Category Archives: Planning

Writing your resource development plan in steps: Final Words

planning flow chartWelcome to the fifth and final part of this ongoing series of posts on how to write your non-profit organization’s annual resource development plan. As I’ve previously mentioned, this series was inspired by how many DonorDreams blog readers were clicking on the “Time to start writing your 2015 resource development plan” post, which I wrote a year ago.

Let’s quickly recap where we’ve been in the last few weeks with this series:

Today’s post is all about tying up a few loose ends with regards to process. Enjoy!

Let’s bring this entire series of posts full circle by going back to something I said in both the first and fourth posts, which was:

“S/he who writes the plan, owns the plan. And s/he who owns the plan is the only person who will care enough to implement the plan.”

The Board of Directors

engagementPlease keep in mind that “planning” is a key role/responsibility of your non-profit board. With this in mind, the task force / committee I suggested you recruit in the first blog post does not have the authority to make your written resource development plan “the law of your non-profit kingdom”. Only the board can do so, which means they better have a seat at the planning table and participate.

Of course, the reality of the situation is that asking ALL of your board volunteers to sit down and develop a comprehensive fundraising plan is not likely going to happen. However, it might not need to if your planning process is designed appropriately.

Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario #1: The committee develops the draft resource development plan, and the board uses a planning retreat to become familiar with, discuss implementation, and take ownership of the plan

Scenario #2: As the committee completes various draft sections of the plan, those pieces are included on board meeting agendas where generative discussions are facilitated and board feedback is looped back into the committee’s revision process

Personally, I’ve seen both of these approaches work, and I suspect there are many other ways to engage board volunteers in taking ownership. If you’ve had success with another process, please scroll down and share your experiences in the comment box section of this blog.

The Strategic Plan

auto realignmentWhile most resource development plans are aligned exclusively with the organization’s annual budget, it is important not to forget about the strategic plan.

As with everything in life, ideas need money and the same is true for your strategic plan. Make sure that the strategies and tactics in your strategic plan find a place in your annual budget. This way when your annual resource development plan is aligned with revenue side of your annual budget, then everything will exist in harmony.

Another alignment consideration is to make sure the planning committee is knowledgeable of all resource development related strategies and tactics in the strategic plan. This will increase the likelihood that those items will get integrated into this planning document and take a form with more depth and detail.

Alignment isn’t just for cars. It is equally important for organizations, too.

Annual Performance Plans

performance1Just a few quick words on this subject.

As I mentioned in the previous section about strategic plan alignment, your resource development plan should also align with both your executive director fundraising professional’s annual performance plans.

If you want to increase the likelihood that your plan gets implemented, then hold someone accountable for it.

Kinda simple, don’t you think?

The only word of caution here is that the board of directors needs to understand that alignment at this level doesn’t absolve the board of their role in implementing the plan.

Think of it this way . . . staff support the board who in turn make the plan come to life.

Monitoring & Evaluation

measure1How many times have your developed a plan, adopted it, put it on your organizational bookshelf, and watched it collect dust? Unfortunately, this is all too often a common occurrence.

There are many ways to keep a plan alive and on track including:

  • reports
  • dashboards
  • scorecards
  • post-event / post-campaign critique meetings and evaluation

Before developing any of these tools, it is important to sit down and decided what are the most important things to measure.

When it comes to campaigns or events, the following are a few metrics many organizations appear to track:

  • Board solicitation phase – actual vs. goal
  • Community face-to-face solicitation phase – actual vs. goal
  • Targeted mail solicitation phase – actual vs. goal
  • New donor acquisition – actual vs. goal
  • Donor renewal – actual vs. goal
  • LYBUNT renewal – actual vs. goal
  • Individual volunteer solicitor progress – number of pledge cards assigned vs. number of worked & returned cards

With regard to your overall resource development program, the following are a few metrics I’ve seen some organizations track:

  • # of donor solicitations
  • # of cultivation calls
  • # of stewardship contacts
  • donor retention / donor turnover (e.g. LYBUNT, SYBUNT, etc)
  • goal vs actual on various revenue streams (e.g. grants, major gifts, annual campaign, special events, etc)

Phew . . . this five part blog series has come to a merciful end. Hopefully, your organization is well underway with its resource development planning efforts. 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

Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step Four

planningWelcome to the fourth part of this ongoing series of posts on how to write your non-profit organization’s annual resource development plan. As I’ve previously mentioned, this series was inspired by how many DonorDreams blog readers were clicking on the “Time to start writing your 2015 resource development plan” post, which I wrote a year ago.

