Friday, May 22, 2009

For the Common Good

It’s a sign of growing old….older. Lamenting what youth is coming to and being very sure that the world, once they take over will fall apart. As if we’ve done such a good job.

In business, even the nonprofit business (or perhaps especially in the nonprofit world) issues of succession loom large. Once us boomers retire, who is going to take over? I mean, everyone (being us) knows that younger people (that’s they) just aren’t as noble, as involved, as committed. All they care about is texting and twittering. They don’t care about causes and helping others.

Wrong. Very wrong.

There’s a lot going on out there and social networking is actually doing a lot for good. Danny Moldovan, Director at Jobs for Change recently sent me an email, and I’m sure he won’t mind my quoting from it:

"Jobs for Change is a career service and marketplace for social change jobs that we’ve created in partnership with dozens of nonprofits, including Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, AmeriCorps Alums, Echoing Green, Network for Good, and Encore Careers. You can check it out at

"Our goal is to spark a nationwide movement toward careers in the common good – including nonprofit, government, and social enterprise jobs. We’re currently building a huge database of social change jobs with our partners and have just hired a team of career advisors who will be blogging every day to provide guidance on finding and developing a career in social change.

"We’re currently reaching out to likeminded bloggers and nonprofit leaders to help build momentum for the campaign and spread its vision. Would you be willing to sign a statement about the importance of mission-driven careers? You can see the “vision statement” at It would also be awesome if you might mention this on your blog."

I’ve always wanted to be awesome, so I’m mentioning it. But I’m also jazzed and, yes, awed. These guys are my kids age. Younger, actually. And they are doing amazing and wonderful things.

Amazing and wonderful because they are helping a whole group of people see what awesome really is: doing what needs to be done to make our world better.

No matter what your age, visit the site. If you are already in the nonprofit sector, tell a friend who isn’t. If the crisis we are all facing now has taught us one thing, it is that we had best recruit the best and the brightest to lead the nonprofit, government and social enterprise sectors.

Or, as the Jobs for Change vision states:

"This is a moment of incredible potential. If together we harness the renewed interest in public service by recruiting and developing the next generation of leaders in the social sector, we can overcome the challenges we face and build a better future for us all."

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stuck On Start

The meeting was great. The committee all agreed on what needed to be done and each task was assigned to someone who was to have primary responsibility. We felt good. We felt like, finally, things were going to happen.

Then a week went by. Two. Finally it was a month and a half and very little had occurred. Worse, it was clear we had missed the deadline. And once again we were stuck on start.

Sound familiar? If you work or volunteer at a non-profit where there isn’t enough paid staff to pick up the slack, odds are it does. It’s not that anyone plans on not doing what he or she was assigned to do. Or that anyone means to miss deadlines. But the rest of life gets in the way, and no one has really taken charge of ensuring that all the pieces that have to come together do.

What you need is a “Chief Executive Nag.” The one person whose job it is to keep all the parts moving. Sounds simple, but believe me, it takes a lot more than just appointing someone as the CEN.

I’ve been that nag often in my life—both personally and professionally. What I’ve learned is that no matter how good a nag I am (and trust me, I nag fantastically), unless the entire team agrees that this project is something we all want to succeed, all nagging will fall on deaf ears.

Bring it home. I spent years nagging my kids to clean their rooms. The problem was that my definition of clean and theirs didn’t match. And my need for clean was, well, my need. They frankly didn’t care.

Take it back to your organization now. Clearly, the first thing is that everyone must be truly committed to getting it done. Whatever it is. The negotiations as to what constitutes “it” and what has to be done must happen up front. I also believe in writing it all down and getting buy-in from all concerned. And then—and this is really important—clearly and concisely, chart out who is responsible for doing what, when.

I used the word chart deliberately. Everyone involved needs to see how what they do impacts what others can and cannot accomplish, and how the whole comes together. I’m not above asking everyone to sign off on the document.

