Category Archives: Uncategorized

Your agency’s greatest asset? Your staff and volunteers, of course!

Sorry, everyone! I’m on the run today and blogging doesn’t fit into the schedule. So, I dug up an old guest blog from my friend, John Greco. I think it is a great reminder of why non-your profit is wealthier than your balance sheet says it is. Enjoy the re-post!



Cubicle Diamonds

By John Greco
Originally published on March 15, 2012
Re-posted with permission from johnponders blog

diamondsAn African farmer heard tales about people who had made millions by discovering diamond mines.  These tales so excited the farmer that he could hardly wait to go prospecting for diamonds himself.  He sold the farm and spent the rest of his life wandering the African continent searching unsuccessfully for the gleaming gems that brought such high prices on the markets of the world.  Finally, worn out and in a fit of despondency, he threw himself into a river and drowned.

Meanwhile, the man who had bought his farm happened to be crossing a small stream on the property one day, when suddenly there was a bright flash of blue and red light from the stream bottom. He bent down and picked up a stone…

It turned out to be one of the largest diamonds ever discovered.  

And his creek was full of such stones, not all as large, but nonetheless valuable…  The farm the first farmer had sold, so that he might find a diamond mine, turned out to be one of the most productive diamond mines on the entire African continent. 

That first farmer had owned, literally, acres of diamonds, but he didn’t look there.

— Update, from a reader: From a lecture by Russell Conwell and popularized by Earl Nightingale many years ago.  Thanks Deb!

This is a pretty well-traveled story, with a pretty straightforward lesson.

Before you look out, look in.  You may already have what you need to accomplish what you want.

I’m going to “mine” this differently.

There are diamonds of a sort all around you now.  Can you see them?

Look outside your office.  Down the hallway.  In the cafeteria.  Every single meeting you go to.  And all the ones you don’t.

diamonds2Jerry, the financial analyst, can make a mean bouillabaisse.  Mary, the executive admin, is a Toastmasters organizer.  Julie, in inside sales, does graphic design for her church’s marketing pieces.  Peggy, in tech support, is a stand up comedian.     Bill, in logistics, does resumes on the side for family and friends.  Susan, in customer support, is on the board of a local non-profit.  Judy, a software tester, volunteers at the local hospice.  Christian, a call center agent, paints.  John, an industrial engineering manager, blogs.  Damian, a research analyst, is an actor in a local drama troupe.

Diamonds, all.

Our people are our greatest asset.


Too bad their added value is off the books.

Undiscovered, in cubicles, unmined.
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My humble apologies and non-profit lessons to be learned

on vacationSome people say that good intentions are really what life is all about. You know what I mean. Those people are the ones who will say that it doesn’t matter what the holiday or birthday gift is . . . all that matters is the intention behind the gift. Then you have those people who say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Who’s right? Who knows!

A week ago, I went into a full out sprint with the contracts I’m currently working because I needed to catch a plane to Mesa, AZ for a father-son vacation at the Chicago Cubs baseball spring training.

I had a lot of really good intentions:

  • I intended to pre-write my blog posts
  • I intended to line up some nice guest blog posts
  • I intended to do what I’ve done over the last three years, which is not miss a beat when it comes to blog posts

Obviously, I failed on all accounts. I ditched last Monday and Tuesday as I tied up loose ends and raced to catch my Wednesday plane. I’ve been in Mesa for the last five days, and couldn’t get back on the horse. Today represented the sixth day that I should’ve published something and just didn’t get it done.

While this will likely sound like an excuse, I think I just reached a point where I needed to relax and go on vacation. Ooops!

Moral to the story

There is nothing wrong in my opinion with taking a break; however,  I believe I owed it to you and the other readers of this blog to explain that I was going dark for a few weeks.

I suspect many non-profit people end up in the same dark place (often called burnout) that I currently find myself. When this happens, it is important to:

  1. Find time (e.g. vacation or time off) for yourself before it becomes acute
  2. Tell those to whom you feel a responsibility that you are taking a little time

My time-off request

Dad and I are still in Mesa watching painful practice games by the Chicago Cubs (ugh. . . they look brutal). When I return from vacation mid-week, I hit the road right away.

So, for those of you who like the daily grind of posts from DonorDreams blog, I owe you an apology. I don’t have it in me to start blogging again until Monday, March 31, 2014.


For those of you who are tired of hearing my babble . . . enjoy the break and vacation.  ;-)

Here’s to your health!

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

Shall we play a game?

