Archive for April, 2012

Your nonprofit job search: Don’t waste time with the wrong people

The world’s most popular job-hunting book turns 40 this year. What Color is Your Parachute has inspired and supported generations of job hunters. One of the terms Richard Nelson Bolles coined in his seminal book is informational interview. An information interview is a meeting a job seeker schedules to ask for career or industry information, rather than interview for a specific position.

Forty years ago the best and perhaps only way to learn about an industry was to talk with an insider. In the nonprofit sector this was certainly true. Understanding the skills, attributes or experience necessary to step on the first rung of a nonprofit career path was difficult. There was no Google, social network or real-time access to information. Printed materials were dated, hard to find or nonexistent.

Access to information has changed dramatically in recent decades. What Color is Your Parachute acknowledges the rapidly changing career landscape by publishing a new addition each year. Lately, I have been wondering if some people who call me are still reading the 1972 edition!

Specifically, job seekers seem to be unaware that information on any job in any industry is abundantly and easily accessible. Today, information is also readily available on the professional credentials of anyone you might identify as a resource for your specific job hunt. In the ’70s, ‘80s and perhaps even the ‘90s, it was often challenging to identify the right resources and arrive for information interviews with precisely honed questions. Not anymore, so what are the updated rules to make an information interview effective?

Research, research, research

Your resource is a professional who is giving you the gift of time; use it well. Do your homework, research the industry and prepare thoughtful questions that explore information not readily available online. Then research the people who are likely to have the information you need so you pick resources sparingly. Each session with a resource may require hours of research and thoughtful preparation.

Want to switch from a for-profit to a nonprofit job? First, undertake comprehensive research on local nonprofits and the information available on this type of career transition. Trying to better understand the skills and attributes necessary to advance in the fundraising profession? A Google search will net over eight million hits, the Association of Fundraising Professionals showing up first. Want to relocate to another part of the country? Research real estate, cost of living and the job market before you start booking appointments. Nothing is worse than realizing the person you are doing a favor for has not done his/her homework! Poor preparation is not an asset in building your network.

Don’t waste time on the wrong people

Since the beginning of the year, I have been contacted at least once a week (sometimes once a day) by someone who wants to schedule a face-to-face meeting for an information interview. Often they start with the statement, “I have had coffee with 50 people and person X said I should call you.” If you have had coffee with 50 people and still do not have the information you need, perhaps resource selection is a problem so return to research. If you have had coffee with 50 people and still do not have a job, perhaps you were not really doing information interviews. Or perhaps 50 people are telling you things you do not want to hear?

Be a sponge

Information interviewing is about learning new things and exploring new options. Are you open to hearing new ideas, insights and information? If you are interested in finding a job or making a career change, it’s important to listen to all the feedback, not just that information you want to hear.

Most busy professionals are truly interested in attracting new talent to their field and talking about what they do. Time is a precious commodity; use it well.

See also:

The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life

Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time

Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Performance and Success at Work

It’s Not Just Who You Know: Transform Your Life (and Your Organization) by Turning Colleagues and Contacts Into Lasting, Genuine Relationships

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Is your sense of urgency working for or against you?

Due to the overextended and under-resourced nature of the nonprofit sector, it’s easy to look around your organization and misdiagnose your busy staff and hyperactive meeting schedule as having a sense of urgency. A Sense of Urgency author, John Kotter, argues otherwise.

Is your urgency true or false? Organizations that are truly inspiring transformative change don’t suffer from endless busy work; the employees have a sense of purpose, an emotional attachment to the aspirational goal and shed low-priority activities in pursuit of meaningful milestones that mark progress. The social sector is a breeding ground for these false diagnoses of urgency, and nonprofit leaders must root out busy work in favor of smarter, inspired progress toward game-changing goals.

What’s the single biggest error people make? Two years prior to publishing A Sense of Urgency, it occurred to Kotter how often he was being asked, “What is the single biggest error people make when they try to change?” More than 10 years of research, hundreds of interviews with managers and three books on the subject told him leaders did not create a high enough sense of urgency among enough people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction.

What managers had to say This observation inspired Kotter to test the idea and probe deeper by systematically asking managers a new set of questions. For example, “How high is the sense of urgency among relevant people around you?” And, “If it’s too low, what exactly are you doing to change this fact?”

