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Archive for April, 2013

Urgency Around the Nonprofit Mission

It’s way too easy to fall into patterns of complacency. And when this happens, the energy dissipates and we lose that zip for the mission. So how do we recapture the sense of urgency around the nonprofit mission? One way to achieve this is to invite one or two people who benefit from your services to come to the next board meeting and tell a story. The story about how your nonprofit made a difference in their lives. What is it, who is it, why is it that something sparked and life felt a bit better because of that experience. Build the meeting agenda around the story or stories. Make sure whatever is on the board agenda is essential for the nonprofit. That the topic will drive an important decision the board needs to make now or in the near future. That we’re not just reciting reports to make committee chairs feel important. Of course, they are important. But everyone’s time is important, and hearing a report that’s already in written form and easily readable by literate members of the board is not a good use of their time. Don’t undermine the sense of urgency with reports which can just as easily be read. Please. Let’s think about ACTION and what needs to be discussed that moves us in the direction of a decision.

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Executive Development of Fundraising Skills

Not all nonprofit executives come with abilities in fundraising. These are skills that develop over time. And I’m speaking from my own experience. I earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree at the University of NH in 1971, taught junior high social studies for two years, and in 1975 found myself in Minneapolis Minnesota working at the American Lung Association, developing programs for kids with asthma. I got to work with a great staff and volunteer team, and together we built Camp Superkids into a strong teaching program for kids with moderate-to-severe asthma. And, just as important, for physicians working on pulmonary and allergy fellowships in Midwestern programs who loved the opportunity to come work with 125 kids in a camp setting and learn new things in a challenging clinical setting. And it turned out that this enterprise attracted money. and in 1979 I got the opportunity to move back to New England and become executive director of the American Lung Association of NH. The board of directors wanted to start some new programs there and thought I could help them do exactly that. And we did. But we also needed to raise some significant money to accomplish all they wanted to do. And I’d never done much fundraising up to that point in my life. But if I wanted to be their executive, I needed to learn to raise $$ quickly. It definitely was trial and error, but over a three year period we developed some new special events that raised significant dollars to advance the mission of the American Lung Association. And in New Hampshire we were recognized for fund raising achievement nationally. Some of it was luck. The key to our success was: Finding people who could do the job, and looking for examples that worked and doing the best we could to emulate stuff that seemed to work. And stuff that fit our culture. It started with Bike Treks, moved on to golf promotions, then on to kids fun passes, and then from there to a major gift campaign. A great events director, a great public relations director, and enthusiastic volunteers that wanted to be part of something that was delivering good respiratory health to kids and adults all worked together. It took time and hard work, but we did it. Part of it was the Board of Directors leaned on me to deliver. And I felt the pressure and responded. And when it came to major gifts, I returned the favor and leaned on the board to hone their fundraising skills. It wasn’t magic. But it worked.

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NH Council on Fundraising Workshop May 30

Please join me, Ruth Zax (Development Director, Child & Family Services, Manchester NH) Tricia Casey (Development Director, Boys & Girls Club, Nashua NH) for our panel: Development Plans and a Case for Giving at the NH Council on Fundraising conference May 30 at Southern NH University in Manchester May 30. You can register here: http://www.confr.org/2013/04/workshop-best-of-confr-manchester-may-30/. We’ll cover building a Development Committee, growing an effective Development Plan, Tools You can Use! See you in six weeks!

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Fundraising with a Plan

One of the most important components of effective fundraising is to build revenue streams on a plan.

Revenue comes from three main streams: Earned income (program fees, interest earned in various accounts), Grants from government and corporations for specific services rendered, and then Donations from individuals. When we’re describing fundraising activities, we’re usually talking about the latter: Our efforts to acquire donations whether through an annual appeal or for a special project or a pledge to a special event.

When I work with a client on a Development Plan, our focus usually is on current donors, acquiring new donors, and building a program of effective special events. We can encompass the Grant effort, and also work on Earned income, but usually my effort with staff and development volunteers is focused on donated income. How do we engage donors? What are the marketing approaches we should apply in this work? Starting with these fundamental building blocks will get the effort moving in the right direction.

Further, the Development Plan should take into consideration how work on events and work on annual appeal sometimes dovetail. Because there can be potential annual appeal donors in our events; and there can be people who want to participate in our events who give to our campaign. So we should find ways to explore this. And social media may be useful tools (Facebook in particular) to help bridge these activities.

Food for thought. Planning will help raise the fundraising bar at your nonprofit. And there’s no time like the present to get this effort underway.

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Executive On an Island

You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top.” Well, there’s a lot of truth to that. Which is why, in part, Paul Harris started Rotary International in Chicago way back when. To develop a place for fellowship and sharing among business leaders in a community. So there could be a place to do good work for the community together. Yes, that certainly was part of it. But on another level, lunch at Rotary is a time and place for leaders of businesses, law firms, accounting firms and nonprofit organizations to gather and do a bit of problem solving. Because really: Whom can you comfortably share a problem with? When you have an issue that needs resolution and you’d like to talk it out, it’s helpful to bring it to a group of peers who can serve as a bit of a sounding board to hear the issue and give you some feedback. Of course, it needs to be done in confidence, in a trusting way, understanding that no one will go blabbing about the issue to others. So for the nonprofit executive dealing with a thorny personnel matter that doesn’t have legal implications, but is a challenge and the CEO would like some common sense (not necessarily official HR or legalese) help in sorting an issue out, talking with peers can be very helpful. So a sounding board like Rotary, or a Chamber of Commerce committee, or another community gathering place where peers gather and can freely, comfortably talk can be very helpful in sorting out an issue. In this way, the sense of isolation an executive feels can be neutralized a bit. It can feel just a bit less lonely or isolating. This is why many savvy nonprofit board executive committee members encourage their CEO’s to join Rotary and to freely network with other nonprofit CEO’s in the community. All of this helps keep the organization on an even keel. Life isn’t perfect, but trying to keep the seas smooth is helpful to all concerned.

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