PHOTO by Jaime Lopes of people raising their hands

Crowdfunding 101

Leveraging a Critical Mass of Supporters

I shared a previous blog about peer-to-peer fundraising.  Today, I will share some key insights about how crowdfunding is a different approach.

Crowdfunding started as an approach used by entrepreneurs to raise start up funds. Now, nonprofits are using the tool and it usually includes smaller donation amounts given by individuals. Basically, the campaign has a finish date and a specific financial goal. A purpose for the campaign is also provided and a link from the platform can be shared on social media and email messages. Donors can include messages of support and also share out the link to their circles.  Your nonprofit can keep all of your donors up-to-date by sharing messages, photos, and videos right on the platform dashboard.

Merchant Maverick assembled this list of popular crowdfunding platforms:

  • GoFundMe – The charities program will be ending December 31, 2021 but nonprofits can utilize their regular services.
  • Mightycause – Rebranded to serve small to mid-sized nonprofits and offers additional wrap-around services.
  • FundRazr – Holds the best reputation in the field and offers an assortment of resources.
  • Indiegogo – A popular platform for arts-oriented organizations and entrepreneurs.
  • Panorama – Also provides support for auctions and corporate partnerships.
  • Donorbox – Works with smaller nonprofits and includes a donation form pop up feature for your website.

The Council of Nonprofits recommends that organizations consider the following when it comes to using crowdfunding for fundraising efforts:

  • There are platforms that are geared to specific purposes: creative projects vs. nonprofit fundraising.
  • Platforms offer different fee structures. For example,  if you don’t reach your goal, you pay more while others don’t charge any kind of fee but you can’t get access to your donations unless you hit the goal.

According to Donorbox, use this criteria when considering crowdfunding for your fundraising:

  • Have a small staff;
  • Have a large audience of engaged followers on your social media channels;
  • Want to keep it simple;
  • Don’t have much time;
  • Have a moderate fundraising goal for a specific goal or campaign.

Here is a list of a few books about crowdfunding that may be excellent resources:

“With the emergence of social media, smartphones, and the web, opportunities for budding nonprofits are finally opening up. What were once tried and true methods to engage donors are quickly becoming archaic and ineffective. Believe it or not, you are living in the golden age of fundraising. A handful of nonprofits have caught on and are absolutely crushing it online. They’ve harnessed the power of technology to run massive online giving campaigns and reach thousands of supporters across the web.”

“This practical workbook takes the often overwhelming brave new world of crowdfunding and breaks it down into a step-by-step process, grounded in (memorable) theory-so working through the book not only helps you plan your first campaign, it builds a foundation for many successful, strategic campaigns to come.”

Be sure to confirm your state’s laws and regulations when it comes to using this kind of fundraising approach as some jurisdictions require that you register your nonprofit in order to fundraise. The National Council of Nonprofit recommends:

Charitable solicitation laws in most states do not specifically address solicitations via the internet or mobile technology, or crowdfunding – yet. Until they do, charitable nonprofits have the obligation to treat crowdfunding like any other fundraising activity – which means that charitable registration requirements in up to 39 states are likely.

In closing, another benefit of using this approach to fundraising is it will put your nonprofit in front of many other people who may not be aware of you – an excellent marketing tool to boot! As nonprofits wrestle with changes to technology and how donors connect with nonprofits, it is wise to keep an open mind to the assortment of opportunities to innovate how you fundraise.


Photo by Nong V Unsplash

The Art of Storytelling

How to Connect with Your Community Through Stories

There is nothing like a good story to get a conversation started.  Storytelling is as old as time and provides a way to emotionally connect with another person.  It is how we learn, grow, and change the world.

Using stories to share your nonprofit’s mission and impact also makes a connection.  That connection can lead to building awareness about the work that you do and the people you support. It can also make a critical connection between your donor or foundation as a strategic fundraising tool to secure funding for critical programs your nonprofit offers.

Storytelling is different from copywriting and social media posts.  It is an art that uses narratives to fire off several regions of the brain in order to fully engage someone in the process of learning more about what you do. As with any creative process, engaging it also includes a bit of science:

  • The Star – every story has a main character.  A person who has had an experience that can resonate with others.  Identify the key character in your story so people have something concrete to remember from the story.
  • The Obstacle – as will any good story, every hero faces a challenge that is then overcome leading to an impactful outcome. Whether it be economic, social, or otherwise, be certain to share the hurdle your character faced in their journey.

