The Dreaded Turnover

Whether you have development staff, key development volunteers or a mix of both – staff turnover is truly a challenge.  Research shows that development departments/programs/efforts are a constantly churning pot and there are many reasons for the churn.

If you are seeing a trend in turnover or a constant shift in direction of development efforts I would suggest a moment to stop, think, and articulate the root cause.  You must give yourself permission to take time, to really think on the “why” of it and get to the root cause.  You need to do that.

Be honest.  Be brutally honest with yourself on this.  Ask yourself why your nonprofit is churning through development staff and moving from effort to effort –moving from “someone’s new best idea ever” to the next.  Ask yourself why, even with all these tremendous efforts, your revenue is not meeting goal or is not steady and growing each year.

Once you have your answer(s), test them with your key people and see what they think. Take your time, don’t rush, and remember be brave and honest – it is critical that you all are.

Now that you have the root cause, and you and your team have put it into words, you can begin to address it, move past it and plan for a different future.  The questioning and conversation may be hard, but the path you are on now is hard, and you can pick your hard.


The Best Idea Ever!

You remember that day.  The one when you had literally the best idea ever, and you got to the office knowing that everyone was going to love it and be as excited as you were to make it happen.

And, almost immediately, there were some folks who listed all the problems with it (how do they do that so fast?), and/or say “seriously that idea is the worst one ever”  or my personal favorite, ” we did that before (insert some vague history here) and it was the worst thing ever”.

There will be some who agree it is the best idea ever and then start talking about their own best idea ever and some who really just need to talk about this other thing (insert other thing) that is more important to them.

What went wrong?  Sadly, nothing.  But bringing a great idea to an actual thing is a long, long, long process.  And, along the way you need to love that process, embrace that process, and use that process to build group work, best thinking, and shared values. And, you need to open to the fact that what started as your best idea ever, will most likely not be “yours” at the end of the process.

Change, even small, needed, brilliant change, is hard.  Moving people in a new direction when they are used to their current direction (even  if it’s a bad direction, and they know it) can be a monumental task that takes time.

Don’t be afraid of sharing your best idea ever, just know, that most likely unless your idea becomes shared, meaning both the work to bring the idea to “the thing” and the credit  at the end of “who did it”, it may just stay an idea.




If You Fail to Plan; Plan on Failing.

Boy, that is an oldie but a goody!  How many of you have been at a board meeting, committee meeting or staff meeting and heard someone say,  “I have this great idea for a fundraising event!”.  And, everyone leans in closely, hands on chins, expectant eyes and smiles galore waiting to hear about “the” idea that will save the day.

Well, and I promise you, there isn’t one.  Even the very best fundraising idea cannot go from mention to fully realized without a lot of, and I mean a lot of, work.  And, back to the title of this post, if it is not currently part of your plan, you are facing more work and more time to make it a success.

So what does that mean? First it means you need a Development Plan.  That is a plan that outlines clearly the income goals for the year (or multi-year is even better) with the tactics you will employ to reach the goals and who is responsible for what.

The staff can begin the drafting of a plan as they know what resources they have.  And, the draft can then be worked on within your development committee.  And, finally, the board can endorse the plan.  And, remember, this is one of the ways the board fulfills its role in fundraising.

What does this planning process do?  Well, a lot.  It forces your organization to answer some very important questions.  They can include but are not limited to:  How do we raise our funds? How much does the board and staff understand the role of development?  What is the role of the board and staff in development?  What development activities can we be successful at?  Why do our donors give to our organization?  And, lots more!

If you don’t have a plan;  meaning a written down, agreed to, actual document that everyone gets to be part of making, you will go down many rabbit holes of “great ideas”. And the next time someone says, “I have a great idea….” you can say, “wonderful, let’s see if that fits within our plan this year, and if not, we can look at for next year.” Remember great ideas are great today, tomorrow, and next year.

I can help your organization with its development plan, and yes, you need one.



Mission Critical

Can you recite your mission ?

Sounds easy enough. If you were asked to state the mission of your nonprofit could you state it clearly, without stumbling, fully and passionately? If you answered yes to this question, part of me thinks you can stop reading.

But another part says “maybe read on” just in case.

Some folks might be thinking “I know our mission, why is this even a question? I mean, every day, I work to make our mission happen”.  But the reality is that every single decision you make must be guided in full by the mission you currently have.  It is a truth in the nonprofit world that almost all bad outcomes can be traced in some way to working outside or tangentially to the stated mission.

Almost always it’s about funding (usually something like a grant or designated gift) that “sort of fits” but in your heart you know it’s really about “we need money, any money” fears.  And that slippery slope of taking money that is not related fully to mission, might feel in the short-term like a solution, but I assure you in the long-term the unintended consequences will be vast.

Another example is something like “there isn’t any money in our mission focus, so we will add on this other thing that is sort of related, but not really, and is more attractive to donors, then we can have some influx of funds to carry our real mission work”.  It’s a lie. I repeat it’s a lie.

When you start thinking like that, or you hear a board member or donor start talking like that.  Stop. And immediately review your mission statement, and possibly your vision statement, your relevance in your community and especially your nonprofits values.  This conversation is critical in all the ways that will keep you on track in your mission work.

I can assist in this conversation.  It is one that should be revisited regularly and can revive commitment and generate ideas that keep your nonprofit on track.  Don’t be afraid to have the conversation, you will be glad you did.


Why can’t you raise “enough” funds?

I am going to ask a question, and you might answer it quickly, but after that initial answer, read a bit and then ask yourself again.

Are you currently asking for donations from individuals?

I’m sure when asked this we, myself included, would say a resounding – YES! of course we are asking for donations — we just aren’t getting enough to meet our needs.  So let’s talk a bit about this — and I’m sure you have an idea of where I am going but stay with me anyway.

How are you asking? If your only ask is a direct mail campaign that isn’t meeting your needs, I would put forth you need to review and enhance your efforts.  Okay, this is a bit obvious, but what isn’t obvious is the next question.

Who in your organization likes to ask for money?

I’m not asking this lightly or flippantly.  I truly mean it, who have you identified in your organization who likes to ask for money?  If you can’t say one person, you need to find one, now.

It can be a staff person, the Executive Director and/or Development Director could be the person.  But maybe neither of them actually likes to ask for donations directly from a donor.  You need to find that out right now. And it is okay to find out.  You need to know.

If it isn’t a staff person, it could be a current or past board member.  You need to find them right now.  I’m not talking about your next golf tournament committee chair.  You might need that person too.  But what you really need is the person after the golf tournament who is going to call upon those who attended to get them even more connected (cultivated), so your person can then ask for the donation (solicit), and then others who love your mission but could never ever see themselves asking for a donation can keep your donor appreciated, informed, and part of the family (stewardship).

If you don’t have someone who likes to ask someone directly for a gift you will most likely never feel truly successful in your fundraising efforts.  And, I promise these folks are out there.

You can begin this conversation today.  The key is not to be afraid to fully answer the question – are you currently asking for donations from individuals?