The first post in this series was titled “Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step One,” and it focused exclusively on the importance of putting the right people at the table. The second post was “Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step Two,” and addressed pre-planning activities such as evaluation and assessment. The last post — “Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step Three” — walked readers through writing a statement of fundraising purpose as well as developing both financial and non-financial goals.

Today’s post is all about the next step, which of course is about developing strategies and tactics. Enjoy!

In the previous post in this series, we talked about two different types of goals — financial goals and process goals. We will mirror that approach in today’s post in order to keep things clear.

Strategies for financial goals

checklistIdentify all of the fundraising campaigns, events, and activities you plan on doing in the upcoming year. Here are a few examples: golf outing, gala dinner & auction, direct mail, major gifts initiative, annual campaign, grant writing, etc.

For each of your events, campaigns and activities, create a worksheet that includes the following:

  • Annual goal
  • Description of leadership needs
  • Preliminary prospect list of volunteers
  • Number of donor prospects needed
  • Rough draft expense budget (if applicable)
  • Objectives that are essential to reaching the financial goal (e.g. securing five new sponsors, securing 20 new pledges, selling three new tables, securing $XXXX from the fund-a-need auction strategy, etc)
  • List of critical tasks and deadlines (e.g. first planning meeting date, signing golf course contract, recruiting key volunteer leaders, starting board campaign solicitations, completing sponsorship solicitations, taking the program book to the printer, etc)
  • Calculations at the bottom of each worksheet for total net revenue and expenses as a percentage of projected revenue (include the estimated cost of staff time)

I also suggested you include individualized range of gifts charts (ROG chart) for each of your events and campaigns (of course you wouldn’t do this for your grant writing worksheets). Our friends at Blackbaud have a nice online ROG chart calculator; however, it is sometimes better to work it out on paper in which case there is a very nice set of written instructions on how to do this over at

From a process perspective, it is important to enlist help from your committee volunteers (and possibly other volunteers who are more involved in your events and campaigns) in completing these worksheets.

Remember what we talked about in the first post of this blog series . . . “S/he who writes the plan, owns the plan. And s/he who owns the plan is the only person who will care enough to implement the plan.”

When everyone is done with their respective worksheets, ask the entire committee to review and discuss. Depending on the level of feedback, there may be additional changes to be made.

The information from each of these worksheets is copy/paste into the written resource development plan on the pages set aside for each respective event, campaign or activity.

When the time comes to start planning for an event or campaign, it makes sense to share the appropriate section of the resource development plan with the event/campaign planning committee. It will give them a starting point. In fact, you may want to share this information with volunteer prospects during recruitment meetings to help frame expectations and provide clarity around what you’re asking them to help you undertake.

After this exercise, you may need to revisit the trends/goals chart you created as part of the previous blog post and make revisions.

Strategies for non-financial goals

strategic planning implementationAs you recall from the previous post, there is a section of the resource development plan that includes process goals. These non-financial goals could focus on: new prospect acquisition; cultivation activities; donor retention & stewardship; marketing and donor communication; board member engagement; and evaluation and monitoring.

I’ve seen these sections get large and complicated. I suggest keeping it simple.

After working with your volunteers on identifying three to five process goals, staff should roll up their sleeves and re-write each goal using SMART goal verbiage. After this is accomplished, simply re-engage your volunteers in answering these simple questions for each goal:

  • What do we need to do to accomplish this goal?
  • Who needs to be involved?
  • When does each task need to be accomplished?

Take the answers to these questions, re-word them into succinct bullet points and include them under each goal.

Develop a comprehensive resource development calendar

Your organization has limited resources, which is why it’s important to create a comprehensive resource development calendar. The following is a simple example to help get you started:

RD calendar

I suggest doing this activity as a group. Make sure to include pre-activity planning time and post-activity evaluation/assessment time in your calendar.

If you end up with too many things happening in one month, then you might want to tweak your plans to avoid headaches and problems.

