Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Missing You!

In January, I moved this blog to Wordpress, thinking that I would simply point to the blog's new home. What I didn't understand was I was on the OLD Blogger, and only the NEW Blogger points. So if you haven't followed me, please do...I miss you! Really. And hope that you have been missing the blog. It's easy.

Go to: http://www.toobusytofundraise.com

On the TOP RIGHT there is a link "Subscribe by email" -- this will enable you to continue to receive notice whenever a new post is added to the blog.

And if you have any questions, please email me at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Blog Location - Please Subscribe

Many of you have been following me on BLOGGER. I have just moved my blog to WordPress.

Please go to the Blog link at http://www.toobusytofundraise.com

On the TOP RIGHT there is a link "Subscribe by email" -- this will enable you to continue to receive notice whenever a new post is added to the blog.

The new blog contains all the previous postings from this blog - but it will be the blog that I am updating in the future.

I value your subscription and encourage you to subscribe again.

Janet Levine

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A New Year, a New Look

January 14, 2010 – if you are viewing this blog on BLOGGER / Blogspot.com please note that this has postings prior to January 14, 2010. The new blog on WordPress has both the old and newer postings. Please visit www.toobusytofundraise.com

Dear Readers, I am in the process of upgrading and redesigning Too Busy To Fundraise. It will have a new look. While I'm pretty sure this is not strictly necessary, it would be great if you could re-subscribe (or subscribe for the first time). I'd hate to lose any of you. As always, if you have any questions, contact me at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Business? As usual....

As we start on a new year, still smarting from scary economics and shaky financial futures, the old argument about why so many nonprofits are so poorly run is getting a lot of play.

“We need to be run more like businesses,” one camp asserts.

“Like Enron, GM, (fill in the blank)?” another group scoffs .

We are—are not—businesses, which are—are not—a good (or bad) model.

We are getting too hung up, I think, on nomenclature.

The question that is too often asked is: Why is it so hard for organizations to understand that they must be run as a business? Rather, I think, we should questions why is it so hard for them to understand that they must be well run with careful oversight and clarity as to what is needed to accomplish their mission? We would then get closer to the issue at hand for many (not all) nonprofits.

The biggest problem I see is a lack of balance in organizations who do not want to invest in building the infrastructure (which includes IT, Accounting and yes, Advancement—marketing, fundraising, government relations) to support the programs that are their purpose. And by investment I mean money, resources and commitment.

Too often, administration and fundraising are seen as orthogonal to the organization rather than as true partners who can ensure that the programs have a strong foundation on which to rest. And way too often, we look at our funders and donors as the enemy rather than our partners.

There is also, it seems, a willful “know-nothing” attitude rampant in the nonprofit sector.

Over the years, I’ve been shocked at how many nonprofit professionals don’t know the first thing about the law of gifts; have not clue what is required in order for a donor to take a (legitimate) tax deduction for a contribution, or even when it is a contribution. I have sat at way too many Board meetings, where the chair of the finance committee drones on about the financials, which no one else seems to understand.

I’m thrilled that Charity Navigator and other charity watchdog organizations are stepping back from a rating that focuses only on percentages of revenue spent on programs versus administration and fundraising. I’ve been around too long not to see that while turning on the lights may not be sexy, it is necessary in order that we can run our programs.

Clearly there needs to be a focus on outcomes but we also need to understand what those outcomes are. And that ties back to mission.

In this new year, whether you’ve already made your New Year’s Resolutions or not, let me suggest that we all focus less on how much good we think we do, and concentrate instead on how much better we all could be.

Whether you are staff or Board member, learn about the laws that govern your nonprofit. Commit to good governance as well as good programs; be part of the solution rather than simply cursing the problems.

One important way to do is to take off the blinders, open the doors to the silos and understand that, truly, we are all in this together. Plan strategically for the coming year (rather than simply doing yet another strategic plan).

Start with your clients—what do they need? Let me repeat that: What do they need? Then think about what the organization needs in order to provide that.

Sit down with staff and volunteers, find out what they think is needed. How does it mesh with the needs of your clients? Do all these needs match your mission? If not, why not? What would need to change here?

Your budget is an important part of planning strategically. Is yours realistic or did you just roll over what you’ve done in past years? Has your Board been truly involved with budgeting or have they been kept out of it, relegated to approving a fait accompli?

