Friday, March 31, 2017

Ethics Matters in Nonprofit Fundraising

The title seems simple, shouldn't be much of a blog here, right? Unfortunately there is a need for this post. Recently, many of you have seen emails in your junk mail or inbox from an organization claiming to be a nonprofit, NANOE. Yesterday the Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article on their shady business practices and questionable advice to nonprofit professionals. I am proud to say I was a part of that effort and have been a vocal critic of NANOE since its inception. When the president of an organization says things like, "It’s not that we don’t want ethics and accountability," Mr. LaRose says. "But you don’t want to design your best practices based on that as its cornerstone." and "With the nonprofits that we’re serving, they’ll say: ‘Jimmy, if we do what Nanoe is saying, we’ll have to stop serving kids.’ And you know what I say? I say, ‘Stop serving kids’ " I'll let you read the article and leave your comments below on what you think of this sham.

Warren Buffet always says "When forced to choose, I will not trade even a night's sleep for the chance of extra profits." I'm with him.

But it's not just NANOE that's the problem here. Ethics is the cornerstone by which we operate and must remain so. The reason ethics matters to us is that we live in an industry full of money and influence and our morals, our ethical decision making must stand above all else, without it not only do we lose donor support, we lose our entire direction as a profession. Ethical quandaries can start small, but once they invade an organization's culture, they become pervasive and counter-intuitive to the work that we do on a daily basis and everything we stand for. Let's take a small example, maybe an annual giving director is under immense pressure to raise dollars and donors so they start counting gifts that shouldn't, or fudging on denominators to "help" their alumni giving percentage. Then someone else sees that and thinks, hmmm, maybe that's the way to get ahead. So they put something in a gift agreement they know the organization can't deliver on, thinking, the donor will never know. Pretty soon you have a culture rife with a lack of accountability and lost from its mission and focused solely on the money. When we lost sight of our true purpose, even the best of us can get lost and be wayward.

We must uphold a moral standard and code, we must put ethics first in our daily work. Our donors are counting on us. Your ethics are your anchor point to keep you from drifting into that vast sea of doubt and questionable practices. Henry Ford once said that "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business". He's right. We're in the nonprofit business, a business that changes lives and inspires many people. We can't do that work without ethics and accountability, it's not just important to us, it's important to the people we serve.

What are your thoughts? How do you feel about the article? I would love to hear from you!


Thursday, March 23, 2017

More Staff Isn't Always the Solution

Have you ever met a fundraising operation at a nonprofit with plenty of staff, money, time, and resources? Didn't take you a long time to come up with the answer now did it. I agree, many of our organizations are vastly under-resourced. However, often times as a consultant, when I ask teams what they need the most, the first thing they mention is that they need more staff. More staff isn't always the solution. I may become public enemy #1 for saying this but more people isn't what we need. We need to examine our processes and the way we do our work first before asking for more bodies. Leadership is constantly pressed for more FTE (full time equivalents) but they're not always presented with creative solutions that don't add to the human resource line. one of the unique opportunities I bring in when I assess an operation and help them with their fundraising is to look at work, press and ask questions until I hear that common phrase of "we've always done it that way". Even better is when I stumble across a "I don't know why I do it this way".

Once we've found those road blocks we can work together to find solutions. Can't get the reports you need to perform your duties, you don't always need to hire another full time report writer for your database, maybe you need to hire an outside firm to write a series of reports for you once. Acknowledgments taking more than 10-15% of your total donor relations FTE? You may not need another writer, you need to look at your process and find your pain points.

Are your impact reports all consuming, with financial endowments and the like? Let's look at ways technology can streamline your process or make your systems talk to each other. Sometimes it's as simple as finding a new way to work in Microsoft Excel or Word. Did you know you can sort on color of the cell? Did you know you can duplicate formatting with one keystroke? Don't let your own skill set limit you! Google your problem and BAM! the answer is there in step by step results.

We do great work for a living, but at times we're too busy chopping down trees to sharpen our axes. When's the last time you took a good hard look at what you're doing and why. Do you have the time to examine your processes and the work you do or are you just constantly overwhelmed? I often discover the latter- take the time to look up and sharpen your axes! I'm constantly on the lookout for new tools to help. The time you set aside to innovate will be well worth it. Imagine if we spent half of the time saying "we need more staff" and instead said "let's look at this critically".

Now, I'm not saying that more staff is NEVER the answer. I am often shocked at how LEAN some of fundraising departments are. One coordinator or administrative position can completely transform a department sometimes. Or just paying our overachievers more is the answer. What we all don't need is more middle management, I know we can agree on that. If the position goes to meetings and forwards emails all day with no work output, then we certainly don't need more than one of those! Don't underestimate the power of a doer, a tasker, someone who can really crank on the work. Just remember that one of the biggest consumers of our time is managing people.

I would love to hear your thoughts, when is adding a staff member the only choice and when do you examine process? Remember it's really tough to make the case for additional staff if the work product coming from your area isn't top notch.  Additional staff doesn't make your work better, it allows you to take on more. Let's make sure we don't get that confused. There's nothing more perplexing to leadership than a department that produces mediocre results asking for more. Excel with what you have, then ask!

Thoughts? Points of correction or debate? I'd love to hear from you!


Friday, March 17, 2017

Survive and Advance

Every March folks all over the US, myself included get basketball fever. We obsess over brackets and spend whole days rooting for the underdog. March madness is a lot like Donor Relations. The whole theme there is win, survive and advance. It's much the same when you're making memorable experiences for your donors and building a program. I always tell people that are starting a program or rebuilding one to do one good thing, do it to the point of excellence then move on. Get proof of concept, make the key stakeholders happy and then advance. 

Donor relations in some shops is a lot like the Cinderella team, a little underdog in all of our nature because we don't "close the gift" we almost have an inferiority complex. If you watch the games, you quickly realize though that defense wins championships (can you say gift agreements and naming policies anyone?). I say it's time to shake that off and go dancing people! Just like in the tournament the field is becoming more and more equitable and there's not that much difference between a 13 seed and a 4 seed anymore. It's all about how you use your lineup (or your skill set) to advance. So what are some quick wins you can score to further move you deeper into fundraising? Fixing your receipts, something that is the first impression for every donor is a good place to start. When prioritizing your work, I help my clients pick among their numerous projects. I ask them to look at two factors: what project will influence the most amount of donors or the most amount of money? Tackle that play first. It could be a great first time donor program or it could be your funds and making sure you've done a fund audit. Either way you can't lose! 

What you can't do is the same thing you've always done year after year. That will cause a bracket meltdown. Teams change, donors change and your program has to change along with it. Stop thinking in tasks and to do lists (I know it feels good to draw a line through something you've completed) and start thinking in terms of winning the whole thing, the long game. You can knock me down one at a time, behavior by behavior:planned giving, loyal donors, corps and founds, and on you go. But each one of those victories leads to another round of fun and excitement, a new challenge to tackle. 

The good news is that every donor deserves our attention, every project and strategy can advance and grow. But you can't win all the games at once, you have to have laser like focus and win one at a time. Do one thing, do it really well then advance. Pretty soon you'll be sporting glass slippers and cutting down the nets! 

What are some of the things you've tackled one by one? Where have you started? I'd love to hear your stories...