  • The Action – At this point in the story, share how donors, volunteers, and staff collaborate to support the character to pursue a new future.

  • The Happy Ending – Showcase how all participants helped change a life and convey there are ample opportunities to have the same positive impact on others who are navigating similar life experiences.

What donors are also looking for is social proof that your nonprofit is using their investments efficiently and wisely.  Your story can also showcase that important transparency. According to a report by Sage Intacct, 70% of donors cite ‘overall efficiency’ as the number one element supporters are looking for before they will donate to a nonprofit. Simply put, they want to know that the money they give you is well spent.

Typically, stories will be about your program participants and this poses some ethical questions about using a person’s struggles to raise money. One approach is to not tell the story for them but have them share it. Focus on how the person used your services to make change happen, not how your nonprofit helped them. 

Stories also communicate your mission and impact.  If that is not clear, donors will not support your programs. They want to know your priorities in bringing your mission to life and how that effort has progressed. The use of images to convey your narrative is critical.  Ensure your website and social media channels hold images that reflect your mission. This is part of your branding strategy. 

It is also important to understand how different age groups like to receive stories.  For example, in the report by Sage Intacct, it was found that Baby Boomers and Generation X were responsible for two thirds of donations that were made.  Each group has different expectations when it comes to methods of sharing your stories.  For example, according to the Entrepreneur Europe article, Gen Xers prefer informal and flexible communications but appreciate professional etiquette. They often use email, phone, text, or social media (particularly Facebook). Boomers prefer face-to-face communications. The report also noted the important value of a website as it serves as the most important fundraising tool at your disposal.

Here is a list of a few books about the art of storytelling that may be excellent resources:

The Power of Storytelling: The Art of Influential Communication by Ty Bennett

“In The Power of Storytelling, Ty breaks down the mindset, the skillset and the toolset of influential communication. This is a deep-dive into storytelling – that gives you the step by step formulas and tangible tools to craft and deliver effective stories.”

Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising by Cheryl A. Clark

“This book walks readers through all the main phases of the proposal, highlighting the creative elements that link components to each other and unify the entire proposal. The book contains resources on crafting an effective synopsis, overcoming grant writer’s block, packaging the story, and the best ways to approach the “short stories” (inquiry and cover letters) that support the larger proposal.”

Storytelling: The Secret Sauce of Fundraising Success by Lynn Malzone Ierardi

“Great stories engage donors and raise more money. Scientific evidence confirms good storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to engage stakeholders and influence behavior. Stories raise awareness, change behavior, and trigger generosity. Facts and logic are not nearly as persuasive as a good story. Stories penetrate our natural defense systems and become more compelling and memorable. As a result, great stories can be very powerful.”

In closing, not only is storytelling a great approach to connect with new donors, it also can deepen your connection with existing donors. This is crucial as it is proven that your existing donors will continue to give to your organization. This is also an excellent opportunity to engage them by sharing their own stories about your nonprofit!  Storytelling is an age-old tool to help foster connection. By using it thoughtfully, you can build relationships with your community and expand support for your programs.


Tips for the Small Shop: Finding Your People

Seek Opportunities To Expand Your Usual Approaches to Connect With More Donors

In August 2021, I shared a blog post about the opportunities for small fundraising departments to level up by using the same practical tools that bigger organizations use. Today, I will take a deeper dive into the area of donor acquisition and cultivation.

Donor acquisition is connecting people with your nonprofit through outreach or marketing. It is about thoughtfully building relationships. Some activities include:

  • Make It Easy – visitors to your website or social media channels should easily find your donation portal.  If not, you will lose them. Make this important call to action a prominent message on all of your communication tools.

  • SEO – Search Engine Optimization is the driving force to get visitors to your website.  Using keywords and other strategies to put you front and center in the digital space will help people find you. Last month, I shared a blog post about enhancing your digital doorway.

  • Build Your Email List – create a fun or informative download that is available at your website for visitors to access in exchange for their email address.  This is known as a lead magnet and can grow your email list quickly.

  • Transparency – share how donations are used by your nonprofit to make the impact your mission strives to achieve. Always communicate the status and outcome of your campaigns.

