors most likely to donate in the future are those who have previously donated
  • Philanthropic giving to other nonprofit organizations is the second most predictive sign of future giving

Looking at these two predictive data points, Yoda would probably say:

  • To find donor prospects for your year-end giving appeal and 2016 annual campaign use your donor database.  Herh herh herh.”
  • For new prospects, look around at other organization’s annual reports, newsletters,  websites and donor honor rolls.

Having worked with non-profit organizations who use wealth screening tools, I share the following observations:

  • these tools are powerful
  • they are expensive
  • they are great for major gift planning, endowment prospecting and capital campaign evaluation and qualification work
  • it is like using a bazooka to kill a fly if you’re using it for annual campaign purposes
  • too often fundraising professionals view wealth screening as a perfect science whereas it should be seen as complimenting the human intelligence gather exercises associated with prospect identification – evaluation – qualification work

What has been your organization’s experience with donor databases, wealth screening, prospect identification/evaluation (e.g. setting targeted ask amounts) exercises? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box and try to do so in Yoda-speak. Let’s have some fun today.

To your health, here is!

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

How does your organization use ePhilanthropy strategies to secure matching gifts?

Good morning, DonorDreams readers! As I’ve shared in recent posts, my work schedule has become chaotic in recent months thanks to a few fun and challenging contracts that I signed. Since there is only so much time in a day, I sometimes inadvertently end up dropping the ball with writing a blog post. I promised you that I will do my best to keep this blog platform a priority and try to engage guest bloggers to fill some of the gaps created by my schedule. This morning I’m grateful to Adam Weinger, who is the president of Double the Donation, for agreeing to be one of those guest bloggers. I hope you enjoy this morning’s post about online matching gift strategies.  Here’s to your health!  ~Erik

6 Tips to Increase Your Online Matching Gift Strategy

Letting your donors know about matching gift programs doesn’t have to be a headache. Having a great team and crafting an effective online presence will help you get the word out about matching gifts and will result in more donations for your nonprofit.

Here are 6 tips that will enable you to give your online gift matching strategies a boost.

1. Appoint a Matching Gift Coordinator

Before beefing up your online matching gift strategy, it’s a good idea to designate one person or a small team of people who will be able to effectively market matching gifts online. While the entire staff should be aware of matching gift programs, making one person the established go-to source for matching gifts can help streamline the online donation and matching gift process.

2. Raise Awareness on Your Website

When people visit your nonprofit’s website, they’re usually looking for information about your organization and ways to donate to your cause.

Why not use that opportunity to let them know about corporate giving programs such as matching gift programs?

For example, you can spread the word about matching gifts on your website in a variety of ways:

  • Include matching gifts on your “ways to give” page. When potential or existing donors find their way to an online donation page, have a prominent link that points them in the direction of matching gift information.
  • Consider implementing an entire page dedicated to matching gift programs. Creating a comprehensive page that lets donors know more about matching gift programs is a great way to give them the most information in one central location.

3. Update Your Website

Nothing can irritate a donor more than going to a nonprofit’s website and getting nothing but broken links and unhelpful pages. The most recent Millennial Impact Report found that over 30% of millennial employees who make donations do so online. Contributions made online are becoming increasingly popular due to the ease and accessibility of donation pages. Don’t miss out on getting these donations plus the matching gifts that go along with them by having a subpar website.

4. Inform Donors about Matching Gifts Throughout the Donation Process

Keeping individuals in the know about matching gifts at every stage of the donation process will help maximize the number of donors that look into doubling their donation.

Provide an option when they donate

If your donors are using your website to donate, use the opportunity to let them know about matching gifts while they’re giving. Offering donors an option to learn more about matching gifts while their contribution is being made will increase the chances that they’ll look into matching gifts.

For tips on making online donations easier, check out this article.

Use your confirmation page

Donors want to make sure their online donation went through without a hitch. Since they’ll be directed to the confirmation page anyway, it’s worthwhile to let donors know about matching gift programs, just in case they missed it on the actual donation page.

Thank You Email

You should always say thank you after receiving a donation, but you can also use your thank you email to let donors about matching gifts. Not only will they feel appreciated for giving to your organization, but they’ll also know more about doubling their contribution.

One idea: Send a short creative video in an email to let donors know you appreciate their gift and show them what your donation is going toward.

Check out these great tips on sending out thank you notes.

5. Pair up Wealth Screenings and Matching Gifts

Using wealth screenings and prospect research to get the most out of your existing donations can be the perfect way to make them go farther.

It’s essential to know who your donors are, who has greatest capacity to give, and who they’re connected to. And spending time learning about your donors or prospective donors will help you maximize the number of donations you receive, and better enable your organization to get the word out about matching gifts.

Learn more about wealth screenings and look into how they pair well with matching gifts.

