Anyone watching television or engaged in community conversations in recent months knows that our communities are entering into another period of time punctuated by values. Some people are talking about life, liberty and happiness. Others of us are focused on equality versus freedom (which are two values that are somewhat mutually exclusive). Perhaps, this elevated values debate is because our country is heading into a divisive Presidential election year. Or maybe it is because big policy debates are underway about LGBTQ and gun rights issues. Regardless, all of this talk has me thinking about the role of values and your non-profit organization’s resource development program.
Whenever I facilitate a strategic planning process for a client, regardless of which planning model I use, the process typically starts off with assessment of the current state and quickly rolls into facilitated discussions about mission, vision and organizational values. I always find it interesting that board volunteers find it easy to talk about mission and vision, but they generally seem to struggle with the values piece.
I suppose this shouldn’t surprise any of us. After all, values discussions can be emotional. Consider the following famous expressions about values:
- “Give me liberty or give me death!” ~Patrick Henry
- “Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.” ~Albert Einstein
- “Only men would think of cutting themselves to determine who the packleader is. Idiots.” ~Christopher Paolini
So, a values discussion can be emotional. Got it! And then a planning facilitator like me comes along and tells your organization it is important to come up with a list of “shared values.” I guess when I look at it from this perspective, it totally makes sense that people want to punt on this exercise.
Regardless of how difficult this might be, it is still important.
Why? Well, I think Roy Disney probably put it best when he said:
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
All of this gets me thinking about the countless discussions I’ve been a part of throughout the years with non-profit staff, boards and fundraising volunteers where difficult fundraising decisions were being made. The following are just a few examples:
- Should a gift from Big Tobacco be accepted when the organization runs anti-smoking and healthy life skills programming with its youth clients?
- Should a named gifts contract be signed with a donor who wants to put a Bible quote on the outside of the building when the organization is secular and committed to serving everyone in the community?
- Should a pledge be booked to one campaign versus another fundraising activity when a donor is clear about the benefits they desire and fuzzy about their intent; all of which is juxtaposed against staff wishing to achieve the goals laid out in their individual performance plans?
Of course, the easy answer is always . . . “What do your organizational policies say about this issue?”
However, weren’t those policies shaped and developed in a crucible of shared organizational values? I hope so.
Moreover, how many times have you dusted off those policy binders only to find they don’t speak clearly or directly to your issue? When this happens, then you’re right back where you started . . . stuck and left with your organization’s shared values.
There seem to be a number of different schools of thought on the question of fundraising values.
- Some people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values (hopefully found in your strategic planning document)
- Other people believe your fundraising program should align with the organization’s shared values, but it should also have a set of supplemental values focused specifically on the unique activities stemming from resource development activities
- Still others believe that fundraising staff come with a set of values that bind them together as a profession
The Association of Fundraising Professionals subscribe to the third school of thought and have this to say about values:
“An ethical fundraiser aspires to: Observe and adhere to the AFP Code and all relevant laws and regulations; Build personal confidence and public support by being trustworthy in all circumstances; Practice honesty in relationships; Be accountable for professional, organizational and public behavior; Be transparent and forthcoming in all dealings; and, Be courageous in serving the public trust.”
To be honest, I’ve never operated under any one of these schools of thought. I guess my career has been guided and shaped by a hybrid (aka mishmash) of these ideas.
I’ve always taken the AFP ethics/values statement to heart, embraced my organization’s set of shared values, and superimposed my own set of individual values. As an Eagle Scout, my individual values have always been rooted in the 12-points of the Scout Law (e.g. trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent).
However, after some thoughtful consideration, I’m left worried that this approach could result in conflict. After all, what happens when an organizational value is in conflict with an individual value?
My best advice to those of you who care about values and the impact these potential conflicts might have on your organization is as follows:
- Invest time in developing your organization’s list of shared values
- Incorporate these values into your various systems (e.g. recognition, compensation, recruitment, etc)
- Integrate these shared values into your supplemental planning documents (e.g. resource development plan, baord development plan, marketing plan, individual performance plans, etc)
- Start every policy development exercise with a discussion about values
- Find a way to talk about your organization’s shared values in every board meeting (e.g. generative discussions, CEO report, committee reports, etc)
- Most importantly, build an organizational culture where it is safe for people to talk about their values in the context of shared organizational values (keeping in mind that your board is in a constant state of flux with volunteers coming and going)
To those of you who don’t care about this topic, I encourage you to turn on your television and watch some of the news coverage focused on what’s happening in Congress in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting. If you don’t want your non-profit board room to look like that, then I suggest you start caring about the power of values.
Has your organization had to deal with a difficult decision recently? Did values play a role in fueling the conflict or solving the problem? If so, please use the comment box to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
I really hate writing about national tragedies. I sometime worry that all of this media attention (e.g. television, radio, blogosphere) simply rewards sick people who seek this exact type of attention (e.g. their 15-minutes of fame). In spite of this belief, I’ve had a few epiphanies this week as I mourn the events of Orlando with my LGBTQ friends and all of my fellow Americans, and I really want to share. So, please forgive my hypocrisy for the next few minutes.
Realization #1: Lots of blame to go around
As I’ve attempted to process this most recent horrific shooting, I couldn’t help but watch the news. In doing so, I’ve heard so many different people and groups stand-up to condemn what they believe is the root cause of this catastrophe. Interestingly, there are many different groups who cannot seem to agree on what the driving force was behind the Orlando massacre.
