Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finding the Right Who

Maybe it’s the season. Or perhaps it is the economy. Whatever, a number of my friends, acquaintances and clients are in the market for development staff.

”Can you recommend someone?” is the way the email generally goes. Well, yeah, but first I have to know what you are actually looking for. More to the point, you have to have what you are looking for. And no, it’s not just “someone to raise money.”

I’ve been reading Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, a book just about this topic. Like too many books of its kind, Who is a great magazine article masquerading as a book. That means there is a lot of filler. But there is also a lot of solid and good stuff. Good, I hasten to add, because we are in agreement.

The authors of Who note that one of the most critical points of failure in hiring come about because the managers are unclear about what is needed in a job. The other thing Smart and Street say that I really like is that instead of focusing on a bunch of activities—you know, “identify, cultivate and solicit donors and manage the donor database”—to hire the right person you must understand what is that you want the person to accomplish. Specifically. Now.

In order to be able to pinpoint that, the manager or members of the search committee will first have to have a clear vision of where the organization is and where it needs to go.

For example, many of my clients have been heavily dependent on grants for charitable revenue. We all know the direction that’s heading, so many of them really need to develop or expand an individual giving program. In order to hire the right person to do that, they will first have to define what that means in their context.

Organization A may actually have a fairly robust database of individuals who give annually very small gifts via direct mail. They will need someone who has the ability and skills to segment that data and move some of those donors up the giving pyramid.

Organization B, on the other hand, has no database and no natural constituency of individual prospects. This organization needs a rain-maker—someone who can get out there and create interest in the organization in order to build a prospect pool.

These two organizations have very different needs and the right person for one would probably be a poor hire for the other. This is why it is so important to know what you need.

But this isn’t just something to think about when you are hiring. Management jobs—and especially those involved with development—should be reviewed regularly. You must be asking: What do we need this person to accomplish now?

This question takes into consideration the initiatives you are currently working on as well as those you will be implementing shortly. It is informed by the external environment (things are different now than they were just six months ago—how have you adjusted for these changes?) and by how well your organization has managed its resources.

This doesn’t mean that you are constantly changing what you expect from staff. The things they will be doing probably won’t change. Fundraisers will continue to prospect, cultivate, solicit and steward. But the things they must get done may change.

If, for example, like so many other nonprofits, you are finding that your donors are giving less than they gave a year ago, the focus for your fundraiser may move to identifying more prospects who can give at this lower level. If your direct mail is dying on the vine, the person responsible for direct mail may also need to be looking at ways to augment this fundraising technique.

This also has serious, and to my mind terrific, impacts on evaluations and the setting up of metrics. In the past, both these activities were fairly generic if they existed at all. We should be creating a set of measurements based on what is needed over a specific time frame. Therefore these measurements may just change each year.

That makes a lot more sense to me than arbitrarily insisting that a fundraiser raise 5% more than last year (despite the economic environment), or make 112 prospect calls each year (regardless of how many prospects have already been identified) or—more likely—setting no requirements and then being disappointed because your development director didn’t meet your unstated expectations.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits on issues of productivity, resource development and board development. She can be reached at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Control Freaks Anonymous

There always seems to be one at every organization. Typically, it’s a manager, often the CEO. At a nonprofit, it frequently is a Board Member. Heck, once I had a secretary who fit the profile perfectly.

I am, perhaps not so obviously, talking about the person who has to control everything that goes anywhere near them. These are the people who are so busy working, they frequently don’t get anything done. And they certainly don’t allow anyone around them to accomplish their work.

If this is you, stop. Take a deep breath. Look around. There are competent people there who could be doing a credible job if you would just let them.

But if this is you, you probably don’t recognize yourself. If, however, you are someone who works with or for this person, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And believe me, I feel your pain.

Working for or trying to work with someone who has an issue with trust or control is more than difficult. Frustrating is one word that comes to mind. But in a world where funding is increasingly more difficult to get and where opportunities must be grasped when and where you can find them, the micromanager is more than simply frustrating. He or she becomes a serious liability.

When that person is also a CEO of talent, passion, charisma, it is that much more depressing. The very person who should be leading the organization onto what my colleague Jeff Wilcox calls “higher ground,” too often is a lead anchor. Since nothing can happen without that person’s direct input, and since that person is just too too busy for words, the result is that indeed, nothing happens.

Or rather, something, but that something isn’t positive. Nor is it benign.

I have watched as even a basic direct mail appeal cannot go out on time because the CEO has to put his or her imprint on it. So the October drop date morphs into November and when the appeal finally goes out it is in the middle of the holiday season. What might have brought a respectable 4 or 5% response, gets under 1%. And the control freak says, “See. If I hadn’t taken over, we would have gotten no response at all.”

This behavior is particularly difficult for small organizations where fundraising doesn’t get enough attention to begin with. If plans are created, they are not implemented because actions get stopped at the leader’s door. They are, they will tell you, too busy to give the plan their attention, so it will just have to wait until they have time.

I understand these people. Shoot, I am one. But when I work with someone who shows me that he or she is up to the job—cares about the outcomes, accepts responsibility for mistakes, and mostly keeps me constantly in the loop, I will, reluctantly, give up the reins and let them fly.

My mother used to tell me not to get mad but rather to get even. If you work for a control freak, getting mad just convinces them that they are right in not allowing you any freedom. Your “unjustified” anger proves that. So get even, by mastering your job and by always, always letting your controlling boss know what you are up to. Eventually, most will grant you an “area of expertise” where you will be the go-to person—even for them.