Well, congratulations! If you’ve done everything in all four of the blog posts in this series and massaged it together in one document, then you have a draft plan in hand. Not only was it fairly simple, but it engaged volunteers in the process, which hopefully means you’re not in this thing alone.  🙂

There are a few odds and ends that I’d like to speak to with regard to this process, and I plan on doing so in the final blog post in this series next week. Stay tuned!

Here’s to your health!

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

Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step Three

As I explained last week, one of the most often clicked blog posts in 2015 is something I wrote at the end of 2014 titled “Time to start writing your 2015 resource development plan“. With this in mind, I decided to take a deeper dive on this subject by writing a series of posts on how to go about writing your organization’s annual resource development plan.

The first post in this series was titled “Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step One,” and it focused exclusively on the importance of putting the right people at the table. The second post was “Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step Two,” and addressed pre-planning activities such as evaluation and assessment.

Today’s post is all about the next step, which of course is about visioning and goal setting. Enjoy!

Statement of Fundraising Purpose

manifestoWith your volunteers sitting around the planning table and your organization’s resource development assessment data gathered and digested, it is now time to cast your vision for the upcoming year. This can be accomplished with the following exercise:

  • Ask participants to take 5 minutes to jot down answers to this question: “Why are we raising money?
  • At the end of the 5 minutes, go around the room and ask participants one at a time to share one of the reasons they wrote down.
  • Capture these responses on a flip chart or whiteboard
  • Keep going around the room until there is nothing left on anyone’s scratch paper (ask participants not to share anything that has already been shared by someone else in order to keep the exercise moving along)
  • Facilitate a discussion around everyone’s responses (e.g. does everyone agree with everything that was shared? if not, then why not?)

Staff should take all of this feedback and incorporate it into a few paragraphs that some fundraising professionals call the “statement of fundraising purpose“. This mini-proclamation is included in the beginning of your written resource development document. In the grand scheme of things, it serves as a precursor to developing your organization’s internal and external case for support documents for the upcoming year’s events, campaigns, mailings, and fundraising initiatives.

The following is a sample statement of fundraising purpose for a fictitious Boys & Girls Club that I dug out BGCA’s now defunct RD Plan software wizard that I referenced in the first blog post of this series:

“The Boys & Girls Club of ABC operates six Clubhouses that provide more than 2,400 boys and girls with positive and safe  places to learn and grow, ongoing relationships with caring adult professionals, life-enhancing programs, character development experiences, hope and opportunity. The Boys & Girls Club of ABC relies upon the philanthropic support of individuals, corporations and foundations in order to sustain and grow its services. During 2007, The Boys & Girls Clubs of ABC completed a comprehensive strategic plan that showed a need for two additional Clubhouses to work with kids in the XYZ community. Studies showed that more than 1,000 kids in the XYZ community lack access to positive and safe places to learn and grow.

In order to add two new clubhouse facilities by 2009, The Boys & Girls Clubs of ABC will need to continue to raise annual operating support as well as complete a capital campaign for the construction of two new Clubhouses. Implementing this resource development plan, approved by the board of directors, creates and maintains a resource development program that will provide additional philanthropic funding to enable the Boys & Girls Club of ABC to reach its goal of directly serving 3,400 kids annually by the year 2010.”

Can you see why the statement of fundraising purpose is so important? It helps volunteers see your organization’s fundraising activities through the lens of your organization’s goals and helps everyone understand the importance of achieving your fundraising goals. It also helps reinforce that volunteers aren’t asking their friends for money for no good reason.

Goal Setting: Part One

goal2There has to be hundreds of ways to skin this cat, and none of them are incorrect. The following method is very simple, and while it lacks a ton of process, it will get you where you need to go (but feel free to use whatever process best fits your organizational culture):

Step one: Prior to the meeting, pull together a chart illustrating: a) the three year trend for various sources of revenue, b) the percentage of total revenue each source of revenue constitutes, and c) a blank column for next year’s goal. The following is an example of what that chart could look like.

blog chart

Step two: Facilitate a discussion among volunteers about what they see, and ask them to suggest reasons why the trends are what they are.

Step three: Facilitate a discussion among volunteers about where they want to see the numbers next year.

Is this three step process overly simple? Of course! Is there more to setting your revenue goals than simply pulling numbers out of the air? Of course!

