Archive for ‘General Nonprofit’

October 4, 2019

The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience

Your nonprofit organization has a serious problem. While you are expending enormous energy to attract, retain, and upgrade donors, things aren’t working out as well as they could. As a sector, charities are doing a horrible job of hanging on to supporters.

Let’s be clear. The low retention rate among donors is not their fault. Instead, the fault rests with charities that do not ensure a donor experience that inspires long-term commitment.

Fortunately, there’s something you can do about this. You can enhance the experience of your donors and thereby increase your chance of retaining them and upgrading their support. A new book by Lynne Wester, The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience, will show you the way.  Lynne is the principal and founder of Donor Relations Guru  and the DRG Group. In addition to her books and workshops, she created the Donor Relations Guru website to be used as a unique industry tool filled with resources, samples and thought leadership on donor relations and fundraising.

I first encountered Lynne several years ago at an Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference. She was leading a mini-seminar in the exhibit hall hosted by AFP. As I was walking past, her talk stopped me in my tracks. She was entertaining while talking about a subject that seldom is properly addressed at fundraising conferences. And her thoughts about donor relations resonated with me. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Lynne’s latest book, which is graphically beautiful and accessible, breaks down the philosophy of donor engagement while providing concrete strategies, tangible examples, and a whole slew of images and samples from organizations across the nation who are doing great work. The book is interspersed with offset pages that really drive home the theories outlined and provide specific examples that nonprofit professionals constantly crave and request. You’ll find key metrics, team activities, survey questions, and so much more. If you want to improve your organization’s donor retention rate, get Lynne’s book and improve the donor experience.

I thank Lynne for her willingness to share some book highlights with us:

 

When I sat down to write The 4 Pillars of the Donor Experience, I wanted it to be a continuation of our thought work in The 4 Pillars of Donor Relations. But honestly, I wanted it to be a book that was read beyond donor-relations circles and practitioners and instead shared across departments and read widely by the nonprofit community.

Why? Because we have a huge problem facing our sustainability in nonprofits and that is donor retention. With first-time donor retention rates hovering below 30 percent, and overall donor retention less than 50 percent, we are in danger of losing our donor bases. We see this in the fact that 95 percent of our gifts come from five percent of our donors and, in higher education, the alumni giving rate is falling each and every year. My belief is that most of these declines can be attributed to our behavior and our insistence on ignoring the donor experience.

The donor experience is everyone’s responsibility and it requires much more than a thank you letter and an endowment report. It is a mindset. The four pillars—knowledge, strategy, culture, and emotion—can be applied in a wide variety of areas.

Knowledge is essential because it lays the foundation for all of our actions with donors. Far too often, we make dangerous assumptions that affect the donor experience. Getting to know your donors is essential. Look beyond the basic points of information and dig into a donor’s behavior and also communication preferences. Gathering passive intelligence is inextricable from the practice of crafting the donor experience. Seeking active intelligence is essential. What information are you gathering through surveys, questions, and intelligence gathering? Intentional feedback can help you prove your case for additional human and financial resources, new programs or initiatives, and gives you new content and activity to test.

In addition, consider how you can use this information to enhance the donor experience for all donors, regardless of level. Curiosity and tenacity are encouraged in this space. Being intentional is a mindset, a new way of operating and data drives all that we do. It’s your responsibility to gather as much data as possible to help build the strategic case for your donors and their experience.

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September 10, 2019

Congratulations! You Achieved Something Kind of Cool.

You probably don’t know that you’ve achieved something kind of cool. So, let me congratulate you and explain.

Because you read my blog posts and, perhaps, follow me on social media, you’ve managed to have me included on the list of “Top 100 Charity Industry Influencers” that has been compiled by Onalytica using its proprietary technology platform. I’m honored to be ranked number 16!

While I’m certainly pleased to appear on the influencer list, I’m also humbled. The reality is that I would not be on the list without the support, readership, and engagement of thousands of people around the world. If it weren’t for you, I’d just be some solitary guy talking to himself.

