It started when the same ad kept coming up in my Facebook feed after I became a certified coach. A self-described master coach continuously invited me (and many others I’m sure) to her free seminar. She offered participants the “secrets to client acquisition success using sales techniques she learned closing customers while selling mops at a big box retailer.” And no, I’m not kidding! This was the culmination of my fascination - or perhaps call it what it is - my Love to Hate relationship with the myriad of gimmicks and tools aimed at professional coaches. They dangle magical and oh so top-secret shortcuts as an alternative to offering real service as the key to creating value as a coach.
But I don’t want to single out this individual coach. The truth is you could spend endless hours (and $$) plowing through get rich quick books, seminars, and workshops geared towards making success seem like something you can grab for three installments of $39.99 (or fill in some ridiculous price). As long as you ACT NOW!!
Don’t get me wrong. There are many fantastic individuals out there offering very real support in helping individuals like me develop their coaching and consulting practices. In fact, I’m incredibly grateful to be working with several of them such as my wonderful mentor-coach Angela Cusack of Igniting Success. I’m also thrilled to be joining Melissa Ford for her Game-Film group coaching program. Melissa’s book Living Service: The Journey Of A Prosperous Coach has been an absolute game-changer for me in the way I approach creating clients.
As an aside, this experience takes me back to my early days in the nonprofit industry when I was getting my start in fundraising. I was bombarded with invitations to programs that would teach me how to be a better fundraiser, craft the perfect ask and opportunities to mingle with other fundraisers. I have absolutely nothing against learning and networking. Yet, I wasn’t quite clear how I was going to become a better fundraiser without spending the bulk of my time well, fundraising!
Here’s my point: Whether you’re a coach, consultant or fundraiser - or pretty much anything else, You’ve Got To Do The Work. Yes, it’s worth capitalizing. No matter what you do, there will always be someone - or several someones - telling you there’s an easy way to do it. There will always be distractions from the real essence of what you do. But remember: reading and talking about coaching isn’t coaching. You become a better coach by coaching. Similarly, learning about and networking with those who fundraise isn’t fundraising.
As for me, the only way I know how to do this is the following (spoiler alert: a lot of this is crazy obvious but still worth staying)
As I’ve been coaching leaders during the coronavirus crisis and observing others, I’ve noticed that they tend to fall into one of three categories in terms of their response to the times:
It won’t surprise you that I’m a huge fan of #2 and love #3 even more! The reason I love doing what I do is that I’m always amazed and inspired by the leaders I work with. In fact, I thought I’d make this week’s an opportunity to inspire others by highlighting the actions and approaches I’ve noticed among the amazing leaders I work with over the past two months:
I hope these quick stories serve as reminders that the work of you and your organization is important. That was true before this crisis, even more critical while we’re in the midst of it and still will be when it’s over. If I can help you and your organization navigate through these challenging times and plan for better ones ahead, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As a coach and consultant to nonprofits and their leaders, this unique moment has resulted in my having a recurring conversation with my clients. We’re living in a time of fear and it's apparent in these discussions. Many of the leaders, staff, and volunteers of nonprofits are finding themselves paralyzed and wondering:
While there’s no perfect or “correct” answer to these questions, I believe charities and their leadership will respond based on their shared values and what they deem most appropriate.
As for me, my response has been the following:
Nothing Has Changed while Everything Has Changed
For clarification, nothing (about your mission and vision) has changed while everything (about the world we’re operating in) has changed - at least for the near term. I believe our actions should be driven by that reality. My response is formed by personal experience and perspective.
I started my nonprofit career a week before September 11, 2001. I was living in New York City and life there was an endless reflection of the grim events the world had witnessed. If you worked for a nonprofit that wasn’t saving lives or caring for those involved in the rescue efforts, it was a struggle to feel relevant. It was even harder to feel like it was appropriate to ask for support for your work. At the time, I was a volunteer fundraiser for a nonprofit doing wonderful work for children in hospitals. I truly believed the organization’s work was important at that very moment and would be once life resumed with some sense of normalcy. I felt compelled to ask for donations even in the midst of this challenging environment.
