Archive for ‘General Nonprofit’

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:

read more »

May 17, 2019

You Need to Do What Monty Python’s Eric Idle has Just Done

Eric Idle, a member of the legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python, knows something about social media that you might not. He has recently done something that you should be doing. If you follow his example, you’ll engage more supporters. This will result in increased loyalty and enhanced lifetime giving.

I understand that you might have doubts about whether a comedy genius can really teach you something that will benefit your nonprofit work. Well, let me explain.

I’ve been a Monty Python fan for decades after first seeing them on television. Later, I thoroughly enjoyed their films including Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched them. I’ve also seen Idle’s Spamalot on Broadway.

While I am a fan of each Python member, comedy legend Idle holds a special place in my heart. Five years ago, when I was facing a 14-hour life-saving cancer surgery, his irreverent but strangely uplifting song from The Life of Brian buoyed my spirits. The first verse of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” goes like this:

Some things in life are bad,

They can really make you mad,

Other things just make you swear and curse,

When you’re chewing life’s gristle,

Don’t grumble,

Give a whistle

And this’ll help things turn out for the best.

And…

Always look on the bright side of life.”

You can listen to the full song by watching this clip from the film:

Because the song means so much to me, my eye was caught by a tweet from one of my Twitter-buddies, Ephraim Gopin. (By the way, Ephraim is a funny and sharp fundraising professional, a rare combination. Follow him.) His tweet included a GIF from the clip I shared above. He was thanking Idle for retweeting one of his previous messages.

I replied to both mentioning how the song helped me. That’s when I received a touching surprise.

Eric Idle, the Eric Idle, the comedy legend, the man who has made me laugh for decades, replied to me with a simple, uplifting message:

read more »

April 29, 2019

Update: Get a Free Webinar, Magazine Article, Poll Results

I want to update you about three posts I recently published. In addition, for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I wish to draw your attention to one of my older posts that will help you keep the children you love safe.

Free Webinar:

Did you miss it? Recently, I presented a webinar for SEI Investments Management Corporation: “Investing in Your Future: Practical Strategies for Growing Your Planned Giving Program.” If you missed the program or wish you could share it with colleagues, I have some good news for you. The webinar is now available for free download by clicking here.

In just 30 minutes, you’ll learn:

  • 8 reasons you should be a planned giving “opportunist”
  • Why you should invest more in planned giving instead of current giving
  • 5 Tips to boost your planned giving results immediately

In addition to the webinar itself, you’ll also be able to download additional resource materials including a list of 20 factoids about planned giving, a planned giving potential calculator, an executive summary of recent research findings from Dr. Russell James’ report “Cash is Not King in Fundraising,” and a digital copy of Dr. James’ book Visual Planned Giving: An Introduction to the Law & Taxation of Charitable Gift Planning.

Advancing Philanthropy Article:

Have you read my recent article published in Advancing Philanthropy, the Association of Fundraising Professionals magazine? “To Sir/Madam, With Love” shares stories from a number of fundraisers about their favorite teachers. Great teachers:

  • help us develop broad skills such as critical thinking,
  • help us develop specific skills such as how to write an effective appeal letter,
  • inspire us,
  • encourage us,
  • move us to think beyond ourselves and better understand others,
  • open our minds to lifelong learning,
  • motivate us to giveback by sharing our own knowledge.

After downloading the free article by clicking here, check-out my recent post that will give you tips that will help you find excellent teachers who can help you enhance your skills and inspire you: “Are You Really Just a Fundraising Amateur?”

Poll Results — Presidential Candidate Philanthropy:

read more »

April 23, 2019

Are You Really Just a Fundraising Amateur?

We are all amateurs.

In my April 2019 article for Advancing Philanthropy, the Association of Fundraising Professionals magazine, I explain it this way:

In the film ‘Limelight’ (1952), Charlie Chaplin’s character says, ‘That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.’ In other words, we will never know everything we need to know. All we can do is continue to learn and, perhaps, share what we know with others, inspiring them as we have been inspired.”

Let’s review the way good teachers shape our lives, and consider some tips for how to find true experts to learn from rather than mere wannabes.

Teachers shape our lives and help make us into the people we are. Take a moment and think about the affect your parents have had on you. Consider the lessons you’ve learned from religious leaders, schoolteachers, job supervisors, and others. Some people have taught us valuable skills, some have inspired us, some have taught us right from wrong.

