The Butterfly Effect
I am ever so thankful for a donor moment of insight.
When I’m working with a client on a strategic planning project, with their board and staff we routinely interview a selected group of stakeholders. They might be colleagues, political or government leaders, relevant businesses, funders, donors, volunteers … anyone with special insight. And it’s super great when two or more of those categories overlap.
A few days after a recent interview, I received a follow up email from a community leader-donor. They remembered something else they wanted me to share.
The donor had received the latest annual report. Like most of these reports, it included a list of donors. In this list, the organization had made a special effort to note donors who had given continuously.
Unfortunately, what was recognition for some was a rebuke for another. My donor felt hurt by not being included in this list. You see, this donor had been a donor for many long years. But, due to a few years of tight finances, there was a gap in their giving.
They were no less loyal. They started giving again when their finances improved. But that didn’t seem to matter. And now they were reconsidering future giving.
I completely sympathized. I feel this way whenever my college sends out its annual report with the same listing. Though I’ve been giving for many many years, I’ve missed a few now and then. Once I gave two gifts in the same fiscal year which knocked me out of the continuous recognition.
Think! What are you trying to accomplish with that public list of donors?
In this case, the intent was to reward some donors and inspire others to similar continuity. But it unexpectedly caused hurt feelings on the part of another long time donor.
Penelope Burk documents a number of concerns learned from donor research in her book Donor-Centered Fundraising. One that stands out are listings by gift range. A small donor might be making a huge stretch to give what they do. Yet they will never seem as valuable as those big donors for whom the gift that got them top recognition might be a drop in the bucket.
As the folks who care most about our donors, we’ll do better if we set aside convention and think of more creative ways to recognize and acknowledge our donors. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island’s complimentary membership is a good illustration of the return when you put donor needs first.
So, using that donor moment of insight shared above, here’s a simple solution:
Just as I was getting ready to write this post about the need for more moral capital on your board, the higher education scandal broke in the US. Thirty-eight people taken into custody as of noon on March 12th in this bribery scheme.
It turns out that very wealthy folks from business and the media bribed administrators, coaches, test proctors and others to grease their kids into elite private colleges and universities. I guess their large direct donations weren’t enough?
Shamefully, this was done through Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), a 501c3 public charity led by William “Rick” Singer who is pleading guilty to the charges against him.
According to its 2016 Form 990, KWF has just three directors: Singer as President and CEO, a Secretary, one other person. (The treasurer is not a director.) And, not only were the donors to KWF offering bribes for college placements, they were likely getting tax deductions for making those bribes through the nonprofit.
You need a philanthropic or moral compass in your organization — and most assuredly within the board. All your well-crafted bylaws, job descriptions, and list of expectations with references to ethics, the rule of law and conflict of interest won’t make up for directors or staff who lack a moral guiding light to do what is right.
People as capital
Talking about people as capital seems to be contrary to discussing your moral guiding light.
But I’ve previously pitched Professor Elizabeth Castillo and her typology of capitals. Using her list, you can begin valuing people beyond their own financial capital when you consider what you need in the way of the human capital you recruit to your board. This moves you beyond just recruiting directors who are wealthy donors and connectors to other money. It lets you value other assets that strengthen the board – e.g. intellectual, social, political, and cultural capital. And yes, moral capital.
And I don’t mean someone who can thread their way through the needle of what might or might not be ethical or legal. I want voices that are steadfast in defense of doing things the right way, with justice in their hearts, courageous enough to call out when something is bad, smells bad or just doesn’t feel right.
Unless our sector stands strong for honesty, truth and transparency, we risk the public’s trust — which has been on a downward slide for many years.
How much moral capital sits on your board?
When I’m trying to get my head around the complexity of an issue, I’ll often use the graphic note taking technique known as Mind Mapping.
I first learned about mind mapping in graduate school when I was introduced to this technique credited to Tony Buzan. One of my fellow graduate students took all of his class notes this way. Jack carried a large pad and many colored pencils to class with him. I was intrigued.
The big idea behind mind mapping is that it aligns with the way our brain works, making it easier to scan and memorize a lot of data. It is also a great way to organize thoughts that you can then see at a glance.
The technique is relatively simple. Key concepts radiate out from a central topic.
I drew the map you see here when I was starting strategic planning with a tourism council. By creating the map, I was able to capture my understanding of the tourism ecosystem or tourism landscape and check that out with my client. I developed this map for a particular geographic region. Your tourism map might look slightly different depending on where you live. With the map as a guide, I was able to help my team evolve a list of key informants for community interviews and to help drive data collection.
Mind maps use this radiating approach, with color and lines showing connections. If I had more artistic talent, I might put images into my map to make them even more memorable.
You can find software to create mind maps for yourself and to share with your colleagues. I use those now and then. But sometimes, just getting out the pens and colored markers are quite enough to organize my thoughts.