6. Use Social Media

matching-donations-cmta-facebookWith so many people posting updates, Tweeting the latest news, and hashtagging photos of their lunch, it’s a good idea to jump on the social media bandwagon and utilize different sites to promote matching gifts programs. Keeping the message short and sweet is the key, here. No one wants to read a novel when scrolling through their Facebook newsfeed.

The Charcot-Marie-Tooth Association has a perfect example of how to capture followers’ attention and let them know about matching gifts without overwhelming them with information. The picture highlights doubling donations by showing two scoops of ice cream and as well as using the “double scoop” pun to draw followers’ attention to matching gift information. The post also provides donors with a helpful link to find out whether or not their employer uses a gift matching program.

Learn more about using social media to promote matching gifts.

Using a combination of these different tools will help your nonprofit succeed in letting your donors know about matching gift programs, resulting in more donations for your organization.

Donors are not minions and cannot be owned or posessed

slavery amendmentSlavery ended on December 6, 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified. In a nutshell, this means that people cannot own people anymore. I have a hard time juxtaposing this fact with what I hear some non-profit professionals sometimes say, which is: “. . . that is my donor“.

I suspect many of you reading today’s post probably just had a strong reaction to what I said. You’re probably nodding your head and thinking “THOSE” people should know better. However, I suspect many more of us are guilty of trying to control our donors. The following are just a few examples of what I’ve recently seen and inspire this today’s blog post.

Collaborative fundraising

Collaborative fundraising is when two parties get together to raise money for a singular purpose. It could be jointly approaching one large donor (e.g. large multi-national corporation) as a statewide collaborative and asking them to support one program that everyone in the alliance runs. It could also be two separate entities approaching their separate donor lists to support a joint effort.

In my experience, this type of fundraising has become more common in recent years.

You may not be practicing donor-centered fundraising if you find yourself in one of these ventures and you catch yourself saying things like:

  • My list
  • My donors
  • My money vs. your money

Controlling opportunities

controlLet’s face it . . . non-profit organizations typically have many competing priorities and projects usually going on simultaneously (e.g. supporting the annual fund, building a new building, renovating an existing space, endowing a program, etc).

You may not be practicing donor-centered fundraising if you find yourself doing something like:

  • deciding for the donor which project you will won’t present to them as an opportunity because you need their money elsewhere
  • steering the donor away from certain projects
  • trying to change a donor’s mind when they come to you with an idea

I’m not suggesting that fundraising professionals shouldn’t use their best judgement. You know your donors, and you should know what they are passionate about. So, bringing opportunities that align with their interests and passions is very much donor centered. However, if you find yourself using “organizational needs” as a criteria to decide which funding opportunities are shared with a donor, then you might find yourself in the category of trying to “control donors“.

Donors as Minions movie characters

minionsI recently saw the Minions in the movie theater. It was in the middle of this relaxing diversion from my crazy work schedule that I came to believe some (perhaps many) non-profit organizations view their donors as these cute, little yellow characters.

  • Individually small
  • Collectively powerful and useful
  • Looking to serve and belong

Of course, if you follow the movie plot line, you quickly realize that Minions are not a mindless drone collective. They have ideas of their own and oftentimes find themselves sideways with the mission. Another common theme throughout this film and the Despicable Me movies is that the villain for whom the Minions work typically ends up failing at controlling this group of adorable yellow characters.

The bottom line for me is that donors are not minions. If you choose to treat them as such, you will likely end up with a big yellow mess on your hands.

What to do about this?

This post obviously leads one to ask the obvious question, which is “what should be done to avoid this behavior?

I suggest you consider the following simple suggestions:

  1. Mind your language and try to stop using words like “mine” and “yours
  2. Sit down with donors (especially major gift prospects) regularly and engage them in discussions about their philanthropic passions, wishes and dreams
  3. Develop a “menu of opportunities” for your major gifts initiative

Have you seen or experienced similar situations where donors were being controlled or manipulated? If so, what was the end result? How does your organization share funding opportunities with donors (e.g. menu of major gift opportunties)?

Here’s to your health!

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

Storytelling can be so much more than just a fundraising tool

storytellingLast night I met with a non-profit board of directors, and we spent an hour talking about the “Three Stories You Need To Tell“. I centered the discussion around the Nonprofit Storytelling for Board Members curriculum developed by Chris Davenport at 501 Videos LLC.

It was a great evening (in this facilitator’s opinion). We talked about the importance of developing each board volunteer’s “involvement story” as well as developing an organizational “impact story” and “thank you story“. At the end of the meeting, worksheets were distributed and work groups were formed. The excitement and buzz around developing the first draft of stories that will be shared at the organization’s next board meeting was palpable.

For me, I’m excited for this organization because I suspect cultivating a culture of storytelling will jump start this board’s resource development efforts. More importantly, I believe a storytelling culture can used during planning processes to engage board members in:

  1. organizational assessment
  2. vision casting

Let me take a moment to explain . . .


assessmentHow many times have you been handed pages full of data at the start of any type of planning process (e.g. strategic planning, resource development planning, etc). You are typically asked to look for gaps in addition to organization strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

This type of work is foundational and important to any planning process. However, the board president at last night’s meeting would tell you that data looked at within a vacuum is worthless.

So, the question I posed last night is: “What if we used a storytelling paradigm to contextualize our organizational data at the start of a planning process?

For example, let’s say your data is telling you that you served 25% fewer clients in 2015 than 2014. Rather than just accepting that data point at face value, your board could drill deeper to find the stories behind why this is happening. Perhaps, the story of one of one of the 2014 clients who stopped being a client in 2015 could be told and a deeper understanding of what is happening could be achieved by decision-makers.

I would argue that a deeper understanding of your organizational data will enrich your planning process.

Vision casting

visionAfter the assessment phase of any planning process is over, it is common for boards to spend time developing a vision for the future. It is upon this vision that goals, strategies, tactics and metrics are all built.

For years, one of my favorite “vision casting exercises” has been asking board members to pretend they are newspaper reporters (I probably like this exercise because I used to run a small town newspaper many years ago).

I ask them to envision themselves five or 10 years in the future writing a story about their organization. Of course, the question is: “what is that story about?

As part of this exercise, I ask everyone to write their story and share it with the group. This gets everyone engaged in creating a collective vision.

Of course, this is nothing more than using storytelling as a tool to create a vision.

The question I asked last night was what other storytelling exercises could we develop to create a shared vision? Could we even use storytelling as a brainstorming opportunity to develop organizational goals and strategies?

I believe the answer to these questions is YES because of what Chris Davenport tells us are the “Thee C’s of Storytelling“:

  1. Character
  2. Connection
  3. Conflict
  4. Conquest

It is this final “C” that has me believing a storytelling approach can get board volunteers thinking about goals and strategies. After all, if every good story needs to end with how the main character will solve the conflict, then doesn’t this get people talking about your organization’s potential “future state” (aka vision) but also possible solutions (aka goals and strategies)?

I believe it does, and we’ll get a little closer to the truth at the future board meetings.

storytelling dvdI’m not trying to sell Chris Davenport’s products today, but if you haven’t checked out his storytelling DVD and collateral materials you may want to do so. Click here to learn more about his DVD product. Click here to learn more about a very useful brochure that can accompany the DVD or be used as a standalone resource. Click here to learn more about his free field guide and journal.

Again, I will not profit from any of this. I do not have a business relationship with Chris other than the fact that I’m a customer and purchase resources from him. OK, OK, OK . . . I guess I am smitten with this work and have found his stuff useful in my some of my consulting projects. Regardless, I won’t see a penny of anything you decide to purchase anything from him.

Does your organization do any storytelling? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share how you employ the power of storytelling? What have been the results? Has it changed anything in your organization (e.g. are board members better fundraisers now, is your planning process more dynamic and engaging, have you used storytelling to enhance your board governance and board meetings, etc)?

We can call learn from each other. Please take a moment to share.

Here’s to your health!

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

“Hangin’ with Henry and talking about how to secure donor meetings

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 Opening the Door for a Future Visit.

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.

Personally, I can recall countless times where I’ve had difficulties securing an initial meeting with a prospect/donor. In hindsight, my struggles have always stemmed from:

  • not having much (or any) relationship with the person
  • not understanding the person’s philanthropic vision (and reason they support us)
  • simple fear of the unknown

My first strategy has always been reaching out to someone who knows us both and asking that person to set up the meeting. Of course, this isn’t always an option.

Our friends at 501 Videos recently published a similar video to Henry’s as part of their FREE Movie Mondays service.  The video was titled “Getting the Donor Meeting” and the interviewee provides additional helpful tips. It is definitely worth the click!

The tip that I received almost 10-years ago (it was from a video produced by Bob Osborne of the Osborne Group) that has been the most successful for me was:

Have three reasons for needing to sit down with a prospect/donor.”

It is important to make these reasons “real and genuine” or you will come across as plastic and insincere. However, you likely have lots of reasons to sit down with someone is you just thought about it for a few minutes. Here are just a few suggestions:

  • You are looking for advice
  • You need help with a project
  • You need help opening a door
  • You want to share something (e.g. annual report, success story, etc)
  • You need feedback on a special event (e.g. critique, evaluation, etc)
  • You want to talk about their charitable giving and future support of the organization

You always want to include the last reason in the laundry list of bullet points in order to avoid turning the meeting into an ambush.

How have you gotten over the hurdle of securing difficult meetings with prospects/donors? Please share your tips and best practices in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

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


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