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Archive for December, 2009

Welcome to the Age of the Builder

In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, Umair Haque wrote The Builder’s Manifesto. He writes that we needed Leaders in the 20th Century: people who forged people and resources, like Jack Welch at General Electric. Jack made his shareholders a lot of money in his time, and organized and acquired a lot of businesses. Jack and GE defined success in the 1980’s and 1990’s. There was a certain cult of personality around him. At the same time, Jack developed leaders who went on to run many other companies when they reached the top of their career ladder at GE.
What’s so different about the 21st century? In some respects, it’s still too soon to know. We’re only one decade in. But we have seen with the collapse of major banks and financial institutions that brought us to the edge of a Great Depression that a new kind of model for leadership is required. What were the leadership qualities that undermined Citibank, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, BankAmerica?
You can read more about the Builder’s Manifesto at
Today, with a wave of senior nonprofit leaders preparing to retire after multi-decade careers, we need to find Builders to transform our organizations. It will be a mistake to recruit clones of the 20th century prototype to carry the banner of our 21st century mission, vision, goals.
How will we identify the Builders of the 21st century to replace the Leaders of the 20th?
Here are three comparitive pointers from Umair Haque:

The boss drives group members; the leader coaches them. The Builder learns from them.
The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The Builder is inspired — by changing the world.
The boss assigns the task, the leader sets the pace. The Builder sees the outcome.

Whether we’re searching for our 21st century CEO, or members of our community to serve on our board, I think it’s useful to keep the concept discussed by Umair Haque in mind. This is not a blueprint. It’s another way of thinking to apply to our process of building effective nonprofit organizations.

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A Choice Donors Can Believe In

How often have you seen a letter or e-mail from a nonprofit/community benefit organization giving you multiple choices of what you can support? I’ve seen lots of them, and early on in my career, I probably wrote lots of them, too.
Intutively, it makes sense, no? Give the prospect or donor lots of options to support. They’ll gravitate to one, right? They’ll pick their favorite from the list and write their check to support that program or service.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works, according to principles of direct response research. Fact is, if you give most donors a laundry list of services, they won’t be able to focus. In most instances, these donors or prospects will get confused by all the options. And when confusion sets in, the prospective donor will frequently opt out.
Barry Schwartz wrote Paradox of Choice for the Freakonomics column of the NY Times. @jhusson tweeted about this recently. The link: The bottom line: too many choices discourages choice. The research shows, if you give a small number of options to consumers, this can work in your favor; if you give a wide array of choices, headache and decision-avoidance will follow. In my view: less is more.
So, when you’re making your pitch for a donation, keep this in mind:

  • Keep it simple and make the pitch direct and uncomplicated
  • Limit the number of choices you’re asking the donor to support
  • If you’re suggesting a gift amount and the donor has a history with you, indicate last year’s gift as an option, and offer graduated increments upwards…with a ____ at the end
  • Connect the appeal with people receiving your service
  • A story about a person receiving the service is the best approach

By the way. A tip of the hat to Jim Husson, Senior Vice President of University Advancement at Boston College, for posting this on Twitter. Jim has a solid perspective on what makes donation work.

Oh. And the more you practice, the more you look at what “the competition” is doing, the more you meet colleagues in this business and share ideas, the more effective you’ll be. And your board will love you!

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Should Our NPO Get Into Social Media?

Twitter (the 140-character micro-blog) and Facebook (the cool communication tool loved by the Millenials) are two social media platforms that nonprofit (community benefit) organizations are playing with, applying, checking out. I recommend you get into the act.
Yes, you run the risk of getting hooked…addicted to the wealth of people, blogs, ideas out there on the internet. The cool thing is that Twitter helps you find interesting stuff quickly, and Facebook helps provide a low-cost platform to communicate if you have lots of volunteers, members, special event participants, clients who are comfortable being “out there.”
And today, the Gen X and Gen Y folks particularly ave very comfortable being out there.
I’m a pre-boomer, so I’m a bit out of my element, using all these tools.
But when I jumped into Twitter last spring, I was hooked. I now follow over 700 people and organizations, and have 750 following me. And I’m just getting started! I use the new Twitter list feature to help me organize folks: Social Media Mavens, Nonprofit Gurus, Boston, Food, Travel, Nonprofit Orgs are just a few of the groups. This helps me focus in when I visit Twitter for one or two 45-minute sessions each day to see what folks are saying, send a few Direct Messages when the spirit moves, and post ideas that I’m working with…interesting things I’m reading.
I follow @johnhaydon, a social web strategist. He comments on and finds interesting social media users. He gets way over my head when he advises webmasters and other techies on things like Facebook Connect. Social Media Developers get a lot from John.
Also like to read @afine…Allison Fine…who describes herself as a “social media guide. She finds links to stuff NPO leaders like to know.
@gatesfoundation is always interesting. They are the biggest foundation out there. I’m interested in knowing what they’re interested in.
@nonprofitorgs is a great Twitter micro-blogger. They have 236,000 followers! They recently blogged on ‘how to raise social media ROI” at
There is so much to learn out there, and so little time.
I met Joanna Rothman at the Mass Nonprofit Net conference last month. She’s the Volunteer and Marketing Manager at WGBH and is using Facebook to keep her volunteer crew communicating. She’ll be speaking at the Nonprofit Consultants Network (Boston) March 26 panel I’ll chair on social media.
Please feel free to contact me for more neat folks to follow. I like to learn by example. And there are some great people out there helping make the case why the answer is YES: Your Nonprofit should Get Into Social Media!

Steve Smith
It’s The Results, LLC
Board Development. Strategic Planning. Fundraising

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Help Your Supporters Get in the Spirit

Donors like the idea of making Hope possible.

If you’ve been procrastinating about sending your annual holiday appeal to supporters and friends, take some time to craft a request that communicates the ways you extend Hope to your clients. And get that request out by December 11.

Thanksgiving is behind us, and people across the USA have lots on their minds. Tonight, they will hear from their President about the necessity of more troops to Afghanistan. President Obama will have to search long and hard for support from politicians. But I’ll bet when the polls are taken in the following days, most Americans will be behind our commander-in-chief. I look forward to listening to him tonight. And learning where he sees Hope for the Afghan people, to overcome the theocratic tendencies alive and well in their country that had them tied in knots when the Taliban were in charge. Not to mention the ascendency of al Queda and the threat they pose to peace-loving people everywhere. Right here.

Our President will gain public support to the extent he can share a vision of Hope for people in Afghanistan. And then the extent we agree (or not) with how this connects with our Homeland Security.

Asking people for money when they have economic hardship and fear of international dis-ease, seems counter-intuitive. Actually, No. Asking for financial support right now is exactly the right thing to do.

Because we all need Hope. We can’t buy it. We know we can’t go to the store and purchase something that’ll provide Hope. But most of us have the idea that whatever we have, we are fortunate. And that right near us are other folks who are unfortunate: they’ve lost their homes, they’re dealing with a crippling disease, they’ve lost a job, they’ve been reduced in their hours.
Yet, in spite of it all, it’s true that most of us know deep down that there are others who struggle more than we do.

We want to help.

And this is where you come in. You will help your supporters get in the spirit.

Your holiday appeal should be off to homes via regular mail or e-mail or Twitter or Facebook by December 11. Whatever way(s) work best for you.

But remember: you are asking for support of the mission. For support of the people who benefit from your mission. You are not asking donors to help the nonprofit as an end in itself.

Communicate Hope, and you will shine a path through you to those you serve.

Happiest of holidays to each of you.

And thank you for making life better. At home. Abroad.

I count your efforts among my blessings.

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