Here are the interesting conclusions resulting from these questions:

1. At the beginning of an effort to create change, if a sense of urgency is not high enough and complacency is not low enough, everything else becomes so much more difficult.
2. Complacency is much more common than we might think and very often invisible to the people involved. Success easily produces complacency and it doesn’t have to be recent.
3. The opposite of urgency is not only complacency, but false or misguided urgency which is more insidious. False urgency is driven by anxiety, anger and frustration. It’s characterized by a frantic feeling.
4. Mistaking what you might call false urgency for real urgency is a huge problem today.
5. It is possible to recognize false urgency and complacency and transform them into a true sense of urgency. The book describes these strategies.
6. Urgency is becoming increasingly important because change is shifting from episodic to continuous. Continuous change requires sustaining urgency.

Visit for more information about the John Kotter and his best-selling books.

See also:

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas From Getting Shot Down

The Three Laws of Performance

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Get better fundraising results from your board

We’ve all been there. And if you haven’t been there, you’ve at least heard about someone who’s been there. Yesterday, during our live author interview series with board fundraising expert, Kay Sprinkel Grace, we had a nonprofit leader ask, “What recommendations do you have for getting better fundraising results out of your board?”

Most commonly asked

How to get everyone involved in fundraising is the most common question Grace is asked and this author interview was no exception. In fact, Grace has written a book about her answer to this popular inquiry: The AAA Way to Fundraising Success.

A board fundraising idea is born

The inspiration for Kay’s book was a client she worked with 12 years ago. The nonprofit client said, “I’ve got seven askers on my board.” Grace congratulated her for having seven folks who were willing to step up and make “the ask” on behalf of the nonprofit. Then the client said, “No, I have 39 on my board and only seven askers. What am I going to do with the other 32?”

How it works

This scenario became the brainchild for a management tool that Grace actively uses today. The process begins with asking your board to choose from three different roles in fundraising: 1) Ambassador, 2) Advocate, and 3) Asker. Then you spread the choices your board members have made on a matrix and develop a plan based on who will ask, advocate or serve as ambassador. “Because board members have chosen the role they want to play, their willingness to fulfill the identified role is amazing,” says Grace. Grace’s number one rule in this AAA program is that everyone is at least an ambassador.

Who makes the ask

Grace also impressed upon yesterday’s interview attendees that having a volunteer (advocate) and someone from the programming staff join you or the director of development on the ask proves essential. The program staff can speak specifically and intelligently about how the gift impacts outcomes. The board member (volunteer advocate) can speak from a mission and vision perspective.
More info

More info about Grace’s books

You can find out more about Grace’s AAA program in her book, The AAA Way to Fundraising Success at or her other six books at Grace’s latest book, The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, is currently featured at CausePlanet with a Page to Practice book summary.

See also :

Exposing the Elephants: Creating Exceptional Nonprofits

The Nonprofit Leadership Team: Building the Board – Executive Director Partnership

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Serving the Latino community: Getting beyond translation


For years, nonprofits, for-profit corporations and even the government have discussed how to better reach the Latino Spanish-speaking community. Still, there are a lot of organizations that get it wrong or are unable to serve this population effectively. A key issue I have found when working with organizations seeking ways to reach the Latino community is they think translating materials and hiring Spanish-speaking staff is enough. But it is not. What most organizations are missing is a concrete strategy for serving this community long term.

I don’t doubt the intent to serve the Latino community is there. And with good reason: the U.S. has the fifth largest population of native Spanish speakers in the world and trails only Mexico for the largest number of Latinos. I see organizations putting out strong efforts, but many are still missing the mark. The key issue is many organizations tend to view this market as homogenous, failing to see how diverse it is, not just based on country of origin, but also acculturation and education levels. Engaging a community this large and diverse takes a strategic effort.

The Latino population in the U.S. was 50.5 million strong as of 2010, and it continues to grow. So what can we do to better target the market and ensure Latinos are getting the services they need? Here are four areas that nonprofits struggling with serving the Latino population need to consider:

1. Understand your market–Latinos are not all the same. It’s important to understand the U.S. Latino population is incredibly diverse. Within the community, there are significant variances in culture, preferences, customs and habits based upon country of origin, education and acculturation levels. The popular Translation Agency London admits important differences in serving a transitory population, a family unit versus an individual or those without legal documentation. Organizations need to clearly identify the factors that influence each specific community to ensure their services and message appeal to the target market.

2. Go beyond the message–consider culture and education. The ability of organizations to identify and recognize important cultural connectors for each Latino community will help them better communicate with that community. I have found many services offered to the Latino market are not always well received, not because they are not needed, but because either there is a lack of education on the subject or because recent immigrants have never been exposed to such services. This is especially true of services not often offered in their country of origin (free healthcare for kids, emergency food provisions, assistance to those who have hearing or vision needs, etc.). Organizations must have a solid understanding of who is in their community and what level of information they need.

3. Establish relationships–families and friends. Latinos are an incredibly loyal community, and loyalty starts with family and friends. Working with the Latino community, two things prove true over and over:

Word of mouth is one of the strongest “promotional” tools. Thus, ensuring you develop strong relationships with current clients is important. Suspicion runs high in the Latino community, and personal references go a long way.

It is not uncommon in a Latino household for several generations to live together. Establishing relationships with family members, not just those targeted for service, is important. When you are speaking to the recipient of services, you are in essence speaking to the entire family.

4. Create a Latino strategy–determine what you are doing. It’s understandable that organizations want to rush into providing services to the Latino community because the need is high. However, it’s critical that organizations consider how they will work with the community to create a long-term relationship. To do this well, organizations need a strategy to serve the Latino community. Remember, the U.S. is the second largest Latino country in the world based on population, and you wouldn’t start providing services in Mexico without a strategy, right?

For many, this is nothing new. We have talked about it for years; we just have not done enough. We must elevate our thinking about the sleeping giant that is the Latino population. Just because we might provide the programs and services many Latinos would benefit from, it does not mean they will just come and get them. Organizations need to create lasting strategies to build relationships that will allow the Latino community to access and benefit from these programs and services. The time is now to get beyond translation!

See also:

Salsa, Soul and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age

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Board fundraising: Ask people to act on their values

When I read Kay Grace’s The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, I was reminded of some very gratifying as well as excruciating moments in my service as a nonprofit board member. An example of the less than stellar was, you guessed it, board fundraising. I happened to be on the receiving end of the ask as a board member and was excited to make my commitment. I knew it would make for easier solicitations in the community if I could demonstrate that my personal gift had already been pledged.

I remember the executive director asked me for a stretch gift (stretch for me anyway). The ask was by phone and felt, well, phony. Without the board chair present and without looking into the eyes of the asker to whom my hard-earned dollars would be going, I felt deflated and unappreciated. As soon as I said “yes,” the phone call was quickly ended and she checked me off the list. Or so it seemed. In the defense of this executive director, I’m sure she would have been horrified to know her ask left me feeling that way. Fortunately, for other CEOs and executive directors, Grace’s book addresses a useful process for going about development, fundraising and stewardship of the board and community. I say these three words because Grace has a specific reason for separating each function. I’ve excerpted my interview with Kay below which elaborates on the topic–

CausePlanet: Your section on philanthropy, development and fundraising is excellent, and I like how you break down each component so that everyone has a role to play.

Kay Sprinkel Grace: In my longer work, Beyond Fundraising, I go into detail on this and am happy to do it here.

Imagine three (3) concentric “eggs” or ovals. The largest, which surrounds the two smaller ovals, is philanthropy. Philanthropy is all voluntary action for the public good (Payton, 1989) and includes giving, asking, joining and serving (and for board members, it is NOT multiple choice!). We know through research and experience that all philanthropy is based in values: people and institutions do not give to, ask for, join or serve organizations whose values they don’t share. So, it is critical to create a “culture of philanthropy” in an organization based on the values of the organization.

The second oval is development, which is the process by which we get to know people and institutions and uncover the values we share with them. Development, or relationship building, is the most important role for a board member. It requires using the anatomical ratio of two ears: one mouth–listening more than we speak. If all board members were committed to developing relationships, fundraising would not be a challenge.

The smallest of the ovals is fundraising, which I define as “giving people opportunities to act on their values.” When we know what values donors share with us (and we with them), our conversation around the ask is made easy: “You and I both care deeply about continuing independent living for seniors as long as possible to ensure their sense of dignity. We have been successful at keeping our seniors at home because of the investment of people like you. As we look to the aging of America and the growing number of seniors in our community, we see the need for our services increasing. This year, will you consider increasing your investment in these programs that we both care so deeply about?”

