Archive for June, 2014

Make a home for root cause analysis in your fundraising

There’s an exercise many of us are familiar with called root cause analysis. However, where we’re most likely to see this method used is on the programming side of nonprofit organizations. Performance management expert and nonprofit author, Ellen Bristol, argues that root-cause analyses are supremely useful in the fundraising arena—specifically with an approach called “Plan, Do, Check, Act.”

Bristol asks an important question: How do you know where your fundraising system is breaking down when you’re not reaching your targets? She states that according to Robin Tyndhall, a contributor to, continuous improvement involves 1) meeting or exceeding the needs of external and internal customers, 2) looking at process problems that usually drive most business problems, 3) involving employees, and 4) using good data to drive good decision making.

To address these factors and use the data to find places needing improvement, the author suggests the combination of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle and root-cause analysis.

Root-cause analysis

Root-cause analysis provides systematic methods to complete PDCA: Plan for your goals; Do the plan; Check the results by comparing them to the original plan; and modify the plan (take Action or take no Action). In continuous improvement, you are trying to identify undesirable results, justify improvement initiatives, implement improvement plans and reevaluate to see if the improvement produced the desired results.

Start with a problem statement to move away from blame

Root-cause analysis tries to discover the earliest point where productivity is lost. First, you need to write a specific problem statement that arises from the data, such as “Improve conversion ratio from Move Four to Move Five from 5:1 to 3:1.” In other words, if you’re using a Moves Management fundraising system, this problem statement means one out of every five prospects that come into Move Four has proceeded to Move 5. Your organization wants to change that to one in three. As you can see, this problem statement removes blame and focuses on improvement. The wrong problem statement sounds like “How come Stacy isn’t getting more prospects past Move 4?”

Three considerations for gathering input on root cause

To find the root cause, Bristol provides three categories of input in fundraising. Each category contains three or four subcategories. (See below.) Going through each subcategory and category methodically to identify the root cause can be done in review meetings to glean more input from everyone. Then, the group can decide on changes and who is accountable for the changes.

Below are the input categories and subcategories. Bristol provides helpful questions/observations in each to assess if this area is your problem. Sample questions are given for each.

1. Fundraising skills and behaviors:

Scorecard accuracy and application: Have we scorecarded each prospect we added to the pipeline? Is our Scorecard accurate or does it need some revisions?

Questioning skills: Did we rely on the suggested probing questions (what the donors want to achieve and avoid with their money and their choice of charity) to find the desired answers to our Scorecard statements? Do we need to revise the questions?

Adherence to the Donor Moves process: Did we move the targeted number of gift opportunities to the next Donor Move? Why or why not? Did we update the data regularly?

Level of execution: Did we track all major opportunities through the Donor Moves process? Did we set our targets or conversion rates at the right level?

2. Operational considerations:

Technology: Has everyone been trained on the constituent relationship management (CRM) platform? Do you have IT support and up-to-date, useful technology?

Unclear lines of authority: Do you know to whom you report? Are your performance targets clear? Do you have silos in your organization that make coordination difficult?

Misaligned goals: Does the budget allow for new initiatives you have planned? Does your fundraising department focus on donor acquisition and retention for growth?

3. External market conditions:

Local market conditions: To what extent do local-market conditions affect our fundraising results?

State-, provincial-, or regional-market conditions: If we discovered some negative pressures in the regional market, what should we do to respond?

National-, international-, or global-market conditions: To what extent do global conditions affect our fundraising results?

Try the Plan-Do-Check-Act and root cause analysis for your next fundraising review meeting. With Bristol’s guidelines, you can identify where the hiccups are in your cultivation process as well as keep meetings positive rather than blaming.

Bristol acknowledges that we as leaders can seek “better, more cost-effective and more innovative ways to achieve the mission and fulfill the vision. And that includes moving fundraising onto the same disciplined platform.” She adds, “I have always contended that acquiring income is the single most strategic function in any business, regardless of sector. Now that there are reliable ways to assess the effectiveness and efficiency—the productivity—of the fundraising function, let’s use them.”

Bristol offers a webinar to explore some of these specific performance strategies and methods for measuring what’s always felt like the “unmeasurable.” Learn more about her July 10 engagement for CausePlanet readers.

