Posts tagged ‘management’

November 26, 2019

Is One Charity about to Make You Look Bad?

The Charities Aid Foundation of America might have made your nonprofit organization look bad last year. Warning: They’re about to do it again!

Let me explain.

If you’ve sent your year-end appeal, written a solid thank-you letter series, and prepared a donor-engagement plan, you might believe you’ll be all set to take a holiday break between Christmas and the New Year. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Many charities operate with a skeleton staff between the holidays while others shutdown completely.

However, while many nonprofit organizations wind down in the closing weeks of the year, many donors are gearing up their philanthropic activity. Many donors make their philanthropic decisions at the end of the year, often in the closing days of the year. While the current federal tax law means fewer people itemize their deductions when filing their taxes, many of those people still make late year-end charitable gifts. Furthermore, many wealthy people who do itemize will wait until the closing days of the year before making their philanthropic gifts.

Some of your year-end donors will have questions. They may wonder about the best way to give (i.e., cash, appreciated stock, Donor Advised Fund recommendation, etc.). Others may have questions about your organization’s programs and areas of greatest need. Still others may simply need to know the formal name of your organization to put on their check.

If individuals with questions are unable to reach you for answers, they may not give or they may give elsewhere. This is something CAF America understands.

Last year, Ted Hart, ACFRE, CAP, President & CEO of CAF America, sent an email wishing donors a happy holiday and announcing his organization’s extended holiday hours. Not only would someone be available throughout the holiday season, staff would be available until 8:00 PM EST, well beyond standard business hours. Hart provided an email address and phone number. The email encouraged recipients to reach out if they needed any help or had any questions. You can find a copy of Hart’s email message and my detailed analysis of it by clicking here.

Underscoring his organization’s donor-centered orientation, Hart concluded his message by writing:

It is our pleasure to be of service to your domestic and international philanthropy on a timetable that suits you best.”

Hart’s email let supporters know that the organization is there to meet their needs on their terms. Even if they didn’t need to contact the organization as December 31 approached, they still appreciated knowing that the organization cared enough about them to remain accessible.

Based on the response to last year’s extended hours, CAF America will be doing the same this year beginning December 9. Hart explains, “We had many donors who made use of the extended hours. Many are very busy during the holidays and regular business hours do not always support busy holiday schedules.”

By comparison with CAF America, does your organization look good or bad as the year comes to a close?

I’m not suggesting that you need to stay at your desk through the end of the year. However, I am suggesting you remain accessible. Fortunately, technology allows you to be reachable without having to remain in the office. For example, you can set email alerts on your cell phone. Also, you can forward your office calls to your cell phone. So, whether or not you remain in the office, you can still be available to individuals contemplating a donation to your organization.

If, like CAF America, you let people know that you will remain available, you’ll be showing them that you care about them. Your organization’s supporters will appreciate the extra effort you make to be of service even if they don’t have any year-end needs.

At this time of year, the public expects to be inundated with charity appeals seeking support. What people do not expect is a message offering good wishes and service. So, pleasantly surprise folks this holiday season. Show individuals you care about each of them by letting them know you’re there for them. Offer them assistance. Give them an opportunity to engage. Provide useful information.

To determine if your organization is donor centered as the year draws to a close, ask yourself these questions:

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October 29, 2019

Raise More Money When You Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Fundraising

Fundraising success depends on having a good cause. It also requires that fundraisers do things the right way. But, none of that is enough. To successfully raise money, fundraisers must also avoid making costly mistakes, either unknowingly or (and you would never do this, right?) knowingly.

Making mistakes can cause your organization to lose donors and have a difficult time finding new ones. In some cases, one charity’s mistakes can harm the reputation of the entire nonprofit sector causing even innocent organizations to lose support.

Philanthropy researchers have shown us that the more someone trusts a nonprofit organization, the more likely they are to give. Furthermore, the more they trust a charity, the more money they are likely to donate. A report issued by Independent Sector stated:

The public is demanding a greater demonstration of ethical behavior by all of our institutions and leaders ….To the extent the public has doubts about us, we shall be less able to fulfill our public service.”

In short, trust affects both propensity for giving and the amount given. Those who have a high confidence in charities as well as believe in their honesty and ethics give an average annual contribution of about 50 percent more than the amount given by those sharing neither opinion.

You can read more about the research into trust and philanthropy in an article I wrote a number of years ago for the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing.

For the Association of Fundraising Professionals Ethics Awareness Month,  I wrote a feature article for the October issue of Advancing Philanthropy magazine: “Ethics, Fundraising, and Leadership: Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of Fundraising.” As I pointed out:

You’re a good person. At the very least, you try to be a good person.

However, that’s not good enough. Effective fundraising demands more of us. Every action we take, no matter how small or large, has the potential to build or erode public trust, which could have a corresponding impact on philanthropic support.

Among other things, being a fundraising professional means you must always strive for excellence while avoiding missteps that could have costly consequences for you and/or your organization. Fortunately, you do not have to endure risky mistakes to learn from them. Instead, thanks to media headlines, you can learn from the mistakes of others.”

In the AFP article, I discuss seven missteps made by real charities. While there are certainly more than seven deadly fundraising sins, my article highlights common issues of concern. For example, conflicts of interest was rated among the top ethical concerns of fundraisers, according to a recent AFP survey. In my article, I explore this issue citing a real-world example:

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October 18, 2019

11 Things You Need to Know When Looking for a New Job

The high-rate of nonprofit staff turnover has been a topic of discussion for decades. Most recently, a Harris Poll study conducted for The Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals has fueled the conversation. Harris found that 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.

