Plan for a Great Year-end Now

There are many different ways to raise money for the great causes in our communities. Getting your hardware store to have customers round-up, special events, mailings, selling cookies, and many, many more! In my career as an Executive Director and in the work I do now as a Consultant, I’ve always been much more passionate about the relationship side of fundraising than the transactional side. 

When we get nameless, faceless individuals to give us money on impulse or out of feelings of obligation or guilt, we are essentially making a transaction. It’s usually a one-time deal, and we never see the person again. There is nothing at all wrong with this. Many organizations are able to raise significant funds in this way. It’s just that I don’t get excited about it. 

The aspect of fundraising that motivates me is connecting people to causes that they care deeply about. To me, helping people to consider ways that they can make our communities stronger and healthier is what the nonprofit sector is all about. It involves drawing out empathy and compassion, then facilitating opportunities to direct those emotions into action and impact. This starts with developing relationships and your Board of Directors is a great place to begin laying the foundation of relationship-based development. 

At the end of the year, many organizations focus a great deal of energy on tasks that drive transactional giving. This is totally understandable – there are budgets to meet and year-end generosity and tax advantages to capitalize on. However, I want to spend this article giving you five strategies that you can put in place now (or over the next few months) that will help you sail into Q4 with confidence. 

Strategy #1 – Evaluate your Board of Directors

Is your board engaged? Do they care about the critical social issue you are addressing? Do they joyfully give their time, talent and treasure to advance the work you are doing to make your community a better place? Your board should be made up of your most enthusiastic and dedicated donors and volunteers. If they are not, it’s likely time for a shakedown. Imagine the year-end potential if you have a dozen raving fans out in the community sharing the importance of the work you do! 

Strategy #2 – Educate your Board of Directors 

Many people join boards because they care about the issue and advancing the solution, but they don’t know how to help. If they are not given direction, they often become disengaged, or they focus their energy in ways that are not helpful to the organization. Staff are already more than busy, and do not have time to download the massive amount of knowledge they have accumulated while working in the industry. 

So how do you bring volunteers up to speed so they can be actively involved in advancing the work? Give homework. Here are a few ideas that can help your volunteers understand your cause better. 

    • Assign research on the history or root cause of the issue your agency addresses. What are the underlying issues that many people don’t understand? 
    • Assign interviews with other agencies tackling different aspects of the issue. How do the different agencies work together? What other opportunities exist for tackling the problem? Why should we or should we not expand to address the issue in different ways? 
    • Assign interviews with constituents to help understand the impact of the issue. What do we think we know, but we really don’t? 
    • If possible, send them through an experience that helps them understand the work better. Poverty simulations, accessing services as a potential constituent, participating in programs, serving as a front-line volunteer, and more can give volunteers a deeper understanding of the cause. 

Have volunteers do their homework, then present it to the full board during a regular meeting. Them doing the research is going to make the learning more impactful, and they will likely come away with significantly different learnings than if staff had just told them what they know. 

Board members with a strong understanding of the problem and the unique way their organization is addressing the problem, are excited about sharing your amazing work and engaging other people in the solution. 

Strategy #3 – Engage your Board of Directors

Boards that come together every month or so just to hear about operations, are totally missing the point. Board and committee meetings should be centered on the work that the volunteers are doing to advance the cause. A planning or strategic retreat early in the fiscal year can help clarify the work that they need to be doing. If your agency is new to engaging your governance volunteers in appropriate work, here are a few ideas that can come out of intentionally planning their focus:

    • Expand upon the education homework to deepen understanding
    • Debate the merits of expanding or staying narrowly focused
    • Identify marketing opportunities for participants or donors
    • Discuss ways to deepen relationships with potential participants or donors 
    • Consider the strategies of other industries and how they may inform your work
    • Compare funding streams with those of other agencies and discuss
    • Identify XX prospects who should be friends of your organization and strategize how to establish and strengthen those relationships
    • Create policies to ensure long-term success
    • Plan for change, challenges and growth

These are just a few ideas, and of course – they will totally depend on the work and stage of your organization. The idea is to strengthen your board, their understanding and commitment to your work. As a result, you multiply the number of voices you have in your community sharing your stories. 

Strategy #4 – Tell different kinds of stories

Different brains work differently. There are a myriad of personality tests out there to prove it. So if you are only telling one kind of story, you are likely only connecting with one type of brain. Very generally speaking, these four different types of stories will appeal to four different types of potential friends of your organization:

    • Empathetic – these folks want to hear the stories about the people impacted by the problem and how you are helping them
    • Analytic – tell them about the numbers of people affected, financial burdens created by the problem, money saved by your solution, etc
    • Big Picture – give them the vision of how the world will be a better place because of your work
    • Process – this group wants to understand the problem and the way that you are fixing it

Oftentimes we just tell stories that pull at the heartstrings. Those are important stories, but for some people that’s just white noise. By telling different types of stories, you will pique the interest of more people and more potential year-end givers. When you educated your board on the different kinds of stories that can be told, you help them grow, and they become better story tellers for you. 

Strategy #5 – Capture and Communicate

I’ve talked before about the idea of friend-raising. This involves connecting people to your organization so that they care and hopefully want to volunteer, donate, spread the word, or engage in some other way. To friend-raise, you need to get out and talk to people about the work you are doing. Go to Rotary Clubs and networking groups and farmers markets. Seize every opportunity to tell your stories. This is how you spread awareness and find more potential “friends” of your organization.

If you are not already doing this, establish a system for capturing anyone who has potential to be a friend. In addition to name and contact information, collect how they connected to the organization, who would be a good person to follow-up, and rank whether they are a casual friend, a connected friend, or a committed friend. This can be a sophisticated CRM or an excel spreadsheet. 

When you (staff or volunteers) are out in the community speaking about your agency, note the people who ask the extra questions. Or the ones who have a personal story to tell you. Or the ones who stick around afterwards to talk more about the issue. These are perfect people to add to your list. 

Once you have a list, follow-up with them multiple times throughout the year. Send pictures from events, updates on impact, information about upcoming engagement opportunities, success stories, and more. Set a goal of connecting with organizational friends X times throughout the year. The purpose of the communications should be to deepen the relationship (they can include a “soft ask” if it feels appropriate). The bigger goal is to give them reasons why they want to donate during your year-end efforts. 

There you go! Five things that you (staff and volunteer leadership) can do now or throughout the year, to help make Q4 successful, fun and prosperous for your organization. 

I help organizations to create the volunteer leadership they need to advance their work and help make our world a better place. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, or schedule a Discovery Call if you would like to discuss ways to strengthen your Board of Directors and the work of your agency.

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors, and helper of nonprofit leaders.
kim@athena-coco.com

Where Do I Find Good Board Members?

This is BY FAR the most frequently asked question that I get. As if I have some secret lair where all the good governance volunteers hide. That question is followed closely by “How do I get my board members engaged?” and “What do I do with these people?” All of these questions are related. 

The fact is that someone who could be an amazing board member for one agency could be dismal for another organization. The needs of every single agency and every single Board of Directors is different. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to finding board members. 

Some of the factors to consider when you think about the kind of volunteers you need for your board include:

  • Organizational duration
  • Organizational size
  • Future vision and plans
  • Specialized expertise required
  • Mission, cause and values

There are probably more, but let’s start by looking at these factors. 

Organizational Duration

 A young organization is going to have different needs than one that is established and has longevity. Newer organizations are often still figuring things out. They are in “build-mode,” where they might be working on crafting their mission, vision and values. If they have that stuff figured out, they might have moved on to developing policies and procedures or establishing fundraising strategies. 

A newer agency will need volunteers who are comfortable with ambiguity and working on figuring things out. Someone who likes to have all their ducks in a row would not necessarily be a good fit for a young nonprofit. On the other hand, that person may thrive with a more established organization looking for stability and unfaltering leadership. 

Organizational size

Smaller nonprofits tend to be local – addressing issues in their community. These agencies are probably looking to attract volunteers in that community, who have the expertise of understanding the environment, and passion for fixing critical social issues. 

92% of nonprofits have budgets under $1 million a year and 88% are under $500,000. The level of financial expertise and strategizing required to lead one of these organizations is not going to be as significant as what is required to lead a $20M agency. Thus making smaller nonprofits great places for “beginner board members” to learn the ropes of serving as a governance volunteer. 

Larger agencies are likely going to need volunteers who know the ropes when it comes to serving on a board. They may require specialized expertise, significant relationships, regional representation, and more. If an organization serves the entire country, they may be looking for volunteers from all over to represent different parts of their constituency. 

Future Vision & Plans 

Agencies focused on remaining small and local will have different needs than those looking to go nationwide or worldwide. Similarly, those that want to stay narrowly focused on one strategy will differ from those looking to attack an issue on several fronts. 

Any organization looking to make big changes will need to consider the kind of expertise and leadership that they will need. If building a facility is in the plan, realtors, architects, contractors and developers may be good prospects. Significant expansion could cause an agency to look for volunteers who have grown other businesses. And when a nonprofit is committed to going deep in one area, they might want to find someone who is a subject matter expert in that specific solution. 

Specialized Expertise 

As stated before, the vast majority of nonprofits are small businesses addressing local social issues. In many of these cases, all that is needed is a passion for making the community a better place. However, some agencies have the need for specialized knowledge, expertise, or skills. For example, an agency addressing a local environmental issue will likely need some level of expertise helping to guide their work. 

Based on the work and goals of the nonprofit, they may decide that they need a financial expert to help make strategic decisions about their finances. Or a legal expert might be beneficial to their work. 

Having specialized needs does not automatically mean that the organization must recruit a volunteer with those skills to their board. Needs can be addressed by utilizing non-governance volunteers, contractors, or staff. The agency needs to decide what is the best way to acquire the specialized expertise required for responsible decision making. 

Mission, Cause & Values

I often tell nonprofit leaders that the most important quality in a board member is that they care about being part of the solution you provide. Everyone is busy, and if a volunteer doesn’t care, it’s easy for other things to get in the way of board meetings, events and service. 

Not only do they need to care about the issue you are addressing, but they need to align with your values and methodology. For example, if an agency is committed to getting rid of puppy mills, they likely attract a lot of dog lovers. However, if they do it through euthanizing, that is going to narrow the pool of potential volunteers who align with their strategies. 

Again, there are probably additional factors to consider that are unique to your organization. If you don’t know what you need, it’s going to be hard to find it. In marketing they call this finding your niche. It seems counter intuitive, but the more you narrow your focus on what you are looking for, the more likely you are to find it. 

When you put out a call for governance volunteers, and you say “we’re looking for anyone wanting to serve our organization” – you likely hear crickets. The more specific you can get, the better your chances of someone seeing themselves in the description of what you need. Or, they may think of another prospective volunteer based on your description. 

Every nonprofit is different and has unique needs and challenges. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, or schedule a Discovery Call if you would like to discuss your organization’s wants and needs for your Board of Directors. 

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors, and helper of nonprofit leaders.
kim@athena-coco.com