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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

Your non-profit can learn something from the Chicago Cubs

Let me set the stage for you. It is a Sunday afternoon, and I am sitting in the bleachers waiting for the start of a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs (a team that I’ve been a fan of since my birth 44 years ago) and the Atlanta Braves. It is hot . . . VERY HOT! Then a song written in 1969 titled “Hey Hey Holy Mackerel” started blaring over the speakers. This song is intended to be a fight song. Never heard of it? Here are the lyrics words by I. C. Haag and music by JOhn Frigo):

Hey hey! Holy Mackerel!
No doubt about it,
The Cubs are on their way. (Hey hey!)
The Cubs are gonna hit today,
They’re gonna pitch today,
They’re gonna field today.
Come what may the Cubs are gonna win today.Hey hey! Holy Mackerel!
No doubt about it,
The Cubs are on their way.
They got the hustle.
They got the bustle.
The Chicago Cubs have come to play.
The Chicago Cubs are on their way.

Wanna hear it? Here is the YouTube version for your enjoyment:

OK . . . the scene is set. Now image another Cubs game in the history books and the reality setting in:

  • They aren’t on their way
  • They didn’t pitch today
  • They didn’t hit today (well, maybe a little bit)
  • They didn’t field today
  • Did I mention that they really aren’t on their way?

The morale to the story?

Be careful about the promises you make because you might disappoint your fans! How is this applicable to your non-profit organization? Simple! Consider the following:

  • Your mission statement is akin to the Chicago Cubs fight song.
  • Your vision statement is also akin to Hey Hey Holy Mackerel.
  • Your marketing tag line and public service announcements are also rally cries, right?
  • And your donors are very much fans.

When you organization makes promises that aren’t delivered upon, you’re setting yourself up for trouble.

Don’t believe me?

Then go ask the Chicago Cubs who purportedly are selling one million fewer tickets this year than they did a number of years ago. Ouch! That must hurt. Hopefully, the promises they’re making as part of their rebuilding plan are things they will deliver on (and soon).

Are you assessing your agency’s effectiveness? Who are you engaging in that assessment? How are you assessing your agency? And what are you doing about it?

Don’t torture your donors and supporters for more than a century. Start your assessment and planning process today and include all of your stakeholders in that process.

Here’s to your health!

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

Are you a successful non-profit professional?

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

I just had lunch with dear friend a few days ago. She is smart. She is talented. She runs an awesome non-profit organization that is growing by leaps and bounds. However, during lunch our conversation turned to lots of questions and doubts:

  • Is she still the right leader for this organization at this point in time?
  • Has the organization outgrown what she has to offer?
  • Will she know when it is the right time to leave?
  • Is there someone she should be grooming to whom she could pass the baton at the appropriate time?

This discussion was surprising to me because she is so obviously successful, but it isn’t apparent to her. This got me thinking of an awesome blog post by John Greco titled “Success“. Since today is OD Friday at DonorDreams blog, I encourage you to click over and read John’s post. After digesting his thoughts, please circle back here and re-read the list of questions that my friend posed over lunch. After accomplishing all of that, scroll down and post your thoughts in the comment box below.

What practices and tools do you and your non-profit organization utilize to let you and your donors know that you’re successful? We can all learn from each other. So, please take a moment to share!

Here’s to your health.

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

If I only had a brain . . .

So, last week was an amazing week for my blog. It appears that I struck upon a topic of interest for the non-profit community when I focused on special events and how some agencies make poor decisions around return on investment (ROI) decisions and volunteer utilization. While I promised myself that I would end that discussion thread about zombies, I decided this morning over coffee to continue down “the yellow brick road” a little further by changing metaphors.  It is Halloween season after all.  LOL

Interestingly, approximately 97-percent of all the emails, comments and discussions last week were very supportive of the positions I staked out in the blog. However, in spite of the support I still periodically heard things like this:

  • Erik, I totally agree with you that non-profit leaders too often invest money and energy into special events that provide a poor ROI. We really need to do a better job. However, my agency runs this one event that has a bad ROI but we just LOVE IT. We just need to give it a little more time and it will be one of this community’s signature events. What do you think?
  • Erik, as a board member I am not an expert on non-profit operations and fundraising. I rely on our agency’s staff to make good decisions, and I do as I am told. I agree with everything you’ve written and would never run my business that way, but it just isn’t my call.
  • Erik, we knew this event wasn’t a good idea for non-profits, but what were we supposed to do? Non-profit agencies pushed us to include them in our event plans.

Again . . . let me attach this disclaimer before saying anything else. 1) Not all special events are bad. 2) Some special events can have a decent ROI. 3) There are non-monetary objectives and benefits to planning and running a special event (e.g. awareness, prospect cultivation, volunteer engagement, etc). 4) I believe all non-profit organizations should include one or two well-oiled special events in their annual written resource development plan.