Connecting your agency to online gaming communities

By Rose Reinert
Guest blogger

game1Last week we paused for a recap of how far we have come in Lon Safko’s book “The Social Media Bible.” Chapter 16 digs into a topic that is complete foreign to me, “Gaming the System: Virtual Gaming.” As I dug in to this chapter, I have to say I was struggling with how I could possibly relate virtual gaming to non-profits. So, to get me through this challenge, I will twist it a bit and let’s see what we end up with. Please join me on this journey.  ;-)

The chapter provides an overview of advertising within MMORPG ( Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). There have been very successful campaigns, even including advertising by President Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign.

Safko makes a great point in the opportunity that exists for marketing.

Any time you have 50,000 to 8 million people in the same place with the same interests in a trusted network, a business opportunity exists.

I am sure you may be like me that when you think of video games, you think of teenagers, who generally are not our target donors or volunteers. Actually, according to Safko, “. . . only 25 percent of online gamers are teenagers; the average MMORPG player is approximately 26 years old. Fifty percent are employed full-time, 36 percent are married and 22 percent have children.”

Well, this is great! It seems like a great market that any non-profit would want to reach. Right? Of course, the real question is: “At what price?

With this question in mind, I took the concept of video games and flipped it a bit to see how non-profits could utilize video games for engagement.

There are some simple ways to drive people to your website, and it turns out that games or links are both resources. Below are some examples:

games2The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Their site offers engaging games including “Fad Diet Timeline” and “Nutrition Suduko.”

I dug a little deeper and found  “Games for Change.” Founded in 2004, Games for Change facilitates the creation of social impact games that serve as tools in humanitarian and educational efforts. They work to leverage entertainment for social good. I encourage you to click-through and check out the various games that cover topics from Human Rights to Poverty.

I am so interested in how you have experienced gaming. What are ways that you could utilize this unique way to engage. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.
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It isn’t about the donation . . . it is about trust!

trustDid you read Seth Godin’s blog post a few days ago? He wrote about what the most important question a company should be asking itself about its customers. In Godin-like fashion, he runs through a laundry list of questions that are not as important. In the end, he tells us that the most important question in marketing is: “Do they trust me enough to believe my promises?

As I let this blog marinate for a few days, I’ve come to see Godin’s question as critical for both for-profit and non-profit corporations alike. I even Googled the search words “non-profit donor trust” and came across a great post at Fundly titled “Building Donor Trust For Your Non-Profit Organization“. The first paragraph of this article summarized my sentiments perfectly:

“Donors won’t give if they don’t completely trust your organization. They have to emotionally invest in your cause before they financially invest, and the bridge between the two is built on trust, accessibility and accountability. How do you build that bridge?”

After this obvious realization, I decided to do the opposite of what Seth did in his post and started writing down questions that non-profit organizations should be asking themselves.

Here is just some of what I came up with:

  • Is your agency doing what it said it would do with a donor’s contribution?
  • Are you achieving the programmatic results and outcomes that you promised?
  • Are you measuring the right things in order to know your agency is making a difference?
  • Are your data gathering tools and methods valid and acceptable?
  • Does your agency communicate with donors in ways they want to be communicated?
  • Is your agency running programs that address community needs? Or are your programs being run just because of organizational inertia?
  • Are we sharing the type of success stories that your donors want to hear?
  • How much do your donors trust you? Can it be measured and quantified?

Asking and answering questions like these are directly related to building trust with your donors.

Here are a few other good links that I found from my Google search regarding donor trust and loyalty:

How is your non-profit organization addressing donor loyalty? How are you building trust and relationships? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

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

Is your agency’s grant writing program in a state of change?

grant writingYesterday, I had the opportunity to spend a little time with a professional grant writer, and I walked away from the encounter wondering if there isn’t a new trend afoot in the world of non-profit grants. During our time together, I got the sense that the winds of change are blowing. So, I thought I’d blog about it this morning and see if you are encountering some of the same things.

Of course, a comprehensive grant writing program has many different components to it, such as:

  • Private foundations
  • Corporate foundations
  • Government grants
  • Family foundations

Even within these areas, you have some additional subdivision:

  • Federal government
  • State government
  • Local government

So, our conversation was predicated on planning question because this organization’s resource development committee is in the process of developing a written resource development plan for 2014. Here were some of the questions I asked:

  • How many grants did you write in each of these areas last year? What were your results?
  • What do you currently have in the pipeline (e.g. written and out the door, in the process of writing, etc)?
  • What strategies are we currently using? Should we shift our grant writing strategies and make adjustments in the upcoming year (e.g. who we’re writing to, what we’re writing for, how we’re engaging decision-makers, etc)?