Mind mapping calls to me in part because it reminds me of the sentence diagramming I was taught to do in junior high school. (I admit it. I was such a geek).
Do you use mind mapping? For what purposes? Do you have software you’d recommend?
I’d love to hear from you.
When I’m working with boards of directors, one of the most requested changes is to help them set up a good process for recruiting new directors.
Process may be one of the most undervalued resources your organization possesses. Would you value good process more if you knew that it was truly a resource – or form of capital — available to strengthen your organization?
I may have spoken to you about my mad love affair with the work of Professor Elizabeth Castillo from Arizona State University. Professor Castillo is on a mission to have organizations begin to value all their forms of capital, not just the financial ones. And I’m one of her apostles.
We recently collaborated on a workshop for the Alliance for Nonprofit Management called Capacity building as capital building. The workshop introduced this idea of multiple forms of capital to consultants, and funders and researchers.
On the exhaustive list of 20 types of capital available to organizations that she has assembled, you’ll find this one: process.
What is capital and why is it valuable to your organization?
So what is capital and why are there so many different forms of it. One definition of capital is “any enduring asset capable of producing additional assets.” If you have money in the bank, you grow interest. Capital can accumulate.
Capital can also morph from one form to another. When you take that money in the bank and buy a building or van with it, you’ve converted it from financial capital to physical capital. Read more
Are you struggling with recruiting your board of directors? Take a look at the newest addition to our Toolbox: Recruiting your board of directors.
First, what do you want of your board members?
- First and foremost, to be great governors (I hope that is first). When you consider the right composition of your board to exercise its role in governance, you’ll need a mix of members demonstrating attributes such as strategists, systems thinkers, nonprofit, issue and community knowledge, diverse worldviews, wise stewards, moral and ethical folks, collegial, disciplined, and courageous, among others.
- Second, we have come to expect that our board members should be leadership volunteers. As volunteers who help the organization move forward staff functions as appropriately called upon, look to recruit to the board individuals who will use their skills and connections in service to particular functions of the organization, such as government relations, or fund development, or expertise in marketing, communications or evaluation. The need for these volunteer skills is highly dependent on the number and types of professional staff in your organization and your business model.
Consider your board members as vital components of the human capital your nonprofit needs to function.
So, in developing a great board, you need to consider what you have set forth in your strategic plan and what it will take to get from here to there. What is the ideal profile of the board to achieve your desired future?
Second, where can you find these folks?
I’ve written before about the benefits of keeping a running list of board members. IMHO you can’t have too many candidates to choose from. To get there, look everywhere. Start with your donors and volunteers. Consider asking for help. Read the newspaper and local (or national) magazines or other sources to find the folks that suit your profile. Leave no stone un-turned.
Share your best recruitment stories with all of us. We’d love to hear from you.
It seems that every time we start a planning process, someone on the board or staff sends a link to an article that declares that strategic planning is dead. Too archaic. Not fast past enough. Too long a planning horizon.
Well, saying strategic planning is dead sure makes a great headline.
But, no, strategic planning is not dead. Though we have seen plans we’d like to kill.
Can you be the master of your fate without strategy?
Yes, your organization needs to be flexible, adaptive and responsive to changes in your environment. But that’s not an excuse for never planning.
Too many plans are heavy on the operational details, really more of a business plan that prioritize tactics for strategy.
Here are a five posts to guide your way to producing plans that matter.
1. Strategic planning is all about your thinking
Seeking out data, talking to others, grappling with questions, pursuing answers, creating frameworks, crunching numbers — that is the strategic planning. The written report is just the codification. Here are a few questions to spark your thinking.
2. Clarify your logic model
We are logic model fanatics. Well, kind of. We love them because they put down on paper all of the assumptions your organization is making about how your will create the change you want to see in the world. Surprise! You weren’t all in alignment. Now you can be.
3. Stress test your plan
We are always grateful when board members push hard on plans. What if we stress test a recent decision against the plan framework? he asked. Here’s how that worked.
4. Speaking of board members, when should they be involved?
Beginning, middle, end? All along the way? Really, there is no one right answer. Here are some ideas to help you assess what is right for you.
5. Five must haves for your strategic planning to produce action
Finally, bringing your plan to life requires more than just good thinking. Here’s what else you’ll need.
Has boring put your board to sleep? Is it the arcane machinery of Roberts Rules? Pointless reports? Endless discussions? Trivial debates?
Here are five tools you can use to help transform sleepy board meetings from ennui to engagement.
- Move that table out of the room. Suddenly, you’re sitting in a circle with no head of the table to establish hierarchy and nothing to hide behind. If you can’t move the table, move the board members.
- Serve food. Sharing a meal creates human connections, starts conversations and sets the mood for a great meeting.
- Break into small groups. Especially on larger boards, many participants never say a word. You might be missing a brilliant insight. Small group discussion helps advance board thinking as members help each other refine and develop good ideas.
