Archive for October, 2012

What grade does your board earn in fundraising?

More than 73 percent of the United States’ charitable giving in 2010 came from individuals, according to Giving USA 2011. When coupled with BoardSource’s report that asserts fundraising is the area most in need of improvement, nonprofit leaders can’t afford to ignore this challenge any longer.

In fact, when nonprofit CEOs were asked by BoardSource to rate board performance on a report card, fundraising received the lowest grade, a D+, and only a C+ when board members rated themselves. Fundraising Guide author, Julia Walker, acknowledges a board’s capacity to raise funding doesn’t change overnight, she does demonstrate it’s absolutely possible over time.

Having personally gone through the board fundraising experience as board chair and board member, I was impressed by Walker’s thorough approach in her book. Chock full of interesting facts, real-world anecdotes and useful tables for planning purposes, Walker’s book doesn’t leave you guessing.

I’ll excerpt one of her sidebars today because it’s a good reminder about motivation. If you want to get better grades on board fundraising, consider first how to make the grade on reasons for giving.

“When asked about their chartable behavior, high-net-worth households reported that their top motivations for giving were:

• Being moved by how their gift can make a difference (72%).
• Feeling financially secure (71%).
• Giving to an organization that will use their donation efficiently (71%).
• Supporting the same causes or organizations annually (66%).”

This information was quoted from the AFP wire report on the 2010 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy and was conducted by Bank of America and Merrill Lynch in partnership with the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University. The study focused on 800 high-net-worth households. Respondents’ household incomes were greater than $200,000; net assets were at least $1 million; and the average household wealth was $10.7 million excluding the value of their residences. Over 98 percent donated to charitable causes.

Think about what your supporting materials say to emphasize making a difference, spending efficiently and promoting financial security of your donors. Furthermore, consider how you’re training your board members to induce these feelings in their personal asks.

Watch for more highlights from Julia Walker’s book next week at our Page to Practice™ blog. If you can’t wait that long, purchase her book at or download our Page to Practice™ summary and author interview by joining CausePlanet or visiting our summary store.

See more about boards and fundraising

Photo credit: ACCCBuzz

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Create happiness in your organization through failure, change and culture

Meet with funders, manage staff, create strong, connected relationships with board members and now you want me to embrace happiness at work? Yes, because we have it backwards. According to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, happiness is the precursor to success and essential to productivity.

This is contrary to conventional thinking, but Achor’s extensive research has proven it to be true under no uncertain terms. It is too difficult for unhappy employees to find motivation within themselves that doesn’t exist. So, who has greater potential for the happiness advantage than the nonprofit sector? We are under-resourced and overextended yet have the constant presence of a higher calling from which we can draw happiness.

Developing happiness at work

The CausePlanet team invited me to weigh in on the Page to Practicebook summary of Achor’s book, which gives some compelling rationale and practices for developing the ability to be happy. The author provides data supporting ways individuals can acquire happiness at work. Individuals taking on these habits is part of the equation, while the other part involves workplaces creating happiness practices. As Shawn Achor suggests, organizations have a role to play, especially human resource departments and managers.

Since the early 1990s research and writing on positive psychology has emerged. The idea behind this theory is that like leadership, happiness can be developed. Nonprofit organizations, even as overtaxed as the industry is, can implement approaches that help develop organizational happiness.

Learning from failures and risk taking

One of the practices suggested by Achor is to learn from failures. Human resource practices that encourage risk taking are key to not only endorsing failures, but also reinforcing good things can come from them. In one nonprofit organization, clients served were also those who received government funding. One day a compassionate receptionist suggested maybe some clients could afford to pay some amount, and the organization should strive to increase the client base. There was hesitation among the board and senior leadership that perhaps there weren’t enough staff and other resources to accommodate this idea, but a pilot plan was implemented and now the organization is funded with private pay clients who contribute 30% of the revenue generated. See an excellent related article featuring Jason Saul on tapping often undiscovered donors called “Point of Impact” by Paul Lagasse in Advancing Philanthropy. Also see the Page to Practicebook summary of Saul’s book The End of Fundraising: Raise More Money by Selling your Impact. Organizations that have some methods to encourage ideas and processes for implementing those ideas support the movement toward happiness by giving employees the chance to create and strive.

Change management

Change management is another area human resources can tap to create an environment of happiness. Change management involves creating communication systems that explain the reasons for change as well as recognizing change affects employees in very different ways. Employee sessions to discuss the change and the expected benefits of change can help staff feel more in control of their tasks. Achor suggests creative recognition approaches are part of the happiness culture. One nonprofit organization built in milestones on a large technology conversion. Those milestones meant taking the time to stop and communicate where in the conversion process they were and to give recognition to the staff member who had adapted the new technology in the most creative way.


Human resources is usually the gatekeeper of culture. Creating culture that encourages happiness practices can be found in the many nonprofits that are actively supporting wellness programs. One nonprofit committed to a Wednesday walk that invited everyone to walk, rain or shine, a couple of miles at lunch. Over the last several years, the walk has become a tradition among staff and a casual forum for bouncing ideas off colleagues or talking about issues outside the confines of the work walls. Another organization has a certified yoga teacher on staff. That staff member leads her coworkers in twice-weekly yoga classes.

