Posts made in April, 2012

When Reality Doesn’t Match the Story

Posted by on Apr 30, 2012 | 0 comments

Fundraising is about relationships. Relationships are strengthened by communication. Communication is a sharing of information.

But what if the information isn’t true?

I’ve faced this situation twice in my career. I’ve been enthusiastically “telling the story” only to discover that “the story” was more like a fairy tale. Needless to say, both experiences ended in a parting of the ways between me and my employer.

As a fundraiser, the information you share with potential donors is all you have to stand on. It has to be correct and verifiable. Your donors should be able to look at your organization with a magnifying glass and see nothing out of order.

When a nonprofit organization attempts to sugarcoat its financial information by over-stating the percentage of a donation that will go directly to projects by inflating dedicated personnel time to those projects, they are lying.

When a fundraiser stands before a packed audience of potential donors and quotes those numbers, they become part of the cover-up. And that’s not a place most fundraisers want to be.

Honest and verifiable numbers are critical to a nonprofit’s reputation and to a fundraiser’s success. It’s not unfair for a donor to ask where an organization’s money comes from and how it is used. It’s totally unfair for a nonprofit to refuse to share general information to answer simple questions from donors and others.

Equally disturbing is the nonprofit that knowingly misuses the gifts from donors through misappropriation of funds, poor management, over-staffing, and waste.

Fundraising is challenging enough without the added discomfort of not really knowing how your organization’s funds are being used.

My suggestion to you the fundraiser: find out.  Ask the hard questions. If the numbers don’t seem to add up, they probably don’t. Ask why.

If you can easily estimate total salaries and they are a LARGE percentage of your organization’s total budget, ask why.

If you see that programs are allotted a high percentage of your budget on paper, but can “do the math” to see that this is not accurate, ask why.

Transparency is the key. Your records should be easy to access and simple to follow. Nothing should be hidden and all expenses should make sense.

As a fundraiser, your reputation is on the line every time you stand up and report on your organization, and every time you send a direct mail or email asking for funding for a program. Yes, you represent your organization, but if you are raising funds for an organization that isn’t telling their story accurately, your reputation is as much in jeapardy as the organization’s.

The good news is that many nonprofits go above and beyond what’s required legally to make certain a donor’s money is spent appropriately. Transparency is now something that is expected, rather than being the exception.

If you’re not with an organization that goes above and beyond to make their actions transparent, you might consider suggesting changes to your organization’s reporting efforts. Sometimes it’s as simple as managment not understanding how important those numbers are when you are talking to donors. Sometimes it’s a damaging need for control in upper management, and if so that’s a tough one.

Be transparent and demand transparency. It will pay off in your fundraising efforts, your donors will have greater respect for you and your organization, and your nonprofit organization will gain respect not only from those who are looking in, but from those within the organization itself.  Increased transparency will demand a higher level of honesty, frugality and openness from all involved.

It’s much more comfortable under a magnifying glass when you have nothing to hide.

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Monday Monday…

Posted by on Apr 23, 2012 | 0 comments

Monday Monday…can’t trust that day.

And isn’t that the truth!? Mondays always catch me by surprise (in spite of the fact that they ALWAYS come after Sunday).

Fundraising is a continuum of action. It never ends. There’s never a time when you can grab the large red Sharpie and add a bright check mark next to “Fundraising” on your to do list.

And Monday is the day the absence of check marks is the most apparent, at least to me. It’s the day I realize everything I didn’t accomplish the week before. It’s the day I review my to do list and realize it can’t be done in 8/5.

It’s the first day of the week that I start longing for the last day of the week. And it’s the first day of the week that I become excited about what’s ahead.

Can we ever say we are done reaching out to our donors? Is there ever a time we can simply drop the ASK? The answer is  NO! We can’t. It’s never-ending.

But that is what most fundraisers love (and hate) about their jobs. It’s a constant challenge.

One task at a time makes it manageable, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes everything hits at once – usually on a Monday.

The goal of raising funds for a worthy cause never ends. Yes, there are milestones along the path, but fundraisers know that as soon as one milestone is reached, the next is already in view. Or many are in view.

As for me,  I can see a freakin’ rock pile ahead.  (Note to self: one rock at a time, one rock at a time)

Oh, Monday Monday. Sometimes it just turns out that way…

Every other day, every other day,
Every other day of the week is fine, yeah
But whenever Monday comes, but whenever Monday comes
You can find me cryin’  workin’ all of the time

Monday Monday, …

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Excellence Exemplified: CHOICE Humanitarian

Posted by on Apr 21, 2012 | 0 comments

I’ve been to Guatemala and Mexico numerous times. I have dear friends in Nepal, Kenya and Bolivia, as well as Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and around the world. I consider myself very fortunate.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Central and South America in both comfort and simplicity. I’ve slept in humble homes and stayed in luxurious hotels. I’ve shared meals of beans and little else, and I’ve dined in the fanciest restaurants.

My memories, the things I remember best, are from my experiences in those humble homes. The names of the hotels and their extravagant meals are forgotten.

The feel of a clay bowl in my hands will never be forgotten.

The memories of the villagers’ simple joys have never left me. Nor has the memory of how their life was so difficult, and could so easily be made better – with a little help from outside of their impoverished world.

And there’s an amazing organization that is making life better for those who live in poverty: CHOICE Humanitarian.

CHOICE Humanitarian is about people. With support from our donors and partners, we connect motivated villages to resources and tools that allow villagers to change their lives. By building skills, capacities and leadership of the villagers, entire communities can break the cycle of poverty. Communities continue to move forward by defining objectives and leveraging connections.”

CHOICE Humanitarian is making a difference in Guatemala, Mexico, Nepal, Kenya and Bolivia, places where I have traveled and have friends. Of all my travels, my memories of Guatemala are the clearest, as if they happened yesterday.

  • I remember being graciously offered  the only “chair” in a villager’s adobe home, and the shock when my then skinny bottom landed on hard planks of wood layed side by side (covered by a thin woven fabric giving the appearance of a cushion).
  • I remember humbly and hesitantly accepting the gift of a framed picture that had been hand-embroidered on muslin, the only picture that had been hanging in the adobe home.
  • I remember the small hole to release smoke in the thatched roof, and I remember the large hole in the “backyard” where they had dug out the mud adobe to build their home.
  • I remember the gracious generosity of those who had nothing to give but who were willing and wanting to give anything they could to make their guests comfortable.

And I remember my first CHOICE event several years ago where videos and stories were shared about how lives were changed. Fresh water was pumped, a new school had been built, women were starting small businesses with microloans…it was early in this organization’s life, but I remember thinking that they really had it together. My hunch was correct.

CHOICE has a blog. Read it and be inspired, then get involved, and change a life.

The opportunity taken, to change lives, is truly excellence exemplified.

And that’s what CHOICE is about: people and changing lives for the better. Is there any better mission?

Make YOUR CHOICE today – change a life. And experience excellence.

And if you get the chance, savor some beans from a clay bowl while seated on a plank in a humble adobe hut. There’s nothing like it.

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Unlucky is as Unlucky Does…Not

Posted by on Apr 13, 2012 | 0 comments

It’s Friday the 13th – a rumored day of double unluckiness.  Double unlucky because a) the number 13 carries bad luck with it, and b) Friday is the unluckiest day of the week (or so it is said).

Fundraisers can’t afford to be unlucky, let alone double unlucky! We need every bit of luck we can get, but even with a big glob of luck factored in, successful fundraising is based on research, preparation and follow through, not luck (although a little luck never hurts!).

The “lucky”  or successful fundraiser is typically a tenacious, friendly, hardworking person.

The less successful fundraiser may be considered unlucky, but it’s more likely there is an absence of process, communication, and follow through.

A critical component of successful fundraising is regular, ongoing efforts to identify, cultivate and maintain donor relationships. The ability to do this has nothing to do with luck, but has everything to do with effort.