After days of listening to others and trying to make sense of it all, here are all of the things I’ve been told by others to blame:
- Lack of gun control
- Mental illness
- Homophobia (externalized and perhaps even internalized homophobia)
After almost a week of watching news reports and television shows, I’ve come to two conclusions:
- I need to stop watching TV because anyone with an opinion seems to be getting a chance to voice it
- There are likely many different reasons why this gunman did what he did
Realization #2: Homophobia in all forms is harmful
Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled “Time to address homophobia in the non-profit sector?” I focused on my experiences over the last two decades as a member of the LGBTQ community trying to work in the non-profit sector. Most importantly, I tried to talk about my internalized homophobia and reactions to institutional homophobia and just homophobia in general.
My internalized homophobia has caused me to:
- quit jobs
- lie to friends, colleagues and clients
- impose upon those who I love (e.g. my husband)
- engage in self-destructive behavior (e.g. overeating, etc)
To bottom line this realization, HATE is one of the most powerful and motivating emotions known to humankind. I suspect that where there is HATE (regardless of whether it is homophobia, racism, sexism, misogyny, etc) there will always be a high likelihood of violence.
Realization #3: Non-profits bear responsibility for this mess and will also be the solution
I’m sure many of you probably think I’ve lost my mind. After all, what rationale could I possibly come up with that would allow me to blame non-profit organizations for this mess and charge them with fixing it?
Please join me in reviewing the list of non-profit organizations that I heard/read mentioned in news coverage this last week:
- Democratic National Committee
- Republican National Committee
- National Rifle Association
- The Brady Campaign
- The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
- Newtown Action Alliance
- Everytown for Gun Safety (Michael Bloomerberg’s non-profit org)
- OneOrlando Fund (fund set-up to raise money to support non-profits helping victims of this shooting)
- Equality Florida
- Human Rights Campaign (aka HRC)
- Mental Health America (interviewed by The Washington Post)
- Council on American-Islamic Relations
I’m willing to bet if I tried a little harder that I could double this list. All of these groups are non-profit organizations. Some of these organizations have been blamed for the problem, and others are rushing in to help address it.
However, I want to take this point one step further with the following random non-profit thoughts as they pertain to solving our country’s mass shooting crisis:
- I’m interested to see how the NRA reacts to the legislative push to outlaw people on the terror watch list from being able to legally purchase guns
- I’m interested to see how after-school programs will embrace diversity programming to help kids appreciate our differences rather than hate and bully
- I’m interested to see how churches rally and Muslim mosques rally their congregations in the name of love (and likewise which ones will embrace hate)
- I’m interested to see how mental health non-profits addressing the issue of gun rights and the rights of their clients in addition to looking at homophobia differently
- I’m interested to watch the Democratic Party and the Republican Party try to spin the Orlando shooting into political gain in November
- I’m interested to see if organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations can stop anti-Muslim legislation and help foster a healthy interfaith dialog
- When will organizations like the Boy Scouts of America finally stop teaching kids that gay people can’t be trusted to be leaders because their values are different (thus helping create another generation of gay scouts who struggle with internalized homophobia and straight scouts who look down upon LGBTQ individuals)
So, what do you think now? Lots of “non-profit stuff” going on when it comes to the Orlando shooting, right? Please use the comment box to share your thoughts, experiences and concerns. Nothing is off limits. All I ask is that you keep it civil.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
In the last few months, I’ve been on a business development kick by sitting down with non-profit leaders and developing proposals for their consideration based on those conversation. After sending out the proposal, which they requested and helped frame, my recent experience is . . . nothing happens. And I do mean nothing. No follow-up phone call. No email. Not even a “thanks but no thanks form letter.” And when I initiate the follow-up, I sometimes don’t even get a response to that communication. Really?!? I am wearing deodorant (even cologne, usually). Ugh!
As I sit and contemplate this weird little trend in my professional life, I got thinking about the bigger picture and last five years of my life.
- The last time I sent an organization my resume for a job vacancy (more than five years ago), I never received a letter acknowledging receipt of my application or a rejection letter
- I’ve sent countless emails to non-profit organizations over the last five years asking if I could buy the CEO a cup of coffee or meal in an effort to “get to know them and their organization a little better as well as introduce myself,” and many times my email and phone calls would go unreturned
- We’ve even made charitable contributions in the last few years and either didn’t receive a gift acknowledgement letter or it arrived oddly late
All of this chin stroking and head scratching inspired me to dust off my copy of Penelope Burk’s Donor Centered Fundraising book to look for data on how often this type of stuff happens in the non-profit sector. This is some of what I found on page 38:
- 38% of donors say they always receive a thank you letter after making a charitable gift
- 41% report receiving something most of the time
- 19% receive an acknowledgement sometimes
Burk goes on to mention on page 46:
“Prompt gift acknowledgement influences 44% of study donors’ future giving decisions. 38% of study donors receive a thank you letter within two weeks; 54% within a month; 8% within two months.“
As I think back to that year-end charitable gift we made to an area organization for the first time, I’m remembering: a) it was the first gift we ever made to that organization outside of an event ticket and b) it is the last time we gave them any money and haven’t participated in any of their events since. As I process this for the first time since it happened, I don’t think we’re mad about it. I suspect we just don’t care enough, especially if they don’t seem to care about it.
I am left with the following thoughts and questions:
- With so many organizations using donor databases today, isn’t it as simple as a key stroke to produce a gift acknowledgement letter?
- Is it too time consuming to put a customized note on each computer generated letter to help alleviate the impersonal nature of this type of response?
- For loyal donors or larger philanthropists, is another handwritten thank you note that difficult to produce?
If I had a nickle for every fundraising professional who asked me for “good samples” of gift acknowledgement and thank you letters, I would be a wealthy man. If you are one of those people who is stuck and needs a little advice, then spend a little time with the following data that Burk shares on page 37:
“What donors feel makes a thank you letter superior: personalized in some way 51%; acknowledges how the gift will be used 30%; handwritten 16%; signed by a member of the board 13%“
I highly recommend purchasing one of Penelope Burk’s books. For people who subscribe to and read this blog, you know I’ve been a fan for a long time.