And now, the nag. That person’s main job should be to call each and every person involved and find out the status of his or her task(s). And then, the nag should, on an agreed upon time (Twice a week? Weekly? Bi-weekly?—whatever works for the group) let everyone know what everyone else is up to (or not!). This is really crucial.

Without consequences, things often get put on the back burner. The consequence of everyone knowing that I am shirking my duties, or at the very least, much further behind than I should be, is a great goad to getting my work done. And a wonderful way to ensure that your project does not get stuck on start.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fundraising Blueprints

Often I am asked if I can share a sample fund raising plan. Sure, but it is kind of like asking an architect to show you a house plan. You may get to see blueprints for a 5,000 square foot house on a interesting 5-acre lot where the person building has millions to put into construction. Great if that’s you, but I have a flat, small plot of land with only industrial views and not even close to one of those millions to spend. Blueprints for my project would be very different indeed.

Now, what I may see—and benefit from should I hire this architect—is the creativity, attention to detail and skill that he or she brings (or doesn’t) to the job. And I may learn how to read a blueprint, or in this case, to set up a basic fundraising plan

But style is one thing; substance is entirely something else. It is the substance of your fundraising plan that will make the difference.

Fundraising plans should not be stand-alone items (just as fundraising should never be disconnected from the rest of the organization). A good development plan sits on top of the organization's strategic plan and links that to the annual business plan.

Now, what do I mean by that?

Too often fundraising is just something we do because, well, we need money. We don’t consider what makes a good gift in the context of our mission. Nor do we build our program plans based in part of how well they lend themselves to fund development.

While that may appear to be appropriate, what I’ve seen is too many cases where a staff member or volunteer is telling someone about the work of the organization and the person asks, “How can I help?” Without a fundraising plan, the response is often a variation on “Uhhh, well, ummm……” At best, there is a blurted “you could give us some money.”

Now picture that conversation where there is clarity on what something costs and how much of that something must be raised from private donors. “That program costs $75,000 each year, and we have to raise $35,000 of that annually,” gives that potential donor a feel for what he or she can do that will make a difference.

Your fundraising plan, of course, would be more comprehensive than one program. I said a few paragraphs back that it should sit on top of your strategic plan. That presupposes that your strategic plan presents a roadmap for what your organization wants to look like over the next 3-5 years with a concrete idea of what that would cost.

Without knowing the cost of your goals and objectives, your strategic plan is just air. Once you know the price tag, how much comes from what sources, you can set your fundraising goal. And you can begin to develop which of the parts of the plan are most marketable for fundraising. And which fundraising techniques will be most appropriate for which parts.

But the strategic plan is long range. So your development plan also needs to consider the business or work plan. What, exactly, are we doing in the next 12 months? How will this change what we need to do?

Once you know the what, you have to consider the how. How you go about raising funds depends in large part on how you’ve gone about raising funds in the past.

No, I’m not suggesting that you blindly do what you’ve done and only that. What I am saying is that you must assess what you’ve done, see what is successful that you can build upon; what’s not been so successful or seems tired that needs to change. But you have to do more than that.

What you can do depends in large part on your resources. What size prospect pool do you have at every level? How involved and engaged is your board? Is there money and human resources to have a full comprehensive development program, or are you a one-person office with no budget? Do you have the technical expertise as well as the technology to take advantage of electronic ways on connecting with your donors?

There are no right answers here. The answers to these questions will, however, provide guidelines to help you develop the plan that works for you.

I recently worked with an organization that wanted to raise a large amount of money in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, they had been totally dependent on grants as their sole fundraising effort. They had no database of prospects and the board didn’t believe that it was their responsibility to either give or get.

The plan I wrote—which they hated—took a long view and recommended steps for building first awareness of the organization and then, slowly, major donors. They, of course, wanted instant gratification and felt that because their program was good, people should support them. I tried to explain that “if you tell them, they will give,” is not quite the whole picture of fundraising. And besides, no one should support anyone. We have to make a compelling case for their support.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofits and educational organizations. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at