Where is the Love?

February is all about love, right? Valentine's Day and all. 
Or is it about Black History?
Or Lunar New Year?
Or Mardi Gras? Or Ash Wednesday? Or Lent?
And aren't there a few Presidents' birthdays mixed in as well? 

Do I seem to be rambling? Perhaps, because for such a short month -- February carries weight. 

For me personally, February is my wedding anniversary. February is also the anniversary of the day I entered a convent at 18, to live my life with vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience - never to be married. (For details of how both these can be true, check out my memoir Surviving Sanctity). Having spent my life as a Catholic, Ash Wednesday is not easily ignored. But having spent my 20s in Hong Kong, neither is Lunar New Year. And, because I am married to an African American and am raising 3 biracial children - Black History month means a great deal to me. 

By now, you must be thinking, Janet why are you telling me this?
How does all of this tie into fundraising?

Well, if you are planning your donor communications for the month of February -- and donor communications need to be donor-centric, how will you know which holiday to focus on? What do your donors care about? Despite the fact that I personally consider Valentine's a 'hallmark holiday', by which I mean it is a made-up moneymaking scheme, I've encouraged some coaching clients to send a Valentine to segments of their database. Show the love!

Is your donor community, or those you serve, Christian or Catholic or Asian or Black? Would you miss an opportunity to communicate about these important celebrations if you only focus on Valentines' Day? And even if you do not serve any of these specific populations, would it be appropriate to acknowledge these important celebrations to educate or broaden the scope of those in your community? Can these celebrations align with - or be connected in any way to - your mission and vision?

Donors stay engaged with organizations that share their values.
Which celebration or issue - in February or any month - do your donors care about?

Or have you considered taking February as a time to review your organizational diversity policy? Does your organization, from Boardroom to broom closet, welcome diverse perspectives? Whether that diversity is based on race, religion, gender, sexual identity, political affiliation, creed, or socio-economic status, do you believe that your organization - and the world -- will be a better place if you collaborate or dialogue with someone who is different? Who thinks differently? And if you believe this, have you taken steps to make it happen? Are you open to suggestions on how to be inclusive?

Inclusivity and diversity, more than just buzz words, are critical to the well-being and advancement of any organization. 

What might you do in February to share the love?

Take care -- we'll chat again soon,


p.s. I'm working on a webinar series you might be interested in, beginning in March. Stay tuned....

Are You Guilty of Self-Congratulations?

“What a great job we’ve done!”

In the wake of recent disasters, and with thousands left-behind by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and the devastating earthquakes in Mexico, the president was criticized for boasting of the great work being done by his administration while so many were suffering. Whether or not you agree that the administration responded appropriately, using “great”, “incredible” and “amazing” when talking about the administration's response during this troubling time seems to lack sympathy and compassion.

I found myself cringing every time I heard it – not just because it lacks sympathy and compassion, but because I often read the same language in the newsletters, appeals, and even thank you notes from non-profit organizations across the country. Think about it.

Better yet, review the most recent communications your organization has sent to previous and potential donors. Do you boast of the great work you’re doing to address the problem driving your mission? How many times do you mention your organization and the word ‘we’? How much of the letter reminds donors of the mission statement, history, and services you provide?

On the flip side, how often do you refer to the donor? How many times is the word ‘you’ used? What portion of the communication shares the stories of those positively impacted by the work being done through the generosity of donors?

At the risk of sounding rude, and to borrow an old phrase, “It ain’t about you, stupid!”

From the minute your non-profit is established, it ceases to be about you. The non-profit organization, along with its staff and volunteers, is a public charity conducting work on behalf of the donors. The organization is simply the facilitator, the conduit between the donor and the beneficiary.

Don’t get me wrong. I know you work hard, and often put in well-beyond a full work week. You stay in the trenches! You make a difference, too!

But donors need to know they are making a difference. They share your passion. They donate. They invest in you because they rely on you, and trust you, to get the work done – because they care about the cause.

Don’t forget to tell donors how important THEY are to the cause. Help them understand they are truly partners in delivering the solution – that you are all in this together because, as I’ve recently become painfully aware, self-congratulatory communications don’t inspire further giving.

Does Your GuideStar Rating Matter?

You and the members of your organization are doing great work. Every day. No doubt. But is this enough?

In this day and age, with information at our fingertips and people everywhere asking for more accountability – from business and nonprofits alike, knowing the criteria people are relying on to judge your organization and the work you do, is not only critical, but simple.

Check out the websites donors use to look up how nonprofits are governed and how they allocate their funds. Because your nonprofit is supported by the public, the public has the right to know. What is important to remember is, that different websites provide different information and draw different conclusions from the information provided.

This guide is not meant to evaluate, judge, or in any way rate such websites. Instead, this is a simple explanation of the information aggregated by GuideStar, which contains the information of more than 10,000 nonprofit, big and small alike – provided so that you can decide if providing the information requested is important for your organization.

Depending on how much information you provide in your profile, your organization is identified by a particular Seal of Transparency that helps prospective donors understand your organization, potentially before they make a donation. According to GuideStar, “The GuideStar Seals of Transparency is not a rating or ranking system. They are used to indicate your organization's commitment to transparency. When you share information through your GuideStar Nonprofit Profile, you have the opportunity to increase funding for your organization.” (https://community.guidestar.org/thread/4979-what-do-the-ratings-mean-eg-silver)

What are the Seals?

