By Jon Howard

Best questions for 2014?

Reflection questions for the year past:

What did we think was impossible this year, but accomplished anyway? What made it possible?
Of all that we accomplished, what makes us most proud? Why is that important to us?
What question was I asked in 2013 that was so powerful I couldn’t stop thinking about it? Why?

Read more

Get your wish – make a fundraising wish list

Not long ago, we worked with a temporary shelter for homeless families. They had mattresses, but no beds. They were buried in plastic toys, but lacked preschool supplies. They had dozens of friends and volunteers more than eager to help, but getting the bills paid was a monthly cliffhanger. The problem: they took whatever people offered and did not ask for what they really needed. They didn’t have a wish list.

A recent article from Benevon reminded us of the importance of making wishes– and of sharing your wishes with others. The article, Point of Entry – Causing the Ripple Effect does a great job of showing the potential chain-reaction impacts of good cultivation work from the donor’s point of view. (We also highly recommend the excellent Raising More Money: the Point of Entry Handbook by Terry Axelrod.)

The article stresses the critical importance of having a well-considered Wish List for every new prospect, even though it may be too early to make a direct solicitation. New friends get a copy of this list with other materials.

Just  having this list in their hands immediately boosts the prospect’s perception of your organization from :”Good Cause” to “Good Cause That Knows What It Wants.” It’s a critical step toward a future conversation about how that individual can help you get what your organization and the people you serve really need to move ahead.

Be creative and thoughtful about your wish list and provide a broad range of ways for people to contribute: volunteering, in-kind goods and services to cash contributions. Even referrals. If you are hiring, let your prospects know – they may have just the right person for the job. Need new board members or a volunteer receptionist? Put those needs on your wish list, too.

Ask your colleagues to help you name things that they truly need and will happily accept and use. While in-kind contributions can be great, cash gives you far greater choice and flexibility. Put price tags on the things you want and give your donor the option of helping you buy it for yourself. Include a range of costs from that playground equipment set at $50,000 down to toys and books  for $50 and $25.

You never know who will turn out to be your fairy godmother or when she’ll turn up. When she does appear, make sure she’ll know what you really need.

How does your money management stack up?

Here’s a chance to contribute to a study on nonprofit investment policies and performance – and get an inside look at the results for free. Raffa Wealth Management has launched The Study on Nonprofit Investing to identify best practices in money management at charities, public foundations and trade associations.

The deadline to register to take Raffa’s 10- to 15-minute survey is January 18. Raffa says participants will be able to download the full report when it is completed soon after the end of February. This will be the first in an annual series of money management surveys for nonprofits, according to Raffa.

In her last post, Gayle wrote about benchmarking – the practice of measuring your  organization’s performance against information from peers and learning from their best practices. Gayle pointed out how difficult it can sometimes be to get comparable information. In this case, you only have to take an email survey and Raffa will do the rest.

“Democracy is not an app”

For three days at Netroots Nation 2012, a festival of online media and innovative tech in the service of progressive politics (June 7-9 in Providence, RI), I stuffed my head.

I gazed into the infinite depths of Google Analytics, pondered how to run useful A/B testing on Facebook and absorbed tips that promised to squeeze my every insight into a tight viral bomb of social media.

Each new tool and technique opened up exciting new possibilities. Yet each new app and opportunity demanded time and attention I’d already committed to something else. By the third day, I felt stretched.

Early Saturday, I wandered into a small knot of early arrivers at the convention center, groggy from Friday night revelry. I was balancing coffee in one hand and an iPhone in the other, trying to recall every insight of the last 48 hours while planning for the day’s sessions. Like everyone around me, I monitored the live discussion with one ear, while really focusing on the tiny screen and keypad in my hand.

Then something penetrated. One of the panelists, Van Jones of Rebuild the Dream told us, “I’ve got news for you: democracy is not an app.”

Van Jones

Jones said that no matter how many views, clicks or retweets we get, the results that matter still happen in the voting booth, in the legislative halls and on the streets. He urged us to “climb into that screen” and take real action to influence the events so many people spend so much time merely reacting to online.

I thought about our grassroots clients at Cause & Effect. Community centers and homeless shelters, land trusts and children’s theaters. Most of them have web sites. Some have Facebook pages. But very few have an active engagement with the online world or any strategy to achieve it.

Yet, our clients feed and house and educate real children. They save and protect real rivers and trees. They hold live performances witdh real audiences. They bring real constituents together face to face and raise real dollars. They do these things every day.

Of course, they could and should get even better results with an effective social media strategy.  But not if they let mere tools distract them from real work and real results.

I put my iPhone back in my pocket and listened to Van Jones with all my attention. I felt better immediately.