- Take notes on flip charts. Recording key points where members can see them as the meeting moves along assures board members they’ve been heard. Flip chart notes provide structure and a sense of progress through the agenda.
- Move people around. Too many board members never get to know their board colleagues. Move table tents at each meeting. A new perspective on the meeting space may also open the door to a fresh look at the board’s business.
What are your seating arrangements? Have you thought about how far apart your board members sit at a meeting?
I was interviewing a pretty amazing board chair on a project recently. She was telling me how much more engaged the current board was and how much they were feeling like a team.
Then she added this:
“I think some of that is because our board members are sitting around one relatively small table, unlike other boards where the table is in one giant U and people are far apart from one another. It’s harder to be separate from the rest of the group when you sit close together.”
Whack on the side of the head! I had to stop and write it down. Distance in the board room does not necessarily make the heart grow fonder!
Take note of how far apart your team is.
You’ve experienced this, I’m sure. Multiple tables are configured into a big U or rectangle, but there is great distance between the tables. While board members may be able to see each other, they are physically very far away from one another. It’s often easy to hide when you are far apart.
Of course, there are many considerations in table seating and you’ll find a lot of research on this subject. Here is some anecdotal information I’ve experienced over the years:
- When the meeting facilitator sits at the “head of the table,” it increases their perceived authority. So if you see yourself as a collaborative leader, take a seat in the middle.
- Folks like to sit where they sat before. So use table tents and move seating around from meeting to meeting. It encourages board members to get to know folks they don’t know as well.
- Get everyone up to the table. It’s easy to hide in the back row and it signals distance from the rest of the group. If the table isn’t big enough, find a new space to meet. (Or maybe your board has gotten way too big).
Maybe King Arthur had the solution.. a round table.
Fundraising fundamentals were the topics of the talk by Robert Beagle, the now retired VP for Advancement at the University of Rhode Island at our AFP chapter’s 2018 annual meeting. The chapter members appreciated hearing from a seasoned professional.
Here are Bob’s tips from many years of successful fundraising:
- Above all, relationships are at the core of fundraising. Develop trust with your donors. They want to hear from you when you aren’t asking for money. Stay in touch, stay connected.
- Find common ground with your donors. Get to know your donors so you understand what is important to them. Be curious about their lives and what they value.
- Be an effective listener. You get to know your donors by listening to them. Donors want to talk about themselves.
- People don’t give to your organization because you need money. Donors want to know how you are making a difference, how the community is benefiting. Donors don’t give to “losers.” Why give to the cancer center? Donors want to give to helping people live, to curing the disease.
- Never assume you know what a donor wants to give to. The number one mistake for many fundraisers is making decisions for their donors before you even have a conversation. Find out what your donors care about and want to give to.
- People don’t give to meet your goal. Why should anyone care about your goal? Bob hates appeals that are all about how much funding you need to reach the end of your fiscal year. Translate your needs into benefits and outcomes – what are you going to do with their gifts?
- Always remember that giving is an investment. Just like investing in stock, donors want meaningful returns. They can give for the short term and for the long term. And if their investment in you produces those returns, they’ll invest again.
- Be prepared to explain how your organization makes a difference. Why are you relevant? What are you doing that others aren’t? What would happen if your organization went away? These are the fundamental components of your case for support.
Bob also shared that he felt that marketing studies can be very, very helpful to fundraising as a way to understand your community and donors. And that a good donor management database is an essential part of every successful fundraising program.
I’d agree. Fundraising fundamentals. And the key to success.
At some point in every Batman comic book, tv show, or movie, Batman retires to the giant batcave under his mansion. And in his “Batcave” he refuels the Batmobile, he gets some food from Alfred the Butler, he uses the giant Batcomputer, maybe he runs some tests in the Batlabratory or synthesizes some antidote.
All of this leads to some massive revelation that refocuses the World’s Greatest Detective on the challenge presented to him in that issue/episode/film. It’s usually the breakthrough moment in the story. Everything else from that point on is Batman winning unreservedly.
No one in Gotham ever sees this. To them, Batman is the Caped Crusader running around at night responding to the Bat Signal and being a superhero. There’s no boring laboratory Batman, or Batman hunched in a desk chair flipping through databases. Batman is all action and impact, and the strategy and thought are invisible. They don’t see the most important part, they only see the outcome.
Why am I talking about Batman on a blog that’s meant largely for nonprofits and consultants?
We get into charity work to make the difference, to be heroes in our own way. There aren’t superheroes in real life, there’s only advocates and activists and dreamers. We see these people making their difference, and many of us jump in with both feet expecting to make the same difference. And many of us fail.
It’s because we don’t put the time into building our Batcaves. The part people see is only half the work. As much, if not more, time and resources go into the Batcave as the crime-fighting. If you want to be smart, if you want to be performing your mission for years to come, you need a database. An Alfred to fuel up the Batmobile. The place where you examine and reevaluate your strategy.
You need a Batcave.