But even if that doesn’t happen, if the control freak just keeps on holding fast to everything and keeps your work from getting done, you can just take your expertise elsewhere. Hopefully somewhere where you will be able to shine.

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. Gets Grants!, an online grantwriting class is is available at www.janetlevineconsulting.com/classes.html.
Other online classes will be available November 1, 2009 at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Thank You, Thank You

I recently facilitated a workshop where 35 discrete organizations were represented. During a discussion on retaining donors, I asked “How many of you send a thank you letter to every single donor?”

You may not be surprised, but I was when only two hands went up. I shouldn’t have been. I hear often enough from donors who complain about not being thanked for their generosity. And while I believe them when they say they don’t receive thank you letters, I also want to believe that these letters are going out, it’s just that it’s not enough or not timely enough for donors. Or, perhaps, donors weren’t opening these thank you letters, thinking it was just another solicitation letter.

Clearly, however, I was giving more credit to nonprofits than many of them deserve.

That started me writing an online course, Step by Step Stewardship, which will be available in the spring at the to-be launched next month (November) http://lmlearningstation.com>. While I am not above self-serving advertising (obviously), the other reason I mention this what has come up as I’ve been researching and writing.

I’ve long known that what can seem to be fundamental is often not-so basic to many organizations. More importantly, these basics do define development programs. Which leads me seamlessly into my soapbox oration of the day.

When I started in this field about 25 years ago, there was a real push to stop calling it “fundraising” and focus on the word “development.”

Development is synonymous with such words as expansion, progress, improvement. It suggests a continuum of activity that grows over time and makes things better. It implies involvement, which, in turn, certainly means that relationships are built and, yes, nurtured. Stewardship.

Fundraising, on the other hand, focuses on that one act of getting money or other kinds of support. It’s more transactional than development, and more often than not (think politics), there is some quid pro quo--something for something—involved.

Because the pendulum has swung back, as it generally does, the word development appears mainly in titles (development department, development director. The function of those who work in the area is to fundraise, pure and simple. And what that does is put the emphasis on getting the gift. Once the gift has been gotten, the job is done.

Thinking (and acting) that way, of course, makes the development director’s job more difficult. Since the most likely prospect for a gift is an existing donor, it’s only smart to keep that donor happy.

Remember the last time you gave something to someone—your kids, your spouse, someone else’s kids, a friend. How would you have felt (or, perhaps, how did you feel) if they simply took what you gave and walked away? Now think how you would feel if the next time they deigned to speak to you was—yes!—when they were asking you for yet another something.

Unless you are a lot more saintly than I, you probably weren’t looking upon that someone so kindly. Indeed, while you mayhave given them what they asked for this second time, if they didn’t change their behavior, you sure wouldn’t give them anything a third.

Donors are no different. If you don’t thank them for their gift, they are not going to be inclined to make a second gift. And you will have spent a lot of time and effort to get minimum return.

Start by making sure you say “thank you” to every single donor at the time they make their gift. Then think about the many ways you can develop that relationship. For here is a basic truth that you should never forget: Donors give because they care about the work you do, have a connection with the person who asks for the gift, feel connected to the organization and generally are involved with your organization in as many ways as possible.

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. Gets Grants!, an online grantwriting class is is available at www.janetlevineconsulting.com/classes.html.
Other online classes will be available November 1, 2009 at http://lmlearningstation.com>

Friday, October 2, 2009

Defining the Problem

My friend Ruth is a prodigious seminar taker. A few years ago she took one that taught how to solve a problem by first defining the problem. I think that is a seminar most nonprofits should take.

To me it has always seemed obvious that you cannot solve a problem if you are unclear about what problem you are trying to solve.

Most of my clients would define their problem as a lack of money (or, as nonprofits love to whine, “not enough resources”). But perhaps it would be more accurate to say that is the cause or, more likely, the result of the problem and not the problem itself.

Defining the problem often means accepting responsibility for what is going on. If lack of money is the problem, well, that’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. If, on the other hand, the real problem is how the money is allocated and spent, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

For many organizations, the problem seems to be circular: we don’t have enough money or resources so we cannot invest in a program to develop money and resources, which means we don’t ever have the money and resources. This in turn generally leads to a paralysis that ensures that there will be no money and/or resources and that means that your mission doesn’t really move forward.

From where I sit, it feels like I am watching a comedy of errors. Once, a client paid me good money to write a direct mail piece. Several weeks after they approved the package, the Executive Director sighed that they just didn’t have time to get it done. I said I would get the printing and mailing quotes, and then once a vendor was chosen, I would follow the mailing through. First, however, I needed to know how many pieces they would be mailing.

Well no one, it seemed, had time to check out how many records there were on the database and numbers like 2,000, 5,000 or maybe around 8,000 flew. Not helpful. I couldn’t go into the database to check because it was held on one computer and I guess that computer was in use 100% of the time every day of the week. Must have been.

I took my best shot, got a quote, and eventually got an okay to move forward. Except—yep, no one had time to export a list. And so, the mailing never happened.

An extreme case? I’d like to think so, but I’m not entirely convinced.

Whether or not your organization resembles this, being clear on the problem will make a positive difference. If your organization writes grant proposals, you already know how important the problem or need statement is. The clearer and more precise you can be about why what you want to do is necessary and important, the better your chances are of actually getting funded.

More importantly to my way of thinking, a clear need or problem statement helps to ensure that you are going after a grant that will move your mission forward. Likewise, identifying the right problem ensures that you look for the right solutions. This is turn will help to make sure you are getting where you actually 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. Gets Grants!, an online grantwriting class is is available at www.janetlevineconsulting.com/classes.html.
Other online classes will soon be available at http://lmlearningstation.com>