Shawn Achor suggests we don’t become happy when we are successful, but happiness is the step toward success. Likewise, none of these suggested human resource activities are end goals: they’re just stops along the way to celebrate our work and the contributions those in the sector make each day.

See also:

Fired Up or Burned Out

Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide

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Every board member has a place at the fundraising table

Raising more money in an extremely competitive environment means tapping every resource you have, beginning with your board members.

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members is the most comprehensive guide for best practices in fundraising and the involvement of board members we’ve recommended to date. Author Julia Walker covers all levels of fundraising, real world examples, tips and techniques for the browser and the engagement of board members throughout the giving cycle.

Walker takes the “give or get” mantra and replaces it with a description of a more active and productive role board members can play in achieving modest or lofty development goals. This book aims to help you transform your passive board into a lively cadre of volunteers who’re ready to cultivate and close all kinds of gifts.

Four compelling reasons why a board must take an active leadership role in fundraising include:

The board holds fiduciary responsibility for resources to fuel the mission, which involves transparency, accountability and no conflicts of interest.

The board oversees all fundraising programs and opportunities. It approves all projects and assures all fundraising is ethical and money goes toward the mission.

The board sets the pace through its own giving.

The board sets the tone for the community’s view of the nonprofit.

Even with advancement staff to provide structure, expertise and support, the board needs to lead and inspire with fundraising. To achieve maximum fundraising performance and avoid burnout, every board member must be involved in some capacity.

The leadership in the organization needs to implement the following to ensure all board members will be involved:

Recruit diverse members with fundraising experience or connections to donors.

Write a job description that includes fundraising for new board members.

Recruit in a manner where expectations are clear and not perceived as orders.

Provide fundraising training for board members.

For an in-depth look at Walker’s book and an author interview, download the full Page to Practice™ summary by visiting our store or subscribing to the library. You can purchase the book at and view Walker’s other books on fundraising.


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Lifelong giving begins in the 30s

I just had the pleasure of co-hosting our latest virtual book club, Management Cafe, and wanted to remind you of three take-aways that came up in our conversation about working with the next generation. Author Emily Davis and her book, “Fundraising and the Next Generation” was featured. Emily reminded everyone on the call that:

Lifelong giving begins in the 30s. Because Gen Y or Millennials view volunteering as an additional form of philanthropy, this is a great entry point for organizations. Consider how you’ll engage your 20- and 30-somethings now so you have them connected to your cause throughout their lifetime. If you don’t have services that naturally translate to volunteer work, recruit a committee of Millennials plan a social event in support of your cause and build from there.

Nonprofits make the mistake of launching their presence on social media channels as a way of connecting with the younger set and calling it good. While social media is a natural tool to consider for engaging Gen Y or Milliennials, Davis reminds us that social media is a tool, not the tool. Be sure to blend your social media activity with other forms of communication and engagement.

This is the first time we’ve had all four generations in the nonprofit space (Traditionalists, Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y). Look around your office and consider who you have in-house to offer feedback about what each generation prefers with supporting causes they care about. When creating your plan, remember Traditionalists, for example, prefer a well-written letter while Boomers were influenced by the onset of television.

Read more about Emily’s fundraising recommendations in her book by visiting or downloading our Page to Practice summary at the store or through a subscription. If you’re interested in learning more about Management Cafe, visit the Nonprofit Cultivation Center.

See also:

More articles about generational issues and nonprofits

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Maximize your business planning with “repeatability”

Every once in a while the planets align. And when they do, it’s exciting to share about it. Two books we’ve recently added to our library of recommended titles reinforce one another and make a strong case for 1) purposeful business planning and 2) keeping it simple by adhering to three principles.

We recently featured The Nonprofit Business Plan: A Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model. This book does a tremendous job of differentiating strategic planning from business planning and justifies why the two work in tandem to provide your board and executive director with more certainty in, well, an uncertain world.

I had the good fortune of landing one of the coauthors, Heather Gowdy, for a live and in-person interview at the LANO (Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations) annual conference in Baton Rouge this week. The interview was met with a great deal of questions and input—many thanks to those of you who participated.

Consider the merits of The Nonprofit Business Plan while I introduce you to our newest feature at CausePlanet: Repeatability by bestselling business authors Chris Zook and James Allen. This book was recommended to me by one of our readers (we always welcome requests) and its applications in the nonprofit sector are undeniable. The premise? Complexity is the silent killer of innovation.  If you adhere to three simple principles, your nonprofit can be more nimble and responsive to approaching opportunities without succumbing to protracted process or limited information.

Adhering to your well-differentiated core, clear nonnegotiables and closed-loop learning allow your organization to adapt to constant change from a source of stability. Your consistent bond with these key principles becomes your rudder as waves of opportunities present themselves or the changing environment demands a fitting response. If you worry about mission drift or charting unfruitful territory, consider how repeatable your business model is.

For those of you new to CausePlanet, we aim to satisfy professional curiosity, inform better book choices and promote best practices through Page to Practice™ book summaries, author interviews and relevant discussion by peer contributors. Download these book summaries or other titles by visiting our summary store or subscribing to summary library. Or try us out by printing a free sample.

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