Some thoughts about donor stewardship

September 22, 2016

Filed under: Fundraising — jonathanpoisner @ 11:05 am

They gave!  Now what?

You want donors to have an ongoing, steadily deepening relationship with both you and the organization.

So you should steward that relationship.  Hence, donor stewardship.

Stewardship starts with the thank you

It may be obvious, but bears emphasis: stewarding the relationship starts with a genuine thank you.

For anyone who’s taken the time to meet with you, that means a handwritten thank you.  Even for major gifts that otherwise come in, a handwritten thank you is advisable.

The alternative: a phone call thank you when the gift comes in.

Either way, this is an opportunity to show genuine appreciation separate from the formal letter the donor should receive thanking them and including any information appropriate for tax purposes.

Stewardship after the thank you

Good stewardship encompasses three primary goals:

  • To strengthen the personal relationship between the prospect and most likely next solicitor,
  • To educate the prospect about the work you do and its importance, and
  • To help the donor see themselves as part of a community of like-minded supporters.

In designing any stewardship activity, you should always be able to point to at least one of those three goals being achieved or else you should rethink whether it’s worthwhile.

Stewardship Tactics to Consider

What activities accomplish these purposes?

  • Sending them information is always a good place to start.  Personalized emails or general email updates can help.  Many organizations still mail major doors an Annual Report or similar document demonstrating the organization’s impact.  It may be a personalized letter once or twice a year aimed at organizational “insiders.”
  • Creating a branded program to recognize and generate community among major donors. For example, a “Leadership Circle” or “Presidents Council.”  A donor belongs to this when they give annually at greater than whatever dollar figure is your threshold.  Those within the program should ideally receive at least a couple communications per year specifically aimed at them.
  • Whether or not you have a branded program, major donors should ideally be given one or two opportunities a year to attend a non-fundraising event. The point of these events is to give them opportunities to engage with leadership, community leaders, and each other.  If they attend these events, it’s important to use the opportunity to get to know them and learn about what motivates them, rather than just talking “to” them.
  • Ask for advice. This can be online, in-person as part of small listening sessions, or in a more formal setting like strategic or program planning.
  • Ask them to volunteer. This could be basic volunteering, serving on a committee or task force, or for those most engaged, service on the board.
  • Give them recognition.  This could be as simple as including their name(s) in an Annual Report along with all similar donors.  Or it could be specific to them, such as giving them an award (hopefully for things they’ve done beyond just their donations).
  • Provide them a personal, one-on-one opportunity to catch up over coffee, lunch, or even on the phone. As with cultivation, whenever you are engaged one-on-one, use it for an opportunity to ask them questions about why they’re interested, what motivates their support, what specific aspects of your work they find most appealing, etc.
  • Send them personalized emails if/when you read about them in the press or come across an article that you feel they would be particularly interested in. (If they have a somewhat unique name, set up a Google news alert to automatically email you if they are mentioned in the news).

In the end, there will almost always be more good stewardship ideas than you have time to do, so it’s important to identify tiers of donors.  Some will get basic stewardship.  Others will get much more personalized stewardship.  When I was an Executive Director, we planned out personalized stewardship for our top 30 donors and all other major donors were folded into a general stewardship plan.  What’s appropriate for your organization will depend on the level of development staff time that is being devoted to major donor fundraising, which in turn should be related to what you can reasonably expect to raise from major donor prospects over time.

If you have additional creative ideas for donor stewardship, please do share them with me!

Overcoming the fear of rejection

Filed under: Fundraising — jonathanpoisner @ 10:36 am

When people say they are “afraid” of making fundraising asks one-on-one with a prospective donor, there are many facets to that fear.

One is the age-old fear of rejection.  Everyone fears rejection to some degree.  We fear it in our personal lives when we ask people to do something or in our professional lives.

Even the most magnificent major donor fundraiser will feel rejection.  Indeed, if they don’t sometimes receive a “no,” it undoubtedly means they aren’t asking enough people to donate.

There’s no magic solution to this challenge.

But there are some mental techniques that have helped other fundraisers get past this fear.

For one, we can recalibrate in our minds what we mean by success.  Don’t judge success by school standards (90% = an A, 80% = a B, etc.).  Judge yourselves by major donor fundraiser standards (anything better than 50% yes is pretty darn good).

Another tool is to recognize that most “no’s” are really “yes” to something else.  You may be “selling” hamburgers while they want hot dogs.  You may be selling environmental protection while they want to feed the hungry.  In other words, they may have other nonprofits or campaigns they wish to prioritize.  Or, in other cases, really valid personal needs that they need to prioritize.  It will be an exceptionally rare circumstance where someone will say “no” to you while saying they’re going to invest their dollars in something you actively oppose.

