I Never Did Fundraising Before…But I Did Marketing So…

Why do nonprofits hire development directors who have never done development?  Perhaps this is an unfair and/or rhetorical question but seriously I hear that at least once a month.  Of course, when I hear it, I can’t really blurt out what I am thinking, I mean I could but I’m not sure it would help.  But in my mind I am thinking things like:  “well, the executive director hates fundraising, so this should go well” (insert eye roll), or “would they hire a book keeper who never did book keeping, what is wrong with them??”, or “dang, this person can really sell anything, why did they switch careers?” 

Okay enough ranting.  I am here to say, to plead, if you are considering hiring a development director for the first time please call me. Or call any competent development director in your area and talk to them about what you need to look for before you start.  There is a lot to consider and making the wrong choice for the wrong reasons is a big problem across the nonprofit sector. 

You can find resources online but one area I always notice missing is the clarification of organizational capacity to do development.  What do I mean?  Well, if the executive director doesn’t have time, desire, talent or care to do fundraising: you better be hiring a 20 year veteran who hopefully has been an executive director and can fully support the executive director and be emotionally competent enough to give them the credit for all successes.

Or say, you have no support staff or volunteer corps to help with fundraising: don’t hire the person who comes with huge amounts of success with special events because they will fail when they try to repeat that success without the staffing capacity to deal with the time sucking nature of special events. 

Or say, you have a board chair who is the past major gifts officer at Yale and they want to board to step up immediately: you better find a person who had worked well with boards and gets what it means to enable them well. 

Or say, you need to start from scratch, and you don’t know what should happen first: please don’t hire someone who knows less that you do, so you feel better.  Just don’t do it, you and your nonprofit will suffer, a lot. 

Phew that all felt kind of ranty…but seriously, call me, I can help, and you will glad you did.


Succession Planning. How Many Times and Ways Can It Go Wrong?

Ha! You thought I was going to list them all?? Not today, I don’t have time.  But I will say they all have one thing in common…discomfort with change, I might even go so far as to say… aversion to change. 

I bet this isn’t a surprise at all, but even the most banal truth can be tricky.  Whether it’s a tree, a pet, or the most perfect executive director on the planet, no one wants to think about when they are gone. 

But the best time to plan for when they are gone is when they are still there and not planning on leaving anytime soon.  Why? Well, mostly because then it’s not about them, it’s about what is best for the organization. 

What?? You don’t have time to think and plan now?  Well, you can wait until they announce they are leaving in a month or get abducted by aliens (my personal euphemism for dying). But not talking about it or planning for it is really setting your beloved nonprofit up for what could be years of pain.  Truthfully, even with good succession planning in place, it still could go wrong…don’t get me started on hiring an executive director…how many times and ways can it go wrong…okay I can’t help it…most common reason….you settle instead of digging in and starting over.   

Succession plans include the planning for hiring the new person. Don’t ignore reality and don’t be afraid, rather dive in while you can and make the best plan you can.  I assure you that all will feel better for it!


I’m Struggling with the Day to Day, You Want Me to Plan Too?!?

The past year has been nothing short of extraordinary and has called all to a new way of being.  Strangely, for some nonprofits this has meant closing doors indefinitely and for others huge growth in mission work and donor support.  Truly, no one could foresee this time, I believe mostly, because we don’t consider that even if all is well and moving along, we can be blindsided easily and indiscriminately.  What then is our responsibility in moving forward?

I would respond in part that boards, nonprofit leaders and donors all need to ask more questions more often.  How would you respond to “this”? How deep is your expertise in “that”? How quickly can you shift service delivery? If your income dried up how many months could you survive? What scenario are you planning for today that could happen in the future?  Is your mission still relevant?  What is the “and” that you keep ignoring?  These are just a few questions, but they get to the truth that we can never be complacent because all things change whether we want them to or not.  And we can’t be so caught up in the day to day that we ignore planning and thinking about a future that is different.

For nonprofits who are working towards the future they must undertake planning well.  They must gather all the solid information and best trend analysis they can to look at scenarios that could happen and see how well they can adapt and meet the needs of those they serve.  And they need to pull their donors in closer to learn from them more than ever about why they give and what does their giving provide them.