  • Bronze: Basic Information
  • Silver: Financial Information
  • Gold: Goals and Strategy
  • Platinum: Progress and Results

How can these Seals help?

By monitoring and updating your GuideStar profile, you are better positioned to:

  • manage your organizations' online identity
  • increase funding by having your information available to donor-advised funds and thousands of foundations
  • save time with your grant application - because some of these granting organizations pull data directly from your profile

Creating a GuideStar account is free and easy.

In addition to basic contact and financial information found in the Form 990, adopting certain transparency policies can boost the trust donors have in your organization. Examples of such policies might include, but are not limited to:

  • Gift Acceptance Policy
  • Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Whistleblower Policy
  • Document Retention and Destruction Policy
  • Expense Reimbursement Policy
  • Compensation Policy and the Use of a Compensation Committee
  • Written policies and procedures governing the activities of chapters, affiliates, and branches to ensure their operations are consistent with the organization’s exempt purposes
  • Procedures for Monitoring the Use of Grants

For more information, visit the GuideStar.org and consult your legal and financial advisors.

Fundraiser or Matchmaker: Which Are You?

If your favorite song lyrics come from Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire”, you may be in the wrong business. Don’t get me wrong, I can belt out “I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad” as loudly and sincerely as I do “Lean on me” or “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

But, let’s face it - no one starts or joins a nonprofit to get rich. Right?

We have a passion, a cause, a mission! You’ve probably quoted John Belushi more than once: “We’re on a Mission from God” (Blues Brothers), even if you don’t work with a faith-based organization.

You didn’t get into nonprofit work to make a buck.

That being true, if you ask the Executive Director or the Director of Development of any small nonprofit what they spend most of their time working on, what keeps them up at night, or what has the biggest impact on their ability to fulfill their mission – what answer will you expect? What would you say? Funding?

But fundraising really isn’t about money, it’s about mission! Some say it’s about building relationships – but let’s get this straight: it isn’t about you and your organization! You don’t need donors to believe in you. You need them to believe in the cause.

You are simply the matchmaker. You are a facilitator connecting the individual donor to the beneficiary.

If you shift your focus from how wonderful your organization is, to how wonderful the donor is – and demonstrate the incredible work they are doing and the impact they have – you will build a lasting relationship between the donor and the cause. Remove yourself from the equation.

But, ‘hey, we do the work’ – you might be thinking. Yes, you teach the class, offer the job development program, serve the sandwich, or foster the abandoned animal. But you don’t do these things simply because you enjoy it or because you need a paycheck. If you do, then this is a hobby or a self-serving venture, not a mission – and you need to stop asking others to support you.

If – as I’m sure is the case – you really do care about the why, about making a difference, about solving a problem and having an impact – you need to find and invite those who care about the problem to join you in offering a solution.

Once they’ve become part of the solution, be sure to effectively and efficiently offer a solution and consistently share the difference their dollars make.

Dust-Collector or Change-Driver: Who Needs a Strategic Plan?

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘plan your work and work your plan’.

In the nonprofit world, particularly in the smaller shops where one or two individuals are expected to address the needs of so many, the thought of stopping to plan your work may seem laughable. Who has time? Day-to-day operations – just putting out fires and keeping things running – gets the most of you. Your time and energy is spent. And speaking of spent, you have no money, right? What good is a plan if you don’t have the money to make it happen?

If the booming entrepreneurial mindset sweeping the country sheds light on anything, it is this: you’ve gotta have a business plan to grow a business. Investors want to know you’ve done your homework. Doing your homework reduces the likelihood of mistakes that cost time and money. The plan itself is not the critical piece, so much as the process of developing the plan.

An acquaintance once said, “a business plan is the best work of fiction ever written”. Many in the nonprofit sector groan when they hear mention of a ‘strategic plan’, thinking of binders and brochures gathering dust on the shelf, demonstrating that said plans are exercises in futility.

Reality is, if you never take the time to plan strategically, your priorities, messaging, and movement forward will reflect a lack of direction, at best.

An effective process stimulates proactive, rather than reactive, action. You not only confirm your vision and mission, but spark creativity, clarify values, promote consensus, and focus on the desired future for the organization and the community being served.

Articulating long and short-term goals for the organization also protects the organization from becoming too person dependent. Nonprofit leadership is charged with ensuring the long-term viability of the organization, regardless of who sits on the Board of Directors or in the Executive Director’s seat. With goals supported by objectives, achieved by taking specific action to deliver measurable outcomes, your vision becomes reality. Establishing priorities rooted in a review of the organization’s demonstrated impact and current capacity ensures donors and prospective board members, donors, employees, and volunteers, that engaging with the organization will lead to change, growth, and positive impact.

With this clarity, you can tell a better story. Strong stories answer, without question, the ‘WHY?’ many savvy donors want to know before throwing their money behind an organization. Folks don’t get excited about backing a budget so much as buying into a vision!

You may think the Board, Executive Director, and key staff members are all on the same page. But a quick survey asking each person to share the organization’s mission and top funding priority (without peaking at any documents, minutes, or the website) might reveal striking results!

Try it. I dare you. If everyone offers the same answer – kudos! If not - whether you employ a long, extensive method for strategic planning or you opt for a shortened, barebones approach, do something!