In addition to the amazing Penelope Burk, I also suggest looking at:
- Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior
- Miss Manners’ Basic Training: Communication
- Miss Manners Minds Your Business
And for those of you who are looking for samples and templates of well written acknowledgement and thank you letters, Miss Manners also has some wise advice for you that was published on July 24, 2012 in the Washington Post. Click here to read what she has to say. Enjoy! ;-)
What is your organization’s policy on gift acknowledgement and thank you letters? Where is that policy written (e.g. gift acceptance policy? resource development plan’s section on RD policies?) What consideration went into developing your policy (e.g. size of fundraising staff? technology? donor retention goal?) Please use the comment box to share your thought and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
I apologize to the DonorDreams community for not publishing anything in the last two weeks. I’ve been working on this very personal post and it took me quiet a long time to get it all out and written the way I wanted. Today’s post is heavy and serious, but I’m hopeful you will enjoy and appreciate what went into writing it. Here’s to your health! ~Erik
Step into my shoes and see the non-profit world through my eyes
By Erik Anderson
The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Recently, I was approached with a business lead and encouraged to pursue it. In discussing the opportunity with friends, they shared that I’d have a better chance teaching a pig to fly than securing the work in question.
Because one of the organization’s biggest stakeholders was seriously homophobic. This influential individual wasn’t just politically opposed to the LBGTQ agenda, which has been front and center in our news cycle for the last few years, but they allegedly advocate for not hiring gay people for a number of unfounded and ignorant reasons.
As a gay man in a 13-year married relationship and living openly and out of the closet with my husband, you can imagine some of my initial reactions to this revelation . . . denial, hopelessness, anger, etc. After working through these feelings, I found myself in a familiar place, which was inside my own head fighting against my internalized homophobia.
After working through some of these emotions, I decided to blog about my non-profit journey as it pertains to my sexual orientation. I promise you that this will be a very factual blog post. My intention is to simply share experiences and not editorialize. If I choose to offer a few suggestions, I will do so in a subsequent post.
My time with the Boy Scouts
I know what you’re thinking, and I did know about the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) membership policy restrictions before I applied. I loved this organization so much (e.g. being a member since 7-years-old, Eagle Scout, summer camp staff, etc), I actually convinced myself that I could be celibate and never need to worry about being caught.
At the time of the job offer, very few people knew that I was gay. I had recently gone through a divorce and had only recently started grappling with sexual orientation questions. Interestingly, it was the BSA’s job offer that prompted me to come out of the closet to my Mom (she was the first family member I had told).
Because there were scout professionals and volunteer leaders who were being fired for being gay, and it wasn’t uncommon for those events to make their way into newspaper stories. When I thought about the possibility (albeit unlikely) of my family learning about my secret from a newspaper article, it broke my heart and prompted me to take action. I drove from the council parking lot to my Mom’s place of employment, which is where I tearfully confessed my secrets and asked for her help in making an employment decision.
I loved my time working for my local BSA council. I was back in the youth development sector working with volunteers and learning new skills (e.g. fundraising). For my career, things were sunny. For my personal life, things were dark. The LBGTQ question was top of mind for the organization, and I can honestly say it was a topic of conversation among employees and volunteers at least handful of times every month.
Here are a few examples of conversations I vividly recall:
- Volunteers pointing at phrases in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to justifying the ban on LGBTQ kids and adults. Phrases such as “morally straight” or “A scout is clean” or “A scout is reverent“
- What to do about a group of teenage scouts who were doing inappropriate and seemingly somewhat sexually experimental things on camping trips and whether or not those activities should be considered “gay” and a violation of the BSA membership policies.
- The day after Matthew Shepard was attacked, tied to a fence and stoned to death for being gay, every scout professional in the country received a media notice from the national office. The alert informed us of the incident, identified one of the murderers as an Eagle Scout, and provided scout professionals with instructions for what to do if contacted by a member of the news media.
- A colleague and friend expressing concern that I wasn’t dating anyone after a few years of being divorced, and he humorously suggesting I should be careful because “people might start talking and assume that I was gay.”
- Of course, the Supreme Court case — Boy Scouts of America v. Dale — was still in the media spotlight and everyone loved speculating and chattering about hypotheticals (e.g. the Mormon church would disaffiliate if the ruling went against the BSA, membership would fall, councils/camps would close, etc)
- My favorite flavor of conversations (sarcasm intended) was with adult leaders who saw gay men as a perversion and outright said or strongly implied that gay men were pedophiles.
It was an uncomfortable few years, which is why I was so excited to receive a job offer to become the executive of a local Boys & Girls Club organization.
My time with Boys & Girls Club (local)
While I was coming out of the closet to more family and friends by this time, I strategically made the decision to professionally remain in the closet. The following is a myriad of reasons (aka fears) that ruled my life at the time and provided me with the excuses to remain closeted:
- Our organization had strong support among the African American community and was seen by some as the main after-school provider for that community. When you juxtapose this reality with the news reports and studies about homophobia within the African American community, it was enough to give me pause.
- I had local religious leaders serving on my board of directors and helping with fundraising efforts, and none of those congregations were LGBTQ friendly.
- There were socially conservative individuals who were donors to the organization, and the idea of someone pulling their support because they didn’t like the executive director’s sexual orientation was a risk I didn’t feel comfortable taking.
- The State of Illinois had not yet passed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) legislation, and I asked the board to change the organization’s EEOC policy to include “sexual orientation” protections. I wasn’t motivated by my circumstances, but some foundations at the time were making their funding contingent on making these changes. Needless to say, that was an uncomfortable boardroom discussion.