This process is simply a starting point.

Over the course of your next few meetings, you and your volunteers will drill deeper on volunteer prospect lists, donor prospect lists, range of gifts charts, budgets, etc. We will talk about all of these things in the next blog post.

As the details get fleshed out, you will likely find yourself coming back to the goal numbers you initially included in this chart and revise them. So, make sure to use a pencil while facilitating this exercise.  🙂

Goal Setting: Part Two

smart goalsThe previous section sets the stage for establishing fundraising event and campaign goals; however, there are non-financial goals your team should also consider. Those non-financial goals could focus on: strategy, leadership, operation, donor relations, marketing and communication, and evaluation and monitoring.

These “process goals” impact your organization’s capacity to engage donors and perform resource development tasks.

The following are a few examples of process goals:

  • Engage board members in the resource development process by involving them in the cultivation and stewardship of donors.
  • Make sure that the organization has an electronic database that easily generates reports and enables effective management of donor relationships.
  • Develop a written stewardship plan whereby every donor receives a minimum of four stewardship impressions every year and the Top 100 donors receive at least eight stewardship impressions.

You don’t need a facilitation process to have this discussion. Simply ask volunteers to share what they think are “foundational issues” necessary to underpin the organization’s fundraising success in the upcoming year. Once you capture those ideas, try to distill them down into three to five goal statements.

If you have more than three to five process goals, then ask volunteers to rank those goals with the intent of only including the top three to five goals in your written plan.

After this meeting, it is advisable for staff to work on these process goals and re-write them using SMART goal verbiage.

Congratulations . . . you’re well on your way to developing next year’s written resource development plan. In our next post, we will look at validating our goals and creating strategies and tactics.

Here’s to your health!

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


Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step Two

As I explained at the beginning of this series of posts, one of the most often clicked blog posts in 2015 is something I wrote at the end of 2014 titled “Time to start writing your 2015 resource development plan“. With this in mind, I decided to take a deeper dive on this subject by writing a series of posts on how to go about writing your organization’s annual resource development plan.

The first post in this series was titled “Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step One,” and it focused exclusively on the importance of putting the right people at the table. Today’s post is all about the next step, which of course is about evaluation and assessment. Enjoy!

evaluation1Now that you have all of the right people sitting around the table, the next thing you want to do is engage the group in assessment activities.

Why assessment? Here are just a few good reasons:

  • You can’t decided where you’re going unless you know where you’re at
  • Your volunteers need to get a pulse on the your resource development program (think of it as orientation)
  • Identifying gaps and inefficiencies makes direction setting easier

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, my former employer — Boys & Girls Clubs of America — had developed an online software wizard (which has since been shutdown) to assist its local affiliates with writing an annual written resource development plan. This software was workbook driven and designed to help staff facilitate committee discussions and develop content to enter into the software. As you can imagine, the first two workbooks both dealt with assessment.

Workbook #1 contained 23 statements that describe various activities necessary to operate an effective resource development program. Each statement was accompanied by measurable standards, which were designed to help volunteers determine the best response rating for each quality statement. It would take too much space to copy/paste the entire workbook into this blog post; however, I will share the 23 quality statements. Hopefully, this will get you pointed in the right direction with regards to developing a self assessment tool that works for your organization and group of volunteers.

evaluation2Resource Development Quality statements

  1. Our funding is diversified and we are not overly dependent on one source of revenue.
  2. Our board has approved a written multi-year strategic plan for our organization
  3. We are ensuring our organization’s sustainability through a current and active planned giving program
  4. We conduct well-planned special events that maximize return on investment.
  5. Our board members annually donate unrestricted philanthropic gifts to the organization.
  6. Our board members are involved in face-to-face solicitations.
  7. Our board members are engaged in stewardship activities for the organization.
  8. Our board members understand their resource development roles and responsibilities
  9. The leadership for each fundraising activity (i.e., annual campaign, special event, etc.) is carefully considered to ensure the right person is selected.
  10. We have adequate staff to support all of our resource development efforts.
  11. We effectively plan for and utilize volunteers in various components of our resource development plan.
  12. We use the most cost-effective and efficient methods to raise money for the organization.
  13. We have a Resource Development Committee that coordinates a written resource development plan that is consistent with the organization’s written strategic plan.
  14. We have a compelling case statement that demonstrates the needs of clients in our community and inspires charitable giving to the organization.
  15. We have a donor database that easily generates reports and enables us to effectively manage donor relations.
  16. We have procedures (a management system) to ensure that the organization uses donations as intended by the donor.
  17. We have an ongoing, written plan to recognize donors and engage them in organizational activities.
  18. In order to preserve and enhance confidence in the organization, we provide constituencies with reports regarding the sources, uses and management of donated funds (provide stewardship).
  19. We have written gift acceptance policies and procedures to acknowledge gifts in a timely manner based on the source of gift.
  20. Our CEO and board members serve on various community boards and civic organizations to influence decisions, create awareness and advocate for the organization and issues associated with our mission.
  21. We have an up-to-date written marketing plan that clearly identifies our key message and targeted audiences.
  22. We have an adequate system for providing reports to the Resource Development Committee and the board so that they can monitor progress of the resource development plan.
  23. We regularly review our funding and donor trends.

questions2Other Questions Your Volunteers Will Want Answers To

After developing an assessment tool that addresses some or all of the aforementioned 23 quality statements, you will want to pull together data for your committee to digest. The following are just a few questions your volunteers will want to see answers to (as you have probably guessed, these questions all came from workbook two of BGCA’s software tool):

  • Is there an increase in total funding from year to year? Why?
  • Which funding stream is a strength for your organization? Why?
  • Which funding stream is a weakness for your organization? Why?
  • Which funding stream has the greatest opportunity for growth in the next 1, 2 or 3 years?
  • Does your 3-year trend for revenue streams from individuals show an increase, decline or consistent level of funding? What is the reason for the change or lack of change in this funding source?
  • Do you have a strong base of donors who give to your annual campaign?
  • Do you have an endowment program? If not, what steps would need to be taken to establish an endowment program? If so, then what steps need to be taken to actively recruit funds for your endowment?
  • Does your 3-year trend for revenue streams from corporate giving show an increase, decline or consistent level of funding? What is the reason for the change or lack of change in this funding source?
  • Does your 3-year trend for special events show an increase, decline or consistent level of funding? What is the reason for the change or lack of change in this funding source?
  • Do you collect contact information from everyone who participates in a special event? Why or why not?
  • Do you have a plan to cultivate special event attendees? Why or why not?
  • Can you reduce the number of special events you conduct and increase revenue in another funding stream that has a higher return on investment? What steps would your organization need to take in order to make this change?
  • Does your 3-year trend for private grants and foundations show an increase, decline or consistent level of funding? What is the reason for the change or lack of change in this funding source?
  • Are you receiving government funding at the city, state and federal level? If not, what strategies can you implement to gain funding?

As you can imagine, this is a lot of work. It is the staff’s job to develop the assessment tool and pull together the data to help volunteers answer these questions. It is your volunteers’ job to talk it through and do the actual assessment while sitting around the committee room table.

Cutting this corner means you will be putting your annual written resource development plan together in the dark. Remember, the old planning expression: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” In other words, assessment activities and discussions are akin to developing the map you need in order to have fruitful planning discussions down the road (e.g. visioning, goal setting, strategy development, action plan writing, etc).

A special thanks to BGCA’s Paula Mackelburg who did much of the heavy lifting on creating this awesome (albeit now defunct) planning tool. Her wisdom and vision in this area is amazing.

Next week, we will continue this discussion and talk about visioning and goal setting. Stay tuned.

Here’s to your health!

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

Writing your resource development plan in steps: Step One

plan2A number of years ago, I served on an amazing team of resource development professionals at Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA). Our team’s mission was to provide consulting services and tools to local affiliates to help them increase their individual giving. One of the tools the team created was an online software wizard to assist Clubs with writing their annual resource development plans. While it was an awesome tool, it wasn’t embraced or used by those on the front line.

My suspicion is that the process and online tool made this important annual planning process feel contrived and the writing was stilted. As a result, it never gained traction. Just a guess on my part, but I think I’m close to the truth. Nevertheless, it was a great idea!

I share this short story from my past because one of the most popular DonorDreams blog posts in 2015 was one I wrote at the end of last year titled “Time to start writing your 2015 resource development plan“.