In my Advancing Philanthropy article and the sidebar, you’ll read about how teachers have affected the lives of seven fundraising professionals, some you’ll likely know:

  • Teachers help us develop broad skills such as critical thinking.
  • Teachers help us develop specific skills such as how to write an effective appeal letter.
  • Teachers inspire us.
  • Teachers encourage us.
  • Teachers move us to think beyond ourselves and better understand others.
  • Teachers open our minds to lifelong learning.
  • Teachers motivate us to give-back by sharing our own knowledge.

Just as good teachers have helped us become the people we are today, teachers will help us continue to grow and become the people we want to be tomorrow. However, for that to occur, two things must happen: 1) we need to remain open-minded and intellectually hungry; and 2) we need to seek out good teachers who have something legitimate to offer.

Today, with the proliferation of available books and educational presentations dealing with nonprofit management and fundraising, it can be a challenge to distinguish between the true experts and the pretenders. Here are some tips to help guide you:

read more »

April 17, 2019

How Generous is the Charitable Giving of Presidential Candidates?

While I applaud anyone who donates money and/or time to charities, some deserve more applause than others do. Since the presidential campaign season has begun, and with federal tax returns due earlier this week, The Washington Post has reviewed the charitable giving of the 2020 presidential candidates who have released their federal tax returns so far.

Here is what we know from the most recently released tax returns (with candidates and their spouses ranked from least to most generous as a percentage of Adjusted Gross Income):

Beto O’Rourke donated $1,166, 0.3 percent of AGI.

Kamala Harris donated $27,259, 1.4 percent of AGI.

Kirsten Gillibrand donated $3,750, 1.75 percent of AGI.

Amy Klobuchar donated $6,602, 1.85 percent of AGI.

Bernie Sanders donated $18,950, 3.4 percent of AGI.

Jay Inslee donated $8,295, 4.0 percent of AGI.

Elizabeth Warren donated $50,128, 5.5 percent of AGI.

For perspective, here is some information about past presidential candidates:

read more »

March 15, 2019

5 Tips You Need to Know to Survive Funding Volatility

It’s no secret that nonprofit organizations face funding challenges. One of the biggest challenges is volatility. Donors give and often do not renew support. Sometimes, that’s the fault of the charity. Other times, it has nothing to do with what a charity does or does not do. For example, funding from government sources, whether contracts or grants, can go up or down depending on political whims and changing priorities.

Recently, I was doing research for an article I was developing for the January issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the magazine published by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. While doing that, I identified five tips that can help all nonprofits better cope with funding volatility despite the fact that the article focuses on poverty-fighting charities.

Let me explain. As I wrote in my article:

Globally, poverty has been on a sharp, steady decline. ‘In 1990, 37 percent of humanity lived in what the World Bank defines as extreme poverty; today that number is 10 percent,’ writes Gregg Easterbrook, author of It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear. Yet, even given that good news, nearly one billion people continue to suffer in extreme poverty around the world.

In the United States, poverty has also been on the decline while individual purchasing power has been on the rise. For example, ‘On the first day of the twentieth century, the typical American household spent 59 percent of funds on food and clothing. By the first day of the twenty-first century, that share had shrunk to 21 percent,’ Easterbrook reports. ‘US poverty has declined 40 percent in the past half-century.’ Still, despite the enormous economic progress, poverty continues to darken the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.”

While charities continue their efforts to combat poverty and its effects, government funding is becoming increasingly unreliable. With the national debt over $22 trillion and climbing, the federal government is contemplating cutbacks. Already, some state governments have been cutting back funding to charities.

Here are five tips that poverty-fighting charities are embracing that all charities would be wise to also adopt:

read more »

February 26, 2019

Inspired by Lady Gaga: 10 Ways to be a Fundraising Genius

You might never have heard of Stefani Germanotta. Yet, she is known internationally as a top recording artist, nine-time Grammy Award winner, social activist, and philanthropist. Following the 91st Academy Awards, we now also know her as an Oscar winner.

You, as her millions of fans around the world, likely know her better as Lady Gaga.

Jesse Desjardins, when he was Social Media Manager for Tourism Australia, recognized that Lady Gaga is more than a singer. He recognized that she is even more than an entertainment genius. He understood that marketing and public relations professionals could learn from her, so he put together an interesting PowerPoint presentation, “10 Ways to be a Marketing Genius Like Lady Gaga.” When I saw the slides, I believed that fundraising professionals could also learn a great deal from her. Thanks to permission from Desjardins, I’m able to share 10 useful insights with you.

1. Have an Opinion

“Gaga regularly speaks out on issues she feels strongly about. In doing so, she keeps herself in the public eye.”