You inspire me to strive to be even more relevant. I want to help nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals explore important issues, achieve greater results, and build a better world. To keep me on track, be sure to let me know how I can assist you. Ask questions. Share your challenges and successes. Suggest blog topics. Tell me the issues that are of most concern to you.

But, I’m not the only one here for you. There are 99 other folks on the influencer list. They’re fundraisers, consultants, journalists, donors, and more. I encourage you to checkout the Onalytica list, and consider following some or all of the people you’re not currently following.

Here are five additional things you might consider doing:

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August 28, 2019

Would You Have Accepted Money from Jeffrey Epstein?

A reporter for The Miami Herald interviewed me recently about whether charities should have rejected charitable contributions from Jeffrey Epstein, an admitted child sex trafficker who faced new accusations prior to his suicide earlier this month.

Now, I’ll ask you, would you have accepted a donation from Epstein?

Your knee-jerk response might be, “No!” Or, you might have a more emphatic and colorful response. It’s even possible that you would have accepted a charitable contribution from Epstein. You certainly wouldn’t be alone. Many nonprofit organizations have accepted substantial gifts from Epstein including Harvard University, the Ohio State University, the Palm Beach Police Scholarship Fund, Verse Video Inc. (a nonprofit that funds the PBS series Poetry in America), Ballet Florida, and other nonprofit organizations. Some nonprofits accepted Epstein’s money before his legal troubles, some after his initial plea deal on prostitution charges, and some around the time of the swirling accusations of child sex trafficking this year.

So, once again, would you have accepted a donation from Epstein?

As I told the reporter from the Herald, it’s not a simple question. It’s complex. It’s nuanced.

One factor is timing. Some might consider donations made before Epstein’s legal troubles to be completely problem-free. On the other hand, some charities might have more of an issue with an Epstein contribution made after his 2008 plea deal. However, after Epstein served his sentence, some charities would have been willing to accept an Epstein contribution once again.

Another timing issue involves whether a nonprofit had already spent Epstein’s donation prior to his legal difficulties. For example, Harvard says it spent Epstein’s donation by that time. In other words, there was nothing left to return.

Another factor to consider is the type of recipient charity. For example, a university might have been more willing to accept an Epstein donation than a child welfare charity would be.

Consideration of Epstein’s philanthropy gets even more complicated when we consider broader cultural issues. For example, in our society, we believe that ex-felons have paid their debt to society and, therefore, should be free to live life as full citizens including having the right to be philanthropic. Furthermore, we believe in a presumption of innocence. Epstein was not convicted of any new charges prior to his death.

More broadly, we must consider whether charities are supposed to investigate and pass judgment on donors before deciding whether to accept a gift. Many major donors, I dare say, have done something that they probably would prefer you didn’t know about, even if not rising to a criminal level. When does due diligence turn into snooping? Do you want your organization to have a reputation of hyper-scrutinizing prospective donors? Would major donors want to submit to that kind of treatment or would they simply take their money elsewhere?

When doing your due diligence, keep in mind that some of this nation’s greatest philanthropists were also troubling figures such as Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and others. Charities are not in business to turn away contributions. They exist to take donations and use the funds to enhance communities and the world.

For example, I know of an order of nuns who accepts donations from known Mafia figures. They believe that they can take the funds and do more good with it than would be done if the money were left in the hands of the mobsters.

Having said that, the issues surrounding Epstein are certainly complex. I’ve only touched on some of the issues. The Miami Herald did a great job exploring some of the complications. You can read the article by clicking here.

To navigate a complex ethical dilemma, charities should consider all possible courses of action from multiple perspectives. In my article in the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, I wrote:

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August 19, 2019

High Fundraiser Turnover Rate Remains a Problem

Here we go again. There is yet another report about the high turnover rate among fundraising professionals.

According to a Harris Poll study conducted for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals, more than half of the fundraising professionals in Canada and the USA that were surveyed say they plan to leave their job within the next two years. Among respondents, 30 percent say they plan to leave the fundraising profession altogether by 2021.

