Be One: If You Are a Volunteer Manager, Volunteer.

releasing a dolphin
Photo by International Fund for Animal Welfare on Pexels.com

One of the most important lessons we can use to improve our work: be one. Become a mystery shopper and do some field research. We’ll be sharing how you can do field research throughout your organization, but today let’s focus on volunteer management.

If you are a volunteer manager, volunteer.


By volunteering for another organization, you can have first-hand experience to strengthen your own volunteer management and volunteer program. Using the things they do right and wrong, you’ll take back ideas to improve your program and strengthen your volunteer base.


Here are some things you can learn from your experience serving:

  • Recruitment – pay attention to how you are invited to volunteer. Strong volunteer programs use a targeted approach to find the skills they need. How did they find you? Did they make it easy or hard to show your interest in being involved? Are there creative techniques you could adapt to fit your organization?
  • Training/orientation – when you begin your volunteer work, notice how they orient you to the mission and culture of the organization and how they train you for your volunteer assignment. Do you feel comfortable? Did you have enough information to do the job effectively? Did you know who to ask if you had questions?
  • Appreciation – during and after your volunteer service think about how you were made to feel. Organizations often customize their volunteer recognition to fit the particular volunteer. Take note of how they do that with you. Did you know that your service mattered? Did you feel appreciated, or just like a “thank volunteer” box was checked?
  • Continued engagement – following your time with them, take note of how the charity keeps you engaged. Did they look for additional ways to keep you involved? For instance, inviting you to volunteer again or make a donation.
Here’s a fun sample from Meals on Wheels of Tampa that I received because I volunteer for them.

Don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers and board members to share volunteer experiences from the charities they support. This will allow you to create a library of samples – good and bad. 

Every organization approaches the care and management of volunteers differently. That means there are an endless number of lessons to be learned with your hands-on experience and field research.

What Be One post would you like to see next? Contact us and let us know what field research we should get into next.

Be One: If You Are a Fundraiser, Give.

cash dollars hands money
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of the most important lessons we can use to improve our work: be one. Become a mystery shopper and do some field research. We’ll be sharing how you can do field research throughout your organization in upcoming posts, but today let’s focus on fund development.

If you are a fundraiser, give.

One of the most effective ways a fundraiser can expand understanding of how a donor feels is to be one – be a donor. Besides a gift to your own organization, make donations to charities you respect and see how they treat their donors. You might be surprised and learn a thing or two – on what you can add to your process, or how you can be sure to improve on their ways.

Things you can learn from your gifts:

  • Online giving experience – take notes on the number of clicks it takes you to get from the starting point to the gift completion. Notice where the giving button “Give Now” appears and if it is obvious. If you give from a social media channel, take note of that experience. (Check out Does Your Online Giving Pass the Test?)
  • Thoughtful stewardship – no matter if your gift is online or a check through the mail, be sure to notice how the organization makes you feel about the gift. Hopefully, you feel appreciated but how did they accomplish that? And if you didn’t feel appreciated, think through why not? Maybe the form letter is outdated, or feels just like another form letter.
  • Donor communications – following your gift, see if the organization stays in touch with you. What communication channels do they use? How are there messages? Do they use photos effectively? Also take note of the frequency of the communications. Just as with stewardship, ask yourself how the communications made you feel.

  • Subsequent solicitations – after that first gift, be mindful of how quickly and how often they ask you to give again. Notice if the subsequent solicitations acknowledge that you’ve made a previous gift.

Don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers and board members to share examples from the charities they support. This will allow you to create a library of samples – good and bad.

I added this to my collection of good examples the day I received it from Prospect Riding Center.


Because fundraising is about building relationships, you can learn things long after your gift is made and apply them to make improvements in your charity’s development efforts. Remember to be one – if you are a fundraising, give.

Keep an eye out for our next Be One post on volunteering, or you can subscribe below to get our posts straight to your inbox.

Take Control of Your Online Learning

top view photo of girl watching through imac
Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

Online learning is here to stay. From 1-hour webinars to multi-day conferences, we’ve shifted to virtual training out of necessity. It appears that it’s here to stay. Take control of your online learning to get the best out of the time you invest in yourself. Try these techniques:

Be aware of your own challenges
Each day brings unique challenges. Before you log into a virtual training program, take a quick check of the day’s challenges. Try completing this sentence: “I enter today feeling… and thinking…” Knowing what’s on your mind will help you get off to a good start. 

Keep a to-do list handy
As you learn new things, you can be distracted by the things left undone. Capture those things that pop into your mind but don’t let them distract you from what’s going on in your course. Write it down and know that you’ll get back to it after you finish your class. 

Close the chat box
If the chat box is distracting you, close it. As an instructor, I often use the chat box for class discussions. But I also know that sometimes the chat box is a way for you to have conversations unrelated to the material. Be careful that you don’t let what’s going on in the chat box keep you from focusing on the topic.

Change rooms
If you’ve been working from home, you probably use the same location each day. To get focused, try a different room for an online training. I’ve shifted to the couch which these days feels like business travel. 

Turn off your e-mail notifications
Remove a major distraction by turning off your e-mail notifications. Remember that if you attended an in-person training you wouldn’t be checking your e-mail throughout a session. For online training, apply the same standard. You can always check your e-mail during a break. 

Set your “out of office” e-mail response
Use your e-mail “out of office” notification to let people know that you will be slow in responding. Event for a one-hour session, your colleagues will appreciate knowing why they aren’t getting your normal speedy response. 

Pretend you are away
Give yourself the work equivalent of a staycation. Take some time away from the grueling Zoom schedule and spend the time learning the things that will make you sharper when you get “back.” (But make sure your boss is OK with this before you attempt.)

No matter how long you spend in online learning, you will get the most out of it with these simple tips. 

5 Board Member Actions to Boost 2020 Year-End Fundraising

Attention nonprofit board members: now is the time for you to take action.  

cash coins money pattern
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s not too late – it’s never too late – for board members to demonstrate their leadership by engaging in year-end fundraising.  

As we approach the end of the year, board members should take some action to boost your nonprofits’ end of year giving efforts.  

  1. Give – board members should have already made your best gifts by now but still make a gift to support current efforts. If your nonprofit is having a year-end event, sponsor. If they are selling something, buy some. If they are sending a year-end appeal, make a gift.  
  2. Ask others to give – your friends and family should know that this charity is important to you. Now is the time to ask them to invest in this cause. If your nonprofit has special year-end drives (like toys or food), use that opportunity to tell the story and ask for donations.  
  3. Engage on social media – if you haven’t already, like, follow, join (whatever the appropriate verb)  your nonprofit’s social media accounts. During the final weeks of the year, make an effort to check the social media channels once a day and share, retweet, repost. This simple but intentional action can amplify your nonprofits’ reach. 
  4. Thank – start with the people you know who support your nonprofit. Reach out with an e-mail or handwritten note to tell them how their gifts have made the world a better place this year. After that, ask if there are additional donors you could contact with a stewardship message. Don’t forget social media channels for thanking, too. For instance, a post on LinkedIn to thank  corporate donors is a simple but powerful way to show appreciation.   
  5. Encourage staff – it’s been a tough year for everyone. This may be the most obvious statement I’ve ever written but it’s important to remember that nonprofit staff members have been under a tremendous amount of pressure for 9 months. Whether your nonprofit has been running at full speed or has had to curtail services, the stress has been real. Take a moment to write a personal note to staff members telling them that you see their hard work and it’s appreciated. Find a way to tell them that they are appreciated – by you and by the people you are all serving.  

If you are reading this in November: take action now. 
If you’re reading this in early December: take action now.
If you’re reading this in late December: take action now.
(seeing a trend?)
And if you are reading this after 2021 has started and year-end giving is completed, it’s still not too late to take action.  

It’s not too late – it’s never too late – for board members to demonstrate their leadership by engaging in year-end fundraising.  

5 Reasons to Make Your 2021 Development Plan Now

As 2020 winds down, you might be asking, ‘should I even bother to make a development plan for 2021?’  

photo of people having meeting
Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

I think YES!  

Now is exactly the time to make a plan for moving forward.  

Here is why I think you should make a development plan:  

You will set goals for more than dollars raised. 
The only measurement of development is NOT dollars raised. You should also be measuring donor retention, new donors, contacts made to deepen engagement, board and volunteer involvement in fundraising. Create a development plan that addresses all of the key performance indicators you identify.  

You can activate everyone on your development team: fundraising staff, CEO, board members and volunteers.
Development is a team sport and now more than ever, you need the whole team working toward the same goals. Use your development plan to confirm who is doing what and when. Include goals and activities for everyone working on raising the funds your organization needs to accomplish the mission. 

You will know that things are changing and your plan can change.
Even in times of uncertainty, maybe especially in times of uncertainty, you will benefit from having a plan that provides a starting point for adjustments.  Your development plan should be written down but not in permanent ink. Go into it knowing that you’ll be making changes throughout the year. 

You can make hard decisions about where to focus limited resources.
This year we’ve overused the word “pivot” so we know that there will be tough choices ahead. If you are facing budget cuts, a development plan allows you to see the impact of reduction and make the best choices. A well-researched and thorough development plan addresses those changes.  

You will document uncertainties. 
Making a plan will allow you to note what is uncertain and set deadlines to make decisions about those. A plan doesn’t do away with unknowns but it can relieve some of the anxiety by putting them out in the open. 

Now is the time to take a clear-eyed look at the future and make a 2021 development plan that will serve your organization and the people who depend on it.  

7 Tips for Year End Fundraising in a Pandemic

How did you handle fundraising in your last global pandemic?

Author Jon Acuff recently reminded me that “this is my first global pandemic.” If you’ve been wondering how to handle fundraising for the rest of 2020 – you are not alone. No one is exactly sure how year-end fundraising will be impacted because no one has ever been here before.  

But that doesn’t mean you should throw your hands up in defeat. We can figure this out.  

The first question seems to be: will donors still give? The research results so far indicate yes.*

My biggest takeaway from the research: Don’t hold back on cultivating and soliciting your donors.

silver and gold coins
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here are 7 things to make your year-end fundraising successful in a global pandemic:  

  1. Don’t just ask.
    Make sure that fundraising ins’t the only message your donors hear from you. Be sure that you are telling them how their previous gifts have made an impact on your constituents.  
  2. Listen to your donors.
    Be sure that some of your communication is two-way and that you are listening to your donors. Consider personal calls to key donors. Integrate a survey into your donor communications plan.  
  3. Be transparent. 
    Communicate honestly (and often) with your constituents about how the pandemic is impacting your nonprofit. If you had to close, tell them why and what is needed to reopen. If you adjusted services, share with them how. If you made mistakes, share what you learned and how you are improving.  
  4. Refocus on your mission
    While you may have changed the way you are doing things, your mission is still the same. Communicate how you are still changing the world. Donors want to help. Your job is to show them how their financial support will help people. Tell stories that demonstrate how they will make a difference.  
  5. Look at your past success. 
    Evaluate how you raised money last year. If you had in-person events, seek new ways to ask those donors. Find the other fundraising methods that worked and adjust as needed. You don’t have to start from scratch but you will probably have to try some new things.  
  6. Enhance your digital fundraising strategies.  
    Start with your website. Make sure that a visitor can find the donation page easily. For best year-end giving results, create a multi-channel solicitation using direct mail, e-mail and social media. Giving is not one size fits all. If you’re looking for best practices, check out Heather Mansfield’s 101 Digital Marketing Best Practices for Nonprofits.
  7. Make a plan for stewardship. 
    If you are asking, you’ve got to be thanking. Take it a step farther and provide donors with meaningful information about how their gift saved lives or changed lives.  

Hank Rosso defines fundraising as “the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” You might feel nervous asking in these uncertain times, but who are we to deny someone the joy of giving?  

*If you’re looking for the details, here are two respected sources for research:
Association of Fundraising Professionals
IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Is Your Development Plan Obsolete?

You might be asking: ‘with all of the uncertainty and chaos, has my development plan become obsolete?‘ 

I contend no — but it is going to require some adjustment. 

When I work on a development plan with a nonprofit client we follow these steps: identify where you have been, where you are and where you want to go. Then we work on the details of how to get there. So even in these days of uncertainty, those first steps would be the same. What has changed? The details of how to get you there. That’s where adjustment is needed. Here are the places to start your adjustments: 

  1. Communication methods – with the cancellation, rescheduling or redesigning of most in-person events, look at the ways you usually communicated with event participants and find new ways to share your messages with them. E-mail and social media are obvious tools right now. But don’t forget the telephone and handwritten notes. If there are volunteers who usually assist with events, ask them to help with phone calls and personal notes to engage your audiences. 
  1. Fundraising team – every development plan should include the details of “who” will be on your fundraising team. Now is the time to evaluate your plan for what tasks will need to be reassigned. This is also a time to recruit new members to your fundraising team. People want to help you change lives but you have to show them the ways to help and invite them to join you. With what is probably less in-person commitment needed, you might find additional or different people who can help that couldn’t commit in-person.
  1. Goal adjustment – it is time for a realistic review of what you were expecting to raise in this development plan. You likely set your goals before the Coronavirus pandemic. That means those goals – dollars raised, event participation, donor renewal rate – may be beyond reach now. Take some time to adjust those numbers. By resetting to  goals within reach, your team will be more motivated to work hard to reach them. 

So what do you do now that your year has been turned upside down?

Regroup and move forward.

Upon completion of a development plan, I encourage clients to put it on a shelf and never look at it again (just kidding! I threw that in to see if you were paying attention). I recommend that the development plan is a dynamic organism. The plan should be updated to reflect results and adjustments. Now is the time to put the ‘dynamic’ into your development plan.  

So what do you do now that your year has been turned upside down? Regroup and move forward. 

US Census: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

The US Census is massive and might seem impersonal, but sometimes it is highly personal. The image above is from a page of the 1900 census. I am so fascinated by many things about it. I wanted to share a few.   

Line #9 lists “infant daughter” – That’s my grandmother making her first appearance. I find it extraordinary that she was a month old but not yet named. That name becomes very important in my life because my daughter is named after her over 100 years later. Funny side note: in a later census, my grandmother is listed as “Emmer” instead of “Emma.” I wonder if that’s how the census taker interpreted my great grandparent’s thick Georgia accents.  

Handwritten – A census taker, who is listed at the top, did in-person interviews and completed it by hand. I’m writing this blog on my laptop. You’re reading it on some kind of electronic device. The day this census was completed, these items couldn’t have been imagined. If you haven’t already, you can complete your 2020 census ONLINE. It only took me about 10 minutes. 

Continuity of the US census – Very few things remain the same, but the methodical counting of US citizens has survived. For more than two centuries our government has taken a count of each citizen every 10 years. This was the 12th census while the 2020 census is the 24th.  I can’t begin to imagine how many different ways that information has been used. From the funding of my children’s schools to my representative in Congress, this data touches me every day.  

Public uses of info – Seeing this census made me wonder if the info I submitted this year would be public. I was reassured to learn that it won’t. The individual records are sealed for 72 years. The last census info to be released was from the 1940 census in 2012. That’s encouraging. But, the information will be hard at work helping communities, like yours, get their piece of trillions of dollars in government funding for the next decade.

I like to imagine that some future generation will search records and find my name on the 2020 census. I wonder what technology they will use to do that. I also wonder what they’ll learn about me. 

The current census is important because of the impact it will have on our future. It only takes a few minutes to complete it. If you haven’t already, click here https://my2020census.gov to complete it.  

3 Reasons the Giving Challenge Wrap-Up is Just the Beginning

2020 defiantly put the “challenge” in Giving Challenge. Even though the year started like many others, it certainly took a turn that no one could have predicted.

As nonprofits across the region prepared for the 24-hour giving event, scheduled for April 28–29, the world around us was changing quickly and unpredictably. To respond to these unprecedented changes, the Community Foundation of Sarasota adapted plans for events around the Giving Challenge. The Patterson Foundation created a 30-day social media countdown that, shared information about the event and tips for participating nonprofits. Nonprofits were forced to think outside what had worked in the past in their approach to reaching donors. There was no playbook for pandemic lockdown community fundraising. There were a lot of people who put a lot of thought into figuring it out day-by-day.

And it worked! The 2020 Giving Challenge was a record-setting success. Over $19 million was raised by nearly 700 nonprofits from 58,947 unique donors. Feel free to re-read that last sentence and let it sink in. 

It is great fun to see the nonprofits receive their checks as the wrap-up announcements are made. 

But the wrap-up is just the beginning. Now the real work of being good stewards of the Giving Challenge funds begins. 

Here are three reasons the Giving Challenge wrap-up is just the beginning: 

1. Let it all sink in.

All across our region, children are learning, animals are safe, families have homes, music is played, and it’s all because of us. We — donors, staff, board members, funders, and volunteers — should take a moment to savor the good feeling that comes from knowing we’ve done something to improve our community. We are all so busy, and the day already happened, so it’s easy to skip that pause to let it all sink in. Don’t skip it. Celebrate the hard work that went into making the day a success.

2. Embrace innovative approaches.

The nonprofits in the Giving Challenge showed adaptability and innovation at every turn. For instance, some turned their in-person events into online events. Others used mail, phone calls, and text messages to reach donors. The creativity on social media channels was phenomenal. Now that the 24-hour excitement is over, be sure to apply the lessons learned across your fundraising program. Instead of a regular event, could you hold a virtual event? Can you find ways to build excitement on social media by counting down to your next fundraising appeal? Now that the excuse of “that’s how we always did it” doesn’t apply, the innovations can be applied to every fundraising effort. 

3. New relationships take work. 

Many nonprofits received gifts from new donors during the Giving Challenge. Hooray! That’s fantastic. But, it would be even better if those first-time donors became repeat givers. The relationship should start with a thank you letter. If it hasn’t already been sent, it’s not too late, so do that right now. Then, you can move on to the important step of stewardship. As you think about cultivating donors, each nonprofit should answer the question: “How can I help you change the world?” Then share that answer with your donors – through photos, stories, and visits (virtual for now, of course). Fundraising is not all about asking for money. It’s about inviting people to join you in changing the world. Be sure that you are looking for opportunities to bring your donors along with you as you change the world.

Someone from the outside might look at the phenomenal results of the 2020 Giving Challenge and think, “not bad for a day’s work.” That doesn’t apply here because it wasn’t just a day. It was weeks, months, even years of building a philanthropic community. As we pause to celebrate the success, let’s look ahead to the bright future. And remember – it is not a wrap-up, it’s just the beginning.

A quick note: this post originally appeared on The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.

Fundraising Tricks and Secrets

Because I write this blog for Sara Leonard Group, I tend to notice the titles of other people’s blog posts. They often include the words tricks and secrets. Recently, those words really hit the wrong nerve and had me very annoyed.

The reason? This field doesn’t really have any tricks and I’ve never had a fundraising colleague who kept their tactics a secret.

SLG_TricksandSecrets

There is no trick to what we do. It’s steady, hard work that raises money for our organizations. We are in the relationship business and building relationships takes time. I wish there were a shortcut, it would certainly make things easier and bosses and boards happier.

As far as secrets, I’ve been working in this field for a long time and I can’t think of a single time that I called a colleague with a question that they didn’t share their experience and/or expertise with me. Successful fundraisers don’t have secrets, they have hard-earned experience. Most – I’m not willing to say all because there’s an exception to every rule, right? – will help a colleague. Of course, there is a strict code of confidentiality, but we can share the things we’ve learned without sharing donor information.

Still want to get your hands on these “tricks” and “secrets?” Here are a few suggestions:

Practice
I think this is in some ways the opposite of tricks, it’s putting in the reps. For fundraising that means meeting with donors and listening to what they have to say and getting used to hearing no. It might be drafting an appeal letter and asking for feedback from a more experienced fundraising writer. It’s committing to getting better each time.

Learning
The opposite of secrets, learning the fundraising profession can take on many forms. We have a stellar professional association, Association for Fundraising Professionals, with local chapters across North America. There are great books on general fundraising and every specialty area. I’ve got a few favorites, I’m always happy to share recommendations. There are many reputable publications that provide access to up-to-date results and information on fundraising, The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Quarterly are a couple of my go-to resources.

Participate
This is the key to unlock the “secrets.” Get out from behind your desk and participate in our profession. I’ve been a member of AFP and participated in our Tampa Bay Chapter for over 25 years. I’ve made lasting friendships and learned an encyclopedia-sized volume of “secrets.” Local AFP chapters have various volunteer opportunities to practice new skills and learn from others.

Interact
With our modern ways of email and online learning opportunities, there’s a risk that we try to do it all from our computers. There is value in getting into your local nonprofit community. For my Tampa Bay colleagues, I recommend programs at NLC. In Florida, we have the annual Planet Philanthropy conference. Almost every community has some way to convene a group. If yours doesn’t, take it as a challenge and get a group started.

The bad news – there’s no shortcut to effective fundraising, no “tricks” and “secrets” to making you a better fundraiser.

The good news – there are lots of ways to learn to do it the right way.

Let me know if you need some help with this. A development coaching session might be the key to get you started on you way without any fake “tricks” or “secrets.”