See also:


The Influential Fundraiser

It’s Not Just Who You Know

Seeing Through A Donor’s Eyes

Image credit:,,

Leave a reply

Do your gifts pass the tainted money quiz?

“A colleague once expressed a rule to use when considering whether a proposed decision or action meets the highest ethical standards. Ask if you would want your mother to read about it in the newspaper the next day. While there are no easy answers when questions arise about honesty and full disclosure, this approach might lead one to an ethical outcome,” says Janice Gow Pettey, editor of Ethical Fundraising: A Guide for Nonprofit Boards and Fundraisers.

Learn from others

Ethics has become a vital issue for nonprofits, especially in light of recent events last year when we learned that more than 1,000 nonprofits including organizations like Georgetown University, AARP, New York University, Legal Aid Bureau, Youth Service America, Columbia University and Alliance for Excellent Education reported to have experienced significant diversions from their bottom line due to lack of executive oversight. More specifically, these instances included embezzled funds, fraudulent payments, unsubstantiated spending, drained accounts and stolen funds acquired by fake identities.

With scrutiny of nonprofits from the government, the media and the public at an all-time high, it is critical that charities not only abide by the highest ethical standards, but that they also avoid any appearance of impropriety. Fundraising, in particular, is a discipline where these ethical standards can be upheld and honored. Ethical Fundraising discusses the importance of ethics to the fundraising profession and addresses the key issues that all nonprofit leaders, fundraisers and donors need to be aware of when confronted with ethical dilemmas.

Why should we care about ethics?

Nonprofits depend on public trust to survive. Without it, they can’t fundraise. Simply put, if people don’t believe that an organization will use their money appropriately, they won’t give. High-profile scandals in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors have made the public more wary of giving—and have caused nonprofit leaders to recognize that when others misbehave, all suffer the consequences. In this cautious environment, ethical behavior is critical. An organization’s reputation—including that of its leaders and staff—is its most valuable asset and its highest risk. Once that reputation has been sullied, it is difficult if not impossible to regain the trust and confidence of others.

It’s good business

According to Ethical Fundraising contributor Dianne Lister, there is a direct correlation between scandals affecting charities and the ability to maintain donor confidence and recruit and retain leadership volunteers. Clearly, aspiring to ethical standards isn’t just the right thing to do,  it makes good business sense.

There are a number of questions that fundraisers can ask to help clarify tainted-money issues:

Will taking the money from a donor provide short-term benefits to our clients but risk long-term damage to the reputation of our organization and decrease services to our clients in the long run?

If we turn down the money, what will be the short-term impact? What services will we not be able to offer?

What are the various ways in which accepting a potentially tainted gift can affect the organization?

Would the gift offend key stakeholders and damage long-term relationships with other donors? Would it have an impact on our ability to deliver services in which our clients would have confidence?

Tainted money

Now that you’ve taken the short quiz, let’s explore tainted money more closely. Tainted money refers to funds contributed to an organization that may raise questions of propriety among the organization’s constituents and stakeholders because of the source of funds or circumstances surrounding the contribution. The most obvious type of tainted money is illegal money, though it’s generally not the most common. Most cases of tainted money involve value conflicts and are less easily defined and more difficult to resolve. The values conflict is further complicated by the fact that money given by a particular donor to one organization might be considered tainted by that organization, but not if given to another.

This is one area where the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Code of Ethics provides solid guidance. The following are the AFP standards on how to handle issues of tainted money:

Standard No. 1: If fundraisers can clearly see that a gift conflicts directly with their organization’s mission or its values, their obligation is to turn it down. If they know that the contribution might do the organization harm, that it might have a negative impact on the reputation of the organization, it is their professional obligation not to solicit the gift, not to accept the gift on the organization’s behalf, and to counsel the organization not to accept the gift.

Standard No. 2: Fundraisers have an obligation to make certain that third-party organizations that are assigned to help carry out fiduciary responsibilities do not have values that conflict with their organization or have relationships with donors that could create conflicts that would be less apparent than if a gift were made directly to the organization.