The ongoing high turnover rate among fundraising professionals is costly to nonprofit organizations. There is the cost of hiring and training new staff. There is also the enormous cost associated with the loss of continuity and the abandonment of relationships with prospects and donors.

Social media and the blogosphere have been reacting to the new report. For example, Roger Craver, at The Agitator, offers a well-done summary of the data and shares some additional resources exploring the problem. Unfortunately, much of the discussion I’ve seen overlooks what I view to be the real problem that allows high fundraising staff turnover to continue. Let me explain.

Soon after becoming a fundraiser, I began hearing talk about the problem of high staff turnover. That was back in 1980. Many causes were identified. Many solutions were offered. Sadly, nothing substantive has changed over the intervening four decades. Nothing! NOTHING! N-O-T-H-I-N-G!

I’m fine with surveys that continue to point to the turnover issue. I’m fine with many proposed solutions to the situation. However, do not expect me to believe anything will actually change.

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August 1, 2019

How Fundraisers Can Avoid 5 Big Mistakes Made by Capital One

Don’t worry. This post really is not about data security. It’s about much more. And I’ve written it for you, a fundraising professional.

But first, here’s some background:

Capital One, the tenth largest banking institution in the USA, announced it has experienced a major data breach involving the personal information of credit applicants and customers. In its official statement, the bank disclosed, “Based on our analysis to date, this event affected approximately 100 million individuals in the United States and approximately 6 million in Canada….This information included personal information Capital One routinely collects at the time it receives credit card applications, including names, addresses, zip codes/postal codes, phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and self-reported income.” In addition, about 140,000 Social Security numbers were compromised. One million of Capital One’s Canadian customers had their Social Insurance Numbers compromised.

The Capital One story presents the nonprofit sector with an opportunity to learn from someone else’s problem. Every charity should learn from the five mistakes made by the bank:

1. Inadequate Data Protection

While Capital One works with Amazon Web Services, AWS says it was not compromised. The hacker exploited Capital One’s own system. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has a former AWS employee, Paige A. Thompson, in custody. The investigation is likely continuing. What we know for certain at this point is that Capital One’s data protection systems were not up to the task.

As a fundraising professional, I don’t have any idea about what sophisticated data protection tools exist. I suspect you don’t either. However, you have an obligation to make sure that your organization seeks out the expertise to safeguard the organization’s data. Furthermore, you need to make sure your organization has a policy about who has access to data and under what circumstances. I know you won’t have the security systems of a bank, but you do have an obligation to have reasonably robust security protocols in place.

2. Lack of Timely Reporting

The personal data of Capital One credit applicants and customers was compromised from March 22-23, 2019. The company didn’t learn of the breach until July 19. The bank did not reveal this information to the public until July 29. We do not know if the FBI requested that the bank withhold news of the event pending an arrest. If so, the reporting delay is understandable. Nevertheless, the delay from the date of the incident to the date of disclosure was significant, even if it wasn’t the result of an actual mistake.

Fine wine improves with age. Problems do not. Whenever bad news is likely to become public or should be made public, it’s important to do so as soon as possible. This is true for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Getting the information out quickly and fully will help the organization preserve or, perhaps, even enhance its credibility.

3. Not Getting Out in Front of the Story

Once Capital One released the news, it did so haphazardly, despite having had 10 days to plan the disclosure roll-out. It issued a press release at 7:11 PM ET on July 29. By 7:41 PM ET, The Wall Street Journal website carried the news story. Other media outlets ran the story around the same the time. However, Capital One did not tweet the news until 8:43 PM ET. Therefore, when I first checked the Capital One Twitter feed, there was no mention of the story.

Even once the company addressed the general public, rather than just the news media, it did so with a bland tweet that simply read, “If you want to learn more about the Capital One cyber incident, please visit” along with a link to its press release and Frequently Asked Questions page.

The company did not issue an eye-catching alert. The company did not disclose the nature of the “incident.” The innocuous language and low-key look was also used at the top of the Capital One homepage. Assuming they actually spotted the mention, readers had to click through to the press release to find out what happened and, then, to the Frequently Asked Question page for additional information.

If something goes wrong at your organization, make sure you deliver your message on all the communication platforms your organization uses. Make it easy for folks to spot the information. Furthermore, make it easy for them to get more information by giving them a number to call or an email address, perhaps setting up both as hotlines for the occasion.

Capital One could have provided the public with the news without forcing folks to click through to the press release and then click over to the FAQ page. The bank could have also tweeted out tips for how its customers can protect themselves. Instead, the company is making people work a bit for the information. Don’t make the same mistake. Get people the information they need when they need it, and make it easy for them.

When something goes wrong involving your organization, whether or not it is to blame, you need to get out in front of the story in as coordinated a way as possible. At the point you alert the media, be prepared to take your message directly to the general public at the same time.

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July 12, 2019

Do Not Fall for Newsweek’s Fake News!

You might have seen it recently. Sophie Penney, PhD, President of i5 Fundraising, saw it and then asked me what I thought. So, thank you for the question, Sophie; here goes…

Newsweek posted an article with this headline: “Trump Tax Plan Leads to $54 Billion Decline in Charitable Giving.”

There’s only one problem: IT IS NOT TRUE!

Shockingly, not even the body of the article supports the headline. Instead, the writer talks briefly about a $54 billion drop in itemized donations NOT a $54 billion drop in giving. This does NOT mean there was a $54 billion drop in actual giving. With fewer people itemizing their taxes, of course there would be fewer itemized donations. However, that does not mean fewer donations. Many donors will continue to give and continue to give generously despite not being able to itemize. By the way, the writer provided no source for the $54 billion figure.

The article furthers its doom-and-gloom theme by asserting that there was a 1.7 percent decline in overall charitable giving. However, the writer did not mention that that figure was for inflation-adjusted dollars. In real dollars, giving actually went up $2.97 billion (0.7 percent) between 2017 and 2018, and now stands at $427.71 billion, the highest level of all time, according to Giving USA 2019. Even if we look at inflation-adjusted dollars, giving in 2018 was the second highest in recorded history. Not bad.

If we want to understand the current philanthropy environment, we need to have an honest conversation using real information. In a previous post, I identified several factors affecting charitable giving:

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June 26, 2019

It’s Not Just WHAT Donors Think, It’s HOW They Think that Matters

When certain fundraising experts have something to say, we all would be wise to pay close attention. Bernard Ross, Director of =mc consulting (The Management Centre based in the UK), is one of those insightful voices.

I’ve been among the legion of fans Bernard has attracted through his consulting work, conference lectures, articles, and books. Bernard’s latest volume, Change for Good written with Omar Mahmoud, demonstrates that fundraising is more than an art; it is also a science.

The publisher’s book description reads:

This breakthrough book is about how we as human beings make decisions — and how anyone involved in the field of social change can help individuals or groups to make positive choices using decision science. It draws on the latest thinking in behavioural economics, neuroscience and evolutional psychology to provide a powerful practical toolkit for fundraisers, campaigners, advocacy specialists, policy makers, health professionals, educationalists and social activists.”

Change for Good introduces readers to 10 key persuasion principles that will help fundraising professionals introduce decision science into their work as they strive to raise more money. For a decade or more, the for-profit sector has used decision science to influence people to make particular choices, whether to purchase something, accept certain behaviors, or take specific action. Now, this book, by Ross and Mahmoud, makes this profound knowledge accessible to fundraisers.

Not only will your nonprofit organization benefit when you read Change for Good, so will Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. That’s because the authors are donating the profits from book sales to the international charity.

Bernard’s generosity does not end there. He has kindly provided us with a special article that demonstrates the importance of understanding both WHAT and HOW people think. In his guest post below, Bernard demonstrates the impact that decision science can have with real-life examples. In addition, you’ll be able to download a free summary sheet that provides valuable highlights from Change for Good.

