Archive for September, 2017

[Podcast] Your best sustainability safety net: Create a culture of leadership development

When most nonprofits consider succession planning, they view the board working episodically when it senses a looming change on the horizon. Author Tom Adams argues that rather than experience abrupt changes in sustainability, organizations can, instead, create a culture of continuity through leadership development. What does that mean? Listen to his sound bites below and find out.

CausePlanet: The statistic that 75 percent of nonprofit leaders plan to leave their positions coupled with the statistic that 71 percent of nonprofits don’t have a succession plan in place is staggering. If you could push the rewind button for a nonprofit when its CEO resigns, what preparations would you recommend they make as they head toward this change of leadership hands?

Tom AdamsLook at sustainability – 4 dimensions

CausePlanet: What’s the biggest elephant in the room when broaching the subject of succession planning with the board and current CEO?

Tom Adams: What is the elephant in the room?

CausePlanet: What’s the most common barrier to or misconception about succession planning that prevents nonprofits from engaging in the steps to begin a plan?

Tom Adams: There is a normal fear of misunderstanding–the executive feeling forced out or the board feeling the executive is concerned about confidence in her/him. So, it is easy to put off. The second barrier is a narrow understanding of the benefits. Succession planning ought to be more than a check-the-box completion of some boilerplate documents. It is a strategic process that advances mission effectiveness and the leader development culture. When seen more broadly, it is still hard to find time. With the CEO and board champions, it happens and the value becomes clear.

In this last sound bite, Adams shares two organizations that grappled with the anticipation of succession planning and made some important discoveries: Two examples from the nonprofit sector.

Learn more about The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide. 

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[Podcast] 4 strategies and 1 fundamental truth for standing out among other nonprofits

Differentiation is the one the best ways to set your organization apart from the rest. But how do we go about doing that in our donor communications when there are so many worthy causes?

Last week, we interviewed fundraising expert Jeff Brooks about four great strategies for differentiation and he also shared one important fundamental truth.

Listen here for his answer: Jeff Brooks on Differentiation

Brooks’ fundamental truth: “Donors don’t give because you’re great. They give because they are great.”

It’s tempting to talk about your organization’s accomplishments and what you’ve done with donations to prove yourself worthy but that’s not what donors want to hear. Instead, they’d like to know what they’ve accomplished by giving a donation to you.

Here are Brooks’ four strategies that back up this fundamental truth:

Donors are the heroes of their own stories.

The donor is a part of the action when helping a beneficiary. You communicate with your reader, instead of trying to impress him/her, and use the word “you.” Skip your creative writing techniques and write simply and casually. 

Donors get prompt, detailed, and frequent information on the impact of their giving.

Otherwise, there is a disconnect. To report back to your donors, you can either communicate through receipts or newsletters. Receipts are quick and provide information about what the gift accomplished, express gratitude, include a note from someone the donor knows, depict pictures if possible, and welcome the new donor if this is the first gift.

Newsletters should focus on donors and the impacts of their giving. To strengthen your newsletter, tell wonderful stories, write amazing headlines, write and design for skimmability and readability, ask for donations, and value all levels of donations.

Your writing should be informal, dramatic and readable, focusing on well-told feature stories with emotion. Other reports can include special progress reports about ongoing projects, invitations to phone conferences or webinars about the work, and phone calls to thank donors. 

Donors have control over how you communicate with them.

Let them choose the channels they want to use and opt out of the ones they don’t want. Ask them what topics they want to hear about and how often they want to hear from you. Let them leave your list if they want to. Send them questionnaires via mail and/or email to find answers to your questions. 

Donors receive extremely focused images.

Don’t get caught up in the “creative” vs. “old-fashioned” argument. This argument rarely considers effectiveness, and designs can use both. Avoid fonts that are creative but hard to read (use serif fonts for text, sans-serif for online text), reverse type, type over tints and colored type. Focus, instead, on readability, simplicity (not flashiness), cultural appropriateness and flexibility to vary your communications.

Finally, watch the following indicators, instead of just listening to advice, to see if you’re connecting with donors and they’re staying with you longer: campaign results (strong response, average gift and net revenue), donor retention, and donor migration (upgrading, donors increase their giving amounts and downgrading, donors decrease their giving amounts.)

Hear more from Jeff Brooks’ in our podcast about how nonprofit brands can work against you.

Learn more about books on this topic and our summaries.

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[Podcast] Commercial brands need not apply with nonprofit donors

Sometimes the best way to teach others how to do something is to show them what doesn’t work first. This rationale was at the root of our question about nonprofit branding for donor communications author Jeff Brooks last week.

Nonprofits often look to the business world for inspiration and branding is no exception. Unfortunately, the branding rules for business don’t apply in the social sector.

Brooks explains that commercial brands operate successfully in the abstract ideals of good and services while nonprofits need to show the problem in a realistic way. In short, show clear, emotional images that connect.

Six warning signs that your brand has gone astray are:

The new brand is not aimed at your donors.

The new brand requires you to abandon your donors to seek new, possibly fictitious ones, instead of expanding your base.

The work is not grounded in donor behavior (what donors do instead of what they say about your organization or understand in focus groups).

The new brand describes your cause in a symbolic way, instead of in a clear, realistic fashion to move donors to act.

The new brand requires absolute consistency, not leaving room for creativity or varying the messages for changing circumstances or relationships with donors.

The new brand is design—and little else.

Listen to Jeff Brooks’ live answer about why commercial branding doesn’t work for nonprofit organizations: Jeff Brooks on Branding

Remember, to counteract the six warning signs above, you must call your donors to action. Hear more from Jeff Brooks in our podcast about communication strategies that set your organization apart from the rest.

Learn more about books on this topic and our summaries.


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[Podcast] Avoid burnout by getting your people connected

I love it when the planets align. I was about to hold a podcast with Connection Culture author, Michael Stallard, when I read an article in Fast Company titled, “The Top Three Nonprofit Jobs of the Future.” One of those jobs is Chief Culture Officer. It’s been said that you have a culture whether you cultivate one or not. The question is, are you going to be a leader who carefully cultivates one or leaves it up to chance?

When I had my conversation with Stallard last week, I asked him why nonprofit CEOs need to prioritize culture. My guess was competitive advantage and quality of work life but, of course, he had a much more interesting answer.

Join me in listening to this answer and others about how to avoid burnout in your ranks, the signs of a healthy culture, examples of connected cultures and where to find more than 100 ways to connect employees:

CausePlanet: What are the benefits of a connection culture? In other words, why should a nonprofit CEO care if their people are connected to one another?

Benefits of a Connection Culture

CausePlanet: How can the ideas in your book be applied specifically to the issue of nonprofit burnout?

How Do CEOs Neutralize Burnout?

CausePlanet: How can nonprofit executives foster connection within their organizations?

What Elements Are Necessary for Connection?

Get a free copy of 100 Ways to Connect and Stallard’s “Connect to Thrive” email newsletter.

CausePlanet: Can you tell us about a connected culture you observed and appreciated?

Connection Culture Example

CausePlanet: Tell us more about the Connection Culture!

More About the Book

Learn more about Michael Stallard’s first book, Fired Up or Burned Out and our summary.

More titles and summaries in this genre:

The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide: Revealing the Hidden Truths that Impact Performance

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch: The Secret of Extraordinary Results Igniting the Passion Within

Winning with a Culture of Recognition

Image credits: ATD,

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