Mission Impossible

Mission Impossible

I recently visited with the Executive Director of a small nonprofit whose mission is mostly carried out by volunteers. And boy, was I impressed with all that they accomplish with such a lean staff. But I also wondered how much more they could do if they had just a little more budget to afford a few more paid staff. As any ED of a small nonprofit knows all too well, they end up diverting a lot of time on the important things that need attention today, rather than focusing on the big picture things that could take the organization to the next level. It leaves me conflicted honestly. On the one hand, this nonprofit organization is doing so many things right. It’s engaging its community of supporters, delivering on its mission and having a big impact on a small group of people. But on the other hand, because of its dependence on volunteers, it can’t scale its services to generate an impact on a bigger group of people. And to do that, the organization will have to change. But is bigger always...
The Fundraising Power of Awareness

The Fundraising Power of Awareness

It may seem like a serious “duh”, but in the countless studies we have done on literally 100s of nonprofit organizations, the variable that seems to most accurately predict fundraising success is how well-known the organization is within their market. One would think that, if this is true (and it is), organizations would be spending much more money on promoting their brands through traditional media. The tricky part is that tracking ROI from general advertising is really tough. So, organizations avoid it. But check out this graph we recently created for one of our clients. It shows the impact of all giving in certain markets before and after they initiated a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) fundraising event. In this example, on average, revenue increased an average of 160% the 4-years after the P2P event compared to the 4-years prior to the P2P event. This revenue gain was across all giving channels, not just from the P2P event. I believe this supports how important awareness is to your fundraising. And this demonstrates that one way to build that awareness is putting on a P2P...
The 101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make

The 101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make

Andrew Olsen has done our whole vertical a service by compiling a list of the most common mistakes that nonprofits make. Whether you are new to the nonprofit world, or have been involved for decades, there is something for everyone to learn in Olsen’s new book. My personal favorite is Mistake #75: Asking at the Wrong Time. Nonprofits now have access to sophisticated algorithms that can really help them know when they should and when they shouldn’t be asking their donors. It’s a mistake to continue to rely on antiquated RFM modeling to choose when your organization should be communicating. Do yourself a favor and order a copy. It’s like giving yourself an instant MBA in nonprofit management. 101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make...

3 Steps to Improve Development Staff Retention

Our last blog (here) generated quite a few comments – though because of the sensitivity of the topic, most comments came directly to me rather than being posted publicly on our blog’s website. Thanks to all for sharing their thoughts. I’ve boiled down the comments into three steps that any nonprofit organization can take to drastically improve the retention of their development staff: 1. Always include your development staff in discussions when setting revenue goals. There are two clear reasons for this. First, if the organization wants the development staff to own the goals, they need to be part of the process. Revenue goals mandated from above will never be owned. Second, the development staff has the best handle on donor performance trends, and they know what the file can actually generate. Donor files are like actuarial life expectancy data that life insurance companies use to set premiums. Creating goals without using this knowledge is setting the organization up for failure. 2. Any revenue goal increase must be accompanied by a corresponding increase in the development department’s budget. “Ex nihilo nihil fit” (from nothing nothing comes) is a philosophical thesis first argued by Parmenides. Translated into our context: “You won’t raise more money if you don’t spend more money.” It never ceases to amaze me how many nonprofit organizations increase revenue goals without increasing development budgets. Nonprofit organizations, this is totally demoralizing to development staff. Stop it. 3. If your nonprofit organization is going to hold the development staff accountable to achieving the revenue goal, then the development staff must have total autonomy over how they spend their development...

The Pandemic of Development Turnover

You may have noticed a lot of Linked-In promotions for a new book by Jason Lewis titled The War for Fundraising Talent (you can read the Amazon reviews here https://www.amazon.com/War-Fundraising-Talent-Small-Shops/dp/1619848694). It’s great to see the author address the biggest problem in the nonprofit sector: Development staff turnover! Any of us on the consulting side of the nonprofit vertical have seen the struggle for nonprofit organizations to find and retain talented development staff. Two years is about the average tenure of a development professional. During the person’s first year, they are learning the job (and the insurmountable problems they are asked to solve without any resources) and then the second year they spend looking for a new job. Sadly, the consultants and agencies often end up being the “keeper” of institutional knowledge. And that’s just not right. Along with cutting new donor acquisition budgets, development turnover is the biggest problem in the nonprofit sector. Both of these problems suffer from the same root challenge: Shortsightedness. I’ve never worked on the nonprofit side, but I’d love to hear from those who have and what their ideas are for solving this pandemic. Share your thoughts...

Four Keys to Nonprofit Success

I’ve recently read Cecile Richard’s new book, Make Trouble. She offers some simple but great advice for anyone working to start any organization, but I think it’s particularly appropriate for nonprofit organizations. Ms. Richard’s points are: 1. Set concrete goals that can be achieved Too often in nonprofit circles, missions and goals are filled with goals of “transforming lives” or “giving hope.” While these aspirational goals are inspiring, they aren’t concrete. Concrete goals are SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-sensitive). 2. Be willing to ask for money You’d think this would be a no-brainer in the nonprofit world, but it is amazing how often we hear about Executive Directors or Board members who are scared to ask for money. I love Richard’s approach to fundraising, that will alleviate some of those fears: “If you ask for money, you will get advice. If you ask for advice you will get money.” This is so simple, but it is critical. Engaging people beyond their pocketbook is the key to getting into their pocketbook. 3. Take big risks Anyone who has started an organization knows, rightly or wrongly, they ultimately own all of the successes, and of all the failures. So you may as well think big. 4. Master organizational rules Make sure everyone has a voice in every meeting, and make sure they have a specific action item when they leave. And the “small” stuff isn’t small at all (name tags, food, start on-time, end on-time) and most importantly – have fun.   Richards’ main advice is to get involved in this issues that you care about. And if...