Yes, the struggle of day to day is a lot and it always has been.   What’s really the issue is the capacity needed to change to what is needed today.  And, everyone is feeling this … mostly we feel it during the 10th virtual call of the day when we still are searching for the unmute button like we never knew it existed before that moment you are trying to find it…  Change is hard, planning is hard, but ignoring the critical need for both can be catastrophic. 

I’m here if you need some assistance in moving forward to a new way of being that feels right and good.  I promise you will get there.


Rethinking Special Events

I was at a conference where the presenter mentioned the need for us all to rethink special events.  The presenter was Chuck Loring, and for those of you who don’t know him, you need to, and you need to attend his presentations.

I left really thinking about this idea – of rethinking or redefining special events.  How many times do we frame our development work in somewhat narrow terms? Or perhaps another way to look at is – how often do we compare our development work and success to someone else’s?

If we really look at what our development staff can do – really consider it – have conversations on realistic return on investment and define those words so we are all on the same page.  You can start to answer the question of “what does having a special event look like for your organization?”

I would recommend the following questions to hone in on how you can define a special event that could be beneficial within the context of your current development plan. (notice I said within the context of your current development plan, yes you need one)

What values describe your idea of a successful special event? What kind of event is mission aligned and makes sense for who you are as an organization?

What kind of capacity and energy do you have to build on the relationships formed at a special event? Are you truly looking to connect donors/prospects to mission or are you building a following around a specific event?

Truly, honestly, transparently, answer this – what is the goal of the special event?  Do not start with “we want to make money” and when that doesn’t happen say “well, we got some good PR out of it”.  Define the goal, measure against the goal, work to meet the goal, but don’t fail and then ignore that failure and shift to another goal.

Now I haven’t spent any time actually defining special events. Mostly because there are so many ideas out there, and everyone at the development table has a different idea about which ones are the best. So I recommend starting with the questions above and find the answers – even if it takes time.

An remember one of the most important aspects of any kind of special event – if you aren’t building relationships with donors that are enhanced by their attending the event you may be missing out in the long term.


Small Shop Development; Where to start?

I have heard so many times the following statement from nonprofit executive directors and board members: “I know she has money; we need to get her involved.”

Now on the surface it’s hard to argue with that thinking.  You believe your nonprofit’s mission is worthy of support, and you know of a “rich person”, and it appears obvious that once they hear about your needs, money will rain down powerfully and purposefully.

And, seriously, who hasn’t heard of this happening.  The details are unclear, but someone told you it actually happened once, and it was amazing!

I would say that this is a rabbit hole of epic proportions that you may not have time to go down.  So let’s tease this apart a bit.

And, we will start with the best beginning question: have you thoroughly and completely and fully examined all your current donors for their capacity to give, identified the level of their giving potential, developed a strategy to build their giving over time, and executed the strategy successfully?

Now don’t get me wrong, it is critical to concurrently build current donor giving and recruit new donors, but remember that second one, recruiting new donors, or acquisition of new donors, takes a lot of time, really lots of time.  And if you are a small shop, you need to prioritize your time for best outcome.  I would argue that starting with your current donors is the best place to begin.

Back to the original statement about “if only she would get involved all of our funding issues would be solved.”  Again, it could happen.  But are you really ready for it?  Meaning, if you don’t have clear and successful practices for your current donor pool, how do you assure that new donors are stewarded well after that initial donation?

The rabbit hole in this is that you imagine the best outcome and focus all your energy on trying to get in front of a prospective “rich person” thinking “all will be solved” instead of first assuring that your overall strategy for stewarding your current donors is solid.

My final pitch for this approach is that new donors are a tender bunch.  Meaning, when they make that initial donation, your response to it has great impact on if there will be another one coming.  From the minute that donation comes into your hands you are actively involved with stewarding that donor’s relationship with you, whether it’s $5 or $500.

So, if you take a look at your current donors and see that many of them are one-timers, or have given a couple of times but are now lapsed, you must ask the question: “If we get the rich person involved, and they donate, how will we keep them?”