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Archive for February, 2011

The Fundraising Board: In Stages

I’ve written frequently about the importance of building relationships as a fundamental to effective fundraising.  This is the development part of the fundraising equation:  if our goal is to build a solid, active donor database consisting of lots of folks committed to our mission, the effective part starts with our Board of Directors. The core of our nonprofit organization and its mission.

OK. So groan if you must. I know that many of you have knocked your head on this door a number of times, and come up against resistance.  “I didn’t sign up for that.”  “I give you my time; it’s your job to raise the money.”  I think all of us at one time or another have been there and lived that.

So how do we get to that transformational place that Kay Sprinkel Grace, fundraiser extraordinaire, talks about in her books (High Impact Philanthropy, for one) and workshops?

It happens step-by-step.  In Stages.  Back in October, I cited a recent Guidestar piece, “Five Fundraising Mistakes We Make with our Boards.”  Heck. Only five?  here’s a link:

We start by talking about and acting on building relationships.  It takes that interpersonal connectivity around our mission, around the good we are doing for our primary customers, that builds the commitment we need to move the mission and our nonprofit forward.  Think about the emotional energy we draw from stories about success around the mission. Take time at board meetings to get the stories on the table, talk about them and share the good feelings that come; the bonding that can happen around these stories.  This is the source of energy, and we build it deliberately over time from meeting-to-meeting.  When we get this momentum around our mission, the concept of asking our friends who share our commitment to contribute to the cause feels like a natural next step.

Asking for money to advance a cause we share is a natural progression. Build the Fundraising Board: but do it in stages, over time. So suggesting that a member of the Board ask a friend for a gift doesn’t feel alien, uncomfortable, out of line. Asking becomes a logical next step.

Give it a go.

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The Value of a Follow Up to Your Annual Appeal

This is a reprise of a post from January, 2010 that bears repeating with 2011 well underway.

Did your holiday season annual appeal do well? Was your 2010 campaign better than 2009? It’s not too soon to start looking at the numbers, comparing your results for the past three years. Hopefully, your results are in a database and you can track particular donors, their response each year, and maybe even trends by age, sex other demographics. This is good information to have…and maybe you have someone on your staff who loves to analyze numbers who will look for trends and bring that information to the team to discuss and figure what the trend is telling you.
Database or no database, it’s time to follow-up with non-responders. Count on the fact that some of your donors may have overlooked you back in November and December when they were swamped with appeals from every nonprofit in kingdom come. But please don’t be discouraged! Following up on your year-end appeal is one of the best things you can do to generate additional income.
As you prepare this appeal to donors you haven’t heard from, remember these tips:

  • Remind them about your mission, and what your nonprofit is doing right now to serve the mission
  • Thank them for their past support
  • In a short paragraph, tell your donors a story that paints a picture of a person benefiting from your service

In your follow up, please do not make your nonprofit the focus. Shine the spotlight on your clients, the people who benefit from your purpose in life. Generally speaking, donors don’t respond well to “help! we just had our worst deficit!!” nor to “we’ll have to lay off staff”. Even in bad times, donors hear this variety of message as “do I want to support a failing organization?”

So…get cracking on that follow up. And if you’re ahead of the game and your appeal is already out the door, that’s great! Please write a note below, telling us how you do your follow up and the return you get. We’d like to learn from your experience!

Thanks for your attention. If I can be of any help in advising you on your fundraising approach, I’m just an e-mail or phone call away!

Steve Smith, Principal, It’s The Results, LLC. 781-334-4915.

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Board Essentials Part 4: Engaging Networks

Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed Parameters board work in (Part 1), Role of a board member (Part 2), and Strategic Work of nonprofit boards of directors.  I’m wrapping up this series with another aspect of board work:  Networking.  Let’s face it. The overwhelming majority of nonprofit organizations are short on cash and therefore limited in how they can invest in building relationships.  If you have a strong series of special events that bring people together to raise money on your nonprofit’s behalf, you have a great audience to work with.  People who already like you (including Facebook “like” you) are the folks to start with. If you’re doing advocacy work, these supporters should learn about it. Some will want to pitch in, contacting national, State, or local representatives to advance a cause important to your mission.

All of this kind of network work starts with the board of directors.  Whether I’m teaching one of my Nonprofit Management classes at Northeastern University in Boston, or advising my nonprofit clients, I introduce this topic using Gary Stern (Stern Consulting International) pamphlet:  CHAMPIONS WITH A CAUSE: The Nonprofit Board member’s Role in Marketing.  This is a great orientation piece to help volunteers get acquainted with ideas on how to approach marketing the mission and goals of your nonprofit organization.  Point #5 in Stern’s ten things every board member should know is “Have clear expectations for board members’ supportive roles.”  So, once the board has sufficiently addressed its marketing policy work, it can move on to other work: like engaging networks to help advance the mission.

By using Facebook, texting, getting events into the company newsletter, getting event information into one’s church or synagogue bulletin every board member can reach new audiences that should hear about what you are doing, and learn how they can help.

If you would like a copy of Gary Stern’s CHAMPIONS WITH A CAUSE, please e-mail me at Or, you can contact First Nonprofit Education Foundation at and request a copy directly from the publisher.

Get the networking motor running right at the heart of your nonprofit: start with the board of directors.

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Board Essentials: What Every Board Member Should Know Part 3

This week the focus is on the Strategic work of the board. Part 1 covered Parameters governing the work of the nonprofit board of directors. Part 2 explored the Role(s) of the nonprofit board: what effective boards actually do.

And now for Strategy. I checked in on Wikipedia to see how the public marketplace considers the term. Wikipedia considers it in military terms: a plan of action that’s goal-oriented from which tactics are defined and carried out. So that’s nice, isn’t it?  How comforting to know that the word that helps us set nonprofit direction comes from concepts around waging war. Is this the part of the concept that wants nonprofits to be “business-like”?  It’s a dog-eat-dog world? If that kind of thinking floats your boat and the majority of your board members, use it to your advantage.

Most folks I know on boards of directors want to take a more mission-oriented perspective. Is there a bit of religious fervor starting to surface in this kind of terminology?  That, and appealing to the emotions of people who support the nonprofit mission?

In my experience, good nonprofit board strategic work emanates from mission. What are we about at this nonprofit? If we’re a human service nonprofit, whom exactly are we helping?  And in what way are we helping? How are we making life better? As an arts organization, what’s our community purpose in providing theater of exhibition space or helping young students connect with a passion for the arts, for self-expression?

Boards of directors who take some time each year to think and act this way are on their way to clarity and focus in the nonprofit’s direction.  The Chait, Ryan & Taylor book, Governance as Leadership (Wiley, 2005) talks about strategic work and differentiates it from fundamental fiduciary work, and then the higher level generative work. Setting direction for the nonprofit is an essential to success. And it’s the board of directors’ job to do this if the board is ready for it and up to the challenge.

Good strategy is rooted in having a good understanding of the primary customer: the persons served by the nonprofit who benefit from its work. The board understands the needs of these customers or clients. The board is focused outward, assessing need, seeking improved quality in meeting need, achieving clarity on the environment in which the nonprofit works and the role the nonprofit plays in that environment.

This is not nuts and bolts work. Strategic work requires commitment to a thoughtful process. Taking the time to learn, think, discuss and then deliver once direction is set and the nonprofit is ready to assess tactical approach that will deliver best result.  It’s a very market-driven way of thinking and working. Boards that get in this groove are ahead of the game. They’re getting ready for what’s coming tomorrow.

So.  Parameters (Part 1) set the groundrules we can work in. Role clarification (Part 2) gets the board focused on what the job is. and Strategy (Part 3) points us in a direction based on the marketplace we’re working in, and environmental impact that helps and hinders us.

Strategic work is time well spent. When the board is ready to do the work.

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