  • Understand Your Donors – Create a persona or avatar of who your donor is by identifying demographics, preferences, and interests. Feature donors on social media spotlight posts by highlighting their reason for supporting your organization and how their support made positive change.

  • Segment Your Data – As you are updating your database with an assortment of record-keeping efforts, be certain to capture key data points for easy segmenting:

    • Gift levels.
    • How they connected to your nonprofit.
    • Preferred communication methods.

  • Set Goals – Know your destination so you can create a road map to get to it. Take a look at your data for the past few years and note your efforts to acquire and retain donors. A special campaign to re-engage previous donors can lead to financial support. Also include a timeline for each activity. And with any project, measure your outcomes and note your lessons learned.

  • Finding the audience – Each year, ask your board of directors to provide a list of potential donors whom they will contact or make an introduction to the executive director. As the saying goes, “Ask for advice, you get a donation. Ask for a donation, you get advice.”

  • Leverage your digital presence – There is no getting around it: nonprofits must engage in the digital space to build awareness and connect with potential donors.  Although social media cannot be a primary fundraising source, it is the space that provides you an opportunity to strike up a conversation with community members and build a relationship that could lead to volunteer engagement and donor support. You can also recruit these social fans to assist with fundraising by leveraging their own digital space to conduct peer-to-peer fundraising events.
  • Online Auctions – You can build your database by hosting a virtual event that offers anyone in the world an opportunity to bid on an item and you can add contact information into your database for future cultivation.

  • Engage a Younger Donor – Millennials want to be actively supporting their nonprofit of choice by volunteering as their initial connection point before investing financially.  Create an advisory council to welcome younger generations into your organization.

  • Share Your Outcomes – In a study conducted by Root Cause, results showed that 75% of the respondents are looking for concrete evidence of impact, so set up methods of tracking those outcomes so you can share the impact with your community.

In closing, a key step towards successfully building your donor list is to step out of your usual approach to find clever methods to connect with the people who are likely aligned with your nonprofit’s mission.  Experiment with each of the tactics to see if they resonate with your community.  It is also important to assess how things are going after implementing the activity.  Monitor impact and celebrate the successes.  Remember, Rome was not built in a day.


People and sunset

Celebrating Your Biggest Fans

Recognizing Your Volunteers Makes a World of Difference

As nonprofits strategize on the best use of resources to further the mission of the organization, it is wise to pause and consider one of their biggest assets: volunteers.

Honoring the service of your biggest fans will lead to long term engagement and recruitment of other community members to help do the big work of serving the greater community through your programs. Bring your volunteers into the fold of quality service by letting them know how their efforts support the big picture. They are also key in having a successful fundraising program.

There are several other ways to show appreciation:

  • Feed them.  Many volunteers are navigating very full lives and when each dedicates some of their free time to help out your nonprofit, many are doing so between jobs and home.  By providing snacks or meals, you will alleviate the need for your stars to go hungry while helping you out.
  • Feature them. There is nothing like public recognition for a job well done to fill a person’s spirit. Spotlight your volunteers in your e-newsletter and on social media, with permission, of course.
  • Thank them. Send a handwritten note to thank your volunteers for the time, energy, and passion they share with your organization.  A small gesture that goes the distance.

Another idea to elevate these special folks is to generate special volunteer awards.  I recommend recognizing each one with a personal spin on individual awards.  

Here is a video of a few tips on working with volunteers:

Taking the time to build a robust pool of volunteers is a worthy effort but it does take an investment. Done properly, staff require support by providing resources to recruit, train, supervise, and recognize one of the organization’s key assets of people power that can help in the following ways:

  • Minimize staff burnout.
  • Expand board engagement opportunities.
  • Leverage your digital presence.
  • Fundraising opportunities.

Do keep in mind that volunteers cannot receive any kind of compensation – even in kind benefits – as this will turn them into employees. It is recommended you consult with your insurance provider to confirm that volunteers are covered under your workers’ compensation insurance.

There are opportunities to bring in volunteers for episodic support or on an ongoing basis. The volunteer assignments can range from a one-time mailing or bring in a professional to provide pro bono services. You can use social media and other digital communications tools to get the word out about your volunteer opportunities.  You can also use a service like VolunteerMatch or your local United Way.

