From Communicating

Preparing name tags – a facilitator’s lament

20150429_081715Yes, this is a blog about preparing name tags. Name tags or badges are those simple and remarkably effective little tools that introduce us to each other at conferences or other events.

Name tags help us overcome our shyness about talking to someone we don’t know by removing the need to ask their name. Or, even if we’ve met before, avoid the embarrassment if I’ve forgotten your name. They help people new to a group navigate faster.

I depend on name tags.

I want and need to know the names of the people around the table or around the room at the retreat or meeting I’m  facilitating. Or across the dinner or lunch table at the conference or special event I’m attending.

If your team isn’t too large and our work together long enough, I’ll learn your names a short time into the meeting. Having the printed name with the face helps me learn. Even in the college classes I’ve taught, I’ve needed name tags for at least three classes for the ones with 20 students before I finally remember who you are.

Unfortunately, most of the time I’m silently cursing the person who picked the type size for the name tags.

You see, my eye sight isn’t what it used to be – Read more

Strategically crafting your Letter of Inquiry (LOI)

ABCI recently revived a training on basic grant seeking. I thought I’d share some of the components with you as they are useful not just for grant seeking, but also apply to other aspects of your fund raising.

Let’s start with the Letter of Inquiry.

Crafting your Letter of Inquiry (LOI) for a foundation or other institutional funder is good practice for developing your case for support.

The LOI is a preliminary, shorter version of a grant application. In one to three pages, you need to convince the funder that your proposed project is important and worthy of a more thorough review.

In the LOI, you need to make your case against strong competition (hundreds or even thousands of proposals) in order to advance to the next round of consideration.

In a very short document, you need to answer these questions:

  • What good this will accomplish (problem/need) and for whom (target audience) in keeping with the objectives of the grant guidelines
  • How it accomplishes the funder’s goals
  • Who you are and why you are the best organization to solve this problem/address this need
  • What you plan to do, when you plan to do it, who will do it and why you believe it will be effective
  • What will have changed/improved as a result of this project
  • How much the project will cost, how much you want from the funder, and how you will pay for the other costs

And up the ante by also ensuring that your LOI is:

  • Well-crafted
  • Evidence-based
  • Reasonable on its face, likely to succeed
  • Extraordinarily compelling
  • Logical
  • Competitive
  • Using language that resonates with the funders theory of change
  • Complete (includes everything the funder requested)
  • Compliant with the length and space limitations of the funder

While we aren’t in the proposal writing business (at least not recently), we can help you develop your case for support and assess your readiness for grants funding.  Just give Jon a call at 401-331-2272 or email Jon

See also:

10 grant seeking tips from a program officer

How we got the grant


When thank-a-thons go bad

Two weeks ago I received a thank you call from a board member of an organization of which I have been a long-time supporter.

It kind of went like this:

Hi, How are you.

I’m making my thank you calls to supporters. I wanted to thank you for your support.

Okay, that’s all.

Here I am two weeks later and this is what I remember:

  • I’m scratching my head trying to remember what organization it was and who called me. And I knew the person who called me. (Of course, this can just be my own bad memory).
  • I remember that the call felt forced and kind of painful. I felt uncomfortable for the caller.

I don’t think this is exactly what the organization was trying to accomplish.

Here’s what Penelope Burk, researcher and author of Donor Centered Fundraising,  advises around thank you calls:

” A true gesture of thanks is one that happens immediately after the gift has been received…. Calling donors to thank them for their continuing loyalty long after their most recent gift has been received can also be effective, but it requires more careful scripting and timing.” [emphasis added]

What would have made this more satisfying for me:

  • A bit of news. What’s up that I might be interested in hearing about? I’ve been the board chair, an event supporter, connected into a focus group, and lots of other stuff. I’d be interested.
  • Maybe a question for me.  Say, it’s been almost 10 years since you rotated off the board. Yet, you’ve been such a loyal supporter of ours in all that time. What keeps you connected?
  • Or maybe just a more personal thank you message. Haven’t seen you since that really engaging event that Susie led. But I still remember how great it was to have you there contributing your perspective. I’m just calling today because I’m remembering how fortunate our organization has been to have you with us all these years. Thank you.

Saying “thank you” to a donor definitely matters. Organizational indifference is one of the leading reasons people stop giving.

But perhaps put a little more thought into the strategy behind your next thank-a-thon?


Claiming your promise with your mission statement

IMG_3038I read a lot of mission statements. Most nonprofit mission statements are focused on how the organization goes about its work.

Too rarely does a mission statement confidently offer up its promise of betterment for its community.

Don’t get bogged down in all the stuff you do. You don’t need to throw the kitchen sink at your mission statement.

Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation threw down a mission challenge in  “The Eight Word Mission Statement” in the September 18, 2012 Stanford Social Innovation Review. The eight words: “a verb, a target population, and an outcome that implies something to measure.”

I agree that “razor-sharp” clarity about where you are going enables you to be strategic, adaptable and clear on where you are heading. That’s why I’m such a stickler for developing a clear theory of change/logic model and include its development into the strategic plans I work on. Plus, I learned long ago, that having a theory of change and logic model upped Read more

A shining example of a nonprofit values statement

NBS SignsA values statement allows a nonprofit to define and codify the shared beliefs that underlie its work. You don’t have to be a church, synagogue or mosque to benefit from a moral code.

Your values statement keeps board and staff moving in the same direction — and away from danger. Imagine the fallout if an environmental group was fined for polluting. The media would crucify an organization that served individuals with disabilities if its annual meeting wasn’t wheelchair accessible.

In developing a values statement, you’ll need to identify your bedrock beliefs. What are you are unwilling to compromise, regardless of the  promise of more money or greater convenience?

You may uncover differences of opinion on what you thought were shared beliefs as you Read more

Donor difference-makers: more, better and new

Stuck for something to write about in your year-end e-mails or mail appeals? The best fund appeals show the donor how a contribution now will make a significant and specific difference in the not-too-distant future.  Three simple words help me isolate and describe that donor difference-maker clearly.

More:  Every dollar helps you do more great work. Donors will help you educate more children, serve more meals or provide more immunizations, making a difference in more peoples’ lives.Improvement

Better: Contributions help you create better outcomes and experiences. Through improved programs and services, new technology and upgraded facilities, your donors make the difference between good and great.

New: Contributors will invest in new locations, new programs and innovations. Donors create the potential to dramatically change the landscape in your area of concern.

New icon roundStay focused. You can often apply two or even all three terms to the same subject. But resist that urge. Don’t waste your donor’s precious attention with more takes on the same story. Help your donor understand and focus on the single most important difference she will make by giving today.

For example, a new program location could have better facilities than older locations and help you serve more people.

If the new location will double your caseload or impact with little change in your service model, more will be the best theme for your appeal. If growth in client numbers is modest, perhaps you should focus on how the change will be better for those you serve. But if the new spot will truly be a launching pad for innovative methods, consider stressing the newness.

Good luck with that appeal! Call me if you get stuck.

Is your gift acceptance policy true to your values?

Susan G. Komen is once again in the media, with more troubling news.

Mother Jones magazine reported that this nonprofit committed to ending breast cancer had teamed up with oil giant Baker Hughes. The company is donating $100,000 to Komen and painting drill bits pink to raise awareness of breast cancer.

What’s wrong with Komen receiving a gift from an oil company? Nothing on the surface. Except … those pink drill bits are used in fracking, where massive amounts of chemicals are mixed with water and pumped into the ground. As reported, a number of those chemicals are known carcinogens, including chemicals that Komen itself lists on its web site as chemicals of concern.

Komen justified its gift acceptance by saying “the evidence to this point does not establish a connection between fracking and breast cancer.” (emphasis added).

What is your gift acceptance policy? Is it true to your values?

While you may have heard the expression “Tainted money? ‘taint enough!” that’s not what I’d advise as your gift acceptance policy.

These policies aren’t always so easy to create. Sometimes the line is pretty bright – say, a health organization not accepting money from cigarette manufacturers. In case someone is affected by an ailment they can go for medical tourism and explore their options as well.