I’ve also been thinking about conversations I’ve had with volunteer fundraisers hesitant to reach out to donors year after year for a campaign or event like a walk. These volunteers feel the need to “leave the donor alone for a year or two” thinking the donor is tired of giving - and hearing from them. Personally, if I was giving to (for example) heart disease research, year after year and then I stopped being asked, I’d be a little curious... Did they find a cure? Did the fundraiser stop caring? What’s up? If it was important last year and the year before that, it still is unless something has changed about the cause.
Here’s my major point: If you believe in the work of your organization, continue to believe in it, advocate for it and fundraise for it! The need for what you do hasn’t changed, only the environment in which you work has. You may need to make modifications to be respectful of what individuals and families are going through. However, I believe you’ll be well served by taking a proactive approach to communicating with your constituency and stating the need for support. Here are a few guidelines for doing so effectively:
I can’t guarantee that doing the above won’t result in the occasional grumble or unsubscribe. But if your work was worthy of donor support before we knew about the coronavirus, unless something’s changed about your mission, it still is. I believe that by continuing to communicate your presence and need for support, you’ll be better positioned once we find ourselves in that new normal.
If I can be of assistance in crafting your approach, I’m at email@example.com
For the long holiday weekend, my wife and I went back to her hometown. As is our longstanding arrangement, she was doing the driving (everyone is happier that way!) I wasn't sure where we were headed and to my surprise, we pulled up to a newly built animal shelter. I knew another pet for our household was off the table so I asked why we were here. My wife explained that we had donated to the building. An old friend of hers had been a member of the campaign leadership team that drove the fundraising to build the shelter. She was eager to see how everything turned out.
As we stepped out of our car, I sensed some hesitancy on her part. "Do you think we'll be allowed to take a look around?" she asked. Her question seemed surprising to me. I couldn't imagine a reason why we as donors wouldn't be welcome to see how our support was being used. I am happy to share that we stepped in and were warmly greeted by a team of friendly volunteers. We spent the better part of an hour touring and visiting pets that were treated with dignity and compassion.
This got me thinking back on my experiences with donor visits or what I often refer to as Show and Tell. I've worked with several organizations - particularly in major gifts and institutional fundraising roles - where donor visits, tours and learning opportunities were an assumed part of the cultivation strategy. At the same time, I realized that too often individuals that didn't meet a predetermined threshold were rarely - if ever - encouraged to get an upfront look at how their donations were being put to work. This is a missed opportunity on the part of the charity.
While not every nonprofit may not be able to provide donors with opportunities to see, connect or even talk to those who benefit, if yours does, take full advantage of it. Here are some suggestions for a good start:
Make donors aware they can visit: Sounds obvious doesn't it? But using our case as an example, we didn't know that we were 100% welcome and were concerned that we'd be interrupting the work. As it turned out, there were volunteers that were more than willing to provide guidance. Remember, this is your chance to shine! Be sure you're getting the word out that your volunteers, prospective donors and donors are welcome and encouraged to see your mission in action. Make it part of your messaging on your collateral, social media and every part of your communication.
Make sure the visit has a specific structure: Ensure that your organization has a set structure for encouraging donor interaction and engagement when visiting. Involve your volunteers, staff and (if appropriate) clients in designing a tour that introduces visitors to the core elements of your mission, best practices and most importantly, the impact of your work.
Make the visit inspiring: In a recent post, I noted the "Johnny Can't Read" approach to introducing donors to the work of a charity. This is the classic tug-on-the-heartstrings approach and I'm not a fan. You show the children that can't read, the family without a home or food on the table, the isolated at-risk teen...you get the point. Do the opposite! Use your visit to highlight the impact your donors have made possible through their donation. Show them the children that now can read, the family that has a home and food on the table and the teens that are the first to graduate and go to college in their families. Tell them stories of Inspiration - not tragedy.
Make the visit actionable (with a range of options): You've had a great visit, your donors are enthusiastic and inspired. Now what? Be sure donor visits conclude with a specific and timely call to action or better yet, several options for action. Sure a donation is fantastic but there are other ways your donor might want to get further involved. Maybe your organization has a need for in-kind contributions or services. Let donors know that these are welcome. Encourage donors to volunteer or even consider board service. Think beyond dollars.