With that being said, I found this iconic song from the Wizard of Oz’s Scarecrow running through my head after each of the aforementioned comments. I am not sure how you feel, but here were a few of my reactions and conclusions:

  • It is probably common for agency staff and board volunteers to “fall in love with” their own special event ideas. Finding perspective is not an easy thing to do with anything in life including evaluating events and resource development programs. With this in mind, I recommend that non-profits involve external people in their evaluation process. What is so wrong with recruiting local business people to volunteer for a critique meeting or evaluation session? Ask donors to participate. Heck . . . spend a few dollars and engage an external consultant to help.
  • The mysterious world of “non-profit” business models probably seems a bit strange to board volunteers who live in the for-profit world, but fiduciary responsibility is the same on both sides of the fence. I have a few thoughts here: 1) board volunteers must be engaged and cannot abdicate oversight and evaluation to staff, 2) while there are differences between for-profit and non-profit corporations, you should stop and think hard about something your agency is doing if you find yourself thinking “huh, I would never do that back at my shop,” 3) we don’t need zombies serving on our boards . . . we need leaders, and 4) non-profit staff really need to do a better job supporting their board development committees throughout the prospect identification, evaluation, recruitment, and orientation processes or they will get what they deserve which is a board room full of “yes men (and women)” who serve in an echo chamber.
  • Eeeeeek! You knew it was a “bad idea,” but you did it because they asked for it? This comment almost sent me into orbit. So, answer me this question please: would you hand an addict a crack pipe? Or even better . . . do you give your kids everything they ask for? Now, please don’t get upset. I don’t mean to say that non-profits are addicts or children, but I make these analogies to get your attention. The answer is OF COURSE NOT! If you love someone (or in this case that someone is a non-profit agency and its mission), then you don’t enable them to do harm to themselves.

I believe that donors are more than just ATMs. I believe donors are leaders and accountability agents for the non-profit organizations they support. However, non-profit CEOs and fundraising professionals need to play a major role in empowering donors and volunteers. In the movie, “the wizard” bestows a diploma upon the Scarecrow as proof that he has a brain. What can agency staff bestow upon volunteers, donors and board members that will help them suddenly realize that their thoughts and wisdom are so desperately needed as part of the process?

Non-profit staff — Do you engage donors and external volunteers in the evaluation process? What about engaging them in the planning process? Do you have any examples of where you stopped doing something or changed it because of feedback from donors?

Donors — What stops you from sharing your thoughts and opinions about questionable things you see your favorite non-profits doing? Have you ever just stopped contributing to a charity as a result of a poor business decision that you saw a non-profit undertaking?

Board members — What can agency staff do to better empower you to speak-up and engage?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and opinions because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

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

Killing sacred cows

A few weeks ago, a dear friend of mine from down south sent me this message through LinkedIn:

“I would like to get your perspective on how to handle an advisory board that loves their special event (they gave birth to it), it costs $0.95 on each $1.00 raised and takes months of time and effort. “

My first thought here was: “WOW, it only costs 95 cents to raise a dollar with that special event?”

For those of you who are not familiar with Charity Navigator’s “2007  Special Events Study,” I strongly urge you to read it. They discovered that the average special event fundraiser (when considering direct and indirect costs) will cost a non-profit agency $1.33 to raise $1.00.

I wonder if the aforementioned 95 cent cost included indirect costs like staff time.

Not included in the study (because it would be impossible to do) is calculating the “opportunity cost” involved with a special event fundraiser. In other words, what other fundraising opportunity did we miss out on because we spent our volunteers’ time doing a special event? How much more money could we have raised (and at what cost) if we asked the same staff and volunteers to run an annual campaign pledge drive instead of that labor intensive gold outting?

Here’s the thing . . . volunteers LOVE special events because it is the least scary form of fundraising. They are out selling tickets and feel comfortable doing so because they’ve rationalized that their friend is getting something of value in exchange for their donation; whereas, no one is getting anything in return for an annual campagn pledge.

According to, a sacred cow is “an individual, organization, institution, etc., considered to be exempt from criticism or questioning.” In my opinion, special event fundraising is likely one of the non-profit volunteer’s most sacred cows, and killing sacred cows is hard to do!

If you are determined to kill a sacred cow, then you only have one path to travel . . . it has to be the idea of those people who hold it sacred.

How can that be done? Here are a few ideas:

  • Engage your event volunteers in a post-event evaluation meeting. Share the Charity Navigator study with them. Calculate the event’s TRUE cost (direct + indirect) and share info, too. Ask them how they’d handle the same situation back home at their place of employment if a product or service was losing money.
  • Use your resource development committee, as part of your annual resource development planning process, to look at every revenue stream and its true cost. Engage them in reviewing your agency’s resource development policies. If you don’t already have policies setting ROI standards for events, walk them through that exercise.
  • Pull together a focus group of key donors. Share the Charity Navigator study along with your special event data with them. Ask them for their observations and suggestions. See where the conversation takes you. It might be very interesting! Make sure all of the focus group’s feedback gets shared with the event committee, resource development committee and board of directors.

It is important to remember that special events do serve a good purpose, especially with providing an opportunity to engage new prospective donors. It is never a good idea to just eliminate all events. A few well oiled special event fundraisers (with decent ROI) can serve an important role in your agency’s resource development program.

What advice would you give my dear friend? How do you keep special events from getting out of hand at your agency? How have you killed sacred cows without incurring your volunteers’ wrath? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in on this subject because we can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847
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