By speaking out, Gaga makes certain no one forgets her. She remains relevant. She advances the issues that she finds important. She engages her fans.

Your organization has an important mission. Let supporters and potential supporters hear about it beyond those times that you ask for money. Stay in front of them. Remain relevant. Engage people year-round while advancing your organization’s mission. Communicate about issues relevant to your organization’s mission. Ask supporters to help in ways that don’t involve giving money (e.g., volunteer, call elected officials, etc.). Share information people will want and appreciate.

2. Leverage Social Media

“Gaga has worked tirelessly on accumulating over [78] million Twitter followers and [55] million Facebook fans.”

To put that into perspective, there are only five people on the planet who have more Twitter followers. In other words, tens of millions of people want to hear what Gaga has to say, and she says things people want to hear. She speaks to people where they are.

Today, people consume information in more ways than ever before, and how they do it varies by age group. You need to be where they are if you want your message heard. Understand the demographics of your supporters and potential supporters and learn what media they consume. Then, be there with relevant, meaningful information.

3. Be Different

“Differentiate wisely. There are too many normal people doing normal things. Show, don’t tell. You are extraordinary so show it.”

You’re not alone. Unless you work for an exceedingly rare charity, others have the same or similar mission as your organization. What makes your organization special? Why should people care about your organization instead of the others that do similar things? You need to address those questions if you want to capture hearts.

4. Don’t be Afraid to Make Lots of Money

“Being starving is not fun. If making a ridiculous amount of cash is what you want to do, go for it.”

If your organization relies on donations to fulfill its mission, don’t be shy about doing what it will take to get the funds your organization needs. Don’t be afraid to ask people for money. When people ask you what you do for a living, answer them with pride.

5. Give Your Fans Something to Connect With

“Gaga calls her fans Little Monsters and gives them a shared symbol. The official Little Monster greeting is the outstretched ‘monster claw’ hand. This allows fans to identify each other and connect.”

No, you don’t need to create a secret handshake for your supporters. However, you should create a sense of belonging. People would rather join a cause, a movement for change, than simply give money to a dusty institution. Provide people with easy ways to connect with you. Give them opportunities for meaningful engagement as a way to build connection.

read more »

January 29, 2019

Are Donors Abandoning You, Or Are You Abandoning Them?

Donor retention rates for both new and renewing donors remain pathetically low and, actually, continue to decline. There are a number of reasons for this, many of which I’ve addressed in previous posts. However, just recently, I learned of a situation I had not considered previously. So, I want to make sure you’re aware of the problem and understand how to easily fix it.

I heard about the problem from The Whiny Donor, a thoughtful donor who uses Twitter to generously provide fundraising professionals with feedback and insights from a nonprofit-contributor’s perspective.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The Whiny Donor wrote, “In December, we gave through our DAF to several nonprofits that we had supported for many years with direct donations. I suspect several of them won’t have the capacity to make the connection, and will now consider us lapsed donors…. Which means they will change the way our relationship moves forward. They will think we didn’t support them; we will think we have. It’s a stewardship conundrum.”

As a philanthropic tool, Donor Advised Funds offer people a number of financial advantages compared to giving directly to nonprofits or not giving at all. At the end of 2018, we saw significant growth in the number and size of DAFs, in part, as a result of the new tax code.

While donors can benefit in a variety of ways from using a DAF to realize their philanthropic aspirations, the use of DAFs can create a stewardship challenge for charities:

  • Should the charity thank the DAF or the individual supporter?
  • Who should the charity continue to steward, DAF or individual?
  • How should the charity track and report the donation?
  • Does the charity’s software help or hurt these efforts?

The Whiny Donor worries that charities will recognize the DAF and ignore the role she and her husband played in securing the gift. She fears some organizations will assume she has abandoned them when, in fact, she has not.

This is a very real concern. As DAF giving becomes more common, I’ve heard many examples of how nonprofit organizations have stumbled. Some thank the individual, but not the DAF. Some thank the DAF, but not the individual. Some thank both the individual and the DAF. Some don’t thank either or thank in the wrong way.

Here’s what you need to know: The DAF is the donor. The individual is not the donor when the gift comes from a DAF. Because of the way DAFs are structured and the laws regulating them, individuals can only make a contribution recommendation to the DAF administrator (e.g., Fidelity Charitable, National Philanthropic Trust, Schwab Charitable, etc.).