Another thing to always bear in mind is that many “no’s” are actually “not now.” They may have already given away all they can during the period in time, but perhaps you’ve set them up for a big gift next year.  Your success is having primed the pump for a future ask that will succeed.

And even beyond future gifts, you can learn to recognize the many other positive outcomes that can come out of a relationship-focused donor meeting even if no gift materializes.  They can volunteer.  They may have offered ideas you like for how the organization can do something differently.  You may learn about something else happening in the community.  You may get leads or referrals to other donor prospects.  I’ve experienced each of these outcomes and by focusing on the positive, the “sting” of rejection quickly faded.

In the end, all the mental tricks in the world won’t fully eliminate the momentary feeling that something is awry when people tell us “no.”  It’s still part of our human nature.  But by thinking consciously about it, successful major donor fundraisers can quickly go from “fear” of rejection to embracing the good that comes out of any one-on-one donor meeting.

If you have other techniques you have used to get past your own fear of fundraising, please let me know!

Creating a “Time” Budget

June 20, 2016

Filed under: Human Resources,Leadership,Strategic Planning — jonathanpoisner @ 12:09 pm

As a consultant, one thing I often observe is that clients routinely have staff who are working far more hours than is sustainable.  Moreover, they often have little idea where their time sinks are that are causing this.

I realized that an exercise I did as Executive Director may be unusual.  I created a “time” budget and not just a monetary budget when planning.

I’m finding as a consultant that this concept is foreign to some of my clients.  Yet, I feel it’s an exercise nearly every Executive Director should use, particularly with small, growing nonprofits.

What do I mean by a time budget?

A time budget identifies all individuals who are scheduled to work in the upcoming year and determines what level of staff time will be required for each of their significant responsibilities.   Just like a monetary budget makes sure that revenue and expenses line up, a time budget makes sure that the time expected to be worked by the employee matches up with their responsibilities.

Why create a time budget?

The simple reason is it’s a necessary step in the process of good fiscal budgeting if your budgeting system allocates staff time into different categories of activities by program or function.

This is something that really should be true.  After all, for most nonprofits staff salaries are the biggest expense, so how do you really know where you’re spending your money strategically unless your accounting system tracks staff time and allocates the cost among programs?

Even if that wasn’t the case, I’d still want a time budget to answer some more general questions:

  • Are we trying to do too much given current staffing?
  • Is anyone on staff being given too much?
  • Does anyone on staff have extra room to take on more responsibility?

So how do you create a time budget?

If:

  1. You already have time sheets where you’ve been tracking time,
  2. Your staff will be exactly the same in the upcoming year,
  3. Your programs and their intensity will be exactly the same in the upcoming year, and
  4. All your major administrative and fundraising activities will be the same in the upcoming year . . .

. . . then you can simply do an analysis of how you “spent” your staff time last year and budget accordingly for the year ahead.

The number of times this is likely to be the case is zero.

So how do you create a true time budget from scratch?

Here’s how I did it when I was an Executive Director.

As budgeting began, I would first identify what the major activities are that would be undertaken by each staff.  This could be programmatic work by program staff, administrative work by admin staff, or fundraising activities.  It would be broken down into the same categories used in fiscal budgeting.

Then, I’d identify how much time I expected each activity to take in hours, rounded to the nearest 10.  (Usually, though, I never had this exercise start with activities that are less than 40 hours (5% of a 2000 hour work year).

Of course, I wouldn’t make up this number.

  • Usually, I’d ask the staff person responsible for the activity to first suggest something and that initial estimate would be reality checked by the person’s supervisor to use their judgment.
  • In other instances, the activity was to be done by someone not yet on staff, so I or someone else was asked to generate the first estimate.
  • In still other instances, a grant or contract already had determined we’d spend a specific amount of staff time on a program.  (Or dollars, which we’d then use to work backwards and determine the staff time).

If following this process, it’s important to avoid leaving out big chunks of time.

  • Most importantly, you have to be sure to include a category for “administration” for each of your staff – to cover everything from filling out expense reports and timesheets, to attending board and staff meetings, to professional development, etc.
  • If you expect some of your staff to supervise others, build in estimates for good supervision.
  • I also usually kept a chunk of 5% of everyone’s time for miscellaneous stuff that will no doubt happen during the year that’s impossible to predict.

Once you’ve done this for everyone, you can then ask the question:  do the number of hours you can reasonably expect them to work mach up with what you need — taking into account vacation time as well.   If someone has too much on their plate, you can ask various questions:

  • Do we lower our expectations for what they will accomplish so we can lower the amount of time a project/program will take?
  • Is there someone else on staff who has some extra time and an appropriate skill-set that can be assigned a piece of the role?
  • Do we have to add staff, either permanent or temporary.
  • Or contractors to carry out some activities previously done by staff.