I thank Bernard for his willingness to provide the following material:

 

Fundraisers are often concerned about changing hearts and minds. And they’re often, especially when prompted by colleagues in advocacy or communications, interested in increasing supporters’ conscious engagement with the cause. But, is this the best or only way to improve pro-social behavior — whether it’s increasing donations, using less plastic, or avoiding bias?

Let’s begin with the science. Fundamental to decision-making is the premise that much of our data processing and decision-making is subconscious and fast. Deciding is so fast, even changing our minds can be difficult. According to some recent research at Johns Hopkins University if we change our minds within roughly 100 milliseconds of making a decision, we can successfully revise our plans. If we wait more than 200 milliseconds, however, we may be unable to make the desired change. That’s not very long to persuade a donor to not look away from our TV ad or crumple our direct-mail pack.

But, it’s not just our visual process that’s important. For example, other senses are also important, especially smell. In a test between two Nike stores, one with a very faint “consciously undetectable” scent and one without, customers were 80 percent more likely to purchase in the scented store.

In another experiment at a petrol (gas) station with a mini-mart attached to it, pumping the smell of coffee into the store saw purchases of the drink grow 300 percent.

If you take the time to wander into the M&M World candy store in Leicester Square London, you might now notice the smell of chocolate. When it first opened in 2011, it did not have the smell and sales were disappointing. They hired a company called ScentAir who specialize in adding signature scents to stores. The managing director of the company, Christopher Pratt, said in an article describing the effect, “It looked like the place should smell of chocolate, it didn’t. It does now.” And sales have moved in response.

There was a similar positive response when the National Trust, a UK heritage charity, included a “scratch and sniff” element in an appeal to save a flower meadow.

When you visit a charity website, the conscious brain analyses the message content. (What is the cause I am being asked to support? What do they want me to do — donate, sign a petition, or join up?) At the same time, the subconscious brain continuously responds to how you react to the subtle background and peripheral cues. (How do I feel about the colours, images, celebrities involved, etc.?)

______________________________________________________________

“I always thought the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. And then one day it occurred to me, ‘Wait a minute, who’s telling me that?'”

Emo Philips

______________________________________________________________

It’s not all about you either. Your subconscious brain has a mind of its own. Some signals also come from inside us, and we look unconsciously for opportunities to confirm our inner state. When we are in a good mood, we are more likely to tolerate our colleagues and partners and are more likely to donate to charities. These activities become a way to validate or confirm our inner feelings. Let’s look at an example of how this affects our behaviour.

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June 14, 2019

What is the Biggest Obstacle to Fundraising Success?

Have you ever wondered what is the biggest obstacle to fundraising success?

Is it the new tax code?

Is it the economy?

Is it the decline of religious affiliation?

Is it fewer donors?

Is it an underfunded fundraising budget?

Any or all of those might be obstacles. However, none of them is the biggest obstacle. So, what is?

You are the biggest obstacle to fundraising success.

Before you fire off a blistering comment to me, let me explain.

I know you’ve dedicated yourself to a noble profession. If you’re like many fundraisers I know, you continue to enhance your skills by studying books, reading blogs (wink, wink), participating in webinars, and attending conferences. I applaud you.

Unfortunately, none of that matters if you don’t take proper care of yourself, both physically and mentally. You can’t do your best if you’re not at your best. If you want to be the most successful fundraiser you can be, you must first take care of you. That begins with recognizing that workplace burnout is a real thing.

Recently, the World Health Organization announced, “Burn-out is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon.” WHO explains:

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

      • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
      • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job;
      • and reduced professional efficacy.”

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Furthermore, a number of scientific studies demonstrate that overwork can lead to real health problems.

Business Insider reports:

  • People who work more than 55 hours a week are 33 percent more likely to suffer a stroke and have a 13 percent greater risk of heart attack than those who work 35-40 hours weekly.
  • It gets progressively harder to relax if you don’t periodically get away from external stresses like a heavy workload. Even a 24-hour timeout can have health benefits.
  • Taking fewer vacations can shorten your life expectancy.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent or overcome job burnout. Using your allotted vacation time each year and taking a spontaneous day off can be enormously therapeutic.

My wife and I did just that when we recently played hooky for a day. It was a gorgeous Monday. So, at the last minute, we decided to push all of our responsibilities aside. We jumped in our car, and visited the Philadelphia Zoo. Founded in 1859, the Zoo is in a beautiful, park-like setting. We had a relaxing stroll, and even saw something we’ve never seen before. Whenever we’ve visited in the past, the hippos were always cooling off in their pond. However, on this trip, the weather was so perfect that we got to see the hippos walking around their enclosure. It made a special day just a bit more memorable.

Just our one day away from work, communing with nature a bit, was enough to recharge our batteries. We were much more relaxed and productive the rest of the week. Now, I know you might be thinking, “That’s nice, but that’s just one person’s anecdote.” Rest assured, though, that there’s plenty of scientific evidence backing me up.

Inc. magazine cites studies that show time away from the office:

  • Reduces stress,
  • Prevents heart disease,
  • Enhances sleep,
  • Improves productivity.

Business Insider reports:

  • Even planning a vacation makes people happier before they actually go.
  • Vacations and hooky days can provide greater life perspective and enhanced motivation.
  • Relaxing time off can keep your nerve cells healthy and your mind sharp.
  • Time off can make you more productive when you’re in the office.

Mental Floss reveals 11 hidden benefits of taking time off from work:

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June 11, 2019

4 Major Problems with Nonprofit Compensation

Salaries are a big problem for nonprofit organizations. However, the problem, or rather problems, might not be what you think they are.

Let’s look at just four major issues:

1. Nonprofit staff earns too much money. The mainstream media regularly trumpet the high salaries that some nonprofit executives receive. Through their selective reporting, many in the media advance a narrative that suggests nonprofit professionals earn too much money. As a result, donors focus frequently on charity overhead, including salaries, rather than program and service outcomes when evaluating charitable organizations.

2. Nonprofit staff earns too little money. Simply put, many people working for nonprofit organizations are grotesquely underpaid. For example, I recently came across an advertisement for a nonprofit Administrative Manager and Marketing Associate in Washington, DC. The charity requires candidates to have a college degree and an automobile. The organization offers an annual salary of just $35,000. Take a moment and think about that. The job pays $35,000 a year in Washington, DC! In case you don’t know, Washington, DC is the fifth most expensive city in the US, according to Kiplinger.

Yes, some charity executives are overpaid. However, many high-paid nonprofit employees are worth every dollar because of their skills and proven results. Geographical cost of living is another reason some nonprofit professionals earn higher salaries. On the other hand, the story that the media seldom cover is that of underpaid nonprofit staff. The failure to provide a competitive salary, or even a salary someone can live on reasonably, makes it difficult for charities to attract and retain talented staff.

Maclean’s examined nearly 600 charities in Canada with gross revenue of over $2 million (Canadian $). The publication found charities that significantly overpaid or underpaid chief executives, relative to peer organizations, were less likely to be transparent or efficient. “Analysis of charity data suggests extremely high compensation is linked to poor results for charities. But intriguingly, so is extremely low compensation,” according to the report. “High salaries receive the most attention, but Maclean’s found a stronger correlation with poor performance at charities that underpay their staff or have no staff at all.”

Ideally, nonprofit organization would provide employees with competitive compensation packages taking into account the type and size of organization, the job position, and geographic area. Compensation does not have to be precisely average; it can be high or low though it should be within the average range. Compensation that is excessively high or low can be directly problematic and could be a symptom of other problems at the organization.

This brings me to a third compensation problem:

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May 21, 2019

101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make And How You Can Avoid Them

Over the past four decades, I’ve worked with hundreds of nonprofit organizations. Those organizations were diverse in every sense: geographically, type of work, people served, institutional size, and more. Yet, despite the significant differences among those organizations, they had one major thing in common: They all made mistakes of one sort or another.

As my career advanced over the many years, I noticed that nonprofits don’t just make mistakes; they tend to make the same mistakes. Despite the passage of enormous time, I still keep seeing nonprofits making the very same mistakes, over and over again. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become increasingly frustrated by this phenomenon.

So, when I saw a new, bestselling book from Andrew Olsen, CFRE, I was intrigued immediately. Olsen, Partner and Senior Vice President at Newport ONE, has written 101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make And How You Can Avoid Them following a year of research involving more than 100 nonprofit organizations in North America.

Olsen does more than outline 101 common mistakes. For starters, he actually highlights 108 mistakes. However, the real value of the book comes from the straightforward tips for avoiding or overcoming those mistakes. Helping Olsen with his book’s mission are 26 additional nonprofit management, marketing, and fundraising experts.

Olsen wisely groups his list of common mistakes into the following categories:

  • Organizational Leadership and Management
  • Strategy and Planning
  • Constituent Engagement
  • Special Bonus Content

Read Olsen’s book for chuckles. Read it so you won’t feel so alone. Read it for insights. Read it for helpful tips.

Below, Olsen kindly shares with us what motivated him to write the book, three key discoveries involving what he terms the “mistake loop,” and three powerful ideas to help you break the mistake loop right now. I thank him for generously sharing his insights. I hope you’ll let Andrew and me know what you think about his book, what your “favorite” mistake is, and what thoughts you have about his guest post:

 

In a single year, I traveled to 46 states and across Canada to meet with more than 100 nonprofit organizations.

In that 12-month period, I learned so much about how nonprofit organizations work, how and where power is concentrated in organizations, what many of those nonprofits do very well – and where they are most challenged.

What emerged from this listening tour of sorts was something I never expected or imagined. I learned that nearly every one of these organizations was making one or more of the same mistakes as each of the others. What I mean by that is, if one day I was in Detroit talking with a hunger relief organization, then the next day in Toronto talking with a homeless service organization, and still the next day down in Baton Rouge talking with an animal welfare organization, the strategic and operational mistakes being made in each unique organization were eerily similar.

I found mistakes of leadership, like leaders not holding themselves or their people accountable for performance. Or, I found leaders not taking decisive action to remove toxic employees, making strategy mistakes like not investing in strategic planning, or not creating and managing to concrete development plans. And I found clear fundraising mistakes, like investing heavily in donor acquisition or social media, but not being willing to invest in major gift fundraising.

What’s more, many of the organizations had been making these same mistakes day after day, month after month, year after year. I found that there were usually three reasons for this continual mistake loop:

1.  Most often, organizations simply didn’t realize what they were doing was a mistake. It’s that whole, you don’t know what you don’t know scenario.

2.  Turnover is the next culprit. So many organizations struggle with perpetual staff turnover every 12-18 months, which saps their nonprofit of any level of institutional knowledge and memory – and results in making many of the same mistakes over and over and over again.

3.  Then there’s the last driver of continual mistakes, which is the most concerning and frustrating to me. And those are the organizations and leaders who are so deeply invested in their own “expertise” that they refuse to admit that they’re actually making mistakes, and are content to continue making them simply because their egos are so sensitive that they can’t consider a situation where they might not know best.

As I continued to process what I’d learned in these 100+ meetings, I started having conversations with other fundraisers and nonprofit leaders I trust, to get a sense for how widespread this problem really was. What I found was that many of these other leaders in our space were experiencing the very same things that I had discovered!

That’s when I decided to write 101 Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make and How You Can Avoid Them and, more importantly, to bring together 26 other fundraisers, nonprofit leaders, and leadership experts to contribute to this insightful resource.

The goal of this book is not to stop people from making mistakes. That’s part of being human, and part of learning. However, my hope is that we’ve created a tool that individuals and organizations can use to stop making these same mistakes that are so frequently made in our sector. We already know these mistakes are costly, and sometimes even disastrous for organizations.

So, what can you do to ensure that you and your organization are not trapped in a mistake loop?

Here are just three ways you can make certain you’re not allowing your own ego and self-worth to keep you from making meaningful change to avoid the 101 common mistakes:

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