If your donor has taken the time to visit, you're already doing something right. Use the visit to educate, inspire and move them on to an even deeper level of connection with your organization. .
A few months ago I wrote a piece called Three B’s To Focus on Now That You’ve Got Your 501(c)-(3). It was focused on three components nonprofit leaders should concentrate on once they are legally launched. I suggested focusing on building their Brand, Budget and Board. I noted that getting these pieces right create the foundation for thriving nonprofit organizations.
There was a reason I started with Branding as that first B. There might be a few marketing professionals that will take issue with how I’m utilizing the concept of Brand and the activity of Branding here. Nevertheless, for ease of reference (Three B’s are easy to remember) and as a way to capture the big picture, identifying a nonprofit’s Brand stays true to form.
Chances are you’re familiar with some of the more well known nonprofit brands - their logos as well as what they stand for. A bit over two years ago, The Nonprofit Times published Consumers Pick Top Nonprofit Brands. The list included names such as The American Red Cross, ASPCA, Special Olympics and St. Judes Hospital. The survey was driven by asking consumers what they thought of the charity and whether they wanted to interact with it.
Larger and well-established nonprofits tend to have the resources to work with sophisticated marketing agencies that can respond to these questions. And I’m fully aligned with with Dan Pallotta and the Charity Defense Council in their assessment that this is money wisely spent. Nonprofits should commit a portion of their resources to marketing and building brand recognition: it’s critical to their ability to fundraise. Since I tend to work with newer and growing nonprofits, I wanted to offer a few suggestions for developing a nonprofit brand that will create ongoing trust and relationships with the communities they interact with:
Focusing on these three practices might not be as cool and snazzy as a new logo. They will however, help your organization build trust, recognition and support enjoyed by the best.
If you need help or guidance on the above, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or (917)733-8569.
I was recently coaching a new and very enthusiastic client that literally received her 501(c)(3) designation the day before our meeting. I was also excited that she had just received her first donation as well - off to the races! She had gathered lots of research, had a multitude of tasks and she was ready to dive into all of them.
As has become customary for me, I asked if she had a budget and could she tell me about the board of directors she had assembled. The room got noticeably quieter. I hadn’t asked her to shame or embarrass her but it was clear that she hadn’t quite gotten to those. I suggested that before anything else she focus on a Budget and her Board. I then joked that I wished I had a third B so I could suggest focusing on The Three B’s. Without missing a beat, she suggested Branding! Loved it!
I’m guessing a few of you - or even many of you - may argue in favor of other areas besides Branding. You may even question my other B’s. But in a world where simplicity can help, putting ideas and activity into short and memorable arrangements can help. So perhaps you’ll find thinking of The Three B’s helpful in your work whether it’s launching and building a nonprofit or other businesses - here’s a bit more on all of them:
Hope you found these quick tips helpful. If you need help building your Brand, Budget and Board, I’m happy to help. You can reach me by phone at 917-733-8569 or my email email@example.com
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the difference between Goals and Results especially as it pertains to our work in the nonprofit sector. This comes on the heels of participating in a program called Creating the Impossible (CTI) hosted by International Coach Michael Neill. The core of the program was the challenge of launching a project that had less than a 20% chance of achievement. In other words, the project wasn’t supposed to simply be a Big Goal you could conquer through pure tenacity and discipline. Rather, the idea was to create a Result - something you can actually share with the world in an impactful way. By this definition a Result could be anything from a piece of art or music to a new program by a nonprofit that alleviates poverty, homelessness or a disease.
Having served in the nonprofit industry over the past eighteen years, I’ve seen an important shift in philanthropy. Individual and institutional support has moved from giving simply “to be a good citizen or community member” to donating with the worthy intent of having an impact on a cause or issue. At the same time, both individual and institutional donors have an increasing drive for the nonprofits they support to provide “proof” that their intervention is working.
The above isn’t inherently bad or good. I understand our very human inclination towards receiving a fair value for dollars spent - whether they’re purchases of goods or services - or donations. I do believe however that in an increasingly competitive funding environment, this shift can push nonprofits towards an overemphasis on the proof while losing sight of the need for Results. Remember, Measurement does not equate to Results. To measure is simply to quantify. Results create something new in the world. That something can be a different state of being, a new direction or brand new set of possibilities. Or something that we might not even be able to identify yet. Quite simply, it’s all about Change.
But in this age of measurement, metrics and defined impact, here are some questions nonprofit leaders need to be asking themselves:
Are We Choosing Metrics Over Results? The answer is rarely as simple as a yes or no. It’s more a question to delve into whether you’re showing the symptoms. Are you and your team spending more time collecting data as opposed to looking at what the data means? Do meetings with donors put you on edge and have your team scrambling to fill in key metrics as opposed to being challenged to figure out whether the metrics have borne out the hypothesis for your intervention. These are some leading telltale signs.
Are We Learning From the Metrics? Similar in some ways to what’s discussed above is the question of whether your charity is simply collecting or learning. One step further would be using these metrics to see what’s NOT working, owning and course-correcting for it. One of the other big challenges the nonprofit industry faces is an environment that rarely supports experimentation, risk-taking, and even (OMG) occasionally failing. Metrics should be used well-beyond fulfilling reporting requirements. Used strategically, they’re a resource for identifying how we can do what we do - but better.
What’s the Right Balance for Our Organization? Please know I’m not advocating that we step back to the days of simply “doing good stuff” and nothing but touching stories to share the impact of our work. What I am taking a stand for is awareness and finding that important balance between communicating the impact of donor dollars while ensuring that your charity always has its eye on the prize - Real Results that Change Lives.
If I can help you and your organization increase your impact, please let me know. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I consider myself truly grateful to do the work I do. I’m particularly lucky to get to write these posts and have people read them, respond to them - and sometimes even disagree with them (that’s when it gets really fun!!). Anyway, I typically write them based on experiences I’m having with my coaching and consulting clients - keeping specific details quite confidential of course.
This week I thought I would do something a bit different. I consider myself fortunate to get to work with some extraordinary individuals. They all work for very different nonprofits in terms of mission, size, scale. I also work with a range of individuals at all levels of leadership - managers, directors and yes, a few Executive Directors. I was recently thinking how different yet accomplished they all are and how they all have fantastic and diversified traits.
As a fun exercise, I started to jot down five things I admired most about each one of them and in no time at all, I had an impressive list of leadership traits I believe any one of us would want to cultivate. Naturally traits like commitment, integrity and authenticity came up. Chances are you’ve read or heard about the value of traits like those and other similar ones. I thought it could be more interesting to share some of the less obvious ones. I’ve created some titles for them and shared the Top 5 Below. I can’t guarantee you haven’t thought of these but see which of these might fit you and your style….
Hopefully these got you thinking - please feel free to share any other somewhat less obvious leadership traits we can shoot for.
Batman: I have one rule.
The Joker: Then that's the rule you'll have to break to know the truth.
Batman: Which is?
The Joker: The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules. And tonight, you're gonna break your one rule!
“The Dark Knight” 2008
The above exchange comes to mind because of an experience I’ve recently had participating in a training program called Creating the Impossible or CTI. It’s a virtual program hosted by Michael Neill, who runs multiple virtual and in person coaching programs. Over 90 days, he provides guidance to participants that have chosen a project with the following criteria:
When we started, I jumped in with my usual goal orientation. I was going to find the most impossible project I could! But after a week and a half of flirting - as Michael called it - with various charitable projects, nothing was making me grin, gasp or giggle. But it was the 7th (or 8th or whatever day) and according to the rules, I had to choose.
So I did. I chose to launch a chapter of a national nonprofit I’ve always admired. As was recommended, I posted to social media and told whoever I could to create accountability. Then I did what I’ve always done: I created a plan, strategy and timetable. Lots of google docs, spreadsheets, call lists, etc. I was on track. I was following the rules.
Around the same time, I had also volunteered to launch a meetup group and first event for the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA). I have CHD, had open heart surgery when I was 10, and got a pacemaker two months ago. I’ve always wanted to give back to this community as I feel so grateful (to be alive that is!). I’m 54, have been blessed to lead a wonderful healthy life that even includes running marathons. Things were coming together really well. My cardiologist and friends were eager to help and I even secured a great venue. I loved this project but it didn’t seem like a CTI fit because it was coming together easily, organically and almost effortlessly for me.
Today, I realized something HUGE. My ACHA project is perfect and exactly what I want to do - 90 days and beyond. I actually felt this from the start but it just didn’t seem impossible enough - not according to the rules of the game. I had refused to listen to my own inner wisdom because it would have forced me to challenge and possibly even break the rules of the CTI game. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I’ll be launching the Fort Myers, FL Adult Congenital Heart Association Group as my CTI project!
This experience was a great example of the fact that truly do have inner guidance and wisdom that helps us towards the right path. The challenge is that so much gets in the way: rules (society’s as well as our own self-imposed), how we want to look, or a lack of confidence in our wisdom. Ultimately here are the choices when it comes to this wisdom and guidance:
But if we’re not all able to do #1 all the time (I’m not there yet know) we can create
4. We can decide To hell with the rules - I’m doing what I love.
I had the pleasure of participating in the 2016 Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Forum Annual Conference and it was fantastic. I try not to use this blog to advertise but have to share that the P2P Forum is a wonderful resource for fundraisers, nonprofit professionals - and just about anyone trying to make change happen. To learn more, go to the website peertopeerforum.com or visit the linkedin group at: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/1902048. The conference was a valuable opportunity to hear from other fundraisers and consultants doing innovative things in this growing space. The conference also features an exhibit area for vendors to showcase their products, services and platforms supporting peer-to-peer fundraising.
One thing that struck me as I explored the vendor area was the vast array of technology available to enhance the P2P experience. Whether you work for a big national organization or are starting your own campaign, there are infinite ways to connect via social platforms (there are way too many to endorse just one but they're all really cool!) There are even tools to connect you with other connectors. And tools that will re-connect you with other re-connectors. And on it goes...
But even with all these advanced tools, my key takeaway was that P2P is still People to People. It can be friend to friend. Neighbor to neighbor. Even Stranger to Stranger. But at the end of the day, whether you're using streaming, gaming tech, or just a good old fundraising page, people still need to reach out to other people. This stuff just helps us do it a lot quicker and more efficiently.
Beyond that, I wanted to share a few standout moments, ideas and concepts and my own takeaways:
Start (or Strengthen) A Social Movement: One of the key concepts that was highlighted several times was that we, as fundraisers using P2P, have the chance to participate - or better yet, be the drivers for social movements. While we as fundraisers often speak the language of goals, benchmarks, objectives and the like, I'm confident that our participant fundraisers and donors will feel a much greater sense of commitment and connection to the opportunity to be a part of a Social Movement. Author and researcher Derrick Feldmann offered some excellent insights and I highly recommend checking out his book "Social Movements for Good".
Its All About Choice: Do It Yourself (D.I.Y.) is gaining momentum - a lot of momentum. This really isn't surprising when you think about evolution as we've come to expect choices in everything from the car we drive, to the phone we use to the foods we eat. So why not fundraising? One size doesn't fit all. Walks aren't going away while runs, endurance events and rides are here to stay. The exciting opportunity here is that we're seeing more unconventional approaches to peer-to-peer fundraising. Our role is to encourage our volunteers to embrace their passions and participate in social movements in ways that move them.
Be the part. It's not enough to just look the part: One of my favorite lines from the movie Rocky III comes at the end when Apollo says to Rocky "You fight great - but I'm a great fighter". That line captures the essence of our role as fundraising - or social movement - leaders. We need to move beyond saying and training to being the embodiment of these movements. It's all too easy to talk about best practices, what our fundraisers should do and how easy it is to send out a certain number of emails which will yield a set number of donations. But are we doing these things ourselves? Are we right there in the trenches with our participants? We should be. One of my favorite fundraising consultants who consistently participates in the endurance fundraisers she leads put it best when she said "I don't care about dressing the part. I care about being the part." Be the part.
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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