Treating your volunteers with care can help build your volunteer pool. For example, one study found that 42% of volunteers became one because they encountered the organization and were asked to volunteer, which would not have happened without other volunteers spreading the word.

In closing, without these key participants, your nonprofit cannot grow in a meaningful way. There are many easy ways to appreciate your biggest fans. Although during these current days of the pandemic, in person opportunities are limited, volunteers can certainly support your nonprofit in the virtual space. Save the date for National Volunteer Appreciation Week that is taking place April 17 – 23, 2022.


Person reading marketing book

Marketing Tips for the NonProfit: Your Website

Have you heard the expression, “Build it and they will come.”? A great line in a movie but not so much for a nonprofit.

As a nonprofit, part of the fundraising formula, volunteer recruitment strategy, and engaging program participants is to create messaging to explain the ‘why’ of your work and motivate the community to learn more about that work.

When someone comes across your website – your digital front door – there should be the following things:

  • Call to action – is it abundantly clear what you would like the visitor to do? Do you want them to donate? Purchase tickets for your annual event? Sign up for your e-newsletter?  Pick one and rotate out your CTAs on a quarterly basis.  For example, for the fourth quarter, focus on a ‘donate now’ call to action.
  • Who are you – you have about 15 seconds to capture your visitor’s attention.  What your nonprofit does in the community must be very clear.  Be sure to put your tagline or power words at the top of the screen. Your goal is to have a very low bounce rate, which is the rate people are leaving your website quickly.
  • The why – another thing that must stand out on your website is why your work is important. Be sure to create a message that emphasizes a sense of urgency to do the call to action you are using on the site.

When it comes to the tone of your messaging, you can use one of two approaches: fear-based or positive encouragement.  Determine who your audience is to figure out which tone will work best for them. The goal in this marketing is to build curiosity to learn more and get involved.

It all begins with a plan. 

As with successful effort, planning is key. This also applies to your marketing efforts.  There are several parts to the process:

  • What are your goals?
  • Who are you trying to connect with?
  • What are your main messages?
  • Which approaches will you use?
  • How effective was it?

Goals can range from what kind of content you want to publish to how frequently you want to send out a communication. Knowing your audience is very important.  As a nonprofit, you will have several and your e-newsletter should be segmented based on each type:

  • Program participants
  • Volunteers
  • Donors

By crafting messaging that is aligned with your mission but also the audience you are speaking to, keeps everything clear and organized. 

Keep in mind that you do not need to pursue all of the marketing opportunities that are available but instead, be strategic in your selection and consider where your audience most likely spends time when it comes to social media.

In closing, as important as all of these steps are, if you do not evaluate the impact of the effort, you will not know if it was time well spent and worthy of repeat activity.  Assess if your goals have been accomplished and celebrate a job well done!


Group meeting in conference room talking about mergers

Mergers Up Close

As discussed last month, mergers and strategic restructurings can make a lot of sense if two organizations have similar missions and see opportunities to improve operations as well as program delivery by combining forces. In the past year, several of my past clients have been involved in mergers and strategic restructurings:

Having worked with these organizations in the past, I have some understanding of the strategic reasons why the nonprofit organizations chose to merge, but in the case of SMART Reading and The Children’s Book Bank, I was involved in the critical initial phases of the merger as the interim executive director at The Children’s Book Bank. I would like to provide some insight and lessons learned from that experience.

I began working at The Children’s Book Bank in the fall of 2021. Shortly after arriving, I discovered that the board of directors of SMART Reading and The Children’s Book Bank had begun formal discussions about merging a few months before my arrival at the organization. The informal discussions about how the organizations could work more closely with each other had been ongoing between the two executive directors for several years.

The departure of one of the executive directors provided an optimal situation in a merger situation. Hiring an interim executive director allowed for the discussions to continue in a thoughtful manner without a break in operations.

When I became involved in the process, the organizations were involved in a due diligence process. Each organization shared key documents with the organization including board minutes, financial statements, articles of incorporation, bylaws, organizational charts, etc. At this point in the process, the purpose of sharing information was to allow each organization a transparent view of the other organization. After all this information was gathered and teams from each organization had had a chance to review, several meetings transpired with representative board members from each organization and the executive directors participating. This process took place over the span of about four months

Once both organizations felt comfortable with the mission alignment, organizational cultures and finances, they entered into a formal letter of agreement to examine the possibility of merging. It was important to both organizations at this point to be clear that each organization was in the position to back out if they saw any reason why the merger would not be feasible.