It was during this interesting discussion the grant writer shared a few interesting observations (and opinions):

  • He sees a contraction in government grants starting to occur
  • He sees increased competition for private foundation and corporate foundation pools of dollars
  • He attributes a huge bump in grant dollars over the last few years to the federal stimulus package and believes that organizations who rode that wave now need to find another wave to surf (and quickly)
  • In the wake of the recession, he thinks there is a “New Normal” where many non-profits tweaked their fundraising plans and focused more on grant writing (thus making proposal pools more competitive)

Of course, I find all of this interesting even if it is just one data point (and one grant writers opinion) in a huge universe of data. However, it still tweaks my curiosity. So, I’m hoping you will use the comment box below this morning to weigh-in on any of the following questions:

  • Did your agency change its resource development plan (e.g. goals, strategies, tactics) since the 2008 economic crash? If so, what did you start doing  differently?
  • Are you seeing some of the same things?
  • If you are experiencing some of the same things (e.g. increased competition, fewer government grants, etc), what are you planning to do about it?
  • Are you in the process of shifting your agency’s grant writing focus? If so, what are you shifting it to?

In the interest of sharing, this organization is contemplating slightly shifting its focus to Family Foundations and engaging its board volunteers to help in the cultivation process. Of course, these type of foundations act and behave very differently than the others. As a result, they need to look at possibly employing different engagement strategies and different solicitation strategies.

As I always say, there is no reason that we need to be alone out there in this vast non-profit universe. We can all learn from each other, but that requires you taking one or two minutes out of your busy day and sharing your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health!

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

How does your agency use goals?

Are your Actions Conflicting with your Goals?

By Dani Robbins
Re-published with permission from nonprofit evolution blog

dogI’m always fascinated by the number of things people do that are in direct conflict with their goals. My dog does a perfect illustration of this: He gets so excited when we have visitors that he acts inappropriately and gets put outside or crated, which prevents him from meeting his goal of being loved by our visitors. He is not alone. Leaders and organizations do the same thing!

This week, since it’s a new year and many people in my personal and professional lives have begun working on new goals, I’ve been thinking about the intent of those goals.

I love goals that are intended to get everyone on the same page and align the work of an organization.

I do not love goals that are intended to motivate people, and I’m not even clear why we would need to do that.

Employee goals intended to motivate don’t make any sense to me and, honestly, I don’t find them motivating. In fact, I find them de-motivating, and also slightly insulting.  High performers — a group I like to count myself among — will do their very best every day, aligned with the work they’ve been assigned and the expectations of their position, and not in any way because of the goals they’ve been assigned. They will do their best because it’s who they are and the work ethic they possess. It is our job as leaders to demonstrate our vision and hire, support, groom and develop high performers who can help us reach that vision.

goalsLet me be very clear, I absolutely and unequivocally believe that leaders must set expectations for staff and also evaluate those staff based on the expectations set. I also believe that the job of the exec is to implement the strategic plan which doubles as their goals. In the absence of a plan, it is the board’s job to work with the exec to set the expectations by which they will evaluate that exec’s performance at the year’s end. Those expectations (call them goals if you must) should not be set to motivate your exec. They should be set to align the work of the organization, ensure everyone is on the same page and provide a process for evaluation. If you have to set goals to motivate your exec, you have the wrong exec.

As leaders, we should all strive to have as many high performers as we can possibly attract and afford.  It begs the question: are the goals we are setting for high performers alienating those performers? I think they might be. I’m beginning to believe that employee goals that are intended to motivate people are lowering our standards, teaching to the middle, and working in direct conflict of our actual goals of meeting our missions and achieving our organizations’ visions.  You know, I believe that any action, process, policy or procedure that is in conflict with our goal is a bad action, process, policy or procedure. I am starting to believe that goals that are intended to motivate are just that.

Once, many years ago and before I really understood resource development and major donor cultivation, I was running an agency that attracted about $50,000 of contributions from individuals each year. My Board Chair wanted to set a goal for me of $1,000,000. One million dollars! Yes, your math is right and that would have been 20 times the annual giving received by that agency. He called it a stretch goal.

Rather than inspire me to reach that goal, it terrified me -– and not in a good way. How in the world — with no change in staffing, no change in process or a new program or project to announce — was I going to raise 20 times our current contributed income?  I wasn’t.

Thankfully, I was able to explain my position and get him to revise my goals. To his credit- and this may have been his intent all along — I ramped up my own knowledge and capacity for raising money and cultivating and retaining major donors giving major gifts.