While I don’t believe that Boards should scrutinize every expenditure, I do think they cannot be good stewards for you if they don’t understand truly what it takes to run the organization. If your Board hasn’t been involved, involve them now—you may be surprised at some of the good ideas that can generate.

Budget, remember, is not only about expenses; it’s also about revenue. If you charge fees, when was the last time you looked at them? Really looked at them. Has your Board ever been part of that process? What about other sources of revenue? Are you tapping into everything you can?

All organizations (and individuals) sometimes suffer from the “this is the way we do things because that’s the way we’ve been doing them.” And sometimes, those ways actually are the best ways. But this year, challenge yourself to look at things through a new prism, mindful of history but not totally bound by it. Yes, those who don’t study the past are often doomed to repeat it. But by the same token, if you don’t ever dare to try something new, you may find that you are caught in past mistakes, missteps and are missing the boat completely.

Janet Levine is a consultant who focuses on increasing productivity for nonprofit organizations, their staff and volunteers. She can be reached at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Taking Stock

School was not a high point in my life. I was, so my teachers always told me, smart, but I didn’t apply myself. Not in the classroom, not in after school activities, certainly not in the homework I was supposed to but never quite get to.

It wasn’t that I was lazy, or even that I didn’t want to do it. Mainly it was that I didn’t know how.

Studying was a complete enigma to me. I’d read the material, think I understood it, and then do poorly on the tests. I did pay attention in class—sort of—but I was painfully shy and so unless I was called on, didn’t participate. My shyness (and for those who know me now and cannot connect Janet and shy in the same sentence—I have overcompensated) also prevented me from joining in after school activities. For starters, I didn’t get that one went after what one wanted; I thought you had to be invited. And, as a shy kid, I was rarely invited anywhere.

I can’t remember exactly what turned the tide for me. I do know that I was long out of college and working on my second or third career before I got any of it. But somewhere along the line, someone convinced me to look back at an experience or span of time, take stock of what happened, and think about how I could have made it all a better experience. Doing that helped me to move forward in getting where I wanted to go.

So, as we head toward the new year, you may want to think back on the past twelve months and consider what you might have done. But don’t get hooked on coulda’, shoulda’, woulda’s. If it’s really done, it’s done. Don’t obsess over what you can’t change. That’s my job. Yours is to think broadly about the work you are paid to do and to think about ways to be more productive, effective and efficient.

Since I write mostly about fundraising, let’s focus on that. If you have a development plan, pull it out—how well did you follow it? If you don’t have a plan, maybe this is the time to begin creating one.

Look seriously and critically at what you’ve been doing and ask yourself: Am I spending my time in the right places?

Do a quick assessment of your development program and your results. (If you want to go more deeply into this than the questions below, send me an email at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com for a self-assessment tool that will get you on the right track.)

Was all your time this year spent on one event? Or only on writing grants that, by the way, are getting harder and harder to get? Have you incorporated social networking into your annual giving program? Do you even have an annual giving program? Are you approaching individuals—the group that makes up the largest piece of that charitable giving pie?

As you evaluate what you’ve done, start thinking about how you will improve your performance in the coming year. What are the steps you need to take? How do you need to involve your staff, your colleagues, your Board? Do a reality check—do you have the resources to accomplish what you want to? Be honest here. Too often we wring our hands in despair bemoaning our lacks without thinking about what we do have and how we can maximize those assets.

With all this data, write down where you want to be next year at this time. Think about how much you need to raise. How much of that are you sure you can from tried and true methods? What are the new things you need to incorporate (and new can include additional hours spent as well as new methods)? And now—and here it is the real key to success—what is the first step you have to take to put yourself on the right road?

In detail, spell out what you are going to do in January. And make it a habit that each time you accomplish one of those steps, you write out what the next step will be. Then give yourself a deadline. Make yourself a promise: When you slip (and you will) or miss a deadline (and you will), don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are (a) bad and (b) blew it. Instead, simply set another step or deadline and try as hard as you can to keep to it.

And while you are taking stock, don’t forget to consider all the good things you accomplished. Give yourself (and your colleagues, staff and Board members) a pat on the back for a job well done. Most likely, you deserve it.