Only after the letter of agreement was signed were the remaining staff of each organization informed of the discussions and brought into the process. As was anticipated, the first question asked was: “What does this mean for me?” Staff wanted to know if they were still going to have a job and would it be a job they wanted. Staffing had been discussed thoroughly before filling in staff and in this case, we were able to tell every member of the staff that we did not anticipate any layoffs as a result of combining forces.

We were also able to tell staff that they would be involved in the next step in the process which was to look at the feasibility of the merger. We needed to be sure that a merged organization would be financially sustainable, determine how operations would be combined, and examine how joint programming would look. Structurally, this next step included a Joint Committee made up of leadership from each organization and four subcommittees to examine particular issues. Staff and board members served on each of the subcommittees looking at Programming, Operations, Development and Communications. By involving staff in the process, they had more of a sense of ownership in the process alleviating some of the concern about what their jobs would look like when this was all over. This step took about four months with each of the boards of directors separately approving moving forward with the merger with both organizations recognizing that combining the organizations would ultimately improve service to the children of the community in line with both of their missions.

Quote by Henry Ford

The two organizations co-wrote a well-developed communication plan that included the creation of talking points and notification of a few key stakeholders prior to the public announcement. A later phase will involve actual implementation of the merger including meeting the legal requirements of combining the organizations, merging systems (ie. payroll, donor database, email, branding, shared database platforms). This process may take as much as a year to complete.

Here were some of my observations from being involved in the process and from what I know of the other mergers in my orbit:

  • Having a process is important. As noted last month, The Nonprofit Mergers Handbook by David La Piana, is an excellent resource for creating a thoughtful process.
  • The process of bringing together one or more organizations is going to take time and should not be rushed. The process is a little like dating before marriage. One needs to be sure that the outcome will be positive for all parties involved. As with all relationships, this takes time and builds a fair amount of trust.
  • Even when there is close alignment between the organizations and good reasons for merger, there are likely to be hiccups throughout the process. Relying on trust and a dose of grace will serve everyone well.
  • The more people who can be involved in the discussions, the more likely you are to have buy-in at the end. That does not mean a committee made up of every board member, staff and volunteer, but all should feel like they are represented and have an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns.
  • The actual merger of organizations is not like flipping a switch that magically makes two organizations into one. Not every step in the process has to happen at the same time. Department staff can begin meetings and systems can be combined before the official paperwork is filed.

In the competitive environment of nonprofits, seeking public support, combining forces can improve program delivery and operations. Given the number of nonprofits that I come in contact with that have made this move in the last year, there appears to be a trend. You should examine whether this might make sense for your organization and one or more of your natural partners. That conversation starts with the board of directors. Understanding and evaluating all the areas of such a big transition will minimize the surprises and help you determine if the merger is in the best interest of the community you serve.


Group of people sitting on wall

Peer to Peer Fundraising

Why not engage your family and friends in raising funds for your nonprofit? This approach to fundraising multiplies not only building awareness of your mission, but also raising money to support your programs. It can also be a fantastic tool for donor acquisition and retention.

Peer to peer fundraising is a version of crowdfunding but it is a multi-tiered approach to fundraising. It is really about engaging your biggest fan in leveraging their circle of influence. Crowdfunding typically is calling for small level donations from a large group.  It works well when trying to raise money for a special project.  Whereas peer to peer networking is led by individual leaders in raising money for a nonprofit by having their own campaign.

In a crowdfunding scenario, there is one donation portal where everyone donates. With peer-to-peer fundraising, individuals have their own page to share with their network to seek donations. This approach helps build social proof and trust because donations are generated in response to a familiar person’s request. In most cases, your nonprofit’s website holds the donation portal so donations come directly to you.

A peer to peer approach can either be year-round or time-based. 

The process is easy to set up:

  • Determine what the focus of the campaign is.
  • Recruit team leads.
  • Train team leads as fundraisers for the campaign.

Of course, making certain that you have all the materials and assets required to properly execute the campaign is important:

  • Set your financial goals.
  • Steward your relationships with your volunteers and supporters to identify potential team leaders.
  • Brand a special page for the campaign on your website.
  • Determine what software you will be using.
  • Use compelling photos and videos.
  • Create templates and assets for use on various social media channels.
  • Updates on the campaign maintain the momentum.
  • Recognize and celebrate your team leaders’ efforts once the campaign is completed.
Image Source:

Using peer-to-peer fundraising requires more planning but the impact of donations will multiply in different ways that typical campaigns.  When considering this unique approach, consider the following:

  • You need enough staff to support your team leads.
  • You have a pool of dedicated ambassadors willing to serve as team leads.
  • You have time to properly plan.
  • You have team leads who are comfortable working online.
  • You invest in strong donor retention activities.

In closing, peer to peer networking is about multiplying impact. By engaging your biggest supporters in rallying their individual communities, you can generate interest and funds for your nonprofit. Even if your fundraising department is just being set up, keep track of those rock stars you can later engage in this important work. This approach can yield very favorable results.


building blocks

Mergers and Strategic Restructuring

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much” ~ Helen Keller

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations exist in the United States. Many organizations have very unique missions or serve very specific geographic areas, but we can all think of examples where organizations with similar missions or serving similar clients are competing for limited resources. But there are organizations recognizing the benefits of cooperation among organizations.

Writing notes

Combining resources through a merger or other strategic restructuring may be one way to increase the strength and reach of an organization while increasing administrative efficiency. But how does one go about exploring and/or actualizing such a significant endeavor? According to La Piana Consulting, it can be one of the most strategic efforts a nonprofit can make. 

There are three areas to such an endeavor and the firm provides an excellent toolkit to help guide the process. One of the first steps is to create a team to shepherd the research and plan development. The makeup of the group should include one or two board members, the executive director, and key leadership team members.

  • The Evaluation – Start with Why

    There are many ways for nonprofits to partner in a strategic way and one is to combine all resources to level up services.  However, understanding the end goal by assessing the intention and viability is key to determining if a merger is that destination. For example, if you are looking to pool a collective knowledge base and eliminate redundant service it may make sense to join forces. How ready is your organization to make such a move?

  • The Negotiation – The Art of Agreement

    Here lies an opportunity to take a deep dive on how the organizations might work together by aligning resources and missions. The ultimate goal is obtaining a clear understanding with parties that the merger will make sense to both organizations.

  • The Integration – Putting the Pieces Together

    At this point of the process is bringing together all the various components to launch the newly merged entity.  It is at this point that proof is in the pudding – success or failure.  It looks at how the board, operations, finances, programs, staff, and infrastructure all sync up to become a fully functional organization.

Another key activity is how to communicate changes internally as well as externally. Staff, volunteers, and program participants should not be surprised by the changes and be part of the process.  Community stakeholders and funders should also be made aware of the merger in appropriate fashion. For example, how and when you notify a foundation that has awarded your nonprofit a large amount versus notifying your donors will have a different timeline and amount of information you will disclose.

As with any great idea, there are also possible challenges and pitfalls to consider.  Some many consider a quick move without practicing due diligence and investigation in the beginning of the process. Here are some other items to consider:

  • Always include staff in the process.
  • Recognize the culture of the organization.
  • Determine the level of confidentiality.
  • Consider the impact on stakeholders.
  • Identify all the costs associated with the merger.
  • Understand the required signatures needed for the documentation.
  • Plan for new systems and integration of staff.

If your nonprofit is looking at a potential merger, consider the strategy behind the pursuit. Are you looking to grow the organization to increase revenue and/or reduce expenses? Conducting your due diligence and thorough planning can lead to a successful collaboration. Knowing all the actions required is also necessary. Knowing how the change will impact your community is equally important.

In our next blog, we will explore some examples of mergers and lessons learned in the process.


Stack of balanced rocks

A True Collaboration

Although it makes total sense for an all hands on deck when it comes to the operations of a nonprofit, there is one key relationship that will either help your boat sail or sink: the board chair and executive director.

This team sets the tone at the organization in a number of ways:

  • It sets an example of how all relationships in the agency function.
  • It serves as an example of leadership.
  • It demonstrates a commitment to healthy communications.