Over the years, much has been written about what it will take to reduce the turnover rate. I even wrote about this in August. Now, I want to look at the issue another way. While it’s important to retain talented staff, we need to acknowledge that staff turnover is a fact of life. Even if the sector manages to do a more effective job retaining employees, the reality is that, eventually, staff will leave their position. You will leave your position.

That got me thinking about what you need to know when the time comes to hunt for a new job. I also thought about what professional recruiters need to know, from a candidate’s perspective, when representing a nonprofit client.

Because I’ve been self-employed since 1982, I didn’t feel quite qualified to write on the subject from a job candidate’s perspective. So, I invited Dan Hanley to share several tips based on his own job searches over the years as well as his encounters with executive recruiters. Dan is CEO and Lead Consultant with Altrui Consulting.

I thank Dan for kindly sharing six tips to keep in mind when looking for a new position as well as five things you should definitely avoid doing. In addition, he shares five suggestions for nonprofits who work with a professional recruiter.

Checkout Dan’s tips and, then, please share your own:

 

If the statistics I read are correct, more than half of nonprofit fundraisers are either looking for a new job or will be soon. Although I am troubled by this, as you might be, I am writing this post based on my experiences with looking for a job and the dozens of peers who are currently looking for their next nonprofit fundraising position.

Back in 2013, I was laid off. I had seen it coming and had a week to prepare before I was called into my boss’s office. My hunch was correct, and one morning I was told even though I was such an awesome guy, I was being laid off. I was handed a check and given the day to pack up and go.

I was grateful that I had already begun to prepare for this. I walked back to my office, called my husband, pulled up the state unemployment website and applied for unemployment. I then logged onto Facebook and told all of my friends and family that I had been laid off and had time for breakfast, lunch, or coffee with them, and that since I was no longer employed they would need to pay.

By the end of the day, I had 68 invitations to breakfast, lunch, or coffee.

Regardless of the reason you are searching for a job, the first thing to know is that you have a lot of support. Most likely, more than you know in the moment. You have your family, friends, former colleagues, peers who you know from work or through social media, etc. Remember this. You are not alone.

I have heard from people smarter than me that the best time to look for a job is when one has a job. Depending on your personal situation, this may or may not be true. The following six suggestions are for anyone looking for their next opportunity, no matter their personal situation:

  • Revisit your resume. Then ask a peer to do the same for you.
  • Sign up for any job email blasts from local nonprofits, national job search sites, and anyone else who sends out such lists.
  • Let everyone know you are looking for a job. Let them know what you envision as your next adventure. For social media platforms, like LinkedIn, you can even make it so recruiters know you are looking and are open to being approached by them.
  • If unemployed, get dressed for work every day and dive into your search. I found it invigorating to be in a dress shirt and slacks at 6:30 am while looking for any new job postings.
  • Share with others, even if it’s just one other, how you are honestly doing and feeling.
  • Be just as active on social media as you were while employed. If you were not active before, become active.

To go with the list of items I suggest you do when in a job search, here are five things I suggest you not do:

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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:

read more »

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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June 20, 2019

I Told You So: Charitable Giving is Up!

Most charity pundits, mainstream media, and press serving the nonprofit sector got it wrong. Sadly, none of them is admitting their mistake, and many are continuing to advance a false narrative. However, I always told you the truth, and I’ll continue to do so.

I’ve often encouraged you not to overuse statistics in your appeals. But, we can all certainly benefit from reading lots of illuminating statistics.

In 2017 and 2018, most pundits and the media were convinced that the Tax Cut and Jobs Act would result in up to a $21 billion decrease in philanthropic giving. In January 2018, I joined a tiny group of professionals who predicted the decrease in giving would be far less than that and giving might actually increase. This was not a guess on our part, but a well-educated expectation based on research, experience, and observation.

Now, with the release of Giving USA 2019, we know who was correct.

Overall, philanthropic giving in constant dollars INCREASED by $2.97 billion (0.7 percent) between 2017 and 2018, and now stands at $427.71 billion, the highest level of all time. Relative to Gross Domestic Product, giving remained at 2.1 percent, which is greater than the 40-year average of 2.0 percent.

Despite the generally good news, the philanthropy scene is not entirely positive. When adjusting for inflation, giving in 2018 did decline by 1.7 percent, though that was much less than the doom and gloom estimates. Furthermore, giving by individuals as a share of overall philanthropy accounted for 68 percent; this is the first time since at least 1954 that it has fallen below 70 percent. In 2018, individual giving fell by 1.1 percent in constant dollars.

While the new tax code likely had an effect on charitable giving, we need to be careful not to overstate its impact. A number of factors have influenced giving:

New Tax Code. All or part of the decline in individual giving in 2018 could be due to donors taking action in advance of the tax law change. We saw this in 1986 when there was a spike in charitable giving in advance of the Reagan tax cuts in 1987.

In 2017, many donors likely front-loaded their philanthropic giving since they would no longer be able to deduct gifts beginning in 2018. In addition, many donors chose to bundle their philanthropy by contributing to Donor-Advised Funds at record levels in 2017. Together, these two factors might explain the 1.1 percent decrease in individual giving in 2018 compared to a 5.7 percent increase in 2017. If not for the new tax rules going into effect in 2018, some of those 2017 donations might have been made in 2018 instead.

The tax code might also affect giving in other ways that we just don’t see clearly at this point. Just as we had to wait until 1988 to see giving normalize following the Reagan tax cuts, we may need to wait another year or two to understand the full effect of the current tax code.

Decline in the Number of Donors. Since 2001, the percentage of US households contributing to charity has fallen steadily from a high of 67.63 percent to 55.51 percent in 2014, according to data from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Panel Study. In other words, the new tax code is not responsible for a sudden decline in the number of donors. This trend has been going on for years.

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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:

read more »

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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