Because the DAF is the donor, you should thank and send receipts to the DAF. However, as The Whiny Donor suggests, that’s not good enough. You should also thank the individual who recommended the DAF gift.

read more »

January 24, 2019

Here are Some Things You Need to Know

Now that the 2018 year-end fundraising season has closed and you’ve had a moment to catch your breath, I want to share some things with you that you might have missed.

To begin, here is a list of my top ten most read posts published last year:

  1. How Bad is the New Tax Code for Your Charity?
  2. It’s Time to Stop Whining about Donor-Advised Funds!
  3. 9 Hard Truths Every Fundraiser Needs to Face in the 21st Century
  4. New Charitable Gift Annuity Rates Announced
  5. Jerold Panas (1928-2018), He Will Be Missed
  6. Setting the Record Straight about Jimmy LaRose
  7. Will One Charity’s Surprising Year-End Email Make You Look Bad?
  8. The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession
  9. How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year
  10. Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins When Working with Volunteers

Here’s a list of just five of my older posts that remained popular in 2018:

  1. Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?
  2. Can You Spot a Child Molester? Discover the Warning Signs
  3. Here is One Word You Should Stop Using
  4. 5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls
  5. Special Report: Top 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants Identified

I invite you to read any posts that might interest you by clicking on the title above. If you’ve read them all, thank you for being a committed reader.

Over the years, I’ve been honored to have my blog recognized by respected peers. I’m pleased that, among the thousands of nonprofit and fundraising sites, my blog continues to be ranked as a “Top 75 Fundraising Blog” and as a “Top Fundraising Blog – 2019.”

To make sure you don’t miss any of my future posts, please take a moment to subscribe to this site for free in the designated spot in the column to the right. You can subscribe with peace of mind knowing that I will respect your privacy. As a special bonus for you as a new subscriber, I’ll send you a link to a free e-book from philanthropy researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP®.

In 2018, I was pleased to have two of my articles published in Advancing Philanthropy, the official magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals:

read more »

January 11, 2019

Was the Trump Foundation the Only Funder on Santa’s Naughty List?

As you struggled to raise more money at the close of 2018 while carving out holiday time with loved ones, you might have missed an important news story.

On Dec. 18, news reports announced that the New York Attorney General’s Office and the Trump Foundation had reached an agreement to dissolve the Foundation. Under the terms of the deal, the NY Attorney General will distribute the Foundation’s remaining assets to charities.

Donald Trump

However, the closing of the Trump Foundation does not end the matter. Barbara Underwood, the NY Attorney General, says the state still seeks $2.8 million in restitution, plus additional penalties.

Furthermore, the Attorney General is asking the court to bar Donald Trump from serving with nonprofit organizations in New York for 10 years. The state’s lawsuit also calls for a one-year ban for three of Trump’s children — Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — all of whom were Trump Foundation board members.

The State of New York “lawsuit says that Trump’s charitable organization, which he founded in 1987, engaged in ‘persistently illegal conduct’ and that Trump basically used the Foundation as a slush fund to promote his business and political campaign,” according to a report in Vox.

This news item is inherently important. It involves a charitable foundation with significant assets that appears to have acted far less than charitably. It also involves the President of the United States. However, the significance of this story does not end there.

If the NY Attorney General is correct about the alleged misdeeds of the Trump Foundation, dissolution of the Foundation and a temporary prohibition of Trump family members from serving with NY charities for a limited time seem like an insignificant punishment. Unless serious penalties are levied against Donald Trump and his family members who were involved, the Trumps alleged criminal behavior will go unpunished. Furthermore, they will remain free to create and/or serve with nonprofit organizations outside of the State of New York. Other than a bit of bad press, the Trumps will pay little for their behavior.

The problem does not end there. Failure to hold the Trumps personally liable not only fails to punish the Trump family, it sends a signal to anyone interested in using a charitable foundation for personal benefit. That signal is that there is little downside for misbehavior. In other words, there will be little to no deterrent effect unless severe penalties are imposed by the court, assuming the allegations are proven true.

The other thing we need to understand about the Trump Foundation story is that it is not an isolated situation. A decade into my fundraising career, the nonprofit sector was rocked by the scandal surrounding the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. Operating from 1989 to 1995, the Foundation raised over $500 million in an elaborate Ponzi Scheme that defrauded well known charities and experienced philanthropists out of millions.

That wasn’t the first funder scandal, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Let’s face it. The Trump Foundation is not the only funder on Santa’s naughty list.

As another report in Vox observed, “There are some 86,000 foundations in the United States, with total assets of around $890 billion. And the vast majority of them never face this kind of scrutiny.”

read more »

%d bloggers like this: