Board Retreats: Don’t Skip the Fun

Today we’re going to talk about fun.

Running a successful nonprofit organization is a lot of hard work. There are animals to save, people to feed, art to be created – the list goes on and on. On top of all of the world bettering, comes the day to day operations. Your organization not only has internal leadership, but a board of directors. This group is entrusted to not only making sure the organization does things right, but does the right thing. Again, a lot of hard work by a lot of people just trying to make the world a little better.

Back to the fun. With all these responsibilities it’s important that you don’t skip the fun at your next board retreat. We’re not talking about putting “fun” as an agenda item between strategic planning and lunch. More like weaving fun into the entire retreat.

Don’t skip the fun at your next

board retreat!

Here are six ways to put the fun in your next board retreat:

1. Don’t conduct regular board business at the retreat. I understand that this is difficult, but it is a real momentum killer. When there is that “one little item to cover while we’re all together” it is tempting to address it at the beginning or at the end, but that “one little thing” rabbit holes into a lot different directions. Avoid this. Find another way to address it like an e-mail vote or a conference call a few days before the retreat.

2. Be active. Skip the room with just room for a conference table; find a space that accommodates moving around. Do some work sitting, some standing, some outside in the fresh air. Mix up the agenda so it isn’t the same person talking most of the day. More active participation will lead to better results because everyone feels heard and included.

3. Mix up the groups. Every board has natural groups so you need to do some prep and put retreat teams together that are counter to the natural groupings. Then change the groups throughout the retreat. Encourage board members to interact with someone they don’t already know well. If you have new members attending, ensure that they are interacting with longer-serving members. Again, this allows everyone to feel heard and included.

4. Combine team building with retreat objectives. Team building exercises don’t have to be standalone items that appear to distract from the objectives of the board. For instance, if you want board members to work on their elevator speeches, have them do it in pairs. When I facilitate a retreat, I work with board and staff leadership to establish objectives THEN I look for ways to weave in fun exercises that relate to those objectives.

5. Laugh. The work your organization is doing is important and likely not a laughing matter. But, when a board laughs together they form bonds that will serve them in the future. Use an exercise that allows board members to laugh at themselves and each other.

6. Include your mission. Your nonprofit has a unique mission and personality so be sure to include that in your retreat. This also allows your board to really immerse in the mission and remember why they joined the board in the first place. For example, if you are an arts organization do something creative. Help the board make memories together so they can work better together to support the mission.

Don’t be afraid of having fun at your board retreat. Retreats provide an opportunity to move the work of your board forward and help your board build relationships to better serve the mission.

We’d enjoy the opportunity to discuss how we can help make your next board retreat fun and successful.

“Why” – No Longer My Least Favorite Word

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When my children were toddlers, why was my least favorite word. I heard it a million times a day about everything… literally EVERYTHING. But now, more years than I’d like to admit removed from the constant questioning, why has become one of my favorite words.

“Why? Why? Why?”3 year olds everywhere


As a fundraising instructor, it is my distinct privilege to meet many nonprofit professionals and learn about their organizations. Most of them spend their days thinking about what and how but the outside world (translation: donors, funders) care about the why.

Simon Sinek has a great book, Start With Why, and TED Talk on this topic. His theories are targeted to the world at large but I think they have a very specific application to the fundraising profession. We should always aim to talk in why, not what or how.

So how do you find your why?

One way is to imagine the world without your organization. What does that look like? Who isn’t served? Who isn’t saved? Are good things gone? Do bad things happen? When I teach I call this the It’s a Wonderful Life exercise. The world without your organization is your why.

Your why may look like this:

  • animals die
  • children can’t reach their full potential
  • diseases kill people

It’s likely not a pretty picture so you can see how using the why helps donors see why giving to your organization matters. When you invite others to join you in changing the world, you are looking for people who don’t want these bad things to happen. Your organization provides them an opportunity to make a difference in the world — save animals, help children, cure diseases.

Turn Why? — the question I used to dread from my toddlers — into a powerful fundraising tool. We’re happy to work with your organization on finding your own why and how to best integrate it into your fundraising work. Contact us to learn how we can work together.

5 Tips for Year-End Fundraising Success

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The clock is ticking and if you are a fundraiser trying to reach your goal, the sound can be deafening. Don’t fret, there’s still time to boost your year-end fundraising. In the last few days of this year, take time for these five tips to boost your fundraising and end the year on top.

1. Year-End Appeal

Even if it’s not a huge mailing to the masses, take the time to send a heartfelt letter to your closest supporters. Ask them to join you in changing the world. If you need help with your letter, my colleague Alyce Lee Stansbury shared her tried and true secrets to a successful letter.

2. Website Check

Make sure your website is ready to accept online gifts. The best and easiest way to do that is to take it for a test drive. Make a gift today and see what happens. This guide will help you make sure your online giving passes the test.

3. Mail the Card

Your donors are like family to your organization, and family should hear from you at the holidays. Through my own admission of being perpetually late with my cards, I can make the case that it is never too late to send out a card. And, if you want to go electronic, here are some ideas to make an electronic message that will still warm their hearts.

4. Pick Up the Phone

Possibly one of the most overlooked year-end tools – your telephone. Pick up the phone, tell your donors how much you appreciate them, and ask for their renewed support. Here’s a guide to tapping into that power.

5. Don’t Leave Them Hanging

If you are taking time off during the holidays – which I highly recommend – make sure that your voice mail and e-mail messages give people the information they need in your absence, including when they can expect to hear from you. And, since a large number of gifts are made in the last few days of the calendar year, include a link to your website’s giving page. Here are some tips on setting an effective out of office message.

It’s a busy time of year for you and for your donors. Be sure that you are doing everything you can to make giving to your organization convenient. A gentle reminder from you and a pleasant giving experience make the difference in year-end fundraising for your nonprofit organization. If doing all five things seem like too much, pick one or two and do them really well.

Always remember that you are changing the world with your hard work and you’re inviting people to join you. That matters! Also remember to take some time to rest and recharge and enjoy your family and friends. Happy Holidays!

Does Your Online Giving Pass the Test?

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to be a mystery shopper. It’s not just the shopping part – which I love to do – it’s the opportunity to give feedback on the customer experience.

We need to take time to think of our donors as customers – people who buy into our mission and the amazing work we’re doing to make our community a better place. Customers who we want to engage in our mission and become repeat customers. A great place to start is your online giving.

When is the last time you made an online gift to your organization? What about a gift from your mobile device? It’s probably not something you, your board members or your other staff members do on a regular basis.

Today, I challenge you to do a little mystery shopping of your own and make an online gift to your organization (bonus points if you try this from your mobile device). Here are some things to look for as you complete the process:

  • Could you easily find the ‘donate now’ button?
  • How many clicks did it take you to get to the actual give page?
  • Does your form ask for too much information that isn’t needed? (You probably need way less than you think.)
  • How easy was the process as a whole?
  • Were stories and pictures used on the give page to make you feel connected the mission? (This is a great place for a short case for support.)
  • Could you make a gift in memory or honor of someone (and get the proper recognition to the family or individual)?
  • Does the landing page after clicking ‘submit’ make you feel good about your giving? (It should NOT go to a blank page.)
  • Is the emailed receipt timely and accurate?
  • Did you receive some kind of communication afterwards?
  • Does someone in your organization pay attention to online gifts and make personal contact?
  • Were you added to the donor database?
  • How did the whole process make you feel? (Frustrated isn’t a good answer here.)
  • If you’re using your mobile device, could you complete the process in an easy way?(You shouldn’t have to contort your phone all around and zoom in and out.)

Note: Google offers a free tool to test if your website is mobile friendly: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/. This is a good place to start, but won’t speak for your online giving specifically.

Once you complete your mystery shopping, make notes of the improvements that could be made. Don’t feel like you need to fix it all right away – use your findings to make changes as you can starting with the most crucial. Just don’t put them off forever; you don’t want to lose a gift because someone found your online giving process to be too much work.

4 Keys for Planning a Successful Staff Team Retreat

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It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day at your organization – doing what you have to do to get through the day and make our community a better place. Then, someone decides that all your team needs is a staff retreat to get everyone back on the same page and focused on what is ahead.

So, a calendar invite is sent with instructions for everyone to clear their calendar and meet in the conference room for a day of fun and togetherness (you know the email, I’m pretty sure you just rolled your eyes).

The day comes and it turns into a daylong meeting – with lots of PowerPoint slides, the same people talking, excruciating “get to know you” games – and, everyone leaves frustrated and feeling behind.

Let’s be clear, the intention was good. The execution… could have been a lot better. Planning a successful staff team retreat takes time, thought and preparation. We’ve got four tips to make planning your next staff team retreat a day everyone leaves feeling refreshed, focused and ready to tackle whatever is next for your organization.

1. Know your why. We have facilitated staff team retreats for a multitude of reasons – major changes on the horizon or just completed, new leadership or key team members, reconnecting a team. Once you identify the reason for your staff team retreat, you can set the agenda to accomplish this goal. Knowing this can help you with a lot of the logistic details like location and activities.

2. Don’t over fill the agenda. This can happen quickly – “oh, since we’ll all be together we can take care of this.” This is not a staff meeting, so you shouldn’t treat it like one. Going back to your why, pick one or two (at the most) major topics and allow ample time to cover them in depth. Often when prepping for a staff team retreat the most push back comes from what is seen as a “not enough” agenda from the organization’s lead. In our experience, a flexible agenda that allows for the natural flow of conversation and ideas works best.

3. Plan for active participation. Some people take more time and coaxing to take an active part in conversations. Think ahead of the conversations – how to include those people less likely to just jump in and how to temper those who are prone to taking over the conversation. Everyone on your team has a voice and brings a different perspective to an issue or challenge. At a recent retreat, the accounting person had a great idea for the thank you letters – no one had ever asked.

4. Bring in a professional. You’re great at what you do – and, that might not include planning and facilitating a successful and productive staff team retreat. Lucky for you, there are professionals, like the Sara Leonard Group, who have the experience and expertise to help you realize your why and to create an agenda to accomplish your why while planning for active participation from your entire team. A professional, outside facilitator allows full participation from your entire staff and a voice of reason and objectivity. Make sure when choosing a facilitator for your staff team retreat that it is someone who listens and understands your goals for the day. Your facilitator should be someone you are comfortable spending some time with – the preparation for your staff team retreat is really what makes all the difference.

We hope these tips help as you plan the next staff team retreat. If you’d like to discuss how we can help your organization in planning a retreat that gets the results you want, please contact us.

3 Ways to Be Present at Your Board Retreat

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The annual board retreat is coming up! You’ve found the perfect date (you still can’t believe it worked for everyone!), location (the perfect mix of relaxation and work space) and the yummy food is set to be delivered. The board leadership has worked with your board retreat facilitator to create an agenda that lets the group get to know each other better and discuss some big things ahead. This isn’t your first board retreat though, you know how hard it is to get everyone to disconnect and be present. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with three ways to help you and your participants be present at your next board retreat.

1. A cell phone basket. Before the board retreat begins, have everyone place their silenced phones in a basket (don’t worry, they can check them at breaks and lunch if needed). We all know how addicting our phones are and one innocent, out-of-habit look at your email is all it takes to lose focus on what is going on in the same room. The fair thing would be to give your board retreat participants advanced notice so they can set their out of office messages and be prepared for giving up their phones.

2. To do later list. One of the first things we do at a board retreat is have participants take out a blank piece of paper and title it “to do later.” This is where all of those nagging thoughts of ‘did I respond to Joe?’ and ‘I need to pick up the dry cleaning’ go. Taking a cue from meditation – acknowledge the thought, write it down (in our case, not meditations) and let it go.

3. The parking lot. Sometimes conversations take a wrong or winding turn. This is where the parking lot comes in handy. When the ideas are flowing and everyone is together great ideas happen. But, it might not be the time or place for that idea. On the parking lot it goes. It makes the board retreat participant feel that their thought matters and it gives the great idea or question a place to live so that it can be addressed later.

A well-organized board retreat is a great way to re-engage, re-energize and reconnect your board members. It offers time to concentrate on specific issues at your organization or to think big picture about the future. To make it as successful as possible everyone needs to be fully present and engaged. We hope using the tips above helps you make the most of your time together. We’d love to hear how you incorporated these into your next board retreat.

If we can be of assistance as your plan your next board retreat, please let us know.

Help – Thanks – Wow

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Last month I completed my term as president of the AFP Suncoast Chapter. That milestone led me to reflect on my term and write some closing thoughts. I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s book “Help Thanks Wow.”  Her writing inspired my thoughts about the past two years in our AFP chapter.

Help
The board members and volunteers have provided help to the fundraising professionals of Tampa Bay. The resources from AFP International have enriched the help we have provided. That help came in the form of education, advocacy, resources, scholarships and friendship. Our job board helped people find jobs and helped organizations find valuable staff members. Everything we do is to help professional fundraising colleagues and the nonprofits where you work.

Thanks
I have been honored to serve with the dedicated board members and volunteers who make this chapter work. Because our board is an operating board not a governing board, each board member worked with a committee of volunteers to make the magic happen. And it is magic! All of those people are busy professionals who find the time to give back to AFP.  Thanks to everyone on the AFP Suncoast team!

Wow
Each time I’ve stood at the podium of our chapter meetings and looked at all of you, I’ve been touched by the impact you make in our community. Wow! You – my fundraising colleagues – represent nonprofit organizations that are changing lives and saving lives. You educate children, feed hungry neighbors, shelter victims of abuse. You make the world brighter and lovelier with art, music and history. You care for the environment and animals. You work every day to improve your corner of the world. I’m glad your corner is my corner, too. Wow!

In her book, Anne Lamott calls help, thanks and wow her “three essential prayers.” For me, these are the three essentials words that express my appreciation for my colleagues and friends in the AFP Suncoast Chapter.

Help. Thanks. Wow!

Mind Your Manners (and Other Practical Tips for Calling a Prospective Funder)

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Calling a prospective funder shouldn’t just be another phone call to quickly check off your to-do list. At the point of actually picking up the phone, you should be confident the funder is open to your communication (Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect) and have spent time researching and preparing to make the call (Wait, Don’t Just Pick Up the Phone). Now (and hopefully only now) is the time to actually make the call.

Remember – this is not just any old call. This call could be the beginning or the beginning of the end of a great relationship with a funder for your organization.

Here are tips to make the most of the call.

Be Ready to Talk Now or Later

When you make the initial phone call, you may or may not get through. Be ready for either scenario. First, if you get through to the funder and they say, “Let’s talk now” be ready to go. This does not happen often, but you have to be ready for it every time. Conversely, if you get voice mail or talk to a gatekeeper, be ready to explain why you are calling and make an appointment to connect at a later time.

Location, Location, Location

One wonderful benefit of our modern, connected world is our ability to conduct business from anywhere – coffee shops, sporting events, and conferences. This however is not one of those times. Find a quiet, private place and make sure those around you know that you are not to be interrupted for the duration of the call.

Be Prompt and Respectful of Their Time

Place the call on time and be respectful of the time allowed for the call. If you asked the funder for 20 minutes, stick to that. When the allotted time has passed, you can ask if they are able to keep going, but be prepared for them to say “no” and conclude the call.

Smile!

This might sound silly for a phone call, but it really matters. If you smile while you are talking, it will show in your voice. Practice this on a family member if you are skeptical. The smile in your voice projects a positive attitude and shows your enthusiasm.

Be Enthusiastic

Avoid the trap of being “all business” and not letting your passion come through during the conversation. Make an effort to find the inspiration that you need. Consider a photo of the ultimate beneficiary of the mission – that might be an animal that will be rescued or a child that will be educated.

Manners Matter

You’re building a relationship and first impressions matter. Remember the little things:

• say please and thank you,
• don’t interrupt,
• listen carefully to their answers,
• speak in a clear voice.

Take Good Notes

This conversation is where you can ask for answers and clarification to the questions left unanswered by your research. As you ask your questions, take good notes. Make note of any questions the funder has of you and be sure to record any promises you make or any information you need to provide following the conversation. If you are asked a question you can’t answer, don’t panic and just be honest. Explain why you don’t have that information and offer to find out and follow up as soon as you can.

Ask for Clarity

If you are asked a question you don’t understand, speak up and ask for clarification. The nonprofit sector is filled with jargon and the funder might use terms you haven’t heard before, ask for a definition. Sometimes we are afraid to admit we don’t understand something for fear of making a bad impression. It’s much better to understand than to answer incorrectly on the application when the funder feels they told you what they wanted.

Finish Strong

As you conclude the conversation, review anything you promised to provide and confirm your next steps. Hopefully, you have determined that they will consider your grant application so confirm the deadline. If you determine that a grant application is not appropriate, restate any follow-up action that is appropriate. No matter the outcome of the call, thank them for taking the time to talk to you.

Follow Up

A thank you/nice to meet you note is always appropriate to send after a call. If the funder requested information be sure to follow up and provide it within the agreed upon timeline. If someone else has the information, contact them immediately and confirm that the deadline is appropriate.

The funding community is smaller and more connected that most people think. So while it’s true that if you know one funder, you know one funder – they also talk and a good impression on one can translate to introductions and a good reputation among many funders. Taking the time to do your research about the funder’s process; researching what you can on your own while preparing; and making the most of your time while on the call can make a big difference not only on this particular opportunity but perhaps even more opportunities in the future.

Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect

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To contact or not to contact? That’s the million-dollar question (okay, let’s be realistic – the $40,000 question). You’ve identified a new private foundation that might fund your organization, so you want to make contact with them right away and tell them all the ways your organization is a great investment opportunity for them. Now’s the time to stop and make sure it’s the right thing to do.

Raising money from private foundations certainly has some things in common with other types of fundraising, but there are some major differences. One major difference is whether or not to contact a funder before submitting a grant application. The three steps below will help you determine the best course of action before you pick up the phone.

Before deciding to contact a prospective funder, determine if calling them is an appropriate option. You should consider these scenarios before picking up the phone.

When Not to Approach

  • They Ask You Not To
    If the funder has specific instructions not to contact before applying, don’t! Each funder has their own specific process for receiving applications. Research the funder to determine if they are open to discussing your application before its submission.
  • You’re Not a Match
    Don’t approach the funder if your project does not meet the criteria they have for funding. For instance, you might be within their program specifics but outside their geographic boundaries. Or your request for general operating support or capital campaign funding does not fit their type of giving.
  • They Have a Letter Of Intent/Introduction Process
    In the vast majority of cases, if a funder has a Letter of Introduction or Letter of Intent process, they want that process to be the initial contact. Be considerate of the funder in this case. An LOI is a fairly simple document that will most often give the funder an opportunity to learn more about your organization than through a phone call. Be respectful of the funder’s time by making the LOI your first inquiry.

This may seem like overly simple advice, but many times in our enthusiasm for our cause we overlook the obvious.

When Approaching is Okay

  • They Accept Calls
    As you do your funder research, pay attention to how they accept contact. Some funders are open to phone calls, some will have meetings, while others do not allow any contact before an application. If they state that they are willing, then you are safe to reach out.
  • You Are Connected
    Foundations are staffed by people and people have connections. When you have identified a potential funder, review the list of their staff and board members. Show the list to your organization’s board members to see if they have any connections. If you identify a connection, ask them to reach out on behalf of your organization or to make an introduction.
  • You Have Specific Questions
    Just because a funder will accept calls, don’t make the assumption that you should make the call. Only make the initial outreach if you are prepared and have specific questions. After you carefully review their published materials and their website, determine what additional information you need from them to complete your application. When you call, you want to make the best impression – so be prepared.

If you attempt to contact a potential funder and are not able to reach them or don’t receive a return phone call, take that as their way of saying, “we don’t want to have a conversation with you until you submit an application.

Next time we’ll discuss what to do if you decide to move forward with making a call and share tips for preparing.

Close Your Door

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Being on a plane and not connected to the internet made me realize how out of practice I’ve gotten at staying totally focused. I found myself looking down to check the mail icon on my laptop to see if I had any new e-mail messages but of course I didn’t have any.

Did life as I know it cease to exist? Of course not. I was actually getting more done. There was a crying baby behind me and a guy sleeping wide next to me but I was still able to get some quality work done. How? Those distractions are more like white noise while the distraction of e-mail requires my brain to shift gears.

Research says we lose 15 minutes when we hop from task to task. I could have purchased WiFi to use the internet on that flight but I gained more in productivity by focusing on the tasks at hand (including creating this blog).

So what’s on your agenda that needs your focus? How are you going to get to it?

Here are 3 suggestions:

1) Create a closed-door policy
I’m not suggesting that you keep your door closed all the time but there are times when you need to excuse yourself from the distractions like drop by meetings. This applies if you are the boss, too. Tell your teammates that you need some time to focus on an important task but you will be available in an hour. If you have a position that doesn’t allow this, look for someone around you that would trade an hour – you cover for them, then they cover for you.

2) Work out of the office
“Working at a coffee shop” brings to mind a peaceful setting but a few years ago my office was across the street from what seemed like the world’s busiest Starbucks, or at least the noisiest. There were still times that I could go across the street and accomplish something important because I could focus on the task at hand, not the priorities of my coworkers (and boss). If you’re like me and can work in a noisy place you’ve got unlimited options. If you need things quieter, try to public library or a restaurant during their slowest times.  Looking for more proof? Check out this TED Talk “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.”

3) Schedule the big things
Determine the time of day when you are the most productive and schedule the big things for those times. Click here for a blog from Evernote on finding your most productive hours.
Once you determine your most productive times, don’t spend those hours on the small and mindless tasks. Use them for the big things like creating a major gift solicitation strategy or writing your annual appeal letter. Take a few minute to review your to-do list to find the most important items that require the most concentration. No one you work with will make this happen for you, you have to make this happen for yourself. Schedule a 2-hour item on your schedule that says “create development plan” then protect that time from other demands. I’ve started using a different color for those items in my calendar.

Do you believe that the work you are doing is important? I do. Our work in the nonprofit sector saves lives and changes lives. That work is worthy of your focus. Don’t let the daily distractions keep you from the big things.