With this data point in mind, my plan over the next few weeks is to break the planning process into steps to help readers of this blog with developing their organization’s 2016 written resource development plan.

And since BGCA already buried their online software wizard (and none of it was copyrighted), I plan on sharing small pieces of those workbooks throughout this series online articles. After all,  I end many of my posts with the mantra that “We can all learn from each other!” Right?

Step 1: Recruit the right people to sit around the table

volunteers2You’re busy. I get it! But it will be one of the biggest mistakes of your life if you lock yourself in your office and bang out your organization’s annual resource development plan.


Simply put . . . “S/he who writes the plan, owns the plan. And s/he who owns the plan is the only person who will care enough to implement the plan.”

Some organizations are fortunate enough to have a solid group of fundraising volunteers that constitute a resource development committee. This planning project is exactly what that committee should work on developing and getting the entire board of directors to own.

However, other organizations aren’t this fortunate and they need to assemble a task force of staff, board members, fundraising volunteers (and even donors in some instances) to assist with this project.

So, what types of people should be sitting around this table?

  • People who are passionate about your mission and your organization
  • People who are resource development minded
  • People who embrace the idea of planning (they typically don’t have attention deficit disorder)
  • People who have time to attend meetings and even do a little homework in between meetings
  • People who are collaborative and have a track record with “engaging” other people in their work
  • People who have experience with at least some part of your resource development efforts (e.g. special events, annual giving campaign, grant writing, year-end fundraising appeals, prospect cultivation, donor stewardship, planned giving, endowment, major gifts strategy, etc)

Identify these individuals. Write them down on a piece of paper (e.g. volunteer prospect list). Go recruit these people.

When recruiting these volunteers, do it the right way. Bring a written job description or committee charter with you. Why? Because when you don’t set expectations from the beginning, volunteers tend to disengage from the project relatively quickly.

One of the first questions you will be asked when recruiting these volunteers is: “How much time will this planning project take? How many meetings am I committing to? What am I committing to?

Tackle these questions head on! Don’t waffle. Tell them the following:

  • There will be approximately four to eight meetings
  • Sometimes there will be a little work in between meetings
  • This process is staff-supported and none of it is impossible or “rocket science”
  • We will be respectful of your time
  • This project has a defined beginning and end (it isn’t an open ended commitment)
  • This plan is very important to the success of the organization, which is why we’re asking for your help

Once you assemble your team, you’ll be ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

The next blog post will focus on assessment. Stay tuned!

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

Because you know it’s all about that list

A few years ago, Meghan Trainor released a song titled “All About That Bass,” and it immediately resonated with the world. For whatever reason, that song is rumbling through my head this morning as I think about your organization’s year-end fundraising efforts. Of course, I’m changing the lyrics to the song to make it more appropriate for fundraising professionals, and it is starting to sound a little bit like this:

Because you know I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no envelope
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no response card
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list, no letter
I’m all about that list
‘Bout that list … list … list … list

Just in case you have no idea what song I’m butchering, check out Meghan Trainor’s music video on YouTube.

You’re probably wondering what I mean when I say I’m not about the envelope, response card, letter, etc. in my silly, made-up song lyrics.

I don’t mean to imply those elements of your year-end holiday mail appeal aren’t important. Because, of course, they are. However, those things are considerations for you down the road.

In my opinion, your first order of business is pulling together a good mailing list.

the listWithout a good list of donors, your year-end mail appeal will fall very flat and likely not raise very much money. Some direct mail experts, such as the folks at zairmail, have said the quality of your list can account for up to 70% of your year-end fundraising success.

When I worked on my last year-end holiday mail campaign, here were some of the lists I pulled from to create my larger prospect list:

  • Donors who already gave once this calendar year
  • Donors who traditionally only give to year-end holiday appeals
  • Targeted prospects from various lists I had purchased from mail house throughout the years

Typically, I didn’t blanket this group of prospects with the same appeal letter. Instead, I would target different letters with different messages to each niche group of prospects, and then I’d track the response rates and evaluate what worked (or didn’t work) so I could make adjustments next year.

With more than half of 2015 gone, I’m encouraging you not to wait until October or November to start thinking about your year-end holiday appeal efforts.

Start today!

And don’t start working on issues like what the letter says or what the mail package looks like. Those things can be put on the back burner for a few more weeks, but thinking about your list is something you can be (and should be) working on today. After all, it is the one most important elements of your year-end appeal that will make or break you.

Here are a few things you might want to consider doing in the next 30 days:

  • Make a decision on who you plan to include on your year-end holiday appeal and start pulling those lists
  • Scan the list for donors with high giving capacity and make plans to call them and sit down with them before the end of the summer (not to solicit them . . . just a cultivation or stewardship visit)
  • Make plans to communicate with everyone people on this list at least two of three things before your send them a fundraising appeal in early November

The following is a short list of communication tactics you might want to consider:

  • Send everyone a “Christmas in July” holiday card (or if you want to keep it non-religious simply make it a mid-year holiday card)
  • Mail out a newsletter or e-newsletter
  • Develop and distribute a mid-year impact report
  • Create a targeted social media distribution list comprised of your year-end fundraising appeal prospects and start tweeting or posting semi-regularly about how your organization is getting ready for year-end programming with clients

In effect, you are warming your pool of prospects and donors, which should improve your response rate.

If you do this pre-holiday communication strategy correctly, you might even be able to reference something you said mid-year in your year-end appeal letter. Doing so, will be a gentle reminder to the donor that you’ve been talking to them about your case for support for a long time. Essentially, the ask won’t feel so sudden and abrupt.

The other reasons I like the idea of starting now rather than waiting is because:

  • It allows you to reach out mid-year LYBUNT/SYBUNT donors and gives you time to address issues they might have with your organization (which is likely what has kept them from renewing their support)
  • It also gives you an opportunity to be more personal and intentional with higher capacity donors who might make a smaller token contribution if asked via direct mail at the end of the year instead of an in-person solicitation

Where is your organization at with planning for its year-end fundraising efforts? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and activities in the comment box. Not only can we learn from each other, but we can inspire each other too.

Here’s to your health!

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

Setting a New Years Resolution or two? Have you identified your obstacles yet?

new years resolutionsHappy New Year, everyone!

Every year on this day, a large number of people make at least one “resolution” for the upcoming year. To be precise, 45% of Americans usually engage in this annual ritual and only 8% of them are successful in achieving what they set out to accomplish, according to Of course, the most often made resolution is weight loss and I will be setting that goal once again in 2015.

While many of us set personal resolutions, some of us do the same thing for the non-profit organizations at which we work. At least when I was a young executive director, I used to engage in this exercise. The following are just a few examples of professional resolutions I once made:

  • Raise more money in the upcoming year
  • Support the board and its committees better
  • Be a better supervisor to my direct reports

Looking back, I want to believe that I was more successful with my professional resolutions than I was my personal ones. However, if I were being honest, I’d probably have to admit that I’m not sure how much better than 8% I actually was.

All of this New Years Eve stuff got me wondering what you (and I) could do differently in 2015 to achieve a different result?

As I pondered this question (all day today on a flight back to Chicago from a wedding near Philadelphia), I decided to turn to my old executive coaching textbooks for a few hints. Of course, in less than a few minutes I found the obvious answer.

Many of us vision cast and set goals without honestly identifying obstacles

When identifying obstacles — both internal and external — you can develop strategies and tactics that adjust for these hurdles, which ultimately improve the likelihood of success.

One of the executive coaching textbooks I consistently go back and re-read is “Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills” by Tony Stoltzfus. If you supervise or coach anyone, I highly recommend this for your bookcase. To demonstrate the power of thoughtful questions, I will share just a few from Stoltzfus’ book to help you identify your internal and external obstacles to assist with your personal or professional New Years Resolutions for 2015.

External Obstacles

  • What is stopping you from achieving your goal right now?
  • What do you need to successfully achieve your resolution that you don’t currently have?
  • What makes this hard to get done?

Internal Obstacles

  • What is that critical voice inside your head — either your inner sabateur or your inner cheerleader — saying about situation?
  • What are you feeling (e.g. emotion) when you think about trying to tackle this goal?
  • What is the worst-case scenario when you think about embarking on this journey? What’s the fear behind that?