Below are four tips that will add order to your daily effort:

  • Organize your existing data
    • If you have lists in multiple formats and files, it’s likely that you are spending too much time searching for information that could be much more easily accessed if it was organized in one place. One of my clients has recently completed intensive research on database management systems and selected DonorSnap. There are many good systems available, find one and use it!
  • Create a to-do list
    • Fundraising incorporates many small tasks; working from a list will facilitate your memory as well as your efficiency. I use Google Tasks (synched with GeeTasksPro on my iPhone), but there are many options for you to choose from.
  • Prioritize….everything
    • Begin with your desk
      • Arrange items according to their frequency of use,
    • Continue to your computer and smart phone
      • Clean off your desktops
      • Organize your folders and files
      • Update critical funding dates to your calendar (grants, events, follow up calls, donor meetings, regular outreach, updates to clients, board, management)
      • Incorporate prioritization levels in your to-do list (if your calendar doesn’t have a prioritization function, you can simply add a number in front of each task to show priority: “2 Draft May12 DM to Housefile”, “4” Catch up on Filing)
      • Synch programs such as Google Docs, etc. from computer to phone for ease of access when not at your desk
    • Last but NOT least, spend 1/2 day (at least) working on your database
      • Clean up your data
      • Prioritize your outreach, donor by donor
      • Synch your database calendar with your (Google, Outlook, etc) calendar

Once you’ve taken the time to organize and prioritize, your luck (success) just might improve!

It’s much easier to be in the right place at the right time with the right message when your data and efforts are organized!

Maybe the phrase should actually be, unlucky is as unlucky doesn’t.

Here’s wishing you a double dose of GOOD luck! Double luck because a) you’re getting organized, and b) you’re prioritizing!

Lucky is as lucky does!

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Pole Workers Wanted

Posted by on Apr 3, 2012 | 0 comments

Yesterday I received an email from Nevada’s Clark County Republican Party seeking volunteers to work the polls <insert purposeful pause to allow you to connect “polls” to the title of this blog post>.

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone of making mistakes in content AND subject lines, but this was simply one too many mistakes for me to handle. It followed too closely on the heels of the disorganized caucus I attended.

The subject line of said email was Pole Workers Wanted. Honestly, I’m not kidding.

This error (terrible and hysterical at the same time) also made me think of donor relationships and how delicate they really are.

How often do we quickly craft an email and hit SEND before editing, re-editing, and maybe even asking someone else to edit? It’s a tedious task to draft, edit, and then re-edit, but I think the CCRP’s misspelled subject line should inspire us all to add one more edit to our typical review of collateral, emails, direct mail, etc. And when editing emails, don’t forget to check your subject line! Our donors, members and partners deserve the best we can offer.

And what do our donors think when they attend our events? Do they leave inspired and impressed, or do they leave (as I did from the CCRP Caucus) totally dumbfounded at the apparent lack of preparation and clear lack of organization?

These brief connections with people leave lasting impressions. They are important to building successful relationships and we should focus our undivided attention to the details during the planning and implementation stages of anything we do.

There is truth in the phrase the devil’s in the details. And the old adage those who fail to plan, plan to fail has proven true over and over again.

Donors appreciate quality. The level of quality in our efforts is often interpreted as a mirror to our level of respect for the recipient/participant. Don’t ever underestimate the ROI on quality effort.

Honest mistakes happen, we’ve all experienced them. But sloppy work is different. We need to always put our best foot forward in communications with donors and members, otherwise we appear to be sending the message that they really don’t matter.

And now, back to the CCRP, as if the subject line wasn’t bad enough, there were errors within the email text, even in the very first line. This was simply sloppy work.

And, as if the first SEND wasn’t enough, they resent the email with a new and improved subject line, but they resent the exact same content complete with typos and errors.

All of this was sent over the Chairman’s signature. I’m thinking he is putting his trust where it probably shouldn’t be. He needs to take a look before anything goes out over his signature.

Yes, he’s working with a volunteer staff, and I’m sure the person who made the error feels terrible, but….really?

So, kudos to the volunteers for their willingness to serve, their dedication can’t be ignored, but for the sake of the greater good I’m thinking that before the next email is sent (and before the next caucus) someone needs to bone up on spelling, find a second set of eyes for their creations, hand the task to someone else, take advantage of some training, or find a new day job.

I hear the CCRP is looking for pole workers.

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