Breaking it down within the year

Then there’s one more important step:  break it down within the year by reasonable periods, either quarterly or monthly.  It does no good to correctly place 2000 of hours on someone’s plate for the year (50 weeks x 40 hours) if the hours are deeply uneven over the course of the year (e.g. if a development director has a big fundraising event at the same time as some other major fundraising activity is scheduled).  Yes, sometimes in the nonprofit world we have extreme peaks when people work a 60-80 hour week.  But nobody can sustain that long.

Often times the monthly version of the time budget draft led us to shift our planned activities to different times of the year so that work flow would even out.

Other times, it led us to figure out how person A could provide support to person B during a time when person B was overly busy (reducing the burden on person B), with the favor returned in a later month, evening out both of their hours to a reasonable level.

For some, the above process may seem tedious.  Or involved too much estimation.

It’s certainly not perfect.  And in larger organizations, it would probably need to be a series of departmental time budgets rather than one for the organization as a whole.

Yet, despite the imperfections of the process, it’s one I found to be highly useful and would recommend to Executive Directors.

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A primer on nonprofit dashboards

June 6, 2016

Filed under: Fundraising,Strategic Planning — jonathanpoisner @ 3:29 pm

What’s a nonprofit dashboard?

Why should my nonprofit consider getting one?

And how should we develop one?

These are some of the questions I address in a recent guest blog for The Databank.

In addition, I recently gave a presentation on dashboards for the Nonprofit Network of Southwest Washington.  Here are the slides from the presentation.  

Check them out and then let me know what you think.

Thoughts on developing a culture of philanthropy

May 12, 2016

Filed under: Fundraising,Leadership — jonathanpoisner @ 11:59 am

Beyond the nuts and bolts of fundraising, one topic that often emerges when I work with clients is how to imbue the organization with a culture that supports fundraising growth.

The term we often settle on is “culture of philanthropy.”

Why does culture matter?  Management guru Peter Drucker famously wrote: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

As a strategic planning consultant, I’d be the last to tell you that culture trumps strategy.  But it’s also the case that culture is incredibly important over time.

So what is a culture of philanthropy?

Ask 10 fundraising consultants for their definition of this term, and you’ll likely get 10 different responses.

For me, it boils down to the following.  If an organization has a culture of philanthropy, then everyone in the organization, including staff, board, and key volunteers:

  • Can articulate the case for giving to the organization
  • Understands the importance of fundraising to the organization
  • Happily serves as ambassadors for the organization
  • Has at least some explicit role in the fundraising process

In addition, two other things need to hold true:

  • Where an organization has a culture of philanthropy, donors are valued first and foremost for the relationships they offer, and not just for the money they donate.
  • Development is viewed as an engagement process that is integrated with the organization’s programs and communications rather than operating in a silo.

This is as much an attitude and mind-set as a specific system.

So how does an organization go about creating a culture of philanthropy?

There’s no magic formula, but here are a handful of the most important steps in my mind:

  • There must be leadership from the top.  The Executive Director and Board need to champion the culture and model it with how they behave.
  • Everyone brought into the team must enter with clear expectations (preferably in writing) that matches up with a culture of philanthropy.
  • Planning should take place that consciously evaluates how programs and communications can be used as tools to engage current and potential donors.
  • The whole team must receive training so they feel confident in their ability to participate in the fundraising process.
  • Fundraising plans should be developed with an aim towards strategies that maximize the long-term value of relationships with donors and not just short-term revenue.
  • Cheeleading and celebration should be consciously used as tools to elevate and thank those who’re embracing the culture.
  • “Violations” of the culture should receive an appropriate response.

Of course, each of these steps could be worthy of a separate blog post about how to put them into practice.

In the end, generating a culture of philanthropy from scratch is a multi-year endeavor that requires commitment.  But the payoff for those organizations who achieve this cultural transformation can be huge.

Tips for “Virtual” Meetings

May 11, 2016

Filed under: Board Development,Consulting,Leadership,Strategic Planning — jonathanpoisner @ 5:22 pm

In my consulting work, I’m involved in a lot of “virtual” meetings, often as the facilitator.  By virtual, I mean not in-person, so using the phone and/or internet.

I also participated in many virtual meetings over the years running a statewide conservation organization and being on the board of a national network of similar organizations.

I’ve learned some lessons over the years of some things to do and to avoid when planning for virtual meetings.

Before identifying those lessons, it’s important to underscore the two most important challenges posed by virtual meetings.