Are you scoffing at these questions? Before you wrinkle your nose too much, think about the last strategic planning process your non-profit organization. Didn’t you engage in a SWOT analysis prior to developing a vision statement and goals?

Maybe this isn’t so far fetched, huh?

OK . . . My New Years wish for you as we head into 2015 is that after you engage in setting a personal or professional goal, take a moment to ask a few tough questions. Use the information to help you determine how you plan on being one of the 8% who successfully achieve their resolutions.

Good luck, and . . .

Here’s to your health!

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

How many year-end plates are you spinning at your non-profit?

spinning platesA few weeks ago I facilitated a training session titled “2014 Finish Strong: Year-End Strategies” for a group of non-profit professionals in New Mexico. Long story short . . . there were LOTS of things that non-profits try to do in the fourth quarter. Participants shared with each other what they were doing back home at their agency and we collectively talked about best practices.

The following is the laundry list of fourth quarter activities that we discussed:

  • Budget development
  • Resource Development Plan (aka fundraising plan)
  • Strategic Plan (or any other flavor of planning like tactical plans, business plans, program plans, etc)
  • Board Development & Board Governance activities (e.g. officers slate, expiring terms, new recruitment, orientation, year-end evaluation, etc)
  • Board Retreat
  • Thank-a-Thons (stewardship phone calls to donors)
  • Holiday Cards (holiday greetings and stewardship messaging to donors)
  • Starting to prep for creation of annual report (e.g. content creation, pics, theme selection, etc)
  • Financial Audit prep (e.g. RFP, hiring auditor, closing year-end books, etc)
  • Focused solicitation strategies with LYBUNT/SYBUNT donors
  • Targeted/Segmented year-end holiday mail solicitations
  • Phone-a-Thons (solicitation phone calls typically following up on mailing)
  • Online fundraising strategies (e.g. #GivingTuesday, etc)

Lots and lots going on in non-profit shops right now all across the country. The fourth quarter is exhausting!

What are you currently working on at your agency? Are some of those things the same as what you see on the aforementioned laundry list of projects? Please scroll down to the comment box below and either add to our list or share a best practice related to one of the items on the list. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Your agency needs to ask “What is my why?” every once in awhile

I recently saw a great YouTube video from Alease Michelle talking about how she found personal inspiration from Eric Thomas (aka ET The Hip Hop Preacher on Facebook). She put together a 5-minute online video all about the question: “What is my Why?” By the end of her video, I was thinking about non-profit organizations and their WHY, which is what inspired this morning’s post.

Before I start, I thought you might want to check out Alease’s YouTube video first:

The place that you and your donors go answer this question about your non-profit agency is your MISSION STATEMENT.

Mission statements are the most important tool in your organizational toolbox when it comes to explaining why you exist, with whom you work, and what you do. This is different from vision statements, which exist to tell the world where you are going and the vision you have for your community (or the world).

Mission statements are not static. This isn’t a “set-it-and-forget-it” kind of thing. As Alease talks about in her YouTube video, your WHY changes from time-to-time, which means your mission statement should evolve, too (albeit infrequently). For example, there was a non-profit in my hometown that started off more than 100-years ago as an orphanage. When those closed down, this agency evolved into an organization that provided a variety of services for kids with behavioral-issues. Finally, it expanded its scope to serve adults (e.g. those who they were previously serving and just aged out of the program but still needed assistance). With each evolution, their mission statement also evolved.

Another place where you will likely address the question of “What is my why?” is in your case for support document (aka case statement), which is the bedrock of your fundraising program. Simply stated . . . your internal and external case for support documents explain to fundraising volunteers (e.g. internal case) and donors (e.g. external case) what you do and how the dollars being solicited will support those efforts. In other words, it answers the question “what is the donor investing in?” which is essentially “what is my why?” Right?

This exercise is always timely when your board is going through a strategic planning process. However, it can be done at any time. Remember, this isn’t a role/responsibility for staff alone. It is the board of director’s responsibility to set the organization’s mission statement, vision, and case for support.

If your organization is looking at creating or revising its mission statement or case for support, the following are a few online resources that I dug up and think you might find helpful:

So, have you considered “What is your why?” I would love to hear what that is. I would also love to hear how you tell the world about “your why?“. Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share.

Here’s to your health!

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

%d bloggers like this: