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Archive for June, 2012

What’s the Value in Investing in Nonprofit Fundraising Capacity?

An Article in July 7, 2011 Stanford Social Innovation Review by Paul Connolly lays some interesting news on the table:  Foundation investment via grants in strategic planning and related work pay bigger dividends than investment in directly building fundraising capacity http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/the_limited_returns_on_fundraising_support_for_nonprofits/.

Here’s a quote:  Grantees that concentrated on improving fund development capacity reported inferior longer-term outcomes compared to those that focused on strategic planning, organizational learning, or leadership succession. They were not as likely to have met their grant objectives and described lower levels of sustainability of their grant results, as well as less impact on program services.

For many of us who consult with nonprofits on fundraising capacity, this rings true.  I find from my experience that nonprofit organizations which haven’t yet set their strategic direction, frequently struggle with fundraising in part because the mission isn’t in proper focus.

I encourage State-wide nonprofit associations to consider investing in a study of members along the lines of this Packard Foundation study conducted by the TCC Group.  Learning how to most effectively guide and advise the work of nonprofits is a priority for us all.  Let’s learn what the data tells us.

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Raising Bucks in the Heat of Summer

This is an update of a July, 2010 post on fundraising strategies to beat the summer doldrums.  I’ve updated it for summer, 2012:

Raising funds is a challenge. And for some reason, reaching out to donors in the summer can feel like a lost cause.  No worries.  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 your mission is 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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First Steps Toward Major Gift Fundraising

Nonprofit organizations working to move beyond start-up to full-fledged operation find themselves with lots of unanswered questions.  And many of those questions relate to fundraising.  What’s the best way for us to raise money for our cause?  Whom do we ask?  How do we best make our case? Why is this so much tougher than we thought when we first incorporated and got our IRS tax-exempt status?

Yes.  It’s not easy being green.  Which is why so many newly-formed nonprofits struggle and many get abandoned.  We read about fabulous campaigns like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and their hugely successful $500 million campaign for their Art of the Americas wing. And then there’s the humongous Pan Mass Challenge that raises multi-millions each year for the Jimmy Fund, a Boston-based organization raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  So some of us get stars in our eyes from all this huge success and take various stabs at the “Big Show” only to find it ain’t at all easy.

So what are we to do?   Well, it starts with a good plan and then with fabulous execution.  That’s all. Simple as that.

To get going, here are some steps I recommend:

  • Outline a strategic plan that’s build on a well-articulated mission
  • Understand the demographics of the people we’re helping (primary customers) and the people who’ll help us (supporting customers)
  • Draw up a five-year fundraising plan that anticipates reasonable growth, year-to-year
  • Fundamental to that fundraising plan:
  1.    Preparing a donor prospect list and outline our donor database
  2.    Develop an annual appeal to our prospects, anticipating growth of the donor base year-to-year
  3.    Identify one or two special events we feel will generate growing net revenue each year
  4.    Begin to form a development committee, drawing from our Board and outside volunteers who “get” fundraising
  5.    Expect by Year 5 that we’ll be ready to launch a major gift campaign that will fill a big unmet need of our customer base

It will take good organization, a commitment to top-notch execution, to make this work.  Build it from the ground up.  If you can demonstrate the value you bring to those who require your services, and the community sees the value in what you’re up to, they’ll reach for their wallets and checkbooks and credit cards to help make this vision reality.  But you’ll have to build it, step-by-step, to realize it.

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Fresh Look at Overcoming Boardroom Boredom

This is an update of my July, 2010 post “Creatures of Habit?  Shake it up!”

Board meetings can become humdrum, and in ways few of the members notice. When we get into a routine that becomes a habit, it can soon devolve to nap time for members of the board of directors.
And then it can become 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.
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 regularity, you will find that your members experience the compelling need to raise dollars that contribute to addressing a problem demanding your and your board of directors’ attention.
If you have a moment, please share a comment on steps you have taken to liven up the atmosphere of board meetings.

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