Working for the Boys & Girls Club was a significant improvement from the toxic anti-LBGTQ Boy Scout culture; however, I met someone in 2003 and started secretly dating him. After integrating him into my professional life by introducing him as a “fundraising volunteer,” it became clear this strategy only would work for a short period of time. I was obviously not sustainable.
In December 2006, I dropped to one knee and asked the love of my life to spend the rest of his life with me. This was prior to civil unions and marriage equality. Within 60 seconds of proposing, I asked for the largest favor that I had ever asked anyone in my life. I asked my husband-to-be if he could give me up to 12 months to find a new job before we move in together and plan a reception/party for family and friends where we could proclaim our love for each other and intentions to spend the rest of our lives together.
What should’ve been one of the happiest moments of my life, instead felt conflicted and complicated because of my internalized homophobia.
Boys & Girls Club (national staff)
It didn’t take a year for me to find a new job. I hooked on with the national organization, and I naively thought my professional life in the closet might be coming to an end. However, it was just a few days into my new job that a very dear friend who also worked for the organization spelled out the “rules of being gay.”
He explained that many of my co-workers would be generally accepting. He even suggested some professionals and volunteers working for local affiliates (which were the clients I would be working with as an internal consultant) might also be very accepting. However, there would likely be many local affiliates located in smaller communities who wouldn’t take kindly to an openly gay individual coming into their boardrooms and communities to work with them on fundraising and organizational development.
So, the bottom line was . . . “Be careful and use your common sense.”
Yet, it was the final few sentences of this conversation I found chilling and a cold splash of reality. He said:
“Erik, if local organizations choose to lock you out because of your decision to be open about your sexual orientation, your employer won’t be firing you because you are gay. They will simply be firing you because you are ineffective in getting your job done.“
While truer words have never been spoken on this subject to me, the result was more time in my professional closet and continued game playing.
Some of you are probably wondering what I mean by “game playing.” Let me try to explain . . .
It was very common for the organization with which I worked to ask all sorts of personal questions during the course of our work. The following are just a few examples:
- Where do you live? Grow up?
- What is your background? (both personally and professionally)
- Why did you leave your Boys & Girls Club to work for the national office?
- Are you married? For how long?
- Do you have kids? Do you want kids?
I never viewed these questions as something stemming from nosiness or inappropriateness. I understood that consultants (regardless of whether they are internal or external) and their clients must develop a foundation of trust. Without trust and a great rapport, it is impossible to achieve goals and grow the organization.
So, the following are a few examples of the “games” I would play:
- become silent and only answer direct questions
- answer a benign question or two before changing the subject
- play the pronoun game (e.g. only refer to my husband as “my spouse” or “they”)
My time at Boys & Girls Clubs of America were a time of tremendous personal and professional growth. I love the people there, and there isn’t a day that passes when I don’t think about how grateful I am. (Who knows? Maybe I’ll go back one day if the timing and situation are right.)
Shortly after turning 40-years-old, I found myself in a difficult place of conflict. I suspect many people might call this a “mid-life crisis.” While there were many things playing into this emotionally tumultuously time in my life, I’m confident my continual practice of “lies of omission” in my work life helped this situation germinate.
The idea of spinning off my own non-profit consulting practice started making a lot of sense to me.
- I could choose my own clients
- I could develop my own toolkit, approaches and points of view
- I could cut back on my travel schedule based on who I decided to take on as clients
- I could stop living my life completely out of the closet professionally speaking
The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Five years ago in May 2011, I registered my new non-profit consulting practice with the Illinois Secretary of State. The Healthy Non-Profit LLC was born.
If you’ve gotten this far, then you probably can see what is coming, and it can all be summed up in an old expression: “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
I get many phone calls from organizations wanting to hire me, and I immediately wonder how open would they be to hiring me if they knew I was gay. While this was a concern when I was an internal consultant working for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, it is even more acute now that I am an external consultant.
Why? Because external consultants don’t get paid if they don’t sell work, which means there can be a financial incentive to bend on your values/principles from time-to-time.
Here are just a few examples of difficult situations in which I’ve found myself over the last five years:
- I was in a client’s boardroom getting ready for my portion of the agenda while board volunteers argued over revisions to their bylaws pertaining to LGBTQ questions
- I was verbally pinned down by a board volunteer, who didn’t have much patience for the pronoun game I was playing, and I flat out lied by turning my husband into my wife
- After mustering a little courage and referencing my husband in a conversation with staff (who you could tell were shocked and confused by what I was saying), I was a coward and reverted back to the pronoun game
- I periodically get requests for proposals from faith-based organizations, which a majority of the time I will refer to other consultants because I’m convinced they wouldn’t want to work with me if they knew the truth
And this is where I am at today.
However, before I wrap up this long blog post, I want to go back to the very beginning, which is where I should’ve started but didn’t have the courage to do so.
And in the beginning . . .
As a recent college graduate, I accepted a unit director position working at a new Boys & Girls Club in a very small rural town. I only stayed one year because I couldn’t pay the bills on that salary. The person who they hired to replace me didn’t last very long. I was asked by the advisory board to sit down with the search committee to help them build a candidate profile and brainstorm ways to build a better applicant pool.
What happened in that meeting was of no consequence to today’s blog post, but what happened after that meeting left an indelible mark on my heart.
Here is how the post-meeting dialog went down (names are changed to protect the not-so-innocent):
Joe: “Before we all leave, there is one other thing I want to discuss with the group.”
Mark: “Sure, please tell everyone what you and I discussed before the meeting.”
Joe: “Well, I don’t know if everyone knows, but the organization’s executive director recently had a roommate move in with him. This male friend was his former roommate from the last community where he worked, and he just moved halfway across the country to join him up here.”
Mark: “Can you be a little more specific for those who may not understand what you’re getting at, Joe?”