Standard No. 3: This standard applies to conflicts of interest fundraisers have in relation to a gift that is being solicited or in other transactions that the organization is pursuing; for example, a potential contract with a relative. Situations in which the donor expects to influence the mission ofthe organization are conflicts of interest that create tainted-money issues. Fundraisers should counsel their organization and potential donors about the impact the gift may have on the reputation of the donor and the organization.

Standard No. 5: Gifts that are overvalued and for which a tax savings scheme is the primary motivation have the potential to violate the tax code and are tainted by the violation.

Standard No. 8: This standard deals directly with the fundraiser’s responsibility to provide donors with accurate and ethical advice. Fundraisers must make certain that they do not damage their organization’s reputation by creating the perception that they overvalue non-cash gifts or create legal issues by failing to report non-cash gifts as required by the IRS.

My hope is the principles I’ve touched on from Ethical Fundraising reinforce what you’re already doing. If not, I hope they compel you to set up your own internal policies for handling philanthropy. After all, it’s our duty to be informed and uphold the integrity of the social sector so that all organizations experience a climate more conducive to raising funds.

Janice Gow Pettey says it best: “The charge now becomes imperative. The task before us is to take responsibility, to construct a leadership role in the promulgation, and support the promotion of ethical work. The price to be paid, if no one will take the reins, is greater chaos, escalation in unethical practice, and the ultimate destruction of the third sector.”

See also:

Charity on Trial

Fundraising Series–Volume One: Selling Impact, Storytelling, Planned Gift Marketing and Legacy Gifts

Image credits:,,,

Leave a reply

Most board members fail without this quality: Find it in four steps.

“A positive attitude is essential. If you don’t think so wait until you encounter someone with a really bad one and then try to work together to achieve certain goals,” says Super Boards author, William R. Mott.

Many of us spend countless hours working with the boards that oversee our nonprofits. These trustees hold our nonprofit futures in their hands. Then why don’t we spend more time focusing on who are the best people  to sit at the board table? Bill Mott answers this question and many others with a fresh perspective on what makes a board exceptional in his latest book.

Great board recruitment is much like interviewing for paid leadership positions

One of the Super Boards chapters I appreciated in particular was Mott’s recommended interactions for recruitment—steps that many nonprofits seem to bypass in lieu of a single meeting with one board member. Recruiting a board member is much like interviewing someone for a paid leadership position in your organization. If selected, this board prospect will have a say in fulfilling your mission and influencing your strategic initiatives. It makes sense to give board recruitment the same attention paid positions receive. A thorough board interview process should entail getting to know the candidate in different contexts and through the eyes of key people on your staff.


Mott suggests these ways to “determine the compatibility of a prospect with the organization and staff”:

1) Invite the person to attend an event.

2) Seek the candidate’s assistance or input on a committee.

3) Invite the candidate to meet other board members, the CEO, and the development and marketing staff.

4) Offer a tour of the facilities.

All these efforts sound simple but ask yourself how many of your new board recruits have completed these four interactions before sidling up to your board table. When completed, these steps should avoid bringing in a board member that has no connection to the organization or one the organization does not know at all, both dangerous options.


While compatibility is essential to enlist successful board members, Mott addresses the importance of one quality that trumps the others: attitude. There is a quotation that says, “Attitude is like a price tag: it shows how valuable you are.” What price are we paying for bad attitudes on our boards? Conversely, how much (immeasurable) value do we gain by possessing great attitudes on our boards? In our CausePlanet interview, I asked Bill to elaborate on attitude and recruitment:

CausePlanet: You mention, “The key in having board members who exhibit a positive attitude is to recruit them.” What suggestions do you have for the board members who are the recruiters?

Mott: Perhaps the most important committee of any nonprofit board is the committee on trustees. This group is charged with recruiting, training, educating and evaluating the board. My experience is that a positive attitude trumps so many other traits. Someone who has a positive outlook is usually someone who will enjoy whatever he or she does–including serving on a governing board. When the committee on trustees is recruiting new board members, one of the character traits it should encourage is a positive attitude. Not someone who is necessarily just agreeable, but someone who recognizes the importance of being supportive and encouraging. This is the kind of leadership that inspires others to do their best by being their best.

Eighty-nine percent fail because of bad attitudes

If we return to the analogy that compares recruiting board members to hiring paid leadership positions, it’s not hard to find endorsements of Bill Mott’s emphasis on attitude. In fact, Mark Murphy, the author of Hiring for Attitude, is the founder and CEO of Leadership IQ, a top-rated provider of cutting-edge research and leadership training that has consulted more than 100,000 leaders from virtually every industry and half the Fortune 500.

According to a Forbes article, 89 percent of the time new hires fail because of attitudinal reasons and only 11 percent of the time due to skill. The Forbes article reports, “The attitudinal deficits that doomed these failed hires included a lack of coachability, low levels of emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament.” Using our analogy, we can logically apply these statistics to board “hires” and how attitude affects performance.

Where do we find great attitudes?

Additionally, when Murphy was asked by Forbes where companies are finding new hires with the right attitudes, he said, “Companies are not getting high performers from the usual sources. They’re hiring in, what we call, the ‘Underground Job Market.’ According to our latest research (outlined in Hiring for Attitude), companies are finding their best people through employee referrals and networking. They have started to realize that the high performers they already have fit the attitude they want and that these are the people they should be asking to help find more people just like them.”

Murphy’s description of the “underground job market” is a welcome signal to ask your current board members who already exhibit great compatibility and attitude who they might recommend as a winning board candidate. When you land these referrals from your pool of top-shelf board members, remember to apply Mott’s four recommended interactions so you can put the “organizational fit” to the test.

Watch for future installments about Super Boards by Bill Mott when we’ll discuss how to overcome some of the most damaging behaviors exhibited by board members.

See also:

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

Image credits:,,,

Leave a reply

Online surveys: Capture data beyond the vocal minority

Too often, marketing is a one-way street, an avenue for organizations to merely “talk at” their members and supporters. Smart marketers, heads of development and executive directors understand that it’s just as important to know what their constituencies are thinking about all the issues that impact their favorite causes. Ignoring constituent feedback, or only sporadically collecting input with no real plan or intent to put that feedback to use, is a risky proposition that can cause you to become disconnected from your most vital audiences and severely impact your organization’s mission.


Online surveys are an effective tool for gathering feedback from the widest range of your constituents, not just the most vocal minority. Spending time with volunteers, talking with members and connecting at events is a great way to stay connected. However, those casual conversations are too often seen as a replacement for understanding the thoughts and concerns of those you serve. An online survey program lets you accurately understand the point of view and opinions of every constituent who spares you the few minutes it takes to complete a survey. Additionally, the anonymous component of an online survey is a draw for many members to share feedback that they may not otherwise share.


Determine your focus


The first step in creating a successful survey program is to decide what you would like to learn from your members. A regular series of surveys can be a roadmap for your communications, but only if you know where to turn. Are you looking to expand your membership, get closer to your donors, increase donation or inspire more volunteers? A survey can help determine your direction. Some popular topics for regular surveys include:


Membership satisfaction

Donor loyalty

Membership needs assessment

Fundraising feedback

Post-event attendee satisfaction


    Once you’ve identified the main objective for your survey, the next step is to write your questions. Use the following list as a guide to help you craft your survey questions, and you’ll be well on your way to creating an effective survey that delivers results you can act on immediately.


    1. Write questions that are easy to understand and to the point. The goal is to write a question that your members can easily understand, without having to reread it. Use simple language and phrase the question as if you were talking to a friend.


    2. Reduce ambiguity. Avoid words and phrases that are left to the survey participant’s interpretation. Words like most, numerous, many, several, etc. mean different things to different people. You want to use words that are more commonly understood, such as almost all, a majority of, almost none and a few, to get better results.


    3. Limit the number of ranking options. When you ask your respondents to rank items in order of preference or importance, try not to surpass six items. Asking them to rank a long list can result in an abandoned survey. If your list is longer, think about breaking it into two questions to help ensure completed surveys.


    4. Avoid questions that could have two meanings. It’s easy to do this without realizing that you’re actually asking for one answer to more than one question. Here’s an example: “How much would you be willing to donate or spend on an auction item at an event?” This type of question is problematic because it asks the respondent to give one answer for two different questions. In this case, someone might be willing to spend more money on an auction item than a straight donation (or vice versa). By asking two different questions, you will get a much more accurate answer.


    5. Offer an “out” for questions that don’t apply. Some members can’t or won’t answer certain questions because they don’t have the experience or aren’t really sure how they want to respond. For these situations, you should offer a “Does not apply” or “Don’t know”

    option for them to select.


    6. Have some fun! Of course, the goal of your survey is to gain valuable information from your membership to better the actions of your organization. But your survey does not have to be all business. Include at least one question that will help you to understand the personalities and other interests of your membership. This, in turn, may help you determine future events or topics for your member communications. For example, consider asking what kind of social gathering members prefer – a wine tasting, art gallery reception or outdoor event, for example.


    Once you’ve completed the questions in your survey, match them against the list of best practices above and keep in mind your original reason for gathering feedback. Focus on the information you hope to gain from your members, and eliminate questions that don’t lead to answers supporting your main goals. It’s also worth it to have a colleague review your questions for tone and ease of reading, and let this person test the survey before sending it out to make sure it works properly.


    Once you begin receiving regular feedback from a broader segment of your constituency, you’ll begin to understand how you can best serve everyone, including those that care and matter but aren’t vocal enough to make their opinions known otherwise. Incorporating the feedback you receive into action will foster a sense of belonging in your members, increasing overall involvement and excitement in your organization.


    See also:


    Citizen Marketers: When People Are the Message

    Level Best: How Small and Grassroots Nonprofits Can Tackle Evaluation and Talk Results



    Image credits:,,

    Leave a reply

    Four ways to remove a board member

    Occasionally, a board member needs to be removed from the board. In some cases, a conflict of interest or unethical behavior may be grounds to remove an individual from the board. In other cases, the behavior of a board member may become so obstructive that the board is prevented from functioning effectively.

    The best boards often have strongly felt disagreements and heated arguments. Challenging groupthink and arguing for an unpopular viewpoint are not grounds for getting rid of a board member. But if a board member consistently disrupts meetings or is otherwise destructive and demoralizing, it may be appropriate to consider removing the individual from the board:


    Personal intervention


    One-to-one intervention by the board president or other board leadership is a less formal solution to managing problem board members. If a board member has failed to attend several meetings in a row, or has become an impediment to the board’s work, the board president can meet informally with the board member in question. The conversation can occur in person or on the telephone; the board president can specifically request a resignation. Examples:

    “I respect your strong opinion that we have made the wrong decision about moving the office. But we can’t continue debating the issue. If you don’t feel you can wholeheartedly help us try to make the decision a success, I’d like you to consider leaving the board.”

    “I suspect this is a time when it’s just not possible for you to get to the meetings and participate as fully as I’m sure you woud like. I’m wondering if it would be better if we released you from your board obligations . . . what would you think about my sending you an email confirming your resignation due to lack of time?”

    “I’m having a hard time managing board meetings with your frequent interruptions and I am worried about losing board members due to the kinds of criticisms you make of them in meetings. I think it would be best if you would take a break from the board . . . you could resign now, and later, when there’s a different board president, talk with him or her about your re-joining the board.”

    Leave of absence


    Make it possible for individuals to take a leave of absence from the board if they have health, work, or other reasons why they cannot participate fully during the current term. A board member can take, for instance, a 6-month “disability leave,” or a 3-month “busy with new job” leave.

    You can either keep the person on the board formally (but not expect them at meetings) or you can have them resign for purposes of determining a quorum. Either way the time on leave counts towards their board term; otherwise someone who takes a year’s leave can end up being on the board for much longer than is appropriate.

    Suggesting a leave of absence to a board member who is, for example, failing to do tasks he or she agreed to do, offers a gracious exit and allows the board to assign tasks elsewhere.


    Term limits


    Most boards (62%) establish not only board terms but also term limits, such as two-year terms with a limit of three consecutive terms. In such a situation, a board member cannot serve more than six consecutive years without a “break” from the board. After a year off the board, an individual can once again be elected to the board. Proponents feel that term limits provide a non-confrontational way to ease ineffective board members off the board. Opponents of term limits believe that, with proper board leadership, errant board members can be guided toward either improving their behavior or quietly resigning from the board. (The difficult part is ensuring “proper board leadership” over many years.) Whether or not you have term limits, place a person’s term right next to their name on the board roster; otherwise it’s too easy for everyone to forget how long they’ve been on the board or when their term ends. Example: Jack Moon (Term 2 ends January 2012)



    Your organizational by-laws should describe a process by which a board member can be removed by vote, if necessary. For example, in some organizations a board member can be removed by a two-thirds vote of the board at a regularly scheduled board meeting.

    If you do not have a way to vote out board members, add this now to the bylaws, not when there’s “a problem with a first and last name.”

    See also in Blue Avocado:


    See also:


    Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability


    This article is adapted from one in the Best of the Board Cafe, Second Edition, by Jan Masaoka.


    Image credits: wikihow, managementtrends, info.legalzoom


    Leave a reply

    Give yourself a new lease on language for branding

    “We believe that although what a brand is may be the same across sectors, what a brand can do for an organization and how best to manage brands differ between for-profit and nonprofit organizations,” explain Laidler-Kylander and Shepard Stenzel, coauthors of The Brand IDEA.

    This quotation captures the reason why the authors were compelled to write The Brand IDEA: Managing Nonprofit Brands with Integrity, Democracy and Affinity. “While there is a fair amount of literature related to brand and brand management, almost all of this has focused on for-profit brands. The lack of frameworks or guidelines specifically for nonprofit brands was part of the impetus for our original research, say Laidler-Kylander and Shepard Stenzel.

    Specifically, “IDEA” in the title stands for Integrity, Democracy and Affinity. “Our framework is based on what a number of cutting-edge nonprofit organizations are currently doing and it has resonated strongly with many people in the sector. During our interviews, we learned how the terms of Integrity, Democracy and Affinity gave people a new language to talk about brands and provided an “on-ramp” to a new way of managing brands,” add the coauthors.

    In our CausePlanet interview, we asked the authors about where most nonprofits fail when trying to manage their brands as well as how to navigate board meetings when it comes to branding.

    CausePlanet: Where do most nonprofits fail when trying to manage a brand effectively?

    Kylander and Stenzel: Many nonprofits fail from the outset because they do not grasp the importance of their brands in driving their missions and they fail to see the value of proactively managing their brands (Integrity). In nonprofits, the brand plays important roles both internally and externally in building cohesion and trust and generating capacity and impact. You have a brand whether you manage it or not. The first step is to view the brand as a strategic asset for implementing your mission. When individuals are stuck in the old paradigm where they see the brand only as a tool for fundraising or are skeptical about the role of the brand in nonprofits, they are not able to be effective in managing the brand to achieve the organization’s desired impact.

    CausePlanet: What rationale might you give a board that questions the resources (time, treasure or talent) necessary to manage a brand effectively?

    Kylander and Stenzel: Brand management is less about the use of financial resources and more about embracing a brand mindset throughout the organization. If you understand the brand as the embodiment of the mission, a strategic asset that enables you to increase your organization’s impact, then the brand and brand management become part of everyone’s job. Brand Democracy suggests that organizations do have to spend time and effort including all stakeholders in the articulation and communication of the brand, but the result is not only much greater organizational cohesion but also a greater number of brand ambassadors. Many individuals spoke to us about how their brand acted like a “north star” for the organization or “the lines in the road.” When you have an effective brand, it facilitates decision making and can help clarify what programs, partnerships and people best fit the organization. It also allows nonprofits to reduce the amount of control needed to manage the brand. Organizations that have invested time in building brand Integrity, Democracy and Affinity have been able to subsequently build capacity and increase their impact.

    In our live interview via webcast with Kylander and Stenzel, we found that every question our attendees had for the coauthors could be answered within the realm of Integrity, Democracy and Affinity (IDEA). The authors’ three concepts or acronym IDEA surrounding a nonprofit brand became a useful and easy-to-remember guideline for brand management. For example, below are sample questions related to each concept within the IDEA framework:

    The IDEA framework:

    I – Integrity:

    Does your brand align with your mission and core values?

    Does your brand identity (internal) align with your image (external)?

    DE – Democracy

    Do you engage all your stakeholders in defining and communicating your brand identity?

    A – Affinity

    Does your brand allow you to collaborate and extend your sphere of influence to maximize your impact?

    If you feel like you’re managing your brand through the lens of corporate standards, consider looking into The Brand IDEA; you’ll find the book speaks a mission-centered language and provides examples of high-impact nonprofits increasing their impact through customized and nonprofit-friendly IDEAs.


    See also:


    Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding

    Blue Ocean Strategy

    Image credits:,,,

    Leave a reply

    Today’s leaders must adopt better habits to achieve work-life balance

    As an executive director, consultant, board member, wife, friend or sister, I often felt there was never enough time in the day. When I felt pressed for time, the small voice in my head would spew negative self-talk about “not being organized enough, strategic enough or committed enough.” More recently, I learned a different perspective on time management and the lofty goal of feeling truly engaged in life and work, minus the exhaustion. I learned the issue is not really about time. We all have the same amount: 8,760 hours per year. No one has any more or less. It’s about our conscious or unconscious decisions, moment by moment, that determine the quality of life we have.

    Experts tell us to get eight hours of sleep a day – that equals 2,920 hours per year – a full one-third of all time available. I know some nonprofit colleagues of mine would say it’s a waste of time to sleep that much. Yet when we lack enough sleep, our immune system suffers and we learn that pushing our physical limits isn’t sustainable. Sleeping less may seem like it creates more time, but in the end, it doesn’t.

    This message isn’t about guilting you to get more sleep. It’s about you as a leader in your organization, your family or your community being as effective and joyful as possible. You have to make choices about how to spend those precious hours. Thoughtful investment of your time and energy is more important than ever because:

    There are fewer resources available to do the work, and “doing more with less” requires you to be smart and strategic.

    New research demonstrates how multitasking and overextending yourself negatively impacts your productivity and health.

    Generational trends show that today’s emerging leaders expect a greater work/life balance.

    But rather than focus on managing time, Tony Schwartz from The Energy Project identifies four core needs every leader should consider. When these four needs are met, you are fueled and inspired to bring more of yourself to life. These needs include:

    1.       Physical Health – achieved through nutrition, sleep, daytime renewal and exercise.

    2.    Emotional well-being – grows out of feeling appreciated and valued.

    3.      Mental clarity – ability to focus intensely, prioritize and think creatively.

    4.       Spiritual significance – comes from the feeling of serving a mission.

    Considering these core needs, what practices or rituals can you adopt that will help you feel more energized, focused, productive and peaceful? Here are some examples of simple habits you can adopt throughout the day:


    Upon waking, instead of thinking about your to do list, stretch your body, wiggling your toes, and think about what you are grateful for in your work and life.


    Get up from your desk and emails and go talk to a staff person with whom you don’t interact often. I developed this practice regularly as an executive director, but the first few times, my staff wasn’t quite sure why I just wanted to “chat.” Making those personal connections outside of task delegation helped build the bonds we needed for all the work coming down the road. I was sincere in wanting to know more about my staff and their work. It energized me to hear what they were doing on the ground with our clients.


    Take yourself out to lunch once a week. Get some fresh air, take a book or magazine that has great leadership or management information and give your mind a chance to think creatively.


    In parts of Europe, Latin America and other regions, a resting time is a normal cultural practice. Maybe a power nap of 10-15 minutes in a quiet place is just what you need to go into your Board meeting refreshed and focused.

    End of day

    Jot down three key results that make you proud of your accomplishments for the day. Maybe it is completing a report or following through on a difficult conversation with a peer. And before you forget, write down what the most important thing you need to do the next day is. It’s fresh in your mind now and you can focus on it first thing in the morning. Writing it down at the end of your day allows your mind to relax for a good night’s sleep.

    Find whatever motivates you to be conscious about how you spend your precious 8,760 hours. For me, it was being diagnosed with cancer and realizing that I had to make better choices about how I spent my time. Ask anyone who has endured a life-threatening illness or event how his/her experience has changed his/her perspective. Then ask what lessons you could apply to your own life.

    Our society, more than ever, needs everyone to function in that energized state, contributing and renewing him/herself. You can be a more effective leader and serve your mission and your clients when you consider a commitment to daily practices that reenergize you, bring you peace of mind and inspire a joie de vivre.

    See also:

    The Charismatic Organization: 8 Ways to Grow a Nonrpofit that Builds Buzz, Delights Donors, and Energizes Employees

    Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity

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


    Image credits:,,

    This article was originally posted at CausePlanet on 5/23/11.

    Leave a reply

    Lighthouse experiences fundraising “light bulb moment” thanks to Bristol’s model

    “I’m not as tired as I used to be!” is what executive director Elly du Pre of the Lighthouse of Broward County had to say when asked if the SMART Way™ fundraising approach was working for her. I had to chuckle when I read this the first time because if there’s any challenge that can bring on exhaustion, it’s funding your nonprofit budget.

    Thanks to Ellen Bristol, we’ve been exploring her new book Fundraising the SMART Way over the past few weeks. In particular, we discussed her Prospect Scorecard, the Leaky Bucket Assessment, Calculating Your Opportunity Risk Factor and other essential tools for maximizing your fundraising efforts. This week, we excerpted our interview with Bristol so you can share in Elly du Pre’s exuberance over her newfound success with board fundraising.

    CausePlanet: Would you tell us about a nonprofit you’ve observed that is using the SMART Way™ model effectively in its fundraising efforts? What does it appreciate most about the method?

    Ellen Bristol: One of our recent success stories is the Lighthouse of Broward County, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Its executive director, Elly du Pre, did a Leaky Bucket Assessment with us and then asked her entire board and staff to do the same. I then presented the entire team’s findings to the staff and board, which really helped the board, in particular, identify their collective need for improving the fundraising culture at the agency. It’s a relatively small agency at about $1.7 million in annual income with only one full-time development officer, a support person and Elly doing all the fundraising. Until it started its SMART Way™ project, the agency had struggled to make its annual budget and had gone through several development directors, none of whom had performed terribly well. The ED was convinced there were many more blind and low-vision people in her area needing services than the agency was able to support, but the money was simply not available.

    Elly did it the right way. First, she proved to the board there was a real need for improved productivity. The board immediately approved the investment. Elly and her team then developed their SMART Way™ Scorecards, opportunity-stage performance indicators, and success targets during an intensive workshop lasting a day and a half. They then began to implement the new approach, meeting with us once a week by webinar to put their new learning into place. First, they validated their Scorecard. Then they learned some new techniques for questioning their prospects, starting out with interviewing their board chair and other directors to gain confidence. By the way, they got lots of support and admiration from their board chair who was consistently enthusiastic about the new approach.

    Finally, the team began to document its progress using a simple Excel spreadsheet. At first, it aimed for very modest gifts of just $1,000 or more but soon realized it had earned the right to ask for considerably larger gifts. At that point, it began pursuing gifts worth $5,000 and more, a first for the organization. Soon, its pipeline of gift and grant opportunities showed more than twice as much potential as its stated fundraising target for the current fiscal year.

    One of the most exciting breakthroughs came when the fundraising team understood the idea that once a gift has converted from potential to actual–once it’s no longer on the forecast because the check has been received–the forecasted amount of that gift reverts back to ZERO. This simple insight led the team
    to recognize its first fundraising task is to keep the pipeline of potential activities at no less than twice as much as the total income it desires at the first day of the fiscal year.

    Now that the Lighthouse produces significantly more predictable and consistent income from fundraising, the team is beginning to raise its sights and consider taking on more aggressive fundraising targets. For me, the change in attitude has been as meaningful as the change in results. The board chair told me, “We’ve been asking for this for years, even though we couldn’t really say it the way we wanted to–and now the reports we get are even more insightful than we ever hoped.” When I asked Elly if the new approach was making a difference, she said, “Yes! And I’m not as tired as I used to be!”

    You can read the full interview in our Page to Practice™ summary of Fundraising the SMART Way. Additionally, CausePlanet subscribers can download Ellen Bristol’s webinar archive.

    See also:

    It’s Not Just Who You Know

    The Influential Fundraiser

    Fundraising with Businesses

    Image credits:,,, Ellen Bristol

    Leave a reply

    Welcome! Please provide your log-in information below.
    Forget your password?
    Enter your email or user name and your log-in information will be sent to the email on file.