Monday, October 13, 2014

Major Gifts – Treat Donors Like Grown-Ups

I am familiar with all the advice and steps that should be taken to develop relationships, multiple touches, involve Board members with connections, moves management, etc. You are too and some of them you actually do and others you are considering. The theme for this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival is Tricks or Treats – How Do You Get and Sustain Major Gifts? I wanted to participate in this informative and fun event but what tricks do I know beyond the basics? At first I couldn’t think of any and then I remembered one client in particular I worked with and this advice I gave to them. 

Major donors will understand the reality of your needs and “You should treat them like grown-ups.” That’s my advice – rather than like a fragile china doll – which is what some of the standard advice amounts to – treat them like grown-ups. 

Here are the facts in my real life case of an organization I worked with. They provided important services and had a super staff – so far typical. But they were stretched so thin and tried to do way too many things – still typical. However, they were off the charts in critical areas. Their staff had no benefits and were paid 30% below the local nonprofit market resulting in a high turnover rate and lack of stability and experience/leadership on the staff. They had been located for 20 years in a well located building with free rent and the free rent status was in jeopardy. There was no financial reserve and they survived on a month to month basis. Because of the lack of experienced staff, the Executive Director had to spend a significant amount of time on program and operations and there was no one on the staff with development as a responsibility. A volunteer Board member was developing a database and spent significant time every week organizing the fundraising effort and improving its materials. The organization had a solid reputation and a deep support network through churches of various denominations. There was a committed long term Board with varied skills and some fundraising potential. 

You could sum up their situation as "provides lifeline and life changing services, inefficient, not sustainable, has untapped fundraising potential." This organization needed a path to sustainability. Is it doable? Yes. It can be hard to raise funds to keep on doing what you are doing but be able to do it better. But that really is what they wanted. 

What will be the goals for the major gift campaign? 
• Increase staff pay over five years to be comparable with local nonprofits 
• Introduce a shared cost medical benefit for employees 
• Hire a Development Director 
• Develop a reserve that will put the organization in a position to pay rent or meet emergencies 

Can you really tell donors that what you want to do is raise staff pay, hire a development director and save some money in a reserve? Let’s hope so if that is what you need. How do you do that? 

First of all you have faith that you can treat your potential major donors like they are grown-ups. They understand these issues and deal with them in their own businesses. They are willing to support your organization not only on an emotional level – yes, you need those people too – but to respond to the practical reality of where you are right now. 

The plan was straightforward – Identify 100 people willing to commit $1000 a year for five years. Let’s be frank. If people get used to giving your organization $1000 a year for five years and you do a good job of keeping them posted on your progress and results and say thank you regularly – now we are back to the basics – won’t some of them continue at this level? This, my friends, is the Treat and there is no Trick. 

Treat your potential major donors like grown-ups and be Treated.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Emergent Strategic Philanthropy? A Philanthropy Approach Adaptable for Any Size Nonprofit

The philosophy behind strategic philanthropy is that by implementing important core principles - commit to clear goals, data-driven strategies, heightened accountability, and rigorous evaluations –there will be more successful outcomes.  Sounds good.  This is the approach that has been adopted by many foundations and individual philanthropists who have been advised on how to approach philanthropy.
But new ideas emerge…….

A new article on this subject in the Stanford Social Innovation Review recognizes that this is a complex world and a more-nuanced strategic model is needed.  The article distinguishes between straightforward projects such as building a hospital or running an after school program and projects meant to get at the root cause of a problem.  The latter being considered complex.
This is where I parted company with the authors of this article.  In my opinion, all problems that are intertwined with the human condition are complex.  The issues dealt with in after school problems can frequently be complex.  Or sometimes getting to a simple root cause like a child needing glasses can make a big difference.  The concepts of this emergent strategy model can apply to a wide range of situations and that foundations and private philanthropists should be more flexible in the parameters they set for nonprofits.

This model can work for many nonprofit programs. And there is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water.  The current strategic model is the base that it is built on.  Nonprofits start out with goals and develop strategies and programs to achieve those goals.  Through assessments and evaluations they frequently learn that they need to make adjustments.  This should not be seen as failure to meet goals but rather “unrealized strategies” exiting and “emergent strategies” entering.  This happens every day.  Rather than the linear model often purported by logic models this more flexible approach is more akin to the model used in business and industry for years – it is the model of continuous improvement.  That’s all it is – it doesn’t have to be sophisticated, complex, philosophical or whatever big word you like.  It is simple and used every day in business and industry.

I love this line in the SSIR article – “Emergence is where rigor and flexibility meet.”  The article goes on to say, “ Emergent strategy still requires that a clear strategic intent guide the funder’s actions, but it acknowledges that specific outcomes cannot be predicted. Emergent strategic philanthropists will continually strive to react to changing circumstances, so flexible and textured frameworks such as system maps must replace the linear and one-dimensional logic model as the primary means of clarifying strategy. 

I’m sure some of you are thinking so “system maps” will replace logic models.  Yes, no matter what the model, accountability is here to stay.  And there needs to be a framework for accountability.  System maps it will be.

John Cawley at the McConnell Family Foundation (Canada) describes this as having a compass rather than a map.   “A map assumes that you’re going over terrain that somebody has been over before. A compass, on the other hand, keeps one oriented toward the ultimate goal regardless of the unanticipated obstacles and detours that may appear during the journey.

Reference:  Strategic Philanthropy for a Complex World” by John Kania, Mark Kramer, & Patty Russell   Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Search for a New Executive Director in a Small Nonprofit

Whether an organization is large, medium or small, it is a very big deal when an Executive Director leaves. But when it happens in a small nonprofit there are usually limited resources available to keep things afloat AND conduct a search for a replacement.  This is an area that I am working in specifically – executive search for small nonprofits.

When I get a call from a Board President about conducting a search s/he is often at one end of the spectrum of possibilities.  There is the person who feels that the organization is in crisis and worried about how they will continue to operate in the interim and wants somebody “really fast” before the whole place falls apart.  The other scenario is a Board and Board President that are clueless about how the Executive Director handled a zillion things concurrently and really kept the place together.  They are sometimes all too happy to have a breather from the expense of an Executive Director and have a chance to do some things their way.

No matter where on this spectrum an organization’s leaders are, it is a big deal when an Executive Director leaves.  Don’t panic and don’t be oblivious about the impact of a departing ED either.  First step – read my article In the Interim - Appreciate and Use that Time Between Leaders.

Although each search is unique, here is the outline of the process I use.

Step One: Make Sure You Know What You Want and What You Can Afford
When I first meet with a Board President and search committee I do a lot of listening.  I try to find out what are the most important skills their ED must have, what are their expectations and what kind of relationship an ED can expect to have with the Board.  I gather background information about the organization and write a draft job description so that we have a starting point to describe the job. 

I ask about salary and benefits and advise them about its reasonableness.   This can be an interesting discussion.  If you want someone with advanced skills and experience and demonstrated results it will cost you.  If you are willing to hire someone in their first ED position you will pay less.  These candidates can bring energy and new ideas to the position but you will have to give them some breathing space to grow into the job.  The job description draft is then finalized.  Benefits are also important.  If all the other employees are part time or hourly the small nonprofit is sometimes unprepared to deal with the expectations for medical and 401K and perhaps tuition reimbursement benefits.

Step Two: Finding Qualified Candidates
I always post a full job description at and the Foundation Center and for a New Jersey client the Center for Nonprofits website.  I always recommend that the job be posted on the organization’s website and that it is emailed to funders and other nonprofit leaders. Depending on the mission of the organization there may be some other key places to post the opening.  One important rule – always list when applications must be received by.

Although I am a consultant, I have the organization set up an email for me usually entitled

Step Three: Assessing Candidates and Reducing the Number Considered
Here are two alternatives I have used to identify the candidates who will be considered for the position:

I set up a folder on the google G drive so that the search committee members can see all the applications and when the application date closes, I provide a spreadsheet with candidate name, my assessment based on the key skills/experience required  - very qualified, qualified, not qualified and a brief description of their skills.

As an alternative, I meet with the Search Committee and depending on the number of resumes, have a variety of ways of identifying the candidates to be considered further.  All of the resumes are reviewed – sometimes by sub-groups and then narrowed by exchanging resumes with another sub-group.

In either case, the Search Committee chooses candidates that I will conduct telephone interviews with.  Based on these preliminary telephone interviews I recommend candidates for in person interviews.  Typically I conduct 6-10 telephone interviews and the Search Committee interviews 3-5 candidates.

At this point the Search Committee needs to impress the candidate as much as they are trying to impress you. You need to put your best foot forward.  Smaller organizations sometimes need some extra coaching about details at this point in the process and having professional help can make a difference.  We discuss where the interview will be held and make sure that this space and the ED’s office hasn’t been turned into a storage area if it will be shown during the interview. These things are usually not issues in larger organizations but unfortunately can be awkward for small nonprofits.

We discuss the interview format and what is appropriate and legal to ask. Often I am asked to meet and introduce the candidate and kickoff the interview. I also play the role of putting the candidate at ease.  I am the timekeeper, make sure the candidate has an opportunity to ask questions too and wrap it up in a timely manner –especially if someone else is expected.  I then notify candidates who are not selected and provide individualized feedback to them if requested.

Step Four: Final Interview and Closing the Deal
In most cases, there is one more interview for one or two of the remaining candidates.  This interview is with the whole Board.   Again Boards of small organizations may need some coaching before the interview.  Board members who are not in the workforce or do not have management experience need to have some guidance about what is appropriate and not appropriate to ask candidates.  If the board has a lawyer or human resources professional they can provide this guidance and if not, I meet with the Board to prepare them for the interview.  The candidate may have some tough questions for the Board also – such as questions about the financial strength of the organization, its fundraising capacity and the expected board and staff relationship.

Once the Board has selected a candidate, I will ask for references, contact them and make a reference report.  The Chair or other member makes the contact directly with the candidate and makes the offer. Once an offer is accepted, I let any remaining candidates know that they have not been selected.

General Advice
One of the biggest issues I have when working with a Search Committee is usually the committee members all are busy people.  You need to remember that once you begin to advertise the position you are dealing with candidates that are on a parallel path of being on a job search.  It is important to keep the process moving so that your best candidates don’t drop out as they receive other job offers.

This is a straightforward process and if you are experienced, it is not intimidating.  If you find yourself in the position of being a Board Member in need of a new Executive Director – even if you are a small nonprofit – consider hiring a consultant to manage the process for you.  It will be an excellent investment.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Philanthropy….Begin at the very Beginning…with Children

Charlotte proudly shows her hair given to Pantene Beautiful Lengths 
Children inspire us…in so many ways. We are inspired by the way they enjoy life, learn new things, know so much more than we did are their age, are so smart and more. We are inspired by their smiles and their ability to bounce back. I am also inspired by how children have a natural propensity toward philanthropy. It makes me think there is hope for the world to become a better place.  This topic is worth a book – not just an article – so this won’t be the last article on this subject. The word Philanthropy is derived from Ancient Greek and means "to love people". A dictionary definition is “goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially : active effort to promote human welfare. Goodwill and active effort are the key words to me.

My grandson is 5 years old. When I thought about it he has already begun to develop a philanthropic spirit. I am so proud that Zach willingly shares his toys with other children and if we have a child who is younger than him visit when he is visiting, he will show them how to use a toy and help them. He does chores at our place such as when I come home from the grocery store he’ll help carry in the bags and put away the groceries. This winter we had a very, cold and snowy winter in New Jersey.  Zach’s Dad pulled over his car to help a disabled neighbor shovel snow.  Zach helped too. He is actively involved in helping others and does so willingly. When his parents were both sick recently Zach spent the day with us and when we brought him home we explained that they were sick and he should take care of himself and go to bed without their help. And he did. It’s a good start. Philanthropy begins with caring and wanting to be engaged with “goodwill.” It is so much more than writing a check. We should be thinking about philanthropy as a core value to teach children. It is an important part of wholeness in adult life and it should be something that just comes naturally. So how do we develop this?

1. Set an example and participate together - Today there are many opportunities for families to volunteer together. Whether it is cleaning up a playground, working at a food bank, or an improvement project at school there are lots of opportunities. Martin Luther King Day is a designated day of service and there are plenty of planned family ways to volunteer. Earth Day is an excellent time for outdoor volunteering – whether it be an organized larger activity or just helping an elderly neighbor with an outdoor spring cleanup.

2. Encourage what your child is interested in - If you want your children to be enthusiastic about participating in philanthropy then it has to be something that is of interest to them. It may be in helping poor children or the environment. It may be supporting children who are very sick. Explore with children how they would like to help others and if at all possible make it a hands on experience. Charlotte is a perfect example of a child with a philanthropic spirit who is an inspiration to all of us. She grew her hair long and had it cut for Pantene Beautiful Lengths so that it could become a wig for a child with cancer.  Charlotte did more than organize a fundraiser – she truly gave of herself.   She is a true philanthropist - demonstrating love of people and with a big smile on her face. I love that smile.