Joe: “Well, I’m saying this guy is much more than his ‘friend’. They are a couple. With what we’re trying to teach the youth of our community, I don’t think the corporate board is sending the right message by putting this guy as the face the entire organization.”
Mark: “So, what are you suggesting we do about it?”
Joe: “I think we need to call a few members of the corporate board, talk with them about the situation, and get it figured out.”
The messages I heard and internalized were loud and clear:
- Gay people need not apply
- If you do get the job, then you better hide because we’re watching closely
- If you don’t hide well enough, then we’re going to “talk it over, figure it out, and then come for you“
A Call To Action?
I promised you in the very beginning of this post that I would refrain from editorializing; but I will end with two calls to action (one of which is for me and other is for you).
While I am not religious person, I cannot get this Bible verse from the Book of Genesis out of my head:
“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.“
For too long, I have not let light into my professional life. As you can imagine, the closet is a very dark place. While I cracked the door on this closet many years ago and shared the truth with some of my non-profit friends and colleagues (e.g. introducing them to my husband, talking about my life truthfully, etc), many people still don’t know and every new client that comes into my life doesn’t have any idea.
So, today’s long blog post represents “. . . the first day” in a new professional life. The truth is that I don’t have a clue how I will go about achieving this bold proclamation, but I do know that my personal call to action is dedicating every fiber of my being towards figuring it out. Enough is enough!
This, of course, brings me to my second call to action, which involves you.
If you are a DonorDreams blog reader or subscriber who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with me on LGBTQ issues, let’s just simply agree to disagree. My hope is that you can try to see the non-profit community through my eyes and maybe you can see our values are more similar than dissimilar. More importantly, I hope you see that we have similar goals around making your organization bigger, better and stronger, which has nothing to do with what happens in my personal life.
However, if this isn’t possible, then please know that I accept you. Thank you for all of the good things you do every day for other people. Best wishes!
If you are a DonorDreams blog reader or subscriber who does see eye-to-eye with me (or perhaps this blog post helped you see things from a different perspective), then I have a favor to ask of you. If you think other people in your social networks might benefit from stepping into my shoes and seeing the non-profit world through my eyes, then please electronically share this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc and ask your connections to share it with their networks and so on and so on forth.
If enough people start looking at homophobia in the non-profit sector differently, then maybe more non-profit professionals, volunteers and clients might have the courage to burn down their closets like I am attempting to do. At which time, we can all start having honest discussions with each other. I suspect those discussion threads could be endless (e.g. programs, services, policies, procedures, bylaws, recruitment practices, marketing, resource development and fundraising, etc).
If you have strong thoughts on this subject, please feel free to share in the comment box below. I will approve all comments unless they are violent, extraordinarily hateful, or too far off topic. As I typically say at the end of my posts, we can all learn from each other.
I also usually sign-off by saying, “Here’s to your health,” but today I think I’ll change it up for the first time in five years by saying . . .
Here’s to your health (and my health, too)!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
For the last few decades, the non-profit sector has been focused on data in an effort to convince donors to continue their philanthropic support. I still remember being a new executive director sitting in my first United Way meeting and learning about constructing logic models and differentiating between inputs, outputs, outcomes and pre- and post-test survey tools. All of this was piled on top of a slew of other data metrics my national office was asking for such as:
- overall organizational membership
- average daily attendance
- member demographics (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, zip code, household income, etc)
- employee turnover
- how many members attended 52 days or more per year compared to 105 days
- And on and on and on (seriously, the report was 35 pages long)
While I understood information was powerful, especially with regards to management and decision-making, it was mind-numbing to me the first time I heard someone advocate for total transparency by sharing all of this data with donors.
My immediate reaction was:
- Of course, donors have the right to see what their investment is producing!
- But seriously . . . isn’t a data dump via the annual report, website, newsletter, impact reports, etc. counterproductive and confusing for donors?
From that starting point in the Spring of 2000, I began my journey and life-long struggle with becoming a donor-centered fundraising professional.
I must confess this quest for the holy grail of perfect donor communications is ongoing.
For the last few days, I’ve been preparing for next week’s Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Conference in New Orleans. In addition to beautifying my exhibitor booth, I’m refreshing The Healthy Non-Profit‘s marketing materials. In the process of doing this, I decided to take a stab at producing a few infographics related to some of the services I am trying to highlight.
I recently got bit by the infographic bug because two of my capital campaign clients are really good at using these tools. I just love how easy they make it look. I also became a fan after I started researching why these communication tools are so effective.
Check out the following cute infographic that helps make the case (Source: CopyBlogger post titled “25 Ideas to Transform Ho-Hum Infographics into Something Extraordinary,” written by Barry Feldman):
As I set out to create my first few infographic handouts for my conference booth, I must admit it wasn’t easy. However, I found a few great online resources that helped me get over those first few hurdles. In the spirit of collaboration, I thought I should share:
- Donna Moritz’ blog post titled “7 Super Tips for Creating Powerful Infographics” on the Entrepreneur blog
- Wick Marketing’s “The Power of Infographics“
- Allison Gauss’ “10 Nonprofit Infographics that Inspire and Inform” on Classy Blog
- Picktochart, which is an online infographic generation tool (Note: I subscribed to the free version and liked this site’s intuitiveness. I might even upgrade into one of their pay-packages.)
It has been a while since I’ve served on the front line of a non-profit organization. I’m sure online tools like these are now more common. What does your organization use to distill its data and information into easy-to-digest, bite-size donor communications pieces? Please scroll down to the comment box and share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Oh wait . . . before you leave . . . it is important to note that there are some very smart fundraising professionals and bloggers who are NOT on the bus when it comes to sharing data with donors during the solicitation stage of the resource development process. While they typically agree on the importance of collecting data for data-driven decision-making, they stop short of sharing it with donors because philanthropy is an “emotional” act and not “logical.” I find these arguments compelling and lean towards storytelling as a fundraising tactic, but I still see infographics as powerful stewardship tools.
Heck, I tend to waffle on this issue. So, I’m interested to hear what you think.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
This month DonorDreams is hosting the nationally acclaimed Nonprofit Blog Carnival, and this month’s theme is: “If you could go back in time and give your younger-fundraising-self one piece of advice, what would it be?” In addition to asking other non-profit bloggers to submit posts for consideration, I am also focusing this month’s DonorDreams blog posts on the topic. The April 2016 Nonprofit Blog Carnival is scheduled to go live on Thursday, April 28, 2016. So, mark your calendars because this month promises to be full of fun submissions.
Today’s time machine post involves a younger me who learned valuable lessons about inspiring and managing special event volunteers. Enjoy!
As many readers know, I was once an executive director for a non-profit organization that ran a Duck Race fundraiser. For those of you who don’t know what a Duck Race is, it is simply a raffle where serial numbers on the bottom of little rubber ducks correspond to numbered adoption papers sold to donors. The first 10 ducks that cross a water raceway finish line win prizes. The challenge from a revenue perspective is essentially two-fold:
- Sell lots of sponsorships
- Sell lots of duck adoptions
The key to selling lots of duck adoptions is also simple. Organize as many volunteer teams as possible. Encourage them to sell to their friends, family and co-workers AND set up adoption tables in high foot traffic areas (e.g. outside of grocery stories, in malls, etc).
The big challenge from a non-profit fundraising professional’s perspective is:
- inspiring volunteers to sell duck adoptions
- creating a culture of fun
- being creative with accountability
- instilling a sense of urgency
- keeping people focused on the goal
Being a young fundraising professional, I made the decision to use weekly update reports in an effort to inspire competition between duck adoption teams as well as foster a sense of accountability and urgency.
Of course, as we got closer and closer to the event and the duck adoption totals weren’t exponentially jumping, my weekly reports ended up doing the opposite as they were intended. Not only were volunteers uninspired, but some board members started whispering about whether or not I knew what I was doing.
In the 1986 box office flop Howard the Duck, Howard gets transported from his home world of “Duckworld” by a dimensional-jumping device. If I had access to that device today, I would totally transport myself to a place where I could share the following nuggets of advice with my younger-fundraising-self:
- reporting can cut both ways with volunteers (esp. when falling short with goals)
- always find good news to spotlight regardless of how small it may be
- perceived negativity is like a flu virus (very catchy and spreads quickly)
- “who” issues the report is important (peer-to-peer accountability is powerful and reports should come from the volunteer event chair and not staff)
- positive incentives and fun recognition items are important to tie to a reporting tool
I would also put my arm around my younger-fundraising-self and tell me that using “reporting tools” to create accountability and “goal setting” to create urgency are best practices, but these tools must be used in conjunction with the following volunteer engagement strategies:
- well run, in-person meetings
- mission-focused messaging and activities
- setting expectations upfront
- helping people feel organized and being personally organized
- celebrate success (both big and small successes early and often)
Where is a dimensional-jumping device when you need one? 😉
If you are a non-profit blogger who wants to participate in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival and submit a post for consideration on this month’s carnival theme, click here to read the “call for submissions” post I published a few weeks ago. It should answer all of your questions and clearly explain how to submit your entry. If not, then simply email me and I’ll be happy to help.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
While it is well established that Baby Boomer donors currently are in the prime charitable giving years, the fact of the matter is Millennial donors are becoming a force with which non-profits must reckon. So, I’ve asked Zach Hagopian from Accelevents to weigh-in with his suggestions on how your organization should start thinking about acquisition and retention of this new powerhouse generation of philanthripists. I think you will like his four suggestions. Here’s to your health! ~Erik
4 Ways to Acquire and Retain Millennial Donors
By Zach Hagopian
Co-founder & COO of Accelevents
Is your nonprofit organization trying to break into the millennial space in order acquire and retain more millennial donors?
In this post, I am going to outline some of our most useful tips for both acquiring and retaining millennial donors.
But first, let’s discuss why millennial donors are so valuable…
According to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report, a whopping 84% of millennials made a charitable donation in 2014. Long gone are the days of assuming millennials are a predominantly selfish group of consumers.
While we can all agree that capturing millennial donors is immensely valuable for your nonprofit organization (or just for your annual fundraising event), many NPOs and fundraisers struggle to acquire and retain these donors.
Here are four of my best tips for acquiring and retaining millennial donors.
1. Get Personal
Our first tip is to get personal with your potential donors – tell the story of your cause and how it personally relates to your experience.
While inclined to donate, millennials constantly seek stories that they can identify with. Affinity in values and social responsibility are extremely important, when it comes to the restaurants millennials eat at, the stores they shop at, and even the organizations they donate to.
Conveying your story in a meaningful way will get you in the door with millennials, and the rest will be history (if you follow our next three steps…)!
2. Utilize Technology
One thing that we can all agree on is that millennials are very connected.
Whether we are checking our iPhones every 30 seconds, or sneaking a look at our Facebook news feed during a conference call, we millennials have the means to find and share any information instantly.
And fundraisers / nonprofits should be using this to their advantage!
In today’s world, millennials are willing to donate to charitable causes, but they desire to do so on their terms, which means embracing easy-to-use, flexible, and accessible donation tools. For the most part, this entails making the switch from traditional means to online and mobile enabled platforms.
These tools can be anything from donation pages to mobile silent auctions and raffles and peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns.
Regardless of the tools you decide to move forward with, embracing technology will allow you to offer millennials a much easier channel for them to donate whenever they’d like.
3. Embrace FOMO
Our next tip if for your organization to embrace one of the strongest emotions felt among millennials – THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT (aka “FOMO”).
When used with online and social fundraising methods, FOMO can become one of your best tools for millennial acquisition AND retention.
The key here is to hold your donors socially accountable. Did your supporters just buy a ticket to your next fundraising event? Has one of your donors just made a donation to support your cause? Provide them a means to share this to their social network!
When your donors share updates about your cause, the benefits here are twofold:
- Acquisition – Other millennials will witness all of the passion and excitement around supporting your cause, and will flock to join. Just like that, you’ve acquired new millennial donors.
- Retention – Your current supporters may not have returned to support your cause for a second time. FOMO comes to the rescue, reminding them that they too should be joining in the excitement of helping a great cause.
4. Show Your Appreciation (with a twist!)
While our final tip applies to donors of all ages, it is still extremely important for your millennial donors. As most people do, millennials appreciate being acknowledged for their support and contribution to your cause.
Traditional methods of thanking your millennial donors work great, but your thank-yous are even more effective when you can add a twist!
Some of our favorite examples of unique acknowledgements for millennials include:
- Donor Spotlights – Has one of your donors (or a group of donors) gone above and beyond in their support of your cause? If so, create a nice piece of content on their story, and share this out to your audience. Not only will the highlighted donor(s) feel appreciated, but your other supporters will see the lengths that your team goes to, in order to acknowledge your donors
- Create a Sizzle Reel – Did you just wrap up a great fundraising event or have your best year in terms of donations? Spend some resources to create a great video or “sizzle reel” to share with your audience. An exciting video will stand out against the hundreds of emails your audience receives each day, and it’s also a great piece of content for your donors to share out to their networks!
About the Author
Zach Hagopian is the co-founder and COO of Accelevents, a mobile fundraising platform that enhances silent auctions and raffles through online and text-message bidding. An active member in the Boston fundraising scene, Zach focuses on improving traditional fundraising methods and increasing fundraiser proceeds.
As a Millennial living in Boston with strong ties to the Boston fundraising community, Zach most recently spent the past two years organizing a fundraiser geared almost completely to millennial donors. In his first year, they attracted 850 guests to their event and raised over $65,000 for the prestigious Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In year two, they raised $108,000 from over 1,000 Boston-area millennials and young professionals.
As most of you know, DonorDreams blog has dedicated the first Thursday of every month for almost the last year to featuring a short video from Henry Freeman, who is an accomplished non-profit and fundraising professional. We affectionately call this monthly series “Hangin’ With Henry” because of the conversational format around which he has framed his online videos. This month we’re talking about Making People Comfortable During a First Visit. I thought this video would be a night follow-up for my blog post published two weeks ago titled “Can we all please agree that ambushing donors needs to stop?” where I shared tips on how to set-up a meeting with a prospect/donor without ambushing them.
For those of you who subscribe to DonorDreams blog and get notices by email, you will want to click this link to view this month’s featured YouTube video. If you got here via your web browser, then you can click on the video graphic below.
OK, I understand that Henry is talking about “the first visit” within a major gifts initiative context. However, doesn’t everything he said still apply to other resource development work, especially when sitting down with a new prospect during a cultivation visit?
I think one of the things that I loved the most from Henry’s video is how he talks about leaving your fundraising agenda at the door during your first visit.
So, let’s stop here and focus on leaving your agenda at the door. How have you successfully done this? What have you focused on instead? What clues in the conversation where you able to pick-up on that gave you permission to go back and open the door on your fundraising agenda?
We can all learn from each other. Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Let’s face it. Times change, and those things that don’t evolve and keep up with the times get old and stale. And this applies to everything in life including your fundraising plan (which includes your goals, strategies, tactics and sometimes even best practices). I’ve asked Abby Jarvis from Qgiv to weigh-in with her suggestions on how your organization might evolve its approach to soliciting donors and polishing up its fundraising plan. I think you will like her five suggestions. Here’s to your health! ~Erik
5 Ways to Make Better Fundraising Asks
By Abby Jarvis
Blogger, marketer & communications coordinator for Qgiv
Your nonprofit is constantly trying to improve. Whether you’re developing an efficiency hack for your staff members or trying new fundraising events, openness to change is what allows your organization to grow, acquire more donors, and raise more money for your cause.
One area that nonprofits can constantly improve in is their donation appeal strategies. There is always room for improvement, whether you ask for donations over the phone, in person, with direct mail, or through any other method.
Check out these five ways to improve your fundraising appeals!
1. Update your website
Donors who find themselves on your nonprofit’s website don’t want to see pages that haven’t been updated since 2007.
Part of improving your fundraising efforts should involve sprucing up your nonprofit’s website and donation page.
Online donations are steadily rising and becoming the preferred giving method for younger generations who have grown up surrounded by technology. Make sure that you aren’t losing these donors’ interests by having an outdated donation page and website.
Check out these great examples of donation forms for a little inspiration.
2. Start personalizing your direct mail
You wouldn’t send a letter to your Aunt Margaret that started off with “Dear Relative.”
You shouldn’t be doing that in your direct mail appeals either.
One characteristic that unites all nonprofits with successful direct mail solicitation is the personalization of their letters.
Personalization doesn’t just mean using the donor’s name in the greeting, though. It also means:
- Referencing past involvement or contributions.
- Offering new ways to interact with your nonprofit.
- Suggesting giving levels based on past contributions.
- A personal signature from an organization member.
- And more!
Make sure that you’re personalizing your direct mail appeals to bring in more donations for your nonprofit!
3. Ramp up your email campaigns
More and more nonprofits are looking to improve their email marketing techniques. Is your organization ready to join them?
Ramping up your email campaigns means taking a look at the successful emails you’ve sent in the past and improving the ones that weren’t as effective.