  1. It’s super easy for participants to be multi-tasking during the meeting.  That could be something else they’re working on or it could be scanning their facebook or twitter feeds.  How do you get their full attention.
  2. Unless it’s a small meeting with everyone on video, you lose out on most of the social cues that come in an in-person meeting, such as body language.

So if you have a virtual meeting to plan, how do you address these challenges?

First, plan ahead for video technology and don’t take it for granted.  There are many free options, such as Skype and Google for reasonable-sized video meetings.  If you’re trying a new technology, do a dry run with guinea pigs.  And make sure someone else other than the facilitator is prepared to deal with any technical glitches.  With that said, if people won’t have access to the internet or if video is just not feasible, you can still run solid virtual meetings by phone.

Second, have an increased energy level as facilitator.  It’s human nature to pay more attention when someone is energetic in their tone of voice.  Pump people up with your attitude.

Third,  take extra steps to make sure everyone is engaged.   There are lots of ways to do to do this.  Ideas include:

  • In setting the agenda, try to give as many people as possible an explicit task during the meeting so they’ll see the value of being fully involved.  Aside from leading on particular topics, other tasks include serving as scribe or timekeeper.
  • At the meeting opening, set the explicit groundrule that people won’t be multi-tasking during the meeting.  Included in that groundrule: they shouldn’t mute their phone unless they’ve been forced to participate somewhere with outside noise.
  • Use round robins to hear briefly from everyone on key topics.
  • If it seems like there’s not enough engagement, ask someone who hasn’t spoken in awhile what they think.
  • Explicitly ask people if they agree and ask them to say so out loud.

Fourth, as each agenda item wraps up, be explicit about what was decided and who has agreed to any follow-up task.   And then as the meeting closes, go through every person and ask them what follow-up tasks have fallen to them.

Lastly, get the meeting notes out ASAP.

Of course, all of the above presumes the meeting is otherwise well-organized.  If a meeting would be poorly designed in-person, no amount of attention to its virtual elements will overcome that.

Essential Major Donor Toolkit Workshop

May 5, 2016

Filed under: Fundraising — jonathanpoisner @ 3:17 pm

On June 2nd in Portland, I’ll be offering a special 3 hour workshop I’ve put together on the essentials of an effective major donor program.

It will be tailored for no more than 20 participants.

Learn more about the workshop and register online.  

Should your nonprofit use a Resource Council?

March 23, 2016

Filed under: Fundraising,Leadership — jonathanpoisner @ 2:20 pm

A Resource Council. A Council of Leaders.

These are two names I’ve experienced as alternatives to an “Advisory Board,” which is more common in the nonprofit world.

What I like about the alternative formulation is you’re more explicitly naming the group for what it most should provide: resources.

The Council should be a group of 6-12 non-board volunteers who’re committed to doing something to help your organization secure more resources.

As a Council, they are probably only brought together once a year to meet with the organization’s other leadership. Perhaps one extra time if the organization is going through strategic planning.

The Council should have a written job description and some leadership –whether provided by a staff member, the Council Chair, or both. The Council should have an annual goal or goals — usually based on the resources the Council will help the group obtain.

This is a great way to involve those people who are in a position to help an organization, but don’t want to wade through all the nitty gritty of board governance.

Has your organization used a Council (by whatever name it’s called)? What’s worked well and what hasn’t worked well?

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What makes something a “strategic” plan?

January 20, 2016

Filed under: Strategic Planning — jonathanpoisner @ 10:50 am

What do we mean by strategic planning in the nonprofit context?

In my mind, there are three key distinguishing characteristics.

First, it’s long term.  Certainly more than a year.  It might be as short as 2 years.  For most nonprofits, it generally runs 3-5 years, though I’ve heard of organizations with 10 year strategic plans.

Second, it embraces the entire organization, across functions   It covers your program (the ways you’re trying to change the world) and your institutional capacity.  One test to know if it’s comprehensive:  for any significant activity of the organization, you should be able to point to what part of the strategic plan that it fits within.

Third, it answers a series of big questions about the organization.  Put in the simplest terms these questions are:

  • Who we are?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How do we get there?
  • How will we know if we’re successful?

That’s it.  I’ve seen strategic plans as short as 3 pages and as long as 50 that meet these tests.  What’s right for your organization, of course, depends on many factors.

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Donor Stewardship Basics and Beyond

November 23, 2015

Filed under: Fundraising — jonathanpoisner @ 4:55 pm

I recently put together a presentation for The Databank on effective donor stewardship, which some people call donor cultivation.

You can check out the slides from the webinar below.

 

Donor stewardship from Jonathan Poisner Strategic Consulting

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