See also:

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

Beyond Fundraising

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Donations follow high performing boards

According to board member, Chris Boskin, “A U.S. Trust study found that among high net-worth donors–those with $5 million or more in assets–one of the top four determinants of where they contribute money is respect for the organization’s leadership.”

Stability, growth and impact: Think of the board members you know and the organizations they serve. Now ask yourself who’s raising more money. In the nonprofit world, contributions are king. Donations follow the high performing boards. These boards have core attributes that author Kay Grace underscores in her book, The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, below. When these competencies are in place, Grace says there is stability, the opportunity for growth and the potential for impact. In her words, “Work gets done.”

• Understanding boundaries
• Respecting each other and staff
• Mastering the mission
• Communicating the vision
• Living the values

Recruit with a rudder: Without an organizational plan, board recruitment suffers from irrelevant professional guidance. Recruitment must be a direct response to the organization’s strategic plan.

Four steps to enhance the recruitment process: 1) Your board members shouldn’t leave brainstorming exclusively to the board development committee (a.k.a. nominating committee). Everyone should be a source for nominating ideas. 2) Fellow board members outside this committee should recommend, not recruit. Respect for the process will protect the board and the candidate from any well-intentioned mismatches. 3) Fellow board members should also participate in the recruitment process by getting to know recruits through coffee, lunches, tours, etc. 4) When someone’s officially on board, other board members should reach out. Even if there’s a “board buddy” or mentor program, they should let the new member experience what a friendly organization you have. You don’t want diligently recruited and worthwhile board members to feel disconnected.

What’s in a name? Everything. According to Grace, the board development committee is the most important committee on the board because it determines the vitality of the board, scope of talent and future of the organization. Furthermore, Grace recommends calling this committee “board development” rather than “nominating” because the proper fulfillment of duties extends far beyond nominating names. It includes preparing a policy plan and procedure for recruitment, soliciting potential candidates from fellow board members, preparing a slate and enlisting those elected, running board orientation, shepherding new and flailing board members, and spearheading the board evaluation process.

See also:

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

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How to write a perfect donor thank you: a template and example

My favorite nonprofit, A Wider Circle, sent me a thank you letter this weekend. It started with the following quotation:

I truly appreciate everything you have given my family. The household items aside, it’s the hope, the faith, the trust, and the reassurance that kind, caring and loving people still do exist. I used to be the one that donated the clothes, the canned goods, and volunteered my time. But here I was having to rely on the same from others. It’s going to be a struggle for a while but we’re keeping our faith and staying strong.

It was from Raeleen, mother of two, whose home was fully furnished by A Wider Circle.

This has all the hallmarks of a wonderful acknowledgement: It’s heartfelt, it’s original, it’s emotional and it’s tangible. And better yet, it’s got the right messenger.

The inclusion of the words of someone helped by my donation is powerful, authentic and moving. Not to mention relatable. How many of us have had moments where we are reluctant to ask for help and understand the vulnerability that accepting it entails? I not only understand the difference I made, I think I understand something of the person I helped.

I hope this inspires you, because there is no greater gift to donors than stories of how they helped.

And if you’re stuck, here’s my template for a great thank you.

Dear _________________ (use donors’ names, spelled correctly)

First: Don’t start with the typical, “Thank you for your donation!” Start with a vivid image or mini story of what the donor made possible, like the example in this post.

Second: Say thank you and give the donors credit for the impact of the donation and/or the specific program(s) supported.

Third: Express gratitude for the specific gift amount, noting the date and including any language on tax deductibility.

Fourth: Tell the donors when and how you’ll be in touch to let them know more about what their gifts are accomplishing. Include contact information–your email, phone and website–so you can stay in touch or reach out.

Closing: Thank the donors again and sign a real person’s name. If this is a mailed letter, include a P.S. with a nice added detail about a resource where they can find out more about the difference you are making because of their gift.

This article was originally posted at Katya’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog on March 22, 2012.

See also:

Robin Hood Marketing

How to Write Fundraising Materials That Raise More Money

Relationship Fundraising

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