Don’t just send out donation appeals in your emails, though. Give donors regular updates about your organization with:
- Success stories.
- Info on current projects.
- Volunteering opportunities.
- Invitations to events.
- And more!
Sending out emails to your donors is a cost-effective and efficient way to keep them in the loop and to ask for donations.
4. Host really great fundraising events
Even though event fundraisers come with a cost, they can be fantastic opportunities for your supporters to interact with one another and your nonprofit.
They can be a valuable be a great way for your organization to ask for donations!
Let’s say you’re hosting a family fun day for your church’s mission trip. During the opening or closing ceremony, let attendees know why their donations are so important and what they will help fund. Then, give them ways to donate either through physical, on-site donations, or digital methods like text-to-give or mobile donation forms.
Hosting a fundraising event takes a lot of planning and coordination, but with the right tools, your nonprofit can make better fundraising asks at the events you host for donors!
5. Take a look at your major gift strategy
Asking for donations from major gift prospects can be tricky. Not only do you have to convince someone that your organization is worth supporting, but you have to ask that person for a significant amount of money.
The best way for your nonprofit to succeed when it comes to major gifts is to develop a strategy for going after those donations. This strategy should include:
- Appointing a major gift officer.
- Developing comprehensive cultivation techniques.
- Forming solid relationships with your prospects.
- Using prospect research to help determine the right ask amount.
- Creating solid stewardship practices for after the donation has been made.
Major gifts are often some of the biggest donations that a nonprofit can receive. In fact, an individual who has made a gift between $50,000 and $100,000 is 25 times more likely to donate than an average person is. Make sure you aren’t missing out on these large contributions because your major gift strategy has been found lacking.
Your nonprofit should have several goals for improvement, but one of them should definitely be to make better fundraising asks! With these five tips, you’ll be set for success. Happy asking!
Abby Jarvis is a blogger, marketer, and communications coordinator for Qgiv, an online fundraising service provider. Qgiv offers industry-leading online giving and peer to peer fundraising tools for nonprofit, faith-based, and political organizations of all sizes. When she’s not working at Qgiv, Abby can usually be found writing for local magazines, catching up on her favorite blogs, or binge-watching sci-fi shows on Netflix.
Well, it happened to me and my husband again just the other day. We were asked to dinner by a non-profit friend. It was a simple dinner invitation, and one that we’ve been working on setting up for more than a year. We weren’t in the restaurant for more than 15 minutes and the pre-meal cocktails had just arrived, when our friend was asking us to give some consideration to making a contribution to their organization’s endowment fund.
There isn’t any other way to characterize a situation like this other than it was an old fashion…
The inexplicable thing I still cannot wrap my head around is that we would’ve happily accepted this dinner invitation if we knew there was a solicitation attached to it.
Some of you might be wondering what the big deal is all about.
Simply, I believe soliciting unsuspecting prospects and donors is detrimental to your organization (and to everyone else in non-profit sector) for the following reasons:
- It puts the person on the spot (and when has that ever felt good?)
- It erodes trust (what will they think the next time you ask them to join you for a meal?)
- It validates the erroneous belief by some people that fundraising is a sneaky and shameful activity focused on making people do something they otherwise wouldn’t want to do
- It feels wrong when friends do this to their friends and colleagues, which contributes to people saying NO when asked to volunteer for a non-profit fundraising campaign
Yes, I understand most people don’t do this purposefully. They simply weren’t trained appropriately or they harbor anxiety about rejection (or any number of other fears) when it comes to setting up the fundraising meeting.
Some of you are probably now wondering what the solution is.
Almost 10 years ago, I ran into a very smart board volunteer who understood the importance of training. So much so, his company developed a video he used with his fellow board members to help them feel more comfortable with every aspect of the solicitation progress. I was lucky enough that he agreed to share his homemade training video with me.
Embedded within more than an hour of video was a seven minute clip explaining (and role playing) the appropriate way to pick-up the phone and successfully secure a fundraising meeting with a prospect/donor. This is simply one of the best pieces of video that I’ve ever seen on this topic.
In an effort to do may part to help eradicate the “ambush” tactic from our non-profit toolbox, I will share with you some of the tips from this video.
- Before picking up the phone, write down three reasons why you need to sit down with your prospect/donor and keep that piece of paper nearby when you place the call (and look at this piece of paper when you feel yourself getting nervous)
- When the prospect/donor answers the phone, ask them for time to meet in-person (after preliminary greetings and chit-chat, of course) and share the three reasons for the meeting
- Some of the reasons to meet in-person might include: a) asking for advice, b) securing their involvement, c) thanking them for their support, d) accessing their expertise; BUT one of the reasons must include discussing their potential support of the campaign, event or fundraising activity in question
- Making up reasons to meet can feel insincere and manipulative . . . so don’t use silly reasons. Come up with real reasons that will benefit the organization or are plausible based upon your personal relationship
- Don’t ask if they can meet . . . ask them when they can meet.
If this sounds simple, it’s because it is. If you still don’t believe this approach works, then think of it this way . . .
We are all very busy with our lives. So, when a friend calls asking for some of your time and only gives one reason for the meeting, it doesn’t feel weighty enough to want an in-person meeting. Surely one discussion item can quickly be resolved on the telephone. Right??? However, listing off a number of things you wish to discuss begins to feel lengthy and not well suited for a quick telephone conversation.
Still don’t believe me? Well then, I guess there is only one way to resolve this dispute . . . try this strategy on for size next time you need to schedule an in-person meeting with a prospect/donor. I’m betting that you’re successful. ;-)
Do you have additional tips to share with the non-profit sector about how to set-up an in-person meeting with a prospect/donor without resorting to ambush tactics? If so, please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC