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Archive for July, 2010

Creatures of Habit? Shake It Up!

Board meetings can become humdrum quickly. And when we get into a routine that becomes a habit, it can soon devolve to nap time for members of the board of directors.
When it’s a challenge to get a quorum present.
When it’s the same members speaking and the majority listening.
When there are endless reports and little ACTION items for the board to vote on, the boardroom can take on the look and feel of a club room like we used to see in the old movies.
“I say, old boy, did you see Gunsmoke last night?”
Please. Just shoot me.
Break the mold (and mildew) and change the pace and tone of the board meeting.
Make sure there is Discussion Time on the Agenda. This is not Roberts Rules time. It’s free-ranging discussion about a subject that ties to the mission. Show a website that features an issue relevant to your work in your community. Find a You Tube video that captures the essence of your message; show it, talk about it.
Ask a new member of the board to come prepared to make an initial comment or share a thought inspired by the website or video. Encourage the quiet ones to speak out on a matter that’s meaningful to them and the group.
Think about Urgency. There should be two or three moments at each board meeting when the discussion brings forward a feeling of passion, emotion about the mission and what you’re doing to address it.
When this happens with some regularity, you will find that your members get the sense of urgency and see the need to raise dollars that contribute to addressing a problem demanding your and your board of director’s attention.
Your comments are welcome.
You can reach me to discuss how I can help put these concepts to work for you. Sooner is better than later.

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Fundraising Tips to Overcome Summer Doldrums

Raising funds is always a challenge. And for some reason, reaching out to donors in the summer can feel like a lost cause. Au contraire, mon ami.  With vacation time and other distractions, it’s the eager-beaver nonprofit professional who can get ahead of the game by doing a few easy things that’ll generate some $$.

  • Thank Your Donors Again. Of course, you thanked your donors after your annual appeal. And you followed up with those who missed you the first time around. Now is the time to thank again. And, in your note, comment on a project underway this summer, or one you’re contemplating for fall. You can ask if your donor can make an extra gift. You’ll be surprised at the response you’ll receive. And don’t lose the theme…save it for the next annual appeal as a reminder to your loyal donors.
  • Host Informal Social Event. If you have a favorite cafe or bistro, accessible to your local donors where you could host a cocktail or non-alcohol reception that might be of interest to donors, particularly to those retired and looking for something interesting and fun to do. If you’re health-related, feature a speaker who’ll talk for a few minutes and answer questions. If you’re arts-related, perhaps a performer (a musician to play a short program, or an actor who will read a short story) would pitch in because they want to see you succeed.
  • Promote Memorial or Special Honor Gifts. Should local funeral homes have reply envelopes available for your organization?  In your next newsletter, tuck in an envelope promoting special honor (birthday, anniversary, other milestone) gifts so recipients can send a check or credit card authorization and indicate person for you to thank whose special day they’d like to honor.

A relatively modest investment of time can generate a few thousand dollars of income at a time when incoming gifts are slow. This ;can help you identify other times of year when it would be natural to build in a special activity or mailing or constant contact outreach that could bring some helpful dollars in.

If you’d like some help designing one of these or another idea, just call or e-mail and we’ll see if we can find something that fits well for you.

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Fresh Recruits for the Nonprofit Board

Why is it so hard to find fresh new bodies to serve on the nonprofit board?  I don’t get it. Maybe it’s

  • The Work. It takes some time and effort to think through a. what we got and b. what we need
  • Meet and Greet. The CEO and select members of the current board need to spend some time networking and flushing out some worthy candidates.
  • What’s Our Story? When you head out to network, you want to have your story: what makes your mission sing for folks. Knowing “what” you’re looking for: the skills, the networked individuals.
  • Assess and Recess. Get a read on the prospect(s) you’re talking to: gauge for interest. Listen for connections. Then convene your team to talk about the talent you’ve met and who’s worth following up.