Charlotte's mom,  Nancy Schwartz is pretty special too.  She is a nonprofit marketing consultant extraordinaire - Check out Nancy at

3.Read books and connect with philanthropy – There is an excellent online resource – Learning to Give – which is chock full of resources including lesson plans, activities and resources to educate youth about the power of philanthropy. It is well organized by grade, subject matter and more. I especially like the reading guides for some of my favorite children’s books including A Chair for my Mother, the Butter Battle Book, Coming to America: The Story of Immigration, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, The Brand New Kid and many more.

4. Teach the concepts – Many people in my generation were brought up not knowing anything about family finances or giving. Looking back my parents were generous with their time, talent and treasure. I was oblivious to the treasure part but I could see the time and talent part. We have taken a different tack with our children. They know about our giving patterns and that it is spread across local, national and international causes. They know the local organizations where we are involved very well. They know that we have priorities for our giving and that charities are named in our will. When our children were young we made matching gifts to charities that they gave to and this encouraged them to give even more. As adults we have given gifts in their name at Christmas in this same spirit – education for our daughter and water projects for our son. They know our “philanthropy philosophy” and as adults are forming their own. When my son started working he immediately made a commitment to make a contribution to KIVA with every paycheck. He has his own philanthropy philosophy and it developed as he was growing up.

5. Be open to a child’s lead - Sometimes our children have set the example for us. When my son was a freshman in high school he came home and TOLD us he was going on a trip to help re-build a burned Black church in the South during his Spring vacation. My husband decided to take a week of his vacation and go with him and several years later my husband and I went together. My daughter has a caring spirit and when she works with young children she is particularly thoughtful of a child that needs a little extra personal attention that can make a difference. It was true when she babysat a special needs child and in college she was nominated for volunteer of the year.

6. Provide video games with philanthropic themes – Yes, that’s right – video games. We have to meet children on their turf. Games for Change – is an innovative company producing video games with social impact themes. They have games for different ages, beginning at 7.  These games offer a much healthier excitement than Grand Auto Theft.

7. Support community service – Many secondary schools and colleges have an optional or required community service component today. Actively discuss this with the children in your life and help them find a meaningful choice rather than a simple one that will merely satisfy the requirement. Our philanthropy manifests itself differently at different stages in our lives but it is important at every stage. For children and young adults it can be bursting with energy and innocence and a spirit true to the origins of the word.

Resources available at

Monday, April 07, 2014

NTC14 - Chronicle of Philanthropy Party

I already posted my highlights of the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March but The Chronicle of Philanthropy just posted pictures taken at the photo booth at their party on Facebook.  And I just had to share this one....

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nonprofit Research Collaborative Study Sparks Hope for Fundraising in 2014

At the AFP Conference this week, the big talk for fundraisers was about the good fundraising news in 2013 and outlook for 2014.  It is based on the definitive annual study by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative taken during February 2014.  More than 500 nonprofits participated in the survey.  here are the factual results with analytical remarks about what it all means.

You can see the whole report here.

The bottom line for many fundraisers was this good news:  2013 was the strongest year since the recession started and 70% of respondents expect additional gains in 2014.  But the devil is always in the details so let’s take a look at what else we should listen to about what was learned in this report.

First of all, over 70% of medium and large organizations reported gains in 2013 but only 52% of small organizations did.  While 70% of environment  and 68% of education organizations reported increases in 2013 only  52% of arts and religion and 60% of human services organizations reported increases reported increases.  Beyond the overall numbers there are always the haves and have nots.

When asked “What most positively affected your organization’s fundraising in 2013 there was a wide range of answers.  The categories above 10% included: 
  • asking/stewardship/cultivation 
  • mission/program/telling our story 
  • media/news/online   
The study supports the key advice that nonprofits have heard over the last few years as this is what the experts have been saying they should concentrate on.
The categories that 10% or less of respondents attributed to having the most positive affect included staffing, overall economy, having a plan, foundation or corporate giving,  campaign success, event/gala/anniversary, strong leadership and bequests/pledge payments/memorials.  

Interesting results.


Direct mail, foundations and corporations continue to be important to most nonprofits for fundraising but the trend cannot be overlooked.  Although still small, the growth rate in online giving is consistently more than 10% than giving by direct mail, foundations or corporations. 

Nonprofits need to think more deliberately about what they are spending their limited resources on or they will find them themselves too late to the party just like what has happened to the newspaper industry.