But many times the choices are not so clear. I remember when I was developing a gift acceptance policy for an international child sponsorship organization. We had decided that we wouldn’t accept any illegal or covert funding which would be damaging to our reputation and the safety of our international staff. But what about tobacco money? Weapons manufacturers? After talking to many of our colleagues, we decided to keep our policy language fairly general — not accepting gifts that didn’t align with our mission and values — so that we could evaluate potentially controversial gifts on a case by case basis.

A story about evaluating those controversial gifts.

At the time of President Clinton’s inauguration, I was director of development for an environmental organization whose mission was the protection and restoration of an estuary and its watershed. Always on the lookout for new sources of money, we had the opportunity to apply for funding from a major western beer company which touted its clean water.

The only trouble, this particular company had a problem – they had been cited by the Environmental Protection Agency for illegally contaminating the ground water in the area they manufactured their beer. And the owner of the company was financing a legal foundation that was aggressively working to undercut environmental regulations.

It wasn’t that we never accepted money from polluters. Just about any manufacturing business polluted as they produced waste that was discharged into waterways or landfills. We had a lot of local manufacturing companies that were donors. But they had approved limits from the environmental regulators on their waste disposal and most were actively working on pollution prevention efforts.

We had a long and hard discussion throughout the organization as to whether to apply for their funding. In the end, we chose not to apply. The violations were serious, they involved clean water which was our issue, we would never have a clear conscience about the funding and it would be hard to justify the gift to many of our donors.

Shortly after that decision, a few of our staff and donors attended the DC environmental inaugural festivities. We were quite surprised when they returned with programs that listed the company we had rejected as a major sponsor of the environmental galas – a decision that must have been vetted by national environmental colleagues.

While we might have momentarily felt like chumps, we never really regretted the decision we made. Instead, we used the opportunity to more fully explore our values to ensure that our gift seeking and gift acceptance policies were clearly aligned.

I think when an organization has to qualify a decision to accept a controversial donation with a phrase like “to this point” it’s probably already compromising its values for the money. But I have to wonder if there was any reflection at all at Komen about accepting this gift before the news hit the press.

I’d love to hear from you.

  • What difficult situations have you experienced?
  • How did you resolve them?
  • Were your gift acceptance policies helpful?



Donor messages stick better on paper

Screens create distance between readers and your words.

Before you drop your direct mail donor appeals and donor newsletter, consider these findings by literacy scholars in Norway and Canada. Paper beats computer screens at making written information, ideas and emotions stick in readers’ minds.

Of course, fundraisers already know this: printed direct mail still does better than email in terms of donor response rates by wide margins.

A new study from Norway takes a deeper look at the difference between paper and screen. Using both fiction and factual articles, researchers compared comprehension and retention between groups reading the same material from PDFs on monitors and from printed pages. The group reading from screens understood significantly less than those reading print. Anne Mangen at the Reading Centre of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her co-authors speculate Read more

Fundraisers – your caring stewardship might ease a donor’s loneliness

I was shocked to learn that at any given time 1 in 5, or 60 million Americans, suffer from loneliness. This figure comes from the research of University of Chicago psychology professor John T. Cacioppo, PhD, coauthor of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.

In an article for O Magazine, Sanjay Gupta, MD describes loneliness as “acute bouts of melancholy we all feel from time to time, as well as a chronic lack of intimacy—a yearning for someone to truly know you, get you, see you—that can leave people feeling seriously unmoored.” 

Could it also be 1 in 5 of our donors are experiencing this same loneliness as well?

If that is true, then it adds an importance to caring for our donors beyond the potential return in gifts to our organizations. It should make you pause and think again about dashing off that aseptic thank you letter – bereft of emotion or personal connection. Or give you another reason to get out the door to regularly visit your donors and genuinely care about how they are doing

“Reaching out, even in the smallest ways, can inch us closer to more meaningful relationships, which research shows can prevent much of the damage social isolation causes.” Dr. Gupta.

Thank you for your service

Each of us has many options to serve. For example, we might to choose to serve by: Serving meals each week at the community meal site. Wading in the muck to pull old tires out of the river. Bearing silent witness in a vigil line. Helping a neighbor in need.
Caring for a family member. Stepping into danger to prevent a greater harm. Giving blood.
And even serving on an organizational board.

Read more