I’m in the midst of a project with a great New Hampshire nonprofit right now. Last night, I sat with the Governance Committee and we used the Board Profiling Grid from BoardSource. We spent about an hour talking about how each individual fit the grid, particularly focusing on Community Connections and Areas of Expertise.  The committee came away with a list of eight categories to work on. Next we’ll seek some networking interviews in the community and start to build a prospect roster.  We’re working this step-by-step. And, you know what?  Based on past experience, I think we’ll uncover some real gems in their neighborhood who just need to be approached the right way.

When the CEO and a board member sits to talk with a prospect, it’ll be:

  • Mostly listening: Is the person connected?  Does the person have networks?  Do we hear a connection with our mission?
  • Finding a fit: looking for cues and clues that can affirm the mission connection we’re looking for.
  • We’ll get back to you: The nonprofit leaders will definitely not come across as desperate, needy, begging, making promises they cannot keep. Ask for the resume and…”we’ll get back to you!”
  • Fear of Fundraising: Is the prospect willing to work at raising resources for our nonprofit?

We’re offering a highly desirable opportunity to join a special group who make the mission happen.

Shoot me an e-mail if you want to shmooze: s.p.99smith@gmail.com.

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When Imagination Inspires Performance

From my years working with the American Lung Association, to my more recent consulting work for It’s The Results, the question always seems to come around to “how can I get board members comfortable with asking for money?”
From my experience, it starts with board members getting comfortable with giving money. When we cross that bridge, the asking part follows more naturally. When board giving comes from a firm belief in the mission, and when board member giving rises to the level that accountablilty becomes an imperative (now it’s not just someone else’s treasure; heck, it’s my treasure!) we’ve achieved a new level of commitment. 
Not all people are comfortable with asking for a chritable donation. Even if belief in the mission is firmly in place.
I follow the advice of Kay Sprinkel Grace and enlist those members who are comfortable to take that step and ask. And I like to learn what the member prefers: to ask the prospect on his/her own, or in the company of a staff member, a board member…or me! The idea is to make the situation as comfortable as possible for all concerned.  And, when we qualify a prospect for the ask, we have a relationship with the donor prospect. And this prospect will not be surprised that we’re asking for money, because the meeting has been arranged in advance with conversation about a financial gift to the nonprofit identified as a primary reason for the meeting.

However. If we’re still in the phase of developing a donor prospect list, we can ask for a different focus. We can ask this person, who has been qualified as a friend of our issues and possibly a donor to our nonprofit, to help us by talking with us about the campaign we’re about to launch, its purpose, and seek this friend’s help in identifying prospects for us to talk to and seek their support.

In the first year of this effort, we’re employing board members we know who feel comfortable with the ask process. And as we report progress back to the board of directors from time to time, and get questions from members, we begin to identify other member who will become willing to be part of the ask process.

In the interim, we want to prepare board members to be good ambassadors for our organization: to talk with enthusiasm about our mission, and to be on the look-out for prospects others on the board might approach to ask for their financial support. In this way, over time, we engage more members in advancing the mission proactively.

We always have two or three great stories to tell that help paint a picture about our mission, and exemplify certain action we’ve taken that has brought us steps closer to achieving our mission. Something to spark a person’s imagination. Something that conveys how we stand for hope for the future.

I’m an admirer of the work of Josh Simpson, a glass blower/artist based in Western Massachusetts who’s famous for his glass planets. You can see examples of his work at http://bit.ly/cBTY81, “Visions of Our Galaxy.”  Josh has one of his largest planets on display at the Corning Glass Museum. This artist inspires me. I have a couple of examples of his work in my office. The spiritual uplift we feel when we see art that moves us, when we hear music that inspires us, when we see a play or opera performance that challenges us…this is the kind of connection I want to go for in a  story. When our board members and other representatives communicate stories about our nonprofit achievements that exemplify hope. That make life better. That make the link of the donation to the donor’s imagination.

We can work together to move your board and your supporters to this kind of thinking and action.

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