I did raise that amount and more a few years later, but not because of a goal and not, by any stretch of the imagination, alone. I did it with a change in staffing, a more developed board, several changes in process and a huge project that addressed a significant gap in service that I was committed to rectify.

Wanting something doesn’t make it a good goal. If you set goals, set them to recognize, hire and retain high performers.  Set them to align the work of your agency. Set them to have some way to evaluate your executive. Make your goals doable, with systems to support them and a path to achieve them.

Don’t set goals to motivate people! We should not be using goals to motivate. We shouldn’t have to. The work we do and the communities we serve should motivate our team toward greatness.  If they don’t, we have built the wrong team and no amount of goal setting is going to rectify that.

What do you think about goals being used to motivate staff?  As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.
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Social media sometimes means engaging in difficult discussions

User engagement isn’t always rainbows and unicorns

By Rose Reinert
Guest blogger

dialogGood morning! Last week we discussed chapter 14 of The Social Media Bible, which focused on  webinars and online radio. This week, I am veering from my normal review of Lon Safko’s book and sharing a bit about my recent experience with  Social Media – for better or worse.

As part of my current role as a Community Outreach Liaison, I oversee the planning, posting and monitoring of my agency’s Facebook Page. The experience has been fun and challenging.

I have a secret to share. As I have walked you all through the The Social Media Bible, I too have learned so much on how to improve my posting and engagement for my agency. So, I have gotten creative, shared links and posted photos and videos to better engage and attract attention from our followers.

Well, this past week I experienced first hand what it means to embrace this communication tool for better or worse.

Over the weeks, I have written all about how social media is a tool that:

  • ensues two-way communication
  • provides an opportunity for open communication
  • builds trust

All sounds wonderful doesn’t it?

Well . . . sometimes . . . the truth hurts.

Recently, I received a clear and urgent email from my boss saying:

“There are negative comments on our Facebook page. Delete them and let me know when you do.”

Upon further investigation, I discovered some negative reviews, and these were not gentle notes of dissatisfaction. These posts were very detailed, passionate negative reviews from those who we had clearly failed. Despite my better judgment, I posted an apologetic response on each of the reviews, of which some were months old.

The following details are blurry, but let’s just say the untimely response threw gasoline on a fire.

Here is what I learned.  If you enter the Social Media realm:

  1. You must accept, for better or worse, feedback.
  2. Having a clear plan and strategy for responding to negative and positive reviews as well as run-of-the-mill comments is critical.
  3. Approach your job with an understand that you cannot please everyone.
  4. Despite the potential for negative feedback, the opportunity for enhanced engagement and communication through social media outweighs the risks

So, like any good life lesson, I pick-up, learn, and move on.

Misery loves company. Please share with me your teachable moments with your social media marketing.
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Do you have work-life balance in your non-profit job?

As many of you know, I am currently working out-of-state and living at my mother-in-law’s house in the DFW metroplex. I woke up this morning and my generous house host engaged me in a spirited discussion about the idea of work-life balance. I am not a dummy, and I presume my mother-in-law is telling me that she doesn’t think I’ve struck the right balance. Of course, all of this got me thinking about the idea of work-life balance and the non-profit sector.

My mother-in-law’s point of view

scales of justiceWork-Life balance is about dividing your time between work and life. Work stays there and your life is over here. The idea of balance looks like the scales of justice, and the two sides (representing work and life) are in perfect balance.

Her thinking is that those individuals who work 60, 70 and 80 hours a week cannot achieve work-life balance. Furthermore, she thinks those people are selfish because if work is that important to someone then they are cheating their spouses, families, and pets.

After digesting my mother-in-laws strong point of view, I think this is a very popular position. I think lots of people view work-life balance through this lens.

My point of view

self fulfillmentI used to look at work-life balance through the same lens as my mother-in-law, but a friend of mine helped me change the way I look at these competing  things in my life.

I don’t believe in the scales of justice analogy anymore. I now believe that the scales can be imbalanced, and the question is all focused on whether or not you’re happy and feel fulfilled.

Selfish? Perhaps! But it is where I am at right now.

The non-profit sector

stressed out workerAs I stewed about this morning’s conversation with my mother-in-law, I started thinking about all of my non-profit friends. I couldn’t think of anyone with perfectly balanced scales, but I could think of lots of non-profit friends who appear happy and fulfilled.

