Where are you?

28 10 2011

Before 1973, no one ever had to ask “where are you?” when they reached you on the telephone.

Of course they knew where you were – you were within 3 feet of the telephone they had called. Now, because of mobile phones, one of the first things we ask when we call someone is, “where are you?”

Where are you? An innocuous question when asked casually, but quite profound when you ask it of your organization. If, in 30 years, the world has changed so we now call individuals instead of a place, what does that say about your nonprofit? Do you still ask your constituents to come to your place, or do your meet them where they are? Have your programs evolved to meet the new mobility of society? Has your mission changed?

Society’s rate of change has accelerated. How often does your board of directors evaluate whether your programs are still relevant, much less whether your mission is? Once every 10 years isn’t enough (and maybe it never was). But certainly ‘never’ shouldn’t be the answer.

How about ‘now?’

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Is Relationship-Building a False God?

1 10 2011

Challenging the Relationship Model of Fundraising

Received wisdom now says that relationship building is the way to raise more money from donors. It’s why we changed the name from Fundraising to Development; we expect to develop relationships with people, with the ultimate goal of getting them to make a big gift (or two, or three).

This may still be true, but a study from Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson challenges the notion that relationship building causes higher sales in the for-profit environment. What this means for the nonprofit sector is up for debate.

Dixon is Managing Director of the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales and Service Practice. Adamson is Senior Director of the Sales Executive Council, a division of the Sales and Service Practice. Their new book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, is the result of studying 6,000 sales representatives across more than 100 companies around the world. Detailing their work habits, their motivation and their results, they classified the reps into 5 groups:

  • Relationship builder
  • Lone wolf
  • Hard worker
  • Reactive problem solver
  • Challenger

These groups are described in the HBR Blog, but suffice it to say that the Relationship builder was NOT the best performer.

Surprisingly, Challenger, who did not acquiesce to every client whim, who did not work to smooth over any tension, and in fact made a point of asking penetrating questions about client assumptions, outperformed the others in complex and challenging situations.

Now, if these economic times aren’t challenging for nonprofits, I don’t know what would be. Perhaps it’s time to (ahem) challenge our assumptions of how to deal with donors in these times.

More study is definitely needed.





Vision is overrated.

1 09 2010

Vision. Vision. Vision.

Everyone talks about making sure your board has a vision. To paraphrase Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady — words, words, words, I’m so sick of words…don’t talk of Vision, Show me!

Whatever happened to implementation???

Look, I’m not saying the first step isn’t important – it is! Without vision, you stagnate. If you don’t know where you’re going, you waste time spinning wheels.

But once you know what you want to become, it takes decisions and details; process and payments; learning the laws and following them; checks and balances; good management and good manners. And all the while, staying focused on the vision.

But JUST having a vision isn’t enough. Nonprofit leadership is fostering that vision, planning to make it reality, inspiring everyone to get on board, and then, well, making it happen.

Vision AND Implementation. It takes both. As consultants, we do our clients a disservice if we stop at the first step.





I read it in the NY Times

25 08 2010

When I was growing up, any time I wanted to prove that the fact I had just spouted was true, all I needed to tell my Dad was that I’d read it in the New York Times. I’m pretty sure he knew that sometimes I just said that to get him off my back, but there’s no doubt that a trusted outside source can still go a long way toward bolstering your case.

Take, for instance, dealing with a board of directors that’s reluctant to try something new, or when a director or volunteer questions your wise counsel.

For example, I’ve advised several smaller nonprofits to accept online donations. There’s the usual grumbling about security concerns and that credit cards take too much out of the donation.  But pointing to studies that show the advances in credit card and online donations go a long way to convincing the nay-sayers.

This study by Blackbaud (The Blackbaud Index of Online Giving) is a good one to show your reluctant boards. It’s particularly good to show to small and medium-sized nonprofits, whose peers had their online contributions increase by an average of 7%, year -over-year.

Personal experience, industry knowledge and good research is a hard combination to refute.





