31 05 2009

Where do your donors come from? How did you meet them? How did you meet the person who introduced you to them? 

In a previous life, I ran a for-profit market research consulting firm, focusing on medical and healthcare information. This is a fairly specialized field, but it suited my medical device industry background. 

About 5 years into the business, I decided to figure out how I was getting new clients. Where did they come from? What prompted that call?  How did they hear about my services? 

I decided to conduct a genealogical study of my client base.

First, I ranked each client by the amount of business they gave me. Then, for the top clients, I walked backwards through our relationship. When did I get my first job from them? Why did they call me? How did I first meet them? How did they first hear about me? What was the very first contact?

Time consuming? Oh, yes. But it was one of the most worthwhile exercises affecting the future of my business. I discovered that ultimately, about 80% of my business was initially generated by my attendance at one of two particular industry association conferences. I met many clients directly at one of the conferences. A few others had first heard of me because of a session or workshop I had presented there.

What I called second generation clients were those who had been referred to me by one of those first two groups. Then there were third generation clients; those who were referred by one of those second generation clients.

In other words, even if I’d never met client Z at that conference, that conference ultimately led to my work for client Z.

Armed with this new knowledge, I was able to focus marketing dollars and energy on those two industry conferences. I made sure that I attended each and was visible at each. I made sure my existing clients and prospects knew I would be attending. I approached the organizations putting on the conferences and offered to write for their trade journal. Just as important, I allowed myself to stop spending money and time on less efficient venues and activities.

Every dollar that comes into our nonprofits is precious, and I’m not advocating giving up the annual appeal, the 5k runs, or the donor boxes at the door. But I am suggesting that you take the time to do your major donor genealogy. Take advantage of institutional memory that may reside with a long-term employee, board member or past-presidents.

Have them help you conduct a major donor genealogy. Work backwards and consider how you first met this particular donor. Who introduced you? Is there a friendraiser in common among your donors? Is there a function in common? While a major donor is a huge asset to your nonprofit, even greater is a major donor who refers others to your cause.

Then take action. Focus your board and yourself on the most efficient routes to major donors and put yourselves in their path.  It’s a powerful way to leverage your time, dollars and energy. 


Star Trek, Nonprofits and Philanthropy

22 05 2009

The new Star Trek movie has brought back a lot of memories. I grew up on Star Trek – not just the show, but the idealistic vision of a future in which a United Federation of Planets could boldly go where no one has gone before, seeking out new life forms and new civilizations. Conquest was wrong. Help was right. People got along. 

I recently had a conversation with my son about the original Star Trek, and how it differed from subsequent versions. In the original Star Trek, each show was a parable, a small morality tale, in which we were being taught about right and wrong. True, the writers were sometimes heavy handed with their messages. Nevertheless, through the interplay of the emotional Kirk, the logical Spock, and the pragmatic and sometimes cynical Bones or other characters, we saw different sides and different approaches to the same situation. Usually, the resolution came about through some combination of the first two, aided by the actions or intervention of the other characters.

 I wonder how many nonprofit executives and philanthropists received their initial grounding in the possibilities of a better world through watching Star Trek. Is the idealism that surrounds so much of our work the product not just of faith and parenting, but also those small glimpses into a better world?  Like M&Ms coated in sugar candy, the ideals were coated in action, costumes, and amusing interplay between characters whom we came to know and predict. We thought we were just watching a fun show, but we were being molded.

 In retrospect, I suspect that I was affected by Star Trek; not just by the shows themselves, but by the implicit approval given to those messages by my parents as we watched together.

 So I wonder, how many others in our field received the same messages from Star Trek, and ultimately decided that we can make the world better?

Books for Switching from Private to Nonprofit Sector

18 05 2009

One of the great things about the nonprofit sector is how collegial it is. After the last post about Finding That Nonprofit Career, I turned to colleagues on LinkedIn and asked them what books they would recommend to people contemplating the switch from the private sector. Especially helpful were colleagues in the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Chronicles of Philanthropy groups. I recommend that if this is a field you are interested in, you start watching the discussions on these two particular groups on LinkedIn.

One of the first to respond was my own business colleague, Jeff Metz of Bloom Consulting. Others were Andrew Brant, Sandra Larson, Ann Gwinn and Jeff Kern, all with experience in the nonprofit field, and almost all with prior experience in the private sector. Thanks to all for your assistance. Here’s the list developed from their contributions, and my own thoughts.

Managing the Non-Profit Organization: Principles and Practices from Peter Drucker is my own personal favorite. Several others also mentioned Drucker, who took his expertise researching and consulting to private firms into the nonprofit world. Other books originally written for the private sector are also important to the nonprofit world.  Two that others suggested are:

Managing as a Performance Art by Peter Vaill
Made to Stick by Heath & Heath

And I would add:
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell as a way of viewing the social dynamics in your organization.

Recommended books specific to nonprofits are:
Strategic Planning for Public and Nonprofit Organizations by John Bryson
Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision for Nonprofit Staff by Carter McNamara
Forces for Good by Crutchfield & Grant
The Executive Director’s Survival Guide by Carlson and Donohoe

Recommended publications specific to finding nonprofit careers:
The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers
The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seeker
s Both from  

In the fundraising field – and so many positions in nonprofit work require some fundraising skills:
The Zen of Fundraising by Ken Burnett
Asking – A 59 minute guide by Jerold Panas
The Ask by Laura Fredricks
Major Gifts by Julia Ingraham Walker
Securing Your Organization’s Future by Michael Seltzer
Donor Centered Fundraising by Burke

And there was one textbook in the bunch:
Nature of the Nonprofit Sector by Ott

Thanks to everyone for being so helpful! And good luck to those making the switch.

Finding That Nonprofit Career

13 05 2009

Congratulations! After much soul searching, you’ve decided to seek a career in the nonprofit world. You have experience. You’ve managed people. You have credentials in your field. You want to use them to make the world a better place. 

Good for you! My own experience, and that of others who have made the switch, point to a few things that may help you get that new job. First of all, make sure you have a good sense of what kind of nonprofit you want to work for. Similar to advice for getting on a board of directors, you should research the different causes that interest you. Working for a nonprofit is hard work. What makes it worthwhile is knowing that you really care about the mission.

To get a good feel for nonprofit work and the people involved, pick up the phone and set up informational interviews. When I made the switch from market research consultant to nonprofit agency executive, I spent several months taking my resume to people in different positions, asking them about their work, their preparation for the job, and what they saw in my resume that would be useful to a nonprofit. And, of course, I asked for referrals. Their advice was invaluable. 

As with the private sector, whom you know is at least as important as what you know. If you have a connection to a nonprofit consulting firm, you may wish to let them know that you’re looking. For example, in the course of a year, Bloom Consulting works with many different nonprofits. As we work with them, we hear of positions that are going vacant, new positions that are being developed, and short-term needs for professional talent. There are also few jobs boards — Idealist, Chronicle of Philanthropy, for example — that specialize in the nonprofit world, as well as executive search firms within the sector. 

 When the time comes to interview for a position, be prepared to discuss your commitment at least as much as your skill sets. People who have lived and breathed nonprofits their entire lives are used to dealing with others like themselves. They will want to hear about your commitment to the mission, as much as – or perhaps more than – the skills you can bring. Society talks about ‘the bottom line’ and usually means a financial profit. When a nonprofit talks about the bottom line, they are talking about people served, meals delivered, children vaccinated, animals rescued. It is a shift from a solely dollars and cents mentality to one in which the social product is the bottom line.

Be aware of the constraints nonprofits work under.  Nonprofit executives are well aware they need marketing, HR, planning, accounting, whatever skills. They know it…they just don’t know if they can afford it. More than one job seeker said that he sees many nonprofits that don’t know how to promote themselves; why don’t they hire a marketing professional? Indeed, many nonprofits know they need marketing help. But if the question is whether to spend money on promotion or spend money on food for orphans, the first instinct is to feed the orphans. It may not be the best use of the money in the long run – increased promotion may be the key to greatly increased donations – but it’s a hard choice to make.

Some of the best advice I ever received came from the very generous people who gave of their time and knowledge to help me make the switch. The informational interviews in Ohio, Indiana, New York, and DC gave me tremendous help as I worked through my own process of transition. Despite their crowded schedules, these generous nonprofit professionals gave of their time and knowledge — and their contacts. Through them, many doors opened for me. More recently, I asked colleagues for recommendations to pass on. The Association of Fundraising Professionals group in LinkedIn was particularly generous. Trying a professional internship is one suggestion that I heard several times. If an internship isn’t available, consider a short-term engagement to fulfill a particular project.

Nonprofit professionals are particularly generous with their experiences.  I hope their advice helps you, as well.

Nonprofit professionals ARE different….

8 05 2009

What you should know when making the switch from private sector to nonprofit professional.

It’s certainly not a secret that there are a lot of unemployed private sector professionals. Combine that with projections of 23,000 senior management positions going unfilled in the nonprofit sector, and it’s no wonder that management professionals of all kinds are taking a look at the nonprofit world.

 The last post about engagement brought many of them out of the woodwork, asking how to make that switch. Having moved from for-profit to nonprofit seven years ago, and having had conversations with colleagues making similar changes, I can propose a few guidelines to the uninitiated. 

 First of all, the nonprofit world is different from the private sector. The mind set is often different, with a strong focus on commitment to the mission and doing more with less. Frequently the atmosphere is more team oriented in order to ensure the services are delivered, and more people take on jobs that are technically outside of their own bailiwick, just to make sure they get done.

 Less cutthroat? I wouldn’t necessarily put it that way, but I would say that there are fewer Type A personalities.  The nonprofit world is populated by many people for whom success is measured less by high salaries than by how much they can achieve in furthering the mission.  The extra hours they put in – and they certainly do put in a lot of hours! — is to further the mission. The good vibes are incredible, but the work is intense.

Often, to the detriment of their personal lives, nonprofit professionals don’t have the time to volunteer outside their own organization; the extra 20-30 hours per week becomes their volunteer time. Family life may suffer because their board meetings and meetings with volunteers occur in the evenings and weekends, when the volunteers are free from their day jobs. Yet the professionals don’t feel free to start work any later because of the night meetings; they just lengthen their days.

Even in good times, the dollars are just not there to do what needs to be done. When times are tough, administration becomes even leaner. Long term projects are frequently put on hold because it’s hard to get the money to pursue them. Relying on government or foundation grants and private donors makes cash flow unreliable. Donors must be wooed, and can be fickle; many are willing to give for special projects, but not ongoing administrative costs. Yet the light bill must still be paid.

Good ideas are recognized….but not always acted upon. Cost-benefit analysis is a nice idea, but if it means not feeding an orphan because you’re spending for a long-term goal, well, you may be hard pressed to convince the powers that be that the long-term goal is more important. Even if that long-term goal will ultimately make it possible to feed even more orphans.

Yet for all the challenges, there are many, many people for whom the nonprofit world holds a life they wouldn’t trade for any other. Working through the difficulties, and still making a difference in the world is a special reward. 

After reading all this, if you’re still interested in looking at the nonprofit world for a new start, I’m collecting some tips on the process for the next post. Keep reading!


Get in Gear…ENGAGE!

4 05 2009

Before a car can move, you have to put it in gear; engage the engine. In the past few months, a trio of articles prompted an ‘aha’ moment, after idling in the back of mind for a while. 

Last week, the Bridgespan Group published a report whose press release was titled “Nonprofit Groups Fear Shortage of Senior Management, Qualified Candidates.” Then, as I read this report, I recalled an article back in November, titled, “Loss of Connection Leading Reason Wealthy Donors Stop Giving,” by the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University and Bank of America. Concurrently, I had just completed writing a series on Populating a Board of Directors – what to look for, and how to recruit them.

 There’s a connection here…engagement. Donors, Management and Board Members all have to feel engaged by the nonprofit they support.

 The Bridgespan Group report focused attention on the fact that there is an anticipated 24,000 jobs for nonprofit senior management opening up in 2009. At the same time, there is a worldwide economic situation leaving tens of thousands of highly skilled private sector individuals available to help fill those jobs. Yet despite this vast pool of out-sector talent, nonprofit executives are focusing on the paucity of in-sector talent. 

The Center for Philanthropy report found that of 700 individuals with an annual income greater than $200,000 and/or a net worth of greater than $1 million, 38% had stopped supporting a charity in 2007, and 26% had stopped their support of two charitable organizations.  Why did these people stop giving? 60% said it was because they no longer felt connected to the organization.

One area I focused on in my articles on Populating a Board of Directors, was to engage prospective directors with the organization. Make new people feel connected to the mission. Nonprofit boards stagnate when there’s a lack of new perspective and lack of engagement of new people.

How are these related? In each case, there is an urgent need to communicate frequently and compellingly with individuals outside the inner circle.

In the case of major donors, consider how often you make an effort to engage them in the work, not just ask for dollars. How often do you ask for advice or tell them what their dollars are doing? Engaging a donor in the mission is vital for maintaining their goodwill toward your organization. Frankly, it’s just plain rude to ask for money and then not show that you also value them as people.

In the case of future senior management, it is important to engage the private sector in your work. Put yourself where the for-profit executives are instead of sequestering yourself in-house. Take the opportunity to talk about your mission at business luncheons. Communicate beyond your known donors, and discuss subjects beyond the need for money. Those experienced managers of the private sector could be the answer to the nonprofit hiring gap. Help private sector executives see that the nonprofit world also offers the challenges that they’ve enjoyed dealing with and mastering.

When recruiting new board members, communicate beyond the usual suspects. There is a wealth of talent outside the old boys’ network, but they won’t think of giving you that talent if they don’t know you exist or if they only think you need money. Engage that talent. Communicate how important they can be in shaping the future of the organizations.

Engagement. When a gear is engaged, it is able to power your car. When a person is engaged, he can become your greatest donor, your next executive, your exciting board leader.