Since many organizations are often struggling with limited resources, the ‘lanes of responsibilities’ can get a bit blurry.  In the case of the board chair and executive director relationship, it is critical that areas of responsibilities be clearly defined:

  • The board chair oversees the organization’s governance.
  • The executive director oversees the organization’s operations.
  • The board chair confirms that the work of staff remains aligned with the mission.
  • The executive director manages the work of the staff to support the mission.
  • The board chair manages the board.
  • The executive director manages the staff.

A key sign of dysfunction in an organization is when the board meddles in the work of the executive director.  This doesn’t keep operations running smoothly – quite the contrary. As Joan Garry shares in her article, it all starts with acknowledging the value of a healthy working relationship and there are some indicators to help you get on the proper track:

  • Recognizing that both of you are passionate about the mission.
  • The board chair understands the work of the board and pursues training for the board in order to do the best work possible.
  • Both the board chair and executive director work together on preparing the board meeting agenda, as well as, the work of the executive director.

She also provides a great example of an agenda in the article.

When this critical team creates a strong working relationship, the success becomes apparent. It leads to partnering on critical fundraising activities like meeting with major donors and foundations.  It also conveys a message of unity and dedication to the work of your nonprofit.  It sets a healthy tone about the culture of your organization so staff, volunteers, program participants, donors, and community partners can feel confident that the best interest of the agency is there because it is demonstrated by leadership.


People and sunset

Tips for Treating Your Donors Right

Even if you are a small shop, developing relationships with the people who support your nonprofit’s work is critical for a sustainable future. 

Joan Garry has assembled the perfect ‘recipe’ to help you be successful with your year end giving campaign and it starts with knowing your donors:

  • The List – The first step is to review both your email and your snail mail lists to remove donors who require a more personal ‘ask’ then a generic one through your direct mail letter and e-newsletter.
  • The Calendar – November or December may seem quite a long way off, but have your calendar of activities set sooner rather than later.
  • The Follow Up – as you set about connecting with your donor whether it be with check in emails or donation requests, be sure to be hyper-vigilant in your timely responses.
  • The Appreciation – As donations come in, refer to your plan to delegate special thank you calls and emails in response to your appeals that were distributed in November and December.
  • The Reflection – As with any project, take some time to review your efforts to determine what worked well and what was missed. Also be sure to note your planning efforts for next year on your calendar now.

As Amy Einstein covers in her post, it isn’t just about the staff member who is responsible for fundraising to cultivate a happy relationship with a donor. It is beneficial to connect these supporters with various members of the nonprofit for a holistic connection with your organization’s mission.  You often hear of a lost donor because the relationship was solely with the development director.  By having touch points with various people, you avoid that situation.

Your executive director is the ‘go to’ person to share ideas about the future of your nonprofit while the development director’s role is to ensure that donors are connected in many ways. There are several ways to do that:

  • Keep in touch – set aside time to make phone calls, send personal notes in the mail, and personal emails to your donors.

  • Engage, engage, engage – it is said that a meaningful way to really connect your donor with your nonprofit’s work is to invite them to volunteer.  That can range from an event, to serving on a committee, to help with a special project.
  • Honor and celebrate – host an annual donor and volunteer appreciation event to share how much you appreciate their support.

  • Tap into their wisdom – since donors will engage in an assortment of professions, why not tap into their expertise for guidance on a matter you are managing?

  • Send them your well wishes – sending donors cards about unique holidays with handwritten personal messages goes a long way.

Bloomerang offers a list of opportunities to ‘show the love’ in an inexpensive but meaningful way.  Sharing your appreciation shouldn’t break the bank! Here are a few ideas from that list:

  • Create a donor stewardship plan.  Rachel Muir offers a fabulous template that highlights suggested activities and frequency. As FreeWill suggests, having such a plan increases your donor retention and builds meaningful relationships.
  • Have staff and board members record a ‘thank you for your support’ video using their smartphones that can be posted on social media or sent to specific donors using email.
  • Create a donor-specific landing page. Show your appreciation and share a hearty thank you each time someone donates using your online donation portal. Include an optional form field requesting information as to why they decided to donate to your nonprofit.

As with any new initiative, be certain to build in evaluation in order to determine if the work you have determined as goals is the work that is meeting the overall intention.  Take your lessons learned through the process of the experiment to build a solid, sustainable approach to serving your donors.  As a result, you will build a culture of connection and investment in the well-being of your organization.