WELCOMING YOUR INTERIM EXECUTIVE: 6 critical steps toward making it work

26 07 2009

Interim Executive, Acting Exec, Temporary Exec…whatever you call us, we have this in common. We’re not expected to be here very long, and we have a lot to do in that time. If all you need is a placeholder, you wouldn’t spend the dollars for a professional. So it’s on the Interim Executive’s shoulders to make a difference quickly.

Your mileage may vary, but I find there are a few initial steps that have to happen to launch a successful interim situation. Read the rest of this entry »





WHERE’S THE HUMAN TOUCH?

18 06 2009

I spent today in a motivational seminar, and couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing. It was a simulcast of a live seminar being run about 20 miles away. At our remote location, I was easily one of about 1000 people, with 3 huge video screens and plenty of happy staff ready to help you fill out forms.  

But we could see on the screen that the live location had live music, fireworks, sparklers, and a real connection between the emcee and the audience. When the emcee called for people to stand up and cheer the next speaker, you could see and hear that the audience was doing just that. Not so at our location. At first, about 10% got up and cheered, but that number slowly diminished. When a speaker asked for volunteers from the audience to receive free gifts, we were totally out of luck. When another speaker yelled, “Hello, Philadelphia!” we were in Wilmington, unacknowledged.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m generally a very positive person and enjoy motivational talks. Some of the speakers were quite good; I learned several useful techniques and stories; I’ll probably even buy one of the books. But it was obvious that I wasn’t the only person that was not connecting. And so the most emphatic lesson I’m taking away is that there has to be evidence of a human touch in order to make a connection.

What does this mean as we expand our reach using so many new tools that were never before available to us?

In our rush to embrace digital media, are we considering that we need a human connection beyond the tweets, facebook, linkedin, or blogs? I’m not denying that it’s a great thing for our donors to follow us using social sites. But that ability to speak rapidly and digitally to our followers should only enhance our connection, not be a substitute.

What about our connections with co-workers? If we only communicate via email or IM, we cannot see body language or hear tone of voice and know that our staff is tired or energetic, stressed or joyful. This empathic connection is lost in electronic words and abbreviations. The occasional telephone call, same-room meeting or one-to-one video conference should be required for employee morale.

And, since this was prompted by this particular instance, I think about what could have been done differently to make the seminar connect with us despite the remote location. Could the organizers have placed an emcee in the remote location as well, and just channel in the speakers? Could they have acknowledged us with a mention during the presentations? Could there have been someone at our site that also picked people from the audience at strategic times of the morning?  Could there have been cheerleaders in the audience encouraging us to participate in the cheering and energy?

Perhaps the universal lesson isn’t specific ways to alleviate the problem. Perhaps the lesson is that we should use this experience to make us stop and consider the need for a human connection. Now, when all around us digital media abounds, we should make sure to consider the human connection as we communicate with a donor, a co-worker, or a group of people. Use social media as a tool to deepen connections, not as a substitute for them.

A research study from Bank of America and the Center on Philanthropy of Indiana University tells that major donors stop giving when they lose connection. It would be a shame to jeopardize the relationship in the rush to new media.

To read about the implications of losing connections with donors, check out this report,  The 2008 Bank of America Study of High Net-Worth Philanthropy. 





If not now, when?

16 04 2009

With 26 years in the for-profit world and 7 years  in the nonprofit sector, I see a lot of overlap…and several differences.  I’ve spent time working for divisions of large corporations and consulting to companies from start-ups to Fortune 500 leaders. I’ve been a researcher, a writer, a public speaker, a fundraiser, a marketer, a planner and an educator. I’ve managed paid staff, volunteers, and public perceptions. 

All these skills are needed by both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.

More than 2000 years ago, the famous Rabbi Hillel said: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when? 

The for-profit world thinks: If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

The not-for-profit world thinks: If I am only for myself, then what am I?

Now is when we will put these two together, and see how to learn from each other.