Janet Levine is a consultant who focuses on increasing productivity for nonprofit organizations, their staff and volunteers. She can be reached at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Communicate, Evaluate, and Keep Everyone in the Loop

Every so often I send an email to my sister with the subject line: The Whine Report. Then I proceed to bitch and moan about all that is rotten in my life and the world. One thing that would definitely get a headline in The Whine Report is the lack of ability many people seem to have with the word no.

As a friend once told a prospective employer, you won’t have to put me on a suicide watch if the answer is no. I just need closure so I can move forward. I know that feeling well.

It’s more than just saying no, of course. It’s the lack of communication about what is going on, what needs to be going on, and (back to that no) what isn’t going on that often drives me to think about drink.

It’s that sinking sensation you get when you are working on a project and your Board president informs you that something you didn’t even know about is moving forward rapidly and it directly contradicts what you are doing. Like the grant proposal to the funder who only takes one proposal—so why did we submit one for $5,000 when I am working on one for $200K?

Communication shouldn’t be that hard, and yet, somehow it is.

That was the thing I hated most about management. There seemed to be such a fine line between micromanaging and not having a clue what my staff was doing. With certain people, I never seemed to be able to get a good feedback loop going.

That was particularly difficult when that person was my administrative assistant—and that was too often the case. But that, I fear, was a personal problem.

More to the point, oftentimes I would find myself shaking my head and wondering what my staff was thinking as I found out they were spending time on something that wasn’t where we really wanted to go.

So much of that could have been avoided, if only they would have reported in to me what they were doing. But that seemed to be secret. Not with most of my staff—mostly we did communicate and keep things on track. But there was always someone, and sometimes a few someones, who didn’t think they needed to play on the team.

So maybe I was a bad manager. Or perhaps I didn’t communicate well enough. Certainly in my consulting I find weekly reports invaluable. Yes, they take time, but then I can feel sure that we are both—my client and I—heading in the same direction. And if we’re not, it becomes clear before we’ve gone too many miles and at that point, it is easy to correct.

And so, I have come to love metrics—measures by which we can evaluate progress. When carefully developed and used, these do increase success rates considerably. On the downside, too often these are merely sticks and that serves only to increase failure.

Metrics should not be something to fear. Nor should they be arbitrary. They should be a way to make sure that we are all headed in the same direction and that we all have the necessary tools to get there.

Creating a metric that says, “last year we raised $X. This year you must raise $X plus 10%” is a losing proposition. Unless you put that up as a target and work as a team to develop the strategies and tactics for getting there.

For example, you might note that last year in order to reach X, one–third of the Board introduced you to a new prospect. This year, you would work on ways to get the remainder of the Board to make some introductions. Or perhaps you could segment your database and find new people on whom to call.

As part of this, you could—really, you should—clearly define the purposes for which you are fundraising. I know, this is a hobbyhorse of mine, but I truly believe that if you can’t articulate your need, you can’t effectively raise funds. And even if you bring in gifts, you may not be raising the money you need.

As you head into the new year, why not try a new tactic. If you are the boss, be very clear about your expectations with each of your staff members. If you are staff, resolve to let your boss and your colleagues in on what you are doing. But don’t stop with staff—think about Board Relations.

The biggest complaint I hear from Board members as well as management of organizations is that the other is not doing their job. I suspect that in many cases, the problem is that the other doesn’t know what job they are supposed to be doing—or know the job but haven’t a clue how to do it.

Try this—have an open meeting and talk about roles and responsibilities. You may want to do this with both Board and staff—but not in the same meeting. You may want to bring in an outside facilitator, just to make sure that you are hearing each other. And from this, develop your metrics for the coming year.

Opening up lines of communication can be messy, but mainly it can give you an incredible insight as to what is really going on and a clearer vision of what you need to do to get where you want to go.

Janet Levine is a consultant who focuses on increasing productivity for nonprofit organizations, their staff and volunteers. She can be reached at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Running on Air

Remember Wile E. Coyote? He’s that character in the Roadrunner cartoons who is always running off the edge of the cliff. As long as he keeps his eye straight ahead, he seems to be able to run on air. But once he looks down, watch out.

A lot of nonprofits are like Wile E. As long as they don’t look too carefully at their financials, everything seems copacetic. They keep truckin’ on, not paying attention to the need to bring in more revenue, cut back on programs that have grown too large or extras that are really not necessary.

I once worked at an organization which had a serious structural deficit. But the CEO liked his food, which meant that every meeting we had—and there were lots of them—were catered events. So Monday morning staff meetings turned into full blown breakfasts. Mid-day gatherings had hors d’ouevers to die for. It cost the organization a ton of money we didn’t have. Worse, it impacted our mission negatively.

Most of the organizations I know aren’t doing that sort of thing, but they also aren’t taking care of business. In a survey just released by the Bridgespan Group, 93% of charity leaders said that their organizations were feeling the impact of the economic downturn. That’s up from 75% who were feeling the impact a year ago.

All indicators point to an even more difficult year in 2010 for the sector. Organizations that relied heavily on grants, are finding they are needing to look elsewhere for financial support. I get a lot of calls now from organizations looking to start an individual giving program.

But while individual giving makes up about 80% of the charitable pie, it takes a long time to build up a strong donor pool. I think it’s good that these organizations are looking to diversify, but I also want them to understand it probably won’t solve their current funding problems.

Nor, alas, will social networking. I know, we’ve all read about the huge increases in online giving and the wild success of this or that twitter/cellphone/facebook campaign. But to make any of those successful takes the same type of prospect pool needed to for any individual campaign and then getting those prospects to the site so they can make a gift. And that is often something smaller nonprofits just don’t have the juice to do. And yes, I know all about viral marketing, but unless you have a large number of “hosts”—i.e., people who are looking at what you want them to look at—there is no one to pass on the virus.

So okay, gloom and doom. What do we do? I think for starters, making sure you are covering your basics. Have you appropriately thanked every donor who made a gift of time or treasure this year? Even if yes, perhaps in the waning days of 2009 you should send a personal note to those who could make your new year a bit brighter.

What about those folks who have given in the past but haven’t made a gift this year? Perhaps they can’t, or don’t want to make a smaller gift. But if you contact them directly, odds are they will meet you part way. So if in the past I made $1,000 gift each year this year it may be only $100, but that’s a $100 you didn’t have before. More importantly, you will have touched a donor who will remain a donor.

This may also be the time to start thinking about how you can bring down your fundraising costs while increasing the value of making a gift to your donors. I don’t think it can be said often enough that fundraising is essentially about relationships.

I was thinking a lot about this the other day. One of my alma maters is in the midst of a year end phonathon. Students from the university call me—but I keep refusing to take the call. Why? They can’t get my name right. I don’t mind if they pronounce it Leveen or Levine, that seems to be a coastal thing, but I do care if they ask for Janice Levay or, as the person did last night, “Jane Lee—lee, er, is Jane there?” Not knowing my name is no way to solidify a relationship. I mean please. Read the name. If the pronunciation isn’t clear, ask! “Hi, may I speak to Janet…and I apologize, I’m not sure how to pronounce the last name,” shows that you at least care.

Beyond knowing my name, think about what your donors really want. Don’t know? Well, heck, ask them. And what a wonderful way to connect with prospects. While you are asking, don’t forget about your Board. Ask them what they want, and then ask them to ask their contacts what would make them happy donors. Your Board may not want to ask for a gift, but they may be very willing to broach this subject with their friends.

Speaking of Boards, how about an end-of-the year meeting asking every Board member to come with a revenue generating idea that will not stretch the limits of your financial or other resources? Make it a brainstorming session, with the understanding that brainstorming means no idea is dumb and everything should be brought to the table.

Think outside of your normal constituencies. Who are the people you haven’t been targeting? Why? What might be a way to get them interested in what you do? Who are the folks who are already interested but you’ve not asked them to support you for one reason or another—often because they “are poor” or because “they already give so much of their time.” Think about those issues differently.

When I first got into sales, a very successful salesperson told me that I should understand that I wasn’t selling something to someone but, rather, giving that person an opportunity to get what he or she wanted or needed. That is even more true when we are talking about fundraising.

Instead of focusing on why people won’t be giving this year or next, consider what opportunities you can offer. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com. Her online grantwriting class is available at www.janetlevineconsulting.com/classes.html.