I also started thinking about the reality of non-profit work:

  • Under-funded agencies
  • Under-staffed workplaces
  • Long hours
  • Hard work

So, I decided to write this morning’s blog and seek your opinion about what work-life balance means to you AND how you achieve what you consider balance.

A few interesting articles

So, what do you think? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in with your thoughts and experiences regarding work-life balance and the non-profit work experience.

Here’s to your health!

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

Are your meetings attended by Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody?

nobodySometimes you just got nothing. It is late at night, and I have to catch a plane in the early morning. If there is going to be a Tuesday morning DonorDreams blog, then it has to happen right now. Sigh … sometimes you just got nothing! So, during times like this, I look for real experiences to share. So, I thought I’d share a conversation I had last week with a fundraising professional in New Mexico.

Let me set the stage . . .

We were talking after an annual campaign meeting about the importance of making meetings “actionable” and “how people have a tendency to hide in groups“. Going into a meeting without a plan can result in lots of great discussion and content being shared, but very little action and lots of wasted time.

To avoid this, we talked about all sorts of ideas, tools, and strategies such as:

  • Recruiting the right volunteer chairperson (heck … recruiting the right kind of committee volunteers)
  • Collaboratively developing agendas
  • Using meeting notes and action items memos
  • Developing dashboards and scorecards
  • Using goals to create urgency
  • Not doing something in a group (e.g. recruiting a volunteer or asking for money) that is best done individually

As the conversation wound down, this fundraising professional said: “It sounds like the story about Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.”

I had no idea what she was talking about … so, she sent me an email with this short, cute little story by which every non-profit professional should live his/her life.

I have no idea to whom attribute this story. If you or someone you know is the author, please let me know and I am happy to attribute it. Here it is:

Here is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

A job had to be done and Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, Nobody did it.  Somebody got mad about that, because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought Anybody could do it and that Somebody would do it.

Nobody realized that Everybody thought Somebody would do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

How do you live your life according to the moral of this story? What tips or tricks can you share with you fellow non-profit professionals on how to keep meetings action-oriented and productive? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.

Please excuse me, but I need to run off and catch a plane soon. I hope this short post inspired you to think twice before asking for anything from a group or going into a meeting without a strategy on how to keep things actionable.  ;-)

Here’s to your health!

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

How to appreciate your agency’s executive director

appreciationI can’t prove it, but I suspect that executive directors for non-profit organizations are the most under-appreciated bunch of people on the planet. Working for a group of people (e.g. board of directors) compared to one person is difficult, and I think this contributes to my observations pertaining to appreciation. Simply stated I think group dynamics are such that every person thinks someone else is doing the appreciating and recognizing.

Turnover is an expensive proposition for non-profit organizations. Here are some of the obvious and not-so-obvious costs associated with losing your executive director:

  • costs associated with executive search process
  • lost institutional knowledge
  • orientation and training expenses
  • lost organizational momentum associated with implementation of strategic plan, fundraising plan, etc
  • impact on donor confidence in your agency

Usually when having this conversation with board members, I get asked what are a few ways to better appreciate your executive director. The following sections represent just a few thoughts and ideas.

Annual performance evaluation

I cannot tell you how many times an executive director has confided in me that their board does not evaluate them.

Not only is a year-end performance evaluation a best practice that will keep you out of legal trouble down the road, but it is the logical place for a board to express appreciation.

Annual performance plan

No one likes to “make it up as you are going along“.

So, development of a written and measurable annual performance plan is a recognition tool of sorts. It provides the executive director with a clear road map on what they need to do in order to receive kudos.

Mid-year check-up

For all of the same reasons why a year-end performance appraisal makes sense, so does a mid-year check-up visit.

This meeting allows the board an opportunity to recognize successes. It also provides for course correction on other performance objectives, which sends a clear message that you care about the executive director’s success.

Year-end token of appreciation

During the holiday season, many executive directors are organizing holiday office parties and finding ways to show their staff they are appreciated. A good board makes sure that someone is looking out for the executive director.

It doesn’t need to be an actual gift (e.g. gift card to the exec’s favorite restaurant), even though that is always a nice gesture.

It could be as simple as every board member adding the executive director to their holiday card mailing list and writing something poignant about what they appreciate about their number one employee.

When I facilitate board engagement trainings, one of the nine volunteer engagement principles I talk about is “recognition/appreciation“. In reality, the same holds true for employees. If you want to get the most out of your executive director and keep them around for a while, then you need to find ways to appreciate them.

What are some ways your agency’s board of directors demonstrates its appreciation for its executive director? Please use the comment box below to share your favorite examples.

Here’s to your health!

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


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